Gordon Campbell: Violating the Public Trust

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There are a lot of angry people in British Columbia these days. Angryenough to block a train to draw attention to the fact that a cut inferry operating hours would mean dozens of people losing their jobs.

Angry enough that citizens of Revelstoke, B.C. set up a twenty-four hour “security watch” at a local seniors’ residence to prevent the government from secreting out residents in the middle of the night to prepare for the centre’s closure.

Rural communities have been hammered with closed schools, hospitals, seniors’ residences, courthouses, forestry and highways offices and more.

Almost every rural community of more than five hundred people has formed a fight-back coalition — staging rallies and demonstrations, and swamping their Liberal MLA with letters, phone calls and e-mails.

B.C. premier, Gordon Campbell and his “Liberal” government have been so contemptuous of normal democratic principles and ethics that its made normally conservative, even-tempered citizens a little crazy.

Partially due to the constant double-speak, like the line the government is “putting students and patients first” while closing fifty-seven schools, laying off 2,000 teachers, removing limits to class size and generally savaging the health system.

But more than anything it is the lies — blatant, breathtaking lies from the Liberals during last year’s election campaign on what they would do if elected.

Many of the biggest whoppers related to medicare, and were neatlycontained in a single interview Campbell gave to the Hospital Employees Union (HEU) in November, 2000 — just months before the last election.

In a one-hour interview, the current premier managed to dishup no fewer than sixteen lies. Here are some of them:

In answer to what his party had in mind for the health system, Campbell replied: “My plan is to make sure that people get the care they need where they live and when they need it.”

The reality is hospital closings and consolidations since the election have meant people are facing much longer driving distances. One of many examples is the town of Kimberley, where residents just saw their 63-year-old hospital closed — they now have to go to the Cranbrook hospital, an hour’s drive away. And several families, including one with a family member requiring dialysis, are being forced to move to Cranbrook.

Asked how he could promise to enhance the health system and still cuttaxes by $1.5 billion dollars, Campbell replied: “The only tax that we’ve talked about, for the upcoming election, is personal income tax for the bottom two brackets of the income scale.”

On his first day in office, Campbell announced his $1.5-billion cut.With fully 20 per cent of that amount going to the wealthiest 1 per cent of the population, 35 per cent went to those earning more than $80,000 dollars and 53 per cent went to the 13 per cent of the population with incomes above $60,000.

Then he threw in a corporate tax cut of $830 million he’dnever mentioned; a gathering of business types called it "Christmas inJuly."

Campbell did say there would be spending cuts, but these would be inareas like government advertising: “We’re not going to spend $100 million on government advertising.”

In late April, his government put out tenders for a multi-million-dollar, taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to “explain” its health policies.

When asked whether this advertising would also present the opposing view, Campbell said: “There isn’t an opposing view.”

When asked if he favoured the P3 (public-private-partnership) health-care development model or a not-for-profit one, Campbell replied: “I favour not-for-profit because when you deal with not-for-profit in communities you are actually building communities as well as health care.”

But since coming to office, the Liberals have required that all new health infrastructure projects must be partnerships with for-profitcorporations. The Liberals are promoting such a partnership for a newhospital in Abbotsford, but Ron Parks, a forensic accountant, warns the supporting study relies on “suspect data,” is inconclusive and “should not be used as the basis for a definitive government decision.”

The union also asked Campbell if “a forty-eight year-old (hospital) housekeeper, who has finally, after decades of struggle, come up to the average wage in B.C. — has anything to worry about in terms of privatization from a Gordon Campbell government?” Campbell’s response: “I say no. What she’s going to find is that people in British Columbia and the government are recognizing the value of the work she does. ”

To be sure, HEU asked Campbell directly if he was going toprivatize non-medical services like food, housekeeping and laundry. His reply: “I think we should be providing those through the public health-care system. I found [when mayor of Vancouver] that the workers in the city, nine times out of ten, were providing way better value . . . than private-sector workers.”

On March 4, the HEU released a leaked government document revealing that 20,000 government health jobs — mostly non-medical services — will be terminated over the next year as part of a scheme to privatize $700 million in services (supposedly saving $70 million over three years, but costing $163 million in severance pay). Another 7,500 employees are to be cut over three years.

Since existing union contracts obliged the government to provideretraining and job placement in the case of layoffs, and made itdifficult to lower service standards, the HEU pointedly asked Campbellif he would rip up those contracts. “First of all, I don’t believe in ripping up agreements,” he replied. “I said I disagreed with the Health Labour Accord and I did. [But] that’s just the way it was. I am not tearing up any agreements.”

On Jan. 28, Campbell, in an overnight session of the legislature, rammed through Bill 29, a law that ripped up legally negotiated contracts and cleared the way for hospital closures, service cuts and health-care privatization. Some of the contract provisions went back thirty years.

He did the same to teachers. The bill sets workers’ rights back decades, eliminating seniority and successor rights, making it illegal for health workers to even discuss alternatives to privatization with employers and allowing employers to move caregivers around at will — not only to different hospitals during one shift, but to temporary assignments hundreds of kilometres away.

Given that nearly ninety per cent of the members of HEU are women, the union asked Mr. Campbell about the Liberals’ stated support for pay equity. He replied: “My mother worked in her job for twenty-five years and her union consistently asked for an increase in her rate because of what she did. But they were consistently told no . . . You have to recognize what people do and you have to value their work. I’m for pay equity.”

The announced layoffs will be one of the largest mass firings of womenworkers in Canadian history. If they want jobs, these women will have to apply for the privatized ones. Instead of making $17 an hour they will make $10 or less — instantly wiping out all pay-equity gains in the last twenty years. That is, if they are allowed to work at all.

Campbell said in the interview: “What (HEU members) want is a fair opportunity to provide their service in the best possible way and that is what they are going to get.”

Apparently not. Among the corporate vultures hovering over B.C.’s health-care system is one of the world’s largest private providers of health-sector food services, laundry and hospital housekeeping and cleaning. Sodexho, a French-based transnational with operations in more than seventy countries, has been cited for numerous safety and health violations as well as its anti-unionism. It is poised to gobble up B.C.’s privatized services and already has a contract with the Northern Health District.

In a taped phone conversation with one of HEU’s sister unions, Spencer Green, Sodexho’s regional operations director, stated: “I’m saying to everyone: I ain’t hiring them [HEU members].”

This takes B.C. labour relations back to the 1930s, when corporate blacklisting was a common practice. And how did the future Premier Campbell end his pre-election interview?

“I want to earn people’s trust ... ”

Indeed.

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