In response to the outcry, in which CUPE Alberta played a prominent role, Ralph Klein has withdrawn Bill 37 for a second time. Explaining to the media why the legislation was being withdrawn, Klein specifically mentioned CUPE’s campaign. Bill 37 would have given the Minister of Health the power to approve private hospitals in the quiet of his office.
But this is just the end of round two. Klein has now appointed a committee – made up mostly of small “c” conservatives, including two former Tory MLAs – to package and sell the legislation to Albertans.
Bill 37 first appeared in the 1998 spring session of the Alberta Legislature. Its appearance was met by an immediate outcry from groups across the province, including labour. An effective letter writing campaign succeeded in having the Bill withdrawn. Over the summer, however, it became clear that Klein planned to bring back the bill and would invoke closure to get it passed.
CUPE Alberta knew that a second letter writing campaign would not be enough. In September, with the backing and support of CUPE National, the Alberta Division put together a plan for a high profile public campaign.
The plan called first for a public opinion survey. It was important to find out where Albertans stood on private hospitals and private health care. As everyone suspected, there was general opposition to private health care but 10 years of cuts and right wing propaganda have left many Albertans frustrated with public health care.
As the CUPE poll was being conducted, an information post card on private hospitals, with a tear off card for mailing to Klein, was circulated to every CUPE local. The response to the cards was immediate and overwhelming.
“From the poll it was clear that if we wanted to defeat this bill we would have to explain clearly how for-profit hospitals prey on suffering and increase costs,” said Terry Mutton, CUPE Alberta President.
In mid-October, about one month before the fall session of the legislature was to open, CUPE billboards opposing Bill 37 began appearing throughout the province. These were followed in early November by four weeks of radio ads. Then immediately after the bill was presented in the House, print ads appeared in Alberta’s five smaller cities and then a four-page supplement on private hospitals was printed in Calgary and Edmonton.
During the session, a copy of the poll was distributed to every MLA. This was followed with a brief and mailings of each newspaper ad. Several thousand post cards collected by CUPE locals were also presented to Klein for CUPE by NDP leader Pam Barrett.
“The support we received from our members and other concerned Albertans, from our National officers and our staff were crucial to making Klein withdraw this Bill for a second time,” said Mutton.
“But while this victory was important, the fight for Medicare is far from over,” Mutton added. “We fully expect Klein to bring back Bill 37 again in some form or other. But if we can get out the message that Medicare is still in danger, I believe our members and the public will again oppose this government’s health care agenda.”