Confidential Document Reveals WCB Attempting Power Grab, Says AFL

The Alberta Federation of Labour has obtained a copy of a confidential WCB Board of Directors document outlining a list of 40 amendments to the WCB Act and Regulation the WCB wants made in the spring session of the Legislature. The list includes changes that will give the WCB power to punish workers and will lower the WCB's level of accountability to Albertans.

"I can't believe with all the controversy surrounding the WCB these days, the Board has the gall to propose even less accountability for their actions," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "The amendments do two things: give the Board more power to punish workers arbitrarily and restrict the Auditor General and government from overseeing the activities of the Board. In short, they want more power and less accountability."

Among some housekeeping amendments, the document lists a number of changes to lower accountability, including:

  • "Removing the ability of the Auditor General to oversee WCB financial affairs
  • "Removing the WCB from the Financial Administration Act and the Government Accountability Act
  • "Permit the WCB to 'construct, equip, maintain and operate hospitals, clinics and residence facilities' without permission from cabinet
  • "Permit the WCB to set its own terms of remuneration for Directors and Board members

Other amendments give the WCB new power to cut off claimants and interfere with the independence of the appeal process:

  • "Allows the 'reduction or suspension of compensation' to a worker who refuses retraining or vocational rehabilitation services
  • "Gives the WCB 'the ability to obtain a judgement against a worker' for defaulted payments
  • "Eliminates the ability of appeal panels to waive the 1-year limitation period when warranted
  • "Introduces a new 1-year time limitation for last chance appeals to the Board of Directors
  • "Allows the WCB to name itself as an 'interested party' at any appeal at the Appeals Commission

"These proposed amendments are a slap in the face to Albertans," observes Cormack. "Albertans are calling for more accountability from the Worker's Compensation system, and this Board goes in the opposite direction."

"They are also interfering with the independence of the WCB appeal system and asking for permission to bully workers even more than before by cutting off their benefits and harassing them for overpayments," Cormack adds.

"They obviously feel they are superior to any other public entity."

Oversight by the Auditor General and application of the Government Accountability Act ensure the WCB is accountable to Albertans for how it raises and spends money, notes Cormack. "The WCB wants to be answerable to no one about how it spends Albertan's money."

Cormack is also troubled by the inclusion of a section permitting WCB to build and operate its own hospitals and clinics. "This feels uneasily like WCB trying to set up its own health system outside the public Medicare system."

Cormack called on the Minister Responsible for WCB, Clint Dunford, to immediately reject the WCB's requests, and instead review what steps should be taken to make the WCB more accountable to Albertans. She has written a letter to the Minister making this request.

"The arrogance of the WCB is paralleled only by their drive to prevent any fairness or justice from entering their hallways," concludes Cormack.

NOTE: Copies of the obtained document listing the amendments are available to media by calling the AFL at (780)483-3021.


For More Information:

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

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Government contradicted by new work absence statistics

New figures acquired by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that in 1998, work absence due to illness, injury and disability were at their highest level in a decade. This contradicts the Alberta government and WCB claim that Alberta workplaces are safer than ever. The statistics released by the AFL today suggest that many Alberta workers are getting injured at work but not receiving WCB benefits they deserve.

The AFL requested Statistics Canada to calculate the 1998 "Work Absence Rate" for Alberta, a measurement of how many workers are missing work due to injury, illness or disability. The StatsCan numbers show that the absence rate because of injury is the highest in almost a decade.

In 1998, the Alberta work absence rate (illness and disability) was 4.0. This is up slightly from 3.9 in 1997 and substantially higher than recent years, when the rate hovered below 3.5. It is the highest figure since 1989.

Workers are also missing more days due to injury. In 1998 an Alberta worker missed an average of 5.5 days due to injury or illness. This is up significantly from 1997 when an average of 5.1 days were missed. It is also the highest rate since 1989.

"Workers are getting hurt more now than at anytime during the past ten years. More workers are getting hurt and they are missing more days," says AFL President Audrey Cormack.

"What this tells us is that WCB's boast about record low time-loss claims need to be viewed with suspicion," adds Cormack. "They have a credibility gap."

In its Annual Report for 1998/99, Alberta Labour states that "lost-time claims" are at their lowest level in history, reaching 3.3 claims per 100 person-years. This is down from 4.9 in 1990. They attribute this drop to the government's policy of self-enforcement and financial "incentives" to employers.

