When the Economic Party is Over...
- Someone has to clean up the mess. The latest Labour Economic Monitor, the AFL's digest of economic statistics and analysis, is out - and this time looks at the quickly changing economy. Find out what is really happening, what is causing the rapid flux and how you and your family might be affected. Read Labour Economic Monitor ...
Hands off Our Assets!
- On January 20, Edmonton City Council will consider privatizing the Gold Bar Waste Treatment Plan by handing it over to EPCOR at a fraction of its value. EPCOR plans on using the asset to help it win bids to operate privatized utilities in other cities in North America. Edmontonians would lose public control of this valuable public asset and public accountability would be lost. Edmontonians need to make their voice heard in the next few days.
The Making of Our Movement
- As we build toward the AFL's Centennial in 2012, we want to celebrate our past victories and achievements. Last year we launched Project 2012 to create popular material to celebrate labour history in Alberta. The latest in our series of posters has just been released. It is the first poster in the "Making of Our Movement" series, and it honours the courage and struggle of the workers in the 1986 Gainers Strike. A powerful image anchors the poster, which is available free of charge from the AFL office. Framed copies are also being sold for $150. See sample of the poster ...
Fed Up With Labour Laws? Change 'Em!
- The winter 2009 issue of Union magazine came out recently, offering a look at the state of Alberta's labour laws and what we can do about them. Union is the AFL's seasonal publication of insight and analysis. The issue also examines the growing use of Temporary Foreign Workers, the possibility of "decent work", and takes a look back at a groundbreaking coal miners's strike in 1906. And remember, subscriptions are FREE! Read Union Magazine ...
- Workplaces are becoming more diverse, which presents both challenges and opportunities for workers. Three of the AFL's Standing Committees are collaborating to organize a conference that is looking at diversity in the workplace. The conference will address racism, aboriginal issues, Temporary Foreign Workers, and pride and solidarity. The Conference runs February 27 & 28 at the Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton.
Stop the Bloodshed in the Middle East
With over 700 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed and the death toll mounting daily as the Gaza offensive escalates, citizens around the world are urgently demanding action to end the violence and protect civilians.
One group has launched an online petition calling for robust international action to achieve an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and take further crucial steps toward a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Join the more than 400,000 people worldwide who have signed the petition and are calling for an end to the bloodshed. Sign the petition ...
The Folly of Free Trade Agreements
The Parkland Institute is hosting a speaking event with Professor Jane Kelsey, one of New Zealand's best-known critical commentators on issues of globalisation, neo-liberalism and so-called liberalized trade. Dr. Kelsey will be talking about how working people around the world suffer the worst under free trade agreements, and how such deals embed the corporate principles of neo-liberalism.
Tuesday February 3
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
University of Alberta Campus (ETLC 1-003)
Did you know ...
Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta
In December 2007, there were 37,257 TFWs in Alberta, which would make up Alberta's 10th largest city.
There were 73,000 unemployed Albertans in the same month.
Unskilled workers now make up 1 in 4 TFWs in Alberta.
60% of food industry employers with TFWs were found by the Alberta government to be breaching the Employment Standards Code in some significant way.
As members of the provincial government caucus prepare to gather in Calgary tomorrow for a meeting that could decide the fate of the so-called "Third Way", the Alberta Federation of Labour is urging unions across the province to put the issue of private health insurance on the bargaining table.
In a letter sent to more than 350 unions and union locals around the province, AFL president Gil McGowan says one of the best ways to stop the government from proceeding with the Third Way is to remind employers in both the public and private sectors about the high costs associated with any move towards an increased reliance on private health insurance.
"We need to let both the government and employers know that whatever services they take away from our members by 'shrinking the Medicare umbrella� we will fight to get back at the bargaining table," wrote McGowan. "The higher costs associated with this will end up being a major new financial burden for employers in both the public and private sectors."
In addition to his letter, McGowan has also met personally with a number of major union presidents who have agreed to raise the issue of private health insurance with their employers - including unions representing city workers and public school employees in both Calgary and Edmonton.
"By allowing patients to 'buy their way to the front of the line� for certain services and by allowing doctors to work in both the public and for-profit systems, the Third Way will essentially create a market for private insurance in Alberta where there was none before," says McGowan.
