Clamours for Austerity and Attacks on Working People
Pickets over the summer in Lethbridge (left) and Red Deer against Bill 9.
The report of the “Blue Ribbon Panel” established by the Alberta government says the $600 million cut in investments in social programs it recommends should only be the beginning in a process to reduce annual provincial spending by billions of dollars. The demanded cuts are particularly severe in health care and advanced education, as well as in primary and secondary school education, public sector wages and benefits, and spending on fixed provincial assets. The report says austerity will be, “a significant challenge because it will require government not only to accommodate the effects of both population growth and inflation but also reduce spending substantially below current levels.”
The Kenney government appointed the Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s finances specifically to destroy public opinion for increased investments in social programs and public services and to attack the right of public sector workers to bargain collectively and have a say over their wages and other terms of employment including the right to say No!
The government’s Bill 9 last spring was the opening shot in its austerity plan to attack social programs, public services and the right of public sector workers to negotiate collectively their terms of employment, leading to an anti-social budget in the fall. Alberta unions have pointed out that the intent of Bill 9 was to disrupt the negotiated arbitration process on wages to give the government time to introduce legislation mandating wage freezes and/or rollbacks.
The members of the Blue Ribbon panel were chosen for their well-known neo-liberal views and practice. Their report lays out how the government should proceed in attacking public sector workers. This includes holding sham consultations with unions so that the government can claim it has participated in a process of collective bargaining and therefore is not in violation of the Charter right to bargain collectively. The sham consultations would then be followed by legislation dictating wages, benefits and working conditions.
The Chair of the panel, Janice McKinnon, already wrote the panel’s austerity script back in 2017 when she co-authored a paper calling on the Notley Alberta government of the day to attack public sector workers and advising how this could be done “legally.” This involves ensuring that the government’s claim to be defending the public interest is set out in the legislation, a process of “good faith” bargaining takes place, and the unions are consulted. If the government follows the script, the Supreme Court of Canada would consider that good faith bargaining has taken place, the unions representing the workers have been consulted, the right of workers to associate for the purpose of pursuing their goals has been met and the public interest according to the financial oligarchy has been defended.
The Alberta working class has already shown its mettle in defence of its rights in the organized mass demonstrations denouncing Kenney’s anti-worker Bill 9. Let us together intensify this organized defence of the dignity and rights of the working people. The Blue Ribbon Panel’s austerity agenda and attacks on working people must not pass!
1. For Blue Ribbon Report click here.