Proposed budget cuts would drop Alberta to near the back of the pack

Cuts would weaken public services and deliver a significant blow to the provincial economy

Edmonton – Proposed nine per cent cuts to government spending will drop Alberta to near the back of the pack among Canadian provinces in terms of per-capita spending on public services.

If the cuts proposed yesterday by Premier Jim Prentice are enacted, Alberta will move down to eighth-place amongst Canada’s ten provinces in terms of per-capita spending on health care, education and other public services. At present, the province is in sixth place.

“Premier Prentice’s plan to lop nine per cent off the province’s spending on public services is wildly irresponsible,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “What the so-called Klein revolution taught us is that deep cuts don’t end recessions, they make them deeper and longer.”

According to figures published by the Royal Bank of Canada, Alberta currently spends about $9,786 per person on public services, slightly less than the average for other provinces. If the proposed cuts are enacted, this would be reduced to $8,905, ahead of only Ontario and Quebec, whose more urbanized populations allow them to deliver services more cheaply.

“Obviously, the declining price of oil is a big concern. But the effect of low-priced oil on the provincial budget has been magnified by irresponsible choices made by successive PC governments. Specifically, things like the flat tax, corporate tax cuts and royalty cuts have blown a hole in the revenue base that we need to fund important public services like education and health care,” McGowan said. “The solution is to fix the holes, not sacrifice the services that our growing population needs.”

The RBC figures also show that no other province spends less on public services as a proportion of its economy than Alberta. In Alberta, the government spends only 11.3 percent of the provincial economy on public services, while the Canadian average is 18.7 percent. The next-lowest spending province is Saskatchewan, where they use 16.1 percent of their economy to fund public services.

“Premier Prentice wants to leave the impression that we have no choice but to cut spending, even on core services like health care and education,” McGowan said. “But the truth is that we have many options. If we collected revenue at a rate that was closer to the national average we’d be able to weather this storm more easily. The Tories themselves admit that we could raise taxes by $11 billion a year and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in the country. And it’s important to remember that we still have no debt. The point is that cuts are not the only alternative.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Prentice budget cuts will deepen recession

Reckless PC spending cuts will make oil downturn worse for Albertans

Edmonton – The nine per cent budget cuts proposed by finance minister Robin Campbell and Premier Jim Prentice will plunge Alberta into a downward economic spiral, harm Albertans who rely on public services, and further threaten to push Alberta toward recession.

On Wednesday, February 11, the finance minister joined Premier Jim Prentice in a press conference updating Albertans on their plan to tackle government deficits caused by low oil prices and an irresponsible tax system. In the conference, the premier cited the languishing price of oil as a pretext for austerity measures and spending cuts.

“Jim Prentice has an opportunity here to show some leadership and political courage. Today’s press conference is an indication that he isn’t going to take that opportunity. This is terrible news for all Albertans,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “The premier knows that we’re facing a possible recessionary period – and every credible economist will tell you that slashing spending at this time will only deepen that recession.”

Despite the Premier saying he has heard that Albertans want a measured and reasoned response to the current fiscal reality, the PC government announced up to a nine per cent cut in government spending across the board. This will mean billions of dollars less each year for the front-line services on which Albertans rely, without addressing the underlying problem that the province’s budgets are too dependent on fluctuating resource revenues.

“When you cut spending this drastically, you put people out of work. When you put more people out of work, they stop spending. And when that many people stop spending, the economy grinds to a halt,” McGowan said. “Unless Premier Prentice can step up and provide leadership on royalties and taxes, Alberta could be heading for some very dark times.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org


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Harper government offers TFW loopholes to low-wage employers

“Cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” move on TFWP breaks promise to Canadians  by extending work permits and “fiddling” with caps

Edmonton – The Harper government has caved in to pressure from low-wage employers who want to hold on to exploitable temporary foreign workers for a longer period of time.

In a document sent to employers last week, federal Employment Minister Jason Kenney said Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) who have already applied for permanent residency under the Alberta government’s provincial nominee program may be allowed to stay. There are 10,000 workers on the waiting list for residency, but because of the specifics of the Express Entry program, it is unlikely that many of them will meet the criteria for permanent residency.

“This is yet another example of the Harper government telling Canadians one thing and then turning around and doing something else to employers,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is a deal that was cooked up behind closed doors with the federal government, the Alberta government and low-wage employers. It flies in the face of the promises that were made to Canadians.”

Kenney said in his letter that businesses will be allowed to exempt current low-wage guest workers from caps on the percentage of a workforce that can be made up of TFWs. Under reforms announced last June employers in Alberta were supposed to reduce the number of TFWs they have on staff to a maximum of 30 per cent of their workforces this year, 20 per cent next year, and 10 per cent the following year.

