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It took months of pressure and a Freedom of Information request, but the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE) is eagerly awaiting the public release Monday by the Fraser Health Authority of a secret report on how a new hospital for Abbotsford should be built that could have profound implications for the future of Medicare in B.C.

At stake is whether a report prepared by the multinational consulting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers will recommend that the new hospital to replace aging MSA General be financed, built and operated by corporate interests in what would be Canada’s first privately owned hospital.

But even before the report is released in censored form, Hospital Employees’ Union spokesperson Zorica Bosancic is deeply concerned by word from health administrators that the Campbell government will block any form of public consultation, and that the report targets a long list of health services-including clinical services-for privatization.

“It’s our understanding Victoria wants to make a final decision on whether to proceed with a publicly owned and operated approach or a private one in April,” she says. “And it’s deeply troubling that despite commitments from the health and finance ministers, the public will be shut out and have no input at all. “This whole process has been shrouded in secrecy since last fall when we first exposed the Campbell’s plans to push a private facility,” says Bosancic. “Now a government that promised to set new standards for openness is clearly afraid to give the public any say on such a critical issue.

“We also know the report recommends that a whole range of important health support and clinical services provided by HEU members, and Registered Nurses and paramedical professionals have been targeted to be privatized as part of the new hospital project.” Bosancic says her union has fought hard in the public interest to win the report’s release so that people in the Fraser Valley and across B.C. know what’s happening. And HEU is set to file an appeal with the Information and Privacy Commissioner to force the health authority and the Campbell government to release the full, uncensored version. “When we do get the report, we’ll have it analyzed by an independent third party financial expert-a step we think is necessary because PriceWaterhouseCoopers has had a conflict of interest on this one since day one. “It’s almost like the Enron situation, where you have giant accounting firms working both sides of the street. In this case, PriceWaterhouse-which profits handsomely from similar private hospitals in Britain-has a material interest in this project being built and owned privately, so the findings of the study they authored must be closely scrutinized.”

HEU is opposed to privately owned and operated hospitals because independent research clearly shows that they cost significantly more than conventional public facilities and compromise care quality through privatization of service delivery.