The Left should remember what the Right has known for years
How ironic that the Right seems more aware than the Left of the crucial importance of unions to progressive politics. In the past, when conservatives were less aggressive, this didn't matter so much. Now, in the age of Stephen Harper and the Tea Party, the stakes are much higher.
In the USA and here in Canada under Harper (and, of course, under Brad Wall in former social democratic homeland Saskatchewan), new laws are sapping the strength and even the existence of unions, too often with little public outcry.
In Parliament, a bill is due for debate and possibly a vote this fall that could cripple unions of all sizes with expensive and nosy paperwork. National Post columnist John Ivison, no fan of the labour movement, wrote that Bill C-377 (Public Financial Disclosure for Labour Organizations) "could shatter the union business model forever."
More worrisome still are recent threats by Parliamentary Secretary Pierre Poilevre to punish the Public Service Alliance of Canada for supporting the Parti-Québecois in Quebec's provincial election by ending automatic union membership in federal workplaces under what's known as the "Rand Formula." Although the majority of workplaces are provincially regulated, this could mark the beginning of the end of Rand and drastically weaken federal public service unions.
Regardless of whether we belong to unions or work in organized sectors, these moves threaten all Canadians, yet, to date, public response has been muted. Why are these moves such a threat?Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics
"Labour is at the centre of all progressive politics," Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan reminded in an interview following SGN's weekend conference on labour's image. "Labour is powerful. That's the reason they've targeted us, they've put the bullseye on us because they recognize we have power at the bargaining table, we have power in our communities, we have political power, and that power can be used against them. They want to undermine that power. They want to take apart civil society so they can change Canada."
Rand has been the National Citizen's Coalition's target since it was formed, under Harper and other CEOs. Conservative activists recognized then as now that unions have a regular source of income through member dues, unlike any other progressive organizations. And unions use their influence and theie money to support and promote a range of progressive causes and activists. SGNews is one of a long list of progressive projects supported very significantly by the labour movement.
Without public services, public service workers, union members, Rand, and dues — and a great many progressive projects, and the advocates who work for them, are at risk.
Since the 1980s under Reagan, US Republicans have worked to "de-fund the Left," going after advocacy groups, university student councils, progressive lawyers and legal clinics, charities, and, of course, unions.
The Harperites understand the importance of this directive better than any conservatives in Canada before them. When they had a minority government, they worked systematically to eliminate funding for any of the issues they don't like, such as feminism, environment, and social justice. Now they have a majority, they are gunning for big game — unions — and only widespread public outrage can stop them.
At SGN's workshop, speakers from the world of advertising discussed the art and science of branding and images and showed how unions could apply their knowledge through careful research and by focussing their creative efforts . The group heard that over the years, the union image has been steadily corroded by attacks that often go unanswered from right-wing interests.
"We're facing a government that's more like the Tea Party Right," said McGowan. They have a political plan, they have a communications plan, and they're targeting us. If we're going to be successful in fighting back, we have to have conversations like we had today... We have an obligation to get our act together, protect the labour movement, and also, in doing so, protect broader civil society," McGowan told us.
Conference participant David Climenhaga, of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), has similar concerns. "We need to respond instantly to the barrage of anti-union propoganda that we're hearing from organizations that have been set up and intelligently run in order to attack not just unions but progressive policies and the rights of working people," he told Straight Goods News. "All the time, we cede the room to them by letting them make powerful statements that are simply based on unsound research, politically motivated research, and that are in many cases outright false. They become the truth because we don't bother speaking back to them."
As a result of the constant barrage, union support has slipped and needs to be bolstered. Janice Peterson, another workshop participant from the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), told Straight Goods News unions need to face some troubling realities. "Not only do we have a problem with public image, but we also have a huge problem with our own members. We not only have to sell ourselves to the public, we have to sell ourselves to our own members."
It's not too late for the labour movement to rebuild its image, was the message of speaker after speaker at SGN's workshop. Doing so, however, will require hard work, open minds, a lot of listening and research, and making key people in every organization responsible for a focus on improving the reputation and image of their union and unions in general.
"I loved Terry O'Reilly's presentation on rebuilding our message and repositioning ourselves," Francine Filion, of the Canadian Teachers' Federation said. "It can be done. There is a solution."
There has to be a solution, because without strong unions, every progressive cause will be hobbled.
Straight Goods News, Monday Sept 24 2012Byline: Isa Theilheimer
The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour says Bill C-377 goes above and beyond transparency.
The bill, which passed through the House of Commons, requires unions to provide detailed annual financial filings to the Canada Revenue Agency.
Gil McGowan says Bill C-377 is a way for the Harper government to silence unions.
"For example, under this legislation we're going to have to give detailed financial information about how much money is in our strike fund," says McGowan. "This is information that is obviously going to be used against us by employers."
The Tory member who introduced the bill, backbencher Russ Hiebert, says unions should be subject to the same public reporting as charities.
"I certainly don't have a problem with sharing financial information with our members, they deserve to know and that's exactly what we do," says McGowan. "The Harper government is leaving the impression that we don't do that and they're forcing us to a level of disclosure that no other organization in society has to do."
"We're going to be filing paperwork upon paperwork in order to be in compliance with this legislation." (ks)
iNews880AM, Thursday Dec 13 2012Byline: Kim Smith
Letter in response to "Hooray for C-377"
In response to Lorne Gunter's column on Saturday, Dec. 15
Unions are some of the most democratic and accountable organizations in Canada. Union Members have a right to know how their dues are spent – and they do, through annual reports, conventions, and audits. It should be noted that union leadership is elected by the membership and accountable to that membership.
Bill C-377 isn't about transparency – Canadian unions are already transparent. C-377 is a political bill that will divert union resources to fulfilling arcane accounting measures, and will mean they are less able to represent workers and Canadians.
Public policy should be used to promote and enhance the public good, not as a tool to punish, intimidate or weaken individuals or groups that don't agree with the government. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Bill C-377 does.
Gil McGowan, PresidentAlberta Federation of LabourSent to the Edmonton Sun on Monday, Dec. 17 2012
Union leaders oppose bill that targets indigenous rights
Edmonton - The Alberta Federation of Labour is urging Canadians to be Idle No More in opposing Bill C-45.
On the morning of Friday, Dec. 21, union representatives marched with First Nations leaders and Albertans from all walks of life in Edmonton at an “Idle No More” rally against the Harper Government, which has pushed through a wide-ranging bill that undermines First Nations’ treaty rights.
“Environmentalists, unions, churches, charities, women's groups, and now First Nations - all have been affected by systematic dismantling of anyone who stands opposed to a right-wing agenda,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “It is time to draw a line. It is time, in fact, for us all to be Idle No More.”
Bill C-45 brings changes to the Indian Act that will fast-track the process for aboriginals to surrender their reserve lands by lowering the threshold of community consent needed to hand over territory.
“The Alberta labour movement stands in solidarity with the struggles given voice by Idle No More. In our province, we extend the offer of solidarity and support to those who are speaking out for a better life, better health care, better education, better housing, and an end to racism and inequality.”
