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)