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
Close to half of all the jobs created in Canada were in Alberta and the province also maintained the lowest unemployment rate, according to numbers released Friday.
Through 2011, about 98,800 positions were created in Alberta — about 50% of jobs gained nationwide at 199,200, accounting for a 1.2% employment rate increase nationally.
StatsCan reported Alberta's jobless rate in December dipped to 4.9% from 5% the previous month.
While job creation appears to be on the upswing and the number of unemployed is going down in Alberta, the same isn't true nationally with jobless rate average pegged at 7.5% last month, which spiked a tad from 7.4% in November. Labour critics are cautioning Alberta against complacency in spite of the latest numbers.
Gil McGowan, president of Alberta Federation of Labour, said the figures are optimistic for Alberta but the province must make sure growth continues. McGowan said the job growth is attributable to increased investment in the oilsands, but warns the "rosy" path could end if the trend of sending raw bitumen outside the country continues.
"Our concern is that the story may change down the road if our (Canadian) government continues to focus on extraction-only oilsands projects as opposed to value-added projects dealing with refining and upgrading," said McGowan.
"If we're not building upgraders and refineries, then we won't be creating long-term jobs for the future."
He said the trend of shipping bitumen out of the province instead of processing it locally could end the good employment scenario in a few years. "I'm afraid that the rosy employment picture that we're enjoying today simply won't last," he said.
Darrell Winwood, a spokesman with Alberta Human Services, said the job increases in the province are a sign of a strong economy and growth.
Winwood also said the latest figure was the fourth month the unemployment rate has dropped.
While unemployment numbers are going down in the province, the rate in the Calgary area has risen from 5.4% in November to 5.5% in December. In December 2010, the Calgary region had an unemployment rate of 6% while the provincial average was 5.5%.
Calgary Sun, Fri Jan 6 2012
Byline: Renato Gandia
When Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), walked into a conference room in Kananaskis to observe the meeting of energy ministers from across Canada in July, he expected to find a seat in the section reserved for environmental groups, or concerned citizens groups. There was no such section. Looking around the room, bedecked in energy company sponsorship banners, McGowan realized he was the only person there who wasn't with an oil and gas company.
He shouldn't have been surprised. After all, when he called then energy minister Ron Liepert's office to get a seat at the meeting, which was open to interested stakeholders, he was rebuffed.
"So I'm the president of the federation of labour, (but) the only way I got in, even as an observer, was to phone my counterpart in Newfoundland who has a good relationship with their government, which happens to be a Conservative government," says McGowan. "And so she talked to their energy minister. So I was invited by the Newfoundland energy minister to attend the conference here in Alberta.
"To make matters even worse, when Liepert got up to give his introduction, he said 'I'm so pleased that we're together here with all the relevant stakeholders.'"
It's a surreal representation of what many say is an undue influence on the government of Alberta by the energy industry. Although the government does engage stakeholders, from labour to environmental organizations and beyond, many say that the energy industry has the greater pull. Critics point to the government ignoring the findings of multi-stakeholder discussions, the sheer imbalance between the well-funded oil and gas machine and those of civil society groups, and the amount of interaction between the government and the energy industry compared to other stakeholders as a sign that the cards are stacked.
CAPP and the Act
The AFL represents 29 unions with a combined membership of 145,000 people, some of whom work in the energy industry. This isn't an environmental organization calling for a halt to all oil and gas exploration in the province, but it is concerned about the environment and "the responsible and sustainable development of our resources," according to McGowan.
AFL is also concerned about the influence that the industry has over government policy making. While the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) lists 81 different issues they will talk to the government about in the next six months, the AFL meets with the government only a handful of times each year. And so, they filed a freedom of information request looking at the interaction between CAPP and the government of Alberta.
The documents they received showed that the government and CAPP wanted to collaborate on a joint public relations campaign around shale gas fracking and water use. The federation believes that these documents demonstrate a breach of Alberta's lobbyist act, which sets out stringent rules for engaging the government. For one, the people working on CAPP's behalf were not among the 41 lobbyists registered by the organization.
So, the AFL sent the documents to the lobbyist registrar and asked for an investigation. What they didn't do was check their package of documents carefully, highlighting only the unlisted lobbyists and the fact that a briefing note seemed to indicate that it was CAPP that approached the government about the public relations campaign. It's an important distinction. If the government approached CAPP, the act would not apply. That's exactly what the registrar ruled on November 28.