Similar rallies have been organized all over Canada, including a main mass rally in Ottawa. Idle No More has involved round-dances in shopping malls in Saskatchewan and Edmonton, roadblocks on Northern Alberta highways, and a high-profile hunger strike on Parliament Hill. Its pictures, and messages have gone viral on social media, including thousands of messages on twitter with the hashtag #idlenomore.
“Canadians are frustrated with a lack of consultation,” McGowan said. “And it’s inspiring to see so many people voicing their solidarity with a grassroots movement that brings together people from all walks of life. Over the past five years, the Harper government has voiced platitudes about First Nations, while cutting funding, abandoning claim negotiations, ignoring a crisis of missing and murdered aboriginal women, and undermining the environmental laws that protect the land and water resources that vital to many Indigenous communities. Canadians are saying that they will not allow their government to remain idle about these issues. ”
MEDIA CONTACTS:Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
AFL urges Premier to remain steadfast on commitment to protect farm workers
Status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough, writes McGowan
EDMONTON – Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, today urged Premier Redford to remain steadfast in her commitment to protect farm workers under provincial health and safety legislation.
"I commend you for declaring your intention during your campaign for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party that, as Premier, you would protect farm workers by including them in our province's health and safety legislation," writes McGowan. "I hope, as I know the families of farm workers killed on the job hope, that you remain dedicated to this objective."
McGowan's letter (view here) was prompted by a leaked draft report from the Farm Safety Advisory Council which recommended that farm workers remain excluded from the provinces health and safety legislation.
McGowan points out that unlike other Alberta workers, farm workers are completely exempt from the Labour Relations Code, mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage, most provisions in the Employment Standards Code, and are only covered by Occupational Health and Safety Act in mushroom factories, greenhouses, nurseries and sod farms - all other farm workers are excluded, including those working in hog barns, feed lots, and other large operations.
"Maintaining the status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough," writes McGowan. "As the number of farms in Alberta declines – both family farms and corporate farms – farm fatalities remain stubbornly high, meaning farming is more dangerous now than it has been in recent memory. I fear that the continued exclusion of farm workers from Alberta's health and safety laws will allow this woeful and tragic trend to continue."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL President, 780-218-9888
Alberta Federation of Labour applauds Keystone XL delay: It’s a chance to consider value-added opportunities in Alberta, says McGowan
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour applauds the Obama administration’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline, saying it will give the Redford government an opportunity to pursue value-added opportunities here at home, rather than shipping unprocessed bitumen south for upgrading.
“There’s been a parade of Alberta government ministers travelling to the States to sell unprocessed bitumen. Now perhaps those same ministers can stay in Alberta and consider our needs and our future ahead of those of our neighbours south of the border,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
“Upgrading more bitumen in Alberta will help our province in many ways. Increasing value-added industries will provide quality, long-term jobs for Albertans and Canadians. While good relationships with our neighbours are important, the government of Alberta must promote the long-term health of our province first. Increasing value-added energy industries in Alberta will increase revenues from royalties and taxes,” he says.
“As bitumen is upgraded and moved up the value chain, more funds will flow into the Treasury through higher royalties on finished products. This is money that can be used to pay for important public services like health care and education,” says McGowan.
McGowan took particular exception to the Wildrose Party’s reaction to the delay of the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The Wildrose Party was playing fast and loose with the facts in their media release today. They should avoid fear mongering. The truth is that this pipeline is bad news for quality jobs and bad news for royalties,” says McGowan.
“Danielle Smith is trying to convince us that we’ll lose billions in royalties if the Keystone XL pipeline isn’t approved, but the opposite is true. If we export unprocessed bitumen, we ruin a great competitive advantage,” says McGowan
“The National Energy Board notes that, ‘wide differentials provide refiners with an economic incentive to build heavy oil conversion capacity.’ If we get rid of the prices differential between our bitumen and global crude, we destroy future opportunities to boost our value-added industries,” he says.
“In this context, Albertans should see the Obama administration’s decision as an opportunity, not a disappointment. It is an opportunity for us to move up the value chain and create a more prosperous and stable economic future for Albertans.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Alberta leaders put away partisan politics to honour Layton: Tributes pour in from across the province
EDMONTON — Alberta politicians celebrated Jack Layton's legacy Monday, saluting his lifelong commitment to public service and his passionate defence of immigrant, vulnerable and working Canadians.
The 61-year-old leader of the federal opposition party succumbed to an aggressive, unnamed cancer early Monday morning, three months after New Democratic Party achieved unprecedented electoral success under his leadership.
"Jack's dream for Alberta was the same as his dream for Canadians right across the country — he wanted those who didn't have a voice to be represented," Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MP Linda Duncan said.
"They are seniors who are struggling to get by. They are immigrants who are trying to become Canadians and contribute to society. They are young Canadians who want affordable education, and young families who ... can't afford child care."
Duncan said Layton was a great leader who built a strong party across Canada and in Alberta, where support for the party is growing.
"We have high hopes for the next election," Duncan said. "Jack was the eternal optimist. He was undaunted. He was a remarkable human being."
She said she has confidence the party will stay strong, but added: "there will never be another Jack Layton."
Duncan said one of her fondest memories is of Layton singing Hit the Road Jack any time he got near a piano. Three years ago, she took Layton to the Fringe and Edmontonians who met him were "completely taken, because he was the genuine thing. I tried walking around with him, but we just gave up, people kept wanting to buy him a beer."
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said Layton's legacy will be "the triumph of hope over pessimism" and a credible alternative to the conservative vision for Canada
"The tragedy is that this man could have, and very likely would have, become the prime minister if this illness had not taken him away from us," Mason said. Layton's message to Canadians was simple, he said: "There is a real, clear alternative to the Conservative vision for Canada, and here it is. I think Canadians embraced that," he said.
Mason and Layton became friends 15 years ago when Mason was on Edmonton city council and Layton on Toronto's city council. Both were pressing for progressive reforms. Mason later served as Alberta chairman for Layton's leadership run. The two stayed in touch, even after Layton's announcement July 25 that he was temporarily stepping down to receive treatment for a newly diagnosed cancer.
"He has always been there for me," Mason said. "To the extent that I've improved as a leader of a party is because of his inspiration. That's his legacy for me, personally."
Asked about his fondest memories of Layton, Mason recalled three-day board meetings when Layton was running for the president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
"He would gather people together in his hotel room and play the guitar and get everybody singing old folk songs from the '60s," Mason said. "He just got people involved, just with his personality, not politics."
Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley said Layton's leadership helped the party grow up and execute the "first-class campaign" that got MP Linda Duncan elected federally in Edmonton-Strathcona — the only Alberta NDP Member of Parliament.
Notley's father, Grant, was leader of Alberta's Official Opposition when he was killed in a plane crash in 1984. In the election that followed his party had a remarkable breakthrough, winning 16 seats with 29 per cent of the vote.
The same could happen after Layton's passing, Notley said.
"With my dad's death, there was a lot more commentary about the value and the merit of the work he did, and it was much more publicly discussed on a provincial level, so I think it raised the credibility of the party in the eyes of the public," Notley said.
