In a rescue effort to save Medicare and prevent an outbreak of two-tier health care, CUPE dispatched ambulances from different points across the country to travel to Alberta.
The message was clear. We need more funding for health care – now. Bill 11 and other schemes to privatize health care must be stopped. Medicare must be strengthened.
And the response has been overwhelming. In hamlets that are little more than a crossroads, in major urban centres, at shopping malls and in bingo halls, Canadians from coast to coast are enthusiastic in their support for Medicare – and their praise for CUPE for spearheading this drive.
Taking its cue from the successful Ontario campaign to stop the privatization of local ambulance services, CUPE dispatched three ambulances – from St. John’s, Nanaimo and Hamilton – to criss-cross the country sounding the alarm.
The goal? To demonstrate public concern and demand quick action to increase funding and prevent privatization.
The ambulance crews varied from province to province. A mix of paramedics, front line health care workers and division presidents. While some were seasoned veterans, for many it was their first time in such a public role – speaking to crowds, doing media interviews, meeting with politicians.
The result? An unqualified success. A warm welcome in hundreds of communities, media coverage you couldn’t begin to buy and hundreds of thousands of postcards to Allan Rock. In the town of Neepawa, Manitoba alone – population 3,500 – there were 1,000 postcards signed.
Ambulance crews filed daily reports to CUPE’s web site so that everyone could follow their progress across the country. Here are some excerpts of those reports.
February 15, Newfoundland
‘Roads on the Northern Peninsula were treacherous. It was crazy to even attempt going to St. Anthony but we persevered. We reached Green Island Cove when we came to a white-out, struck a snow drift and became stuck in the snow. Three local men helped us out and told us there were ten foot drifts ahead and all snowclearing equipment had been taken off the road. Begrudgingly we had to turn back.’
February 17, Ontario
‘We had a good turn out in Renfrew – even the dogs came out. The local media were on hand. People were eager to take postcards and flyers. We had an enthusiastic event in Pembroke – very pleased – and a warm welcome at the ambulance base at Mattawa hospital.’
February 18, British Columbia
‘At the town meeting in Kelowna, Alan Claridge told the receptive audience “You can’t warehouse seniors.” His son, Don, received loud and long applause when, in reference to fighting the good fight for Medicare, he said, “Keep up the pressure and never apologize for it!” Their stories clearly illustrated how privatization forces – in this case using the friendly name of P3s – are on the attack in the heart of communities, and linked a local situation directly to CUPE’s National campaign.’
February 21, Nova Scotia
‘Our final stop of the day was at Digby General Hospital in the scenic fishing village of Digby. The local newspapers came out and many, many cards were dropped off and everyone was asking for more. The beauty of this campaign is that we have yet to meet anyone who is opposed to what we are fighting for. Carl Crouse summed it up when he said “Health care has taken care of us for more than 30 years. Now it’s time we took care of it”.’
February 22, Manitoba
‘The first event of the Manitoba tour was a visit to Lloyd Axworthy’s office. WOW!!! What a turnout by Winnipeg media. Not one of them was missing. I was so elated and pumped up at the sight of all this excitement. I can even say I had a big lump in my throat
because I was so proud to be chosen to be be part of all this.’
February 23, Manitoba
‘Two seniors came up to the ambulance and said they heard on the radio about us and wanted to come and speak to us. They wanted to know where they could sign cards and also wanted to thank us for fighting for our health care system and to keep up the good work for Canadians.’
February 25, Alberta
‘One lady in Valleyview, Mary Werklund, 80 years young, had a petition with 250 names. We all gladly signed it. Then the tireless soul asks for our cards and pamphlets to take with her so that she can get more cards signed. They were so encouraging and positive, it was uplifting. They thanked us for our campaign to stop the privatization of our hospitals and health services. A group like this is good for the morale. It makes the trip even more meaningful.’
February 25, Prince Edward Island
‘The final stop was at high noon in the City of Summerside where we were escorted through the heart of the city by the local police service with lights and sirens blaring. We received unequivocal support from all politicians, whether they were provincial or municipal. But the Conservative government of Pat Binns was conspicuous in their absence and deafening in their silence. We did not miss the opportunity at each and every stop to blast them for their lack of support.’
February 28, Saskatchewan
‘Roads were a bit icy but changed to rain about half way to Saskatoon. Arrived in good time to wash the ambulance before going to the community clinic. Excellent turnout at the clinic and lots of media. Once again, Kelly tried to get us arrested for using the siren and lights – media asked us to do it! Know we’ve gotten lots of air time already as I have had a number of calls from people saying they heard us on the radio.’
February 29, New Brunswick
‘The last four days have been a learning experience for me as this was the first major event that I have done with CUPE and if I was asked to do it again, the answer would be YES. The staff have been unreal, the local members that I have met on the tour have been unreal and the support from the public – well, I can’t describe it. It’s good to see that people do care what happens in Canada and will pull together to fight what could happen to our medicare system.’
March 13, Quebec
‘Criss-crossing almost the whole province of Quebec from Bas-St-Laurent to Abitibi, putting on more than 13,000 kilometres, has been a great experience. The reception has been wonder-ful, especially in smaller communities far from the major centres. People have been so glad to see us. Media coverage has been excellent and our message has been well received across the province.’