EDMONTON, July 7, 2009 /PRNewswire via COMTEX News Network/ --On June 30, 2009, an action was commenced in the Court of the Queen's Bench of Alberta, Judicial District of Edmonton by Gil McGowan on his own behalf and on behalf of all of the affiliates of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Terry Jardine on his own behalf and on behalf of all of the members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local 30, and Leo Derkach on his own behalf and on behalf of all of the members of Civic Service Union 52, making claims relating to Capital Power Corporation's proposed initial public offering and related transactions.
The claim names The City of Edmonton, EPCOR Utilities Inc. and Capital Power Corporation as defendants and alleges, among other things, that certain purported actions taken by the City of Edmonton in connection with the proposed initial public offering were outside the jurisdiction of the municipality under the Municipal Government Act. Based on its review of the available information, Capital Power Corporation believes that this claim is without merit and intends to vigorously defend itself.
This communication does not constitute an offer of securities for sale in the United States, and the securities referred to in this communication may not be offered or sold in the United States absent registration or any exemption from registration.
About EPCOREPCOR's wholly-owned subsidiaries build, own and operate power plants, electrical transmission and distribution networks, water and wastewater treatment facilities and infrastructure in Canada and the United States. EPCOR, headquartered in Edmonton, Alberta, has been named one of Canada's Top 100 employers for nine consecutive years, and was selected one of Canada's 10 Most Earth-Friendly Employers.
Stockhouse.com, Tues July 7 2009
Re: "Want to enjoy great wages and job security?" by Barbara Yaffe, Feb. 22.
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 2011Byline: Gil McGowan
Western Agriculture Ministers acting against the interests of rural communities, says AFL
EDMONTON, Nov. 28, 2011 /CNW/ - The leading labour groups from the Prairie provinces today united in calling on the Harper government to abandon its illegal and undemocratic plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).
"Bill C-18, which will be voted on in the House of Commons today, is not about market freedom, despite what the Harper government claims. It is an early Christmas gift to the Conservatives' corporate friends - at the expense of Canadian communities, families and working people," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) which represents 145,000 workers.
The AFL, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Manitoba Federation of Labour today issued a joint statement condemning the plan to dismantle the wheat board.
"The plan is illegal, because the government has refused to hold a vote among farmers on the issue. It is undemocratic, because it ignores the wheat board's own vote, in which a majority voted to keep the board," says McGowan.
"It is extremely disappointing to see the Agriculture Ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. today backing this deeply flawed plan. They are acting against the interests of the fragile rural communities they claim to represent," he says.
The joint statement from the labour federations says: "For more than 75 years, the CWB has worked successfully to help farmers negotiate on an equal footing with the buyers of their products, mainly large multi-national or U.S. corporations. It has also helped small Prairie farmers compete with larger corporate farming operations."
It adds: "Clearly, the CWB is working for the majority of farmers. The Tory government has not put forward a business case for its decision and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to wrap up CWB operations. Prairie farmers and rural communities will lose out. Only large corporations and foreign corporate buyers will benefit."
Says McGowan: "The real truth is that the Harper government believes in a free market only when it's good for large corporations. It wants to destroy the ability of farmers to freely and collectively bargain to get the best price for their goods. It's the same ideological attack Harper has made on the rights of workers to collectively bargain to get a fair deal for their work in back-to-work legislation at Canada Post and Air Canada."
The AFL president also issued a warning: "The Harper government won't rest here. The dairy and poultry industries are next on the list of targets."
Statement on Canadian Wheat Board From the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Federations of Labour
The Harper government's decision to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is illegal and undemocratic. Once again, the Conservative government is putting the interests of its corporate friends ahead of the interests of Canadian communities, families and working people.
Illegal: The law requires the government to consult with farmers on any changes to the CWB, but the government has refused to hold a vote among farmers.
Undemocratic: Farmers held their own vote on the future of the CWB and a majority voted to keep the board. The Harper government is ignoring this vote. Farmers elect directors of the CWB - eight out of 10 elected board members are strong proponents of the board. The Harper government is ignoring this. While Harper claims his majority in the House of Commons gives him a mandate, 60 per cent of voters in the last federal election backed parties that support the CWB.
The real story: The Tory government claims it believes in the free market, but wants to undermine the ability of farmers to get together to freely and collectively bargain for the best price for their goods. To Harper, market freedom extends only to corporations. Any attempt by farmers or workers to act collectively to get a fair deal for their work is under attack. We have seen this in back-to-work legislation for members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and for workers at Air Canada. We are seeing it again now with the CWB. Next on the list of targets will be the dairy and poultry industries. Ed Fast, the Minister of International Trade, has admitted that the supply-management systems in these sectors will be on the table in free-trade talks with the Asia-Pacific trade group.
For more than 75 years, the CWB has worked successfully to help farmers negotiate on an equal footing with the buyers of their products, mainly large multi-national or U.S. corporations. It has also helped small Prairie farmers compete with larger corporate farming operations.
The CWB has annual revenues of $5 billion to $8 billion, all of which goes to farmers, less operating costs, as profit. It receives no public subsidies. Studies show that farmers earn hundreds of millions of dollars a year more when going through CWB than they would in an open market. That money is vital to the survival of the small, family farms that are the backbone of Canadian agriculture - and to the rural Prairie communities where they operate.
Clearly, the CWB is working for the majority of farmers. The Tory government has not put forward a business case for its decision and it will costs hundreds of millions of dollars to wrap up CWB operations. Prairie farmers and rural communities will lose out. Only large corporate farmers and foreign corporate buyers will benefit.
That is why the Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba Federations of Labour wholeheartedly support the campaign to save the Canadian Wheat Board and ask our members to join that fight by signing the petition at www.StopTheSteamroller.ca.
Digital Journal, Mon Nov 28 2011
'Start moving forward,' Alberta left urged: Parkland Institute head tells progressives to lay out their education and health-care vision for province
Alberta's progressives should stop defending the status quo and start defining their own visions for provincial policy, the head of the left-wing Parkland Institute said Saturday.
