Government Will Pay Price for Private Hospital Bill, Says AFL

The Klein government will pay a big price from Albertans if it continues with its private health care bill, introduced in the Legislature today, says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"The introduction of Bill 11 shows the Klein government is not listening to Albertans," says Cormack. "Albertans are worried - very worried - about their health care system. They want it protected and have told the government so."

"The government has responded by playing word games and weaving more lies about their real intentions," says Cormack. "Albertans don't want word games, they want Medicare protected from for-profit clinics."

"Bill 11 undermines the very principles of Medicare."

Cormack says that even the Tories know their bill is a bunch of pretend. "I don't care what you call it, a surgical facility or private clinic, this bill legalizes private, for-profit hospitals."

Cormack predicts that if the government insists on forcing this bill on Albertans that Albertans will make them pay a big price for it.

"Albertans won't put up with this bill. Any government that tries to undermine Medicare will hear loudly from Albertans. They will hear from us in the Legislature, on the streets and in the ballot box."

"If the government has any sense, they will let the bill die a quick death."

"It's not too late," concludes Cormack, "this bill can and will be stopped."


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President    @    (780) 499-6530 cell/ 483-3021 (wk)/ 428-9367 (hm)

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AFL president available for comment on Federal budget

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, will be available to answer questions from the media immediately following the release of the federal budget later today.

The budget speech is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Alberta time. Reporters interested in talking with Cormack after the speech can reach her on her cell phone or at her home number.


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell) or (780) 428-9367 (home)

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Federal government ignores promises on health care and children

EDMONTON - The federal government has squandered an historic opportunity to restore the health of Canada's Medicare system and build new programs to help Canadian families in the 21st century, says the president of the Alberta's largest labour organization.

AFL president Audrey Cormack says the federal Liberals had an opportunity to invest in people and build for the future - but instead they allowed themselves to be swayed by strident conservatives like Preston Manning and Conrad Black who advocate tax cuts at any cost.

"The Liberals told us that this budget would focus on health care and children," says Cormack.

"But instead of a national homecare program that could relieve pressure on our under-funded hospitals, we got a reduction to the high-income surtax. And instead of a national child care program, we got tax cuts for highly profitable high-tech corporations and tax breaks for people cashing in on stock options. These changes may be popular on Bay Street. But they are certainly not the kind of thing average Canadians have been asking for."

Cormack says the federal government did take a number of positive steps in its budget. For example, she says the decision to fully index tax brackets for inflation is "progressive and long overdue." She also applauded the decision to double the period in which workers can collect maternity and paternity benefits.

However, Cormack says the budget failed to deliver what Canadians have been asking most for: namely a long-term financial commitment to things like Medicare and a national day care program. It also failed to shore up Canada's UI system - which currently pays benefits to less than 1 in 3 unemployed Canadian workers (down from 80% a decade ago).

"The government is now predicting a $100 billion surplus over the next three years," says Cormack. "But nearly $60 billion of that is being handed out in tax cuts and only $2.5 billion of the total is going to health care through the Canada Health and Social Transfer. The Liberals want us to believe that they are taking a balanced approach to budgeting - but this is far from balanced. It's an approach that is tilted heavily towards tax cuts and away from investments in core public services."

To make matters worse, Cormack points out that the money earmarked for health care is being given to the provinces with virtually no strings attached. That means that provincial Premiers like Alberta's Ralph Klein can do almost anything they like with the money.

"There is absolutely no guarantee that this new federal money will actually be used to strengthen Medicare," says Cormack. "Given the Alberta government continued commitment to privatization, there is a good chance that at least some of this money will end up in the pockets of health care corporations and not in public hospitals. The federal government should be doing something to make sure that doesn't happen."

Now that the business community has been given what it wants in terms of lower taxes and continued restraint in terms of public spending on programs, Cormack says she and other observers will be watching for the results.

"For years now the business community has been saying that tax cuts will lead to increased investment and job creation," she says. "Now they've gotten what they asked for. So we'll be watching to see if these business people really do create jobs and increase wages for their workers. I'm not holding my breath."


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President  @ (780) 428-9367   or  (780) 499-6530

 

 

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Provincial budget charts dangerous course for Alberta, says AFL

EDMONTON - Based on the plans outlined in yesterday's provincial budget, it's clear that the Klein government is charting a dangerous course for Alberta, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

Audrey Cormack says the budget is built around two highly questionable ideas - namely the idea that flat taxes will promote fairness and the idea that private health care will save money and reduce waiting lists. The problem with this approach, she says, is that flat taxes are inherently unfair and private hospitals represent a serious threat to the future of Medicare.

"Albertans shouldn't be fooled into thinking that a flat tax will actually make the provincial tax system fairer," she says. "An 11 percent flat rate tax like the one being planned by the provincial government will provide a big break for the wealthiest Albertans - that's true. But middle-income earners are going to carry a disproportionate share of the tax burden in this province."