The real reason for the discrepancy, suggests Cormack, is that government and WCB policy hasn't improved safety in workplaces, but has instead discouraged the reporting of accidents to the WCB. "Employers now have a built in motivation to hide WCB claims. And with self-regulation, there is no one in the field making sure employers obey the law," notes Cormack

The AFL also points out that WCB's own statistics show that workplace injuries are at record highs. The total number of claims involving injuries was 126,420 in 1998, the highest level ever recorded and double the number recorded in 1990. "You don't read that side of the equation in government press releases," says Cormack.

The statistics suggest workers are injured at work as frequently as before, but they are not receiving the WCB benefits to which they are entitled. "WCB has balanced its books by lowering the number of legitimate injured workers who receive compensation."

"The reality in Alberta workplaces is that more workers are getting injured than ever before, and that time loss rates are on the increase, just that workers aren't getting their fair shake from the system," says Cormack.

Cormack says these figures demonstrate that it is time to re-think the government's policy of self-regulation and incentive-based occupational safety.

"Sometimes you need the government to act like a government to get things done. In this case, that means enforcing our health and safety laws," Cormack concludes.


Statistics Canada and WCB Compared

AFL Backgrounder -- January 13, 2000
Alberta Work Absence Rates

Statistics Canada Work Absence Rate
Statistics Canada measures in its annual Labour Force Survey the incidence of work absences in Canada. They recently released the figures for Canada for 1998. No Alberta numbers were available. The AFL commissioned StatsCan to produce the 1998 figures for Alberta, the latest year for which data is available.

The "Work Absence Rate" measures the number of workers reporting an absence from work during the week they are surveyed. It is recorded as a percentage of the workforce. The AFL is releasing the percentage of workers who reported missing work "due to own illness or disability", which means only those workers who were sick or injured. Work absences for other reasons were not included. The Survey does not distinguish between work-related and non-work-related illness.

The "Days lost per worker" is the average number of days a worker is absent from work during the calendar year for illness or disability.

Alberta Work Absence Rate (Disability/Illness), Statistics Canada
Absence Rate (%) Days Lost Per Worker (# of days)
1990 3.9 5.1
1991 3.8 5.2
1992 3.5 5.0
1993 3.6 5.1
1994 3.4 4.8
1995 3.3 5.0
1996 3.0 4.3
1997 3.9 5.1
1998 4.0 5.5

WCB Claim Rate
Alberta WCB uses a different rate to measure workplace safety. It utilized the "Lost Time Claim Rate", which is the number of new claims filed with WCB which result in a worker missing time at work. WCB uses this rate to set individual employer premium rates. It is measured as the number of claims per 100 workers.

The "Total Claims" is the total number of new claims opened at WCB during the year, including claims involving no missed time from work.

WCB Claim Rates
Lost Time Claim Rate Total Claims
1990 4.9 64,503
1991 4.3 55,162
1992 3.7 75,835
1993 3.5 92,025
1994 3.5 93,187
1995 3.4 91,349
1996 3.4 98,303
1997 3.4 118,121
1998 3.3 126,420

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Labour commemorates National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

EDMONTON -The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) will be holding its fourth annual workshop dealing with violence against women on December 6, 1999 - the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

"Each year the Alberta Federation of Labour strives to bring the terrible social consequences of violence against women to the forefront of Albertans' minds," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Only by continuing our efforts to end violence against women can we truly commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action."

This year, the AFL is sponsoring a workshop that examines the workplace consequences of domestic violence. Delegates to the workshop will be presented with a panel discussion on various aspects of domestic violence. Panelists will include Sylvia Hawkins, Vice-President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC); Heather Richards, Director of the Strathcona Shelter Society; and Glenda Malina, Staff Sergeant with the Edmonton Police Service.

"Our delegates will learn about different types and cycles of violence," says Cormack, "They will examine the legal ramifications of domestic violence, and they will learn how to identify and assist co-workers who are experiencing abuse at home."

The delegates will also participate in the unveiling of the new Edmonton Women's Monument at 12:00 noon on December 6, 1999. The monument, entitled A Vision of Hope, is located in Mary Burlie Park, 97 Street & 104 Avenue in Edmonton.