"As well, I think his death inspired activists within the party to really focus on trying to make sure that the '86 election was a success."
Asked if something similar might happen as a result of Layton's passing, she said: "We're already seeing it. The way people talk about Jack has evolved over the last several months, but I think it's going to continue in a way that's very positive," she said.
"I don't think that can do anything but raise the credibility of the party federally and, by (extension), provincially."
Alberta Federation of Labour secretary Nancy Furlong said Layton's death is a tragic loss, but that his accomplishments in the last federal election earned new legitimacy for the New Democrats, which will improve the party's prospects in Alberta and across the country.
"The New Democrats are poised to actually influence the course of Canadian politics in a way that would be good for the average person," she said.
"That (voice) hasn't been heard in politics for a very long time: an honest representation of working people, the basic belief that society is there for the working person."
Premier Ed Stelmach said in a statement that "Jack was an enthusiastic and passionate politician who held strongly to his convictions during his long career in public life."
Alberta Liberal Opposition leader David Swann said Layton's death just months after becoming leader of the Official Opposition "seems unbearably cruel.
"Whatever his or her political affiliation, no Canadian can deny that Jack Layton lived to serve his country and his fellow citizens.".
Mayor Stephen Mandel called Layton's passing "a great loss," and noted Layton visited Edmonton many times and launched his 2011 federal election campaign here in March.
"Jack spoke for the common man so much," Mandel said. "He had such passion for their plight, and he also was a great character and a great supporter of cities as well."
Alberta Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith called Layton a principled leader and a great Canadian. "Canadians from coast to coast, myself included, were inspired by the courageous and energetic campaign he wagered last May," she said in a statement.
Alberta Party Leader Glenn Taylor also called Layton a "personal inspiration," partly because of "his unswerving commitment to the politics of hope and optimism rather than that of fear and anger.
"He showed us that optimism, creativity and imagination can and should exist in politics," Taylor said in a statement. "Thank you, sir."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Aug 23 2011 Byline: Karen Kleiss
Alberta needs a revolution in political thinking and that will require going back to the future to recall the kind of thinking that helped establish the province.
A hundred years ago, settlers in Alberta found a way to prosper amid harsh conditions and isolation.
"Back then, before oil, Alberta was not a wealthy place," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, at Thursday's Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs session. "People eked out a modest living, they raised cattle, they planted crops, they scratched coal from the coalface."
Today in Alberta, sod houses have been replaced by climate-controlled homes and tradesmen earn healthy wages building oilsands projects. Even though Alberta today is a world apart from what it was in 1910, McGowan said the lessons of the past hold the key to solving today's problems.
Rather than being rugged individualists who made their own way, Alberta pioneers worked hard but also valued co-operation.
"They knew that some challenges, some problems were too big for one person to handle so they banded together to find public solutions to public problems," he said.
They created school boards, irrigation co-operatives, wheat pools and marketing boards.
"It's important to say that those things didn't come with private enterprise; it was public enterprise that brought those services to these far-flung communities," McGowan said.
That kind of approach allowed Peter Lougheed to establish a petro-chemical industry, by using regulation and public ownership, when he saw that jobs were being lost because raw forms of natural gas were being shipped out of the province.
"What previous generations of Albertans knew was that some problems were too big and some issues too important to be left to chance or the vagaries of the free market," he said.
McGowan said he doesn't see things have changed that much. The environmental implications of oilsands development, the loss of jobs down the pipeline as raw bitumen is exported, education for the technical jobs of the 21st century, better health care, meeting the needs of rapidly growing populations and declining pension coverage are all public problems.
Public solutions are one thing; paying for them is another. McGowan said Alberta has the resources to deal with the problems. Despite the recession, Alberta has a rainy-day fund and no public debt. Over the past 20 years the provincial economy has grown by leaps and bounds and corporate profits are four times greater while their tax rates have gone down.
"We have a situation of unprecedented private wealth while at the same time we have a government that's pleading poverty. There's a disconnect," he said.
McGowan said politics lies at the heart of the matter. Over the past 20 years, politics in much of the western world has been dominated by a "virulent" form of conservatism that demonizes the public sector, that rejects community solutions and puts the free market up on a pedestal."Politicians in Alberta have embraced what I would describe as a dangerous mythology, one that sees a vastly diminished role for government in promoting and protecting our public interest," he said.
McGowan said he sees three problems with that approach: It's simplistic; it doesn't reflect Albertans' values; and it imposes a restraint on debate.
Instead of having a range of options to consider, governments with this narrow view won't even consider options previous governments would have. Government interventions of the Lougheed kind wouldn't even be considered in today's political climate.
"We have to start expanding the range of possible. In many ways we have to go back to the future," he said. "We have to go back to that pioneer thinking which characterized Alberta from the beginning which took a very pragmatic approach to political problem-solving."
Lethbridge HeraldByline: Caroline Zentner
Applications are now being accepted for the second year of Next Up Alberta: A Leadership Program for Young People Committed to Social and Environmental Justice
The application process is now under way for a new cohort of Next Up participants. This is an amazing, intensive and transformative program for young social change activists between the ages of 18 and 32. This year we're excited to announce that the program will operate in three provinces: Next Up BC in Vancouver, Next Up Alberta in Edmonton and Next Up Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. In each province, 13 young people will be selected. Participants will develop life-long relationships, explore different leadership styles, meet some of the province's leading change-makers, learn new leadership and organizing skills, and be exposed to current and topical social justice issues and progressive governance. The application deadline for Next Up Alberta is Tuesday, Sept. 14. The program runs between October 2010 and April 2011.Please forward this call far and wide -- to individuals, organizations, institutions and your progressive networks, with a special focus on networks that will boost the diversity of the program). And pass it on to specific people for whom you think this is a great fit. Thank you in advance for helping us find the fabulous young leaders for Next Up 2010/11 - you'll be thankful you did years from now!Application forms and more information can be found at: http://www.nextup.ca.Next Up is a project of genius (the global youth education network society), in partnership with the Columbia Institute Centre for Civic Governance, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and the Parkland Institute.Aliya Jamal, Program CoordinatorNext Up Alberta780-248-5846 (w) 780-691-3044 (c)
A year after Premier Ed Stelmach said he was considering electoral reforms to limit outside advertising during campaigns, a government backbencher is introducing a private members' bill that would do just that.
"What it does is, it opens up the process, it makes it more accountable and transparent," Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson said. "It also treats third parties exactly like political parties during election periods, so it sets up the same contribution limits that political parties have on them."
If Bill 205 is approved, trade unions, employee organizations, corporations and other organizations would have to register with the chief electoral officer before they advertise, and would have to reveal where all their money comes from and how it's spent.
Critics say Anderson's bill is a direct response to Albertans for Change, a group of unions that spent $2 million in 2008 on an anti-Conservative campaign.
After his party won 72 seats, leaving the Liberals and NDP with 11, Stelmach said he was considering legislation that would change electoral financing laws, including banning or limiting third-party spending during campaigns.
The legislation was never tabled, but Anderson's bill would bar money from being raised outside Alberta by third parties and fine those who break the rules.
