EDMONTON - The so-called Social Union agreement that was signed yesterday by the Prime Minister and nine provincial premiers could mark the beginning of the end of Canada as we know it, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The implications of this deal are profound and entirely negative," says Cormack. "Far from bringing this country together, it will almost certainly drive the provinces apart. It will also weaken national social programs like Medicare, which have made Canada the envy of the world."
Cormack says she has three major objections to the Social Union deal. First, she's opposed to the new approach that will be taken towards establishing national social programs.
Under the deal, the federal government will not be able to proceed with any major new cost-shared initiatives without the approval of a majority of provinces. Cormack believes this provision will make it virtually impossible to implement new national programs.
"Our premiers have a hard time agreeing on anything - so this is a recipe for inaction and gridlock," she says. "If rules like this were in place during the 1960s, the federal government would never have been able to introduce Medicare - because too many provincial governments were opposed. By signing this agreement, the federal government has basically erased all hope that we'll every have any new Canada-wide programs, like a Pharmacare plan or a national child care program. And that's a real shame."
Cormack says she is also opposed to the Social Union agreement because it strips the federal government of the power to enforce national standards in areas like health care. Under the deal, the federal government has given up its right to withhold transfer payments from provinces that violate federal law or regulations, like the Canada Health Act. Instead, disputes over jurisdiction and the proper administration of programs will be settled through a yet-to-be-defined mediation process.
"This provision is particularly significant for Albertans,"says Cormack. "It means that the Alberta government will now have more freedom to experiment with things like private, for-profit health care. The federal government will no longer be able to step in and unilaterally enforce the Canada Health Act. As a result, Albertans should brace themselves for more user fees, more contracting out and more private, for-profit health services."
The final reason Cormack is opposed to the Social Union deal has to do with the way it was negotiated. She says it's another example of politicians making important decisions without consulting the public.
"This is an agreement that has profound implications for the future of Canada - yet Canadians were never consulted," she says. "At least with the Charlottetown Accord, Canadians were given a chance to vote on the final product. This time around citizens have been entirely shut out."
Aside from her objections to the agreement itself, Cormack says the Social Union deal is a failure because it was not endorsed by the government of Quebec.
"This is the biggest irony of the whole process," she says. "One of the reasons the federal and provincial governments started negotiating the Social Union in the first place was to address some of Quebec's long-standing concerns. But Quebec is still on the outside looking in. All the old division between Quebec and the other provinces are still in place - so much for strengthening the Canadian union."
Cormack says she is calling on all Canadians to contact their elected officials in order to express opposition to the Social Union agreement.
"The bottom line is that this is a bad deal. It weakens the federal government and puts the future of Medicare in the hands of privatizers like Ralph Klein and Mike Harris. Canadians should see this agreement for what it is - and they should oppose it."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President: 483-3021 (wk) / 499-6530 (cell) / 428-9367 (hm)