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Albertas controversial private health care law, Bill 11, is now law despite strenuous protests inside and outside the province.

In February 2001, Albertas College of Physicians and Surgeons approved accreditation standards for extended-stay non-hospital surgical facilities. But try as they may, private health care promoters cant hide the fact that the facilities will be acting as hospitals in a two-tier system.

The law allows private, for-profit clinics to perform surgeries, paving the way for full-fledged private hospitals in the province. The law allows public money to fund services provided for profit, and permits doctors to operate in both public and private systems. The law was passed in the face of strong provincial, national and international evidence that private care costs more and is less efficient than well-funded public care.

After creating a health care emergency by slashing funding and closing beds, the Conservative government of Ralph Klein argued that only private-sector help could fix the system. Albertans in the tens of thousands saw through this self-fulfilling prophecy. They and other Canadians argued that Bill 11 would seriously erode Medicare by creating one system of care for the wealthy, and one for everyone else.

Those fears were confirmed in a CUPE-commissioned legal opinion, which concluded that Bill 11 clearly violated at least three of the five principles of the Canada Health Act. The opinion, from the BC law firm Arvay Finlay, found that the principles guaranteeing universally accessible, comprehensive and uniform care would be violated, and that the bill also seriously compromised the principle of public administration.

Canadians also worried about the trade ramifications of Bill 11 under the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trade law expert Steven Shrybman analyzed the bill for CUPE and found that NAFTA could spread Bill 11s corrosive effects across the entire country as corporations demand equal treatment in other provinces. NAFTAs investor state provisions could make Bill 11 extremely difficult to reverse, particularly given the weak protection afforded health care to begin with.

Throughout the entire Bill 11 debate, the federal government heckled from the sidelines but took no action. Health Minister Allan Rock did nothing to enforce the Canada Health Act, and failed to acknowledge the immediate trade concerns. The Liberal governments tacit endorsement of two-tier care sends a chilling signal about their willingness to defend public health care.