In a fiery address at the end of a conference on economic and social policy, Ricardo Acuna urged Alberta's left to lay out what it wants in health care and education, rather than just organizing to battle against periodic cuts.
"It's time to stop fighting back and start moving forward," Acuna told the audience of about 80.
"It's time to stop being embarrassed or apologizing for our political positions. It's time to stop defending a status quo we find inadequate and start fighting for radical proposals."Acuna was speaking after two days of sessions organized by the Parkland Institute and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In one talk earlier Saturday, economist Greg Flanagan told the crowd that despite ballooning deficits, Alberta's budget problems are about revenue, not spending.Adjusted for population, Alberta takes in billions less in tax revenue than any other province, said Flanagan, who recently retired from the University of Lethbridge. Even minor boosts to consumption or income taxes could easily eliminate the province's nearly $5-billion deficit, he added.
Flanagan's talk hit on a number of recurring themes at the conference, most notably that Alberta's tax system is unfair and that, during a recession, more public spending, not less, is needed.
Acuna, though, urged the attendees to move away from talk about balance sheets. Progressives should lay out explicit plans for the systems they want and only then ask people to pay more for them, he said.
"How did we get here?" Acuna asked. "How did we start talking about the bottom line, not people?"
Answering his own question, he laid part of the blame on the news media."Twenty years ago, we had labour reporters in this province," he said.He also called on progressives to make their voices heard.
"Can you imagine if we had commentators as far to the left as (radio host Dave) Rutherford is to the right?" he asked.
"Can you imagine if we had columnists as far to the left as ( Edmonton Journal columnist) Lorne Gunter is to the right?"
The weekend conference, which took place at the University of Alberta, featured panels on alternatives to tax and spending cuts, lessons learned from the Klein-era cuts and public policy solutions, among others.
The Parkland Institute is a nonpartisan research centre at the university.
Edmonton Journal, Sun Feb 14 2010Byline: Richard Warnica
Les Steel, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, August 2003 (Oslo, Norway)
Good morning and thank you for the warm welcome.
As you've already heard, my name is Les Steel and I'm president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
For those of you who've never been to Canada, I'd like to start my presentation this morning with a quick geography lesson.
Canada, as you know, is the big, cold country that sits at the top of North America. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific in the west and the Arctic Ocean in the North.
Alberta is in the western half of the country. It's where the prairies meet the Rocky Mountains.
Alberta is the petroleum capital of Canada. It's home to the Calgary Stampede. And it's where Wayne Gretzky first made his name as a hockey star.
Of course, we're not all Gretzkys. Most Albertans - like most Norwegians - have to work for a living. And that's where the AFL comes in.
Our federation represents 41 Alberta unions and 120,000 unionized workers in both the public and private sectors.
Like unions here in Norway, our first priority has traditionally been to protect and improve working conditions for our members.
But over the past ten years or so, our attention has turned to a much broader fight.
In particular, we've been engaged in a battle to preserve many of the core social programs that previous generations of Canadians fought hard to establish.
So far, our biggest fight has involved our national public health care system, which we call Medicare.
Canadians cherish Medicare. It's one of our proudest achievements - and it's something that many Canadians hold up as a defining characteristic of our country.
But despite the overwhelming support that Medicare consistently receives from the public, for most of the past decade it has been threatened with death by a thousand cuts.
And nowhere in the country has the attack on public health care been more focused and more determined than in Alberta.
Since the election of 1993 which brought the current Conservative government to power in Alberta, our provincial health system has endured unprecedented budget cuts; massive lay-offs and a growing number of attempts to privatize services.
The good news today is that many of the worst cuts have been reversed - thanks in large part to public protests organized by unions and other community groups.
But we're still dealing with a serious shortage of hospital beds and a chronic shortage of trained health care workers.
Even more significantly, our provincial government hasn't retreated when it comes to privatization. Despite widespread public opposition, they've handed over huge swathes of our health care system to the private sector - and they're continuing to chip away at the foundations of everything that's left.
That's why I'm here this morning.
I'm here to talk about our experience with so-called market-based health care reforms. I'm also here to talk about our campaigns to reverse the cuts and stop privatization.
Most importantly, I'm here to share with you a few lessons that we've picked up along the way - lessons that might prove useful in your campaign to protect the public health care here in Norway.
Making comparisons between nations is always a tricky thing - especially when those nations are on different continents, and have different cultures, languages and histories.
Comparison can also be tricky when you're talking about something as complex and dear to our hearts as health care.
But despite the distance and all other things that separate us, I think there are at least two reasons why our experience in Alberta has relevance here in Norway.
The first reason is that, if you think about it, Norway and Alberta actually have a lot in common.
We both know what cold winters are like.
We both have a lot of land and relatively few people.
We both have abundant petroleum resources that have strengthened our economies and given us the ability to pay for high-quality social programs.
And, at least for the moment, we both have tax-financed health systems that guarantee our citizens access to quality care when they need it and regardless of their ability to pay.
So, in many ways, when we compare health care in Alberta with health care in Norway, we are comparing apples with apples, not apples with oranges.
The second, and probably more important, reason why I think our experiences are relevant here in Norway is that they are hardly unique.
The truth is that Canada is not the only country that swallowed the bitter medicine offered by advocates of market-based health care reform.
Neo-liberalism has been a wave rolling across the globe for more than twenty years now.
Like a virus, it started with Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the seventies. Ronald Reagan allowed it to spread to the U.S in the early 80s. And in the late 80s and early 90s it took hold in places like New Zealand and Canada.
In many ways, the fact that the privatization wolf is only knocking on your door now is a testament to your good sense and the strong foundations you've built for your public health system.
When I look back on the past ten years of struggle that we've had in Alberta and compare it to the privatization onslaught that has taken place in other countries since the late 70s, the thing that strikes me is how similar the experiences have been.
Whether it's Canada, Britain or New Zealand, it seems that the privatizers have followed roughly the same three steps to push their agenda.
