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)Read more
EDMONTON - Thousands of unemployed Albertans have been left without adequate means of support and hundreds of millions of dollars have been drained away from the Alberta economy - all as the result of radical changes made to the Unemployment Insurance system over the past ten years.
Those are just two of the findings contained in a study released earlier today by the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa. The study uses Statistics Canada data to paint a picture of the disturbing impact that changes to the UI system are having on individuals, communities and businesses across the country.
"All of us in the labour movement have been saying for years that the federal government has made bad decisions in the area of UI policy - particularly when they imposed brutal changes to the rules for UI eligibility in 1996," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "Now this study proves our point. Canadian workers and Canadian communities are paying a heavy price as a result of the so-called reforms."
On the national level, the CLC study shows that the changes to UI rules have dramatically reduced the support available for jobless workers. In 1997, only 36 percent of unemployed Canadians qualified for UI benefits - down from 74 percent in 1989.
The situation is even more serious in Alberta, where the percentage of unemployed workers receiving benefits dropped from 60 percent in 1989 to 27 percent in 1997. According to the CLC study, only Ontario has a lower eligibility rate (25 percent in 1997).
"The attack on working people started with the Mulroney government and has intensified under the Liberals," says Cormack. "Both governments made it more difficult for workers - especially women and young people - to qualify for the benefits they deserve. The result is that the UI system is no longer there for Canadians when they need it."
But unemployed Canadians aren't the only ones who have been hurt by the changes to the UI system, adds Cormack. She says the cuts to UI pay-outs have also caused a lot of pain for communities and businesses across the country.
The CLC study shows that an average of $660 million dollars has been drained away from the Alberta economy each year since 1993 as a result of the UI cuts - for a total of more than $3.3 billion. Between 1993 and 1997, most federal ridings in the province have lost at least $100 million - some as much as $200 million.
For example, the federal riding of Calgary Centre lost an average of $41.6 million a year in UI benefits between 1993 and 1997 - for a total of $208 million. About $39.4 million was lost from the local economy in Edmonton East during the same period - for a total of $197 million.
"We're not talking about faceless numbers here," says Cormack. "Every dollar that has been withdrawn from the UI system represents a dollar taken out of the pockets of unemployed Canadians. It's one less dollar they have to spend on their rent or providing for their families. It's also one less dollar to be spent at the corner grocery store or at the local mall. The personal and economic costs of the UI cuts have been truly staggering."
Cormack says the most tragic part of this story is that the UI cuts imposed by the Mulroney and Chretien governments were entirely unnecessary. Even during the darkest days of the last recession, the UI fund was not over-extended and there was no evidence of wide-spread abuse of the system.
To add insult to injury, Canadian workers are still paying roughly the same amount in UI premiums as they did earlier in the decade - even though it's much more difficult to collect benefits. The result is that a huge surplus has developed in the UI fund - more than $20 billion over the past five years.
Cormack says the time has come for the federal government to reassess its policies and use the UI fund for the purpose it was intended - to support unemployed workers, not as a slush fund to finance other government expenditures.
"It's clear now that the so-called UI "reforms" of the past ten years have been a disaster for workers, communities and business," says Cormack. "The time has come for the federal government to admit they made a serious mistake. The time has come for them to them to put the surplus dollars back into the UI system. The surplus should be used to restore the system - to make UI more accessible and more generous. Right now, too many people are being left out in the cold - and that's a situation that has to change."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications: 483-3021 (wk)
*Note: 2-page backgrounder attached
AFL -- UI Backgrounder
Number of Regular UI Beneficiaries - Monthly Average (in thousands)
|1989||1990||1991||1992||1993||1994||1995||1996||1997||Decline from 1989|
Percentage of Unemployed Receiving UI
Percentage of Unemployed Receiving UI - Major Canadian Cities
Percentage of Unemployed Albertans Receiving UI - By Gender and Age Group
Estimated Annual Loss in Benefits, Alberta Federal Ridings, 1993-1997 ($millions)
|Calgary Centre||$41.6 million|
|Calgary East||$40.4 million|
|Calgary Northeast||$37.6 million|
|Calgary Nose Hill||$21.6 million|
|Calgary Southeast||$19.9 million|
|Calgary Southwest||$21 million|
|Calgary West||$25.8 million|
|Edmonton East||$39.4 million|
|Edmonton North||$26.7 million|
|Edmonton Southeast||$26.7 million|
|Edmonton Southwest||$19.9 million|
|Edmonton Strathcona||$28.4 million|
|Edmonton West||$36.6 million|
|Elk Island||$22.1 million|
|Medicine Hat||$14.1 million|
|Peace River||$24 million|
|Red Deer||$28.3 million|
|St. Albert||$22.1 million|
|Wild Rose||$18.9 million|
|Alberta Total:||$660.6 million|
Premier Ralph Klein's call for the provinces and federal government to discuss changes to the Canada Health Act reveals that his real agenda is to permanently entrench private, for-profit hospitals in Canada, says AFL President Audrey Cormack.