"I'm very proud of the role labour has played in making this monument a reality," says Cormack. "The Alberta Federation of Labour and its Womens' Committee, the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Edmonton & District Labour Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union all contributed to the monument."

But, Cormack warned that we still have a very long way to go as a society. "When you consider that 51% of women over the age of sixteen in Canada have experienced at least one incident of violence as defined in the Criminal Code, it is evident that we in labour and all Canadians must continue to educate and agitate and organize to put an end to domestic violence," she concluded. "We need to be active - not just on December 6th, but on every single day of the year."


For more information call:

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

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Alberta workers send a powerful message – we’re strong and we’re staying

Thousands join AFL centennial celebration as Harper wages war on workers

Thousands of union members, supporters and families from all over Alberta sent a message to political leaders across the country today: We've been here for 100 years and we're here to stay.

"This amazing turnout today is a reminder of the power of unions – power that is derived from its members," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which celebrated its centennial with the Party of the Century at Fort Edmonton Park today (Saturday).

More than 3,000 people bought tickets to the park to join the celebration, which included a bagpiper-led parade and activities for families including kids' games, face-painting, pony races, sack races and crafts. There was also a stellar lineup of musical performances during the day, with concerts from artists including Maria Dunn, Souljah Fyah, Audio/Rocketry, The Rault Brothers Band, Terry Morrison and Notres Dames des Bananes.

"Workers are under attack on multiple fronts in Canada today, but unions are ready, able and willing to put up a vigorous defence of all working people, whether they are union members or not," says McGowan.

"For 100 years, the Alberta Federation of Labour has fought to build a better life for working people and a better province. Much of what makes this province a great place to work, to live and to raise our families has been brought to us by union members. Unions have led the fight for fair wages, safe workplaces and an end to discrimination on the basis of race, creed, gender and orientation," he says.

"But don't be fooled into thinking the struggle is over and the battle has been won. Our hard-won victories can be taken away – and that's exactly what the Harper government is trying to do. The Tories have embarked on a low-wage agenda that aims to take money out of the pockets of all working Canadians.

"Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program, Employment Insurance (EI) rules and Old Age Security (OAS) are designed to make Canadians work for less while corporations reap ever bigger profits. It's unfair. It's un-Canadian. It's unacceptable," says McGowan.

"The Harper government is hell-bent on attacking unions in the same way he is going after charities and environmental groups. Anyone who speaks up, anyone who argues against Tory ideology has become a target. They will be met with vigorous resistance. We've been here for 100 years – and we're not going away now, when people need us."

-30-

For more information:

• Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (780) 218-9888

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Alberta to form farm safety advisory body

 

A provincially-backed farm safety council is expected to find ways to reduce the number of on-farm injuries in Alberta without adding more rules or more costs.

The Alberta government on Tuesday announced it will name a farm safety advisory council in the new year, to be co-chaired by "government and industry" with members from farmer, farm worker and farm safety groups and Alberta municipalities.

"This council will bring industry and government together to find ways to reduce farm injuries without increasing the regulatory and financial burden on our producers," Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release. "We need to work together to find solutions."

Once it's set up, the province said, the council is expected to develop a "joint industry-government action plan" on farm safety for submission to Hayden and the government, addressing the "co-ordination and communication needs" that the ag industry noted in recent consultations.

That's a reference to consultations by the province's ag and employment departments in 2009 and 2010 with stakeholder groups, including "all of the major commodity groups," on ways to enhance health and safety for people working on farms and ranches.

A report on those consultations put forward a number of recommendations for the province to consider -- such as incentives for farms through lower Workers' Compensation or crop insurance premiums, or increased grants to agricultural societies that undertake health and safety activities.

In Alberta, the report noted, most farming- and ranching-related operations are exempt from the province's Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, meaning there's no formal OHS investigation of a farm fatality and no government investigation of on-farm injuries for purposes of improved safety practice or third-party reports for insurance claims.

Farming and ranching are also exempt from the Workers' Compensation Act, and while Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for disability and insurance is available to farmers and ranchers for their employees on a voluntary basis, "costs limit subscriptions," the report noted.

"Empty gesture"

Also, the report noted, the province's Employment Standards Code exempts farm workers from standards on hours of work, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay. Farm workers are also excluded from the Labour Relations Code.

The Alberta Federation of Labour on Tuesday criticized the province's proposal for an advisory council as an "empty gesture," with AFL president Gil McGowan predicting the council "will be an industry-dominated joke."

