Accustomed to being the first to dip its toe into hot-button issues, Vermont is preparing to provide public healthcare to all residents regardless of income, moving toward a government-run system that will take it as close to Canada philosophically as it is geographically. Gov. Peter Shumlin is expected to sign legislation this month marking the first step on the path to phasing out most private insurance. The effort puts Vermont well in front of last year's federal healthcare overhaul. The ultimate goal, Shumlin said recently, is a Canadian-style system "where healthcare is a right and not a privilege." But it's not clear yet how Vermont -- the first state to ban slavery in its constitution and to give marriage-like rights to same-sex couples -- will achieve universal healthcare. The legislation places responsibility for the details of the new system, including how to pay for it, in the hands of a powerful new state board.