Low-income Canadians can thank NDP MP Don Davies for a universal dental-care program

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      I'm going to get personal for a moment. 

      In the 1980s, after a former premier named Bill Bennett hammered the Victoria economy with his Thatcherite restraint program, I had to scramble to make a living.

      In those days, I couldn't afford dental care and I went for extended periods without visiting a dentist.

      Fortunately, I discovered a clinic in the Fernwood neighbourhood that offered subsidized care and I was able to get my teeth fixed.

      Those were tough times for many Victoria residents and I'm sure I wasn't alone in putting off dental care.

      Fortunately, my luck turned around in the latter half of the decade, especially after finding work in the media. And I never again had to put off visiting a dentist for financial reasons.

      In 1996, I discovered a downtown Vancouver dentist named Dr. George Lo, who's been offering magnificent treatment ever since.

      But I'll never forgot those early days. And in 2011, I was delighted to come across a grassroots campaign in East Vancouver to get dental care covered under B.C.'s Medical Services Plan.

      The Alliance for People's Health was collecting people's stories about their oral health and lack of access to dental care.

      The three volunteers—Melanie Spence, Azar Mehrabadi, and Jannie Leung—also told me about the alliance's Smile With Dignity campaign.

      "It's an issue that affects not just your oral health, but your physical health," Spence noted. "The reason why we call it our 'Smile With Dignity' campaign is because it also affects your sense of human dignity and belongingness.

      "People who don't have all their teeth or who feel badly about their teeth have told us that they can't get a job, feel embarrassed in a lot of social situations, and, in addition, they can't get the proper nutrition that they need. So it does lead to a lot of other health problems."

      Video: Melanie Spence talked to the Georgia Straight about the Smile With Dignity campaign in 2011.

      Fortunately, one local politician was paying close attention to this issue. Don Davies, the longtime NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, decided to push hard for a universal dental-care program.

      The cautious former NDP leader, Tom Mulcair, did not include a national dental-care program in the party's 2015 platform.

      But by the time 2019 rolled around, Davies had convinced his caucus colleagues, including NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, that it was a good idea.

      "You know what they say: we cover you from the tonsils back. And yet, oral health is as much a part of anybody's health as any part of your body," Davies declared at his 2019 nomination meeting. "And it's time that we addressed that, as [former NDP leader] Tommy Douglas envisioned. It's time that we do the hard work to start exploring adding dental care to our universal public health-care system as well—and NDP MPs will fight for that."

      Indeed, they have. As a result of Davies's relentless efforts, Canada will soon have a universal dental care program. It's a cornerstone of his party's recent agreement with the federal Liberals.

      Davies advanced this campaign by asking the Parliamentary Budget Office to estimate the cost of a federal program.

      The office concluded that it would average just $1.5 billion per year through to 2025, which is small potatoes in the context of the federal budget.

      Video: The father of Canada's upcoming universal dental-care program, Don Davies, pushed hard for years before finally achieving results this year.

      Over the years, Vancouver has been at the forefront of many good ideas that have spread across the country.

      They include harm-reduction programs for those addicted to drugs, such as needle exchanges and supervised-injection sites; same-sex marriage; and the concept of the ecological footprint.

      Now, we can add universal dental care to that list.

      If Tommy Douglas was the founder of medicare, then NDP MP Don Davies is certainly the father of the soon-to-be-created universal dental-care program.

      Thanks for that, Don. For this, you'll go down in history. In a good way.