The decision of the Alberta government not to release a budget until the fall means we don’t know yet how its plans will affect you and the important work you do.
There have, however, been several signals from the government to indicate the direction it wants to go with funding for the delivery of vital public services including health care, education, correctional services and other government work.
In the last election, the UCP pledged to, at best, freeze spending for four years. When you factor in the increased costs due to predicted population growth and inflation, this amounts to a cut of $13.74 billion dollars over those four years.
Speaking on the day the of the government’s throne speech, Premier Jason Kenney warned “there will be some tough decisions ahead” and said that the public sector needs to be smaller. “There will have to be some reduction in the overall size of the public sector, hopefully through attrition.”
Meanwhile, the government has appointed a “Blue Ribbon” panel to look at how to balance Alberta’s budget. While this sounds like a good idea, the panel has been handcuffed by a mandate that means it can only look at spending and not at revenue.
The massive tax cuts to profitable corporations cannot be touched. It’s estimated the reduction of the corporate income tax rate by one-third will reduce government income by $4.5 billion over four years. The panel cannot look at ways to increase government revenue. It is restricted to looking at how to cut spending.
The chair of the panel is Janice MacKinnon, former Finance Minister in Saskatchewan in the 1990s. Her solution to Saskatchewan’s financial challenges included the closure of 52 rural hospitals.
A report she wrote with University of Calgary economist Jack Mintz in 2017 called for a two-per-cent cut in public-sector compensation in Alberta, followed by a two-year freeze. The report also said that governments have the right to impose wage rollbacks on unions.
Without a budget, the government can continue to operate and spend by passing what are known as supply bills, so the work you do will continue. In the absence of specific budgets, some government-funded organizations are already making those “tough decisions” and they are hurting Albertans.
Recently, the Calgary Catholic School Board told the families of two special-needs students that they could not return to high school because of “a lack of sufficient resources and facilities.”
In Edmonton, the Capital Region Housing Corporation withdrew its offer of a 1% raise for workers in 2019 and 2% in 2020 and 2021. It replaced that with an offer of a two-year freeze followed by a wage reopener.
The government also tried to delay the already agreed arbitration on the wage reopener for tens of thousands of AUPE members. This was scheduled to be held no later than June 30, 2019, but the government asked this to be put on hold. It appears it wanted to hear the report from its Blue Ribbon panel to justify a possible further squeeze on pay.
After presentations from your union, the arbitrator denied the government’s request for delay and decided to stick to the terms of the already negotiated arbitration.
Last week, the government passed Bill 9, the Public Sector Arbitration Deferral Act, to delay arbitrations until the fall. Finance Minister Travis Toews has refused to promise that the arbitrations would actually take place at all.
This week, AUPE filed a statement of claim in Court of Queen’s Bench based on two key issues: that Bill 9 goes against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and therefore should not go into effect; and for a court injunction as soon as possible to allow wage arbitration to go ahead as negotiated in good faith by AUPE members and their employers.
Rest assured that your union is watching every move the government and employers make in the months between now and the release of the budget in the fall. We’ll also be on guard to react in your interests when we see the budget.
In the meantime, you are our ears and eyes on the front lines. If you see signs of any cuts in spending or the level of service, job losses or hiring freezes, please let us know by contacting us at the Member Resource Centre.