Cormack says that progressive tax brackets - which require people who earn more to pay more in tax as a percentage of their income - have always been the key to fair taxation. By introducing a flat tax, she says Alberta will be abandoning one of the central principles of fair taxation.

Cormack was also highly critical of the government's announcements on health care spending. In particular, she says the budget gives absolutely no details about how much the government plans to spend on private, for-profit hospitals and clinics.

"The Premier is promising to spend an extra one billion dollars on health care over the next three years," she says. "That's great. But how much of that money is actually going to be used for direct patient care in existing public facilities? And how much of it is going to end up in the pockets of for-profit health care entrepreneurs? Albertans want their tax dollars used to provide front-line services - not as a subsidy for private health care entrepreneurs."

In addition to criticizing the government plans for private health care and flat taxation, Cormack also condemned Provincial Treasurer Stockwell Day for using his budget speech as a platform to attack opponents of the government proposed private health care legislation.

"Mr. Day's attack on Medicare supporters was entirely inappropriate," she says. "Albertans have a right to question the government and criticize proposed legislation - that's what democracy is all about. Mr. Day's comments suggest that he is not willing to listen to the legitimate concerns of citizens. This kind of intolerance and arrogance is a sure sign of a government that has been in power too long."

Cormack concluded her remarks by questioning the government's claim that its budget is an example of bold and innovative thinking for the 21st century.

"The government talks about a New Century and a Bold Plan. I can agree that it's a new century. But it's an Old Plan, not a Bold one," she says. "We've heard all this stuff before. More privatization. More regressive tax changes. What's so new about that? What's so bold about it? There is no good news here for Albertans. In fact, by setting the stage for a weaker public health system and by adopting a tax system that is inherently unfair, the government is tearing away at the fabric of our province. In a sense they are creating an Alberta Disadvantage."


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell) or (780) 483-0321 (w) or
(780) 428-9367 (h)

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AFL president available for comment on provincial budget

EDMONTON - The fiscal plan that will be outlined in this afternoon's provincial government budget is based on two dangerous myths, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

"Today's budget will be built around two dangerous ideas - namely the idea that flat taxes will promote fairness and the idea that private health care will save money and reduce waiting lists," says Audrey Cormack. "The problem is that flat taxes are inherently unfair and private hospitals represent a serious threat to the future of Medicare. As a result, this budget is a blueprint for disaster."

The provincial budget will be handed down today at 4 p.m. Cormack will be available to talk to reporters in the Legislature rotunda immediately following the provincial Treasurer's budget speech.


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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How Many Worker Deaths Are Too Many?

The tragic wave of workers killed on the job in the past six days is a marker that the Alberta government is not doing enough to protect worker safety, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. In the wake of these avoidable tragedies, the AFL is calling for stronger health and safety legislation, including a ban on working alone.

The AFL's call comes after three deaths in less than a week, including the murder of a young woman working alone in a Calgary Subway store. One worker was killed on the Suncor site in Fort McMurray. A third worker was killed in Northeast Edmonton on Tuesday.

"How many worker deaths will it take for this government to act," asks AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Every one of those deaths was preventable. They shouldn't have happened. There are too many holes in Alberta's health and safety legislation," observes Cormack. "And what is worse is that the Conservative government refuses to enforce what rules that do exist."

"The tragedy of the young woman killed at the Subway store is made worse by the fact that if she wasn't working alone, the whole horrible incident could have been avoided."

Cormack is calling for toughened health and safety legislation, including renewing her call for a ban on working alone. The AFL will be writing the Premier and the Minister of Human Resources and Employment urging them to pass legislation during the spring sitting.

The AFL reminds Albertans that two years ago, an Edmonton custodial worker was sexually assaulting while working alone in a school at night. "Being by yourself leaves you far more vulnerable to attacks, and for that reason it should be banned," says Cormack.

"These deaths also show that the government's strategy of 'self-enforcement' is a failure," says Cormack. Self-enforcement is a policy where employers voluntarily enforce health and safety legislation themselves through their own associations.

"The fact is the past three years have been the most deadly in history," Cormack points out. In three years, 339 workers were killed on the job or due to occupational disease. This is the highest cumulative figure in Alberta history. In 1997, 120 workers were killed. In 1998, 105 were lost. The preliminary figures for 1999 are 114 deaths.

Something is going horribly wrong in this province, and I fear it is the result of bad government policy. The government's inaction proves they are putting profit margins ahead of human life, and I find that immoral," Cormack concludes.

For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)

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Government Plans Based on Two Dangerous Myths

EDMONTON - The Alberta government's plan for the coming year - as outlined in today's Throne Speech - is based on two dangerous myths, says the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The first myth is that privatization in health care will lower costs and reduce waiting lists.  The second myth is that flat taxes will enhance tax fairness and prompt economic growth.

