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The Campbell Liberals’ first budget will leave scars on the social fabric of British Columbia that will take decades to heal, says the Hospital Employees’ Union (CUPE).

“The finance minister has made it official,” says HEU president Fred Muzin. “B.C. will be run on a cash and carry basis where many will have to cash in their tax cuts - and much more - to pay for sales tax and MSP premium increases, new user fees, tuition hikes and delisted drugs and medical services. Many others will be forced to choose between their health care needs and groceries.

“But Collins has delivered a gold medal performance to his corporate friends - many from outside B.C.- who will be snapping up lucrative contracts to deliver radically downsized public services.”

The budget contains more than $750 million in regressive tax measures that will disproportionately impact middle and lower income British Columbians. “It’s the height of hypocrisy,” says Muzin, “that government is prepared to transfer the tax burden to middle- and low-income British Columbians to pay for physicians’ salaries while preserving huge tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations.

“But in this ’us and them’ budget, the Campbell Liberals shred legally signed collective agreements, slash income assistance and gut public services. The budget documents even suggest that there will be a larger role for private health insurance to cover delisted health services. Who voted for that?”

Muzin expects health authorities to implement a defacto $1.5 billion spending cut over three years by announcing hospital closures and staff lay-offs over the next few weeks. “Communities already facing hard times are going to lose their hospitals along with thousands of good health care jobs,” says Muzin. “So much for the promise to protect health care.”

And Collins’ plans to force performance contracts on health authorities to reduce waiting lists and transfer care into the community is a set up, adds Muzin. “Asking front-line staff to reduce waiting lists in a climate of massive downsizing is a recipe for failure and a prelude to privatization.”

Health capital spending will fall by more than half over the next two years and Victoria plans to embark on an aggressive program to privatize health care infrastructure through so-called public-private partnerships. “But the evidence from other jurisdictions is quite clear,” says Muzin. “The costs of financing and operating P3 hospitals have resulted in poorer quality care and a long-term financial burden for taxpayers. Campbell’s private hospitals will make fast ferries look like spare change.”

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