“Wall Report” on Manitoba Hydro projects opens new doors to privatization

The release of the much anticipated “Wall Report” opens the door to new forms of privatization in Manitoba Hydro through the use of Private Public Partnerships (P3s), the sale of entire divisions of our provincialpublic utility, and the introduction of private companies to generate electricity in Manitoba, says CUPE 998.

“Pallister’s approach to privatizing Manitoba Hydro is about taking one slice at a time,” says Michelle Bergen, President of CUPE 998. “This government is carving off pieces of our Crown Corporation for sale, winding down subsidiaries, and now potentially introducing P3s to our hydro infrastructure and allowing private, for-profit generation of electricity.”

Wall’s report recommends continuing the government’s agenda of breaking apart Manitoba Hydro by dissolving Manitoba Hydro’s subsidiaries, which the report suggests are not “core” to the work of the utility. Wall suggested the government could sell these off and “use the proceeds” to reduce debt. Wall specifically alluded to Manitoba Hydro’s natural gas division.

Wall’s report explicitly calls for the end of a fully public system by introducing private, for-profit companies to the market. For example, recommendation #2.1 in the report encourages the government to consider private sector access to hydro transmission to allow private companies to compete with Manitoba Hydro for export customers

The report also focuses on introducing Private Public Partnerships (P3s) to Hydro projects.

P3s are a form of privatization, and it’s clear that the Wall Report recommends opening the door for privatization of Manitoba Hydro ‘by stealth’. “P3s are more expensive, reduce public oversight, and result in significant profits for the private sector at the public’s cost.

P3s are often promoted with the claim that the private sector takes on responsibility for risks previously assumed by the public. However, so-called risk transfer comes with a very high price tag.

“Private, for-profit corporations in P3s aren’t participating in projects for the public good, they are there to make a profit,” says Bergen. “At the end of the day no private company would ever take on risk associated with building hydro-electric dams in Northern Manitoba without the expectation of significant private profit, and Manitobans will be the ones paying for that profit with even less accountability.”

The previous NDP government enacted legislation that ensures thorough oversight, transparency, and accountability for any proposed P3 project in Manitoba. This was among the first laws that the Pallister government scrapped upon taking office in 2016.

In October 2019, the Pallister government commissioned former Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to take over as commissioner of a secretive inquiry into Manitoba Hydro’s Bipole III transmission and converter station project, and Keeyask Generating Station. The report was announced on Friday, February 26, 2021, and can be found here.

CUPE Local 998 represents approximately 900 clerical and technical staff at Manitoba Hydro.

Manitobans support public and non-profit take-over of private long-term care homes

WINNIPEG – A new poll from Probe Research, commissioned by CUPE, has found that two thirds of Manitobans would want the government or non-profit agencies to take over at least some privately operated personal care homes in the province, with nearly 40% saying *all* private personal care homes should become public or non-profit.

The poll further finds that over half of Manitobans do not trust private companies (like Revera) to provide good quality care to the elderly and chronically ill, and that eight-in-ten Manitobans do trust non-profit organizations and the government (like Regional Health Authorities) to provide good care.

“Manitobans have seen first-hand the critical need for strong, public and non-profit care for our elders,” said Abe Araya, President of CUPE Manitoba. “The Manitoba government needs to phase out private for-profit care homes and invest in a strong public system.”

More than half of all COVID-19 related deaths in Manitoba have been in long-term care facilities, with many in privately operated care homes.

Overwhelming majority of Manitobans support legislated minimum staffing requirements in care homes.

Ninety-four percent of Manitobans support regulations that would increase the minimum staffing levels at long-term care homes. Support for increased staffing levels runs across party lines, and finds support in both rural communities and Winnipeg.

“CUPE has been calling for increased staffing levels in long term care homes for years,” said Araya. “Manitobans understand the critical need to legislate minimum staffing levels so we can get our seniors the care and attention they deserve, now and post-COVID-19.”

On May 27, 2020, NDP healthcare critic Uzoma Asagwara introduced a bill to legislate mandatory minimum staffing requirements for long term care homes, however the Pallister government used their majority to filibuster it, preventing it from being debated in the last legislative session.

“It is unfortunate that the government missed this chance to do the right thing for our seniors,” said Araya. “With such a wide range of Manitobans supporting legislation on minimum staffing levels, you would think the government would act.”

