Nov 012011
 

It’s 9:00 a.m. Tuesday, November 1, 2011. There are 6 days and 11 hours left until the polls close on Election Day.

There’s plenty of time to make yourself aware of issues affecting the people of Saskatchewan. One of the best sources of information out there right now is the Labour Issues Campaign of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour. Much of what follows comes from materials prepared for the Campaign (http://labourissues.sfl.sk.ca/).

This Campaign is a comprehensive initiative designed to put issues of concern to working people onto the political agenda. First launched prior to the provincial election in 2003, the goal of the campaign is to build an informed unified movement that works to ensure that important issues are considered at the provincial level. The campaign is fact-based, non-partisan, and focused on education and political action.

Whether organized or unorganized, politically active or not, people from communities across the province continue to participate in the Labour Issues Campaign. Whether your concerns are related to healthcare, education, the economy, public services, human rights, or the environment, the Labour Issues Campaign has something for you!

Expansion of Degree Granting Status

While not part of information contained in the Labour Issues Campaign, an issue that will affect USFA members is the expansion of degree granting status in Saskatchewan.

In February 2011 the provincial government announced a consultation process to consider the expansion of degree granting status in the Province of Saskatchewan. Before consultation began the government created the Quality Assurance Branch of the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Immigration.

A report was issued in August 2011 that concludes it is desirable to permit institutions other than the U of S and the U of R to offer degrees, provided there is a rigorous quality assessment system and they don’t call themselves universities. (Read it for yourself at http://www.aeei.gov.sk.ca/expansion-degrees-granting-status-consultations-recommendations )

The Ministry’s website says that the final report includes three common themes:

  1. that there is widespread misunderstanding of what degree-granting expansion may entail;
  2. there is substantial concern about duplication of services, especially in more expensive programs; and
  3. that there is widespread support for, and trust in the province’s two universities.

The report contains several recommendations including:

  • A quality assurance board should be established for reviewing new degree programs at institutions other than the U of R and U of S.
  • Institutions other than the U of R and U of S should be able to offer degree programs if approved by the quality assurance board.
  • The U of S and the U of R should not need approval for new degree programs, but would benefit from a periodic quality audit system.
  • A competitive process should be developed to determine which public institutions should offer new degree programs in areas of emerging professional practice.

What does this mean for programs at the U of S? What about the concern over duplicated programs? What about existing programs? We know what it takes to deliver a quality post-secondary degree program, the people, and infrastructure that are needed. Will funding be increased to post-secondary institutions so there is an ability to offer degree programs or will there be a realignment of existing post-secondary funding? If public funding is not increased how will private funding affect programs – compare, for instance, the Munk School of Public Policy?

Make a point of asking candidates about their and their party’s position on the issue of expanding degree granting status in Saskatchewan!

Your rights as a worker and a citizen in Saskatchewan

Two of the most distressing pieces of legislation that were enacted by the provincial government in the last four years are Bills 5 and 43 – The Public Service Essential Services Act and The Trespass to Property Act.

Workers have always used our right to strike to improve the social, economic and political life of Saskatchewan and Canadian society. We have achieved collective agreements that put in place terms and conditions of employment that mean we have the right to paid vacations, parental and medical leaves, and decent wages and benefits.

So what about Bill 5?

  • The law applies to all unionized workers who work for: the Government of Saskatchewan, Crown Corporations, rural and urban municipalities, health regions, universities, SIAST, the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, and the police. Even liquor board and casino workers are affected. And anyone else Cabinet decides. (s.2(i))
  • The employer gets to designate which workers are ‘essential’ in the event of a strike if the parties cannot reach a negotiated agreement. (s.9)
  • If you are designated ‘essential’, you have to work during the strike. You have to do all of the regular duties of your job, not just the ‘essential’ duties. You could be denied vacation or other approved leaves. (s.18)
  • You cannot then participate in a work stoppage which may include solidarity actions like work-to-rule and picket support. (s.14;2(k))
  • If you participate in any strike action at all, you can be fined $2,000 plus $400 per day. (s.20(2))
  • Management can designate your bargaining committees, your shop stewards, and your union activists as ‘essential’ employees.
  • Healthcare employers have designated up to 90 percent of workers as ‘essential’. Employers are saying they will increase that to 100 percent if your strike is effective.
  • In some provinces, essential services legislation provides the option to go to independent, third-party arbitrators to get a settlement. Not here.
  • With that many people who cannot participate in a strike to support collective bargaining, how will unions get fair collective agreements?