"The best way to avoid making health insurance a crippling issue like it is for employers in the U.S. is to stop the Third Way - at least its most controversial sections. This is definitely an area where unions can make common cause with employers - because the Third Way threatens our members� access to health care and it threatens the bottom lines of employers."
To help illustrate just how big an advantage Medicare gives Canadian employers - and how much Alberta employers could lose if the provincial government proceeds with the Third Way - McGowan provided unions with a number of telling statistics.
For example, he pointed out that the average cost for health benefits in Canada is currently about $930 US per employee per year - compared to more than $10,000 US per year for American workers with families.
He also pointed to the example of contracts negotiated by construction unions on both sides of the border. In Alberta, for example, employers who work with the Ironworkers pay extended health benefits of $1.50 Cdn per hour per employee - compared to $7.15 Cdn in Phoenix; $7.38 Cdn in San Francisco; $7.29 Cdn in Minneapolis; and $10.89 Cdn in Buffalo, NY.
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President (780) 915-4599 (cell) or (780) 483-3021 (office)
The so-called Third Way in health care may be Premier Klein's "hobby horse" - but Health Minister Iris Evans shouldn't feel obliged to hop on board, says AFL president Gil McGowan.
In his presentation to the health care hearings being conducted by Evans, McGowan warned today that the Third Way could end up costing Alberta businesses a bundle.
"If the government shrinks the Medicare umbrella, workers - both union and non-union - will have no choice but to push for increased health benefits from their employers," said McGowan.
"And employers, especially in Alberta's current tight job market, will have no choice but to comply in order to attract and retain employees. For public sector employers, this will mean less money left in their budgets to pay for the services they provide. And for private sector employers, it will mean reduced profits."
To understand just how costly the Third Way might be to employers, McGowan asked Evans to consider that the average cost for health benefits in Canada is currently about $930 US per employee per year. In the States, the average cost is $5,500 US for single employees and more than $10,000 per year for employees with families.
"Private health insurance costs have been literally eating American businesses alive," said McGowan. "The bottom line is that Medicare, as it is currently constituted, lowers costs for our businesses and gives them a huge economic advantage when competing with their American rivals. Creating a new tier of private insurance in Alberta will substantially reduce that advantage."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599
Fast Facts on Private Health Insurance
Private health care costs more. Canada's single-payer public system pools risk, thereby lowering cost. Our public health insurance system also has very low administrative costs (less than 2%). This helps explain why the Americans - who rely on private insurance - spend 16 percent of their GDP for a health care system that leaves 48 million people without coverage. We spend about 9 percent of our GDP on a much more comprehensive system.
Private health care has a much worse track record of cost containment than public health care. Costs in the public system have been going up, but not nearly as much as costs in the for-profit health care sector. In the U.S., private health insurance premiums have been rising at an average rate of more than 10 percent a year for each of the past seven years. The only way private insurers have been able to stop costs for completely spiralling out of control south of the border is by denying more people coverage, reducing the scope of coverage for those who are enrolled in plans and by charging ever-increasing deductibles and co-payments.
Private health insurance companies make money by not be giving people the care they need - but by denying it. In the U.S., people with pre-existing conditions are routinely denied coverage. Even with those with coverage, some studies suggest that up to 30 percent of claims are denied. This is already happening with supplemental coverage in Canada. In other words, private health insurers often exclude the people who need it most.
The companies most likely to step in and provide expanded private health insurance here in Alberta are the same American companies that have been found guilty of fraud on an almost mind-boggling scale. Columbia/HCA, for example, was fined $745 million for fraud. Tenet Health Care was fined $683 million. Even AON, the private insurance company that your government contracted to draft this framework, was fined $190 million. Are these really the people we want to turn to as saviours?
Private health insurance will hurt Alberta employers. The average cost for health benefits in Canada is currently about $930 US per employee per year. In the States, the average cost is $5,500 US for single employees and more than $10,000 per year for employees with families. Canadian Medicare, as it is currently constituted, lowers costs for our businesses and gives them a huge economic advantage when competing with their American rivals. Creating a new tier of private insurance in Alberta will substantially reduce that advantage.
Private health insurance will give an advantage to large employers over smaller employers when it comes to attracting and retaining workers - because the large employers will more easily be able to afford extended health benefits. This advantage will be particularly problematic for small business in the current tight labour market.
