As most of you know, the AFL is Alberta's largest organization of labour unions. We represent 29 unions in the public and private sectors with a collective membership of more than 140,000 working Albertans.
As you probably also know, the AFL has played a central role in the fight to keep our health care system whole, and to keep it public.
With our partners in groups like Friends of Medicare, we fought against Bill 37 in the late 1990s.
In 2000, we fought against Bill 11- the provincial government's next attempt at expanding the role of private hospitals.
And in 2005 and 2006, we played a key role in the fight against the Third Way.
In all of these cases, the labour movement - through the AFL - marshalled its resources, mobilized its members and helped win the support of a clear majority of Albertans.
The ads, the town halls, the thousands of calls and letters to MLAs - we helped make those things happen. And we did it because we believe in our hearts, and in our guts, that public health care is worth fighting for.
All of these campaigns were instructive. They demonstrated that Albertans are passionately supportive of their public health care system. They demonstrated that Albertans are willing to pay for a top-notch public health services through their taxes. And they demonstrated that Albertans are deeply distrustful of, and opposed to, all efforts to weaken the system through privatization.
For our purposes this morning, I think it's particularly important that we look back on our province's experience with the so-called Third Way.
While we were preparing for this presentation, we dug up a document called "Removing Barriers" which was prepared by the government in 2005.
It was a summary of what the Third Way was all about - and it's worth reading if only to remind us that we've been here before.
According to the Removing Barriers document, the main goal of the Third Way was to pave the way for private insurance and for doctors to practice in both the public and private systems. Both of these changes were to be made by amending the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act and the Hospitals Act ... the same laws now under review by this committee.
Back in 2006, the people of Alberta heard this sales pitch and they made it clear that they weren't interested in buying.
They didn't want the government experimenting with private insurance. They didn't want the government to allow doctors to practice in both a public and private system or any other money-making scheme that would siphon resources from the public system to a for-profit one.
And the government was forced to back down.
So here we are, almost 4 years later.
The lesson from these earlier attempts at privatization should have been that the people of Alberta are not interested in more user fees, a parallel private system, or purchasing private insurance.
They are not interested in schemes that allow queue-jumping. And they're not fooled by loaded political buzzwords like "choice" and "flexibility."
What Albertans wanted then, and what they continue to want now, is a properly-funded public system that uses intelligent innovations within the public system to make sure people get the care they need, when they need it.
So what has the government learned from Bill 37, Bill 11 and the Third Way?
Well, they don't seem to understand what "no" means.
If anything, it appears the lesson the government has taken from all of these failed attempts at reform is not to accept that Albertans don't want more private health care, but rather that they should be just use new and better political "spins" to sell the idea.
That's why my organization is frankly suspicious of this committee and its work. Even some of your reassurances make us suspicious.
For example, this Committee has tried to reassure Albertans that we're not heading for a repeat of the Third Way by saying that whatever changes are made, the legislation that comes out the other end will be in compliance with the Canada Health Act.
With all due respect, this is perfect example of the political spin I was talking about - the kind of game-playing that makes Albertans more distrustful of the government's real intent, not less.
As all of you undoubtedly know, the Canada Health Act does not prevent private health services, private delivery, or private insurance.
The Canada Health Act does do is ensure that federal spending on health care supports publicly administered, comprehensive, universal, portable and accessible provincial health care insurance plans.
But the CHA is silent on whether there should or shouldn't be a parallel private system available to those who can afford to buy their way to the front of the line using US-style private insurance.
That means that restricting the growth of a parallel for-profit health care system is the role of provincial Legislatures, not the federal government through the Canada Health Act.
And what do the laws in Alberta say today? The good news, from our perspective, is that they actually do the job of protecting the integrity of the public system.
For example, in sections 6 and 7 of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act physicians are allowed to either opt in or opt out of the public system. There is no law against a physician setting up a wholly private practice. But the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act contains some powerful disincentives for physicians to go "private" - most notably the prohibition on opted-out doctors from receiving subsidies from the public system.
In addition, section 26 of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act outlaws contracts for private insurance for services that are covered in the public system, and private insurance is also not allowed to pay for all or part of fees charged by physicians who opt-out of the public system.
In other words, these are the laws that keep our system public. These laws, Alberta laws, are what keep the privatization monster at bay.
