By Alexander Delorme,
While you sacrificed your extended family dinners or holiday vacations, United Conservative Party politicians and staff soaked up the sun in tropical paradise. While you kept your number of in-person contacts to a minimum, Jason Kenney let Alberta’s contact-tracing crumble. While you struggle to make ends meet during this global pandemic, Tyler Shandro winks, smiles, and says he wants Alberta Health Services to send another 11,000 health care heroes to the unemployment line.
Now, just in case you hoped the arrogance and devastation would simmer out, Premier Jason Kenney has cooked up his third job-killing budget, which targets 311 Government of Alberta jobs and 750 post-secondary education jobs, as well as massive cuts to the services all Albertans depend on.
"Debts and deficits don’t kill people. But cutting public services could end up killing people, especially if there’s not enough services in health care, long-term care, correctional facilities, and social services. Or, at the very least, cutting services would put Albertans at significant risk. The UCP don’t care who they hurt in doing that.”
Premier Kenney and his UCP government have failed Albertans
Kenney’s budgets, his policies, and his pandemic response have cost many Albertans their lives and livelihoods.
First, the pandemic: Alberta's government has been one of Canada's worst at corralling COVID-19, with dismal infection rates, safety measures, and support for front-line workers. If you can name one of the UCP's made-in-Alberta responses to the pandemic, chances are another province did it better.
“If the UCP actually cared about average Albertans, which we know they don’t, they would back off and focus on getting us through this pandemic,” Smith says.
“That should be the number one goal for this government right now, and for every government across the world. Instead of using the pandemic as cover to bring in budget rollbacks and bad labour legislation, they should focus on getting Albertans through this.”
Since the pandemic started, AUPE members have toiled under longer and stressful workdays, working from home, occupational health and safety confusion, sub-par and irritating medical masks, and threats to our very jobs and livelihoods. All this suffering has been exacerbated by our own provincial government, the people who we elect supposedly to help us, not hurt us.
Wherever you find yourself on the political compass, there’s no denying that the UCP government is hurting AUPE members. Albertans of all partisan persuasions are making sacrifices to protect ourselves and our province, but the only thing Premier Kenney and his team have sacrificed is the safety and security of others.
Another job-killing budget
And what about the cruel cuts Kenney and the UCP are trying to conceal under the catastrophe caused by coronavirus? When asked about the UCP’s latest job-killing budget, Smith says the huge cuts to post-secondary education is what alarmed him the most, especially given the sector has already gone through years of cuts.
“Even under the Alberta NDP, post-secondary wasn’t getting the full funding that they needed,” Smith says. “At a time when there’s a whole generation of young Albertans looking for their opportunity to secure their education, as well as unemployed workers looking for opportunities to retrain, by turning off that tap, the government is hurting so many Albertans, including post-secondary staff themselves.
“When you talk about the cumulative effects of budgets, this one just adds more sorrow, particularly for public services. The worst isn’t over, but this was bad enough.”
Guy Smith responds to budget 2021
AUPE members have had to stand strong while working understaffed and underfunded long before Kenney and the UCP came to power. But now that Kenney has decided to make things worse, to deepen the cuts and put even more Albertans at risk, Smith believes AUPE members have no choice but to fight.
“It is so important that AUPE members know they have a right to fight back. They have a responsibility to fight back; and they have no choice but to fight back.”
A job-killing budget and a botched pandemic response
Kenney and the UCP appear unashamed to inflict so much pain — in broad daylight — on Albertans who are already struggling and suffering. But what would a government that cared about Albertans do? What would Kenney do if he wanted to create jobs for Albertans and defeat the pandemic?
Reversing budget cuts and increasing funding to front line services is the first and most obvious thing the government should do. But what next? Smith says a good government would have ensured better health and safety measures remained in place to stop COVID-19 cases from spiking. He also says they should have done everything possible to increase support to front line workers, including a complete overhaul of the UCP’s Critical Workers Benefit.
“When it comes to supporting front line workers, we want to see funds, including funds from the federal government, equitably distributed,” Smith says. “It shouldn’t be a one-time payment. Rather, it should be added to hourly earnings, so everyone gets it, and based on when they work, not an arbitrary cutoff.”
Smith also believe more should be done to support Albertans who are suffering because of the pandemic, especially those who must quarantine and those who cannot go to work. He says, “There needs to be more for those who have done their part for society, including mental health supports.”
Based on their budgets, cuts, and pandemic response, it seems clear the UCP government will not pursue such improvements willingly. Despite public outcry, educational campaigns, and MLA lobbying, the UCP shows no signs of slowing. It’s not that the UCP doesn’t know how to help Albertans, but that they’re causing chaos and pain on purpose to fulfil their dangerous ideology.
“Remember, the UCP do things like this intentionally in order to create division between the workers. We cannot allow them to succeed.”
So, what is to be done?
Will the provincial government ever truly support Albertans? You have the power to create the better Alberta that you, your co-workers, and your communities deserve. That change won’t arrive from the ballot box alone. It’ll take us working, organizing, and fighting together.
Premier Kenney and the UCP have failed Albertans with their job-killing budget and botched pandemic response. We deserve so much more, and we have the power to make it happen. We can fight back and force the government to serve the people. All we have to do is get organized.