February 2012: Beyond Acute Care Conference; Better Way Alberta campaign; farm workers safety; health care; Burns Lake blast; 2012 Centennial
Register now to see Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow at conference on health care
- It's time that seniors and those with disabilities were covered by the medicare umbrella. World-renowned consumer-rights advocate Ralph Nader will be the keynote speaker on Friday, Feb. 24, at a major conference in Edmonton on provincial and national policies needed to ensure fair and compassionate care of seniors and the disabled. Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians will close the conference on Feb. 25. For more information ...
Coalition launches Better Way Alberta campaign on tax and royalty reform
- It just doesn't add up! Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth, but can't seem to find enough money to adequately fund the public services that Albertans want, including health care and education. The reason? Our tax and royalty system is broken and wealthy individuals and corporations aren't paying their fair share. But there is a Better Way. For more information ... Hear the cheeky radio ads, follow the campaign on Twitter and like the Facebook page at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca
- MLA Kevin Taft publishes book that asks Albertans to Follow the Money
Labour leaders from across Canada call on premiers to stand up for health care
- Canada's most important social program is universal health care, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced his intention to abdicate from his responsibility to defend it, opening the door to increased privatization. The presidents of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour called on the Premiers to fight for health care and reject the PM's plan. For more information ...
Farm workers still waiting for Alberta government to take action on safety
- Three years ago, a judge investigating the death of farm worker Kevan Chandler recommended that the Alberta government extend the laws on workplace safety to include farm and ranch workers. The government has failed to heed the judge's call. With an average of 16 workers dying every year on agricultural sites, there's no excuse for this shameful inaction. Farm workers deserve the same rights as all other workers in this province. For more information ...
Join labour movement in rallying round community devastated by blast
- The community of Burns Lake, B.C., has been rocked by an explosion that levelled the Babine Forest Products mill. The Vancouver Sun describes the mill as "the lifeblood of Burns Lake, a small town in north-central B.C., providing 250 jobs and supporting hundreds more jobs in logging, timber hauling, welding and other services." The United Steelworkers and the B.C. Federation of Labour have joined forces to raise funds for families affected by the blast. To read about the effects of the blast ... To donate to the fund ...
- Centennial celebrations looming – and we need your help! The AFL will host its centennial celebrations in Fort Edmonton Park on June 16, 2012. This event is open to everyone. We would like to see ALL unions, members, their families, activists and the general public. We need your help in developing an "ACTIVIST" database or email addresses that would allow us to spread the word. Do you know former activists who helped build the movement in Alberta? Can you provide us with names and contact info? June 16 is a chance to celebrate 100 years of struggle and solidarity and recognize the role unions have played in advancing the rights of all workers. Help us make this event a great success! For more information ...
- February 3: Deadline for nominations for AFL International Women's Day Award 2012
- February 3: Deadline for nominations for May Day Solidarity Award 2012
- February 14: Calgary's 4th Annual Valentine's Day Women's Memorial March
- February 14: AFL Executive Committee
- February 14-15: AFL Executive Council
- February 15: WCB Labour Education Seminar: Understanding the Request for Review Process
- February 15: WCB Labour Education Seminar: Understanding WCB
- February 16: Deadline to register for Edmonton and District Labour Council (EDLC) Annual Labour School
- February 20: UN World Day of Social Justice
- February 24-25: Beyond Acute Care conference with Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow
- February 24-26: EDLC Annual Labour School
- March 8: International Women's Day
- March 21: International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination
- March 22: World Water Day
Did You Know ...
- Alberta is the only province with a flat tax, which disproportionately benefits high-income earners. Returning to a progressive tax system could generate billions of dollars by making the wealthy pay their fair share.
- Alberta has set the price it charges for its oil assets far lower than other jurisdictions. The province could collect billions more and still leave energy companies making a profit far more than is considered normal.
- According to a study conducted by the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute, the Alberta government would have taken in an additional $37 billion in revenue from energy companies over the past decade if it had met its own minimum targets for royalty collection.
- By the Alberta government's own estimates, we could increase taxes by nearly $11 billion a year and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country! Such an increase would entirely eliminate the province's current $3-billion deficit, with almost $8 billion left over for savings or investment in services that Albertans value like education and health care.
- More than 90 per cent of the world's oil reserves are controlled by national energy companies and out of the reach of private companies. Of the remaining 10 per cent, half are in Alberta. So, if private companies want to get at the oil – and at $100 per barrel, they really do – they have to come here. This puts us in a strong bargaining position. For more information ...
Health care’s future now up to premiers: Labour leaders call on provinces to unite against Ottawa’s plans
The future of Canada's health care system is at a critical stage.