"The government has decided to make private health care and flat taxes the dual centerpieces of their agenda for the year 2000," says AFL President Audrey Cormack, "but both of these policies are deeply flawed.  Bother policies will weaken the social fabric of our province."

Cormack says the government's plan to spend tax dollars on private, for profit hospitals represents a serious threat to the future of medicare.

"The government says its privatization plan will protect medicare," says Cormack "but the truth is privatization will undermine the very foundations of our public health system. Wherever privatization in health care has been tried, it has failed.  All we have to do is look at the experience in places like Britain, Australia and the United States.  Wherever private health care has been allowed to spread costs have gone up and waiting lists have grown longer.  Given this experience, why on earth would we want to go down this road?"

Cormack says the government's plan for a provincial flat tax is also ill conceived.

"Albertans shouldn't be fooled into thinking that a flat tax will actually make the provincial tax system fairer," says Cormack "this plan will provide a big break for the wealthiest Albertans but middle income earners are going to carry a disproportionate share of the burden. The flat tax will also rob the government of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue - revenue needed to pay for health care, education and other important programs and services."

If the government really wants to defend medicare and promote tax fairness, Cormack says they should shelve their plans for private health care and flat taxes."The answer to our problem in health care is adequate funding for our existing public system. And the answer to our concerns about fair taxation is a tax system that is more progressive, not less," says Cormack.

"By introducing a flat tax the Alberta government is abandoning one of the central principles of fair taxation.  And by promoting privatization in health care they will be weakening Canada's most cherished social program.  These are not  bold plans for the future - they are dangerous ideas that will take us backwards not move us forward."

For further information contact:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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AFL president available for comment after Throne Speech

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, will be available to answer questions from the media immediately following tomorrow's Throne Speech.

The Throne Speech is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Thursday, February 17 at the Legislature. Cormack will be available to talk to reporters in the Legislature rotunda as soon as the speech is finished.


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)

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Business Tax Committee is a "Sham Consultation"

The Alberta Federation of Labour is criticizing the announcement today of a new Committee struck to review Alberta's business tax regime. The new Committee, says AFL President Audrey Cormack, will be a repeat of the sham consultations held two years ago on the flat tax.

"There is no need to look at business tax right now," says Cormack. "Alberta already has the lowest corporate taxes in the country, and the economy is booming right now. What possible reason could there be for reviewing tax rates?"

"This government won't be happy until business pays no tax in this province," says Cormack, "regardless of what damage that will inflict on essential public services."

Cormack predicts that Treasurer Stockwell Day already knows what he is going to do with corporate taxes, and this Committee is just a sideshow to distract Albertans.

"It will be a sham consultation," observes Cormack. "It will be business hearing from business about what should happen to business - and I think we all know what that outcome will be."

Cormack points out that the committee is made up entirely of businesspeople and government MLA's. "Where is the representation from working Albertans? All Albertans have a stake in what happens to business taxes."

Cormack also highlights that current tax levels are clearly no barrier to investment in the province. "How will dropping corporate taxes even lower help create jobs or improve health care and education in our province? In short, it won't."

"This tax cut game is simply to satisfy Stockwell Day's narrow right-wing ideological fantasies which have no grounding in real life economics."

"Once again, it is the Tories helping the rich get richer, while average Albertans lie on gurneys in hospital hallways and run casinos to pay for school textbooks," concludes Cormack.


For more information contact:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)

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Labour Supports National Student Actions

Alberta labour leaders threw their support behind the Canadian Federation of Students protests taking place in Alberta and throughout the rest of the country today.

"The situation facing young Albertans in our colleges and universities today is untenable," said AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Our students have had the costs of the federal and provincial cuts to post-secondary education unloaded onto them in increased tuitition fees."

"The consequences are unbearable levels of student debt - and the grim reality that the children of working people will be excluded from advanced education because of the high costs," said Cormack.

She is endorsing the student demands for an immediate freeze on tuition fees; restoration of federal and provincial funding, and a return to a grant program in place of the current student loan program.

"The education of our youth is a national asset, something that, in the long run, will benefit all Canadians," said Cormack. "It's time we treated it that way."

Edmonton and District Labour Council President Alex Grimaldi agrees. "Edmonton has always benefitted from our advanced education institutions. The students and faculty and staff make our Edmonton a richer and more vital community," said Grimaldi. "The impoverishment of students has an economically and socially depressing effect."

"It's time for the public to speak out, in support of our students' fight for fair treatment," concluded Grimaldi.

Both Audrey Cormack and Alex Grimaldi will be speaking at a students' rally today at noon at SUB Theatre at the University of Alberta Campus.


For more information contact:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)

Alex Grimaldi, EDLC President @ 474-4747

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