Unfortunately, they also happen to be the laws that this committee is proposing should be amalgamated, streamlined, and possibly relegated to regulation.
That's why we're worried.
We're worried because you're proposing to tinker with legislation governing opting-in, subsidization, and private insurance contained in the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act which are the only barrier to the creation of a private health care market.
We also worried because the legislative model you're proposing for the new "Alberta Health Act" is the model that the government used in the Drug Program Act.
As you know, the Drug Program Act is enabling legislation, which permits the Minister to establish a drug program for the purpose of providing funding for, or providing, drugs, services and approved drugs.
The Drug Program Act then permits the Minister to make regulations which will determine all of the details of the plan, including who is covered for what kind of drug coverage, amounts of co-payments and deductibles.
The Drug Program Act puts most of the power to decide the future of Albertans' drug coverage in the regulations, not the legislation or statute itself.
The key difference between a statute and a regulation - and I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating - is that a statute is approved by the Legislative Assembly following debate before it becomes law, while a regulation is not.
If the Drug Program Act is accepted as the model for the new Health Care Act, Alberta's health-care legislation will contain no details of the core health-care framework.
All details will be left to the Minister's discretion and will not subject to debate in the Legislative Assembly. Further, the Minister can change the regulations at any time without notice and without debate.
This model offers no assurances that delivery of insured services using public funding will be organized in a manner that preserves delivery of health care on a non-profit model; or appropriate standards for health and health services in Alberta will be established and enforced.
To us, it seems like a tool designed to ram privatization down the throats of Albertans. It seems to be a strategy aimed at giving the government the power to fundamentally change our health care system under the cover of night, because they haven't been able to do their dirty work successfully in the full light of day.
All of this is not to say that there aren't constructive changes that could be made to our various pieces of health care legislation.
For example, we could expand the services covered under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act to include more services, such as eye care.
We could move all Health-Insurance related legislation into one piece of legislation, consolidating the Hospitals Act and the Health Care Insurance Act, setting out more services that are insured under our public plan.
We could beef up accreditation and inspection of non-hospital surgical facilities such as the now-bankrupt Health Resources Centre, so that they are subject to the same rules as a public hospital.We could improve the standards in nursing and mental health care, which every reasonable person agrees would help to protect and better care for Alberta's most vulnerable citizens.
But there is no need to amalgamate all of the legislation, and there is even less need to structure our health care laws as enabling legislation. This committee appears to be breaking the things that don't need fixing while not even looking at the areas - like mental health and seniors' care - that are actually broken.
In conclusion, I want to be perfectly clear with this committee.
My purpose here this morning is to let you and the government know that we have a pretty clear idea of what you're up to.
In the language of that old Third Way document, it seems to us that your task is to remove barriers. And the barriers you seem intent on removing are the barriers that currently exist in legislation to private insurance and the introduction of a parallel, private health care system. Perhaps most disturbingly, you want to achieve these radical changes in a way that is profoundly undemocratic.
So please, tell the Minister, tell the cabinet, tell the Premier: if they go ahead with this attempt to structure our health laws against the wishes and best interests of Albertans, we in the labour movement will, once again, stand up for and with ordinary Albertans.
Tell them not to fix something if it's not broken.
And tell them to do what Albertans have been asking for from the beginning: and that is to improve the public system by focusing on reforms within the public system itself, not by constantly returning to discredited and dangerous privatization schemes.
Gil McGowan, President
Alberta Federation of Labour
Thursday, June 29, 2010
Which way will we pay for our vital public services?
- Despite all the media reports and shrill calls for cuts, Alberta does not have a spending problem, it has a revenue problem. We could raise billions of dollars simply by making our overall tax regime comparable to other provinces. In a new report, the AFL calls for a grown-up conversation about how we can pay for the vital public services Albertans want. To become a part of this conversation, join us as we launch our new report. For details ...
Let the government know how much you still value public health care
- The Alberta government is pressing ahead with its controversial health-care plans, giving the public little opportunity to have a say. After intense pressure, it has reversed its policy on invitation-only meetings on the issue and is now allowing the public to attend. It also has an online survey, full of code words and language that replicates the rhetoric of Ralph Klein's Third Way and the 2002 Mazankowski report. Privatization of our health-care system remains a threat. For information ...