As citizens, we have protested to express our views about the kind of society we want for ourselves and our children. Our history is filled with examples from the eight-hour day and employment insurance to the women’s right to vote and medicare. We stopped wage controls. We have protested privatization, damage to the environment and unjust treatment of aboriginal peoples. We have marched against violence and for childcare and human rights.

So what about Bill 43?

  • The Act states that in order to be on public property citizens require the consent of government. (s.3; 2(c); 2(e))
  • This includes picketing, demonstrations, marches, rallies and protests anywhere in Saskatchewan.
  • Unlike other provinces, the Act does not include an exemption for citizens exercising their human and Charter rights to freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.

Ask candidates for their position and the position of their party on the rights of workers and citizens in Saskatchewan.

Would   privatization of health care services really be cheaper?

In 1962 the Government of Saskatchewan enacted the Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act. This established a publically-owned and publically-funded system of health insurance available to every person in Saskatchewan.

Day surgery in a public hospital costs $1,000 compared to $1,500 in a for-profit private clinic. In Alberta the cost of a hip replacement in a public hospital costs $10,000 compared to over $21,000 in a for-profit clinic, while the cost of knee replacement surgery is $8,000 in a public hospital compared to $18,000 in a private clinic. Can Saskatchewan really afford to privatize health care services?

Ask your local candidates whether they are committed to a publicly-funded and more affordable health care delivery system. Your opinion and vote count.

Protecting the most vulnerable in society

A society’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.   The Government of Saskatchewan has cut funding to the Saskatoon Family Support Centre, Teen and Young Parent Program, and the Domestic Abuse Outreach Program. In Saskatoon the Government withdrew financial support for Station 20 West. Is this the way we want to provide services to the weakest and most vulnerable people in Saskatchewan?

When you meet your candidates ask if they are willing to commit to increasing resources to the Ministry of Social Services and protect our vulnerable people.

Who wears the Crown?

Probably some of the most surprising information outlined in the Labour Issues Campaign materials is with respect to our Crown Corporations and what has been happening with them in recent years. For example, were you aware that the provincial government decided to keep all of SaskTel’s 2010 dividends while profitable assets such as Navigata, DirectWest Canada, and the Hospitality Network were sold off? Did you know that a decision was also made to sell SaskTel’s stake in the Saskatoon Square building, in which the company now rents office space?

SGI now uses a company from Nova Scotia instead of a Regina-based company for the production of general license plates. Despite a recommendation from an independent firm that in 2009 said SaskWater should make growing industrial revenues a high priority, Crown Investments Corporation changed SaskWater’s mandate to not allow it to pursue any new industrial customers.

Saskatchewan Crown Corporations contribute to the prosperity of our province through supporting Saskatchewan suppliers (21,302) and purchasing local goods and services ($2.02 billion). They partner with Saskatchewan businesses (1,256), employ Saskatchewan workers (11,703) and support Saskatchewan-based charities, community events and non-profit organizations ($6.7 million).

What do the candidates in your constituency have to say about our Crown Corporations? What is their party’s plan for the Crowns should they form government?

Vote on November 7, or at advance polls.

Information about poll locations and advance polls can be obtained from the campaign offices of candidates and online at http://www.elections.sk.ca/.

On November 7th take the time to make a difference.

Exercise a right that people in other parts of the world are dying to have.

Vote!

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