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OTTAWA - There was an elephant in the room during this week’s first ministers’ conference on health care, and now privatization is on the loose again, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“Privatization was the elephant in the room and now it’s on the loose again,” CUPE National President Paul Moist said at the end of the televised meeting. He noted that the privatization threat to public health care was not addressed publicly during the three-day meeting, as the meeting ended.

No public delivery and weak accountability means there is nothing to stop private, for-profit health care from growing under the health care deal struck yesterday by Canada’s first ministers, he added.

“Two premiers registered their concern over for-profit care, but Paul Martin and the other pro-privatization politicians lacked the guts to talk about it publicly,” he said. “Who needs ‘transparency’ like that?”

The funding increase is significant but expressed concern over the agreement’s lack of accountability measures, Moist said. There are no financial penalties for provinces and territories if they fail to live up to the agreement’s terms. Crucially, there is also no necessity to enforce the Canada Health Act.

“This is not what Paul Martin talked about during the recent election campaign,” Moist said. “Canadians voted for leadership to improve health care. But there are no real winners this week, especially in provinces where privatization is being pursued unabated - and gone unpunished by Ottawa.”

“Precisely how will we reduce Canadians’ waiting times?” Moist asked. “Positive steps would include hiring more health care workers and boosting staffing and training. But that’s not spelled out, so we have to conclude that some provinces will spend the new money any way they please. To us, that means more contracting out to for-profit facilities and encouraging the growth of private health care.”

Some small, positive steps were made, Moist said. Home care could become more accessible, and targeted efforts to increase the number of aboriginal health care professionals are positive.

Pledges to address health care needs of minority-language communities are also welcomed. And Moist noted that the funding agreement and the 6 per cent escalator clause represent progress towards restoring the cuts that Martin made as finance minister in the 1990s. However, notably absent was any plan to deal with long-term care or pharmacare.

These modest improvements should give Canadians some comfort that the problems facing health care can be addressed, said Moist, even as privatization threatens sustainability and access.

Moist promised that CUPE would remain vigilant in its defence of public health care. “We are on the alert and will redouble our efforts to do what Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh said he would do - stem the tide of privatization.

“Backroom deal-making is no way to have an open public discussion about health care’s future. The battle to keep it public only heats up from here,” Moist said.


David Robbins, cell (613) 878-1431, CUPE Communications
Catherine Louli, cell (613) 851-0547, CUPE Communications