There have been more than 1,000 confirmed cases of elderly and disabled Albertans being abused in provincially funded facilities over the past seven years and thousands more have filed complaints that were dismissed for lack of proof or other reasons, the Herald has learned.
The province has received an average of 500 abuse complaints a year from facilities housing more than 40,000 seniors and disabled adult residents, according to documents obtained under provincial Freedom of Information legislation.
Less than two per cent are referred to police, government documents show.
Government officials say the figures prove tough new reporting legislation is working, but elder advocates and opposition critics say the system needs major changes to protect Albertans in provincial care from harm.
"It just goes on and on," said Ruth Adria of Elder Advocates of Alberta. "Complaints are usually trivialized or dismissed. There has to be accountability. It has to be known that when there's an assault, someone will be held accountable."
Since the governing Tories proclaimed Protection of Persons in Care legislation in July 2010 to make it against the law not to report abuses, there have been 142 confirmed cases of abuse, documents show.
That data, until the end of January 2012, includes 37 confirmed cases of bodily harm, eight incidents of nonconsensual sexual activity, 67 cases of emotional harm, 22 cases of residents being denied basic necessities, four cases of them being over or under medicated and one case of misappropriating residents' money or property.
Seniors Minister George VanderBurg said he is partly responsible for the high number of abuse complaints because he promotes an abuse hotline number whenever he speaks to seniors or is questioned in the legislature.
"Part of the reason we're getting more concern and more reported incidents is probably my fault," he said. "Every time at question period I'm saying if you have issues of abuse, you're obligated to report it."
He noted most of the cases of abuse reported are emotional, "but that's important, too."
"We're seeing more instances of reporting and I think that's good. It tells us it is working and our message is getting across."
He said the department's contracted investigators do thorough investigations of complaints. "Sometimes they're founded; sometimes they're not."
VanderBurg wasn't concerned 70 per cent of complaints are dismissed and less than two per cent reported to police. "It's a very small number that are criminal in nature," he said.
Since April 2005, there have been 1,021 confirmed cases of abuse, according to government documents.
That includes 549 cases of emotional harm, 216 cases of residents being denied basic necessities, 160 cases of bodily harm, 55 sexual offences, 27 thefts or money or property, and 14 cases of improper medication, according to the Protection of Persons In Care summary of founded complaints.
"We care for a lot of people," said VanderBurg. "I am not downplaying the numbers, but I am telling you one is serious to me."
Wildrose seniors critic Heather Forsyth said many seniors and their families don't want to complain about their treatment in long-term care for fear of retaliation or retribution. She said a former RCMP inspector was "too afraid to complain" and the daughter of a senior delayed filing a complaint until her mother died.
"We're dealing with seniors who are afraid to report incidents and that sends shivers down my spine," she said.
Forsyth said there are not enough inspections of care facilities and not sufficient public reporting of the complaints. The situation cries out for whistleblower protection legislation and a mechanism for anonymous reporting of abuse, she added.
Seniors Department spokesperson Carolyn Gregson said the law puts the onus on the service providers in publicly funded facilities to report any abuse of residents.
"We're making them the front-line watchdog under the act. They are obligated to report anything and everything they see and when it comes to us, it's reviewed and investigated, if warranted."
She said the abuse line receives almost 4,000 calls annually.
"I think this has made a difference," she said. "Any time you actually report it and it is investigated, results and outcomes can happen from that."
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said he was surprised when the Alberta Seniors deputy minister told the Legislature Public Accounts committee he chairs that there were 22 fatal accidents or serious injuries in provincial care facilities last year and refused to elaborate.
But VanderBurg said Tuesday there was only one death and five serious injuries and they were all attributable to falls.
MacDonald said the protection of Persons In Care legislation doesn't seem to be improving the plight of people in care.
"It's good legislation, but it's obviously not being enforced," he said. "It's necessary. It's needed, but it's frightening that it doesn't seem to be making a difference in the number of allegations or incidents where people have been abused and neglected."