"We sort of assumed that he would do a thorough investigation, including a search of the documents," says McGowan. "It turns out he didn't do that. He only interviewed a couple of people and concluded that everything was hunky-dory because they said it was hunky-dory."
After looking more carefully at the package of documents, the AFL realized they had emails that appeared to contradict the ruling. An email dated June 8, 2011 from Doug Bowes, the director of unconventional gas in the energy department, says that CAPP approached the government to discuss its desire to "strike a committee to develop a public relations strategy focused on fracturing and water use associated with shale gas development."
The federation has called for a new investigation, but it's unclear if that will happen. The act forbids the registrar from commenting on the matter, even to acknowledge whether an investigation is underway.
Travis Davies, a spokesperson for CAPP, doesn't see any need for further investigation. He also doesn't care much for the federation's views. "I think the AFL's characterization of the matter is really, one, inaccurate and pretty disingenuous," he says.
"I think it goes back to, the AFL was upset that the commissioner did find that we were in compliance, produced these documents, which I would assume were part of the body of work that the commissioner looked at. I can't of course speak for him. If you look at the findings, clearly it falls within the parameters."
But for McGowan, it isn't necessarily about registered lobbyists and who approached who. "This is about a broader concern about the proper relationship between government and industry. We feel very strongly that there needs to be a line between government and industry, even industries that are very important to the provincial economy.
"We're afraid that that line has not always been observed. This is one of those examples where we feel the line has clearly been crossed."
Meanwhile in the ivory tower
In a recent paper published in the Canadian Journal of Political Science, George Hoberg and Jeffrey Phillips make a similar argument. Their analysis of the Alberta government's engagement with stakeholders in the oilsands concludes that despite an opening up of the conversation, it's still mostly a back-and-forth between the two dominant players — the energy industry and government — when it comes to policy decisions.
The paper looks at several events, including the Radke report. Released in 2007, the report's mandate was to look at the challenges of rapid expansion in the oilsands and to provide a short-term action plan. The first and most prominent recommendation is investing in infrastructure to support continued growth. Environmental recommendations are sparse and vague.
Another area of concern for the authors is the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA), a standing body that produces research into the cumulative effects of the oilsands region and makes recommendations to government. Hoberg and Phillips argue that it is ineffectual.
In one major example, the Sustainable Ecosystems Working Group within CEMA called for a partial moratorium on new oilsandsleases until it could complete its work. The group was worried about the effects of rapid expansion. The government refused. When the group did produce its report, it called for 20 to 40 per cent of the region to be protected and for intensive developments to be carried out in only five to 14 per cent of the area.
The report did not receive consensus among CEMA members, which includes oilsands companies, and the government didn't implement it. Instead, the government started its new Land Use Framework deliberations. This led to the Pembina Institute and two other environmental groups walking away from CEMA.
Hoberg, a professor at the University of British Columbia who specializes in environmental politics, says by phone that Alberta is "an example of a jurisdiction that is heavily dependent on one particular industry, and in circumstances like that, it's not uncommon to have an extremely close power relationship between that industry and the government."
That relationship is almost inevitable, given oil and gas's heft in our economy. And it's something the government feels is appropriate. "Across government, ministries work with stakeholders. It's not only not uncommon, it's necessary. The oil and gas industry drives this economy, it's responsible for one in seven jobs in this province and it would seem absurd to not meet with the organization that represents that industry," says Bart Johnson, a spokesperson for Alberta Energy. "We share common interests. They certainly have some interests in policy development with the government."
Hoberg's paper examines the introduction of multi-stakeholder discussions meant to address the rising tide of criticism of Alberta's oilsands and to stem the perception that the energy industry dominates the conversation. While those processes allow for more voices to be heard, the authors looked at the policy outcomes of those deliberations and recommendations and found that industry tends to get its way.
"The history of multi-stakeholder discussions on oilsands in Alberta is one of talk and drill," says Hoberg.
It's a sentiment that many environmental organizations agree with. While many have participated in multi-stakeholder processes, there are also many who have pulled away. The reasons extend from the mundane concerns of operating budgets and the drain on resources that comes with participation, to the composition of the groups, to anger at the end product.
"Whether it's citizens or industry or public interest organizations, all of them ask prior to joining whether this is the best use of our time, and is it better to be at the table, or not at the table?" says Joe Obad, associate director of Water Matters. "And those are tough decisions to make."
When Water Matters was called Bow Riverkeeper, the organization was involved in the Alberta Water Council, a multi-stakeholder process designed to address concerns over industry's affect on watersheds and wetlands in the province. It pulled out of the process.