The poll ran between November 24 and December 4, 2020, surveying a random and representative sampling of 1,000 adults residing in Manitoba.

Download the full report and data tables here.

CUPE represents approximately 19,000 health care support workers in Manitoba, including in both private and personal care homes.

Public services in Manitoba are in trouble under Pallister: CUPE responds to Throne Speech

If the government plans to do to education, what they did to health care, then Manitoba is in really big trouble, says CUPE Manitoba representing 36,000 workers in the province.

“The province’s ongoing health reforms led to worker fatigue and staff shortages before the pandemic started, and now those issues have become even worse,” says Abe Araya, President of CUPE Manitoba.

“The looming threat of education reform has already impacted morale among front-line workers and educators in the school system at a time when the focus should be entirely on supporting our kids.”

Any report on education reform that was written before the pandemic is now archaic and should be scrapped, according to CUPE.

“We now know the value of having distinct school boards in our diverse communities who can respond directly to the needs of families, as well as the critical importance of ensuring school support staff have the resources they need to help keep our kids safe and help deliver the best quality education possible. Now is not the time for education reform,” said Araya.

The elimination of the education property tax will further erode school divisions abilities to respond to the education needs of their communities.

Health care in distress

On the health care front, CUPE continues to call on the government to increase staffing levels in long term care homes and provide robust paid sick leave to health care support staff who self-isolate.

“CUPE has called on the government to address the now systemic issue of working short in health care prior to the pandemic, and now we are seeing the very serious impact this is having on staff and residents,” said Debbie Boissonneault, President of CUPE 204 representing 14,000 health care workers in the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and Shared Health.

“The government plans capital upgrades in long-term care facilities, but why won’t the government meet with us to discuss staffing levels? Why won’t the government act now to ensure our support staff and residents get the care they deserve?”

While the federal government recently announced 10 paid sick days for Canadian workers who are impacted by the pandemic, it does not go nearly far enough to support front-line staff who have already used up their sick banks and vacation time for the 14-day self-isolation period.

Some workers have already self-isolated more than once, and the Provincial government should fill that gap.

“Health care workers, including home care, need to be assured that they won’t be financially penalized because they take self-isolation and the wellbeing of their residents seriously,” says Boissonneault.

“Health care workers have been on the front-line in the fight against COVID from the start, and they need to be able to continue fighting for the months and maybe years to come. Those limited sick days are critical in ensuring they can take the time away from health care settings if they get ill – COVID or otherwise.”

CUPE is also deeply concerned that the provincial government may be considering privatizing home care services for seniors.

“Home care must remain public,” said Boissonneault. “Private profit has no place in the delivery of health care services to our elders, and this government must not be allowed to privatize this critical service for Manitoba seniors.”

Child care “choice” concerning

CUPE is concerned that this government is going to move further in the direction of private-for-profit child care under the guise of “choice,” while letting the non-profit child care centres continue to struggle under the combined challenges of inadequate funding and COVID-related challenges.

Manitoba Hydro’s future uncertain

Pallister is chipping away at Manitoba Hydro, carving out Power Smart, privatizing Hydro’s money-making subsidiaries, and forcing staff into furloughs despite the continued need for a strong public energy utility, says CUPE.

“Pallister is leading Hydro down the path of privatization and CUPE is afraid he could use the pandemic as an excuse to sell off Hydro in whole or in part to pay down the debt,” says Araya.  “This government has been making very strategic cuts to Hydro, and Manitobans should be very concerned with Pallister’s agenda for Hydro.”

Lastly, CUPE urges the provincial government to support the thousands of Manitoba workers who have been without a contract since the unconstitutional wage freeze legislation was introduced.

“If Pallister cared about working people, he would get to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair deal for the thousands of front-line workers who have been stepping up to the plate to protect Manitobans every single day.”

Premier Pallister is playing smoke and mirrors with Hydro

Winnipeg – Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is playing smoke and mirrors with the public, and is using the COVID-19 pandemic to justify his agenda of public sector cuts, says CUPE 998 President Michelle Bergen representing clerical and technical staff at Manitoba Hydro.

“The half-truths and disinformation coming out of the Premier’s mouth show a deep lack of leadership, and need to be addressed,” says Bergen in response to Pallister’s media conference today.

