Bill 11 in Alberta is now law. The federal government and provincial Premiers are continuing to play dodge the ball with Canadas health care system. The federal government says it wants reforms. The provinces say they want money. Well, Canadians want both. They want a strong public health care system, without for- profit services or user fees. The urgency to continue to fight to save our cherished health care system from further erosion and privatization is no less now than it was in February when we launched our campaign.
We identified two phases for our campaign when CUPE leaders met in January. The first phase would focus on Bill 11 and federal funding, the second phase would deal more broadly with the need to expand and strengthen Medicare.
CUPE members in Alberta and across Canada led a tremendous and valiant effort to stop Bill 11. Our hard work was recognized by politicians, activists, the labour movement and the public across Canada.
In March, we released two legal opinions that showed the dangers of Albertas Bill 11 to Medicare for every single Canadian. The first outlined the broad implications of the Bill under NAFTA. Weak protections for health care in the trade deal means that Bill 11 could open up our health care system to powerful multinationals in every province. The second legal opinion demonstrated that the Bill clearly contravenes the Canadian Health Act. The detailed legal analysis of Bill 11 and the Canada Health Act shows that the Alberta legislation violates or threatens four of the Canada Health Acts five principles for a publicly-funded system.
In Alberta, CUPE along with the Friends of Medicare and many activists staged a number of demonstrations and vigils where attendance broke all records. The activity against Bill 11 is unsurpassed in Alberta. Eight thousand people demonstrated in Edmonton in April and 4,000 in Calgary. Two thousand people demonstrated at the legislature. People who never marched before were marching in cities and towns all across Alberta. Ralph Kleins popularity went from 72% support a year ago, to 66% last fall, to 40% in April.
Ralph Klein labelled all those in opposition to him “left-wing nuts”. According to Klein, “wing-nuts” include church leaders, the Alberta Medical Association, seniors, the Consumers Association and the 58% of Albertans who oppose Bill 11. But in spite of this incredible opposition, Ralph Klein used his huge majority in the provincial parliament to stop debate and pass Bill 11 into law.
We will be keeping up the fight in Alberta to try to stop the government from implementing the Bill and to ensure Ralph Klein pays the political price. And, we must continue to work across the country to protect the health care system as the stage moves to the federal-provincial arena and politicians are talking money and reform.
With this in mind, I , along with CUPE Saskatchewan president Tom Graham, Health Council president Steve Foley and regional director Doug Lavallie, met with Premier Roy Romanow in May. We strongly urged the Premier to speak out against Ralph Klein, to oppose privatization and to stand up for improving Canadas public health care system. By the end of the meeting, Premier Romanow committed to standing up for public health care across the country and to work with CUPE as his government undertakes provincial reform initiatives. The week following our meeting, Romanow made a number of public statements against Bill 11. CUPE Saskatchewan will be keeping the pressure on the Premier to keep his word as the province undertakes its own “review of Medicare” in the coming year.
On June 14, on CUPEs initiative, Canadas four major health unions, CUPE, NUPGE, SEIU and the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, organized a National Day of Warning on health care. Collectively, we represent 370,000 front line health care workers. Our joint action resulted in health care workers walking off the job for 15 minutes at noon and in many other activities on June 14 to demand that the federal government take action to keep health care public.
The day was a tremendous success with national media coverage along with tons of local coverage across the country. In Ottawa, James Clancy, president of NUPGE, Debra McPherson, acting national president of CFNU and I, all drove home the message “Its high noon for health care” to the media and an enthusiastic crowd of 200 outside the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital.
The cross-country day of action started on the east coast with a sunrise prayer on Signal Hill in St. Johns at 4:45 a.m. led by Sister Elizabeth Davis, CEO of St. Johns Health Care Corp. At noon, GVP and Newfoundland division president Wayne Lucas told a rally of about 50 in Corner Brook that the message to Ottawa is clear: pump more money into the system. “Were saying that as front line workers, well sit down with you (politicians) and well help fix whats wrong.”