The first step has always involved fear-mongering. In particular, the privatizers attack the credibility of the public sector and sow doubts about its efficiency, its affordability and its ability to provide quality service.
In Alberta, our government spent years trying to convince people that our public health care system is unsustainable.
Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, they told Albertans that costs were spiraling out of control. They said health care was swallowing an ever-increasing share of the provincial budget. And they warned that the aging population would bankrupt the system.
As recently as two years ago, our provincial premier was telling every reporter who would listen that the cost of Medicare in Alberta had doubled and that drastic measure needed to be taken to "save the system" from itself.
This kind of fear mongering led naturally to the second step. After manufacturing a crisis and attempting to convince people that a huge problem exists, the market boosters presented the solution - and surprise, surprise, it happened to be the market.
For conservatives, privatization is the cure-all. Markets, they say, will reduce cost, improve efficiency, and increase choice for patients. They even go so far as to say that privatization can help save public health care by "relieving pressure" on the public system.
In Alberta, as in other jurisdictions, the government moved very quickly from bad-mouthing the system to parceling out pieces to the private sector.
The first things to go were the so-called secondary services in hospitals, like the laundry, janitorial and food services.
But our government wasn't content to stop there. They also handed over almost all hospital laboratory service to for-profit companies. And they actively encouraged entrepreneurs to set up private surgical suites to perform things like cataract surgery and private diagnostic imagining services that charged patients between one and three thousand dollars for things like MRI and CT scans.
At the same time all this was happening, our government laid the ground work for more sweeping privatization by introducing legislation that would pave the way for investor-owned hospitals.
In many ways, this piece of legislation - which the government had the nerve to call the Health care Protection Act, or Bill 11 for short - was the straw that broke the camels back. After years of going reluctantly along with the government, Albertans finally started to protest. The Bill was eventually passed, but not before we organized the largest demonstrations in our province's history.
That leads us to the third step. When confronted with large scale public opposition, privatizing governments often start playing games with language.
The point here is for the privatizers to reassure the public and hide their true intentions.
This is where we're at right now in Alberta. Our government now says that it was misunderstood. They say they never really wanted to privatize health care. Instead they say they've merely been looking for alternative funding mechanisms. Or they say all they want to do is build partnerships with the private sector to deliver services within the public system.
The problem with all of this is that it's just new wrapping on the same old package. Public-private partnerships may not be quite the same thing as the wholesale privatization that exists in the United States - but it's still privatization.
So far, we in Alberta have had some successes and we've had some failures when it comes to dealing with our government's privatizing agenda in health care. As I mentioned earlier, many of the deepest spending cuts to our public system have been reversed, largely as the result of the many protests organized by unions and our partners in the community.
After years of rapid decline, we are now spending as much on a per capita basis on health care was we did in 1993. It may not sound like much, but from our perspective, that's a step in the right direction.
We've also succeeded in rolling back some privatization initiatives. For example, after running a high-profile public campaign exposing how private MRI clinics were blocking access to quick diagnosis for seriously ill Albertans, the government agreed to buy more MRI machines and run them within the public system. They even agreed to reimburse hundreds of people for the MRI and CT scans they had to pay for in the private system.
Another success we've had has more to do with what hasn't happened than what has. Two years ago, the Alberta government released a long-awaited study called the Mazankowski report which outlined plans for taking privatization in health care to the next level. In particular, it called for caps on the amount of public insurance people could have - and it opened the door for the introduction of American-style private health insurance.
The good news is that the government has not moved towards implementing either of these recommendations. In fact, even though the Mazankowski report was billed as the government's blueprint for health reform in the 21st century, almost none of it major suggestions have been acted upon.
The reasons for this are mainly political. The government has simply failed to convince Albertans to that further privatization is either prudent or desirable.
So what can you here in Norway learn from our experience in Alberta?
I think there are three lessons.
The first is don't give up without a fight.
In many ways, the deck was stacked against us in Alberta.
Historically, ours has been the most conservative province in the Canada. And Albertans like to think of themselves as free enterprisers - so you might think they would all be won over by free market argument.
But what we discovered is that even conservative voters can be persuaded of the benefits of public health care and the pitfalls of privatization. But it doesn't happen overnight - and it doesn't happen without effort and planning.
The second lesson that we learned is that there is no stronger weapon than the truth.
The advocates of privatization can sound pretty slick when they talk about the magic of competition and incentives.
And they can be persuasive when they list all the supposed weaknesses of the public system.
But private health care has a track record - and it's not a particularly impressive one.
So every time they ran down the public system and extolled the theoretical virtues of privatization, we answered back with facts.
When they implied that costs in the public sector were spiraling out of control, we showed that they we in fact stable.
When they said the private sector was cheaper and more efficient we presented evidence from around the world that it was more expensive and less efficient.
When they argued that privatization would improve access for patients, we demonstrated from experience that the opposite was true.
The good news for those of us who believe in public health care is that the verdict on privatization is in. It's been tried and it's failed. Those are the facts.
In many ways, the arguments in favour of privatization in health care are like the arguments used by the U.S. government to justify war in Iraq - they have the ring of truth, but once you scratch the surface, they have no substance.
The bottom line is that both public and private health care have a track record - but don't assume that everyone know it. As advocates of public health care it's up to us to put the good news on the table. If we do, the facts we speak for themselves.
The third and final lesson that can be taken from the Alberta experience is to involve the broader community.
Unions in our province made a decision at the beginning of our campaign to swallow our organizational pride and work in coalition with churches, seniors citizens, students and other groups in the community.
It was an important decision for us, because by ourselves, the government could afford to ignore us. But they couldn't completely ignore the other in our coalition.
This will be true here in Norway. The bigger tent you build the more power you will have politically.
Having said all that I'd like to conclude today by saying how optimistic I am about the prospects to preserving public health care in your country.
Conservatives may control your parliament today - and they may be toying with some free market notions. But it's going to be hard for them to make the case for privatization.