Less than 35 percent of Alberta workers (582,000) currently have access to supplemental health benefits through work. These are the people most likely to received increased benefits to cover the new tier of private service that the Third Way would create. Everyone else will have to make do with the second-class public system. Even if you add in the families of workers covered by private insurance, more than 50 percent of the Alberta population will be left without supplemental insurance.
Costs for extended private health insurance could easily run into the hundreds of millions. One way to estimate the cost would be to look at monthly cost being projected by Accure Health, the private insurance firm associated with Jim Dinning. They're planning to offer a plan that will cover access to services like hip and knee replacements - at a cost of $70 per month. So if all 582,000 Albertans who currently have extended health benefits are successful in getting that kind of coverage - that would translate into an extra cost to employers of about $41 million a month and more about $492 million a year. And that's just for the one procedure - costs would be higher if more services are de-listed or opened up for private payment.
EDMONTON - The Klein government's decision to put out a call for proposals to private insurance companies interested in covering public health services is an act of "breathtaking stupidity", says Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"They're talking about making sweeping changes to our health care system and they want profit-seeking private insurance companies to chart the course," says McGowan. "This is a betrayal of the public and an abrogation of government responsibility. What do you think these insurance companies will recommend? Whose best interests will they really be looking after?"
The government request for proposals was released to the insurance industry on August 30th, but only revealed to the public today. It calls for the creation of private insurance plans to cover a wide range of services currently covered by Medicare, including prescription drugs, long-term care, supplementary health services and "non-emergency" health services.
"We know that private insurance will end up costing Albertans more for health services," says McGowan. "This will particularly hurt Alberta employers, who are going to end up paying a lot more for employee health benefits. To continue to drive down a road that leads to nowhere is an act either of stupidity or deliberate political blindness."
"Do Albertans really want what is being offered here? Instead of going to a hospital, do we really want to have to go to 'HipMart' or 'Seniors R Us'? I don't think so," concludes McGowan.
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For more information
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780-915-4599(cell)
The Alberta government's decision today to expand the role for private health insurance will result in a less equal health system and millions of dollars in new costs for individual Albertans and Alberta businesses, says the new president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Alberta's largest union organization.
"This government likes to brag about building the Alberta advantage. But what they've done today is exactly the opposite. They are creating an Alberta disadvantage," says Gil McGowan.
"They are setting up a situation where Alberta businesses will be on the hook for millions, maybe billions, in new costs for supplemental health benefits for employees. And individual Albertans are going to pay more too - either because they will have to pay for private insurance themselves or because they will be forced to pay higher deductible and co-payments under their employer's plans."
McGowan points out that Medicare has given Canadian businesses a huge advantage over their competitors south of the border. But he says that cost advantage will be eroded by the changes announced today.
"If the government thinks these changes are not going to increase costs for business, they are dreaming in technicolour," says McGowan.
"As a labour movement, our first preference is to maintain and defend the public system so everyone has access to high quality health care regardless of their income or where they work. But make no mistake - if the government creates a gap in coverage, we will bargain to fill that gap. And it won't just be us - employers won't have a choice but to fork out for extra coverage for much of their non-union staff as well, especially managerial and professional staff. The end result will be one big price tag for Alberta business."
McGowan says he doesn't understand how Alberta business leaders can allow their allies in government to make a decision like this - one that so clearly makes no business sense.
"Obviously, these guys in government can't be left unsupervised. It's time for someone to take them out to the woodshed."
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The Alberta Federation of Labour, the province's largest labour organization, responded to the Supreme Court decision on health care today by urging governments to focus on the real problem, and not set up costly and inefficient private tiers.
"The Supreme Court Justices were clear that the problem in the Quebec case was the length of the wait, not the ban on private health care," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "This is a message to both Alberta and the Federal government that they need to do more to shorten waiting lists."
"Privatization will only compound the problem."
McGowan expressed concern, however, that the Klein Conservatives will use the decision to hasten their own privatization plans. "Even though the ruling has no effect on Alberta, I am worried that the Premier will use it as fuel for his privatization engine."
The Klein government has tried on repeated occasions to push greater private involvement in health care, usually to be told by Albertans they want no such thing. Private experiments, such as cataract surgery, have resulted in longer waiting lists in private facilities. "Albertans need to be vigilant in the coming months, and be ready to give a clear 'no' to Ralph Klein. We will be putting our membership on alert."