"In the nine years the Alberta government has said it is consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites," the AFL said.

In his 2008 inquiry into a farm worker's death in 2006 in a silo at a High River-area feedlot, Provincial Court Judge Peter Barley recommended the province lift its exemption excluding farms' paid workers from workplace safety regulations.

"Rather than take that obvious and simple step, we have an industry-dominated advisory body looking at education measures," McGowan said Tuesday. "This is what you get when governments talk only to the business community and not to workers."

The labour group also scoffed at the notion that protections such as employment standards and OHS rules would punish family farms.

"Large agribusiness" dominates the industry, the AFL said Tuesday, with farms of over $250,000 in income accounting for three-quarters of farm cash receipts in 2007.

Country Guide, Wed Nov 24 2010

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AFL throws its support behind campaign for national childcare program

EDMONTON - If Jean Chretien's Liberals really want to do something significant to mark National Child Day on Saturday, they should live up to their promises and establish a comprehensive national childcare program, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

Audrey Cormack says the AFL - the largest union organization in the province - will be throwing its support behind a campaign calling for a new national strategy on families and children. The campaign is sponsored by the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) and supported by dozens of unions, churches and community groups.

"Unions across this country have been working hard to negotiate better child care provisions for their members - it is fast becoming one of our top priorities," says Cormack. "But we can never win these kinds of benefits for all unionized workers, let alone the millions of Canadians who don't belong to unions. That's why we feel so strongly about the need for a national childcare program. All working families in Canada should have access to high quality care for their children."

Cormack's announcement of support for the national childcare campaign coincides with National Child Day. In 1993, the federal government designated November 20 as National Child Day to commemorate two historic United Nations events: the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1959 and the adoption of the more comprehensive Convention on the Rights of the Child on November 20, 1989.

"I can think of no better way for the Liberals to mark the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child than by committing themselves to a new national strategy on children and families," says Cormack. "Now that the federal government is recording multi-billion dollar surpluses it's time for the Liberals to live up to the promises they made about national child care when they were in Opposition."

Cormack says the need for a national childcare program is being felt particularly keenly by parents in Alberta, where the provincial government recently eliminated all operating allowances for daycare facilities. The Conservative government has also restricted full daycare subsidies to families earning less than $24,000 per year (net income) and single parents earning less than

$20,000 per year (net income). These changes have forced up the cost of daycare and caused tremendous hardship for many working families - especially those in middle-income brackets, says Cormack.

"Access to high-quality child care and early childhood education is extremely important for children, parents and society as a whole," she says. "But here in Alberta, quality child care is being priced out of reach for many working families. The need for federal action in this area has never been clearer."

Cormack says the AFL will support the national childcare campaign by lobbying politicians, participating in rallies and forums and educating union members and the general public.

"In the end it boils down to political will. We at the AFL will do everything we can to remind the federal government of their responsibility to children and families. We will also remind politicians and the public of the many benefits that would come with a national childcare program. It's a win-win proposition."


For more information call:

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

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Klein misleading Albertans about the future of health care

EDMONTON - Premier Ralph Klein wasn't fooling anyone this evening when he attempted to portray himself as a defender of Medicare during a ten-minute, publicly-funded television spot, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Ralph spent a lot of time talking about his commitment to public health care and the Canada Health Act. And he tried hard to reassure Albertans about the future of Medicare," says Cormack. "But this government's actions over the past few years speak louder than the Premier's words. The Tories have gutted what was once one of the best health care systems in the world - and the Premier's new privatization plan is just going to make a bad situation worse. It's a plan that is deeply flawed and dangerous."

Cormack was particularly critical of Klein's comments on private, for-profit health care. In his address, Klein said his government will introduce legislation in the spring that will allow regional health authorities to hire private, for-profit health companies to provide core medical services. The Premier said the legislation will give RHAs more "choices" for dealing with problems like bed shortages and long waiting lists.

"The Premier talked about choices," says Cormack. "The problem is that he ignored the most obvious choice - and that's the option involving re-investment in the public system. As it stands right now, there are literally thousands and thousands of hospital beds sitting idle in public hospitals because of chronic under-funding. Why should taxpayers' money be spent on private hospitals when resources that already are in place in the public system are not being fully utilized?"