But PC MLA Neil Brown, who introduced the legislation, said it make take some time for the law to show positive benefits.
"I believe the changes we made are working," he said.
Abuse reports, by the numbers:
Founded complaints of abuse of elderly and disabled adult Albertans in provincially funded facilities since 2005:
Calgary Herald, Wed Mar 21 2012 Byline: Darcy Henton
Speaking Notes Gil McGowan, President
Our current provincial government wants Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding ... even for vital services like education.
People like Premier Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock put on their most sorrowful faces and said things like:
"We're sorry, but – really – there is no alternative."
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up; they see glitzy office towers rising; they see the economy springing back to life.
And they wonder: Why?
Why, amidst such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
The truth is: It is ordinary Albertans, with hearts and their guts, who are right, and it's our politicians, with their pious pronouncements, who are wrong.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals ... about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society ... then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
And what do the facts tell us?
Well, they tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we still have no public debt ...
...that, on a person basis, our provincial economy is 75 percent larger than the Canadian average...
...that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 percent over the past decade...
...that ten of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oil sands each year.
These are NOT tough times.
We are a province that can think big and dream big. And we are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services like education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
That's the part where they tell Albertans that we has a spending problem – that costs are out of control for public services.
But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
They tell us that, despite our wealth, Alberta's per person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
They tell us that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
And they tell us that, as a share of our provinces overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years – and not by just a little bit.
All of this begs the question: if we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question that Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians: now; during the Tory leadership race and in the next election.
And the answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments here in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
That's why we've re-established the Join Together Alberta coalition ... and it's why we'll be circulating our declaration and hosting townhalls across the province.
We want to help Albertans understand that lay-offs and larger class sizes are not inevitable or unavoidable.
We want to remind our leaders and the public about the important role that public services play in building a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.
We want to demonstrate that what we have is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
We want to pressure our politicians to stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we to call on the government to deal with the real problem: which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out. Peter Lougheed, members of the premier's advisory panel on economic strategy, think tanks like the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation: they're all calling for a discussion on revenue reform.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. But for the sake of our kids, our families and our future, this is a discussion we have to have. We're going to do our part to make sure that happens.
River Valley Room, Chateau Lacombe Edmonton March 26, 2011
NDP opposes environmental rule changes
While Ottawa and the province have clashed in the past, the Conservative federal budget released Thursday received a warm reception from Alberta's two main contenders for the premier's office.
The budget's highlights include raising the age for Old Age Security from 65 to 67 for those currently under the age of 54, the elimination of nearly 20,000 civil service jobs over three years and cuts to program spending, though overall expenditures will continue to climb as the government projects being out of deficit in 2015-2016.
The federal Tories are also promising a new shortened environmental review process for major natural resource industrial projects, including the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline to British Columbia, and to put some environmental reviews strictly under the provinces.
With a provincial election underway, both Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford and Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith linked themselves to the budget's measures.
Redford said her PC government has been working with the federal government to streamline environmental regulations and is similar to measures undertaken already in Alberta.
"We know that industry thinks this is a better way to be competitive. I think we'll see not just on the Gateway project but on other projects, this will be a tremendous improvement," she told reporters in Edmonton.
Redford praised the federal government's plans to balance the budget in three years without tax increases and noted her government's projection of a balanced budget in 2013, with no tax hikes.
In a news release, Smith - who has slammed the PCs for out-of-control spending - compared the federal financial document to Wildrose's budgetary plans.
She applauded the Tory budget for reducing "wasteful government spending and . . . unnecessary levels of bureaucracy."
Ben Brunnen, chief economist of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said "this is a good budget for Alberta business."
The changes to OAS include allowing for recipients to defer receiving their payments for up to five years with no penalty.
That's an incentive for those wanting to stay in the workforce to do so, helping to ease the labour shortage that is beginning to bite the province and is expected to get worse.