McGowan notes that the Justices note that private delivery will not solve the waiting list problem. In her reasons, Justice Marie Deschamps says "the relief sought by the appellants does not necessarily provide a complete response to the complex problem of waiting lists" (paragraph 100). This sentiment is echoed throughout the judgement.
"This is not a decision endorsing private health care. To the contrary, it is more of a repudiation of a decade of budget cutbacks and tight-fisted fiscal policies," notes McGowan.
"The right to reasonable access to health care is clear - now it is up to our governments to live up to it by properly funding Medicare," McGowan concludes.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 915-4599 (cell)
The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the government health care plan today by noting that the real plan is being held under wraps until after the next provincial election, expected in the fall.
Today's announcement lacked any substantive indication of the direction they want to take health care says AFL President Kerry Barrett "The premier and health minister continue their song and dance routine. There is a lot of movement, but little forward progression. Unfortunately, the number is getting old."
"It is clear the Conservatives want to have a new majority safely in their back pocket before unveiling their real plans. Albertans deserve to see the plan now, not after an election."
Barrett's concern is heightened given that Health Minister Gary Mar refused to rule out private clinics and further expansion of P3 initiatives in health care. "They are playing a game with Albertans. While today's plan contains only vague platitudes, they continue to talk about expanded private health care. It makes me think the real agenda is yet to be released."
The vague plans for consultation are both a duplication of previous efforts, and will get lost in the activity of the municipal and provincial elections. "It is a sham consultation. All the government needs to do to find out what Albertans think is to read the Romanow report."
Barrett is pleased with the new money for Regional Health Authorities, but she notes that the new money does not address longer term reform for health care.
Barrett also noticed that the Conference Board of Canada report released by the government today focuses on the role of spiraling prescription drug costs. "The portion of our health system that is mostly private is the one place where costs are out of control. We need a pharmacare program to contain costs."
"The Premier is following the mantra 'once burned, twice shy' when it comes to health care. Having damaged Stephen Harper two weeks ago, he doesn't want to do the same thing to himself. As a result, he will hide his plans until the new year," observes Barrett.
"The Premier continues his dance routine. Too bad he has two right feet," Barrett concludes.
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For more information contact:
Kerry Barrett, AFL President at 780-720-8945 (cell) or
Jason Foster, AFL Director of Policy at 780-483-3021 (wk)
Premier Ralph Klein is up to his old tricks. Once again, he's trying to convince Albertans that Medicare is unsustainable and that the only way to "save" the system is to carve it up and hand it over to profit-seeking corporations.
Les Steel, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says it's time for Albertans to demand that Klein remove his "ideological blinders" when dealing with issues of health care delivery and reform.
"There's no doubt that our health system is facing some problems - largely resulting from poor planning by both federal and provincial governments," says Steel.
"But to say that privatization and two-tier health care are the only solutions for these problems is false and deliberately misleading. The truth is that there are many options for reform within the public system - reforms that are consistent with the spirit and intent of Medicare. That's what Albertans really want: they want public reform, not knee-jerk privatization."
Steel says that if Premier Klein really wants to save Medicare and improve the way health services are delivered, he should embrace the blueprint for reform outlined last year in Roy Romanow's highly-acclaimed report on the future of health care in Canada.
"Mr. Romanow did two very important things in his report," says Steel. "First, he debunked the myth that private health care is cheaper and that it can somehow 'relieve pressure' on the public system. Second, he gave us a detailed roadmap for strengthening Medicare by keeping it public. The fact that Premier Klein continues to reject the Romanow model says a lot about his government's real motives."
By refusing to consider public sector options for reform, Premier Klein - along with Conservative leadership hopeful Belinda Stronach who recently expressed similar sentiments - is going against the wishes and best interests of the majority of Canadians, says Steel.
"If one positive thing can be taken from Klein and Stronach's outrageous statements about gutting the Canada Health Act, it's that it reveals their true colours," says Steel. "All the evidence shows that public health care is cheaper, more equitable and is better for both individuals and the economy. By coming out against the Canada Health Act, Klein and Stronach are showing that they are willing to put blind ideology and the interest of a few large corporations ahead of the interests of the broader population. Let's hope that voters remember that at election time."
For further information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 499-4135
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications at (780) 483-3021
Les Steel, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, August 2003 (Oslo, Norway)
Good morning and thank you for the warm welcome.
As you've already heard, my name is Les Steel and I'm president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
For those of you who've never been to Canada, I'd like to start my presentation this morning with a quick geography lesson.
