As conservative partisans gather at the Westin Hotel near the Calgary International Airport tonight for the United Conservative Party annual general meeting, thousands of public sector workers are wondering whether they will have a job next year.
Despite promising during the election not to cut front-line services, it appears that today was the day that Premier Jason Kenney chose to break that promise, giving a new meaning to Black Friday for many Alberta workers.
Beginning on April 20, 2020, the Alberta government and its agencies will begin laying-off an estimated 750 Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses represented by United Nurses of Alberta, more than 1,000 health care workers represented by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, and the elimination of more than 5,600 full time equivalent positions held by workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
This does not include layoffs of teachers by school boards reacting to lower than expected education funding in the provincial budget. The Calgary Board of Education announced last week that it expects to layoff 300 teachers as a results of the UCP budget. And about 90 government lawyers are expected to be laid-off by the Department of Justice, representing about 37 per cent of the lawyers working in the government’s Legal Services branch.
From hospitals to lab services to schools, these kind of layoffs will undoubtably impact frontline workers and the delivery of the excellent public services that Albertans depend upon every day.
The layoffs are expected to take place over the next three years, but this latest development comes one week after the government seized control of public sector pension funds and moved to rollback wages of public sector workers.
Unlike some previous conservative leaders in Alberta, who saw a positive role for government and public services in society, Kenney and the team of advisors surrounding him are committed to an ideological project that is bigger than just balancing the provincial budget. They want to reshape Alberta in a more free-market and individualist image that includes increased privatization of all government services and a much more combative relationship with public sector workers and the unions that represent them.
But, as I have written before, the free market might actually be one of the UCP government’s worst enemies.
Business leaders at an exclusive Lake Louise conference today warned that ‘a declining and outdated industry, a lack of innovation and a fascination with separation’ is hurting Alberta’s image. Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, told the meeting that ongoing environmental criticism, delays in building oil pipelines and a surge of separatist sentiment recently led a major technology company to decide not to relocate its office to Calgary.
Kenney responded that he had not heard such criticism when he met with business owners in Houston last week. The list of people Kenney met with while he was in Texas has not been released to the public, but it is likely they are aware of the growing list of investment banks and pension funds that are divesting from the oil and gas because of that industry’s contribution to climate change.
But do not expect that to stop the UCP government, which continues to move at a breakneck speed implementing its political programme. Kenney may still have a lot of political capital to spend, but many Alberta workers will remember this Black Friday, when they discovered that his promises to them weren’t worth much more than the coroplast sign he made them on.