We now have more than 25 years of experience from around the world showing that privatized health care actually costs more and delivers less.
We're also now living in a post Enron world. Given all the examples of corporate wrong-doing that have come to light over the past few years, it's going to be harder than ever to convince people that it make sense to entrust our health to the private sector.
Here in Norway you also have the advantage of prosperity. Thanks to your oil reserves - which, by the way you've managed much better than ours in Alberta - your conservatives cannot argue that public debt is a problem and they cannot realistically claim that your health system is unsustainable.
From where I stand, the real danger for Norway may be complacency. You have a strong tradition of social responsibility; you have all the facts on your side and you have the resources to afford high quality health services. But don't under-estimate the privatizers - they have a product to sell and they can make it sound like the answer to all your problems.
The trick for you is to prick the private balloon and let the hot air out. You have to shine a bright light into the dark corners of any and all private health care proposals. And you have to expose these proposals for what they really are - self-interested sales pitches.
Based on what I've seen at this conference so far, I'm confident you will be up to the challenge.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour
Good afternoon. In a way, I am here today in two capacities.
I'm here first as the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is our province's largest labour organization, representing 29 unions and 115,000 members.
As a provincial advocacy organization, our focus is usually on issues of provincial policy.
But every once in a while, a local issue comes along that has the potential to affect a broad range of our members, not just as workers and union members, but also as taxpayers and citizens.
The proposal in front of us today - to transfer $8 billion of City owned and controlled assets to EPCOR - is one of those issues. That's the first reason I'm here.
The second reason I'm here is more personal. As some of you may remember, up until very recently, I was chair of community planning for the Strathcona Community League. Even though I've moved on from that position, I'm still a proud Edmontonian and issues of municipal planning and development are still near and dear to my heart.
Given my background, and the magnitude of the decision Council is about to make, I simply could not remain on the sidelines.
At this point I'll admit that there are probably many other people better versed in the technical details of this proposal. So I won't try to delve into the intricacies of the transfer.
Instead, I simply want to raise a few questions that continue to float in my head (pardon the pun).
The first question is this: why are we trying to fix something isn't broken?
The Drainage Branch is a very well run city service. It's regarded as one of the highest quality systems in North America. The Goldbar plant is one of the best examples of environmental stewardship and effective water treatment on the continent. And even more importantly, Edmontonians, are very satisfied with the service.
So why, if we've got such a good thing going, do we want to mess with it?
EPCOR has indicated it wants to combine its expertise with the expertise from the Drainage Branch to create a Centre of Excellence. What I don't understand is why we need amalgamation to have cooperation. Surely EPCOR and the Drainage Brach can collaborate within the existing corporate structures.
My second question comes in two parts: why does EPCOR want the assets? And what's in it for citizens?
Reading the Price Waterhouse report and hearing the discussions up to this point it seems to me that this proposal is about two things - getting lower interest rates on loans for EPCOR, and making EPCOR more competitive for contracts outside of Edmonton.
But, is what's good for EPCOR necessarily good for the citizens of Edmonton? Is it really worth giving up direct control of our City's largest asset in order to help EPCOR shave a quarter point off the loans they need for corporate expansion?
On the subject of loans, I'm also concerned that any gain for EPCOR might be balanced by a loss for the City. If they get lower interest because of increased assets couldn't the city face higher rates because of reduced assets? Just as importantly, this proposal would essentially mean that our public assets would be turned into debt to help finance corporate expansion. I'm pretty sure that most taxpayers would feel justifiably uncomfortable having their public assets used to underwrite potentially risky business ventures.
The third big question I have is: how is all of this going to affect the City's future development planning?
If EPCOR owns the drainage assets, then they control the decisions about how those assets will be deployed, expanded and updated.
This has huge ramifications for Edmontonians for future development.
What leaves me feeling particularly unsettled is knowing, as I do, that not a single City Councillor sits on the EPCOR board - and that all interaction between EPCOR and City Councillors as shareholders is secret.
As a citizen, I would feel much more comfortable knowing that decisions about the future development of the city will be made here in this chamber, in an open forum and by people who are directly accountable to voters - rather than by corporate managers behind closed doors.
The fourth unanswered question I have is this: how is this transfer in the public interest?
When preparing for this presentation, I went searching for tangible ways that Edmontonians would benefit from the transfer. And you know, I was hard pressed to find any.
Will it lead to lower rates for taxpayers? Apparently not.
Will it lead to better service? I've seen no evidence it will. EPCOR's plan is to use the new assets to build its portfolio outside of Edmonton. Improving service here in the City is secondary.
Will it help us plan for our future better? No, it will actually take planning power away from accountable, elected officials and put it in the hands of unelected corporate managers whose interests may not coincide with the public's interest.
In the end, I think there are simply too many troubling questions attached to this proposal.
I urge you to think about these questions, and only move forward if you are completely confident about the answers. Let's not sacrifice public control over development for the sake of corporate empire-building.
Good morning. My name is Gil McGowan and I am the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
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 Calgary
Speaking Notes Gil McGowan, President
Our current provincial government wants Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding ... even for vital services like education.
People like Premier Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock put on their most sorrowful faces and said things like:
"We're sorry, but – really – there is no alternative."
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up; they see glitzy office towers rising; they see the economy springing back to life.
And they wonder: Why?
Why, amidst such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
The truth is: It is ordinary Albertans, with hearts and their guts, who are right, and it's our politicians, with their pious pronouncements, who are wrong.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals ... about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society ... then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
And what do the facts tell us?
Well, they tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we still have no public debt ...
...that, on a person basis, our provincial economy is 75 percent larger than the Canadian average...
...that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 percent over the past decade...
...that ten of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oil sands each year.
These are NOT tough times.
We are a province that can think big and dream big. And we are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services like education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
That's the part where they tell Albertans that we has a spending problem – that costs are out of control for public services.
But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
They tell us that, despite our wealth, Alberta's per person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
They tell us that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
And they tell us that, as a share of our provinces overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years – and not by just a little bit.
