On the occasion of the upcoming meeting in Moncton, I write to commend you for the Council of the Federation’s leadership role in building a more cooperative Canadian federation. These initiatives have helped to build consensus and move forward in a number of areas including infrastructure, transportation, internal trade, the fiscal imbalance, health care, post-secondary education, skills training and literacy.
Despite the advances made, I’m sure you will agree that in each of these areas much more needs to be done. Now, more than ever, Canadians need you and other Premiers to collaborate on achieving constructive progress on these important issues.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is concerned about the direction our current federal government is taking on issues of significance to Premiers and Canadians in communities all across our country.
We have long pushed for the federal government to increase funding support for infrastructure. The 2005 Budget made progress with new funding through the New Deal for Cities and Communities. This was enough to keep the infrastructure deficit from growing, but not enough to substantially reduce it. Renewal of our infrastructure is particularly pressing now with the need to reduce our emissions and to adapt to climate change.
Recent federal budgets have done little to help provinces and municipalities move further forward. In fact, they have moved backwards. Especially troubling is the requirement announced in the 2007 federal budget that forces both provincial and municipal governments to fully consider public-private partnerships as a condition of receiving funds for large infrastructure projects, as well as the new fund specifically for P3 projects.
Many P3 projects in the UK, other countries and here in Canada have resulted in delays, cost over-runs, bankruptcies, lack of public control and, in the end, higher costs for the public and the public sector. Despite rosy financial projections and provisions for risk transfer, when these schemes fail, governments and the public are left shouldering the responsibility and the higher costs.
➢ We strongly urge you to reject privatization initiatives such as P3s as a solution for public infrastructure development and to be very cautious about private-public cost comparisons, which often use faulty accounting to inflate public sector costs.
Trade and Investment Agreements
CUPE is also extremely concerned about provisions in trade and investment agreements, such as the Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA), which undermine the democratic powers of government and other public organizations.
Fundamental concerns include TILMA’s sweeping prohibitions on any measures that could be interpreted as restricting or impairing trade, and its dispute resolution mechanism that explicitly provides corporations and investors with broad powers to sue governments for compensation. Experience with the NAFTA’s highly contentious and corrosive Chapter 11 should give provinces plenty of concern about including similar measures in internal trade agreements.
The Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) has already established inter-provincial trade mechanisms to ensure the free flow of labour and goods across provincial borders. Research and analysis has unearthed no evidence that internal trade barriers result in any significant costs or disruptions to Canada’s economy.
➢ We urge Premiers to build on the progress you have made with the AIT and ensure that trade and investment agreements are not used to restrict the ability of governments to act in the public interest of their citizens.
Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Federal leadership on the issue of climate change has been lacking for a long time. In contrast, many provinces are moving forward with concrete and effective plans. We applaud you who have demonstrated initiative and leadership in this area. While it is essential that we put a price to pollution to reduce emissions, private markets certainly won’t solve the problem on their own.
Governments at all levels need to play a central role by demonstrating leadership with effective and co-ordinated action plans, setting an example with their own operations, providing direction through technology research and efficiency standards, and investing in infrastructure including a nationwide electrical grid as well as upgrades to buildings and transportation. Privatization and P3s would make this much more difficult.
But we need more than this. The impacts of climate change and higher energy prices will disproportionately hurt the poor in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Lower and middle income Canadians need retrofit programs to reduce fuel use and improved social, health and public services to cope with the impacts of climate change. We also need progressive tax reform, Green Jobs Investment Funds to invest in the technologies of the future and Just Transition Funds to help those whose jobs have been displaced.
➢ We welcome further co-ordinated action on climate change. We urge you to use this opportunity to rebuild confidence in public leadership by involving all sectors, including labour, in developing and implementing effective and equitable action plans on climate change.
Health Care Wait Lists
While some are exploiting health care wait lists to expand the role of private insurers and for-profit providers, CUPE supports solutions that strengthen rather than undermine our public health care system. Public solutions such as centralized lists, team-based care, and improved operating room management are being implemented here and there, but they need dedicated resources and political will to become the norm. Private clinics and competitive bidding, by contrast, divert scarce resources away from public hospitals and discourage collaboration and long-term planning.
Addressing the root causes of long wait times also requires investment in primary care as well as home and continuing care. Governments need to take a system-wide approach to reducing waits that maximizes access to quality care in the public system.
➢ We urge Premiers to invest in public solutions to wait time problems and to reject the model of for-profit clinics and competitive bidding.
National Pharmaceutical Strategy
The development and implementation of a national pharmaceutical strategy is an essential component of securing the future of public health care in Canada. As the National Pharmaceuticals Strategy acknowledges, our patchwork of public and private drug plans leaves many Canadians without access to needed drugs. The present system has also failed to control costs and to consistently protect public safety. Canada remains the only industrialized country other than the United States without a national drug plan.
Given the cross-jurisdictional nature of many pharmaceutical issues, a pan-Canadian strategy is needed. While pressing for that, however, jurisdictions can collaborate and move forward now on many policy fronts.
➢ We urge all Premiers to achieve a national Pharmacare program that includes first-dollar coverage for essential drugs on a national formulary, bulk purchasing, accelerated access to non-patented drugs, more rigorous safety standards, evidence-based prescribing, and stricter controls on drug company marketing.
Literacy, Training and Labour Market programs
Literacy, training and labour market programs are absolutely essential to improve our economic and social wellbeing. However, the federal government slashed $11.9 million to provincial and territorial literacy programs at the very same time that they announced a $13 billion surplus last October. This makes no sense; particularly at a time when over a million Canadians remain unemployed while one of the top concerns of employers is apparently a lack of qualified workers. No wonder our productivity growth is ailing.
CUPE and many other unions have played an active role in promoting literacy and workplace training for workers and in communities.
➢ We urge all Premiers to push the federal government to fully restore funds that were cut from literacy programs, expand support in this area and involve labour in the development of new labour market and training programs, including new programs being transferred from the federal government.
Early Learning and Child Care
The need for affordable and high quality early learning and child care programs is a major priority for CUPE’s 560,000 members, many of whom are struggling to balance workplace, financial and family pressures while also ensuring a good start in life for their children. The lack of high quality child care spaces is holding back parents from improving their workplace skills and participating in the labour force.
Canada is at the bottom of all developed countries when it comes to spending on early learning and child care and the OECD has repeatedly urged Canada to invest more in this area. Cancellation of the federal-provincial child care agreements cut more than $1 billion in annual funding for provincial and territorial child care programs and set back development of a pan-Canadian system by many years.
➢ We urge you to continue to press for dedicated federal funding to develop a pan-Canadian public/non-profit early learning and child care system that meets the needs of today’s families.
Federal transfers to the provinces for post-secondary education (PSE) are still far below what they were fifteen years ago, even in nominal dollars, without accounting for inflation. The increase in the Canada Social Transfer base for PSE announced in the federal budget for next year is welcomed, but it remains woefully inadequate. If federal transfers for PSE had increased just to keep pace with inflation and full time PSE enrolment since 1992, they would be about $5.3 billion this year – 117% higher and $2.7 billion more than this year.
On behalf of CUPE’s membership – the hundreds of thousands of people who work hard to deliver public services to Canadians from coast to coast to coast – we wish you a productive set of meetings. Canadians are counting on you to work together and show the leadership required to maintain and strengthen the capability and wellbeing of our public institutions, communities and people.
PAUL MOIST National President Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)