Canada, as you know, is the big, cold country that sits at the top of North America. It stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific in the west and the Arctic Ocean in the North.
Alberta is in the western half of the country. It's where the prairies meet the Rocky Mountains.
Alberta is the petroleum capital of Canada. It's home to the Calgary Stampede. And it's where Wayne Gretzky first made his name as a hockey star.
Of course, we're not all Gretzkys. Most Albertans - like most Norwegians - have to work for a living. And that's where the AFL comes in.
Our federation represents 41 Alberta unions and 120,000 unionized workers in both the public and private sectors.
Like unions here in Norway, our first priority has traditionally been to protect and improve working conditions for our members.
But over the past ten years or so, our attention has turned to a much broader fight.
In particular, we've been engaged in a battle to preserve many of the core social programs that previous generations of Canadians fought hard to establish.
So far, our biggest fight has involved our national public health care system, which we call Medicare.
Canadians cherish Medicare. It's one of our proudest achievements - and it's something that many Canadians hold up as a defining characteristic of our country.
But despite the overwhelming support that Medicare consistently receives from the public, for most of the past decade it has been threatened with death by a thousand cuts.
And nowhere in the country has the attack on public health care been more focused and more determined than in Alberta.
Since the election of 1993 which brought the current Conservative government to power in Alberta, our provincial health system has endured unprecedented budget cuts; massive lay-offs and a growing number of attempts to privatize services.
The good news today is that many of the worst cuts have been reversed - thanks in large part to public protests organized by unions and other community groups.
But we're still dealing with a serious shortage of hospital beds and a chronic shortage of trained health care workers.
Even more significantly, our provincial government hasn't retreated when it comes to privatization. Despite widespread public opposition, they've handed over huge swathes of our health care system to the private sector - and they're continuing to chip away at the foundations of everything that's left.
That's why I'm here this morning.
I'm here to talk about our experience with so-called market-based health care reforms. I'm also here to talk about our campaigns to reverse the cuts and stop privatization.
Most importantly, I'm here to share with you a few lessons that we've picked up along the way - lessons that might prove useful in your campaign to protect the public health care here in Norway.
Making comparisons between nations is always a tricky thing - especially when those nations are on different continents, and have different cultures, languages and histories.
Comparison can also be tricky when you're talking about something as complex and dear to our hearts as health care.
But despite the distance and all other things that separate us, I think there are at least two reasons why our experience in Alberta has relevance here in Norway.
The first reason is that, if you think about it, Norway and Alberta actually have a lot in common.
We both know what cold winters are like.
We both have a lot of land and relatively few people.
We both have abundant petroleum resources that have strengthened our economies and given us the ability to pay for high-quality social programs.
And, at least for the moment, we both have tax-financed health systems that guarantee our citizens access to quality care when they need it and regardless of their ability to pay.
So, in many ways, when we compare health care in Alberta with health care in Norway, we are comparing apples with apples, not apples with oranges.
The second, and probably more important, reason why I think our experiences are relevant here in Norway is that they are hardly unique.
The truth is that Canada is not the only country that swallowed the bitter medicine offered by advocates of market-based health care reform.
Neo-liberalism has been a wave rolling across the globe for more than twenty years now.
Like a virus, it started with Margaret Thatcher in Britain in the seventies. Ronald Reagan allowed it to spread to the U.S in the early 80s. And in the late 80s and early 90s it took hold in places like New Zealand and Canada.
In many ways, the fact that the privatization wolf is only knocking on your door now is a testament to your good sense and the strong foundations you've built for your public health system.
When I look back on the past ten years of struggle that we've had in Alberta and compare it to the privatization onslaught that has taken place in other countries since the late 70s, the thing that strikes me is how similar the experiences have been.
Whether it's Canada, Britain or New Zealand, it seems that the privatizers have followed roughly the same three steps to push their agenda.
The first step has always involved fear-mongering. In particular, the privatizers attack the credibility of the public sector and sow doubts about its efficiency, its affordability and its ability to provide quality service.
In Alberta, our government spent years trying to convince people that our public health care system is unsustainable.
Despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary, they told Albertans that costs were spiraling out of control. They said health care was swallowing an ever-increasing share of the provincial budget. And they warned that the aging population would bankrupt the system.