Spending cuts hurt youth and aboriginals just when they need help
- The Alberta government cut spending on employment training programs by $23 million, despite its own numbers showing dramatic job losses in the province. The recession is hurting young people, aboriginal people, workers in forestry industries, and workers in the construction trades, just to name a few. And yet, AFL analysis shows that the government targeted funding cuts to programs that benefit those Albertans. For press release ...
Remember Bill 11? We do
- Bill 11 (Alberta Healthcare Protection Act) was introduced in April 2000. It was a blatant attempt by the government to privatize health care, but opposition through protests organized by labour and the Friends of Medicare forced the government to remove most of the offensive sections. For the poster ...
Sign the petition on the future of education in Alberta
- The Alberta Government intends to introduce a new School Act. This act needs to be based on some key principles, among them that educational success should not depend on the background, social status or economic characteristics of learners and their families. For Alberta to thrive, all children must have the opportunity to find and nurture their talent. To read more ...
June 21, 2010 - National Aboriginal Day
For more information on community events leading up to the celebration, go to: http://www.aboriginal.alberta.ca/documents/NAD_eventListJune16.pdf
June 22, 2010 - No Free Lunch: Financing the Priorities of Calgarians (Parkland Institute)
120, 333 - 5 Avenue SW
For more information, go to http://www.facebook.com/?ref=home#!/event.php?eid=128332787200279&ref=mf
June 25, 2010 - 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; June 26, 2010 - 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Labour Centre Meeting Hall (downstairs), 10425 Princess Elizabeth Avenue. For more information, go to: http://www.edlc.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105:edmonton-municipal-election-training&catid=38:our-schools&Itemid=13
June 22, 2010 - Grande Prairie - Alberta Health Act Consultation
June 23, 2010 - Peace River - Alberta Health Act Consultation
Did you know ...
- $5.5 billion - the amount Alberta could increase its revenue by abandoning the flat-rate income tax that benefits primarily wealthy Albertans;
- $10 billion to $18 billion - the amount Alberta could increase its revenue if it adopted an overall tax regime comparable to other provinces;
- $90 billion - the amount collected in non-renewable resource revenues since Alberta's net debt was eliminated in 1999-2000;
- $4 billion - amount put into the Heritage Fund since 2000;
- $5 billion - amount withdrawn from the Heritage Fund in since 2000;
- $135 billion - amount that would be in the Heritage Fund if all resource revenues had been put in since 2000;
- $7 billion - how much would be generated annually by the Heritage Fund of $135 billion;
- $135 billion - (that's another $135 billion) amount the province would have generated by collecting and saving resource rents at a rate closer to other oil-producing jurisdictions;
- $460 billion - the amount in Norway's Heritage Fund.
May 2010: Health-care reform; Workplace safety; Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights; Spring/Summer 2010 Union Magazine
Have your say on health-care reform!
- The Alberta government is hosting 28 "invitation-only" meetings around the province as it plans sweeping changes to the health-care system. Friends of Medicare, supported by the Join Together Alberta campaign, is fighting to make sure the public has a voice by staging eight fully public meetings across the province. For more details ...
Alberta unprepared to keep workers safe if boom times return
- New research released by the AFL shows that government spending on workplace safety has not kept pace with growth in the provincial economy and population - and, as a result, workers around the province are being put at risk, especially if the economy ramps up for another boom. Click here for more information ...
Albertans have a right to a clean environment
- Inspired by NDP MP Linda Duncan's private member's bill to create a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights (Bill C-469), the AFL Environment Committee wants the Alberta government to craft an environmental bill of rights covering the citizens of the province. For full text of the bill ...
Alberta's political landscape is changing
- The emergence of the Wildrose Alliance Party and the fracturing of the political landscape presents challenges and opportunities for the labour movement. Read all about it in the new Spring/Summer edition of the AFL's Union magazine.
Keep up the pressure for workplace health and safety
- The Auditor General's report severely criticized the government for failing to enforce workplace safety laws and called for action, including the naming of repeat corporate offenders. The AFL has long fought for stronger health and safety standards and enforcement. Workers have a right to know whether their workplace is safe or not. There is still time to pressure the Employment Minister to act. See the AFL press release on the report and the Auditor General's report - occupational health and safety
June 9, 2010 - Calgary/June 11, 2010 - Medicine Hat
On to Ottawa Trek
Saturday, June 5, 2010, Changing Together - Annual Multi-cultural Day (Centre for Immigrant Women) - light supper and entertainment
June 25/26, 2010 - EDLC/CLC Municipal Election TrainingJune 25, 2010 - 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; June 26, 2010 - 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Labour Centre Meeting Hall (downstairs), 10425 Princess Elizabeth Avenue. For more information...