“Last June, the Harper Government promised to limit the number of TFWs that low-wage employers could use. But now, they’ve quietly broken their promise and changed the rules.” McGowan said.

McGowan said this new plan from the Harper government is particularly “cynical, sneaky and mean-spirited” because they have tried to dress it up as an act of kindness to the thousands of TFWs who face the prospect of deportation as soon as April 1.

“The sad truth is that most of the low-skill TFWs in question will never qualify for permanent residency under the federal government’s Express Entry program because it has a point system that gives preference to workers with high skills and high levels of education,” McGowan said.

“So this isn’t an act of kindness towards anxious TFWs; it’s all about making it possible for low-wage employers to hold on to more easily exploitable TFWs for another year. To put it another way, they’re giving their friends in the low-wage service sector what they’ve been asking for and they’re giving TFWs false hope. They’ve framed their scheme in the convoluted way they have because they knew Canadians would be up in arms if they knew that this is really about letting low-wage employers hold on to TFWs for a longer period of time.”

The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.

“Canada is a country that has been built by immigration. But the TFWP is not immigration, it’s exploitation. That’s why we’ve called on the government to phase the program out. It’s also why we’ve called on them to grant citizenship to the TFWs who are already in the country. The reason these workers were distorting the labour market was because they were essentially serfs, not citizens,” McGowan said. “But now the Harper Conservatives have done the opposite on both counts. They’re letting employers keep their Temporary Foreign Workers for a longer period of time and they’re blocking paths to citizenship that could eliminate the underclass of exploitable guest workers that has been distorting the Canadian labour market. It’s shameful.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.orgp


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Ironworkers protest against jobs being given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

Edmonton – Workers in Edmonton took to the street on Thursday to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs).

In protest, workers rallied at noon on Thursday at the corner of 104th Street and 104th Avenue in Edmonton, across the street from the arena’s location. The workers carried signs reading “Built for Edmonton, Built By Edmonton,” and “Where’s The Home-Ice Advantage.”

“Denying an application to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) should have been an easy call when there are 300 workers qualified and ready to do the work just blocks away,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “It should have been an easy stop. Have the TFWP regulators pulled their goalie?”

Since the contract was awarded, and the applications were submitted, Ironworkers Local 720 has lobbied the city, the contractor and the federal government asking for the jobs to be made available to qualified Canadian workers, and for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program permits to be revoked. These requests have been rebuffed.

“This is the sort of project that ironworkers love to work on – It’s going to be a beautiful building. And in thirty years, local workers who had a part in it will point to it and tell their kids ‘I built that.’ We have literally hundreds of qualified tradespeople who are eager to do this job,” Ironworkers Local 720 business agent George Papineau said. “And most of these workers are local Edmontonians. They’re the sort of folks who haven’t given up on the Oilers season yet – which is why it’s so galling that the company building the new home of the Oilers has turned its back on them.”

Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. Since the project was first proposed, it has been plagued by concerns that the economic benefits would not go to residents of the city.

“Who is this arena for? Edmontonians were sold this project – and it was approved by the narrowest of margins – based on an argument that it would be good for the city. Is it good for the city for our tax dollars to go to American workers with no investment in the community? Is it good for the city that hundreds of Edmonton ironworkers are watching from the sidelines?” Edmonton and District Labour Council president Bruce Fafard said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”

Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan speaks to demonstrators outside of Edmonton’s arena project.

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Workers call for home-ice advantage

Protest against jobs given to TFWs instead of qualified local tradespeople

EDMONTON – Workers in Edmonton are taking to the street to protest the fact that they’ve been passed over for jobs on the city’s new arena.

Instead of hiring some of the 300 qualified ironworkers who are on the jobs list at the hiring hall a few blocks from the arena’s location, the company that was awarded the lucrative contract for the construction of the arena has applied for – and been approved to hire – Temporary Foreign Workers.

“The guys who are supposed to stop the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from putting Canadians out of work have failed in their duty. How did these applications even make it past the blue-line?” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This is the biggest own goal Edmonton hockey has seen since Steve Smith.”

Who:
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)
George Papineau, Business Agent, Ironworkers Local 720
Bruce Fafard, President, Edmonton & District Labour Council (EDLC)

When:
12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m., Thursday, January 15, 2015

Where:
Muster point at the corner of 104 Avenue and 104 Street, downtown Edmonton

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Canadian workers sidelined as arena construction done by TFWs

Edmonton – Some of the work on Edmonton’s new downtown arena is being done by Temporary Foreign Workers from the U.S. despite the fact that hundreds of qualified local ironworkers are available.