As recently as two years ago, our provincial premier was telling every reporter who would listen that the cost of Medicare in Alberta had doubled and that drastic measure needed to be taken to "save the system" from itself.
This kind of fear mongering led naturally to the second step. After manufacturing a crisis and attempting to convince people that a huge problem exists, the market boosters presented the solution - and surprise, surprise, it happened to be the market.
For conservatives, privatization is the cure-all. Markets, they say, will reduce cost, improve efficiency, and increase choice for patients. They even go so far as to say that privatization can help save public health care by "relieving pressure" on the public system.
In Alberta, as in other jurisdictions, the government moved very quickly from bad-mouthing the system to parceling out pieces to the private sector.
The first things to go were the so-called secondary services in hospitals, like the laundry, janitorial and food services.
But our government wasn't content to stop there. They also handed over almost all hospital laboratory service to for-profit companies. And they actively encouraged entrepreneurs to set up private surgical suites to perform things like cataract surgery and private diagnostic imagining services that charged patients between one and three thousand dollars for things like MRI and CT scans.
At the same time all this was happening, our government laid the ground work for more sweeping privatization by introducing legislation that would pave the way for investor-owned hospitals.
In many ways, this piece of legislation - which the government had the nerve to call the Health care Protection Act, or Bill 11 for short - was the straw that broke the camels back. After years of going reluctantly along with the government, Albertans finally started to protest. The Bill was eventually passed, but not before we organized the largest demonstrations in our province's history.
That leads us to the third step. When confronted with large scale public opposition, privatizing governments often start playing games with language.
The point here is for the privatizers to reassure the public and hide their true intentions.
This is where we're at right now in Alberta. Our government now says that it was misunderstood. They say they never really wanted to privatize health care. Instead they say they've merely been looking for alternative funding mechanisms. Or they say all they want to do is build partnerships with the private sector to deliver services within the public system.
The problem with all of this is that it's just new wrapping on the same old package. Public-private partnerships may not be quite the same thing as the wholesale privatization that exists in the United States - but it's still privatization.
So far, we in Alberta have had some successes and we've had some failures when it comes to dealing with our government's privatizing agenda in health care. As I mentioned earlier, many of the deepest spending cuts to our public system have been reversed, largely as the result of the many protests organized by unions and our partners in the community.
After years of rapid decline, we are now spending as much on a per capita basis on health care was we did in 1993. It may not sound like much, but from our perspective, that's a step in the right direction.
We've also succeeded in rolling back some privatization initiatives. For example, after running a high-profile public campaign exposing how private MRI clinics were blocking access to quick diagnosis for seriously ill Albertans, the government agreed to buy more MRI machines and run them within the public system. They even agreed to reimburse hundreds of people for the MRI and CT scans they had to pay for in the private system.
Another success we've had has more to do with what hasn't happened than what has. Two years ago, the Alberta government released a long-awaited study called the Mazankowski report which outlined plans for taking privatization in health care to the next level. In particular, it called for caps on the amount of public insurance people could have - and it opened the door for the introduction of American-style private health insurance.
The good news is that the government has not moved towards implementing either of these recommendations. In fact, even though the Mazankowski report was billed as the government's blueprint for health reform in the 21st century, almost none of it major suggestions have been acted upon.
The reasons for this are mainly political. The government has simply failed to convince Albertans to that further privatization is either prudent or desirable.
So what can you here in Norway learn from our experience in Alberta?
I think there are three lessons.
The first is don't give up without a fight.
In many ways, the deck was stacked against us in Alberta.
Historically, ours has been the most conservative province in the Canada. And Albertans like to think of themselves as free enterprisers - so you might think they would all be won over by free market argument.
But what we discovered is that even conservative voters can be persuaded of the benefits of public health care and the pitfalls of privatization. But it doesn't happen overnight - and it doesn't happen without effort and planning.
The second lesson that we learned is that there is no stronger weapon than the truth.
The advocates of privatization can sound pretty slick when they talk about the magic of competition and incentives.
And they can be persuasive when they list all the supposed weaknesses of the public system.
But private health care has a track record - and it's not a particularly impressive one.
So every time they ran down the public system and extolled the theoretical virtues of privatization, we answered back with facts.
When they implied that costs in the public sector were spiraling out of control, we showed that they we in fact stable.
When they said the private sector was cheaper and more efficient we presented evidence from around the world that it was more expensive and less efficient.