"I'm not sure there ever was a real problem about anonymous ads. This piece of legislation may be dealing with a problem that never existed," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Albertans for Change banner included McGowan's organization and the Alberta Building Trades Council, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the United Nurses of Alberta. The advertising campaign accused Stelmach of having no plan.
Anderson said his bill has nothing to do with targeting unions, and could easily be used to limit rich individuals or oil companies, too.
Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said he has many questions about the bill. "This bill as it's drafted, in my opinion, it's not fair and it's not balanced," he said. But NDP Leader Brian Mason said the bill doesn't go far enough.
"I don't support third-party financing in election campaigns at all," he said.
Edmonton Journal, Sat Apr 18 2009Byline: Trish Audette
It may have been the dog days of summer 2009, but Lloyd Snelgrove, the chair of the Alberta Treasury Board was busy. He was calling together union and civil society leaders and warning them of looming cuts.
At issue was the return to deficit budgets in Alberta in 2009 and 2010 for the first time since the mid-1990s. Under Premier Ralph Klein deficits had been made illegal. While it was simple enough to undo that law (they simply passed another to make deficits legal again), for the Tories it was more difficult to live with being in the red.
While virtually every economist advised that stimulus spending, funded by temporary deficits if necessary, was the appropriate way to minimize the impacts of the worldwide recession, the Alberta government stood almost alone in pushing draconian cuts to public-sector spending.
Hoping to decrease the size of the coming 2010 deficit, the government suggested that it would need to find $2 billion in "savings." In this context, the minister called labour and civil society leaders and asked them where they would suggest the cuts be made.
What Snelgrove heard was a resounding: "Nowhere!"
Experience told the leaders that it was likely that their message would not be heeded by a government that never saw a program it didn't want to privatize, so they were spurred into action. What resulted was something that had never been seen before - a coalition of unions, including the Alberta Federation of Labour, community groups and social-services agencies. Plans for what is now known as the Join Together Alberta campaign began to be formed.
At the same time that our province was facing the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Progressive Conservatives began to feel increasing pressure from the Wildrose Alliance Party, galvanized by the election of a new and dynamic leader. The overwhelming mantra of this group was that the government had lost its conservative direction.
The Wildrose party called for more spending cuts to the public service and lower royalty rates for resource developers. While the press was filled with reports of organizations calling for more fiscal restraint, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition were hearing from people across the province who were already hurting from cuts to public services. They decided to organize a series of town-hall meetings in 22 communities across the province to give ordinary Albertans an opportunity talk about how public services including health, education, support for people with developmental disabilities and seniors, to name only a few, were the fabric that tied their communities together.
The hope was to hold all the town-hall meetings before the budget was brought down, which usually happens in late February or March. When the government announced that this year they would be bringing the budget down earlier than usual - on February 9 - plans for the town-hall meetings had to be fast-tracked.
Two teams were formed to do concurrent tours in the first two weeks of the campaign with a third week of meetings planned for the week of the budget. Two final stops in Calgary and Edmonton were scheduled for the final week.
We were concerned about how to get the word out about the town-hall meetings, so we decided to use an interactive voice broadcast to almost every home in Alberta to let them know about the meeting closest to them and/or to express their concern about our province's public services. It also drove them to our website (www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca) where there is a full discussion of the issues and an opportunity to take actionthrough writing letters, signing a petition, joining our Facebook group or following us on Twitter.
The response to the phone calls was remarkable, but we were still not confident about what turnout would be like at the town halls, especially in rural Alberta, where support for the Tories has been historic and strong. However, beginning with the first night, the rooms we booked were packed with people who were receptive to our message and who had plenty to say.
We heard heart-breaking stories along the way of how our government isn't doing what Albertans expect from the richest province in Canada.
We heard how a hospital in Pincher Creek was using the same IV pumps that it received when it first opened - 25 years ago.
We hear that the hospital in Brooks no longer offers maternity services and that nurses have heard of babies being delivered in the car on the way to Calgary.
In Hinton, we heard about a man suffering from MS who was left hanging in a lift over his bed at a local assisted-living facility for an hour because of a staff shortage.
In Edson, we heard how some high schools had class sizes of up to 45 students.
Provincial Budget 2010 OverviewOverall budgeted program expenses up $1.4 billion (to $38.4 billion), a 3.9% increase over last year $4.7 billion deficit forecast for 2010/11 Looking ahead, the government is forecasting a reduction in spending of $275 million in next year’s budget in a move toward a surplus budget in two years While this year’s budget included increased spending in health and flat spending in education, 14 ministries have been cut by $1.3 billion cumulatively Ministries with flat spending, such as education, are not accounting for negotiated salary increases and inflation, meaning that “holding the line” is effectively a cut The government intends to cut a further $240 million out of this year’s budget through “in-year savings” in addition to the cuts already announced The government has announced plans to lay off 795 full-time civil servants this year Early indications for pending negotiations are that the government will be pushing for minimal increases, or wage freezes Any increases will have to be found within departmental budgets The government continues to refuse any suggestions that revenue be generated through tax reform or through increased royalties
We heard about one Registered Nurse (RN) who works alone in a hospital emergency room in Grimshaw, near Peace River, and has to dial 9-1-1 when there is a heart attack so that an Emergency Medical Team will come in to treat the heart attack, while the RN takes care of the rest of the patients.
We heard from a parent of an autistic child who is about to turn 18 and, in spite of the remarkable progress he is making, will likely lose most of his services because funding for adults with developmental disabilities has been cut.
We continue to hear about seniors who are at their wits' end because they do not have the financial resources to deal with rising drug and care costs as they age.
People were sometimes unaware of how deep the problems had become in their own communities and were shocked at the stories they heard. For example, one gentleman who had not been to the hospital since the 1980s was shocked to learn about how stretched the staff had become.
Others knew about the problems that exist in their community and are becoming increasingly angry at a government that ignores the needs or continues to break promise after promise. Grande Prairie, where the promise of a new hospital has been the substance of more than one election campaign, has once again had the project delayed. Fort McMurray, a city of over 100,000 Albertans, still is without a single long-term care facility and the Conservative government kicked the local MLA out of the caucus when he dared to speak out publicly on the matter.
There was a growing sense that every issue affects each of us, even if we aren't faced with it on a daily basis. Everyone suffers when schools don't get the resources they need and the entire community is worse off when people with developmental disabilities are left to fend for themselves.
Many of the people who came to the meetings admitted voting for the Conservatives in the past and continued to support their local representatives. But their anger and frustration with the policy of cutbacks was evident.
They were eager to send a clear message that they wanted to the government to change course - and quickly - but they were unsure about how to get the government to listen.
Join Together Alberta gave them the means to take action and to be heard. As well as taking action through the website, the coalition encouraged people to act in their own communities.
In each meeting, we took time to break into small working groups to discuss what could be done locally to raise awareness about the issues and to bring pressure on the government to stop cutting funds for the services that matter.
On budget day, a number of people held events at their MLA's office or in their community that received media attention and gave a local perspective what was unfolding in the legislature in Edmonton.
The pressure brought to bear from all over the province, by Join Together Alberta and other organizations, had an effect.
