newsbriefsFeds Cap Health Care Funding

A townhall meeting is set for June 23 to discuss unilateral changes made by the Harper government to the funding formula for health care. The meeting’s at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum at 7 p.m., and Maude Barlow (Council of Canadians), Ryan Meili (Canadian Doctors for Medicare) and Paul Moist (President CUPE National) are the presenters.

The changes, says Moist, were made in advance of the 10-year Canada Health Transfer expiring in March 2014. “There’d been plenty of discussion among the provinces and territories [about renewing the accord], but the federal government said in December 2011 that there would be no negotiations.”

Instead, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty promised to increase health transfers by six per cent a year until 2017-18. After that, increases will be tied to Canada’s nominal GDP which measures economic growth along with inflation.

“The cuts are back-loaded,” says Moist, “so you don’t feel it so much in 2014-15 — not surprisingly, because there’s an election [scheduled] for October 2015. But by 2024, $36 billion will have been carved out of the system.”

In the early 1970s, Moist adds, Ottawa funded health care 50/50 with the provinces. By 2024, the federal share will be down to 13 per cent. “The current prime minister has taken the position that [health care] is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. But funding for health care has never been exclusively a provincial responsibility.”

The impact will vary province to province. Saskatchewan, says Moist, will lose $1.1 billion over 10 years — which is enough to keep 3,349 hospital beds running, or fund 17,565 long-term care beds, or do 73,000 joint replacement surgeries.

Townhalls have been held in other parts of Canada with Barlow, Moist and a member of the local medical community participating. The goal, says Moist, is to promote awareness of the changes to the funding formula.

“The premiers will be in PEI this August for their annual summer meeting, and we’re urging them to keep medicare on the front burner. We’re also asking citizens to be mindful that in the next 16 months people are going to be knocking on their doors and asking for their vote. We urge them to ask candidates where they stand on federal funding for health care.” /Gregory Beatty

Alberta Company Wins Wastewater Contract

It’s funny how, despite months of hand-wringing about the city turning over our wastewater plant to a private corporation, our sewage is going to be handled by the public system after all.

It’s just that it’ll be some other city’s public system.

On May 29, the City of Regina announced they’d chosen EPCOR Saskatchewan Water Partners to build and operate our wastewater treatment plant. And if that name rings a bell it’s because EPCOR is a major Alberta water utility — wholly owned by the City of Edmonton.

Deputy City Manager Brent Sjoberg doesn’t see it as ironic that we’re partnering with another city’s water utility. “EPCOR is municipally owned by the City of Edmonton, which I think some folks [will] maybe take comfort in. The other piece is, there is some local connection with part of their team in Graham Construction. So many people are obviously quite familiar with Graham from their Saskatchewan roots.

“Through some of these P3 processes there’s been discussion around this notion of local preference. From a procurement standpoint, are you using local contractors? So I think that’s a positive element that there’s some local connections in the project. You’ve got folks who have a municipal background and connections to Saskatchewan, so it gives us a little bit more comfort that they’re going to take extra care to deliver a good solution for our community.”

Sjoberg also says the EPCOR-led team, which was the lowest of three bidders the city considered, will be able to meet the technical requirements the city’s laid out. They’ve also committed to come in under budget, both on plant construction and operations.

And he says we’ll be getting a technology upgrade to boot. “The key difference is at a high level, [EPCOR uses] more biological processes as opposed to chemical processes,” says Sjoberg. /Paul Dechene