The Premier consistently claims that public sector unions have not been participating in meaningful dialogue with government or government departments as per Pallister’s April 17 demand for reduced spending.

There is no merit to the latest claim that Manitoba Hydro staff and their representatives have not been participating in constructive dialogue.

On April 20, CUPE and other unions representing Manitoba Hydro employees provided numerous suggestions for alternatives and requested more in-depth discussions, including the option of pursuing Work Share programs (as suggested by Pallister himself), but were turned down by Hydro.

The mandate from government becomes clear: it is either wage rollbacks or layoffs, regardless of what discussions took place.

“The reality is that unions have been at the forefront of constructive labour relations during the pandemic, offering solutions and ideas, and I don’t think the Premier expected that”, says Bergen.

“Pallister is caught in his own web, and is looking for anyone to blame, whether it be unions, universities, school divisions or Crowns who are telling him they just can’t cut any more.”

The government has resisted questions on what employees constitute ‘non-essential’ for the purposes of layoffs.

To-date Pallister has provided only deflections and musings about how we’re all family and we need to pull up our boot straps, or something tedious like that.

“Premier Pallister needs to stop using the pandemic as a smoke screen for his austerity agenda, and he needs to come clean to Manitobans”, concludes Bergen.

In the meantime, it is CUPE 998’s intention to get back to meeting with Hydro to discuss alternatives to mass layoffs.

Manitoba Throne Speech threatens public education, child care, and continues to hurt front-line health care – CUPE

The Manitoba Throne Speech offers little reassurance that the provincial government will support public education and child care, says the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“With the elimination of the education property tax, we are concerned that the government will resort to school cuts, especially under the auspices of the K-12 review,” said Abe Araya, President of Manitoba. “Where is the government going to come up with funding for our children’s education?”

The Throne Speech also introduces the government’s plans to increase private child care spaces in the province, including for capital investments in private child care facilities.

“The government should be focused on increasing public, affordable child care across Manitoba, rather than subsidizing private facilities that could end up costing families more,” said Araya. “Childcare advocates have been calling for fully funded public child care in the province, and this government is going the opposite direction”.

CUPE Manitoba President Abe Araya, and CUPE 204 President Debbie Boissonneault at the Manitoba Throne Speech

The government’s sweeping changes to the health care system continues to impact front-line health care support staff.

“As the government and health authorities continue to implement their restructuring of health care, support workers remain understaffed and under-valued,” said Debbie Boissonneault, President of CUPE Local 204 representing Community and Facility Support staff in the WRHA and Shared Health.

“We need investments in support staff positions, as well as a commitment from the province that they will not be privatizing or contracting out any health care services”.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is Canada’s largest union representing more than 700,000 members. In Manitoba, CUPE is the province’s largest union, representing approximately 36,000 members working in health care facilities, personal care homes, school divisions, municipal services, social services, child care centres, public utilities, libraries and family emergency services.

 

Abe Araya Elected as President of CUPE Manitoba

BRANDON – Delegates at the 2019 CUPE Manitoba Convention in Brandon elected Abe Araya as President of the province’s largest union. Abe Araya comes from CUPE Local 110, representing custodians, maintenance, and painters at the Winnipeg School Division.

“Our union is focused on fighting back against cuts to health care, education, social services, and privatization,” said Araya. “Despite Brian Pallister’s attempts to divide working people, we will be uniting workers from across Manitoba to put a stop to Pallister’s austerity agenda.”

Delegates at convention voted in support resolutions, ranging from health and safety in the workplace, anti-oppression training for activists, pushing back against privatization, fighting against health care and education cuts, and supporting the Green New Deal.

“CUPE is an incredibly diverse union,” said Araya. “With the strength of Manitoba’s largest union, we will be on the front line defending public health care and education, public Hydro, and fighting for properly funded childcare and social services for all Manitobans.”

CUPE’s annual convention featured guest speakers, including NDP leader Wab Kinew, NDP Critic for Infrastructure and Municipal Affairs Matt Wiebe, NDP Member of Parliament for Winnipeg Centre Leah Gazan, Winnipeg School Division Trustee Yijie Chen, and Manitoba Health Coalition Director Breanne Goertzen.

CUPE National President Mark Hancock and CUPE National Secretary-Treasurer Charles Fleury spoke to delegates, committing the full strength of CUPE’s 700,000 members to fight against cuts and privatization.

