February 25, 2021
Budget 2021 is a disingenuous attempt to cover the privatization of our health care
Just as Budget 2020 was pushed through with unrealistic forecasts for oil prices and subsequent unfeasible estimations for government revenue, Budget 2021 is being presented under the pretense of unrealistic forecasts for the health needs of Albertans. Quite simply, Budget 2021 is a cruel blow to our public health care system in favor of privatization.
While Budget 2021 sees a slight increase in spending in health care for 2021, it is followed by a freeze over next two years, which does not account for growth to the province’s inflation and population. Further, this funding does not take into account the work that will be required to make up for the delays in health services caused by this pandemic.
While the government claims they are increasing health care spending by 4%, a closer look at today’s budget reveals that the brunt of the promised increase to health care spending is to be put towards the province’s contingency COVID-19 fund ($1.2B).
“Regardless of pandemic status, Albertans still have everyday health care needs that must be met,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “This spending must come on top of what is needed to appropriately resource our public health care system, it can never be a replacement for it.”
Per Finance Minister Travis Toews’ budget address, the government will be following through on the recommendations of the Ernst and Young (EY) performance review of Alberta Health Services. Those recommendations laid the groundwork for the restructuring of our health care system through aggressive privatization, loss of front line staff, and erosion of public resources—including our public medical laboratory, which has been pivotal in getting us through the pandemic.
“Albertans won’t forget that this government has already promised to lay off 16,000 health care workers when this pandemic is done,” says Azocar. “Our front-line health care workers are the folks that have been the most valuable in continuing to navigate this pandemic. It’s one thing for the government to claim they’re supporting our health care system, but it’s completely undermined by the dismissal of workers’ value as an integral part of our health care system.”
As per today’s budget, the government has doubled down on their destructive Alberta Surgical Initiative Capital Program and the Continuing Care Capacity Plan, both of which will see an increased role for the private sector.
“Rather than implementing proven public solutions to build upon the solid foundation that is our existing public health care system, this government is opting instead to sell it off bit by bit to the highest bidder,” says Azocar.
Throughout this pandemic we have seen the Alberta government attempt to use this unprecedented public health crisis as political cover for the privatization of our health care system by stealth. But as Albertans have continuously been reminded over the past year, it is during times of economic hardship that we most depend on our foundational public services.
Prior to the pandemic, the UCP government had planned to freeze spending in health care for the following three years. Yet when faced with this health care crisis, we have seen funding put primarily towards bolstering private health care operators and paving the way for the increased contracting of our vital health services. Further, when it comes to COVID-19 spending which the UCP has been quick to lay claim to, according to a new report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 93% of spending thus far has been provided by the federal government.
If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it should be that we all depend on well funded, staffed and resourced public health care. Albertans need a more responsive public health care system, and that can only be achieved by improving and expanding our current system, not by imposing private, for-profit alternatives. Rather than seeking out short-term solutions in the interest of fiscal balance, it is imperative that our government must instead learn the difficult lessons of this pandemic and commit to putting the needs of Albertans first.
As we move forward with uncertainty into the year to come, Albertans will be asking themselves whether this is the “recovery” that they envisioned for their province. This is not the first health care crisis that Alberta has seen, and it will not be the last. This government has a responsibility to the people of this province to ensure that following this particular health care crisis, our vital public health care system has not been squandered and privatized.