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Spotlight on Finance

From Executive Secretary-Treasurer Jason Heistad

Jul 29, 2020

Dear members,

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I hope everyone is having a nice summer, getting outside and staying safe, despite COVID-19, which many of you have had to face head-on.

If not, you’ve definitely contended with the Alberta government’s response to the crisis - singing the praise of frontline government and health-care workers one moment, cutting corporate taxes and public-sector jobs the next.

This two-faced approach is not unusual for Alberta though, where we have a long pre-pandemic history of provincial governments that promise a more diversified economic future during times of recession and crisis…only to continue putting all their eggs in one basket, and giving handouts to profitable oil and gas companies.

In 1992, Premier Klein did this. He promised economic diversification, then he fuelled a fake fire around the deficit and provincial debt to justify provincial budget cuts.

Today, the UCP is proposing the “same old policies” that will only lead to short-term savings (if any), pain for thousands of Albertans and a complete lack of long-term financial strategy.

As the Secretary-Treasurer of the largest public sector union in Western Canada, I think it’s time all levels of government and unions discuss a long-term Alberta vision based on actual, intentional diversification. 

This will require collaboration. This will require leadership. And this will require a real plan for pulling the province out of the economic downturn – one that starts with building on the existing labour force, not decimating it.

While oil and gas is relevant to Alberta, so are other industries that can assist us in getting through these tough times when oil prices are down.  Rather than proposing cuts to health, government and education, the Alberta Government needs to further build on these local ‘knowledge/labour skills.’ 

This is how we will recover from the pandemic. 

Although small gains were achieved with efforts initiated by the previous Alberta Government to stimulate the Petrochemical Industry, much more needs to be done to keep and enhance existing labour skills in the province. 

This is particularly important as the unemployment rate reached 15.5% in June 2020. Moving forward how do we, AUPE, and our fellow sisters, brothers and workers, have a seat at the table of diversifying the economy?  The time is now to start these discussions and refrain from further cuts to public services impacting hard working Albertans. Once these public services to Albertans are gone, it might take thirty years to bring them back. The Alberta Government needs to enhance its existing human capital by developing employees’ skills and capabilities to meet the demands of unpredictable changes.

The current Alberta Government has promised the ‘same old policies’ of the 90s built on cutting jobs and services for Albertans, only at a faster rate. It’s time for all leaders within this province to have real and honest discussions, and to get off our ideological horse to move Alberta into the future. I look forward to any questions and hope that I have stimulated the membership to contact me personally.

In solidarity,

Jason Heistad,

Executive Secretary-Treasurer

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