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PETERBOROUGH – Peterborough’s Lions Club hall was packed to the brim last night as close to 200 local residents came out to hear CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan and Ontario Council of Hospital Unions (OCHU) President Michael Hurley speak about Bill 8 and other Liberal plans to privatize public services in Ontario. Among the crowd were over 90 CUPE members, representatives of the local health coalition and district labour council, and health care workers from OPSEU, SEIU, ONA and CAW. The media was present to cover the meeting and included local television station, CHEX TV.

Sid Ryan spoke first and described the challenge of fighting privatization under the Liberal government in Ontario. “In Ontario there are 400,000 front-line dietary, custodial and other health care workers that, like in BC, will bear the brunt of the privatization of health care,” said Ryan referring to the massive reduction in services and the thousands of health care workers that have lost their jobs in British Columbia after the BC Liberals came to power.

Ryan went on to describe the failure of the “P3 model” (public-private partnerships) in health care and other sectors such as water maintenance and rail service. “There is no such thing as transfering risk to the private sector. This is the excuse the government gives when they privatize public services. The truth is, when a hospital gets sued, or a sewage spill occurs, it is taxpayers that are on the hook for the bill. The private company makes the profit, we clean up the mess.”

OCHU has been fighting against the “P3 model” in Ontario’s hospitals since the Tories first introduced it. Despite Liberal campaign promises to do away with the privatization of Ontario’s hospitals, McGuinty’s government is plowing forward with the privatization of six additional hospitals.

After outlining the parts of Bill 8 that reduce public accountability and put health care jobs and services at risk, Hurley described Bill 8 as part of the Liberal agenda to privatize health care in Ontario. He called the government’s attempt to control health care spending by imposing strict budgets on hospital and other health care boards (as Bill 8 does) wrong headed and dangerous. The real culprits, he said, are “the drug companies that are gauging the bone marrow out of our health care system.”

“The reach of Bill 8 was expanded on Monday by the Minister of Health beyond Ontario’s hospitals to long-term care facilities, community and acute care facilities, as well as the mental health sector,” explained Hurley. “Bill 8 puts us all on the chopping block.”

Several participants asked questions and made comments including a nurse who felt moved to call her MPP and wanted more information on how to participate in the campaign against Bill 8.

CUPE Ontario Campaigns Co-ordinator Maureen Giuliani described the campaign and sought and received suggestions and ideas from meeting participants.

Roy Brady, Chairperson of the Peterborough Health Coalition talked about the activities of his citizen’s group and urged people to get involved. Brady’s e-mail address is rbrady1@cogeco.ca

The attendees were urged to participate in “MPP lobby day” on March 5th, demonstrations outside local hospitals on March 15th, and the march to Queen’s Park to save Ontario’s health care system from P3s on April 3rd.

Candace Rennick, President of Local 2280 and CUPE National Executive Board member both organized and chaired the successful meeting which ended off with chants of “No Bill 8” prompted by Karen Ward, a health care worker at Peterborough’s Regional Health Centre and member of CUPE 1943. Ward also helped to organize the event.

For more information on the campaign against Bill 8, please go to http://www.cupe.ca/www/bill8campaign. Copies of the public flyer distributed at the event can also be found here.