Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 17, 2000
Bill 11 put forward in a wider context
HANK ZYPSeveral times during the past few weeks we have joined the protestors on the steps of the Legislature to try and convince Premier Ralph Klein to scrap Bill 11. We have filled a dozen petition sheets with names, signatures and addresses of Alberta citizens who oppose the introduction of private for-profit health care.
Not once did we encounter someone who favoured the bill, although we recognize that there must be some support for what the government is trying to introduce.
Thirty years ago most of us believed that Canada's social programs were among the best in the world and there wasn't a citizen or politician who would have dared to mess with what distinguished us from Americans. So, what happened?
To fully understand the current directions of health policies in this country it is necessary to look at the broader context in which these trends have emerged.
During the post-war era, the state assumed a more activist role in the country's social and economic affairs. Government spending doubled from 1950 to 1975. Spending on health, education and social security almost tripled during that period.
A significant new area of expenditures dealt with subsidies to business in the form of direct grants, preferential tax exemptions and publicly-funded infrastructure and services to bring production costs down. In 1984, government handouts to the private for-profit sector amounted to $16.5 billion.
From around the mid-1960s the competition from Europe and Japan began to negatively affect the North American economy. As the economy staggered and unemployment rose, the revenue was impacted and social services declined.
Another variable that factored into the changing economic climate was that advanced technology made it increasingly possible for corporations to go global and assign labour-intensive production to the Third World.
Globalization spelled the end of post-war accommodation between capital and labour and it reduced the role of the state to manage the economy. Corporations ruled.
With capital's ability to relocate in search of higher profit margins, national governments were forced to compete with other nations for investment dollars. A favourite investment climate includes reduced government regulations, restrictions on collective bargaining, reduced social programs, increased business incentives and tight money policies to protect investments rather than workers' jobs.
To cope with reduced revenues and increased fiscal needs, the government resorted to deficit financing. High interest rates drove the accumulated debt out of sight. The 1980 recession gave the business community an opportunity to impose its agenda on the government.
Since the Mulroney and the subsequent Chretien years, the political environment in Canada has been dominated by the quest for fiscal restraint, cutbacks and downsizing. By the mid-1980s, it was clear that the social welfare state was gradually being dismantled.
Bill 11 is another step in that direction. It is called the Alberta Advantage, a euphemism for favourable investment climate.
When money speaks louder than people, the essence of democracy is lost. Within a couple of decades we moved from a caring society to a society where people have to fend for themselves.
Just last week the CEOs of this country tried to bully the government into giving them more concessions to compete on the global market. Judging by the protests around the world, citizens are getting tired of being passive observers to the corporate takeover.
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