EDMONTON - The federal government's decision to name Don Mazankowski as chair of a new national agency dealing with health care issues would be comical if it wasn't so dangerous, says Les Steel President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Don Mazankowski is a privatizer, plain and simple, so he can't be trusted to defend our public health care system," says Steel. "It's like putting the fox in charge of the hen house or giving a bank robber the keys to the vault."
Steel's comments came after news leaked from Ottawa earlier today that Mazankowski will be appointed chair of a new watchdog group called the National Health Council.
Creating the council was one of the key recommendations outlined in Roy Romanow's influential report on health care reform. But Steel says the government is making a mockery of Romanow's intent by placing Mazankowski in charge.
"Romanow called for a council that would be objective and committed to protecting our public health care system," says Steel.
"But Mazankowski is neither objective, nor is he an advocate of the kind of publicly-funded and publicly-delivered health care system that most Canadians believe in. As author of the Klein government's blueprint for health reform, he has demonstrated a clear - and I would argue, blindly ideological - preference for dangerous for-profit experiments over more sensible not-for-profit reforms."
If the federal government is using Mazankowski's appointment as a bargaining chip to win support from Alberta for a new national health accord, Steel says they are being short-sighted and unhelpful to the cause of preserving Medicare.
"Some things are just too important to be bargained away," says Steel. "It's like a union negotiator giving away pension rights or health and safety guarantees to win a few more cents in wages. It doesn't make sense in the long run."
Steel says the best case scenario now is that Mazankowski will simply neutralize the Council as an effective player on health issues. The worst case scenario is that he will use it as a forum to promote the spread of Alberta-style market-oriented reforms to other provinces.
"Roy Romanow gave us a vision for reform that embraces Canadians values and focuses on public and not-for-profit solutions. But Mazankowski has a vision that goes in entirely the opposite direction. So in the short term his appointment may be a victory for the backroom boys who wanted a deal on health care. But, looking at the longer term, it's a betrayal of the Romanow commission - and the millions of Canadians who saw it as the best hope for the future of Medicare."
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 483-3021 (wk) or (780) 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021 (wk)