As leaders of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour, we have issued a call to the country's premiers, who are meeting in Victoria, to put forward a united front and stand up for Canada's universal health care system and the millions of Canadians who depend on it.
In December, the Harper government sent a clear message that it intends to abrogate its responsibility to defend national health care standards and universality. It plans to walk away from its responsibility to lead the negotiations to develop a new Health Accord. The current Accord ends in 2014.
Instead, the federal government has laid out a take-it-or-leave-it funding formula that will see Ottawa contributing a lot less to health care by 2017, tying increases in funding to economic growth.
This is an attempt by the Harper government to hijack the real debate. The real debate should be how we, as Canadians, tackle and bring about meaningful and positive change. The real debate must be how we build and enhance our public health care system. The current Health Accord has shown us that with stable long-term funding and common goals and targets, we can deliver better health care.
Our most valued social program — something that unites all Canadians — deserves a plan that tackles growing disparities in health outcomes and growing gaps in access to care.
While Canadians need to see stable funding for health care, there are also the issues of accountability, national standards and targets, equality of access and quality. How will these issues be addressed if the federal government washes its hands of its responsibility?
As provincial labour leaders representing workers from coast to coast, we are calling on our premiers and provincial leaders to take a strong stance in defence of every resident. This is not just about dollars and cents it's about values — values that Canadians have embraced for half a century.
These are values that include a publicly funded and administered health care system in which all Canadians have access to the same quality health care regardless of income and no matter where they live in our country.
It's about a Canada where families with loved ones battling diseases that threaten their lives are not also forced to contend with poverty and inadequate care.
The next generation of Canadians deserves a high-quality health care system, not one starved for funds. Our children need to know that their right to decent health care is based on their rights as citizens and not the limits on their credit cards.
If our federal government is acting unilaterally against the interests of Canadians, then it is incumbent upon our premiers to act as the front line of defence of the public interest and to fight for adequate and sustainable funding that protects our health care system.
Some of our premiers have already come to the conclusion that the Flaherty plan will erode our universal health care system and values. Working people agree.
In fact, we believe the federal Conservative plan of further corporate tax cuts, on the one hand, and reduced funding for health care, on the other, will simply further reward the 1 per cent and punish the 99 per cent.
As our premiers attend the Council of the Federation meeting, they will be sitting down to discuss the very values that Canadians embrace: equality, fairness, access for all regardless of income.
Those who came before us created a health care system based on the solidarity of Canadians with each other. It is our collective duty to ensure its survival for generations to come. Unfortunately, what the federal government is proposing does not meet this test.
Now is not the time to be looking for a better deal for any individual province or territory. Now is the time to be united.
Every Canadian should join us in calling upon our premiers to reject the federal proposal, to reject a framework that leaves Canadians out of the discussion and to embrace the values upon which our nation and our health care system were built.
It is time for our premiers to stand up to a Harper government that appears hell-bent on eroding the social foundation of our country and become true health care champions. The choice is clear, but our premiers must rise to the challenge.
Sid Ryan is president, Ontario Federation of Labour, and writes on behalf of the other presidents of provincial and territorial labour federations: The Presidents of the Provincial and Territorial Federations of Labour: Jim Sinclair, British Columbia; Don Austin, Yukon; MaryLou Cherwaty, NWT and Nunavut; Gil McGowan, Alberta; Larry Hubich, Saskatchewan; Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba; Michel Boudreau, New Brunswick; Carl Pursey, PEI; Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia; Lana Payne, Newfoundland and Labrador.
thespec.com, Mon Jan 16 2012
The Presidents of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour are calling on Canada's Premiers to reject an irresponsible Federal Conservative "plan" for health care.
In an open letter from the labour leaders to the premiers, attending a meeting of the Council of the Federation in Victoria today, the Premiers are asked to stand up and support Canada's most important social program: universal health care.
"We believe, as many Canadians do, that the Harper Government's December announcement is an abdication of its responsibility. Our letter to the premiers is a call for true leadership on health care - leadership that we are not getting from Ottawa," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Harper's 'no-strings' approach to funding is a recipe to allow for increased privatization and two-tier health care, something that the vast majority of Canadians reject. The federal government has a duty to defend public health care, but Harper wants to abdicate from that responsibility," says McGowan.
As the federation presidents outline in their letter, the Harper Government has proposed significant cuts to health-care funding, beginning in 2017. The announced cuts come after the federal government made the decision to ignore the issue of establishing a new Health Accord, the latest of which is set to expire in 2014.
"In a style that has become typical of the Harper government, the provinces are going to be handed a take-it-or-leave-it decision without any meaningful dialogue whatsoever. If Prime Minister Harper is not willing to play a leadership role in securing the future of the health-care system, then the premiers must make a stand on behalf of Canadians, on behalf of the values upon which our nation and our health-care system are founded."