Cormack says that if Klein was really interested in reducing waiting lists he would open more hospital beds and hire more nurses, doctors and other medical staff. She also said she finds it hard to understand why the Alberta government would want to copy a public-private health care model that has failed so miserably in other countries.

"Ralph made it sound like he's the first politician on the planet to think of a health care model based on the idea of private delivery of public services," says Cormack. "The truth is that this model is not new. It has been tried before - and it has failed before."

The most recent example of a government experimenting with private delivery of public health services comes from Australia, says Cormack. In the Australian state of New South Wales, a conservative government contracted out a significant portion of it's health care services to private companies - only to discover that the private health companies cost more and delivered a substantially lower quality of care than the public sector.

Cormack says that the Premier's privatization plan is particularly dangerous because it will act as a "foot-in-the-door" for major health care corporations - especially large and aggressive private firms from the United States who will be guaranteed access under the terms of NAFTA.

"Anyone who believes that these large, profit-hungry corporations will be content with a small piece of the pie is being extremely naive," says Cormack. "That's the real danger of the Premier's new health care plan: it will allow private health care companies to establish deep roots in Alberta. Over time, they will chip away at foundations of Medicare. Eventually, our entire system of public health care will be undermined."

Cormack says that Premier Klein's address should be seen as a "call-to-arms" for all Canadians who believe in Medicare.

"On two separate occasions now, Medicare supporters have been able to beat back legislation designed to pave the way for private hospitals," says Cormack. "But this time Premier Klein is taking charge of the campaign himself. That means this is the final showdown. Albertans who believe in Medicare are going to have to speak out even more forcefully than ever. We simply cannot afford to let this government proceed with this privatization plan. It would be the beginning of the end for public health care in this province."


For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, President     @     499-6530(cell)/483-3022(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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Tories giving away oil and gas at "bargain basement prices," says AFL

Deep cuts to health care, education and other services would have not been necessary if Klein had been a better steward of Alberta's petroleum resources

EDMONTON - Premier Ralph Klein owes Albertans an explanation about why his government has failed to collect appropriate levels of royalties from the province's booming oil and gas sector, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.

Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the province could be collecting billions of dollars more each year in royalties, taxes and other fees - money that could be used to improve health care, education and other cash-strapped public services.

"Premier Klein likes to portray himself as a smooth operator and a tough bargainer," says Cormack. "But it looks like he's been a real push-over when it comes to negotiating royalty rates with big oil and gas companies. His government has been giving away our collectively-owned petroleum resources at bargain basement prices."

Cormack's comments were made in response to a study released yesterday by the Parkland Institute, a public policy think-tank at the University of Alberta. The study shows that the Klein government collects royalties at a much lower rate than other resource-rich jurisdictions and at a lower rate than previous Alberta governments.

"What this study shows is that deep budget cuts weren't the only option open to the government in the mid 90s," says Cormack. "It's clear now that the government's so-called debt problem could also have been solved with a more aggressive approach to the collection of resource revenues. If Albertans had known they were getting such a small return from their resources - especially when compared to the returns enjoyed by citizens living in other resource-rich jurisdictions - they probably would have been even more opposed to deep cuts to important public services like health care and education."

Cormack rejects the government's argument that low royalty rates are necessary to encourage new investment, especially in the oilsands. She points out that the government's royalty holidays are available to all tar sands projects, not just the new ones. She also dismisses the argument that lower royalties are justified by the higher costs of oilsands production. The Parkland study shows that - thanks to new technologies - the production costs are now lower in the oilsands than in conventional oil. The study also show that places like Norway and Alaska - where most of the oil is offshore - also faced higher production costs. Despite these higher costs, these jurisdictions still manage to collect significantly higher royalties than Alberta.

"It sounds like Klein and his ministers have been duped by the energy industry - they've bought the sales pitch hook line and sinker," says Cormack. "The truth is that the same companies that are involved in major oilsands projects here in Alberta - companies like Shell and Exxon - are also investing billions in Alaska and Norway. The governments in those jurisdictions have been much more aggressive in getting a bigger share of the pie for the public - but this has not driven away investment."

Cormack says the bottom line is that the Klein government has failed in its role as steward of Alberta's natural resources.

"The government is letting Albertans down," she says. "The Premier says Albertans will get their 'pound of flesh' when the new oilsands projects have been finished and paid for - maybe fifteen years from now. But it the meantime billions and billions of barrels of oil will be pumped out of the ground with very little return for the public. And once that oil is gone, it's gone for good. That means money that could have been used for health care, education and other services is also gone for good."