All of this begs the question: if we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question that Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians: now; during the Tory leadership race and in the next election.
And the answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments here in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
That's why we've re-established the Join Together Alberta coalition ... and it's why we'll be circulating our declaration and hosting townhalls across the province.
We want to help Albertans understand that lay-offs and larger class sizes are not inevitable or unavoidable.
We want to remind our leaders and the public about the important role that public services play in building a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.
We want to demonstrate that what we have is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
We want to pressure our politicians to stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we to call on the government to deal with the real problem: which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out. Peter Lougheed, members of the premier's advisory panel on economic strategy, think tanks like the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation: they're all calling for a discussion on revenue reform.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. But for the sake of our kids, our families and our future, this is a discussion we have to have. We're going to do our part to make sure that happens.
River Valley Room, Chateau Lacombe Edmonton March 26, 2011
EDMONTON - Alberta Federation of Labour President Audrey Cormack will be taking the fight against the Klein government's Private Hospitals Bill to Ottawa on Tuesday, March 7th. Cormack has a meeting with federal Health Minister Alan Rock to discuss the implications of Bill 11, introduced last week.
The meeting will take place on Tuesday, March 7 at the Minister's Office in Tunney's Pasture Complex at 2:00 pm EST (12:00 Noon Alberta time). The meeting will take between 30 and 60 minutes.
Cormack is available for media comment following the meeting. Ms. Cormack can be reached by cellular phone at (780) 499-6530.
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ (780) 499-6530 (cell) Jason Foster, AFL @ (780) 483-3021
The AFL is reminding the Alberta College of Physicians and Surgeons that it has an overarching responsibility to the public when considering proposed guidelines allowing overnight stays in health facilities.
The Council of the College is meeting on Friday to decide whether to implement guidelines for "long stay non-hospital surgical facilities" which would allow procedures requiring overnight stay to be performed in private, for-profit facilities.
"The College's primary duty is to ensure the public interest is protected in matters relating to doctors and health facilities," says Audrey Cormack, President of the AFL. "If they approve the proposed guidelines, it will permit private, for-profit hospitals in Alberta, which are clearly not in the public interest."
Cormack points out that time after time, the Alberta public has loudly proclaimed its opposition to private, for-profit hospitals. "Whether it be Bill 37, or College guidelines, Albertans have been clear - they don't want for-profit hospitals."
"I don't care what you call it, if it does overnight stays, it is a hospital," says Cormack. "Finding some bureaucratic title doesn't change its functions."
"The future of Medicare is an inherently political matter and the College should not be meddling in politics," adds Cormack.
Cormack also takes aim at the Health Minister for trying to blame opponents of Bill 37 for the situation. "If the minister is so concerned about Medicare, why doesn't he just pass a law banning private, for-profit hospitals? That would solve the problem in one stroke."
Cormack states that the Minister is trying to get the College to do his dirty work. "The College shouldn't be bullied by the Health Minister into making a bad decision. Instead they should be listening to the concerns of Albertans," adds Cormack.
The legislation governing the College stipulates that as a body it must protect the public interest when fulfilling its mandate. Allowing private, for-profit hospitals undermines the fabric of Medicare and establishes a path toward two-tier health care. International studies have demonstrated that two-tier health care and private, for-profit hospitals provide less adequate care for the majority of the population.
"Friday's decision is not about boring technical guidelines. It is fundamentally about whether our health system is here to benefit the public interest or just the interest of a private few with connections and capital." Cormack concluded.
For more information call:
Audery Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)
Air Canada back-to-work legislation slammed by Alberta labour leader: AFL also fears for future of Canada Post at hands of federal Tories
Using legislation to force employees back to work will not bring labour peace or prosperity to Air Canada, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The only way to secure a good long-term future for any employer in a dispute with its workers – whether it's Air Canada or Canada Post – is for the two parties to reach a deal together," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Using back-to-work legislation removes the incentive for the employer to come to the table and negotiate. With the hands of the workers tied, the employer can impose an unjust and unpopular deal that fails to address the issues that led to the dispute," says McGowan.
"This is simply a recipe for more problems down the road. We all know that corporations work best when management and employees work together. It was the willingness of Air Canada employees, including the members of the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) Local 2002, to work with management and make sacrifices that helped the airline survive the recession. Instead of interfering in negotiations, the federal government should be staying neutral and helping both sides reach a deal they can live with, now that the airline is doing better," he says.
"After less than 24 hours of strike action by customer service and reservations agents - and with no flights being cancelled and little disruption reported - the government's claim that there is a threat to the national economy lacks even a shred of credibility."
Meanwhile, McGowan said he was "profoundly disappointed" that Canada Post had forced a nationwide lockout of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
"The mail was getting through, even if delayed as a result of rotating strikes. The union is still willing to negotiate. Forcing a nationwide stoppage is a reckless move," says McGowan.
"This makes no sense – unless the federal Tories have a different endgame in mind for Canada Post. We fear that the Conservative-appointed managers at the corporation are not trying to save Canada Post, but are trying to destroy it, in order to justify the privatization of our public postal service," he says.
"Privatization of the postal service will mean two things for Canadians – poorer services and higher prices. It will mean one thing for the corporate friends of the federal Tories – a chance to profit at the expense of citizens."
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MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Government rules allowed private, for-profit facility to evict senior in stable condition
An Alberta family is demanding answers from the Conservative government after their mother, a long-term-care patient in stable condition, was dumped at a hospital emergency room by a private care-home operator.
"We are appalled that our 80-year-old mother was treated liked a commodity instead of being treated with the respect and dignity that all Albertans deserve," says Beth Podgurny, of St. Albert.
"Within days of our mother moving in, the private, for-profit home in which she was living began asking us for more money, but when we told them they should stick to the terms of the contract that we had only recently signed, they responded with an eviction notice," says Podgurny.
"The fact that there appears to be nothing under provincial rules to prevent this is mind-boggling. It just goes to show that the privatization solution that Premier Alison Redford is pushing to address long-term-care issues isn't the answer for vulnerable Albertans."
