Public Values

Social infrastructure creates three times more jobs than tax cuts

Frontline workers tell first ministers to reinvest in public services.

Bill McLachlan, Patty Rout, Shelley Yeo, and Julio Trujillo at the first ministers conference.by Ish Theilheimer

OTTAWA, January 15, 2009 — Frontline workers in health care, community-based social services and the justice system converged on Ottawa this week to tell provincial premiers and the federal government that to be effective, a federal stimulus package must rebuild and strengthen public services.

Stephen Harper met this week with Canada's premiers and territorial leaders to discuss a stimulus package for the economy. The frontline workers, all members of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) were in Ottawa to tell them that the budget must provide real support for families, unlike the Conservative economic update, which nearly led to the government's defeat. The government will table a new budget January 27, and the workers are hoping that this time the Conservatives will show some understanding of the crisis hitting families and communities and the economy of public service.

"In times of economic crisis, the income loss that is suffered by all parts of the working public is felt even more so by the families at risk," said medical laboratory technologist Patty Rout, first vice-president and treasurer of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

"With so many Canadians worried about losing their jobs, paying their bills and putting food on the table, the last thing they should have to worry about is whether they're going to get the health care they need."

Providing health services is more than a compassionate issue, she said. "Canada's public health care system is also an important economic driver. It is the third-largest sector of the economy, employing more than one in 10 Canadian workers. Investing part of a stimulus package in health care would help ease the anxiety families are feeling and at the same time provide a boost to the economy."

The economic crisis is hitting her home town of Oshawa, Ontario, hard. There, thousands of auto workers have been laid off or forced into early retirement, and the province is closing a mental health facility for adults. "That's the last thing you want to do. Those people will end up in our jails."

Patty Rout says investing in health care produces three times as many jobs as the same money put into tax cuts. Patty Rout says investing in health care produces three times as many jobs as the same money put into tax cuts.

Rout says the numbers show that investment in public services creates more jobs than the same money put into physical infrastructure — and far more than if the same money was put into tax cuts. She points to the conclusions of a recent study by the economic consulting firm Informetrica Limited.

"If you put a billion dollars into tax cuts, it will result in 5,600 jobs. If you put the money into physical infrastracture, you will create 15,800 jobs for every one billion invested. If you put the money into public services like health care, you create 18,100 jobs for every one billion invested," said Rout.

Putting money into human services serves short- and long-term policy goals. "In the short-term, you can quickly get people to work, helping people who have lost their jobs. And it's a long-term fix because you've actually now trained people who are going to help our society for the long term."

Julio Trujillo, a British Columbia health care worker with the Health Sciences Association of BC, says his colleagues are under heavy pressure, as a result of the economic crisis.

"We're seeing problems in health care and social services. We're seeing quite a severe shortage of trained professionals," he told PublicValues.ca. "Social services are considered by a lot of governments the last place to get funded and the first place for the cuts to come."

Correctional workers Shelley Yeo, from Prince Edward Island (PEI Union of Public Sector Employees) and Bill McLachlan from Manitoba (Manitoba Government Employees Union) said their sector also feels increased demands during economic downturns. Rising unemployment and the lack of proper facilities for mental health patients place extra burdens on prisons, and Stephen Harper's get-tough criminal justice policies will increase the pressure.

"When you invest in public services, you stimulate the economy and you support people," said McLaughlin. "If you can rehabilitate an offender to become an active member of society, you get another person paying taxes and contributing."

Ish Theilheimer is editor-in-chief of PublicValues.ca.

Posted: January 21, 2009

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