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Keeping It Public: How Alberta Can Lead on Health Care


November 22, 2015 at 10:30am - 11:45am


Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science, University of Alberta
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with Colleen Fuller and Guy Smith

A lack of federal and provincial cooperation has led to a fragmented health care system. Will a new Alberta government bring a renewed energy and commitment to building a sustainable national health care system? 

Medicare at a crossroads

The election of a New Democrat government in Alberta promises to bring a different and energetic leadership to the national health care stage. Economists predicted that Alberta would be the only province to benefit from changes to the federal funding formula announced in 2011. But that advantage depended on a booming, resource-based economy. Today Albertans, along with all other Canadians, are likely going to feel the sting of reduced cash transfers just when they are needed the most.

The health care system has been left fragmented with higher costs and increased privatization as cooperation between Ottawa and the provinces has been absent. Albertans can demonstrate, perhaps better than anyone else in the country, why Canadian provinces must ensure that the federal government works with them to strengthen and expand universal medicare and publicly funded delivery within a national health care system.

Colleen Fuller is a health policy researcher and writer. Colleen worked for 14 years in the trade union movement which she left to focus on the impact of privatization on universal access to health services. She has written extensively about Canada’s health care system, including access to safe and effective prescription drugs and medical devices. Her published work includes Caring for Profit, How Corporations are Taking Over Canada’s Health Care System (1998), and The Push to Prescribe: Women & Canadian Drug Policy (co-author, 2010).

Opportunities for a better health care system

With the election of a progressive government, Alberta has an opportunity to implement health care reforms that turn the neoliberal governance and delivery models of the past 30 years on their head.

Front-line workers, and their unions, are ready to pick up the challenge of helping make the health care system more responsive to the needs of Albertans. But this commitment must be reciprocated by government and proven through tangible efforts to address front-line workers issues such as chronic under staffing and poor working conditions, which impact the quality of services to Albertans.

Guy Smith, a veteran union and social justice activist from Edmonton, has been the president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees since 2009. Smith has 20 years of history as a union activist on his worksite. A member of AUPE Local 006, he is now on leave from his position as a Child and Youth Care Counsellor at the Yellowhead Youth Centre.

Throughout his years as an AUPE activist and leader, Smith has been committed to involving members in decision-making and action when needed. He believes that our struggles are only won through grass roots involvement and mobilization of the rank and file membership.

Smith has been successful in organizing against privatization and in defending the interests of AUPE members when it comes to negotiations, working conditions, and the preservation of public services.