As the UCP announces a new $143 million in funding for new health infrastructure, critics say the move is an empty gesture that doesn’t address the long-standing problems in Alberta’s public healthcare system.
Jason Heistad, the Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, says that “it’s great to have healthcare infrastructure, but who is going to staff it? Having a lot of shiny new buildings without adequate staffing levels does nothing to improve care.”
AUPE is western Canada's largest union, with over 90,000 members, including over 50,000 in healthcare institutions.
In today’s announcement, Health Minister Tyler Shandro outlined plans to expand the neonatal ICU unit at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary. The $143 million investment will also fund a facility to manufacture radiopharmaceuticals for cancer treatment in Calgary, redevelop and relocate the ICU and coronary care units at Rockyview General Hospital in Calgary, build a new community health centre in La Crete, and demolish an unused hospital in High Prairie.
These investments are a good thing, Heistad says, and an essential part of improving the healthcare that workers provide Albertans. But the announcement is a diversion from the UCP’s larger plan to defund and destroy public services such as healthcare.
The announcement comes on the heels of the UCP’s 2021 budget, which outlines the party’s long-term plans to cut public sector salaries by over $1 billion over the course of their time in power. Healthcare spending over the next two years won’t increase at all, which due to inflation and population growth is a net decrease.
“Constructing giant buildings without any plans to offer great services from them is a scam,” Heistad says. “Buildings are only great when you have the workers to provide these essential services. Otherwise, it’s a way to funnel taxpayers’ money to giant developers who offer temporary jobs to construction workers, and possibly a steady flow of campaign donations to politicians.”
What’s more, Heistad says, there’s no way of knowing how soon this infrastructure will actually be usable. He points out that the McCullough Centre, a social service that serves homeless men, also got a brand-new building constructed—only for the government to cut the organization’s funding and lay off all the workers. The brand-new building has never been used.
“We know that it’s wise to be skeptical when we hear announcements like these,” Heistad says.
For Heistad, real investments in healthcare for Albertans need to put healthcare workers first.
“Buildings alone don’t serve the public—workers do,” he says. “Workers must be at the center of plans to improve Alberta’s healthcare. This government has no interest in actually hearing from healthcare workers and is actively working to sabotage their livelihoods.”
“We need more than new buildings,” he says. “We also need better wages and working conditions so that we can attract workers into the healthcare system. We’ve had a staffing crisis for years now, and that’s just gotten worse with COVID. It’s time for a real investment.”
Jason Heistad, AUPE Executive Secretary-Treasurer, is available for comment. Please contact Jon Milton, Communications Officer, at firstname.lastname@example.org