Raising the eligibility age in 2023 should also have a positive effect in the longer term on the labour pinch, said Brunnen.
While details are lacking, Ottawa has also pledged to make the temporary foreign worker program more aligned with labour market needs and to work with the provinces on improving the recognition of foreign credentials.
"This is just a full-marks budget," said Brunnen.
A spokesman for the Public Service Alliance of Canada said there has been no indication yet where the planned federal job cuts will take place, meaning the impact on Alberta civil servants is uncertain.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the Conservatives are destroying jobs, cutting services and making life harder for seniors for no good reason given the relatively healthy state of the government's books and the Canadian economy.
"These cuts are particularly galling because they're so unnecessary," he said. "This is a road map to a more conservative future where corporations matter more than citizens."
Redford said the government would review the impact on Alberta seniors of raising the age for OAS.
Ted Menzies, the MP for MacLeod and minister of state for finance, said the budget was designed to ensure there was no downloading to provinces.
The federal government will work with the provinces to ensure that changes to OAS don't affect provincial programs that kick in at age 65.
New Democrat Linda Duncan, Alberta's lone Opposition MP, said the federal promise of "one window" for environmental regulation is full of smoke given issues of federal, provincial and aboriginal jurisdiction.
The claim that major projects are hamstrung by red tape is a fallacy, she said.
"Show me one single project that's been denied. Show me an oilsands project that's been denied," said Duncan.
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 30 2012 Byline: James Wood
Government rules allowed private, for-profit facility to evict senior in stable condition
An Alberta family is demanding answers from the Conservative government after their mother, a long-term-care patient in stable condition, was dumped at a hospital emergency room by a private care-home operator.
"We are appalled that our 80-year-old mother was treated liked a commodity instead of being treated with the respect and dignity that all Albertans deserve," says Beth Podgurny, of St. Albert.
"Within days of our mother moving in, the private, for-profit home in which she was living began asking us for more money, but when we told them they should stick to the terms of the contract that we had only recently signed, they responded with an eviction notice," says Podgurny.
"The fact that there appears to be nothing under provincial rules to prevent this is mind-boggling. It just goes to show that the privatization solution that Premier Alison Redford is pushing to address long-term-care issues isn't the answer for vulnerable Albertans."
Podgurny and other members of her family will hold a media conference Wednesday to call on the government for answers about the long-term-care crisis, and to ask why they have had no answer from Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg nearly two months after writing to them seeking a public inquiry into long-term care.
Other speakers at the media conference:Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta Noel Somerville, chair of the PIA Seniors Task Force
TIME: 10:00 a.m., Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
LOCATION: River Valley Room, Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe, 10111 Bellamy Hill, Edmonton.
MEDIA CONTACT:Bill Moore-Kilgannon, 780-993-3736
Unions fear attack on jobs will undermine economy, throw seniors into poverty
Labour leaders from across Alberta will be keeping a close eye on the federal budget today to assess the impact it will have on working families in the province.
"The federal government has an opportunity today to make the Canadian economy stronger and to make it work for average Canadians," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.
"This budget could be used to help create good jobs – the kind of jobs that support families. We fear, however, that the Harper government will do the opposite and destroy jobs, which will weaken an economy they have described as fragile," he says.
"We also fear that the budget will undermine the retirement security of Canadians by cutting back on Old Age Security benefits to seniors, which risks throwing more elderly citizens into poverty."
Budget Watch 2012 events will be held in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer this afternoon. McGowan will be among labour leaders at the Edmonton event and will be available for comment. Other labour leaders will be available at the Calgary and Red Deer events.BUDGET WATCH 2012, EDMONTON TIME: 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. LOCATION: CUPE 474 Meeting Hall, 10989 – 124 Street, Edmonton. BUDGET WATCH 2012, CALGARY TIME: 2 p.m. - 4 p.m.LOCATION: Greenwood Inn, 3515 – 26 Street N.E., Calgary. BUDGET WATCH 2012, RED DEER
TIME: 2 p.m. - 4 p.m. LOCATION: Unit 4, 7464 – 50 Avenue, Red Deer.
Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Amanda Freistadt, CLC Prairie Representative, 780-904-0517
Alberta labour, social agencies unite to fight provincial budget cuts: Higher taxes, energy royalties would stablize funding for education, social services, health care, group says
EDMONTON — Raising taxes will reduce provincial budget cuts and save more than 1,000 teachers from losing their jobs in Alberta, say unions, community groups and social-services agencies, which have banded together to push for more funding.
Collecting more revenue will help the government provide more stable and long-term funding to programs and services that Albertans need and rely on, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
To that end, McGowan's group and dozens of other organizations have launched a campaign called Join Together Alberta to press the government for more funding for education, social services and health care.
"Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens? The truth is: there is no good reason," McGowan said. "We need to talk about higher royalty rates for the development and sell of our collectively owned natural resources."
Alberta also needs to talk about reducing corporate tax breaks and increasing taxes for higher-income earners, he said.
Join Together Alberta's initiative comes on the heals of an announcement from Edmonton's public school board that provincial budget cuts will cost nearly 350 jobs, including more than 200 teaching positions. The Calgary board is expected to trim 358 teachers and support staff. The government committed this week to spend $550 million on new schools.
How the government fixes the problem is its decision, said Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teachers' Association.
"The children that are in our schools right now are entitled to a proper education in a province that is this wealthy," she said. "They need to put $100 million back into the education system now for this fall."
Armstrong said if the cuts are made, it will lead to larger class sizes, less teacher attention per student and more difficulty improving graduation rates.
Diana Gibson, research director for the Parkland Institute, said the provincial government should stop tying social services to oil and gas prices. That system isn't working and hasn't been for a long time, she said.
"Our social spending goes up and down. It's very volatile because oil and gas is volatile. To have some form of stability in our education, health care and social programs, we need to rely on stable, predictable revenues."
Politicians have long boasted that Alberta has the lowest taxes in Canada, Gibson said, but Alberta should be beating other provinces by a yard, not a mile. The province can raise taxes to provide adequate funding for services and still have the lowest tax rates, she said.
The rest of the provinces are collecting between $11 billion to $20 billion more in taxes than Alberta.
"That gap is so big," she said. "Why the difference? We could capture $10.9 billion and still be the lowest tax jurisdiction in Canada and one of the lowest in the G7."
McGowan agreed, adding the change won't affect industry.
"People in businesses don't come to Alberta because of the low tax rates. They come to Alberta because of the oil and gas."
So why is Alberta laying off education workers; under-funding universities, colleges and technical schools; and skimping on other services,s he asked.
"The answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because provincial government has decided to make it bare."
Edmonton Journal, Thurs May 26 2011 Byline: Miranda Scotland
Fluctuating revenues lead to cuts when oil prices decline
In industries such as oil and gas, revenues can fluctuate, sometimes wildly, with the ebbs and flows of the market.
For a province such as Alberta, whose revenue is heavily based on the oil and gas industry, such fluctuations are a major problem because the need for that money doesn't fluctuate. The need to fund areas such as health care and education is constant.
It's for that reason that Public Interest Alberta is campaigning to push the province to fix a revenue system it says is broken.
The organization is touring the province, holding town hall meetings - including one in Lethbridge tonight at 7 p.m. at Southminster United Church - to let Albertans know the province does have options for generating revenue that could eliminate the need for cuts.
Public Interest Alberta points out the province still has about $10 billion in rainy-day savings in the Heritage Trust Fund. The organization also says Alberta - the only province still using a flat tax - would be better served by switching to a progressive tax system which could generate up to extra $2 billion in revenue.
Alberta also overspent by $900 million on its energy stimulus drilling program which provides subsidies for the oil and gas industry.
