PRESS RELEASE: Smith puts her government on a “collision course” with health care and education workers

“It’s a recipe for gutting the public services that act as a foundation for our economy.”

EDMONTON – With seven small words, Danielle Smith has dismissed growing concerns about our health care and education systems and put her government on a collision course with the 250,000 public sector workers whose contracts expire this year, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan.

“The best way to help Albertans cope with the rising cost of living is to make sure they have wage increases that keep up with inflation,” said McGowan, responding to Smith’s televised pre-budget address to Albertans.

“But when Smith pledged to ‘keep spending below inflation and population growth’, she was basically telling nurses, teachers, and other public sector workers that they’re going to have to accept a permanent reduction in their real wages and their standard of living. She’s also signaling that she’s not going to address the issue of critical staff shortages in our hospitals and schools. In a province as wealthy as ours, this is completely unacceptable.”

McGowan points out that inflation has increased the cost of living in Alberta by 15 per cent over the past three years. That’s double the 7.5 per cent over four years that was offered by the government when they opened bargaining last week on a new contract with nurses.

“At a time when family doctors are closing their practices and teachers and nurses are fleeing to other jurisdictions that treat them with more respect, this is exactly the opposite of what’s needed from our government,” says McGowan. “We can’t expect to retain, let alone attract, staff to fill these critically important jobs under these conditions. Just because Smith is the Premier doesn’t mean she can ignore clear signals from the labour market without suffering consequences.”

McGowan says Albertans need to understand the full implications of what Smith is proposing: “She’s not saying ‘keep spending below inflation and population growth’ for one year. She’s saying that’s what we should do from now until 2050.”

“That’s 26 years of underfunding! Our hospitals are already crippled by staff shortages and our classrooms are already bursting at the seams. What the Premier is proposing is grossly irresponsible. It’s a recipe for gutting the public services that support our families and act as a foundation for our economy.”

McGowan concluded by offering an alternative vision for Alberta – one that is better suited for the times: “Smith is offering a vision for the future featuring a small and impoverished public sector and a private sector dominated by big corporations that pay next to nothing in taxes. It’s the old trickle-down model of economics that was tried in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which turned out to be a disaster, both for citizens and the economy,” says McGowan.

“Smith is basically using buzzwords about saving to disguise and justify an ideologically driven campaign to shrink the role of government in society and the economy. This would be counter to the interests of Alberta citizens and families at the best of times, but it’s downright perverse at a time when we’re dealing with unprecedented challenges that require a robust public sector, rather than one that has been deliberately turned into a weakling.”

“These challenges include the on-going fallout from the pandemic; a rapidly growing population; the increasing challenges posed by droughts and wildfires and climate change; and the implications of the unfolding global energy transition for jobs and the economy in Alberta.”

“We can’t hope to deal with these multiple challenges without a strong and vibrant public sector. So, instead of shrinking our capabilities to respond to their challenges, we need to be talking about how to enhance those capabilities.

And, yes, that means talking about taxes and royalties on profitable corporations. Instead of talking about program cuts for citizens and tax cuts for corporations, we need to be talking about getting corporations and the wealthy to pay their fair share. That’s the real conversation we should be having right now, not the warmed-over trickle-down economics nonsense being served up by our Premier.”

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John Ashton
Director of Communications, AFL