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CUPE submission “The Canada we want” (in response to the Speech from the Throne to open the second session of the 37th Parliament of Canada, September 30, 2002)

Briefing Notes:

General comments

Despite reports of “an ambitious social agenda”, “a Chretien legacy”, etc., this government has once again failed to address the concerns of Canadians and provide real solutions to the massive problems confronting us in our communities. We will still face child poverty, homelessness, a public health care system under siege, an absence of a national commitment to quality public child care, tremendous inequalities faced by Aboriginal communities, discrimination against immigrants and workers of colour, threats to our environment, inequities in our unemployment insurance system and an array of workplace training needs.

Although there is reference to building “world class cities and healthy communities”, there is a lack of commitment to appropriately funded public services, programs and infrastructure to ensure we have strong and viable communities in the future. It is clear that CUPE must continue to be vigilant in our fight against privatization of public services as the government proceeds with its strategy to build “competitive cities” with “modern infrastructure”.

Putting in Place the Health Care System for the 21st Century

This Speech from the Throne does not provide any firm direction for health care reform. It repeats old news that announcements on health funding had been made in September 2000 and that the Romanow Commission had been struck.

The only new pronouncement is that there will be a First Minister’s meeting early in 2003 at which a comprehensive plan will be put forward and include “enhanced accountability to Canadians” and the “necessary federal long-term investments” to be detailed in the next federal budget. As provincial governments in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Alberta are moving towards privatized health care services, how will this “enhanced accountability” work?

The plans for additional health care funding are deliberately vague and tied to the similarly vague plan for health care reform to be agreed upon by the provinces and territories. So far, any attempt to arrive at a common program for Medicare has failed. Finally regarding funding, the government gives no indication that it plans to increase its investment as a proportion of total government health expenditures.

Nowhere is there any acknowledgement that Canada’s public health care system needs shoring up through a clear commitment to public, not-for-profit health care and an increased role for government in providing an expanded system of health services such as home care and pharmacare.

On the government’s “action plan in health policy areas”, the plans to renew federal health protection legislation and strengthen the security of Canada’s food system are too vague. A national strategy for healthy living is a poor substitute for a comprehensive program promoting health and well being by addressing the determinants of health.

The First Nations Health Promotion and Disease Prevention strategy is not the mechanism to “close the gap” between the health status of Aboriginal and non- Aboriginal Canadians; it consists of a targeted immunization program and reforms to health care delivery on reserves, minimal changes.

Modifying existing programs to provide compassionate care for a gravely ill family member without putting jobs or incomes at risk is welcomed, but it is not clear how will the federal government do this without agreements from the provincial governments to changes in employment standards and other legislation.

Helping Children and Families Out of Poverty

The commitment to fighting child poverty is welcome news. However, the words mean nothing without a full commitment to ending child poverty for the 18.5% of Canadian children currently living in poverty (Campaign 2000, May 2002). The government promises a “long term investment plan to allow poor families to break out of the welfare trap…” which includes increases to the National Child Benefit for poor families.

In our submission for pre-Budget discussions (May, 2002), CUPE called for the federal government to set national standards for income assistance, including earmarking funding especially for social assistance.

No commitment to children and families can be complete without a full commitment to federally funded, universal, regulated childcare. The current Early Childhood Development Initiative has been disappointing. Experts on childcare and early childhood development stress that quality childcare helps poor families maintain employment while providing all children with a sound base for their development. Childcare benefits children, parents and communities. The need for high quality childcare services has grown as more women work outside the home – and return to work after having children. Statistics show that 70% of mothers with young children under age six are in the paid workforce. Almost nine in 10 women return to work after giving birth. Only 10% of children from infants to 12 years, have access to a regulated childcare space.

Childcare must be a core public service. Spending the necessary funds to create universal access to childcare and not spending only on targeted groups needing childcare assures that the needs of all are met, maximizing the beneficial impact upon society as a whole.