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Media contact: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Expect cutbacks to the education system to be front-and-centre when a group calling for more money for education, health care, and other government services holds a public meeting in Edmonton Thursday night.
The 7pm meeting at Santa Maria Community Centre, at 11050 90th Street, marks the last one on a seven-city tour by Join Together Alberta. Public Interest Alberta, Alberta Federation of Labour, Friends of Medicare, and the Alberta Teachers' Association are among those taking part.
Both, Edmonton Public and Catholic School Boards are preparing to move forward with fewer teachers and other staff this fall, in an effort to balance their books. The public school board has already passed its budget, with cuts to 229 teaching positions. The Catholic board is forecasting 97 lost teaching positions, as it prepares to pass its budget next week.
iNews880am, Thurs Jun 23 2011
By December, 116 long-term care residents will be transferred from Mackenzie Place to the privately-owned Points West Living facility, as well as the new Grande Prairie Care Centre, set to open at the end of this year.
Since opening in May to serve seniors as well as mental health, dementia and palliative care patients, Points West has taken in 51 residents from Mackenzie Place.
Paula Anderson is a Grande Prairie resident and vice-president of the provincial lobbying group, Friends of Medicare. She said a close friend's husband suffers from dementia, and is among the Mackenzie Place residents who have already been moved.
Anderson spoke of her concerns to media at a Friends of Medicare appearance at the QEII Thursday.
"With patients in this situation, moving them is an upheaval in their lives, and we know that a lot of the people who have been transferred and moved from one facility to another don't do well – it can shorten life expectancy," she said.
"What I'm hearing is that there's a lot of minimum wage people being hired over at Points West. What kind of training do they bring to it compared to trained nursing staff that are very well versed in dementia patients and long-term care patients?"
"We're seeing a disturbing trend across the province of moving patients out of public long-term care facilities and into private centres," added Friends of Medicare director David Eggen of Edmonton.
"In the midst of doing that, we fear that we are losing economic efficiency for our health care."
Mary Dahr works as a technologist in the QEII's microbiology lab, and has seen concern among the Mackenzie Place staff over the transition.
"They're not only concerned for their livelihood, but they're concerned for the patients there," she said. "The families of the patients at Mackenzie Place were told that 90% of the caregivers from Mackenzie Place would be at the new facility, and that in fact is not happening."
But the province's health provider states that the move is an improvement to seniors care in Grande Prairie.
"Alberta Health Services are working to increase choices for seniors and others across the province," said Deb Guerette of AHS communications in Grande Prairie, adding that Points West Living has already taken in 32 local seniors who were previously without long-term care.
"In Grande Prairie, when the two new facilities open, there will be 91 new spaces for supportive living and continuing care residents that we have not had before. It also creates a much more modern and homelike environment for residents."
Guerette admits that Mackenzie Place staff will lose their jobs with the transition, but said that the new facilities will offer opportunity for them.
"Staff have the option of seeking a new position within AHS, or with working with one of the facility partners," she said.
"We have hired qualified staff from Grande Prairie, including staff from Mackenzie Place, and continue to look for more staff including from Mackenzie Place," said Doug Mills, manager of company that runs Points West, Connecting Care. "They are at similar wages and their seniority was recognized."
Friends of Medicare members expressed concern Thursday that the privately-run Points West Living will not uphold the same standards as the hospital's long-term care centre, but Alberta Health is assuring the public that services will not degenerate and that the fees Mackenzie Place resident's families pay will not increase.
"The private partners operate under the same standards and have for some 50 years in Alberta," Guerette said. "Whether the provider is public or voluntary or private they're all required to comply with the same standards."
Alberta Daily Herald Tribune, Sat Jun 10 2011
Byline: Eric Plummer
Alberta labour, social agencies unite to fight provincial budget cuts: Higher taxes, energy royalties would stablize funding for education, social services, health care, group says
EDMONTON — Raising taxes will reduce provincial budget cuts and save more than 1,000 teachers from losing their jobs in Alberta, say unions, community groups and social-services agencies, which have banded together to push for more funding.
Collecting more revenue will help the government provide more stable and long-term funding to programs and services that Albertans need and rely on, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
To that end, McGowan's group and dozens of other organizations have launched a campaign called Join Together Alberta to press the government for more funding for education, social services and health care.
"Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens? The truth is: there is no good reason," McGowan said. "We need to talk about higher royalty rates for the development and sell of our collectively owned natural resources."
Alberta also needs to talk about reducing corporate tax breaks and increasing taxes for higher-income earners, he said.