Manitoba Federation of Labour President Kevin Rebeck provided updates on labour’s united front against Bill 28 (The Public Services Sustainability Act) and committed to fight against the Pallister government’s unconstitutional wage freeze.

Two hundred people rallied outside Brandon City Hall with CUPE Local 69 on Wednesday evening, voicing concern over the contracting out of work at the Wheat City Golf Course.

Gord Delbridge, President of CUPE Local 500 served as interim CUPE Manitoba President throughout 2019. Delbridge continues to serve as Vice-President of CUPE Manitoba. Barb Gribben of CUPE Local 737 was this year’s recipient of the prestigious Jack Rodie Award, recognizing dedication and activism in the union.

“Our union is stronger, and more united than ever,” said Araya. “Manitobans can count on CUPE to defend good jobs, and fight for our public services.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is Canada’s largest union representing more than 700,000 members.  In Manitoba, CUPE represents over 36,000 members working in health care facilities, personal care homes, school divisions, municipal services, social services, childcare centres, public utilities, libraries and family emergency services.

Manitoba Hydro workers raise red flags on Hydro privatization after letter issued by CEO

WINNIPEG – A letter posted this morning on Manitoba Hydro’s digital staff bulletin board by Hydro President and CEO Jay Grewal has raised red flags for Hydro employees.

The letter announces Manitoba Hydro’s engagement with consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to conduct a new review of Hydro’s operating model.

The first phase of the review will be rushed over an eight week period, and includes examining Hydro’s “structure, processes, governance, metrics, and culture”.

“This new review is incredibly concerning,” says Michelle Bergen, President of CUPE Local 998, representing 950 Hydro employees.

“Pallister is hiring yet another private consultant, and this time they are looking at Hydro’s public operating model and governance, which will certainly look at privatization”.

Pallister appointed Jay Grewal as CEO of Manitoba Hydro in February. Grewal has a track record of privatizing parts of B.C. Hydro.

“All the ducks are lining up in a row for Hydro privatization,” says Mike Velie, Assistant Business Manager for IBEW 2034, representing 2,600 Hydro employees. “This surprise review will undoubtedly result in recommendations to break up and privatize parts of Manitoba Hydro”.

The letter also notes that the review will not be looking at staff reductions, since Pallister already mandated major cuts to staffing. However the letter has no indication that the review will not recommend privatization or contracting out of Hydro work.

“We need Pallister to answer one simple question: will his government privatize all or parts of Manitoba Hydro?”, said Bergen. “We have not heard him give a clear answer to this critical question”.

Earlier this week a Probe Research survey, sponsored by the Winnipeg Free Press and CTV Winnipeg, showed that Manitobans are strongly opposed to Hydro Privatization.

“The public has the right to know Pallister’s plan for Hydro,” concludes Velie.

Manitoba Government cancels proposed P3 schools: commitment to keep new schools public right step, says CUPE

CUPE members in Manitoba are celebrating a major victory against P3s.

Five new schools in Winnipeg and Brandon will be built without the using a Public-Private Partnership (P3) model, according to the 2018 Manitoba Budget.

The government initially planned to build four schools under the P3 model, but after a cost-benefit analyses the savings were found to be enough to build an entire fifth school!

“We are incredibly relieved that the government has chosen not to pursue P3 schools here in Manitoba,” said Terry Egan, President of CUPE Manitoba. “P3 schools across Canada have proven to be more expensive and less accountable to the public, and this is case-in-point.”

(CUPE 737 members and supporters raising awareness in the community against P3 schools)

Throughout 2017, CUPE conducted a sustained campaign in Manitoba to “raise red flags” on P3 schools. CUPE 737, representing workers at Brandon School Division, held a public Town Hall meeting, presented to the Brandon School Division Board of Trustees numerous times, and reached out to the community.

“It was incredibly important for the public to understand the implications P3 schools could have, so we made a real effort to inform the public since the government wasn’t going to do so,” said Jamie Rose, President of CUPE 737.

“We are glad that the government has backed off its plans for P3 schools, and can actually now build one more school than they had planned.”

P3 schools failed on cost, transparency and accountability across Canada. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Alberta, P3 schools cost millions of dollars more than they would have cost had the projects been built traditionally. It’s likely the same story for Saskatchewan, where cost claims about P3 schools have been shrouded in secrecy, and are based on faulty calculations.

