|Privatization in Canada
The Canada eZine - Canadian Politics
By Charles Moffat - Updated February 2008.
Canada needs more teachers, but the provincial governments can't afford to raise teachers salaries to attract more people to the profession (or import teachers from the US and overseas). Due to a combination of population growth, immigration and babyboomers retiring Canada is developing an extreme shortage of teachers and also university professors.
The costs of operating schools in Canada is also going up, higher heating/electricity costs and unbalanced budgets means that schools are having to make tough choices.
How are we supposed to have top-notch world class schools when our government keeps cutting school funding? Who would even want to be a teacher in Canada when they could move to the United States and get paid more?
Stephen Harper of the ultra right-wing Conservative party thinks he has an answer however: Build or convert existing schools into private schools (or give tax credits to parents who send their kids to private schools).
That way Harper's rich friends could send their kids to the private schools and not have to pay very much to do so. Private schools pay teachers more (in theory), but how would this solve a shortage?
Quite frankly, I think it would make it worse. There would still be the same number of teachers, the difference would be that rich students would have 10 students for 1 teacher whereas poor students in the public system would have 30 students per teacher.
Mike Harris, premier of the province of Ontario, proposed this idea years ago but thankfully it never happened due to public outrage and he was booted out of office for corruption and mismanagement with respect to Walkerton, the killing of Dudley George and trying to privatize Ontario Hydro (see below).
Since the turn of the millenium there has been another issue on the table too: Privatized universities with American style tuition rates (in the range of $20,000 to $80,000/year). The idea there again is to actually make universities private and profitable, compared to the current standard where students pay for roughly half of the $10,000/year tuition and the government pays for the other half.
In Ontario for example the Conservative government wants to privatize the Catholic School System (it was originally private prior to 1983 and so this would just be a return to that and I am actually in favour of this, provided my tax dollars aren't paying for it). That is not such a big deal as attendance in Catholic schools has been dropping in recent years due to low birth rates. Privatizing universities however is much bigger problem, especially if it is an university that teaches medicine (which could result in a doctor shortage).
From my perspective the statistics of the situation is quite clear: Smaller class sizes equals less high school dropouts and more people being productive in Canada's workforce. So to have a healthy economy we need a lot more teachers, which in my mind means we need to do two things: #1. Change the way we train teachers (by creating more programs that allows university students to study education concurrently) and #2 pay teachers more.
Privatizing schools or funding private schools with public money? I think not. That will cause more problems than anything else and hamstring the current public school system.
I do however think that there is room in Canada for more AFTER school tutoring programs. To cite an example from South Korea parents there send their kids to private institutes after school called "hagwons" where they study creative writing, art, math, specific sports, other languages and more. Those students that are rich enough even have private tutors who visit them several times per week.
And frankly I don't know why Harper and his rich friends can't simply create private afterschool institutes here in Canada or hire more private tutors for their kids. Korean immigrants here in Canada already have hagwons in major Canadian cities. Hagwon teachers also help students with their regular school work so their regular grades improve.
By the year 2015 Canada's electrical usage is expected to at least double, according to the Canadian National Energy Board. The reasons why:
1. Rapid increase in the number of computers and internet servers running across Canada.
Approximately 10 years from now Canadians need to either double the number of nuclear reactors, solar panels, windmills, hydro-electric dams and everything else that currently provide electricity, or we need to start using less.
A third final solution will be to buy more expensive electricity from the United States in order to make up for a shortage.
Why then is the Conservative Party of Canada and Progressive Conservative parties in various provinces thinking of selling Canada's publicly owned energy sector to American energy companies (namely the oil industry)?
It would be the biggest privatization of Canadian property in history, and it would be because, quite frankly, our Conservative parties seem to be Yankee sell-outs. Nothing pays better than being in bed with the oil industry. Stephen Harper, our current prime minister, believes that by selling off Canada's electrical power that Americans could do a better job of building new nuclear reactors and provide Canadians with cheaper electricity.
Since when are the oil companies interested in providing cheap energy? Oil companies try to make as much money off of shortages as they can by jacking up the prices as much as possible.
Under the current system it costs Canadian users 5.9 cents per kWh, except that producing electricity is quite expensive and costs closer to 10 or 11 cents per kWh. The government ends up paying the other 5 cents worth, and that money comes from taxes.