To everyone's surprise, the government did invest much moreheavily in health care than was anticipated and held the line on education spending. While we are nowhere near what is needed to ensure our public health and education systems become as robust as they once were, most in those sectors had been bracing for far worse. We believe that our efforts focusing attention on these issues were at least partially responsible for the government's budget turnaround.
But, while health care and education may have received a bit of a reprieve, many other sectors experienced significant cuts. In particular, advanced education, children and youth services, culture and community spirit and employment and immigration have received cuts that will hurt Albertans - and the most vulnerable will be hurt the most. The Parkland Institute, a research group based at the University of Alberta, pointed out that the government had robbed Peter to pay for Paul - while attempting to quiet its critics in health and education, it hacked away at other sectors.
For this reason, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition overwhelmingly have decided to continue the campaign. There is much left to do and we recognize that the process will be slow as we hope to create an atmosphere of willingness in Alberta to invest in our public services.
We have begun Phase 2 of the campaign where we will once again meet, this time with smaller groups, in every community in which we had a town-hall meeting. We will be forming Community Action Teams that will decide on local actions to address the issues that are of greatest local concern. These teams will bring together neighbours to act as catalysts within their community for the things that matter to them.
Join Together Alberta will continue to support these teams however we can, including by providing some structure, resources and training. The hope is that as these teams become active, they will have an impact on government policy and that Albertans can finally get on the path to a sustainable future in which all citizens and all communities get the services they need.
(Jerry Toews was hired by the AFL and seconded full-time to the Join Together Campaign to act as its Co-ordinator. He can be reached at email@example.com)
Liberal MLA David Swann has called on one snack food company to stop using Alberta-produced potatoes, as child labour in the province's industry remains unregulated.
In Alberta, one member of the legislative assembly is calling for a boycott of potato farms in the Canadian province, stating that child labour continues to be employed on the farms. The company he targeted in particular was snack foods manufacturer and potato-chip giant, Frito Lay.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock defended the family farm in the Edmonton Journal. "I think it's unfair to Alberta producers, and Albertans, to write a letter to one of the chief buyers saying, 'Don't buy anything from Alberta in this area because someone might be using child labour,'" he said.
Some companies attempt to refrain from using child or forced labour as part of their ethical sourcing requirements or corporate social responsibility endeavours. David Swann would like to see the company refrain from buying Alberta potatoes under similar provisions.
On the other hand, Rob Van Roessel of the Potato Growers of Alberta is proud of the safety protocols it has pioneered in the industry. Work for children is safe so long as supervision and training is adequate he is reported saying in the Edmonton Journal.
Citing the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Edmonton Journal reports that agriculture-related fatalities are no longer government-reported. Mr. Swann, however, estimated the number to be 30 over the span of two decades. Eric Muse amp, president of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, says that a third of agriculture fatalities are among children.
In 2008 alone, reports the Calgary Herald, six of the 23 agriculture-related deaths were among children. Many of the fatalities among children in recent years involved machinery and infrastructure—a 12-year-old pinned under a shop door; a five-year old falling off a wagon in tow of a tractor; a seven-year-old crushed at an industrial feedlot; two young children buried in grain off-loaded by a truck; a four-year-old run over; a nine-year old killed by a rolling tractor while another was asphyxiated after falling into a grain hopper; and two other youth under twelve were thrown from a truck to their deaths.
Divisions between child labour a child work can be a contentious issue. Countries around the world have different minimum ages of employment. Different rules may apply to children working on farms as compared to other industries.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a state party, aims to protect children from child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour also outlaws hazardous work for children. Hazardous work is labour dangerous to the health, safety and morals of a child.
SOSChilldren's Villages, Tuesday August 28 2012
Let's Make Parliament Work - Support the New CoalitionStephen Harper has failed. He promised in the election to make the minority government work and to address the economic crisis. Instead, he has used the crisis to attack working people. We need a government with a stronger vision, one that will work on stimulating the economy and protect Canadians' jobs and pensions. We need to make Parliament work, and the coalition government is our best way to do that. The AFL wants to encourage all Albertans to support the coalition government. Make your voice heard! There are two ways you can support the formation of a coalition: Attend Edmonton Rally - Thursday Dec. 4, 6:00 pm at City Hall - Edmontonians of all party stripes will be attending a short rally to publicly show their support for the coalition government. The AFL is encouraging Edmontonians to attend. Contact your MP - No matter where you live, you can let your MP know that you support the coalition and want a government that will craft a real plan to stimulate the economy. You can send them an email in just one click!
A group representing Alberta's non-unionized construction industry hopes the results of a new survey will convince the government to make changes to the province's labour laws.
Merit Contractors Association, which represents more than 1,300 "open shop" or non-unionized construction industry employers prov-incewide, wants the Redford government to make good on one of the promises it made during the election campaign. As part of their 2012 election platform, the PCs proposed introducing legislation making it mandatory for trade unions to disclose their annual financial statements to their members. They also proposed to give union members the right to opt out of any portion of union dues that fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Peter Pilarski, Merit Con-tractors Association's vice-president for southern Alberta, said he believes changes to legislation are important because employees are fed up with having their union dues used to make political contributions or support certain social causes. During the 2008 provincial election campaign, for example, a series of anti-Conservative attack ads were paid for by "Albertans for Change," a coalition of the Alberta Building and Trades Council of Unions, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. In Ontario's 2011 election campaign, a coalition of unions dubbed "Working Families" spent $2.1 million on ads attacking PC leader Tim Hudak.
"If belonging to a union and paying union dues are a condition of employment for me, I should have some rights as to where that money's going. The feeling I think Canadians have is they don't have those rights right now," Pilarski said.
A survey commissioned by Merit Contractors and released by the organization today seems to indicate support for Pilarski's premise. According to the survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, only 35 per cent of the 501 employed Albertans interviewed believe union dues are well-spent, while 41 per cent do not. Seventy-two per cent of respondents believe union members should have the right to opt out of certain union activities, while 63 per cent think unionization itself shouldn't be mandatory in any workplace and employees should have the option of opting out entirely.
The survey results are based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans.
Martyn Piper, executive secretary treasurer of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers, said his union already makes its financial information fully available to its members and he has no problem with the idea of a provincial law requiring that type of disclosure from all unions.
What he is opposed to, however, is the premise of Bill C-377, a private member's bill currently before the federal House of Commons which would require unions to make all of their financial information publicly available online. He said that level of disclosure would jeopardize the privacy of everyone from pension fund recipients to vendors and contractors.
"It's our members who should know how the finances are spent," Piper said. "Do we want the rest of the world to know what we do with our finances? I don't think any organization wants that, either personally or professionally."
Piper disagreed with the idea that people should be able to opt out of certain portions of their union dues, arguing unions make their decisions democratically and members - just like in any other organization - must abide by the will of the majority. He said those who don't want to be unionized at all are free to choose an alternative workplace.
Piper added he believes advocates of such legislation are unfairly putting unions in a bad light.
"The problem is people don't understand us and they don't make any attempt to understand us," he said. "There are always people who want to attack unions, but at the end of the day, to what end?"