Podgurny and other members of her family will hold a media conference Wednesday to call on the government for answers about the long-term-care crisis, and to ask why they have had no answer from Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg nearly two months after writing to them seeking a public inquiry into long-term care.
Other speakers at the media conference:Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta Noel Somerville, chair of the PIA Seniors Task Force
TIME: 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
LOCATION: River Valley Room, Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe, 10111 Bellamy Hill, Edmonton.
MEDIA CONTACT:Bill Moore-Kilgannon, 780-993-3736
EDMONTON - The Klein government's decision to put out a call for proposals to private insurance companies interested in covering public health services is an act of "breathtaking stupidity", says Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"They're talking about making sweeping changes to our health care system and they want profit-seeking private insurance companies to chart the course," says McGowan. "This is a betrayal of the public and an abrogation of government responsibility. What do you think these insurance companies will recommend? Whose best interests will they really be looking after?"
The government request for proposals was released to the insurance industry on August 30th, but only revealed to the public today. It calls for the creation of private insurance plans to cover a wide range of services currently covered by Medicare, including prescription drugs, long-term care, supplementary health services and "non-emergency" health services.
"We know that private insurance will end up costing Albertans more for health services," says McGowan. "This will particularly hurt Alberta employers, who are going to end up paying a lot more for employee health benefits. To continue to drive down a road that leads to nowhere is an act either of stupidity or deliberate political blindness."
"Do Albertans really want what is being offered here? Instead of going to a hospital, do we really want to have to go to 'HipMart' or 'Seniors R Us'? I don't think so," concludes McGowan.
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For more information
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780-915-4599(cell)
Alberta labour, social agencies unite to fight provincial budget cuts: Higher taxes, energy royalties would stablize funding for education, social services, health care, group says
EDMONTON — Raising taxes will reduce provincial budget cuts and save more than 1,000 teachers from losing their jobs in Alberta, say unions, community groups and social-services agencies, which have banded together to push for more funding.
Collecting more revenue will help the government provide more stable and long-term funding to programs and services that Albertans need and rely on, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
To that end, McGowan's group and dozens of other organizations have launched a campaign called Join Together Alberta to press the government for more funding for education, social services and health care.
"Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens? The truth is: there is no good reason," McGowan said. "We need to talk about higher royalty rates for the development and sell of our collectively owned natural resources."
Alberta also needs to talk about reducing corporate tax breaks and increasing taxes for higher-income earners, he said.
Join Together Alberta's initiative comes on the heals of an announcement from Edmonton's public school board that provincial budget cuts will cost nearly 350 jobs, including more than 200 teaching positions. The Calgary board is expected to trim 358 teachers and support staff. The government committed this week to spend $550 million on new schools.
How the government fixes the problem is its decision, said Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.
"The children that are in our schools right now are entitled to a proper education in a province that is this wealthy," she said. "They need to put $100 million back into the education system now for this fall."
Armstrong said if the cuts are made, it will lead to larger class sizes, less teacher attention per student and more difficulty improving graduation rates.
Diana Gibson, research director for the Parkland Institute, said the provincial government should stop tying social services to oil and gas prices. That system isn't working and hasn't been for a long time, she said.
"Our social spending goes up and down. It's very volatile because oil and gas is volatile. To have some form of stability in our education, health care and social programs, we need to rely on stable, predictable revenues."
Politicians have long boasted that Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada, Gibson said, but Alberta should be beating other provinces by a yard, not a mile. The province can raise taxes to provide adequate funding for services and still have the lowest tax rates, she said.
The rest of the provinces are collecting between $11 billion to $20 billion more in taxes than Alberta.
"That gap is so big," she said. "Why the difference? We could capture $10.9 billion and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada and one of the lowest in the G7."
McGowan agreed, adding the change won't affect industry.
"People in businesses don't come to Alberta because of the low tax rates. They come to Alberta because of the oil and gas."
So why is Alberta laying off education workers; under-funding universities, colleges and technical schools; and skimping on other services,s he asked.
"The answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because provincial government has decided to make it bare."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs May 26 2011 Byline: Miranda Scotland
Fluctuating revenues lead to cuts when oil prices decline
In industries such as oil and gas, revenues can fluctuate, sometimes wildly, with the ebbs and flows of the market.
For a province such as Alberta, whose revenue is heavily based on the oil and gas industry, such fluctuations are a major problem because the need for that money doesn't fluctuate. The need to fund areas such as health care and education is constant.
It's for that reason that Public Interest Alberta is campaigning to push the province to fix a revenue system it says is broken.
The organization is touring the province, holding town hall meetings - including one in Lethbridge tonight at 7 p.m. at Southminster United Church - to let Albertans know the province does have options for generating revenue that could eliminate the need for cuts.
Public Interest Alberta points out the province still has about $10 billion in rainy-day savings in the Heritage Trust Fund. The organization also says Alberta - the only province still using a flat tax - would be better served by switching to a progressive tax system which could generate up to extra $2 billion in revenue.
Alberta also overspent by $900 million on its energy stimulus drilling program which provides subsidies for the oil and gas industry.
The extra money in government coffers would come in handy now with school districts facing the prospect of budget shortfalls for next term.
"It's obviously well know that there's $100 million that's been cut out of the education budget even though they're looking at an additional 6,000 children from K to 12 going into our system next year," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, which is helping to spearhead the "Join Together Alberta" campaign which demands Alberta change to a more consistent revenue model.
Moore-Kilgannon notes post-secondary institutions are also facing tough times because the zero per cent increase in their operating budgets the past two years effectively amounts to a cut because operating costs have risen.
He's right when he says the need for health care, education and care for seniors doesn't rise and fall with the price of oil, and that cuts made today ultimately wind up producing greater costs down the road. That doesn't include the social costs in terms of hardship for Albertans who rely on these services.
There's no need for Albertans to have to endure such hardship. We are fortunate to live in one of the "have" provinces; maintaining services essential to Albertans shouldn't be as difficult as it has become.
