Politics is not just for politicians. We are tempted to think of politics as a private club for activists, party members, and rich influencers, but it is not so frivolous as that; our democracy is meant to be for everyone, to involve and serve ordinary people. That is what it should be, at least.
Everything is political. Political decisions shape the world around us, including our communities, opportunities, and possibilities. You may not feel like a political person, but everything in your life—from the mundane to the extraordinary—is influenced by politics.
This is especially true for AUPE members, whose jobs, wages, and working conditions are directly impacted by our provincial politicians and their decisions—decisions which reverberate through our health care system, our schools and post-secondary institutions, and countless organizations and public services that Albertans rely on. AUPE does not support any political party, unlike most other unions, but we are forced to take politics seriously when there is so much at stake.
AUPE’s Committee on Political Action (COPA) has spent months planning how to support members during the upcoming provincial election. Voting day is scheduled for May 29 and there is still much to do.
“Our job is to ensure AUPE members are informed in time for election day, every member needs to know what the politicians are promising and how those promises matter to us.”
COPA’s main project will be sending all members an election report card based on what the major parties believe in, but that will have to wait until mid-May. The United Conservative Party (UCP) and New Democratic Party (NDP) have only hinted at what they will make into big election issues, and neither will release their full platform until the campaign is almost over.
It may be difficult to predict how the parties will compete for our votes this spring, but we can still take an educated guess. Premier Danielle Smith has released a new budget—which she will no doubt leverage for her campaign—and we can also revisit how each party acted when in power over the last eight years.
The UCP government was elected based on promises to cut and privatize Alberta’s vital public services, and in many cases made good on their vows. Premier Kenney’s political decisions hurt AUPE members when he decimated Alberta’s wildfire response operations, shuttered safe consumption sites, attacked 11,000 front-line health care workers, and cut education funding while downloading costs onto schools and students themselves.
Albertans suffered during Jason Kenney’s three years as premier and that has not changed with Danielle Smith’s arrival. While it is true that Smith’s 2023 provincial budget was not as bad as it could have been, this optimistic façade will likely dissipate should she win the election. The new premier has made many promises to her friends and is using rebounded oil revenues to throw money where she thinks it matters—like giving public funds to expensive and private charter schools. As AUPE reported, Smith’s bait-and-switch budget is the clearest case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing that Albertans will ever see.
Meanwhile, there is an upstart contender for the wooliest wolf on Alberta’s political scene: Rachel Notley’s NDP remains the underdog in this election despite Jason Kenney’s notoriety and Danielle Smith’s unpopularity. The consensus seems to be that the NDP is the better party for the average Albertan, but Premier Notley did herself no favours as far as many AUPE members are concerned.
Notley’s NDP forced AUPE members working for the Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services to take zero per cent wage increases. This wage freeze extended to most staff at Covenant Health and several post-secondary institutions and set the tone for employer-friendly labour negotiations throughout the province. The Alberta NDP should be ashamed of the way they bargained with unionized workers while in power.
Notley’s government consistently undermined the importance of public sector workers and went as far as to brag about underfunding public services as if that were a good thing. They broke their promise to build 2,000 new public long-term care beds and even intervened against us when AUPE members at Points West Cold Lake were locked out by their employer.
“The UCP is the most ideologically anti-union party we have ever seen. But the previous NDP government was not as friendly to working Albertans as we all hoped they would be.”
Of course, the other political parties—such as the Liberals, Greens, and Alberta Party—are unlikely to win a single seat and have no chance of winning the election no matter what they believe or promise. In short, there are no great options for AUPE members in 2023. Nevertheless, it is important for members to understand their options, and the parties’ positions will become clearer once their platforms are released.
Knowing what the politicians believe in is almost as important as knowing what we believe in. That is why COPA has already conducted an all-member survey on the political issues that affect us. The survey debuted at AUPE’s Convention last October and garnered 7,476 responses before it closed in February.
“We are extremely impressed with the level of political engagement members showed with their survey results,” says Dempsey. “I have a feeling members cannot wait to cast their votes.”
Almost every AUPE member who took the survey plans to vote, and most of those who do not plan to vote say it is because neither party looks out for our interests. Unsurprisingly, the most important issues for members are standing up for workers’ rights and protecting public services, so it is no wonder some of us feel like our vote does not matter.
But we have the power to change that. Challenging politicians and their parties to do better has been a core struggle throughout union history, and it is up to us to carry on that tradition. Political activism means much more than just voting, but if AUPE members want to make a statement, this upcoming election is as good an opportunity as any.