In spite of what was proposed in his party's campaign platform, deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to amend Alberta's labour laws. He said he will soon be inviting both sides - employers' groups and union officials - to sit down and discuss how to keep Alberta competitive while growing the labour force at the same time.
'Both sides have ideas on how to accomplish that, but those ideas are not always parallel," Lukaszuk said. "There is a balance there, and that means that either one of those two visions cannot be adopted holus-bolus."
Conducted by Leger Marketing, based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans
- (results weighted by age and gender to ensure demographic representation)
- Percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements:
- Union dues are well-spent - 35%
- Union dues are not well-spent - 41%
- Employees should have the ability to opt out of non-core union activities - 72%
- Unionization should not be a mandatory condition for employment and that employees should be able to opt out of all union dues - 63%
- Workers should be able to obtain financial information about their union - 94%
- It should be mandatory for all unions to publicly disclose their finances - 86%
- Unions have a positive role in ensuring job security - 81%
- Unions are relevant today - 40%
- Unions were once relevant, but aren't anymore - 45%
The Calgary Herald, August 31, 2012
Byline: Amanda Stephenson
As is well known, the "Ethical Oil Institute," the Edmonton-based organization founded by Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant to support petroleum extraction companies in Alberta, has complained to the Canada Revenue Agency demanding the charitable status of Tides Canada "be reviewed for violating Canada's charities law."
Last week, Ethical Oil accused the Vancouver-based environmental and social issues charity of "'laundering' money from contributors to groups engaged in 'non-charitable' political activities," as the complaint was summarized by the Edmonton Journal.
Ethical Oil also set up an automated online form to enable those who share Levant's and his organization's views to send emails to National Revenue Minister Gail Shea "to report any radical or environmental lobby group you've seen masquerading as a charity so that their taxpayers (sic) subsidy comes to an end!"
Now an Edmonton researcher has filed a complaint with Service Alberta Minister Manmeet Bhullar arguing that by taking this action Ethical Oil is violating its Memorandum of Association with the with the Alberta government.
"Corporate entities such as Ethical Oil are bound by the Companies Act to follow the objects set in their Memorandum of Association," researcher Tony Clark wrote Bhullar last week. "Ethical Oil has mounted a protracted campaign against what it views as violations of the Canada Revenue Agency's rules by certain environmentally oriented charities. I believe this campaign is against the letter, if not the spirit, of the corporation's Memorandum of Association which regulates its external activities."
Citing statements made by Ethical Oil on its website, before a House of Commons committee, in the mainstream media, in a 143-page letter of complaint to the CRA and on a Sun News Network television program hosted by Levant, Clark argues there is nothing in Ethical Oil's Memorandum of Association "that allows this corporation to be a referee on charities' activities."
On his Sun News Network program, Levant -- who is president, treasurer and a director of Ethical Oil and holds 50 per cent of the corporate entity's shares -- interviewed Ethical Oil Executive Director Jamie Ellerton about the campaign against Tides Canada's charitable status. On this episode of The Source with Ezra Levant, Levant set aside his trademark aggressive interview style and was positively warm.
Regardless, Clark's complaint goes on, "The objects of the corporation include, among other things, 'issues and considerations of environmental responsibility, peace, treatment of workers, democratic rights, and human rights.' There is no mention whatsoever in Ethical Oil's foundational documents of this corporation being used as an overseer of the Canada Revenue Agency's rules on charities.
"I do note, however, that Ethic Oil's Memorandum of Association, article 5, specifically states (emphasis added), '[t]he income and property of the Company, however derived and received, shall be applied solely towards the promotion of the objects of the Company...'," Clark writes.
"The key word in the sentence above, Hon. Minister, is 'solely.' Given the scale and scope of Ethical Oil's campaign against a few environmentalist charities, I think it is undeniable that Ethical Oil is using its resources in contravention of its objects as set out in its Memorandum of Association," he argues.
"I urge you to use your powers as the minister responsible for the Companies Act to investigate Ethical Oil's activities and penalize the corporation to the fullest extent of the law if you find it has violated the Act," Clark concludes.
Meanwhile, it is hard to predict the outcome of Ethical Oil's complaints against Tides Canada and other environmental charities.
On one hand, Prime Minister Stephen Harper would clearly like to suppress the activities of charitable organizations that do not march in lockstep with his Conservative Party's environmental policies. On the other, many other charitable organizations with which Harper is both broadly in agreement and whose work he values are clearly in violation of the CRA's regulations about political activities.
So on the theory the rule of law still prevails in Canada, it is hard to see how what is good for the charitable goose mustn't also be good for the charitable gander, an outcome with which the prime minister may be uncomfortable.
One of the most glaring examples, as is well known, is the Vancouver-based market-fundamentalist propaganda organization known as the Fraser Institute, which continues to be permitted to operate as a charity despite blatantly and consistently ignoring the CRA's limits on political activities.
In January 2012, Clark wrote Shea arguing that the Fraser Institute engages in excessive political activities and requesting that the CRA investigate its activities and revoke its charitable status.
Shea responded with a letter that ran to two pages, but contained remarkably little information. She did note that "the confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act prevent me from discussing the tax affairs of any particular organization without written consent from an authorized representative of that organization."
Shea did observe in her letter to Clark that "a charity's political activities must be reported on its annual form T3010-1, Registered Charity Information Return."
As Clark noted in an Alberta Federation of Labour submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance and Tax Incentives for Charitable Organizations on Jan. 17, 2012, each year between 2000 and 2010 the Fraser Institute responded "no" to the CRA's question "Did the charity carry on any political activities during the fiscal period?"
As the AFL submission observed: "Any rookie observer of Canadian politics knows this is nonsense: the Fraser Institute is actively involved in the Canadian political landscape. Any reporting or suggestion otherwise is a sham."
Shea also told Clark that "a charity whose object includes the advancement of education must take care not to disregard the boundary between education and propaganda. To be considered charitable, an educational activity must be reasonably objective and based on a well-reasoned position, that is, a position based on factual information analyzed methodically, objectively, fully, and fairly. In addition, a well-reasoned position should present serious arguments and relevant facts to the contrary."
The flawed approach to "research" taken by the Fraser Institute is well known and aptly deconstructed by Saskatoon health policy consultant Stephen Lewis, who wrote in 2011 that the organization's research in his field was "fatally flawed," based on a methodology that is "essentially absurd," uses respondents' hunches and opinions rather than real data, relies on unrepresentative samples of self-interested respondents and produces only "sortafacts" that support its market-fundamentalist ideological position.
Or, as Nova Scotia Finance Minister Graham Steele put it more bluntly: "The Fraser Institute produces junk. It is not a serious institution. It is a political organization."
Since Canada remains a country of laws, surely we can assume that Levant's Ethical Oil Institute will receive a similar response from Shea.
Rabble.ca, Tues Aug 14 2012Byline: David Climenhaga
The end of the recession may be in sight - but storm clouds are still gathering on the horizon for workers and unions.
Here in Alberta, we're facing the prospect of yet another round of deep cuts and privatization in the public sector. At the same time, the emergence of the Wildrose Alliance Party poses serious threats to many of the things we believe in and have fought for - everything from public health care and public education to workplace safety regulations and balanced labour laws.