Join Together Alberta's initiative comes on the heals of an announcement from Edmonton's public school board that provincial budget cuts will cost nearly 350 jobs, including more than 200 teaching positions. The Calgary board is expected to trim 358 teachers and support staff. The government committed this week to spend $550 million on new schools.
How the government fixes the problem is its decision, said Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.
"The children that are in our schools right now are entitled to a proper education in a province that is this wealthy," she said. "They need to put $100 million back into the education system now for this fall."
Armstrong said if the cuts are made, it will lead to larger class sizes, less teacher attention per student and more difficulty improving graduation rates.
Diana Gibson, research director for the Parkland Institute, said the provincial government should stop tying social services to oil and gas prices. That system isn't working and hasn't been for a long time, she said.
"Our social spending goes up and down. It's very volatile because oil and gas is volatile. To have some form of stability in our education, health care and social programs, we need to rely on stable, predictable revenues."
Politicians have long boasted that Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada, Gibson said, but Alberta should be beating other provinces by a yard, not a mile. The province can raise taxes to provide adequate funding for services and still have the lowest tax rates, she said.
The rest of the provinces are collecting between $11 billion to $20 billion more in taxes than Alberta.
"That gap is so big," she said. "Why the difference? We could capture $10.9 billion and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada and one of the lowest in the G7."
McGowan agreed, adding the change won't affect industry.
"People in businesses don't come to Alberta because of the low tax rates. They come to Alberta because of the oil and gas."
So why is Alberta laying off education workers; under-funding universities, colleges and technical schools; and skimping on other services,s he asked.
"The answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because provincial government has decided to make it bare."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs May 26 2011
Byline: Miranda Scotland
Gil McGowan, President
Our current provincial government wants Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding ... even for vital services like education.
People like Premier Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock put on their most sorrowful faces and said things like:
"We're sorry, but – really – there is no alternative."
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up; they see glitzy office towers rising; they see the economy springing back to life.
And they wonder: Why?
Why, amidst such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
The truth is: It is ordinary Albertans, with hearts and their guts, who are right, and it's our politicians, with their pious pronouncements, who are wrong.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals ... about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society ... then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
And what do the facts tell us?
Well, they tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we still have no public debt ...
...that, on a person basis, our provincial economy is 75 percent larger than the Canadian average...
...that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 percent over the past decade...
...that ten of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oil sands each year.
These are NOT tough times.
We are a province that can think big and dream big. And we are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services like education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
That's the part where they tell Albertans that we has a spending problem – that costs are out of control for public services.
But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
They tell us that, despite our wealth, Alberta's per person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
They tell us that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
And they tell us that, as a share of our provinces overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years – and not by just a little bit.
All of this begs the question: if we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question that Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians: now; during the Tory leadership race and in the next election.
And the answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments here in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
That's why we've re-established the Join Together Alberta coalition ... and it's why we'll be circulating our declaration and hosting townhalls across the province.
We want to help Albertans understand that lay-offs and larger class sizes are not inevitable or unavoidable.
We want to remind our leaders and the public about the important role that public services play in building a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.
We want to demonstrate that what we have is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
We want to pressure our politicians to stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we to call on the government to deal with the real problem: which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out. Peter Lougheed, members of the premier's advisory panel on economic strategy, think tanks like the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation: they're all calling for a discussion on revenue reform.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. But for the sake of our kids, our families and our future, this is a discussion we have to have. We're going to do our part to make sure that happens.
River Valley Room, Chateau Lacombe
March 26, 2011
A coalition of public sector workers is ramping up its call for no more government cuts.
The Join Together Alberta group launched a new campaign Thursday, essentially creating a coalition including the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA).
The coalition has issued a declaration, asking the provincial government to stop "contemplating cuts, freezes and rollbacks in any vital public services at a time of obvious prosperity."
"We want to really help the public understand how important our public services are in Alberta," says Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the ATA.
It came to light Tuesday that upwards of 1,000 teaching positions may be cut come September, according to a draft budget. Armstrong says the Alberta education system is expecting more than 6,000 new students in September, and 100,000 more by 2020.
Armstrong says the governments recent announcement of more than $550 million for 22 new schools in the province is "short sighted."
"Why you would put money into building schools when you choose not to finance the schools (and) programs that you have right now is certainly questionable," says Armstrong.
The Join Together Alberta group will be launching a series of town halls across the province, starting in Red Deer on June 6. The coalition also plans a telephone town hall on May 31, and a mass telephone campaign reaching more than 250,000 homes in Alberta.
The group welcomes anyone who is willing to sign the declaration. For more information visit www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca.
Edmonton Sun, Thurs May 26 2011
Byline: Tanara McLean