Where has accountability gone???
Gordon Campbell: Violating the public trust
By Murray Dobbin
There are a lot of angry people in British Columbia these days. Angry
enough to block a train to draw attention to the fact that a cut in
ferry operating hours would mean dozens of people losing their jobs.
Angry enough that citizens of Revelstoke set up a 24-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
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 500 people has formed a
fight-back coalition, staging rallies and demonstrations and swamping
their Liberal MLA with letters, phone calls and e-mails.
Gordon Campbell and his "Liberal" government have been so contemptuous
of normal democratic principles and ethics that it's made normally
conservative, even-tempered citizens a little crazy. Partly it is the
constant double-speak, like the line that the government is "putting
students and patients first" while closing 57 schools, laying off 2,000
teachers, removing limits to class size and generally savaging the
But perhaps 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 neatly
contained in a single interview Campbell gave to the Hospital Employees
Union (HEU) in November, 2000, just a few months before the last
election. In a one-hour interview, the current premier managed to dish
up no fewer than 16 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."
But hospital closings and consolidations since the election have meant
people are facing much longer driving distances. Just one example 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. 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 cut
taxes by $1.5 billion, 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.
Fully 20 per cent of that amount went to the wealthiest one per cent of
the population, 35 per cent went to those earning more than $80,000 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 that he'd
never mentioned; a gathering of business types called it "Christmas in
Campbell did say there would be spending cuts, but these would be in
areas 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."
Asked if he favoured 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." Since
coming to office, the Liberals have required that all new health
infrastructure projects must be partnerships with for- profit
corporations. The Liberals are promoting such a partnership for a new
hospital in Abbotsford, but Ron Parks, a forensic accountant, warns that
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 48-year-old (hospital) housekeeper,
who has finally, after decades of struggle, come up to the average wage
in B.C. -- does she have 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."
Just to be sure, HEU asked Campbell directly if he was going to
privatize non-medical services like food, housekeeping and laundry. He
replied: "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 10, 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 -- are to
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 provide
retraining and job placement in the case of layoffs, and made it
difficult to lower service standards, the HEU pointedly asked Campbell
if 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 30 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 90 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 25 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 women
workers 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 -- wiping out all pay-equity gains in the last 20
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 70 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
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
"I want to earn people's trust..."
Murray Dobbin is a Vancouver-based journalist and author. His last book
was The Myth of the Good Corporate Citizen: Democracy under the rule of