SALT is a social action group made up of seniors. We are located in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Edmonton is the capital city of Alberta, a province of Canada located on the east side of the Rocky Mountain divide in western Canada. SALT was formed in 1993 in reaction to cuts to seniors’ programmes by the provincial government. It was, at that time, an offshoot of the Society for the Retired and Semi-retired, now known as the Seniors’ Association of Greater Edmonton (SAGE). The first SALT Chair was Desmond Achilles, followed by Phyllis Matousek. The current Chair is Brian Staples. While SALT is very much concerned about the well being of seniors in Alberta, we have as our focus advancing the civil society for people of all ages across Canada and beyond.
We are not politically aligned but have members who belong to various political parties. However, we can be generally characterized as progressive in our outlook. Our telephone tree lists about fifty SALT members, and there are about twenty five people who are physically able to attend each of our meetings. SALT meets from 13:00 to 15:00 hours the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month, September through May. SALT is self financed. We pass around a brass piggy bank for a collection at each of our meetings. Those monies are mostly used to rent our monthly meeting room from SAGE. By design, we have no charitable tax status. This frees us to take any political action we see as necessary.
Because our membership is small, and we tend to be, on the whole, like minded, we can take positions on serious social, economic, environmental, political and other issues quite quickly. Our members are equally divided between men and women, and we have a good range of backgrounds.
Some of the kinds of actions we take include producing and publishing researched positions on things like defending public medicare, opposition to electrical deregulation, combating global warming, other environmental issues, under funding of our educational system, and the like. We write briefs on current issues to present to various governmental task forces. Our members are encouraged to write letters to political leaders on a variety of issues including support for same gender marriage, civic concerns like the need for low income housing, etc. We hold demonstrations on some of these matters, for example, on the steps of our Legislative Assembly over moves to privatize health provisions, or in the heart of the city in support of public broadcasting staff who were locked out by our public broadcaster.
SALT is open to forming linkages with other groups, like the teachers’ professional association, the nurses, other seniors’ groups, etc. We encourage the formation of ad hoc alliances with such groups to tackle specific issues or problems, such as a multi organizational alliance formed to fight the province’s “Third Way” (private) initiative in health care. These other organization have provided assistance to SALT in printing and distributing large quantities of some of our research papers from time to time. Any public position or paper or other initiative taken by SALT must first be approved by our membership.
At many of our SALT meetings we devote the first hour to guest presentations and a question and answer session.
SALT leadership positions are filled by secret ballot at the last meeting in May each year. Members are asked to write the names of at least four members they think best suited to giving leadership to the group. These are arrayed by our telephone tree committee and the most frequently cited members, with their consent, fill the three elected leadership roles of Chair and two Vice Chairs. Other roles, such as Most Responsible People for various watching brief, our Treasurer, and our Responsibility Review Keeper (who lists on a flip chart all the jobs people have agreed to do at each meeting), etc., are filled by member volunteers.
Elsewhere on this site are posted SALT publications. You will also find a section that presents current activities and initiatives of SALT.
Presentations to the Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation
Three papers were delivered by SALT members Verna Milligan, Brian Staples, and Noel Somerville at the Committee's Edmonton session. You can read them by clicking below.
Normal Doesn’t Live Here Any More - Verna Milligan
Strengthening Alberta’s Role in Confederation - Brian Staples
Did they get the message? - Noel Somerville
|Title (click to read)||Publication Date||Author|
|November 2, 2003||Brian Staples|
|Deregulation - Dismantling the Alberta Advantage in Utility Costs||October 14, 2003||
|Healthcare - The myth of un-sustainability and the Premier’s privatization agenda||September 20, 2004||
|THE THIRD WAY or THE THIRD HOAX?||January 25, 2005||
BRIEF TO PRIME MINISTER
CHRÉTIEN'S COMMITTEE ON SENIORS
BY THE SENIORS’ ACTION AND LIAISON TEAM (SALT)
LIONS’ SENIOR CENTRE
Brian Staples, SALT Chair, 780 466-8042
QUESTION: What are the linkages among seniors in distress, global warming, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Mr. Paul Martin?
SALT, working with several other seniors’ organizations in Alberta, is in the process of preparing a brief to the government of Alberta. The brief proposes there be established an independent Seniors’ Advocate. The Seniors’ Advocate Office would investigate cases of distressed seniors, whatever the nature of that distress, including cases of poverty, eldercare concerns, disability associated problems, and workplace issues. The purpose of those investigations would be to relieve that distress, and, where necessary, to recommend to all three levels of government changes to policy and procedures so such distress does not happen to other seniors. The need for a Seniors’ Advocate is, of course, tragic.