In Halifax, hundreds “made noise for health care” outside the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital while rallies took place at hospitals and nursing homes throughout the province. Media reported that some union members on the citys waterfront handed out cardboard boxes marked Nova Scotia health care in a box. Each box contained a bandage and featured a photo of provincial Health Minister Jamie Muir.
Prince Edward Island organized the only event that included a speech from a provincial premier. Pat Binns spoke to a noon rally outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Charlottetown. NDP Leader Dr. Herb Dickieson attended a rally at his own hospital in OLeary.
At the Chalmers Hospital in Fredericton, some of CUPEs 5,500 hospital workers jangled keys to symbolize their concern that the doors to health care are being locked by budget cuts and the keys handed to private providers. A nursing home in the Miramichi held a rally of 70 people.
Quebec health care workers focused on a major social services conference June 13-15 raising public awareness of concerns including health care privatization.
Members of CUPEs Ontario Council of Hospital Unions staged rallies in cities including Toronto, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Kingston, Oshawa, Scarborough and Brockville. Sixty-six out of eighty-eight OCHU hospitals participated in the event. Most Ontario nursing home workers donned the “Im on Medicare Alert” button for the day. CUPE 5167 defied management at a Hamilton Home for the Aged and rallied outside the facility.
Winnipeg drew the biggest crowd of the day. About 1,000 people came out in the pouring rain to play miniature golf and spin the “wheel of misfortune” outside the Health Sciences Centre. CUPE 1550 teamed up with the Manitoba Nurses
Union to create a “festival” of activities, many under a large canopy, with visitors signing CUPE ambulance cards and MNU petitions. Brandon workers stood on street corners and asked people to honk for Medicare.
Regina held a successful rally outside Pasqua Hospital, including speakers from CUPE, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. Weyburn health care workers drove through the city in a “Medi-care-avan” whileHumboldt workers gave away hot dogs at St. Elizabeths Hospital.
CUPE 2111 at Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton offered sandwiches and coffee to a crowd of about 150 who came to hear speeches from CUPE and other labour leaders. A delegation from a Canadian Union of Postal Workers regional human rights conference also joined the rally. In Red Deer, workers blew whistles for Medicare and circulated a petition. In Athabasca a parade ran down main street. Calgary nursing home workers passed out leaflets.
CUPE HEU members took the lead in organizing events across B.C. A rally in front of Kelowna General Hospital drew a surprising 250 people. There were about 100 outside the Ministry of Health building in Victoria. Other events also attracted good crowds in Burnaby, New Westminster, Prince George, Kamloops, Penticton and elsewhere. B.C. Ambulance Paramedics (CUPE Local 873) incorporated the day into their province-wide Fighting for Life tour, joining health care workers in Nelson to sound the privatization alarm at noon.
On June 1, CUPE leaders, health care activists and staff from across the country met in Ottawa to plan our next steps. The meeting focussed on two things: actions for the coming year and developing our vision to strengthen Medicare in the context of the right bemoaning the growing cost of health care and declaring that it needs to be scaled back. In phase two we are campaigning and mobilizing for public health care, not just against private health care.
On the same day, we released the results of our latest polling that illustrates clearly that Canadians agree with us. The CUPE-commissioned Ekos poll shows 74 per cent of Canadians agree with CUPEs call for more hospital beds and more health care workers in hospitals. Expanded home and community care is also a priority for 57 per cent of Canadians. Health promotion and prevention, a national pharmacare program, and public access to information about the health care system also have significant support among Canadians.
Our job is to mobilize and organize for changes to the health care system that better meet the needs of and concerns of health care users and providers. This will require more funding from both the feds and the provinces. It will mean expanding Medicare to cover new programs and services but not at the expense of much needed and underfunded acute care facilities and long-term care. It will mean redirecting spending by putting doctors on salary, by changing how primary care is delivered and by limiting the profits of drug manufacturers.