Klein misleading Albertans about the future of health care

EDMONTON - Premier Ralph Klein wasn't fooling anyone this evening when he attempted to portray himself as a defender of Medicare during a ten-minute, publicly-funded television spot, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Ralph spent a lot of time talking about his commitment to public health care and the Canada Health Act. And he tried hard to reassure Albertans about the future of Medicare," says Cormack. "But this government's actions over the past few years speak louder than the Premier's words. The Tories have gutted what was once one of the best health care systems in the world - and the Premier's new privatization plan is just going to make a bad situation worse. It's a plan that is deeply flawed and dangerous."

Cormack was particularly critical of Klein's comments on private, for-profit health care. In his address, Klein said his government will introduce legislation in the spring that will allow regional health authorities to hire private, for-profit health companies to provide core medical services. The Premier said the legislation will give RHAs more "choices" for dealing with problems like bed shortages and long waiting lists.

"The Premier talked about choices," says Cormack. "The problem is that he ignored the most obvious choice - and that's the option involving re-investment in the public system. As it stands right now, there are literally thousands and thousands of hospital beds sitting idle in public hospitals because of chronic under-funding. Why should taxpayers' money be spent on private hospitals when resources that already are in place in the public system are not being fully utilized?"

Cormack says that if Klein was really interested in reducing waiting lists he would open more hospital beds and hire more nurses, doctors and other medical staff. She also said she finds it hard to understand why the Alberta government would want to copy a public-private health care model that has failed so miserably in other countries.

"Ralph made it sound like he's the first politician on the planet to think of a health care model based on the idea of private delivery of public services," says Cormack. "The truth is that this model is not new. It has been tried before - and it has failed before."

The most recent example of a government experimenting with private delivery of public health services comes from Australia, says Cormack. In the Australian state of New South Wales, a conservative government contracted out a significant portion of it's health care services to private companies - only to discover that the private health companies cost more and delivered a substantially lower quality of care than the public sector.

Cormack says that the Premier's privatization plan is particularly dangerous because it will act as a "foot-in-the-door" for major health care corporations - especially large and aggressive private firms from the United States who will be guaranteed access under the terms of NAFTA.

"Anyone who believes that these large, profit-hungry corporations will be content with a small piece of the pie is being extremely naive," says Cormack. "That's the real danger of the Premier's new health care plan: it will allow private health care companies to establish deep roots in Alberta. Over time, they will chip away at foundations of Medicare. Eventually, our entire system of public health care will be undermined."

Cormack says that Premier Klein's address should be seen as a "call-to-arms" for all Canadians who believe in Medicare.

"On two separate occasions now, Medicare supporters have been able to beat back legislation designed to pave the way for private hospitals," says Cormack. "But this time Premier Klein is taking charge of the campaign himself. That means this is the final showdown. Albertans who believe in Medicare are going to have to speak out even more forcefully than ever. We simply cannot afford to let this government proceed with this privatization plan. It would be the beginning of the end for public health care in this province."

For more information call:

 Audrey Cormack, President     @     499-6530(cell)/483-3022(wk)/428-9367(hm)

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