"We felt it restricted our ability to speak out, so we left the Alberta Water Council because we felt we're going to speak out about this and we're going to speak very clearly and not use the process as the means to speak about the things we support," says Obad.
"That was a difficult decision to make, but it was based on the idea that every group should be allowed to champion its objectives by whatever means it sees fit."
The Alberta Water Council is a process that comes up again and again when speaking to environmental groups about the concerns they have over industry influence. Chief among their complaints is the decision by the government to scrap a no-net-loss wetlands policy that would force industry to protect watersheds, or to replace ones that they destroy.
After three years of discussion and study, of the 25 organizations represented on the council, 23 supported the measure and, according to the Pembina Institute, 90 per cent of Albertans who were polled supported the idea. The only two non-consensus votes were CAPP and the Alberta Chamber of Resources (ACR), which sent dissenting letters to the government.
ACR boasted on its website at the end of 2008 that it had effectively lobbied the government not to follow through on the recommendation.
In an abridged version of a speech posted on the site, given by the executive director of ARC, Brad Anderson, he says: "One of the most influential things ACR was able to accomplish in 2008 was to do a really good job explaining where industry's line in the sand is when it comes to critical issues. A prime example of this was the position the Chamber took on the proposed Provincial Wetlands Policy."
It says that it successfully lobbied the government to accept three of the four changes it requested in its dissenting letter, including scrapping no-net-loss. This was posted on the ACR website before the government made its announcement.
When the Canadian Press reported on the claim and the anger of those who participated in the Water Council discussions, the report was removed from ACR's website. A copy of the website post was saved and given to Fast Forward Weekly.
Mike Hudema, a tarsands campaigner with Greenpeace, says the organization has not participated in any multi-stakeholder processes since setting up shop in the province in 2007. "The story that we heard was the same, that it was a lot of time and resources spent and at the end of the day what came out was not reflective of the conversation that many of the groups had," he says.
Of course, no conversation about oil and gas in Alberta can ignore the regulations set in place to protect our environment and ensure that companies are following the rules. There seems to be no middle ground when people discuss the Energy Resources and Conservation Board (ERCB), the arm's-length government body responsible for approving or denying oil and gas projects. It's either a pawn of the industry, or a world-class regulator, or an overbearing obstacle. You either love it, or you hate it.
For many critics, you simply have to look at the overwhelming number of approved applications and the relatively few denials: in 2011, the ERCB approved 79 applications while denying seven.
"It's an overly simplistic view," says Darin Barter, a spokesperson for the ERCB. "What you're not seeing is the requirements that companies are bound to prior to even applying to the ERCB."
Barter argues that companies have jumped through so many regulatory hoops by the time they go before the ERCB that approval is virtually guaranteed. "Companies can take months to years to put together an application for a project," he says.
"The transparent part is seeing the approvals or denials, the less transparent part is seeing the regulatory framework."
And there's no doubt that the regulatory framework is intimidating. To the layman, it's a Byzantine and dense set of rules that requires an in-depth knowledge to navigate, But critics maintain that it doesn't go far enough. The wetlands policy debacle is one instance.
In the case of the oilsands, where no project has been denied, Pembina points to an agreement by Royal Dutch Shell to reduce its emissions to the tune of 900,000 tonnes in order to gain approval of its Jackpine Mine and Muskeg River Mine Expansion projects. The promise convinced Pembina to remove its objection to the project. Shell then reneged on that promise.
In a 2009 release, Pembina's Simon Dyer wrote: "In approving Shell's projects, the joint review panel struck by the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) and the Government of Canada explicitly noted that they would review Shell's approval in the event that the company failed to fulfil commitments that had been presented as evidence."
Pembina and EcoJustice petitioned for a review. That review did not happen.
In Hoberg's paper, the hopeful component of his less-than-rosy conclusion is that by opening the door to groups outside the traditional power structure, the government has given them credibility and will have to take their concerns seriously.
"And I do think the government and the industry, it took them a while, but now they have to acknowledge the significance of the environmental impacts of the oilsands and of environmental interest groups," says Hoberg.
In the conclusion to his paper, he argues that it's the government that must now save face. "In the oilsands case, the government of Alberta has formally acknowledged the legitimacy of environmental critics by giving them a formal voice in the consultation processes," he writes. "Now that environmentalists have denounced those processes and withdrawn, the government's own strategy has lost its legitimacy."
