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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Three    May 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Health pact ends mass actions

     Dan Keeton

    The pact announced on the evening of May 2 between the Hospital Employees Union and the provincial government slammed the brakes on a massive growing, and often seemingly spontaneous, protest against the Gordon Campbell Liberal policies.

    Page 1 CartoonWith the dust clearing from what promised to be one of the greatest dust-ups this province has seen in almost 20 years, the questions arise: What happened? What was supposed to happen? And can it happen again?

    No one is really defending the deal that ended the escalating strikes and displays of public support, and that includes the HEU. "There's nothing here to be happy about," acknowledged union communications director Mike Old, in an interview on Co-op Radio's Union Made program. "Workers have basically had their rights taken away by this government."

    Hospital workers began walking off the job April 25 after the mediator booked out of negotiations with the Health Employers Association (HEABC), which had refused to accede to the union's request to hold off on contracting out health services during negotiations. The union had already lost some 6,000 members due to the privatization of services such as housekeeping and laundry, handed over to foreign multinational corporations. Employees of the private firms earn between $9-$10 an hour – almost half of what HEU members are paid for the same work.

    There is enough indication that this had become a major issue with the public. An opinion poll commissioned by the HEU in April showed 69 per cent of British Columbians believed contract rollbacks would worsen the quality of health care. That would explain the deafening blare of car horns from passing vehicles in support of picketers camped in front of hospitals and other facilities around the province. Subsequent polls by major media outlets showed strong public support for the health workers.
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    BC Seniors Set Out to Save Public Health Care

    Marco Procaccini

    In the wake of a mass strike against health care cuts, rollbacks and layoffs, a recent report claiming BC’s current health policies are failing senior citizens, the death of a Kootenay man from his local hospital’s lack of resources and the proposed sell-off of the Medical Services Plan, BC Seniors are setting out to enlist the support of community and public interest organizations to officially endorse the preservation of the universal public health care in Canada.

    The new Friends of Medicare campaign, sponsored by the Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC, is asking a variety of community organizations and city councils, and labour, environmental and citizens’ groups to formally adopt resolutions against the federal and provincial Liberals’ cuts and in favour of the recommendation of the 2002 Royal Commission on Health Care.

    “The Council of Senior Citizens’ Organizations of BC is convinced that the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission, headed by the Honorable Roy Romanow, is paramount to the protection and enhancement of Medicare,” said COSCO Chair Art Kube in a recent letter to a variety of groups. “For this reason, COSCO has embarked upon a province-wide campaign in support of the implementation of the recommendations contained within the report.”

    That commission’s findings concluded that the main cause of health care woes in the country was years of government funding cuts, especially at the federal level, in the face of increasing need for services from an aging population.

    It found that the federal government, which had originally committed to a 50-50 funding formula with the provinces when the national health care program was introduced, is now only contributing 12 per cent of the funding. Some provinces have responded with huge cuts, user fee increases and privatization measures, which, Romanow found, have been key factors in restricting access to medical and other health-related services, increased wait lists, sanitary concerns and declining service quality.
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    Still no spoils in 'New Era' economy

    Marc Lee

    A report released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says that despite sweeping policy changes by the current government, external factors like low interest rates and US demand continue to drive BC’s economic fortunes. The report finds that the economy has recovered from a recession in 2001, only to resume its middle-of-the-road performance of the 1990s.

    State of the BC Economy 2004, by economist Marc Lee, gives the provincial economy a check-up using standard indicators in three areas: growth and investment, employment, and earnings. Lee says that while there are some positive signs of life in BC’s economy, the statistics do not point to a boom on the horizon.

    “The current government brought in dramatic policy changes that it promised would kick-start BC’s sagging economy,” says Lee. “However, most of the indicators in this report would not be much different if the government had not proceeded with its reforms.”

    “BC’s economy has underperformed for more than two decades relative to our own historical experience and compared to leading Canadian provinces such as Alberta and Ontario,” says Lee. “It is too soon to judge the longer-term impacts of the government’s policies, but that a sharp turnaround in the economy is unlikely to come anytime soon. The promised payoff from tax cuts, deregulation and privatization hasn’t materialized. So far there has been a lot of pain for very little gain.”

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