When they argued that privatization would improve access for patients, we demonstrated from experience that the opposite was true.
The good news for those of us who believe in public health care is that the verdict on privatization is in. It's been tried and it's failed. Those are the facts.
In many ways, the arguments in favour of privatization in health care are like the arguments used by the U.S. government to justify war in Iraq - they have the ring of truth, but once you scratch the surface, they have no substance.
The bottom line is that both public and private health care have a track record - but don't assume that everyone know it. As advocates of public health care it's up to us to put the good news on the table. If we do, the facts we speak for themselves.
The third and final lesson that can be taken from the Alberta experience is to involve the broader community.
Unions in our province made a decision at the beginning of our campaign to swallow our organizational pride and work in coalition with churches, seniors citizens, students and other groups in the community.
It was an important decision for us, because by ourselves, the government could afford to ignore us. But they couldn't completely ignore the other in our coalition.
This will be true here in Norway. The bigger tent you build the more power you will have politically.
Having said all that I'd like to conclude today by saying how optimistic I am about the prospects to preserving public health care in your country.
Conservatives may control your parliament today - and they may be toying with some free market notions. But it's going to be hard for them to make the case for privatization.
We now have more than 25 years of experience from around the world showing that privatized health care actually costs more and delivers less.
We're also now living in a post Enron world. Given all the examples of corporate wrong-doing that have come to light over the past few years, it's going to be harder than ever to convince people that it make sense to entrust our health to the private sector.
Here in Norway you also have the advantage of prosperity. Thanks to your oil reserves - which, by the way you've managed much better than ours in Alberta - your conservatives cannot argue that public debt is a problem and they cannot realistically claim that your health system is unsustainable.
From where I stand, the real danger for Norway may be complacency. You have a strong tradition of social responsibility; you have all the facts on your side and you have the resources to afford high quality health services. But don't under-estimate the privatizers - they have a product to sell and they can make it sound like the answer to all your problems.
The trick for you is to prick the private balloon and let the hot air out. You have to shine a bright light into the dark corners of any and all private health care proposals. And you have to expose these proposals for what they really are - self-interested sales pitches.
Based on what I've seen at this conference so far, I'm confident you will be up to the challenge.
EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour, representing more than 120,000 unionized workers from across the province, has expressed strong support for the key recommendations of the final report released today by Roy Romanow's Commission on the Future of Health Care.
"Mr. Romanow has presented us with a blue-print for reform that, if implemented, will revitalize Medicare and guarantee it's long-term good health," says AFL president Les Steel.
"This is probably the best chance we'll ever get to save Medicare from the privatizers and preserve it for future generations. Canadians now have to put pressure on their elected representative to make sure they don't squander this historic opportunity."
Steel says the Romanow report is particularly important here in Alberta because it shows that de-listing, down-loading and privatization are not the only options available to us.
"The Klein government has worked hard over the past few years to convince Albertans that there is no alternative to privatization in health care," says Steel. "But the Romanow report demonstrates just how wrong the Alberta Tories are. It shows that privatization doesn't work and that it is not in the best interests of ordinary citizens."
Steel says that he has some reservations about the Romanow report - but none that are serious enough to justify rejecting it.
"We would have preferred it if Romanow hadn't given the green light to privatization in non-medical service like laundry and food preparation in hospitals," he says.
"In his report Mr. Romanow conclusively demonstrates that the private sector costs more and delivers less when it comes to core medical services. We think the same logic applies to non medical services. If fact, here in Alberta we've had a lot of experience with privatization in things like hospital laundry and dietary service. The record shows that very little money has been saved - and quality has suffered. Cleaning hospital rooms and hospital laundry is not the same as cleaning in a hotel."
Steel says he is also disappointed that Romanow didn't recommend a more aggressive mechanism for enforcing the principles of the Canada Health Act.
"The Alberta government has already made it clear it intends to go ahead with reforms outlined in the Mazankowski report - reforms that run entirely contrary to the vision presented by Romanow. We would have liked to have seen some kind of enforcement mechanism that would stop provincial governments from standing in the way of progressive, public sector reform."
However, despite these concerns, Steel says the AFL is extremely pleased with the report produced by the Romanow commission.
"The bottom line is that it reinforces what we've been saying for years and what ordinary Canadians believe themselves - namely that the best solutions for reform can be found within the public system, not the private sector."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-483-3021 (wk) or 780-499-4135 (cell)