The extra money in government coffers would come in handy now with school districts facing the prospect of budget shortfalls for next term.
"It's obviously well know that there's $100 million that's been cut out of the education budget even though they're looking at an additional 6,000 children from K to 12 going into our system next year," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, which is helping to spearhead the "Join Together Alberta" campaign which demands Alberta change to a more consistent revenue model.
Moore-Kilgannon notes post-secondary institutions are also facing tough times because the zero per cent increase in their operating budgets the past two years effectively amounts to a cut because operating costs have risen.
He's right when he says the need for health care, education and care for seniors doesn't rise and fall with the price of oil, and that cuts made today ultimately wind up producing greater costs down the road. That doesn't include the social costs in terms of hardship for Albertans who rely on these services.
There's no need for Albertans to have to endure such hardship. We are fortunate to live in one of the "have" provinces; maintaining services essential to Albertans shouldn't be as difficult as it has become.
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, blessed with an abundance of extremely valuable natural resources - and yet our government has manufactured a financial crisis that is likely to see 1,200 teachers laid off in the next few months and a still to be determined number of vital educational support staff," Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour and co-chair of the JTA campaign, said in a news release at the campaign's launch. "Our education system is experiencing the same kind of chaos that has been inflicted on our health-care system, and that pain is also being felt in post-secondary education and in social services struggling to help vulnerable Albertans."
A more sustainable revenue system could ease that pain.
Lethbridge Herald, Thurs Jun 16 2011
Alberta Premier to reveal budget plans over airwaves: Stelmach's pre-taped speech will address strategy for balancing finances in timely fashion and touch on health care and seniors
Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach will take to the airwaves this week to deliver a plan to return the ailing province to a balanced budget in a "reasonable period of time."
The pre-taped speech, which will air across the province tomorrow night, comes as Mr. Stelmach faces threats both from the faltering economy, which has doubled provincial unemployment in a year, and newly emboldened political foes. With the upstart Wild Rose Alliance Party gaining traction - and, in a September by-election, a first legislative seat - and his own Conservative Party leadership up for review next month, political observers say the address is a pivotal one.
Mr. Stelmach has spent recent months "in the shadows looking bad," said Peter McCormick, a professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge. "He just has to step forward and be the guy. Mr. Alberta has to show up and reassure the party supporters that he's on top of it."Mr. Stelmach taped segments of the 18-minute edited address at his office and home farm over the past few days, working to craft what aides promised is a "meaty" speech filled with specific new proposals.
"There's a four-point plan pointing the way forward to a balanced budget. It's clear and concise and comprehensive," said Tom Olsen, the Premier's spokesman. "Ed Stelmach's government has a plan to move forward."
With the plunge in oil and gas revenues driving the province to a nearly $7-billion deficit this year, the address will tilt heavily toward the economy. But, Mr. Olsen said, it will also touch on health care and seniors, a subject that has already generated heated debate after a leaked report pointed to the possible closing of 9,000 long-term care beds in the province.
"The Premier will underscore his commitment, as he has time and again, to a publicly funded health-care system," Mr. Olsen said.
But many expect Mr. Stelmach to use the provincewide pulpit to veer right, in hopes of using a fiscal-cutting agenda to take ground from the rising conservative Wildrose party, which elects a leader three days later."Mr. Stelmach grew up politically in the mid-nineties. He knows how to cut. He knows the success that can bring, or at least the perceived success," said Keith Brownsey, an associate professor of political science at Mount Royal University in Calgary. The rise in Wildrose popularity "allows him to do exactly that."
The possibility of a public-sector wage freeze or cuts to health and education, the government's biggest budget items, has already struck fear in those who lived through the austere days that former premier Ralph Klein used to wipe out the province's debt.
"We're afraid that the Stelmach government is considering a return to Klein-style cuts, even though that would clearly be a bad move, in that it would make a bad economic situation in the province much worse," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Bold moves could be risky for Mr. Stelmach, who is still half a year from unveiling the province's next budget. Yet he may be keen to take a page from Mr. Klein, who launched a tradition of annual television addresses in 1994, just days before unveiling a cost-slashing budget.