June 18, 2010 - deadline for registrations for 2010 AFL Kids' Camp Camp dates are August 9 - 13, 2010Camper Registration Form and Union Donations and Volunteer Form
Did you know ...
- Alberta has more workplace fatalities than the national average, at 5.9 per 100,000 workers compared with 4.2 nationally
- The number of Albertans working in the four most dangerous industries has almost doubled since 1991, growing to 620,000 workers from 341,000
- Alberta employs fewer health and safety inspectors than the national average: 1.4 inspectors per 10,000 workers compared with the national figure of 2.1
- Alberta spends less per worker on occupational health and safety today (when 22 per cent of Albertans work in the top four dangerous industries) than the Getty government did in 1991 (when only 15 per cent of Albertans worked in the four most dangerous industries)
One group, made up mainly of students, marched from Grant Mac-Ewan University. Another, made up of more than 150 people including social workers from around Alberta, seniors and people with disabilities, marched from the Shaw Conference Centre.
Cars honked to show support as the line of demonstrators paraded down Jasper Avenue, chanting, carrying flags and signs and holding lengths of coloured fabric intended to represent the fabric of Alberta's communities. Gary F. Johnston, who is blind, used the fabric to guide him as he marched to the rally.
"I don't agree with job cuts," said Johnston, who came by bus with a group from Calgary to attend the event. "It's not that Alberta can't afford it here."
About 400 people converged at the legislature early Saturday afternoon to oppose government cuts announced in February as part of the 2010-11 provincial budget. Many protesters wore plaid scarves of green, blue and gold, distributed at 22 town hall meetings across the province organized by Join Together Alberta.
The coalition of unions has been holding the meetings and urging citizens to speak out against cuts to public services they say will lengthen health-care wait times, increase school class sizes and undermine services for vulnerable Albertans such as people with disabilities.
Demonstrators waving union flags and carrying signs that read "Stop the Cuts" and "Education is a Right" cheered and chanted as they listened to several speakers, including Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and a key organizer of Saturday's rally.
"Since the provincial budget came down on Feb. 9, I've been trying to understand the process behind it," McGowan told the crowd. "I've been trying to get into the heads of people like Ed Stelmach and (Finance Minister) Ted Morton, and I guess that might explain why I'm feeling a little under the weather."
McGowan criticized the government for responding to the global recession by eliminating public service jobs, freezing wages, cutting employment programs "and slashing services for families in need."
"Who believes that Alberta, Canada's richest province by almost any definition, can no longer afford all these services that we currently have?" McGowan said.
"We know that public services strengthen the fabric of our communities and our economy. We know that investments in things like schools and colleges and infrastructure are absolutely crucial to a more prosperous and equitable future."
Grade 11 Harry Ainlay student Mallory Chipman, who organized the student march, told the crowd she was "shocked" and disappointed at the cuts announced in the provincial budget, especially those that will drive up the cost of post-secondary education.
"A post-secondary education is beyond expensive already," Chipman said. "Increasing it by hundreds of dollars makes it that much more difficult for us as students to achieve this level of education. Is post-secondary education in this province going to be only for the wealthy? Are the oil rigs going to be the only answer for those who want to make a decent living, but can't afford to pursue a higher education?"
The government has made $1.3 billion in cuts to areas such as environment, children and youth services and employment. However, that money is being reinvested back into priority areas such as health and education, said Alberta Finance spokesman Bart Johnson.
Alberta Health Services will get a one-time debt repayment of $759 million and a massive 17-percent increase in its operating budget. School boards will receive $250 million more. Funding for programs for people with developmental disabilities will stay the same, as will the Alberta Seniors Benefit and AISH.
"So there were cuts in other areas of government, but the focus was on protecting funding in those most important areas, being health, education and supports for seniors and the vulnerable," Johnson said.
"Given what we were up against as a province -- a large deficit with our revenues having dropped off significantly in the past two years -- I think we struck a good balance in terms of reducing costs in some areas of program spending and increasing or maintaining costs in those most important areas."