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, blessed with an abundance of extremely valuable natural resources - and yet our government has manufactured a financial crisis that is likely to see 1,200 teachers laid off in the next few months and a still to be determined number of vital educational support staff," Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and co-chair of the JTA campaign, said in a news release at the campaign's launch. "Our education system is experiencing the same kind of chaos that has been inflicted on our health-care system, and that pain is also being felt in post-secondary education and in social services struggling to help vulnerable Albertans."
A more sustainable revenue system could ease that pain.
Lethbridge Herald, Thurs Jun 16 2011
Teachers and the Alberta Federation of Labour plan to fight layoffs that could cost up to 1,200 teachers their jobs. The Alberta Teachers' Association is holding a news conference this morning within the A-F-L to speak out about budget shortfalls that are behind the expected cuts. Union leaders blame the problem on government boom-and-bust budget cycles. They say the province should come up with a plan that would provide the education system with stable funding.
AM770 News, Thurs May 26 2011
A plan to lay off more than 1,000 teachers across Alberta is being met with fierce opposition from unions and special interest groups, who say the decision can't be justified.
"Our provincial government wants Albertans to believe these are tough times," said Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We should not be as a province talking austerity, we should not be talking freezes. We are a province that can afford high quality public services."
Roughly 1,200 teaching jobs are expected to be eliminated this fall, the result of funding cuts to education programs that have left school boards unable to balance their books. On Tuesday Edmonton's Public School Board announced that 229 teachers would be lost.
But members of "Join Together Alberta" - comprised of a variety of unions and special interest groups - say that schools boards shouldn't be forced to consider job cuts when the province has money to spend.
"We think in the short term the provincial government should be drawing from the substantiality fund to make sure our public services are maintained," McGowan said.
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teacher's Association, believes a united voice could help convince the province to loosen it's purse-strings.
"The individual in Alberta has a lot of power if they choose to use it," Armstrong said. "I believe if they speak out strongly, the government will listen."
Vanessa Sauve, president of the Holyrood Parents Council, is lending her voice to the chorus, concerned about what cuts could mean for children.
"Parents are worried," Sauve said. "Larger class sizes for their child means less class time with the teacher and things can get missed."
Education Minister Dave Hancock could not be reached for comment Thursday, but earlier in the week suggested that the province has increased education spending by nearly 70 percent in the last decade.
Global Toronto, Thurs May 26 2011
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."
Lethbridge HeraldByline: Caroline Zentner
It may have been the dog days of summer 2009, but Lloyd Snelgrove, the chair of the Alberta Treasury Board was busy. He was calling together union and civil society leaders and warning them of looming cuts.
At issue was the return to deficit budgets in Alberta in 2009 and 2010 for the first time since the mid-1990s. Under Premier Ralph Klein deficits had been made illegal. While it was simple enough to undo that law (they simply passed another to make deficits legal again), for the Tories it was more difficult to live with being in the red.
While virtually every economist advised that stimulus spending, funded by temporary deficits if necessary, was the appropriate way to minimize the impacts of the worldwide recession, the Alberta government stood almost alone in pushing draconian cuts to public-sector spending.
Hoping to decrease the size of the coming 2010 deficit, the government suggested that it would need to find $2 billion in "savings." In this context, the minister called labour and civil society leaders and asked them where they would suggest the cuts be made.
What Snelgrove heard was a resounding: "Nowhere!"
Experience told the leaders that it was likely that their message would not be heeded by a government that never saw a program it didn't want to privatize, so they were spurred into action. What resulted was something that had never been seen before - a coalition of unions, including the Alberta Federation of Labour, community groups and social-services agencies. Plans for what is now known as the Join Together Alberta campaign began to be formed.
At the same time that our province was facing the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Progressive Conservatives began to feel increasing pressure from the Wildrose Alliance Party, galvanized by the election of a new and dynamic leader. The overwhelming mantra of this group was that the government had lost its conservative direction.
The Wildrose party called for more spending cuts to the public service and lower royalty rates for resource developers. While the press was filled with reports of organizations calling for more fiscal restraint, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition were hearing from people across the province who were already hurting from cuts to public services. They decided to organize a series of town-hall meetings in 22 communities across the province to give ordinary Albertans an opportunity talk about how public services including health, education, support for people with developmental disabilities and seniors, to name only a few, were the fabric that tied their communities together.
The hope was to hold all the town-hall meetings before the budget was brought down, which usually happens in late February or March. When the government announced that this year they would be bringing the budget down earlier than usual - on February 9 - plans for the town-hall meetings had to be fast-tracked.
Two teams were formed to do concurrent tours in the first two weeks of the campaign with a third week of meetings planned for the week of the budget. Two final stops in Calgary and Edmonton were scheduled for the final week.
We were concerned about how to get the word out about the town-hall meetings, so we decided to use an interactive voice broadcast to almost every home in Alberta to let them know about the meeting closest to them and/or to express their concern about our province's public services. It also drove them to our website (www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca) where there is a full discussion of the issues and an opportunity to take actionthrough writing letters, signing a petition, joining our Facebook group or following us on Twitter.
The response to the phone calls was remarkable, but we were still not confident about what turnout would be like at the town halls, especially in rural Alberta, where support for the Tories has been historic and strong. However, beginning with the first night, the rooms we booked were packed with people who were receptive to our message and who had plenty to say.
We heard heart-breaking stories along the way of how our government isn't doing what Albertans expect from the richest province in Canada.
We heard how a hospital in Pincher Creek was using the same IV pumps that it received when it first opened - 25 years ago.
We hear that the hospital in Brooks no longer offers maternity services and that nurses have heard of babies being delivered in the car on the way to Calgary.
In Hinton, we heard about a man suffering from MS who was left hanging in a lift over his bed at a local assisted-living facility for an hour because of a staff shortage.
In Edson, we heard how some high schools had class sizes of up to 45 students.
