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
Wave of school layoffs prompts coalition to launch new province-wide campaign: Join Together Alberta calls on government to fix Alberta’s broken revenue system
EDMONTON – In the wake of reports warning that up to 1,200 Alberta teachers may be laid off in the next few months, a province-wide campaign is being launched to force the Conservative government to fix the real problems facing the province.
"We live in one of the wealthiest jurisdictions in the world and yet our education system is clearly in crisis," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. "This situation is entirely unnecessary and has been created by Alberta's broken revenue system. We need to fix our revenue system to save our schools."
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA), says: "In September, Alberta's school boards will be $100 million dollars short of the money they will need to maintain the quality of education that we enjoy today. Up to 1,200 teachers across the province will be looking for work this summer elsewhere, because their job in Alberta has disappeared. We appreciate the government's recent announcement of new schools, but the schools are useless unless we have the staff inside them to inspire our students."
The Join Together Alberta coalition - an alliance of community groups, social-services agencies and unions, including the AFL - has been reformed to put pressure on the government to fix the revenue problem so Albertans get the vital public services they demand and deserve.
"The real issue is that Alberta has been crippled by a decade of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts. Alberta has an abundance of natural resources. There is no reason it can't afford stable funding," says McGowan.
The coalition will launch Phase 2 of its campaign in Edmonton tomorrow (Thursday) to demand the Alberta government fix its broken system for revenue generation. McGowan and Armstrong will be joined by people representing various sectors and unions fighting cuts who will be available to speak to media.
TIME: 10:30 a.m., Thursday, May 26
LOCATION: River Valley Room, Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe, 10111 Bellamy Hill, Edmonton
CONTACTS: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
Yaffe quotes former Reform MP Herb Grubel, who wants to deprive public servants of the right to strike. Wow!
The most recent example of someone trying to stop public servants from striking was Egypt's Hosni Mubarak. Nice company you're keeping. The right to collective bargaining and collective action is fundamental to democracy -and is largely responsible for all those things we enjoy, like 40-hour work weeks, statutory holidays, benefits and a strong economy fuelled by a strong middle class.
Next, Yaffe complains about the rate of pay increases for unionized public-sector workers between 1998 and 2009. Missing are figures for the previous decade, which saw a massive attack on the wages and jobs of public servants.
Then, the column blames bureaucrat raises for a large part of the federal deficit, but fails to point out the effect of massive tax cuts handed to corporations making billions and, in Alberta, to wealthy individuals making millions. If you really want to balance the books, try restoring taxation levels so everybody pays their fair share.
Albertans and Canadians have said time and time again that they want quality public services and are prepared to pay for them in the way of taxes. The alternative is privatizing services, which will result in an unacceptable decline in quality as corporations cut corners to improve bottom lines.
Edmonton Journal, Mon Feb 28 2011
Byline: Gil McGowan
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is fighting to save Canada Post jobs from being outsourced - and you can join that battle.
The Crown Corporation announced earlier this year that it would outsource its contact centres and the National Philatelic Centre, resulting in the elimination of more than 300 jobs across the country. The affected locations are in Edmonton, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Antigonish and Fredericton.
Richard Deslauriers, the National President of PSAC component, the Union of Postal and Communications Employees (UPCE), said this move will bring Canada Post closer to a complete privatization.
"The privatization of Canada Post has always been an objective of the current management and the conservative federal government," Deslauriers said. "The slippery slope of partial privatization of services will end up with Canada Post in the hands of private companies and Canadians will be deprived of a service they have relied on for decades."
Robyn Benson, the PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President for the Prairies, said: "This obsession with privatization will badly damage the quality of the Canadian postal service as well as the communities it serves. Many regions in the country will lose local contact with Canada Post as well as jobs that are important for the local economy."
For Benson, the privatization of Canada Post's answering services also raises the question of protection of confidential information provided by Canadians.
"I'm not sure that Canadians are ready to see their postal service become an information collection agency for the American government,' Benson said. "If an American company answers calls for Canada Post, then the U.S. Patriot Act gives the government access to all information the company collects. Is that what Canadians want?"
You can help save jobs from being outsourced and save communities from suffering a drop in service. Please print this petition and get as many friends and colleagues to sign it, then return to the PSAC Edmonton office. The more voices that Canada Post hears, the more likely that privatization can be halted.
Alberta needs a revolution in political thinking and that will require going back to the future to recall the kind of thinking that helped establish the province.
A hundred years ago, settlers in Alberta found a way to prosper amid harsh conditions and isolation.
"Back then, before oil, Alberta was not a wealthy place," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, at Thursday's Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs session. "People eked out a modest living, they raised cattle, they planted crops, they scratched coal from the coalface."
Today in Alberta, sod houses have been replaced by climate-controlled homes and tradesmen earn healthy wages building oilsands projects. Even though Alberta today is a world apart from what it was in 1910, McGowan said the lessons of the past hold the key to solving today's problems.
Rather than being rugged individualists who made their own way, Alberta pioneers worked hard but also valued co-operation.
"They knew that some challenges, some problems were too big for one person to handle so they banded together to find public solutions to public problems," he said.
They created school boards, irrigation co-operatives, wheat pools and marketing boards.
"It's important to say that those things didn't come with private enterprise; it was public enterprise that brought those services to these far-flung communities," McGowan said.
That kind of approach allowed Peter Lougheed to establish a petro-chemical industry, by using regulation and public ownership, when he saw that jobs were being lost because raw forms of natural gas were being shipped out of the province.
"What previous generations of Albertans knew was that some problems were too big and some issues too important to be left to chance or the vagaries of the free market," he said.
McGowan said he doesn't see things have changed that much. The environmental implications of oilsands development, the loss of jobs down the pipeline as raw bitumen is exported, education for the technical jobs of the 21st century, better health care, meeting the needs of rapidly growing populations and declining pension coverage are all public problems.
Public solutions are one thing; paying for them is another. McGowan said Alberta has the resources to deal with the problems. Despite the recession, Alberta has a rainy-day fund and no public debt. Over the past 20 years the provincial economy has grown by leaps and bounds and corporate profits are four times greater while their tax rates have gone down.
"We have a situation of unprecedented private wealth while at the same time we have a government that's pleading poverty. There's a disconnect," he said.
McGowan said politics lies at the heart of the matter. Over the past 20 years, politics in much of the western world has been dominated by a "virulent" form of conservatism that demonizes the public sector, that rejects community solutions and puts the free market up on a pedestal.
"Politicians in Alberta have embraced what I would describe as a dangerous mythology, one that sees a vastly diminished role for government in promoting and protecting our public interest," he said.
McGowan said he sees three problems with that approach: It's simplistic; it doesn't reflect Albertans' values; and it imposes a restraint on debate.
Instead of having a range of options to consider, governments with this narrow view won't even consider options previous governments would have. Government interventions of the Lougheed kind wouldn't even be considered in today's political climate.
"We have to start expanding the range of possible. In many ways we have to go back to the future," he said. "We have to go back to that pioneer thinking which characterized Alberta from the beginning which took a very pragmatic approach to political problem-solving."
Byline: Caroline Zentner
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
Too often the budget dialogue in Alberta is dominated by shrill, kneejerk calls for cuts. That's the dialogue that takes place in the mainstream media and among some of the business and political elite. However, it's isn't representative of what Albertans think.