Premier David Alward says he's going to keep tightening up on health care spending, despite an angry protest in Fredericton on Wednesday when some people shouted in his face and called him a liar.
About 350 unionized health care workers upset about more cuts to the health care system gathered on the lawn of the legislature shortly before the lunch hour.
Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) representative Norma Robinson said they're worried about recent layoffs and don't want any more cuts to the front line workers.
About 350 people attended the rally outside the legislature on Wednesday.(Melissa Oakley/CBC)
The Horizon Health Network cut 131 positions in April and the provincial government is still trying to find another $12.5 million in savings.
Health Minister Ted Flemming is also studying a recent report that recommends slashing $250 millionfrom the system.
CUPE is also concerned about the centralization of non-clinical services and wants to be consulted about where cuts should be made, officials said.
Alward went out to speak to the crowd and was confronted by several angry people. He got into a heated discussion with several of them, including Kevin Driscoll, a nursing unit clerk at the Miramichi hospital.
Premier David Alward was confronted by several angry health care workers at the union-organized rally.(Jacques Poitras/CBC)
"I just had open-heart surgery last year and if it wasn't for the health care system, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Driscoll. "That's why we need to keep it the way it is today," he said.
Alward reminded the workers that health authority administrative positions have also been cut.
The Horizon Health Network reduced the number of vice-presidents to five from 11. Two of the vice-presidents have been laid off with severance, while others have been moved into other jobs.
"We started at the top, OK, by reducing the number of senior people, OK?"
'They weren't very happy and they wanted things to stay the same. Unfortunately, the world around us isn't staying the same. It's changing very quickly.'—Premier David Alward
But that didn't make Joyce Theriault, who works at the Saint John Regional Hospital, feel any better.
"My job could be gone. There's bumping going on. I'm a single mother of two kids. I don't want to see myself lose my job," she said.
Chris Benhem is also worried about job security. He works in the Moncton Hospital's laundry department, which is slated to close in November when the government centralizes laundry services to save an estimated $600,000 a year.
"It's really stressful," he said. "I guess it's part of life, but I shouldn't have to go through this."
CUPE representatives say they don't want any more cuts to front line workers.(Jacques Poitras/CBC)
The premier told the workers he spoke to he wants their input.
"You need to be an important part of that, and I fully believe you …," he said before being drowned out as more people crowded around him and shouted, "You're lying! You're lying!"
Later, inside the legislature, Alward told reporters he wasn't bothered by the protesters being so angry.
He said it's not fun to be yelled at, but he considers it important.
"I've had a chance to visit other places that don't have that same respect for rights, for human rights, that Canadians do. That's something that I value, so I would never shy away from it," he said.
"They weren't very happy and they wanted things to stay the same. Unfortunately, the world around us isn't staying the same. It's changing very quickly."
Alward said some of the cuts have allowed the government to divert money to reduce wait times for some surgeries, which he contends proves cutting in some areas can improve health services.
The wait for an electrocardiogram, for example, has been cut to one week from 20 weeks, he said.
The protesters, however, argue there are better ways to cut, staring with the salaries of the two regional health authority CEOs, who both earn an estimated $300,000 a year.
Otherwise, CUPE regional director Gordon Black fears the worst.
"Very possible ... full facility closures, bulldozing them down. Some major changes coming here and it's all related to dollars, not health care service," he said.
The protest comes just one day after the provincial government announced it had signed a new four-year collective agreement with CUPE Local 1252.
The contract applies to more than 9,300 employees in the health-care system, working in patient care, institutional services and administrative support. It provides two years of zero-per-cent increases, followed by one-per-cent increases every six months.
"We have a collective agreement, we have it negotiated in good faith and signed, but what we're concerned about are the cuts to health care," said Black.
The New Brunswick Union was also encouraging its members to attend the rally and protest cuts to public services.