For more information call:

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

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Conrad Black out to break union, says AFL

The antics of the Calgary Herald this past weekend demonstrate that Southam newspaper magnate Conrad Black is not interested in finding a mutually-acceptable agreement, but out to bust the newly-certified unions, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"From the beginning, Conrad Black has made it clear he has no intention of accepting the democratic decision of his workers," says Audrey Cormack. "In classic southern-U.S. style, he is out to bust the union rather than negotiate a fair deal."

Cormack points to the lock-out of Herald employees this past Sunday as evidence that the Southam paper has no intentions of bargaining fairly. The workers were sent home two days before they were in a legal strike position. Southam has already begun using replacement workers.

"Conrad Black is not in the habit of giving his workers two days off with pay," observes Cormack. "Sending his workers home had one goal and one goal only. To clear the plant out so he can start bringing in replacement workers."

"In any other province, this act of provocation would have been met with severe penalties from the Labour Relations Board," adds Cormack. Cormack criticized the Alberta Labour Relations Board for its poor decision on the legality of the lock-out. "The Board decision flies in the face of common sense."

The Alberta Federation of Labour is throwing its support behind the striking workers, members of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union and the Graphic Communications International Union. These unions were recently certified and are attempting to negotiate their first agreement.

"This is a fight about the fundamental democratic right to join a union. These workers followed the rules and decided they wanted union representation. Southam has an obligation to respect that decision," Cormack concludes.


For further information, contact:

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

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Liberals must resist pressure from business and Reform Party to recklessly slash taxes

EDMONTON - Members of the federal government are allowing themselves to be unduly swayed by pressure from the Reform Party and other advocates of radical tax cuts - and ordinary Canadians will pay the price, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Finance Minister Paul Martin tells us that there needs to be a broad public debate among Canadians about what should be done with budgetary surpluses," says Cormack. "But based on his remarks yesterday, it appears that the debate is already over - and Preston Manning and the National Post won."

Cormack's comments were made in the wake of a speech delivered by Martin yesterday afternoon to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. In the speech, Martin promised that tax cuts would become one of the government's main priorities over the next few years. No promises were made about increased funding for Medicare or other important government services.

The speech was a great disappointment for advocates of public health care and supporters of other programs and services aimed at improving the lives of middle and low-income families, says Cormack. She also says the federal government is missing an important opportunity to fix damage to public services and infrastructure caused by years of brutal budget cuts.

"The foundations of important public programs like Medicare have been seriously weakened by years of under-funding," says Cormack. "Canadians want to see these programs protected and strengthened - but that's not going to happen unless the government makes a more substantial financial commitment."

Cormack says the country's biggest threat now comes not from debt or inflation, but from people in conservative business, media and political circles who are calling for deep tax cuts. Cormack says such cuts will rob the government of the revenue needed to properly fund public services.

"If the government wants to maintain the quality and accessibility of public services like Medicare then it is imperative that they resist pressure from the Preston Mannings and Conrad Blacks of the world," says Cormack. "Reckless and irresponsible tax cuts may help wealthy individuals and corporations pad their bank accounts - but, for the vast majority of Canadians, these kinds of cuts will do much more harm than good."

Instead of yielding to pressure from right-wing ideologues, Cormack says the federal Liberals should listen to the majority of working Canadians who want more attention paid to public programs and services. In particular, she says surplus funds should be used to shore up Medicare; to repair and expand the country's crumbling infrastructure; to increase access to UI benefits for the unemployed; and to finance new initiatives like a national daycare system and a nation-wide Pharmacare plan.

Reforms need to be made to Canada's tax system, Cormack admitted, but she says they should be aimed exclusively at low and middle-income earners - not high-flying CEOs and managers. An increase in the basic personal exemption; the introduction of more progressive tax brackets; or the full indexation of tax brackets to inflation are the only kinds of changes that could be justified, she says.

"Paul Martin and the federal Liberals are playing a dangerous game," concludes Cormack. "Reckless and poorly-planned tax cuts could spell the end for Medicare and other public programs that have helped define Canada as a nation. Let's just hope the Liberals come to their sense before they follow Preston Manning and Conrad Black off a cliff."


For more information call:

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

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