In mid-February, SGEU President Tracey Sauer wrote to Premier Moe, urging him to take immediate action to address the health care crisis in our province. Our union represents 2,500 front-line health care workers and it is on their behalf—and on behalf of everyone in Saskatchewan—that she urged the government to invest in our health care system now.
Read President Sauer's full letter below.
February 21, 2023
The Honourable Scott Moe
Premier of Saskatchewan
226 Legislative Building
Regina, SK S4S 0B3
Dear Premier Moe:
I am writing to urge you to take immediate steps to address the health care crisis, noting that new federal funding deals are imminent and represent a significant increase in immediate and future health care funding transfers.
Canadians have taken note that on February 13, 2023, the Council of the Federation, speaking on behalf of all premiers, accepted the health care framework agreement on increasing federal funding as outlined by the Prime Minister to premiers at a meeting in Ottawa on February 7, 2023. This offer and the acceptance of it are important steps forward, and will be formalized in bilateral agreements. Canadians are watching to see how each province and territory responds to the new funds, including how quickly the public health care system receives assistance.
Premier, the people of Saskatchewan cannot wait any longer for action to address the crisis in our public health care system. I want to be clear: although more federal funding is forthcoming, there is no time to wait for these funds. Your government must act immediately. If you suggest that delaying action to support workers and patients is incumbent on a deal with the federal government, or on funds flowing, this will be seen as playing politics with our health care system and people's health will be negatively affected.
There are provisions in this deal for an immediate Canada Health Transfer top-up of $2 billion for pediatric care and emergency rooms. These funds need to be invested immediately, as the need is acute. Beyond this immediate increase, the deal has $46.2 billion in new funding, and is worth $198.6 billion over the next 10 years. This is a significant and needed increase in federal funding, but it must be matched by an increase in provincial funding of public health care. This deal must mark the end of austerity and underfunding of our public health care system.
Premier, I take this issue personally. As a labour leader over 2,500 front-line health care workers, I have seen first-hand the effects of the shortage of health care professionals. This shortage is affecting the quality of care being provided to patients and putting undue stress on our health care system. Workers are in crisis, as they are working short-staffed on most shifts and are trying to deliver quality health care during unimaginable chaos. Everyday, there are more stories of the failures of our underfunded health care system, and this must be your most urgent priority.
Premier, I caution you that all public health care advocates, including Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU) have supported stringent requirements being added to the federal funding and we will be monitoring whether additional resources being offered are put into public health care.
I also demand that your government forego all privatization initiatives. Any privatization directly undermines public health care and removes health care workers from the strained public system when there are already grave shortages. Canadians value their public health care system and any seeming shift towards more acceptance of for-profit health care is solely due to governments failing to properly fund and staff our public system. You can be sure that we will be monitoring whether you continue to privatize parts of our health care system and challenge decisions to privatize, for it is not a viable solution.
Premier, I would further say that an aging population with more complex needs was always going to mean health care costs would increase. Your government was aware of this, because it was aware of the need to plan for an aging health care workforce. With the new funding on offer, any failure to now address these issues with the urgency they demand will be judged by the people of Saskatchewan as a failure of your government.
The need to recruit, train and retain health care workers and keep them in the public system is critical. There is no health care without health care providers. To this end, I call on you to demand that the federal government convene a health human resources meeting with the premiers to implement a strategy to deal with these issues long term. A key part of retaining health care workers is to treat them with respect. I strongly advise you to review all of your policies and require the health care employers and everyone in your government deal with workers respectfully, including at the bargaining table.
I would also encourage you to work with the federal government on implementing universal pharmacare. Canada must not remain an outlier in being the only country having a public health care system that does not include pharmacare. Billions of dollars are being wasted by not having a national pharmacare program. The Council of the Federation has previously supported national pharmacare outlining conditions for the program. I encourage you to work collaboratively with the federal government on implementing pharmacare.
Long-term care (LTC) also requires immediate attention. The pandemic showed that we are failing seniors: Canada recorded the world's highest proportion of COVID-19 deaths in LTC. Action must be taken to address the failings in LTC, especially the failings of for-profit providers. For-profit providers must be held accountable for atrocious living conditions for seniors and unsafe working environments for staff.
Premier, I want to reinforce my main messages. You must act now to invest in our health care system, even before any formal bilateral agreement is concluded with the federal government.
The current health care crisis requires immediate action and I implore you to take a leadership role in addressing this issue. As Premier, you have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of our health care workers and the people of Saskatchewan whose lives are negatively affected when they cannot access the care they require.
Thank you for your time and consideration.