SALT works on many kinds of issues, including possibly the greatest issue facing seniors, and people of all ages, wherever they live on the planet. That issue is global warming.
The problem with recommendations from ordinary people to any level of government in Canada is that the general public, the community as a whole, by appearance and too often in reality, is not to whom the great majority of our elected people attend. It is the Frank Stronicks of the world, the Irvings of New Brunswick, the corporate elites, big unions, and other private political donors that really have their ears. It is, of course, the general public, the community, that is at fault in this regard. Ironically, we, the citizens, allow the processes of our vital community governments to be financed by private interests. Those who pay the piper call the tune.
Mr. Chrétien has tried to do something about this fatal flaw in our democracy with his election finance act which makes the federal government, through the public tax system, most (but not exclusively) responsible for financing of federal political parties and election expenses. But it does not go nearly far enough, when, for example, Mr. Martin can run his leadership bid for a political party with millions of privately donated dollars.
We need electoral reform at all levels of government. Political parties and candidates must be exclusively financed by all electors through the tax system. We need things like proportional representation, and very exemplary pensions for elected people, with the proviso that elected persons, once out of office, not gain financially in any other way from their time in office. Individuals should give time, not money to advance democracy.
Only then can we expect the policies of our governments to arrest global warming, to seriously address social, ecological and other issues in the interests of the greatest good for the greatest number, and to make the need for Seniors’ Advocates unnecessary.
Deregulation - Dismantling the Alberta Advantage in Utility Costs
What really went wrong?
Alberta’s decision to deregulate both electricity and natural gas was based on a false assumption. These energy sources were assumed to be marketable commodities rather than essential services.
Unlike liquor where one can select between different types and brands, or appliances and cars where one can choose on the basis of features, design or colour, there is no qualitative basis on which Albertans can choose between natural gas or electricity from different companies.
It is true that large-scale commercial and industrial users may have the expertise and the leverage to benefit from long-term contracts that fix their costs of doing business. However, asking residential consumers to select one energy supplier over another on the basis of price over a fixed term contract is to ask them to play the futures market; something vary few of us are capable of, or interested in doing.
In the case of electrical deregulation, a significant error occurred in the decision to require integrated utility companies to fragment their operations. By separating generation, transmission, and distribution, the inevitable communications difficulties resulted in the billing problems we have all seen. More importantly, however, the breakup of the integrated utility companies also ensured an escalation of costs. No longer guaranteed the reasonable profit assured under regulation, each of the component operators naturally imposed sufficient markup to ensure profitability.
Additionally, we are also faced with the totally useless new costs of marketing where each retailer is expected to employ a sales force to go door to door to persuade us to buy these essential commodities from them rather than a competitor. The ridiculousness of this was recently brought to light by EPCOR’s announcement that it was getting out of the business of offering fixed-rate, fixed-term contracts to residential consumers.
However, the most costly part of electrical deregulation was the 2001 auctioning of plant generating capacities to the highest bidders for periods of five to twenty years. Particularly in the first of the two auctions held, bidders for the Power Purchase Agreements paid only a fraction of the value of the assets they bought. Some bidders were in fact just speculators who almost immediately ‘flipped’ the assets they had purchased for massive profits.
Principally because of these factors, Albertans are now paying the highest electricity costs in Canada. Further, the heaviest burden is falling on the smallest consumer. Residential, farm and small business consumers are now paying twice to three times as much as they were when electricity costs were regulated by AEUB.
On top of all this, Albertans are also paying the ‘fall-out’ costs resulting from the effect of deregulation on small business and industry. Everything from industrial manufacturers to greenhouses has been affected by higher natural gas and electricity costs. These businesses have had to either pass increased costs on to Alberta consumers or yield market share to competitors from out of Province.
More recently, we have learned that our government has decided that Alberta consumers will have to shoulder between $1 and $1.5 billion over the next 20 years to cover the cost of new transmission lines to link Calgary and Fort McMurray.
Is there a way out?
In respect to electrical deregulation, the Premier is quoted as saying that “We are so far into it, I think it would cause a tremendous amount of damage if we tried to unravel it all.” He is also reported to have asked MLAs if they wanted to drop deregulation or even adopt a “socialist” system of electricity ownership or distribution; naturally enough, they declined.
SALT’s position is that it is not necessary to choose between two ideological extremes. Rather, it is possible to retain private or municipal ownership of utility companies and simply change direction back to a more regulated system.