Rogers’ Place – set to become the new home of the Edmonton Oilers in 2016 – began construction in March of 2014. The 20,000-seat venue will cost $480 million, and will involve hundreds of thousands of man hours to build. 

“The federal government has repeatedly assured Canadians that permits for Temporary Foreign Workers would not be granted if there are any qualified Canadians available to do the job,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “And yet these applications for foreign ironworkers were approved for a project that’s within walking distance of 300 ironworkers on the jobs list at the Ironworkers 720 hiring hall.”

Contracts to build several portions of Edmonton’s Arena District were awarded to local firms that employ Canadian workers. Unfortunately, the crown jewel of the district, Rogers’ Place, was given to a firm that applied to the federal government to bring in workers from outside of Canada.

Based on the fact that there are more than enough workers ready and willing to tackle the project, trades organizations are petitioning the government to rescind any Temporary Foreign Worker Permits that had been granted for the project.

“This project was sold to Edmonton on a promise of jobs and economic benefits. But Canadian workers are being left on the sidelines, so the full benefits of this project aren’t being felt by the community,” McGowan said. “The arena is being paid for by tax dollars – and most citizens would rather see their tax dollars going to their neighbours than being sent out of the province and out of the country.”

“There were more than enough Albertan tradespeople eager to work on this project back when it started in the middle of last year while oil prices were sky high and the oil sands were going full throttle,” McGowan said. “Now that oil sands construction is slowing down, it’s even more offensive that Albertans aren’t benefitting from home-ice advantage.” 

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Cuts to early childhood programs will hurt children and families

Program flagged Alberta’s failing grade on early childhood education

Edmonton – Premier Prentice’s decision to cut the Early Childhood Mapping Project will hurt children and families.

Using international standards for establishing Alberta’s early education baseline, the ECMap program found that a third of Alberta’s five-year-olds experience developmental difficulties. These findings helped forge an emerging national consensus of early childhood learning, education and care.

“The ECMap Project did world-class work on a measly budget,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said, noting that the program cost just $5-million. “Instead of acting on the recommendations of this project, the Government of Alberta has instead chosen to shut it down.”

The project was created as part of the Department of Human Services’ Social Policy Framework. It found that investing in public, non-profit learning and care environments for children under the age of five is essential to ending child poverty. Such programs prepare children for the demands of Grade One, and improve health and social outcomes throughout the children’s lives.

“The decision to axe this program flies in the face of Tory promises to end child poverty in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Government’s actions show that early childhood education and care aren’t a priority for them.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour is advocating for concrete action to be taken by government on child poverty and on early childhood programs. At the Federation’s convention in 2013, hundreds of delegates unanimously passed motions calling for public child care. Rank-and-file members, elected union representatives and staff have actively lobbied MLAs for more funding of public child care.

“Some MLAs in the PC caucus do seem to understand the need for public investment in early learning and high-quality child care,” McGowan said. “Just last week, Edmonton Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux had a motion passed in the Legislature that urged the Government to review child care policies to ensure that accessible, high-quality, and affordable child care is available for all Albertans. Unfortunately, the government has not taken concrete action.”

 “This is an issue that matters deeply to our membership. Alberta’s union movement is now 54 per cent women. While this is an issue that affects all workers and their families, it’s an important area of social policy for women workers in particular. The AFL is committed to making sure the government hears the will of our membership loud and clear,” McGowan said.

For more information on the Early Childhood Mapping Project, see:

http://lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/opinions/2014/12/03/funding-cut-a-blow-to-albertas-children/

For the full text of MLA Matt Jeneroux’s motion, see:

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/houserecords/vp/legislature_28/session_3/20141208_1200_01_vp.pdf

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Cuts to early childhood project will hurt children and families

Project flagged Alberta’s failing grade on early childhood education

Edmonton – The government’s decision not to continue the Early Childhood Mapping Project will hurt children and families.

Using international standards for establishing Alberta’s early education baseline, the Early Childhood Mapping Project (ECMap) found that 29 per cent of Alberta’s young children experience developmental difficulties. These findings helped forge an emerging national consensus of early childhood learning, education and care.

“The ECMap Project did world-class work on a measly budget of $5-million a year.  The project’s major report was up on the ECMap website for two days, before the government asked that it be taken down,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Instead of being proud of the good work of this project, and instead of making their report widely available, the Government of Alberta has instead chosen to shut it down.”