No one interviewed for this article tried to argue that the government did not address a broad range of stakeholders. "I would say, in general, governments try to meet with all stakeholders," says Obad. "They don't tend to leave anyone out altogether. But it does seem that there's a degree of difference in terms of frequency and accessibility."With vast financial resources, teams of lobbyists, ready access to decision-makers and a proven track record of being able to influence policy decisions despite being in a minority on stakeholder decisions, the oil industry has proven it has pull. On the opposite side, many groups are skeptical of engaging in discussions that seem to accomplish little more than depleting their sparse resources.
"The government has a responsibility to look after the public interest first and in cases where the public interest conflicts with the narrow interests of the energy industry, then the government has to fall on the side of the public interest, but I'm not sure that happens enough in Alberta, or even at all," says McGowan.
"I'm certainly not suggesting that the labour movement or any other groups in civil society should be calling all the shots for government; what I am suggesting is that neither should industry."
fastforward weekly, Thurs Dec 15 2011
Labour group offers real solutions to Alberta’s deficit problems: Wealthy province can afford to protect services by adopting simple revenue fixes, says AFL
The Alberta government must do a better job of collecting revenue to provide the vital public services Albertans have clearly said they want, according to the 2012 Budget submission sent today to Finance Minister Ron Liepert.
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, but that wealth isn't benefitting all Albertans," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
"Our broken revenue system means the province is running deficits even during good times. Rather than fix the revenue system, the government has previously chosen to slash spending and throw our public services into chaos. We need look no further than the situation in our schools, hospitals and long-term care to see the tragic results of this folly," he says.
Today is the deadline set by the government for the public to make suggestions for the 2012 Budget. The AFL's submission shows that the government's fiscal problem is on the revenue side of the ledger, not on the spending side. It points out that Alberta is wealthy, with a bigger economic pie than other provinces, with corporate profits hitting new highs (up 450 per cent from 1998-2008) and astronomical investment in capital projects. Meanwhile, spending as a percentage of the province's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has fallen by nearly 40 per cent since 1989. On a per-capita basis, expenditures are about the same as the rest of Canada.
"What this tells us is that if there is any province in Canada that should be able to afford high-quality public services, it's Alberta," says the AFL submission. "The evidence is clear and incontrovertible: we are running deficits even during strong economic times because tax and royalty policies pursued by the government over the last 20 years have essentially blown a hole in the revenue base that the province needs to fund public services. In other words, the cupboard is bare because we've decided to make it bare," says the submission.
The AFL calls on the government to consider real solutions that can be included in Budget 2012:
• replace the flat tax on personal incomes with progressive taxation;
• introduce a surtax on high-income earners;
• increase corporate taxes to at least the Canadian average; and
• increase royalties to at least the rates proposed by the 2007 Royalty Review Panel.
"These solutions would bring in billions of dollars every year, eliminating the deficit and removing the threat to services, while still leaving Alberta a great place to do business and to live," says McGowan. "We urge the Redford government to take the same approach as other right-of-centre politicians – including Peter Lougheed, Danny Williams and Sarah Palin – and do a better job of getting value for the resources Albertans own."
Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888 (cell)
Alberta Federation of Labour applauds Keystone XL delay: It’s a chance to consider value-added opportunities in Alberta, says McGowan
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour applauds the Obama administration’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it will give the Redford government an opportunity to pursue value-added opportunities here at home, rather than shipping unprocessed bitumen south for upgrading.
“There’s been a parade of Alberta government ministers travelling to the States to sell unprocessed bitumen. Now perhaps those same ministers can stay in Alberta and consider our needs and our future ahead of those of our neighbours south of the border,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
“Upgrading more bitumen in Alberta will help our province in many ways. Increasing value-added industries will provide quality, long-term jobs for Albertans and Canadians. While good relationships with our neighbours are important, the government of Alberta must promote the long-term health of our province first. Increasing value-added energy industries in Alberta will increase revenues from royalties and taxes,” he says.
“As bitumen is upgraded and moved up the value chain, more funds will flow into the Treasury through higher royalties on finished products. This is money that can be used to pay for important public services like health care and education,” says McGowan.
McGowan took particular exception to the Wildrose Party’s reaction to the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The Wildrose Party was playing fast and loose with the facts in their media release today. They should avoid fear mongering. The truth is that this pipeline is bad news for quality jobs and bad news for royalties,” says McGowan.
“Danielle Smith is trying to convince us that we’ll lose billions in royalties if the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t approved, but the opposite is true. If we export unprocessed bitumen, we ruin a great competitive advantage,” says McGowan
“The National Energy Board notes that, ‘wide differentials provide refiners with an economic incentive to build heavy oil conversion capacity.’ If we get rid of the prices differential between our bitumen and global crude, we destroy future opportunities to boost our value-added industries,” he says.