The first step would be to allow existing utility companies to reintegrate.
Secondly, abandon the system of having the power pool set prices on the basis of supply and demand – this system will never work because it allows the generators to control supply and thereby manipulate the price.
Instead, reinstate the authority of the AEUB to set both wholesale and retail prices based on evidence provided by the utility companies. SALT does not advocate the huge expenditures that would be required to buy back the power purchase agreements. In time these agreements will expire.
We strongly believe that, without extreme measures or inordinate cost it is possible for the Alberta government to reverse the restructuring of the natural gas and electrical industries and return them to their former status as industries operated and regulated in the interests of all Albertans.
Premier Klein and his ministers constantly try to convince us that health care costs are un-sustainable. Even in this wealthiest of all provinces, we are told that we can no longer afford the type of health care we have had for the past 36 years.
Were that true, at least eight developed countries should be bankrupt by now because they spend more than we do on health care.
The table shows total per capita spending (US$) on both public and private health care in 14 countries in 2002 as listed by the World Bank’s Development Indicators.
As you can see the United States spent more than twice as much per capita on health care as Canada did in 2002.Even allowing for the different scales of the two economies, the United States allocated 50% more of its GDP to health care than did Canada.
Canada spends about 9% of its GDP on health care to cover everyone. The USA, by contrast, allocates almost 14% of its GDP to health care and leaves 45 million of its citizens without coverage.
Examining only the public portion of health care spending, Canada spent only 6.7% of GDP in 2002, significantly less than the 7.4% of GDP it spent in 1992. So where’s the crisis?
|Country||Per capita Amounts|
Clearly, then, when the Premier Klein talks about health care costs being un-sustainable, he is not saying we cannot afford proper health care. What he is really saying is that he does not want a single-payer, publicly administered government program, as required by the Canada Health Act.
Since taking office in 1993, Premier Klein has consistently pressed for “reforms” designed to circumvent the requirements of the Canada Health Act.
In 1994, the pressure was for private, for-profit eye clinics supported by facility fees charged to all patients. Fortunately, Federal Health Minister Diane Marleau challenged Alberta for allowing fees for required medical services and in May1996 a settlement was reached in which Alberta was penalized $3.6 million for violating the CHA and Alberta agreed to ban facility fees charged by private clinics.
The next move was a private 37-bed hospital in Calgary offering cosmetic and dental day surgery, treatments not covered under provincial medicare. Not satisfied with that, in 1998 the Province introduced Bill 37 to allow private, for-profit, acute care hospitals. The outcry was so great that the government shelved the bill. But in 2000 it was back with Bill 11 to allow private, for profit ‘surgical facilities’ to compete with public hospitals. Bill 11 was pushed through despite the largest public protests ever seen in Alberta.
Then, Responding to the Mazankowski Report in 2002, Premier Klein said Albertans will pay more for health care and be offered extra insurance for services de-listed from medicare.
More recently, in February 2004, Premier Klein said that Alberta may “take measures that contravene the interpretation of the principles of the Canada Health Act and we ought to be ready for a firestorm.”
All of the foregoing are indications of our Premier’s privatization agenda. He wants to reduce the size and scope of publicly funded health care and turn as much as possible over to the private sector. He would like to see private hospitals and clinics, and private insurance to pay for many of the services now covered under medicare,In short, he doesn’t just want two-tier health care, he wants a totally free market system such as our American cousins have. While such a system provides the very best of care to the wealthy or those with jobs and good group insurance, it gives health care as charity to the elderly and the indigent and leaves millions without any coverage at all – and all of that at more than twice our current costs.
Perhaps the greatest danger of
privatization is that, once established, it becomes almost irreversible because
of powerful business lobbies. President Clinton found that trying to get a
rational medical care proposal through congress was like trying to un-scramble
an egg -- and he didn’t have to contend with NAFTA.
Premier Klein has made it clear that he wants major changes to the Canada Health Act that would leave Alberta free to go its own way. When others don’t share his views, he has no interest in attending meetings of Premiers’ and he characterizes the First Ministers’ meetings as a “gong shows”. He will undoubtedly interpret re-election as a mandate for whatever health care changes he wants to introduce.
PLEASE THINK ABOUT THE MYTH OF UN-SUSTAINABILITY AND THE PRIVATIZATION AGENDA WHEN YOU CAST YOUR VOTE IN THE PROVINCIAL ELECTION
THE THIRD WAY or THE THIRD HOAX?
