The leader of the union representing thousands of health workers in Newfoundland and Labrador says his members are on edge following a pledge by PC Leader Ches Crosbie to retool the way public money is invested in the system.
"If this is going to be the consultive process, we have a major problem," said Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, better known as NAPE.
Crosbie to tackle 'waste'
Crosbie has been very vocal about his intention to reduce public spending if his party is elected May 16.
And when challenged by reporters Wednesday about how he would accomplish that, his first reference was to health care, which consumes roughly 40 per cent of government revenues, or $3 billion.
"I don't know anyone with experience with the health-care system that does not think there is waste in health care. That's a good place to start while preserving the quality of care you can root out a lot of waste," he said.
Crosbie also proposed establishing a quasi-judicial board of experts called a quality health-care council, similar to the board that regulates power rates, to direct spending "where the economic case is strongest."
That would be a dramatic shift, since the province's four health authorities already have boards of directors and work with managers and government to prioritize spending.
When he read about Crosbie's proposal, Earle said unionized health workers immediately saw it as an attack on them, adding they were quite taken aback "to hear a person who's running to be the premier of this province attack health care immediately."
Health-care workers did not cause the problems. And to attack them first, I take great exception. - Jerry Earle
The union leader said it doesn't make sense to add another layer of decision-making, and added the best approach would be to consult heavily with those on the front lines of health care, who he called the real experts.
"Health-care workers did not cause the problems. And to attack them first, I take great exception."
Earle said if there's waste in health care, it's because of mistakes at the management level.
"Management can do better," he said, adding that workers are facing growing challenges, including increased workloads and a staff shortage that is preventing many employees from taking leave.
Crosbie clarified his comments Thursday, saying it's not his intention to cut health-care spending but to improve the way funding is allocated.
"I did not say reduce spending. Not in the health-care context," he said. "It's not a matter of passing the buck. The political level will still be responsible, ultimately, for spending decisions."
Crosbie said he planned to speak with Earle on Thursday.