The government also announced additional measures to address the gap in life chances between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal children. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) has already called these and other initiatives stale and recycled measures, insufficient to close the gap. The silence on Inuit concerns and the needs of off-reserve Aboriginals was also noted by AFN. (radio interview Sept. 30)

The Challenge of Climate Change and the Environment

The government will bring forward a resolution to Parliament on the issue of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change before the end of this year. Labour must keep up the pressure on the Canadian government to ratify Kyoto and also to consult with labour in preparing implementation plans, plans which should include investments in new “green jobs” and training for workers.

Skills, Learning and Research

In the area of post-secondary education, the government intends to increase its investments in graduate studies and research and will “work with universities on the indirect costs of research and on strategies for its commercialization to create opportunities for entrepreneurs and to fuel innovation”. Once again, the emphasis is on bringing universities in line with corporate objectives rather than pumping funds into the universities to ease the burden of tuition fee hikes – a burden borne by students and their families who pay a higher percentage of the costs of university education than ever before.

The labour movement agrees that we need a commitment to “lifelong learning”. In its Throne Speech, the government claims it will “work with Canadians, provinces, sector councils, labour organizations and learning institutions to create the skills and learning architecture that Canada needs and to promote workplace learning”.

We hope that the labour market programs referred to include a special program of Training Insurance called for by the Canadian Labour Congress. The CLC has called on the government to expand the Employment Insurance system to include training insurance for all workers – employed and unemployed, to have the same insurance entitlement rules as those used for insuring unemployment, apprenticeship training, etc. They have suggested a pilot for nursing and other health care workers where there are acute shortages and where there are no training and assistance programs for skills upgrading.

Two other areas of “skills, learning and research” could apply specifically to health care. There are many health human resources labour market sector studies underway right now. Any increase in support for sector councils will undoubtedly benefit those health studies entering into the sector council phase over the next two years. This will include home care and nursing.

Secondly, many CUPE members possess skills and qualifications from their home countries which are not recognized in Canada. Yet other workers have not been able to enter the workforce because of this problem. The commitment to breaking down the barriers to recognition of foreign credentials must be accompanied by significant funding. The government must work with labour and immigrant organizations to ensure the success of this initiative.

Another area the government has failed to address is in the broader context of the migration of health care workers where “poaching” of health personnel causes harm to third world nations. Canada’s commitment should be to address these issues in an international context to strengthen training opportunities so that a world wide shortage of health care workers is not perpetuated.

Competitive Cities and Healthy Communities

As part of its program for cities and communities, the government “will put into place a ten-year program for infrastructure to accommodate long term strategic initiatives essential to competitiveness and sustainable growth.” Part of this program will be a “new strategy for a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system”.

As we have seen before, unless the government is willing to provide the necessary funding for this kind of infrastructure project, they will call for increased private sector involvement and we will be quickly moving down the road toward privatization of municipal infrastructure. Public Private Partnerships will be encouraged under this agenda. Insufficient funding for infrastructure investment opens the door to corporate takeover of our public services and in this case, the battle could begin over transportation systems.

In the area of affordable housing, the government has committed to “extending its investment” in affordable housing. In May, 2002, the National Housing and Homelessness Network released a report card on the previous initiative, giving the federal government a D for spending less than 1% of the potential funds ($680 million total over five years). The Federation of Canadian Municipalities reported in 2000 that the urban centres lost a minimum of 13,000 rental units between 1995 and 1999 - previously available rental housing was converted or demolished, and no new social housing was built.

The continuation of the Supporting Communities Partnerships Initiative (SCPI) which was to end next year, has been encouraged by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Under this scheme, for example, SCPI provided money in Vancouver to purchase hotels and transform them into affordable housing units. Once again, we will have to be on the alert for Public Private Partnerships in any of these municipal initiatives.

Final comments

In this briefing, I have not touched on all areas mentioned in the Throne Speech. As well, this is not an in-depth analysis of the areas covered. Nevertheless, perhaps it provides us with some information with which to position ourselves as we head into pre-Budget discussions and perhaps consultations. Despite the outward appearance of a “social reform agenda”, we have to anticipate more moves toward privatization in almost every sector; more examples of Public-Private Partnerships and we will have to fight even harder to maintain our public services and hold onto our communities.


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