P3 schools have been found to be less transparent and accountable to citizens, which was particularly alarming for CUPE considering the provincial government’s recent scrapping of the P3 Transparency and Accountability Act.

“It was clear to us, despite what Pallister said when he first announced the new schools, that the P3 school experience across Canada has cost Canadians millions of dollars more than the fully public model,” said Egan.

(Public advertising against P3 schools in Brandon)

“We hope the Pallister government will take this cue, and consult with CUPE and our experts on other privatization schemes, including our concerns with other P3s, Social Impact Bonds, private child care, and privatization in health care.”

This victory was a success because CUPE members worked together, as a united front.

“I want to thank the leaders and activists at CUPE 737, as well as Chair of the CUPE Manitoba School Division Sector Gale Morton, Regional Vice-President Gord Delbridge, CUPE members from other sectors, and the staff at CUPE Regional and CUPE National offices for all their support throughout this campaign,” said Egan.

“When CUPE members work together, we can – and do – win”.

For more information visit cupe.mb.ca/p3schools

Manitoba Throne Speech opens door to further privatization

The Canadian Union of Public Employees – Manitoba is deeply concerned that the November 21 Speech from the Throne further opens the doorway to privatization of public services and programs, particularly services for children.

“The Pallister government has spent the past year throwing our health care system into chaos, and introducing privatization schemes like P3 Schools and Social Impact Bonds,” says Terry Egan, President of CUPE Manitoba.

“This government seems more concerned about their ideology than what is best for Manitobans, and today’s Throne Speech continues down that path.”

Since last year’s Throne Speech, the Pallister government has rolled out its plan to close Emergency Rooms, cut funding to health authorities province-wide, introduced Public-Private Partnership (P3s) schemes to schools in Winnipeg and Brandon, and pursued Social Impact Bonds – a way for the private sector to garner profit from public social services.

Today’s 2017 Throne Speech further reinforces the government’s plan to pursue the dangerous path of privatization, especially in services for children. Meanwhile the government has eliminated transparency and accountability legislation for P3s.

“This government is introducing a Social Impact Bond in our child welfare system, and P3s for our schools, but has never had any open discussions on if these models even work,” said Egan.

“We know there are serious concerns about Social Impact Bonds and P3s, but the government is pushing through anyways, it’s irresponsible and ideological.”

While CUPE recognizes the need for improving access to child care in Manitoba, the government’s plans to provide incentives to the private sector to build more private child care spots is not in the best interest of Manitoba families.

“We need more public spaces and facilities,” said Egan. “Going down the path of subsidizing more private for-profit day care is the wrong direction. The government should instead be supporting non-profit community and school based child care.”

In Manitoba, CUPE represents approximately 26,000 members working in health care facilities, personal care homes, school divisions, municipal services, social services, child care centres, public utilities, libraries and family emergency services.

CUPE presents to the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs on Bill 24

CUPE Manitoba President Terry Egan and CUPE Local 500 President Gord Delbridge made presentations to the Standing Committee on Legislative Affairs on Bill 24, The Red Tape Reduction and Government Efficiency Act which aims to eliminate The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act.

“When this government was elected, one of it’s key messages to the public was that it was going to improve transparency,” CUPE Manitoba President Terry Egan told the committee.

“Eliminating the P3 Transparency and Accountability Act is moving in the complete opposite direction”.

“I worked on the front-line in a Winnipeg school, its where I spent my entire career,” said Egan. “So this announcement came as a total shock to me. I wondered who on Broadway could come up with this backwards idea, and why”, referencing the Pallister government’s plans to build new schools in Manitoba under a P3 model while at the same time eliminating the P3 Transparency and Accountability Act.

CUPE 500 President Gord Delbridge provided the committee with numerous examples from across Canada where P3s have failed, and emphasized the importance of strong P3 accountability legislation.

“Rather than throwing out this legislation, we ask this government to instead turn its mind to improving The Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act to ensure even more transparency and better oversight of P3’s from the beginning to the end of the end of P3 projects,” said Delbridge.

“While some may call this red tape – most Manitobans would call this common sense”.

Read CUPE Manitoba and CUPE Local 500’s presentations:

CUPE Manitoba P3 Speaking Notes
CUPE Local 500 Speaking Notes