‘This budget will bite’: Alberta Federation of Labour

EDMONTON – There's no denying the public sector took a hit in the 2013 Alberta Budget.

In fact, Gil McGowan, the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour claims Thursday's budget introduces the deepest cuts across the public sector that the province has seen since what he calls "the worst days of the Klein era."

As the province aims to deal with a roughly $2 billion deficit, it has flatlined spending. The budget's hard line applies to teachers, nurses, health sciences workers and civil servants. Many are in bargaining or about to start this spring. The budget also revealed about 80 civil service positions will be lost with more job cuts likely as the Redford government continues to reorganize departments.

So what does this all mean for the every day Albertan?

"It will hurt," McGowan says. "It will mean larger class sizes, it will mean less frontline service, and it's going to be very difficult for us to staff all these schools and hospitals that the government promises to build."

He believes that as the wealthiest province in Canada, if anyone should be able to pay for public service to move their economy forward, it's Alberta.

McGowan also thinks that the province's current fiscal problems date back to the time of Premier Ralph Klein.

"While it's true that he got rid of the deficit and the debt, he actually laid the groundwork for the deficit we're dealing with today – by slashing corporate taxes, introducing a flat tax that benefited the wealthy, and presiding over literally billions of dollars of royalty giveaways. When you give away your revenue source, you can't be surprised that you have a hard time funding things."

Political scientist Chaldeans Mensah of Grant MacEwan University points out that Klein did an "across the board cut."

"This government is using a different approach," he explains. "They want to borrow money, and this is why they've introduced the Fiscal Management Act that will allow them to borrow, and eventually it will create a debt, but they call it 'net financial assets,' so they've come up with a new term to describe the debt situation."

Mensah adds that in addition to trying to sell Albertans on this budget, she also has to sell her party on it.

"I think she needs to convince Tory party members that this new direction is not markedly different from the views in the past. She faces a leadership view in November, and if she's not careful, and doesn't sell this to the membership, there could be trouble politically."

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Doug Horner says he doesn't think public service unions should be surprised that the province did not allow for any salary increase. The government has warned for some months that salaries for teachers, doctors and nurses here are higher than elsewhere, he adds.

"When you look at comparative numbers from across Canada on a market-based perspective, we have the highest paid teachers and highest paid doctors in the country...This is somewhat of a reset for us to get us back to reasonable levels of expenditures."

Global Edmonton, Friday, Mar. 8, 2013
Byline: Trish Kozicka, Global News

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