Edmonton Journal, Sun Mar 21 2010
Calgary Herald, Sun Mar 21 2010
Byline: Andrea Sands
Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta legislature on Saturday afternoon to protest cuts to public services.
Chanting "Save Our Services," the protesters carried signs warning of cuts to funding for healthcare, education and social programs.
An estimated 500 people, from communities across the province, turned out for the rally.
Jerry Toews, with the Alberta Federation of Labour and one of the rally's organizers, said the provincial government's financial blueprint is being misunderstood.
"It seems to us that the government has somehow spun a story that this is a good news budget, that this in fact is a spending budget," Toews said.
"When you look into it, it isn't. It's anything but a good news budget.
"There are billions of dollars that are being cut to public services that Albertans need."
The protest was organized by Join Together Alberta, a relatively new group that has banded together a number of unions and public interest groups.
"It may be the first time in many years that such a broad base of groups has gotten together," Toews said.
"Whether it's unions and labour groups, but also public interest groups, social services groups, students, elderly folks - it's people realizing that public services impact all of our lives and that they're worth investing in."
CBC News, Sat Mar 20 2010
PUBLIC SECTOR CUTS: Joining together brings success: Join Together Alberta redoubles efforts to change this year's provincial budget
Before the budget was released, it was assumed by many that it would contain cuts to the public sector in the range of $2 to $3 billion. Though the budget released on February 9th did contain significant cuts, they were not as large as some had feared.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and a partner in the Join Together Alberta coalition believes the public sector cuts were not as severe as they could have been. Through the organizing of town hall meetings, rallies and online campaigns, McGowan believes the work of the Alberta Teachers Association, the Alberta Union of Public Employees and the Join Together coalition helped to stave off some of the cuts that could have happened, and McGowan is convinced that, without the group's hard work, "the budget would have been much more brutal."
And the budget was brutal enough according to those concerned with public sector spending. A total of $1.3 billion cut from 14 ministries, with a goal of cutting $240 million more over the course of the year. Headlines covering the budget focused largely on increased spending on Alberta Health Services and school boards but the $1.3 billion cut will impact directly on many Albertans both as employees and as recipients of services. Areas hardest hit by this budget include housing, families, children, culture and education.
Join Together Alberta spent the months leading up to the budget traveling across Alberta holding town halls, meetings and rallies against cuts to the public sector, and this Saturday the coalition will join together again to march to the legislature and show support for funding to the public sector.
According to a budget analysis prepared for the Join Together Alberta coalition, the cuts, while spread over 14 ministries, target the things Albertans value "highly," including the environment, sustainable resource development, the arts, grants for post-secondary students as well as the vulnerable: children, youth, the unemployed, immigrants and seniors.
The Edmonton Social Planning Council's budget analysis found that with this budget, "the province is providing less than one-third of the required funding" towards its stated goal of ending homelessness in the province. They also point out that the budget for income support is being cut by $47 million in the next year-surprising, considering Statistics Canada released the latest employment numbers last week showing that job losses in Alberta are continuing.
Grants to students in advanced education and technology were cut by $54 million-this, while tuition increases are at the maximum allowable rate and universities are looking at non-tuition fees to increase revenues, making a university education in the province even less accessible.
At the same time, $28 million of funding was cut from child intervention services, an area where advocates have complained for years of chronic under-funding. This 6.8 percent funding reduction is to a service that is fundamentally concerned with the health and safety of the most vulnerable children.
There are cuts in many other ministries: Employment and Immigration has an almost 7 percent cut, Environment has over an 11 percent cut, and Culture and Community Spirit is facing a budget cut of 8.1 percent.
Even in areas where there were little or no cuts, the possibility of growth in need was not accounted for. The assumption is that fewer children will require care, fewer unemployed people will require assistance, fewer immigrants will require support, and fewer people will require assistance to pay their rent. But these assumptions seem at odds with the most recent employment numbers, showing that Alberta is the only province to see unemployment continue to rise, with nearly 15 000 jobs lost in February alone.
McGowan believes one of the lessons of this most recent budget is that "citizens can make a difference when they band together and speak out against deep cuts to public services."
Vue Week, week of March 18, 2010, Issue 752
Byline: Tiffany Brown-Olsen