At the national level, groups like the Canadian Federation of Independent Business are fuelling an ill-advised and mean-spirited backlash against public pensions. At the same time, the percentage of workers who belong to unions continues to decline as a result of the recession and "off-shoring" of jobs in manufacturing and a growing number of other sectors.
In many parts of the country it's not an exaggeration to say that the middle-class lifestyle that unions helped establish is slipping away. To top things off, the labour movement's once significant political clout is in decline in most provinces and at the federal level.
Despite all of this bad news, the Canadian labour movement is still a force to be reckoned with. We have millions of members, tens of thousands of activists and thousands of skilled organizers, negotiators, researchers, communicators, strategists and other staff. But are we up to the challenges of the 21st century? Do we fully understand those challenges - and do we have the tools, the organization and the vision needed to deal with them?
This issue of Union looks at these issues and at how the labour movement can more effectively protect the interests of working people in an increasingly hostile economic and political environment.
OTTAWA - The second half of the NDP leadership race is starting much like the first, with candidates striving to demonstrate momentum through a raft of endorsements from New Democrat and labour heavyweights.
Brian Topp snagged arguably the most influential name Friday: former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert.
As one of the few New Democrats to actually run a government, Calvert's endorsement was coveted. Indeed, one of Topp's chief rivals, Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, has repeatedly cited Calvert and former Manitoba premier Gary Doer as role models who've proved NDP governments can balance the books without compromising their social democratic values.
But Mulcair unveiled an endorsement of his own Friday: Reg Basken, former president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Not to be outdone in the quest for the influential labour vote, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar announced an endorsement from James Clancy, national president of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees, one of Canada's largest unions.
Earlier in the week, Toronto MP Peggy Nash touted the backing of award-winning actress Sarah Polley and Quebec MP Dany Morin.
With no other way to tell how each of the eight candidates is faring in the seven-month race, endorsements are the only tangible — although not necessarily reliable — measure of momentum.
Anyone signed up as an NDP member Feb. 18 will be eligible to participate in the March 24 vote to choose a successor to Jack Layton, who died in August just months after leading the NDP to a historic finish in the May 2 election. At last count, the party boasted some 95,000 members but there's no accurate way to gauge which of the eight leadership candidates those members are supporting.
The ability to raise money is often another gauge of a campaign's health. But the party does not plan to publicly release interim financial statements that are to be filed with its chief financial officer next week.
In the absence of ways to measure real progress, Topp was accorded the title of presumptive front runner last fall, after amassing the most impressive roster of endorsements from party luminaries. His backers include Calvert's predecessor in Saskatchewan, Roy Romanow, and former national leader Ed Broadbent.
However, his campaign was perceived to have faltered last month, after he turned in a mediocre debate performance in Vancouver. By contrast, Mulcair seemed to be the one with momentum, performing well in debates and benefiting from polls suggesting the NDP's support in Quebec has begun to slip away.
The Montreal MP has positioned himself as the contender best able to hold onto the New Democrats' newfound Quebec base. The party won a record 103 seats in May, vaulting it into official Opposition status thanks primarily to a surge of support in Quebec.
As a former provincial Liberal cabinet minister, Mulcair is well known in the province and is the only candidate who currently represents a Quebec riding. He's captured the support of just over half the NDP's 59 Quebec MPs.
Topp used Calvert's endorsement Friday to try to regain the momentum and present himself as a more well-rounded contender, who can win in both Quebec and the rest of the country.
Calvert noted that the fluently bilingual Topp was born, raised and cut his political teeth in Quebec. Although he currently resides in Toronto, Topp has said he intends to run for a seat in Quebec.
But Calvert stressed that Topp also has deep roots in the West, particularly in Saskatchewan where he served as deputy chief of staff to Romanow. And he said it is Topp's pan-Canadian appeal that will take the party from opposition to government in the next election.
"Brian has the national experience necessary to lead our party and form a national government," Calvert said in the text of remarks made in Saskatoon.
"Brian knows how to win in Quebec and that is an asset absolutely necessary in our next leader. But winning in Quebec is not enough to get the job done. We must also win here in Saskatchewan and across the country.
"Brian can do that too."
A longtime senior backroom strategist, Topp has been criticized in some quarters for never having sought elected office. But Calvert argued that the best politicians are also good strategists.
"We need a good strategist to lead our party. Brian's ability for strategic thinking is a huge asset, particularly in taking on the current prime minister (Stephen Harper), who is not a bad strategic thinker himself."
He also touted Topp as a "man of integrity" and praised his "courage" in advocating tax increases for the wealthy in order to pay for programs to boost the economy and opportunities for low and middle-income Canadians.
"While most leaders will shy away from the discussion about the need to rebalance our tax system, Brian has tackled it head on because Brian understands that if we are going to govern well we have to be honest about how we are going to pay for our priorities," Calvert said.
The other candidates in the race are B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.
They'll face-off in five all-candidates debates sponsored by the party over the next three months, as well as a number of unofficial debates, such as one planned for Toronto on Jan. 18.
Winnipeg Free Press/Canadian Press, Fri Jan 6 2012 Byline: Joan Bryden
If you want a useful yardstick of the relative health of Alberta's opposition parties, you need look no further than the number of candidates they have nominated for the next provincial election.
Using this measure, it is very unlikely the increasingly marginalized Alberta Liberal Party under Leader Raj Sherman will be capable of fielding a full slate of candidates on election day.
There will be 87 seats in the provincial Legislature after the next election. Here is a prediction: The Liberals will be unable to field a slate of even two-thirds that number, and may only be able to find candidates for about half the seats in the Legislature.
This is not idle mean-spiritedness. It is a forecast based on the difficulty all Alberta opposition parties have finding and fielding candidates, and the number of candidates the parties have nominated to date -- with a general election possibly as close as three months away and certainly coming no later than six months from now.
Here are the nomination numbers for the three major opposition parties, which any sensible Alberta Liberal supporter must find deeply troubling:
New Democratic Party: 60
Wildrose Alliance: 58
Alberta Liberals: 19
Anyone who knows politics knows that while it may be possible to find warm bodies to fill out a slate of candidates, even for governing parties it is difficult to find good candidates with whom electors will be really thrilled. One needs only consider some of the lags in Premier Alison Redford's Progressive Conservative caucus to know the truth of this!
Nevertheless, obviously both the NDP and the Wildrose Party have been doing their work with commitment and seriousness and will have full slates ready to go whenever the writ is dropped. Only the Conservatives will know when that is, of course, because Premier Redford's "fixed election dates" law doesn't fix an election date. It does, however, set the three-month period in which the vote will fall, which is why we can be confident the Liberal nomination numbers are going to be a big problem for the party.
Lacking key political staff and watching their support sag, the Liberals would be in a more difficult position anyway than the NDP or the Wildrose Party, even if they had more candidates.