"He may have finally let the private health care cat out of the bag," observes Cormack. "The only reason to call for amending the Canada Health Act (CHA) is to change the rules so his privatization plan isn't illegal."
This is a backdoor admission that the private health care legislation, to be introduced during the spring session, contravenes the CHA, states Cormack. "He knows he is breaking the law, and is now trying to desperately change the law to prevent it."
Premier Klein states that he is only trying to "build a consensus" among provincial leaders about the role of private health care.
"What the Premier doesn't understand is that there already is a consensus in support of public health care, and he is the lone advocate for private, for-profit hospitals." Klein's call for CHA was met with deafening silence from most Premier's and outright opposition from some, including B.C. and Saskatchewan.
"The reality is he is all alone on this one," says Cormack.
The better strategy, Cormack suggests, is to scrap the private health care plan and instead re-invest in public hospitals and facilities.
"They can play all the games they want, but Albertans will see through them and recognize this plan for what it is - a move to set up a parallel, private for-profit health system," Cormack concludes.
For further information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 499-6530 (cell)/428-9367(hm)/483-3021(wk)
EDMONTON - The provincial government's controversial Bill 37 poses a serious threat to the future of Medicare and should be scrapped, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
That was the central message of the AFL's submission to the government's so-called "Blue-Ribbon" panel on Bill 37.
The panel was established late last fall in response to widespread public opposition to Bill 37. As part of the review process, the panel has agreed to consider submissions from a small number of interested organizations, including the AFL.
"By allowing for the possibility of private hospitals, Bill 37 is breaching a trust with Albertans," says the AFL brief, which was delivered to the panel Friday afternoon. "It is fundamentally altering how our public health care system operates. We realize these are strong words, but the magnitude of the shift should not be underestimated."
The AFL says Bill 37 is dangerous because it would pave the way for the establishment of "approved treatment facilities" - which would really be private, for-profit hospitals all but in name. The AFL's submission was also highly critical of sections of the Bill that give the Minister of Health sole authority to approve private, for-profit facilities.
"There is no process to direct the Minister or any limitations on the Minister's discretion," says the AFL brief. "The Act lays out no objective criteria for determining if a private health facility is endangering Medicare."
The most serious problem with the Bill, argues the AFL, is that it abandons one of the central principles that Medicare was built upon - namely that universal access to quality health care can only be guaranteed by maintaining public funding and public administration.
"For the first time, we have a piece of legislation that enshrines and formalizes a role for private health care delivery," says the AFL brief. "The new role for private health care is not just at the margins and with unregulated portions of the health system. Bill 37 places private health care at the centre of our health care system - acute care."
The AFL brief concludes by calling on the government to scrap Bill 37 altogether. What's needed instead, the AFL argues, is a complete ban on private, for-profit hospitals and an enhanced financial commitment to the public health care system.
"There is absolutely no doubt that Alberta's health care system is ailing," says AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But more private, for-profit health care is not the answer. Bill 37 - and any other Bill like it - would weaken our health care system further. That's why it must be scrapped."
Copies of the AFL brief on Bill 37 can be obtained by calling the AFL office at (780)483-3021.
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President: 483-3021 (work) 499-6530 (cell) 429-9367 (home)
Tuesday, January 19 @ 4:30 pm
Georgia Pacific Plant
403 - 118A Avenue (see map below)
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is organizing a support rally for striking workers at the Georgia-Pacific drywall plant in Northeast Edmonton. The workers, members of the Boilermakers Union, Local D-513, were locked out by Georgia-Pacific three days before Christmas.
"Georgia-Pacific is the largest building products manufacturer in North America. It wants to import its U.S.-style bargaining tactics to Alberta. I think working people in Alberta need to remind them that Canada does things differently," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President.
Georgia Pacific is demanding shift changes that may result in job losses for up to one-third of the plant employees. It also wants rollbacks in the workers' benefit package.
The rally is intended to boost the morale of the striking workers on the eve of a new bargaining session.
For further information contact:
Audrey Cormack, President
That's the message that Cormack will deliver to a travelling parliamentary panel when it stops in Edmonton tomorrow.
The panel is chaired by Yvon Godin, a Nova Scotia MP and EI critic for the federal New Democrat caucus. Godin has been travelling the country since before Christmas in order to gather information about the impact of changes made to the EI system in 1996.
"Mr. Godin says he wants to get a clear picture of what effect the changes have had on the lives of ordinary Canadians," says Cormack. "Well, here in Alberta the situation is clear - only a tiny fraction of the unemployed currently qualify benefits under the new rules. The EI system is no longer there for Canadians when they need it."
The EI panel will be meeting between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday, January 12) in Ballroom B of the Howard Johnson Hotel - located at 10010-104 Street in downtown Edmonton.
Cormack is scheduled to give her presentation to the panel at 10 a.m. Godin will be available to answer questions during breaks throughout the day. At 3 p.m., Godin will summarize what he has heard during the day.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, Communications Director: 483-3021