Provincial Budget 2010 OverviewOverall budgeted program expenses up $1.4 billion (to $38.4 billion), a 3.9% increase over last year $4.7 billion deficit forecast for 2010/11 Looking ahead, the government is forecasting a reduction in spending of $275 million in next year’s budget in a move toward a surplus budget in two years While this year’s budget included increased spending in health and flat spending in education, 14 ministries have been cut by $1.3 billion cumulatively Ministries with flat spending, such as education, are not accounting for negotiated salary increases and inflation, meaning that “holding the line” is effectively a cut The government intends to cut a further $240 million out of this year’s budget through “in-year savings” in addition to the cuts already announced The government has announced plans to lay off 795 full-time civil servants this year Early indications for pending negotiations are that the government will be pushing for minimal increases, or wage freezes Any increases will have to be found within departmental budgets The government continues to refuse any suggestions that revenue be generated through tax reform or through increased royalties
We heard about one Registered Nurse (RN) who works alone in a hospital emergency room in Grimshaw, near Peace River, and has to dial 9-1-1 when there is a heart attack so that an Emergency Medical Team will come in to treat the heart attack, while the RN takes care of the rest of the patients.
We heard from a parent of an autistic child who is about to turn 18 and, in spite of the remarkable progress he is making, will likely lose most of his services because funding for adults with developmental disabilities has been cut.
We continue to hear about seniors who are at their wits' end because they do not have the financial resources to deal with rising drug and care costs as they age.
People were sometimes unaware of how deep the problems had become in their own communities and were shocked at the stories they heard. For example, one gentleman who had not been to the hospital since the 1980s was shocked to learn about how stretched the staff had become.
Others knew about the problems that exist in their community and are becoming increasingly angry at a government that ignores the needs or continues to break promise after promise. Grande Prairie, where the promise of a new hospital has been the substance of more than one election campaign, has once again had the project delayed. Fort McMurray, a city of over 100,000 Albertans, still is without a single long-term care facility and the Conservative government kicked the local MLA out of the caucus when he dared to speak out publicly on the matter.
There was a growing sense that every issue affects each of us, even if we aren't faced with it on a daily basis. Everyone suffers when schools don't get the resources they need and the entire community is worse off when people with developmental disabilities are left to fend for themselves.
Many of the people who came to the meetings admitted voting for the Conservatives in the past and continued to support their local representatives. But their anger and frustration with the policy of cutbacks was evident.
They were eager to send a clear message that they wanted to the government to change course - and quickly - but they were unsure about how to get the government to listen.
Join Together Alberta gave them the means to take action and to be heard. As well as taking action through the website, the coalition encouraged people to act in their own communities.
In each meeting, we took time to break into small working groups to discuss what could be done locally to raise awareness about the issues and to bring pressure on the government to stop cutting funds for the services that matter.
On budget day, a number of people held events at their MLA's office or in their community that received media attention and gave a local perspective what was unfolding in the legislature in Edmonton.
The pressure brought to bear from all over the province, by Join Together Alberta and other organizations, had an effect.
To everyone's surprise, the government did invest much moreheavily in health care than was anticipated and held the line on education spending. While we are nowhere near what is needed to ensure our public health and education systems become as robust as they once were, most in those sectors had been bracing for far worse. We believe that our efforts focusing attention on these issues were at least partially responsible for the government's budget turnaround.
But, while health care and education may have received a bit of a reprieve, many other sectors experienced significant cuts. In particular, advanced education, children and youth services, culture and community spirit and employment and immigration have received cuts that will hurt Albertans - and the most vulnerable will be hurt the most. The Parkland Institute, a research group based at the University of Alberta, pointed out that the government had robbed Peter to pay for Paul - while attempting to quiet its critics in health and education, it hacked away at other sectors.
For this reason, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition overwhelmingly have decided to continue the campaign. There is much left to do and we recognize that the process will be slow as we hope to create an atmosphere of willingness in Alberta to invest in our public services.
We have begun Phase 2 of the campaign where we will once again meet, this time with smaller groups, in every community in which we had a town-hall meeting. We will be forming Community Action Teams that will decide on local actions to address the issues that are of greatest local concern. These teams will bring together neighbours to act as catalysts within their community for the things that matter to them.
Join Together Alberta will continue to support these teams however we can, including by providing some structure, resources and training. The hope is that as these teams become active, they will have an impact on government policy and that Albertans can finally get on the path to a sustainable future in which all citizens and all communities get the services they need.
(Jerry Toews was hired by the AFL and seconded full-time to the Join Together Campaign to act as its Co-ordinator. He can be reached at email@example.com)
EDMONTON - The budget unveiled by the Klein government late this afternoon is a "triple whammy" for working people in Alberta, says the president of Alberta's largest union organization.As a result of the new budget, Albertans will be paying higher taxes and facing declining quality of services in areas like health care and education, says Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour."Before the last provincial election, the premier wooed working peoples' votes by offering a big tax cut. A year later he's broken that promise by substantially increasing health premiums - which are a tax hike in all but name. That's the first whammy."Steel says the second "whammy" has to do with the way the government is handling education funding."This budget represents a lost opportunity to resolve the dispute with the teachers," says Steel. "They could have dealt with some of the problems that lie at the heart of the dispute - like the issue of over-crowding. But by refusing to put more money into the classroom they've basically guaranteed more labour unrest."The third assault on the interests of working people cited by Steel has to do with health care. In particular, Steel says the government has failed to make funding adjustments that reflect Alberta's growing population."On the surface, a seven percent increase in funding sounds great. But in reality it doesn't keep up with the combined pressures of inflation and population growth. In effect this so-called increase is actually a cut for our health care system. So much for the government's supposed commitment to Medicare."Steel concluded by pointing out that many of the cuts announced today are a direct result of the government's "irresponsible flat tax and cuts to corporate taxes."We're a wealthy province but our government has basically impoverished our public sector by slashing taxes for big business and the wealthy. Today we see that it's ordinary working people who are going to have to pay for these irresponsible cuts."
For more information call:
Les Steel, President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)