Alberta at the time was facing a bulging debt and a multibillion-dollar deficit.
"We knew that a budget was coming that was going to be explosive. And so the calculation was made to get ahead of it," said Rod Love, who served as Mr. Klein's chief of staff.
A televised address only works if it is used to explain something new, he said.
"You have to have a reason to focus the debate," he said. "You just can't go on and say what you've been saying before."
Yet Mr. Stelmach may find himself limited by the fact that any dramatic change could reflect badly on his leadership, which began during the heady, free-spending boom that ended last summer.
"Ed's used up his first couple of years in office. He's running against his own record now," Prof. McCormick said. "He can't slash without taking responsibility for the things that are being slashed."
Globe and Mail, Tues Oct 13 2009Byline: Nathan Vanderklippe
Teachers and the Alberta Federation of Labour plan to fight layoffs that could cost up to 1,200 teachers their jobs. The Alberta Teachers' Association is holding a news conference this morning within the A-F-L to speak out about budget shortfalls that are behind the expected cuts. Union leaders blame the problem on government boom-and-bust budget cycles. They say the province should come up with a plan that would provide the education system with stable funding.
AM770 News, Thurs May 26 2011
A plan to lay off more than 1,000 teachers across Alberta is being met with fierce opposition from unions and special interest groups, who say the decision can't be justified.
"Our provincial government wants Albertans to believe these are tough times," said Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We should not be as a province talking austerity, we should not be talking freezes. We are a province that can afford high quality public services."
Roughly 1,200 teaching jobs are expected to be eliminated this fall, the result of funding cuts to education programs that have left school boards unable to balance their books. On Tuesday Edmonton's Public School Board announced that 229 teachers would be lost.
But members of "Join Together Alberta" - comprised of a variety of unions and special interest groups - say that schools boards shouldn't be forced to consider job cuts when the province has money to spend.
"We think in the short term the provincial government should be drawing from the substantiality fund to make sure our public services are maintained," McGowan said.
Sharon Armstrong, vice-president of the Alberta Teacher's Association, believes a united voice could help convince the province to loosen it's purse-strings.
"The individual in Alberta has a lot of power if they choose to use it," Armstrong said. "I believe if they speak out strongly, the government will listen."
Vanessa Sauve, president of the Holyrood Parents Council, is lending her voice to the chorus, concerned about what cuts could mean for children.
"Parents are worried," Sauve said. "Larger class sizes for their child means less class time with the teacher and things can get missed."
Education Minister Dave Hancock could not be reached for comment Thursday, but earlier in the week suggested that the province has increased education spending by nearly 70 percent in the last decade.
Global Toronto, Thurs May 26 2011
It's tough enough running a public sector union in a province like Alberta, where fat cats get a pass and working stiffs the straight-arm.
So when the provincial government's latest budget yanks the carpet out from under your fear and loathing campaign, what do you do?
You claim victory - sort of.
Organized labour and its allies crafted a coalition dubbed Join Together Alberta and took it across the province, holding public hearings to pre-emptively protest what was expected to be a slash and burn blueprint.
It could be the biggest such group to take on the status quo in Alberta history.
The coalition insists it is ecstatic with the turnout in Tory or possibly Wildrose heartlands.
"We were bringing in extra tables and chairs," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
That was before the Feb. 9 budget was handed down prior to the final few townhalls, which took the wind out of the campaign's sails.
"Attendance was down a little bit because the cuts were not as deep as we expected," said McGowan.
While the JTA attracted 200 people in Lethbridge prior to Feb. 9, it managed no more than that in Calgary and Edmonton following budget day, said the unionist.
The coalition had fully expected the government to placate the surging Wildrose by slicing deeply into programs.
But while there were cuts to 14 departments, the savings were transferred to health care and education.