Nomination numbers are moving targets, naturally. Last night, New Democrats in Edmonton-Centre nominated Candidate No. 60, Nadine Bailey, a veteran campaigner who ran federally for the party in May in the nearby Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont riding. (She was also, I kid you not, nominated in the Canada's Sexiest Candidate contest started by a Toronto blogger who obviously had too much time on his hands.)
The NDP and Wildrose numbers tend to go back and forth as both parties proceed competently toward nomination of full slates. In fact, both will likely have 70 or more nominated within the next couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the governing Conservatives, at 51 nominations, are a little behind, but given their position as Alberta's Natural Governing Party with a large elected caucus, they will have less trouble finding qualified candidates for the few ridings in which they don't already hold seats. The Alberta Party, which has never made it onto the province's political radar screen and is unlikely to do so now, has nominated only eight.
But while everyone else's numbers are building, the Liberals' tally stumbled backward Monday with the defection of Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor to Premier Redford's Tories. This brought nominated Alberta Liberal candidates down from the 20 noted in Dave Cournoyer's useful Daveberta blog, consistently the best source on Alberta nomination tallies and names.
The loss of Pastoor comes on top of announcements by the backbone of the Liberal caucus -- experienced MLAs like former leadership candidate Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald, former leader and Edmonton-Riverside MLA Kevin Taft and Calgary-Varsity's Harry Chase -- that they won't be seeking re-election. Another former potential Liberal leader, Dave Taylor, quit the caucus months ago and now sits as the Alberta Party's sole MLA. He too won't be running again in Calgary-Currie.
This collapse in MLA support is arguably even more serious to the Alberta Liberal Party's prospects than its decline in popular support as recorded by public opinion polls from better than a quarter of the Alberta electorate in the 2008 general election to somewhere between 11 and 15 per cent today.
As for the NDP and Wildrose Party, while they have similar numbers of candidates nominated and arguably possess similar levels of political skill, they cannot simply be considered interchangeable destinations for protest votes.
You can judge a party by its platform statements or by the people who support it. By either measure, the well-funded Wildrose Party is far to the right of the governing Conservatives. And never forget that despite Wildrose rhetoric to the contrary, Premier Redford and her Conservatives are pretty far to the right.
The Wildrose Party, led by former Fraser Institute functionary Danielle Smith, is dedicated to the proposition all government services ought to be privatized -- and that goes for particularly for the work done by the "publicly funded" public health system they promise to maintain with nuanced precision.
By contrast, the NDP led by Brian Mason is unabashedly a party of the progressive centre-left, committed to maintaining and improving publicly financed, publicly operated health care. (This is not something the Liberal leader, not so long ago the Conservative junior minister for health, can say!)
Mason earned his living doing a real job, driving a bus, before remaking himself as an effective Parliamentarian and legislative leader. With Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, the small NDP caucus has consistently punched above their weight in Question Period.
With neither the Liberals nor the Alberta Party likely capable of nominating full slates of candidates, obviously the NDP is the only progressive opposition party where progressive voters can hope to get any impact with their votes.
Moreover, unlike some elections in the past, the NDP this time has been able to attract remarkably good candidates in all parts of the province. In addition to Ms. Bailey in Edmonton-Centre, there is five-term city councillor Lorna Watkins-Zimmer in Red Deer, Alberta Federation of Labour researcher Shannon Phillips in Lethbridge-West, and former councillor Wanda Laurin in Peace River.
In Edmonton, where the NDP enjoys a significant regional advantage, running ahead of all other opposition parties according to a recent Environics poll, there are candidates like Friends of Medicare Executive Director David Eggen in Edmonton-Calder, a former MLA, and teacher Deron Bilous in Edmonton-Beverly.
So, sorry, but by every measure, the future looks very bleak for the Alberta Liberals.
The Wildrose Alliance is a radical right-wing party that would lead Albertans down a dangerous path to wholesale privatization of public services.
In this election cycle in Alberta, the New Democrats are the only progressive party with enough momentum to have a meaningful impact in the next election.
rabble.ca, Fri Nov 25 2011
AFL political action paper presented to AFL 47th Constitutional Convention, April 28 to May 1, 2011
Over the past five or six years, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has significantly improved its ability to influence the debate over important issues of public policy within the province. Issues like workplace health and safety, the use (and abuse) of temporary foreignworkers and the job implications of exporting raw bitumen were our issues first – but they have now become major items for discussion by policy makers, the media and the broader public.
Edmonton - The speedy passage of Bill C-377 is evidence that the legislation is not about transparency, but about punishing unions, according to labour activists.
The private members bill brought forward by Tory backbencher Russ Hiebert imposes expensive and onerous accounting requirements on unions, pension funds, and other professional organizations. It was rushed into the legislature for a third vote on Wednesday, Dec. 12.
“All Canadians should be concerned about this piece of legislation,” Alberta Federation of Labour president McGowan said. “Whether you’re union or non-union, all working Canadians benefit by having a strong labour movement around to fight for good wages, good benefits, quality public services, and safe workplaces. All Canadians, union or non-union, benefit when there’s someone there to stand up for the little guy and stand up to big corporations with deep pockets.”
Last week in parliament, debate on Bill C-377 continued beyond the normally-allotted one hour of debate time for a private members bill. The bill would have been stalled at second reading, but in an unusual move, MP Earl Dreeshen gave up the time that was allotted to his private-members bill to allow C-377 to proceed this week.
“The surprising haste with which Bill C-377 was passed is an indication that the Tories didn’t want to subject it to the type of scrutiny the matter deserved,” McGowan said. “We’ve known all along that this bill isn’t about transparency, it’s about silencing those who would dare to criticize the regressive, unCanadian agenda of the Harper government. If it was about transparency, they would have passed the bill in a transparent manner.”
Although Bill C-377 was opposed by all parties other than the Conservatives, the bill passed by a margin of 147 to 135 votes, with five Conservative MPs dissenting from their own party.
The Canada Revenue Agency has said that it will take until 2015 at the earliest to implement and to put into place accounting measures to collect and distribute the information required by the bill. According to independent estimates, administration of the bill will cost taxpayers upwards of $20-million dollars.
“The bill that they passed so hastily is badly written, poorly thought-out, and won’t survive a challenge in the courts,” McGowan said, noting that the bill has come under fire from the Canadian Bar Association, other professional organizations, pension fund managers and the Canadian privacy commissioner. The reporting requirements are far more onerous and expensive than charities or corporations. Not even governments are subjected to the same level of public reporting. “Public policy should be used to promote and enhance the public good, not as a tool to punish, harass, intimidate or weaken individuals or groups that don’t agree with the government. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Bill C-377 does. It’s an abuse of government power and has no place in a democratic country like Canada.”
McGowan added that when the bill goes to the Senate early in the New Year, he hopes the upper house will take a good look at the legislation and quash it.
“Although there is currently a 60-person Conservative majority in the 105-person senate, the body has in the past shown independence and provided Canadians with the ‘sober second thought’ that is seriously needed in this case,” McGowan said.
AFL President Gil McGowan will be available to take questions today from noon - 1:00 pm at the:
Ironworker’s Hall10512 – 122 StreetEdmonton, AlbertaCanada T5N 1M6
or by phone at 780-218-9888-30-
MEDIA CONTACTS:Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.