“In this context, Albertans should see the Obama administration’s decision as an opportunity, not a disappointment. It is an opportunity for us to move up the value chain and create a more prosperous and stable economic future for Albertans.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Labour leaders call on MPs to help stop “job-killing” Keystone XL pipeline: Approving Keystone XL is not in the interests of Albertans and Canadians
Canadian politicians have been acting against the interests of their own citizens in pitching the Keystone XL pipeline, says the leader of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Members of the Alberta and federal governments have been acting like sales executives for pipeline company TransCanada, travelling to the U.S. to persuade Americans what a great idea the raw bitumen pipeline will be, but they are ignoring what's best for Alberta and Canada," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Approving Keystone XL will, indeed, be good for the U.S. by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs south of the border, but one must wonder why our so-called leaders are so keen to export jobs to the U.S. rather than keep them here," he says.
McGowan joined leaders from the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada in Ottawa today to tell MPs why Canada should oppose the Keystone XL pipeline and keep refining jobs here. (See background document presented to MPs.)
Study after study shows that Keystone XL will create a jobs boom for the U.S. The Canadian Energy Research Institute predicts 465,000 U.S jobs by 2035; a study for the American Petroleum Institute puts the figure at 270,000 U.S. jobs by 2030; and the Perryman Group says there will be between 250,348 and 553,235 U.S. jobs depending on the price of oil.
"The jobs picture for Canada is much bleaker. Keystone's existing pipeline created only 17 permanent jobs in Canada. Keystone XL will add only about a dozen permanent jobs here. We have a one-time chance to take control of our own resources and build a value-added refining industry here. What we have instead is a mad rush to approve every application to develop the oil sands and ship our raw resources and good jobs down the pipeline," says McGowan.
"Alberta and Canada would benefit much more if the raw bitumen was refined in Alberta. This would have several important benefits: It would create real jobs here, not in the U.S. and they would be well-paying, value-added jobs; it would boost revenue for Canadian governments in taxes on income and profits earned here; it would reduce the environmental risk from shipping raw bitumen over long distances and across sensitive areas; and it would allow Canada and Alberta to set and enforce tough environmental regulations on oil sands operations," he says.
"This, however, would require a real national energy strategy, a vision for developing Canada's energy industry for the benefit of Canadians, rather than allowing corporations to dictate policy that works only for them. It would mean slowing down development of the oil sands to a reasonable pace, to avoid the boom-and-bust rollercoaster of the past. In this way, we could ensure jobs for Canadians for decades to come and avoid the shortages of material and labour that have boosted development costs in the past."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Gary Mar must answer $660-million question: Will he cut services again to pay for his latest gift to wealthy corporations?
Gary Mar has a $660-million question to answer if he wants to become Premier of Alberta, says the province's largest labour group.
"That's how much money Mar will be giving away to wealthy corporations if he follows through on his plan to cut corporate taxes again," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers. "The question he should answer now is: How will he make up a shortfall in revenue of two-thirds of a billion dollars?"
Mar, the frontrunner in the race to become leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives and Premier of the province, yesterday revealed a policy that includes a further two-per-cent cut in corporate tax rates. In recent years, the province has cut the tax rate by one third to 10 per cent from 15 per cent.
"Albertans need to know how he will make up that shortfall - what cuts he would make to vital public services in order to make this overly generous gift to his corporate pals. Our health-care and education systems are already straining from the pressure of inadequate and unstable funding. Mar was a cabinet minister in the Klein era. Are we heading back to the hugely unpopular Klein-style cuts," asks McGowan.
"There is absolutely no reason to cut corporate taxes again. These tax cuts don't create new investment and they aren't needed - the evidence is undeniable," says McGowan.
Yesterday, the RBC Economics Provincial Outlook report said Alberta's economy is set to grow by 3.7 per cent in 2011 and 3.9 per cent in 2012, fuelled by investment in the energy sector. Oil and gas producers are set to spend more than $24 billion this year, an 18-per-cent increase over 2010. According to the Alberta government, per-capita investment in the province in 2010 was almost twice the national average at $18,930, with a total of $70 billion invested "due to the economic recovery and higher energy prices." Last month, it listed nearly $186 billion in major projects under way in the province.
