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Judy Darcy, National President
Canadian Union of Public Employees

Tuesday May 28th, 2002

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to be here this morning.

My name is Judy Darcy and I am the National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. With me today is Robert Fox – Communications Director and Stan Marshall Senior Officer - Research.

And I just want to say I agree 100% with the 2 students who spoke this morning.

CUPE is Canada’s largest union. We represent half a million women and men, 150,000 of whom work in health care. As you know, we have been active participants in the current national debate about the future of Medicare, and we’ve been campaigning for years to expand and improve our public health care system.

CUPE’s starting point in the debate on the future of health care is that we can’t stand for the status quo.

  • The status quo means more private health care.
  • The status quo means an ever-longer list of services being de-listed from public health insurance coverage.
  • The status quo means staff shortages.
  • The status quo means a growing population of seniors without access to affordable, quality home care.
  • The status quo means higher and higher drug prices.
  • The status quo means too many health care needs going unmet.
  • The status quo means federal government neglect of our health care system.

I could go on and on. But you get my point.

The status quo is privatization by stealth – and it is unacceptable.

What we need from you – from this Commission on the Future of Health Care – is a plan for an expanded public health care system with public funding and public delivery of services.

What Canadians need to hear from you is a firm rejection of for-profit health care.

What Canadians need is for you to tell the federal government to step up to the plate:

  • to intervene financially and in every other way to strengthen public health care services;
  • to vigorously enforce the principles of the Canada Health Act;
  • and to expand Medicare to include home care and community care, as well as a national pharmacare program.

And let us be clear. When we say that private, for-profit health care must be rejected, we mean both private, for-profit funding and private, for-profit delivery.

There are some who argue that the main issue of debate is public vs. private funding - ant that as long as the financing of health care continues to be a government (rather than an individual) responsibility, then it makes no difference who delivers the care.

We strongly disagree.

The fact is, private, for-profit health care delivery and administration is inferior and less efficient. It makes no economic sense.

And, according to a major study released only yesterday from McMaster University, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, patients are more likely to die when health care is owned and administered on a for-profit basis.

This is why we strongly urge you to reject the new phenomenon of public-private partnerships or P3s in health care. As you know, these are arrangements where governments hand over public funds for the private construction, management, operation and sometimes ownership of health care institutions.

Extensive experience in the UK already with PFI hospitals

PFI’s or P3s transform not-for-profit health care institutions into money-making enterprises.

  • They do not save the taxpayers money – in fact, they cost more in the long-term.
  • They do not increase access to health services – in fact, they result in fewer beds available in any given community.
  • They do not provide better or more efficient care – because staffing levels, equipment and service are sacrificed for profits.

As you well know, there is no evidence that either more private funding, or more private delivery, is beneficial to anyone except the private corporations who stand to make billions of dollars in profits. Their profits will be especially high if the federal government continues to allow provinces to direct public funds to private, for-profit health care providers.

But even more troubling, under the terms of the NAFTA and the General Agreement on Trade in Services, we know that once the doors of for-profit care have been opened, it will be virtually impossible to protect our health care system from its wholesale takeover by American health corporations.

We categorically reject the argument that Canadians have no choice but to move towards private, for-profit health care because funding an expanded public national Medicare system is not sustainable.

What is not sustainable is the creeping privatization we are currently experiencing.

What is not sustainable is allowing private corporations to profit from the health care system. Public health care was a bold radical step when Saskatchewan first put in place a hospitalization plan in 1947 and expanded it in 1962.

  • It was a response to the inequities and high costs of private health care.
  • This is not the time to move backwards to a system that didn’t work.

We are at a historic juncture where we once again must take bold, radical steps to strengthen and expand socialized medicine. Canadians have said time after time that we are willing to pay more for public health care because it is more efficient and equitable, and because only public, not-for-profit health care can meet our needs.

We have had the opportunity to give you a technical briefing on public-private partnerships, as well as on the particular complexities and problems of health

care privatization under the current free-trade regime. We are looking forward to providing you with more detailed briefings in the future on the issue of privatization.

Today, our main message and appeal to you is to stop the attack on public Medicare. Specifically, we ask that you recommend strong and decisive action by the federal government to make it clear to everyone – and especially to provincial governments and to private health corporations – that it will defend the health interests of Canadians.

  • This means increasing the federal government’s share of health care costs to 50 per cent.
  • It means funding 50 per cent of the cost of a new home and community care program, and pharmacare program.
  • It means taking whatever legal or legislative action is required to stop all forms of health care privatization.
  • It means taking whatever action is necessary to prevent foreign corporations from getting access to our health care sector through trade deals.

Mr. Romanow, we are truly at a crossroads. As you have said many times, there are really only two options: to remodel the house of medicare, or to destroy it.

Canadians overwhelmingly believe in remodelling our public medicare system, not destroying it.

And yet there is already a demolition derby underway in this country, led by provincial governments in Ontario, Alberta and B.C.– and the federal government has done nothing to stop it.

Mr. Romanow, Canadians are clear what direction we want our health care system to go. And we are looking to you to issue an unequivocal call for a public health care system in the public interest – where there is no room for profit, and where quality care is available to all.

Let’s modernize, not privatize.

Let’s complete the job Tommy Douglas began in Saskatchewan over 50 years ago.