So technically we pay for it eventually, it is just that a chunk of the taxes come from wealthy people in higher tax brackets and from corporate taxes.
Rich people however don't think this is fair. If we privatized electricity people's electrical bills would double (or maybe even triple or quadruple like they did when California privatized their electrical system) and the Conservative government in turn could lower taxes... for their rich friends, and at the same time the oil industry would be able to make huge sums of money by sucking the population dry with high electricity prices.
Also, there is the matter of how the oil industry would actually make this electricity. I can guarantee right now it wouldn't be nuclear or solar. The cheapest source of electricity is to burn coal. Coal currently makes up approx. 30% of Canada's electricity market, but our governments our trying to cut back because it pollutes so much.
Just imagine big, dirty coal-burners that pollute the atmosphere above big dirty American cities. Do we really want our Canadian cities to start looking like that? Dirty, smoggy and full of pollution from industrial coal burning plants?
Toronto for example is widely regarded as the cleanest city in the world. Yes, it still has some smog from cars, but it is nothing like New York or L.A., Houston or Chicago. Toronto is actually very green if you fly over it in a plane because there are trees everywhere... backyards, frontyards, in front of office buildings, on school properties, lots of parks. It is almost an ideal combinations of nature and city together.
Canadians should be proud of our wilderness. We haven't destroyed it like most Americans have in order to build factories, suburbs of boring square houses and huge parking lots beside sprawling Walmarts.
Why should we sell off our electricity to people who can't even handle their own electrical problems? The USA is facing a shortage identical to our own, so much so that that they are already buying a portion of their electricity from Canada.
From my perspective it would be extremely unwise and outright stupid to allow such a thing to fall into private hands (it would even be a national security threat if people had private ownership of nuclear power stations).
There are ways to deal with our electricity shortage however, and we can take a cue from California. Right now, thanks to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California is building fields of windmills and solar panels in the desert so that they will be self-sufficient and coal-free.
Why can't we do the same thing in Canada? Give people jobs building and maintaining wind mills/solar panels and build them all over northern Ontario, northern Quebec and places where there is little arable land.
If California and eventually America can do it, why can't Canada?
I should also note that Japan is also going the same route and is mass producing solar panels, making them a lot cheaper.
Two-Tier Canadian Healthcare
American insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies are foaming at the mouth at the thought of finally breaking into the Canadian market and bilking Canadians for expensive surgeries, high-cost medications and insurance premiums. In the United States, it is a multi-trillion-dollar business, which Americans pay for and if they don't, they suffer the medical/financial consequences.
In Canada healthcare is free and often taken for granted. The only problem with a free healthcare system is that there is often doctor shortages and waiting lists for the more difficult surgeries (ie. hip replacement or triple bypass heart surgery). Some people die before they get to the surgery.
But who is to blame for these waiting lists?
In Ontario former premier Mike Harris is partially to blame. He cut funding to hospitals during the seven years that he was Ontario Premier. The federal government picked up some of the slack, but it was not enough. Ontario's healthcare system now has a shortage of family doctors, too many specialists (because specialists get paid more and have less hours). The current premier Dalton McGuinty is trying to solve problem but it will be years before enough new doctors are trained to fill the shortage.
The other thing that is partially to blame is babyboomers retiring. Too many doctors are retiring all at once and in the next 10 years it is going to get dramatically worse. Expect longer wait times before the problem gets fixed. We can't train new doctors overnight.
The problems vary from province to province. Waiting lists in some provinces are dramatically shorter or longer depending on doctor availability.
The solutions are expensive but it will take time to implement. After 7 years of Mike Harris cutting funding to universities we need more funding for universities, and more funding specifically aimed at training family doctors. This may require the government to raise taxes over the short term if the government coffers aren't full enough to cover the costs of training more doctors.
Another thing that is currently being done is re-training immigrant doctors so they can work in Canada. Far too many doctors in Canada seem to be driving taxis.
The Conservative plan in contrast is not to train more doctors, but to allow more private clinics. We already have private health clinics in Canada where you can bypass wait lists (provided you have the money). If anything the waiting list shortages is actually driving the people towards private clinics because they are desperate to get rid of whatever ailment they have. The Conservative plan is basically a "do nothing" approach to healthcare. They don't raise doctor salaries (specialists get paid almost twice as much as family doctors) and they don't bother to increase enrolment in medical programs that train new doctors.
