Response from the Unions to Alberta Budget
Picket at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology against anti-social budget cuts, Calgary, October 24, 2019.
Unions representing Alberta’s public service workers and professionals and concerned organizations condemned the provincial government’s budget. The response shattered any illusions created by the ruling circles that the working people of Alberta concur with anti-social measures. Public sector workers have great experience based on a long history of taking up their responsibility as the first line of defence of public services and they called for resistance to this broad assault of the Kenney government.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees
“The things we do for Albertans are too important to let a government just chop away at them. It is our responsibility as those workers and the unions that represent [you] to stand up and fight for what is right, which is services for the people of Alberta and jobs where people like you are respected for the hard work you do every day,” said Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) President Guy Smith in a message to union members. “Now the reality is hitting, and it is time we all pulled together, make sure we support each other and stand strong for the people of this province,” he added.
AUPE organized two pickets on budget day to express their determination to defend their rights and public services. Workers at Children’s Services, Region 6 (at Rundle Centre, Edmonton) were joined by other members of the AUPE and workers from other unions to express their determination to fight back against the government’s attack on jobs and on the services they deliver to the public. In Calgary, more than 100 AUPE members and allies held a militant picket at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology to protest budget cuts.
Post-budget information picket at Rundle Centre, Edmonton, October 24, 2019.
Alberta Federation of Labour
“The reality is Kenney is misleading Albertans when he claims he is only cutting 2.8 per cent. With increases in the cost of living and population growth these cuts are much more likely to be around 15 per cent — very close to the level of the Klein cuts in the ’90s,” Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said.
“Kenney blew a huge hole in the budget with his corporate tax cuts, the $4.5 billion giveaway to profitable corporations. We’ve seen large corporations like Husky Energy cut hundreds of jobs after receiving a $233 million gift from the United Conservative Party. Now the most vulnerable Albertans, like people on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), along with post-secondary students, public sector workers and cities are being asked to pay for these corporate tax giveaways.
“Kenney’s cuts are bad for the economy because to build a strong economy, we need modern infrastructure to keep our businesses moving. And we need top-quality health care and education to build and maintain a healthy, skilled workforce. A strong public sector is a vital part of our economy’s foundation. Premier Kenney’s budget risks tipping Alberta into a self-inflicted ‘Kenney Recession’ that could be worse than the economic crisis caused by the drop in worldwide oil prices,” McGowan said.
Friends of Medicare
“When a government is not able to provide health care to meet the needs of a growing population, it is a cut,” Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare, said. “As one goes down line by line through the budget, what we’re seeing is a decrease in most areas of the health care budget,” she pointed out.
This is to be followed by a three year spending freeze, amounting to a 15 per cent decrease in health care funding over four years. The Alberta Seniors Drug Benefit Program will be cut off for all non-senior dependents, and the government is considering income testing for seniors’ drug benefits, Friends of Medicare pointed out.
“The budget announcements also contain further assaults on the most vulnerable citizens, with Income Support (IS), Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH), and Special Needs Assistance programs no longer annually adjusted for inflation,” the organization said.
“To claim that these cuts will have ‘minimal effects’ on people, as the Premier did in his pre-budget address yesterday, ignores and undervalues the importance of the public services on which Albertans rely. […] We have seen these kinds of cuts before, and we know the impact that they have on our jobs, our health, and our dignity,” it continued.
“Albertans do not stop needing health care based on whether the economy is down or on an upward trend,” Azocar said. “Public health care and robust public services are not a special interest. They are in the best interest of each and every Albertan, and at the heart of a strong and healthy Alberta.
“The measure of a budget should be not some bogus measure of fiscal health, but rather how it will contribute to human health now and in the future,” Azocar pointed out.
“This is our new reality. Friends of Medicare are calling on this government to make true on their ‘public health care guarantee’ and to move away from the understaffing, underfunding and under-resourcing of an essential public service. Albertans want to see a more responsive public health care system, and that can only be achieved by improving and expanding our current system, not by seeking private, for-profit solutions,” Friends of Medicare said.
Alberta Teachers’ Association
The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) was also quick to express its opposition to the budget. ATA president Jason Schilling says that teachers will not be able to fill the gaps created by today’s provincial budget. “This budget is, yet again, asking teachers to do more with less. The student population is expected to grow by 15,000 students, and school boards will not receive any more money to support them.”
“The government is playing a shell game in order to trick us into thinking enrollment growth is being funded, but at the end of the day, school boards have less funding per student, which means larger classes, fewer supports for students and programming cuts.”
K-12 education funding is actually being cut by two per cent in the current year, Schilling said. He added that cuts imposed by this budget will be felt by students in the classroom and, as a result, some will fall through the cracks.
“Class composition will continue to be a big problem and one-on-one attention suffers as a result,” Schilling said.
(Photos: AUPE, AFL, Friends of Medicare)