"Alberta is awash in investments because the world wants our natural resources. Throwing money at corporations isn't going to make them invest any more. It's just going to lead to the province's cupboards being bare when it comes to paying for services."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Alberta-based bitumen upgrading is plummeting, new figures show: ERCB projections demonstrate that Tories have turned their backs on promises to keep oil sands jobs in the province, says...
New figures released today by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that the percentage of oil-sands bitumen upgraded in the province will drop to 52 per cent by 2016 – a far cry from the 72 per cent that Premier Ed Stelmach previously identified as his target.
"The provincial government has quietly completed one of the most significant about-faces in Alberta history," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"During the last provincial election, Premier Stelmach said shipping raw bitumen to refineries in the U.S. instead of upgrading it here was like a farmer selling off his topsoil. He subsequently said his target was to be upgrading 72 per cent of bitumen within the province by 2016. But now, instead of promoting Alberta-based upgrading and value-added job creation, he and his ministers have spent the past year and a half promoting massive bitumen export projects, like the Keystone XL and Gateway pipelines."
"The results of this betrayal can be seen in the projections from the ERCB: Thousands of well-paying jobs that could have been created here in Alberta will instead be lost down the pipeline."
The figures on projected trends in bitumen upgrading were obtained from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) as a result of an inquiry from the AFL. The projections, which have not been made public in any ERCB documents, project that the percentage of bitumen upgraded in Alberta will decline from 61 per cent in 2011 to 52 per cent in 2016, hitting 50 per cent in 2017. This is a far cry from the two-thirds of bitumen that have traditionally been upgraded in the province.
"This happened on Ed Stelmach's watch, but the switch to a bitumen export as opposed to bitumen upgrading strategy was supported – against the wishes of a majority of Albertans – by a wide range of prominent conservatives, including current Energy Minister Ron Liepert, former Finance Minister Ted Morton and current leadership front-runner Gary Mar, in his capacity as Alberta envoy in Washington," says McGowan.
"This appears to be just the latest example of the Tories caving into pressure from big oil companies, many based in the U.S. When Albertans want to keep oil-sands jobs in the province and energy companies want to send them down the pipeline, guess who wins?"
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Click here for accompanying table and graph
Unions urge energy ministers to keep oil-sands jobs in Canada instead of shipping them “down the pipeline” to U.S. and China: “A true national energy strategy has to be about more ...
Is the meeting of energy ministers currently underway in Kananaskis a real attempt to develop an energy strategy that works for Canadians in all regions of the country?
Or is it an elaborate attempt on the part of the host Alberta government and its patrons in the oil patch to win support from other provinces and the federal government for their controversial plans to build bitumen export pipelines to the U.S. Gulf Coast and the port of Kitimat in B.C. (the "gateway" to China)?
That was the question that prompted Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan to send an open letter to all energy ministers attending the conference asking them to embrace an energy strategy that focuses on long-term job creation as opposed to the short-term desire of many energy companies to "rip it and ship it."
"Canadians have a choice to make. We can either remain 'hewers of wood and drawers of water,' or we can move up the value chain, where the real money and real jobs are," wrote McGowan. "Currently, we're moving down the value ladder, not up. And the Keystone XL and Gateway pipelines would only accelerate that process. The bottom line is that the world wants our energy: So let's give them energy. But let's keep the jobs, the profits and the extra tax revenue here. It's our oil, so it should be our choice."
McGowan also suggested that a national energy strategy befitting Canada's new position as a global "energy superpower" would have the following components:
- It would help knit the country together by encouraging the construction of east-west pipelines so that Quebec and the Maritimes would no longer have to rely on countries like Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Venezuela for more than 80 per cent of their oil needs. Shockingly, there is currently no infrastructure in place to take western oil to the eastern half of the country.
- It would ensure Canadians get the best possible price for the sale of their collectively owned energy assets by introducing a truly national process for setting and bargaining royalty rates, so that energy companies could no longer play one jurisdiction against the other.
- It would look at the oil sands as a transitional resource: A resource that should be developed in as an environmentally sustainable way as possible and which will – very explicitly – be used to help provide us with the revenue necessary to build the next, greener economy in Canada.
"In the end, Alberta Energy Minister Ron Liepert is right when he says the meeting in Kananaskis has the potential to be historic," concluded McGowan. "But that will only happen if all of Canada's energy ministers dare to think and dream big. If Canada is to become a global energy superpower, then we need a strategy that ensures that power is used to the benefit of all Canadians, not just those who own large oil companies or are lucky enough to work in the energy sector."
McGowan is in Kanansakis today attending sessions at the energy minister's conference. He is available for interview on site or by phone.
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888