It is no wonder people think Stephen Harper has a "secret agenda" when it comes to healthcare. It is because Stephen Harper doesn't even say anything about healthcare beyond the regular rhetoric. He stands up and makes speeches about healthcare but doesn't actually promise any SPECIFIC changes or goals. It is a bit like how he promised to cut greenhouse gases in Canada by 2050. That is not a promise. That is a procrastination. Could you imagine the public outcry if he had promised to reduce hospital wait times by 2050?
So it isn't that Harper has a secret agenda or anything like that. He really simply has no agenda at all. He just wants to sit back and see what happens. Afterall, he is rich and can afford to go private health clinics. No big deal for him.
I should point out however that even private clinics have wait times, but they are significantly shorter. The more you pay and you can wait even less time.
I do have a low cost solution that could help Canada train more doctors. I think we should have basic paramedic training in highschools and make it mandatory for all students to take the class for one semester.
Imagine for a moment whole generations of students leaving high school, all equipped with basic paramedic training. If someone has a heart attack, an accident, nearly drowns, etc. Voila! Look to your local high school graduate and you have someone who can help.
The program would also inspire more students to consider medicine as a career. Currently students in highschools have one option: Study biology. It isn't even specific to human biology, but biology of all plants and animals. It certainly isn't inspiring students to become doctors (or scientists interested in medicine) very much.
Think about it. More paramedics and more doctors. Isn't that what Canada needs?
Water Safety Concerns and Ecoli
Back in the Spring of 2000 approximately 3000 people in the town of Walkerton and the surrounding area drank Ecoli tainted water and got severely sick. 21 people died from Ecoli and Ecoli related health problems. Thousands of the people have permanent health problems as a result.
But why did it happen?
Here is the abbreviated story.
Years earlier premier Mike Harris decided to downgrade water safety from a provincial responsibility to a municipal one. Ontario's sewer systems were in need of repairs and there was widespread problems with both Ecoli, leaky systems, rust and a host of other problems. Mike Harris and his government didn't want to pay for the problem so instead they privatized the system and told the municipalities to come up with the money to pay the privately owned water testers.
The town of Walkerton, short on cash, decided to test the water themselves and sent samples once every few weeks to a lab. Two brothers, Stan & Frank Koebel, were mere high school graduates who had never went to college and for years had been in charge of the town's water. Their testing procedures were flawed and the situation was doomed for disaster.
It was, quite literally, an accident waiting to happen and it did. It was front page news for months.
Ecoli has since become a household word, and is now used in advertisements for bottled water. For awhile people in Canada and even the USA were panicking about the quality of their own water and insisting on public improvements to water safety. That is over now.
But should we stop worrying about water safety? No, definitely not.
This to me is a prime example of what happens when governments privatize programs and cut corners just to save some money.
It is inherently dangerous to let private companies be in charge of public safety.
Imagine for a moment another problem regarding Ontario's great lakes. Canada's Conservative government is thinking of selling water rights to the United States. Apparently with all the global warming going on Americans are getting very thirsty and there is a lot of money to be made by simply bottling water and sending it south of the border.
But is there any danger in selling our water to the USA? I guess it would depend on where they were building bottling plants and if they were dumping anything in the water, like toxic leftovers from the process of turning oil into plastic bottles (we tend to forget that making plastic has toxic waste leftover).
What if the issue of Canada's sewers came up again years from now? Will they try to privatize it and sell it off?
At this point I'd like to point out Mike Harris's campaign slogan when he first became premier of Ontario: "The Common Sense Revolution."
Common Sense? Nonsense from where I am standing. Mike Harris's goals while he was in power was to try and privatize everything they could.
And Stephen Harper? He is basically a Mike Harris clone (they even have the same finance minister, Jim Flaherty). Stephen Harper also believes in the virtues of private business and big oil. He wants to see a "smaller government", which in common tongue is translated into a dictatorship that sells everything off to big business. Historically speaking small governments are usually corrupt governments.
My advice to Canadians: Before you vote for Stephen Harper take a close look at his promises. The moment he starts making rhetorical comments and posing rhetorical questions you will know he is just avoiding the topic and trying to sound good.
In other words, think before you vote. Or don't vote at all if you think the candidates are all liars.