Comment on Premier Klein’s proposals for reform of Medicare in Alberta.
by Noel Somerville
During last November’s provincial election the Premier declined to talk about his plans for reforming Alberta’s health care –- the issue was just too complicated. On January 11th it didn’t seem as complicated. In a speech to the Calgary Canadian Club, Premier Klein told Alberta’s business elite that the solution was to further scale back and to privatize more of Alberta’s health care system, much as had been recommended in the Mazankowski Report.
The essence of the 2002
Mazankowski Report is that:
· Patients should be forced to pay out-of-pocket for medicare.
· Medicare should be scaled back by a more restrictive definition of essential services.
· Both essential and non-essential health care services should be privatized as much as possible
To be clear, when Mazankowski and the Premier use the term ‘private’, they are referring to private, for-profit, not non-profit private delivery.
The speech was more remarkable for what it omitted than for what it included. While conceding that private delivery would be more expensive, the Premier failed to point out that those private, for-profit enterprises would:
· Lead to cherry-picking of the most profitable surgical procedures.
· Often cut corners to maximize profits.
· Facilitate queue-jumping.
· Siphon off the finite number of available medical practitioners and therefore lengthen waiting times in the public system
The premier also failed to point out that the prescription drug sector, the most highly privatized component of our health care system, is the sector in which costs have been rising most steeply.
The Premier also ignored the extent to which privatization has been a major factor in driving up Alberta’s health care costs to levels that he now contends are not sustainable.
The reason for this increase is that, once insured medicare services are contracted out, the government and RHAs lose control over the extent and cost of the services provided. Private contractors begin marketing programs and offer enhanced services in order to attract more clients and fully utilize the facilities in which they have invested. The controls that existed when all insured services were provided in public hospitals are gone and costs skyrocket.
What is really unsustainable is the system where the very rich and those with deluxe, employer-sponsored supplementary health and disability insurance jump the queue and get priority treatment in publicly subsidized private facilities at the expense of the less privileged.
Essentially, the success of privatized facilities is dependent on deterioration of the public facilities. That is why the Alberta government cut back so heavily in the early ‘90s, demolishing one hospital, closing or downgrading others. The public system had to be scaled back in order to make room and create demand for private facilities.
Privatization can never reduce wait times except for those with the money to jump the queue and then only at the expense of those who have no option but to rely on the public system.
The ‘third way’ is actually the third hoax! The first hoax was the cutbacks to health care and other social services that the Klein government introduced in 1993. Debt elimination was actually the pretext for scaling back social services in order to create the room and the demand for privatized services.
The second hoax was Bill 11, the so-called Health Care Protection Act approved by the legislature in 2000. While claiming to prohibit private hospitals, this law actually opened the door to for-profit private enterprises to establish inpatient surgical facilities that would be subsidized by taxpayer money when performing those services covered by the Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan.
The improvements to health care in recent years have not occurred because of private delivery but because of restored funding and innovative re-structuring within the public system. Health hot lines, centres using the team approach to primary health care and many other improvements have all been initiated by Regional Health Authorities.
The premier argues that people with money can spend it on the car of their choice or any other thing they desire, so why can’t they spend it on health care? One might also ask why they can’t spend it on their own highways so that they can drive their BMWs at 200 kph? That, of course, would be prohibitively expensive so the parallel is that they want to buy a chunk of the existing public system leaving the rest of us crowded into the slow lane.
The basic principle of the Canada Health Act is to provide equal access to necessary medical services to all Canadians on the basis of need, not ability to pay. It uses the most efficient and cost-effective single-payer system. Accordingly, it can only be harmed by private, for-profit providers who skim off the low risk cases and leave all the hard stuff for the public system it clean up.
We all realize that our public health care system is not perfect, but privatization is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
1. We can remind the Premier that he refused to discuss his plans for health care reform during last November’s provincial election and that his government, having been re-elected by less than half of the voters, does not have a mandate to make the changes he is proposing.
2. We can remind the Premier that he promised a public consultation –- not a symposium on the benefits of privatization – before changes were made to the health care system.
3. We can remind the Premier of the statements he made in his radio address on November 16, 1999:
· “For as long as I am Premier, there will not be any so-called two-tiered American–style health care in our province.’
· “There will be no facility fees or queue-jumping or direct billing in the Alberta health care system of the 21st century.”
· “No Albertan will pay for insured medical services and nobody will be able to pay to get faster service.”
4. We can remember that Canada didn’t get health care because politicians and doctors pushed for it. We got it because Canadians wanted it. If we are going to retain it, we need to be willing to improve it and fight for it once again.