The program found that investing in public, non-profit learning and care environments for children under the age of five is essential to ending child poverty. Such programs prepare children for the demands of Grade One, and improve health and social outcomes throughout the children’s lives.

“The decision to axe this program flies in the face of Tory promises to end child poverty in Alberta,” McGowan said. “The Government’s actions show that early childhood education and care aren’t a priority for them.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour is advocating for concrete action to be taken by government on child poverty and on early childhood programs. At the Federation’s convention in 2013, hundreds of delegates unanimously passed motions calling for public child care. Rank-and-file members, elected union representatives and staff have actively lobbied MLAs for more funding of public child care.

“Some MLAs in the PC caucus do seem to understand the need for public investment in early learning and high-quality child care,” McGowan said. “Just last week, Edmonton Southwest MLA Matt Jeneroux had a motion passed in the Legislature that urged the Government to review child care policies to ensure that accessible, high-quality, and affordable child care is available for all Albertans. Unfortunately, the government has not taken concrete action.”

 “This is an issue that matters deeply to our membership. Alberta’s union movement is now 54 per cent women. While this is an issue that affects all workers and their families, it’s an important area of social policy for women workers in particular. The AFL is committed to making sure the government hears the will of our membership loud and clear,” McGowan said.

For more information on the Early Childhood Mapping Project, see:

http://lethbridgeherald.com/commentary/opinions/2014/12/03/funding-cut-a-blow-to-albertas-children/

For the full text of MLA Matt Jeneroux’s motion, see:

http://www.assembly.ab.ca/ISYS/LADDAR_files/docs/houserecords/vp/legislature_28/session_3/20141208_1200_01_vp.pdf

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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Alberta’s workplaces must tackle violence against women

Province should follow Ontario’s lead by addressing role of workplace in domestic violence

Edmonton – Saturday, Dec. 6, marks 25 years since the murder of 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.

At a brunch in commemoration of the event, Alberta Federation of Labour secretary treasurer Siobhán Vipond called on the government to take action, and to ensure workplaces become part of the solution to domestic violence.

“On December 6th, we must remember that violence against women affects us all, and in every aspect of our lives – including our workplaces,” Vipond said. “Domestic violence affects the immediate victims, as well as their children, their extended families, their friends, their co-workers.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour’s governing body has passed motions calling on the Government of Alberta to follow the Government of Ontario’s lead and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Code to include policies targeted at helping victims of domestic violence for whom the abuse follows them to work. Earlier this year, the Ontario Legislature passed Bill 168, which placed a greater responsibility on employers to make sure employers are safe not just from occupational accidents, but threats from other people — whether co-workers, customers or other outside individuals.

“Domestic violence isn’t contained to the home – it follows victims to their workplaces.” Vipond said. “A recent study by the Canadian Labour Congress says that the cost to employers is about $77 million. But the cost to individuals and to families is much, much greater, and cannot be quantified.”

The study “Domestic Violence At Work” found that more than a third of women in Canada have experienced domestic violence – the majority of whom report the abuse continuing during their working days. Almost 40 per cent of those experiencing domestic violence had difficulty getting to work as a result of the abuse. For about nine per cent of victims, the effects of that violence have cost them their job.

“Women who are in abusive situations often face barriers to being taken seriously, and when they do come forward they are all too often targeted for additional harassment,” Vipond said. “These barriers must be challenged, the people who try to silence victims must be called out, and our workplaces must be made safer places for victims of domestic violence.”

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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MEDIA ADVISORY: Province should follow Ontario’s lead by addressing role of workplace in domestic violence

EDMONTON – Saturday, Dec. 6, marks 25 years since the murder of 14 women at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.

At a brunch in commemoration of the event, Alberta Federation of Labour secretary treasurer Siobhán Vipond will call on the government to take action, and to ensure workplaces become part of the solution to domestic violence.

“On December 6th, we must remember that violence against women affects us all, and in every aspect of our lives – including our workplaces,” Vipond said. “Domestic violence affects the immediate victims, as well as their children, their extended families, their friends, their co-workers.”

The Alberta Federation of Labour’s governing body has passed motions calling on the Government of Alberta to follow the Government of Ontario’s lead and to amend the Occupational Health and Safety Code to include policies targeted at helping victims of domestic violence for whom the abuse follows them to work.

Who:
Siobhan Vipond, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL)

When:
10:30 a.m. – 10:45 a.m., Saturday, December 6, 2014

Where:
University of Alberta Faculty Club – Saskatchewan Room (11435 Saskatchewan Drive)

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MEDIA CONTACT:

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail
orokne@afl.org

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