Federal and provincial first ministers met last Thursday, February 4, in Ottawa to conclude a new accord on the social union. As part of the deal, the federal government promised more funding to health care. But while the media have hailed the accord, there remain a number of concerns for CUPE members.
“If it were a bargaining situation, it would be like gaining a one per cent wage hike after years of clawbacks, without making any progress on the job security language. But in this case, the negotiations were among the employers, leaving the workers - and the public - on the outside, looking in,” said National President Judy Darcy.
Nothing in the agreement prevents the continuing privatization of health care through increasing reliance on home care programs, programs not protected under the Canada Health Act.
And while there is the prospect of increased funding for health care, the amount to be restored is far less than the amount that has been cut. Speculation varies from a $2.5 billion one-time payment to a $6.5 billion increase over three years. But since the introduction of the CHST in 1996, $16 billion has been cut from transfer payments to the provinces. This year’s federal transfers for health, post-secondary education and social assistance total less than $12 billion, down from $19 billion the year the Liberals took office.
Nor is there any mention of increased funding for post-secondary education or social assistance despite the deep cuts to federal transfers for these programs over the past decade.
Many of the details of the accord remain fuzzy and a lot of the “contract language” is very general. So it may be some time before it’s clear how objectives of social programs will be set and disputes will be settled. While the contents of the accord are disappointing, the results are hardly surprising. As the premiers and prime minister - eleven white men in suits - emerged from behind closed doors to announce their agreement, we were again reminded that there has been no consultation or public debate about the accord.