"The budget is something of a victory for the coalition - I'd like to think it had something to do with the position of people like us," said McGowan.
I'm not so sure about that, but there is a certain irony in seeing government minds focused by an insurgency on the right delivering spending to the partial satisfaction of the left.
Ideological purity pales against peoples' desire for accessible health care, hockey rinks, passable roads and decent schools.
McGowan says as much himself, almost sounding like the unlikeliest ally Danielle Smith ever had.
"There's nothing like nervous politicians to get them to listen," he says.
Some Wildrosers even showed up at the JTA townhalls, says McGowan, and left uncertain about their political loyalties.
But that was before the budget.
And now, isn't there a complacency - and a renewal of the time honoured-cynicism regarding union motivations?
"We're involved in the coalition partly because union jobs are at stake," admits McGowan.
The presence of so much labour in such activism could well detract from its credibility, he concedes.
"Would it be more effective if citizens rose up and organized their own groups? Sure, but we're the only ones with the wherewithall," said McGowan.
"If we weren't involved, there probably wouldn't be a campaign at all."
He's right - it's Alberta.
As it is, the AFL's membership base won't be hugely affected by the budget, he notes, but the JTA's efforts will continue.
Appearances must be upheld.
But this group has been mostly reduced to warning of budget axe time bombs down the road.
The spectre is raised of a repeat of the People with Developmental Disabilities blindsiding in this year's third quarter.
One of their arguments - that the sustainability fund should preclude spending cuts - actually compliments the government they hold in such suspicion.
McGowan says the JTA will offer a punchline to all this, sometime.
But inevitable, he says, is the need, even the realistic prospect of a "viable left-wing alternative" to replicate the success of the right's Wildrose Alliance.
In Alberta, that smacks of owning a podium too far.
Calgary Sun, Thurs Feb 25 2010 Byline: Bill Kaufmann
It may have been the dog days of summer 2009, but Lloyd Snelgrove, the chair of the Alberta Treasury Board was busy. He was calling together union and civil society leaders and warning them of looming cuts.
At issue was the return to deficit budgets in Alberta in 2009 and 2010 for the first time since the mid-1990s. Under Premier Ralph Klein deficits had been made illegal. While it was simple enough to undo that law (they simply passed another to make deficits legal again), for the Tories it was more difficult to live with being in the red.
While virtually every economist advised that stimulus spending, funded by temporary deficits if necessary, was the appropriate way to minimize the impacts of the worldwide recession, the Alberta government stood almost alone in pushing draconian cuts to public-sector spending.
Hoping to decrease the size of the coming 2010 deficit, the government suggested that it would need to find $2 billion in "savings." In this context, the minister called labour and civil society leaders and asked them where they would suggest the cuts be made.
What Snelgrove heard was a resounding: "Nowhere!"
Experience told the leaders that it was likely that their message would not be heeded by a government that never saw a program it didn't want to privatize, so they were spurred into action. What resulted was something that had never been seen before - a coalition of unions, including the Alberta Federation of Labour, community groups and social-services agencies. Plans for what is now known as the Join Together Alberta campaign began to be formed.
At the same time that our province was facing the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Progressive Conservatives began to feel increasing pressure from the Wildrose Alliance Party, galvanized by the election of a new and dynamic leader. The overwhelming mantra of this group was that the government had lost its conservative direction.
The Wildrose party called for more spending cuts to the public service and lower royalty rates for resource developers. While the press was filled with reports of organizations calling for more fiscal restraint, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition were hearing from people across the province who were already hurting from cuts to public services. They decided to organize a series of town-hall meetings in 22 communities across the province to give ordinary Albertans an opportunity talk about how public services including health, education, support for people with developmental disabilities and seniors, to name only a few, were the fabric that tied their communities together.
The hope was to hold all the town-hall meetings before the budget was brought down, which usually happens in late February or March. When the government announced that this year they would be bringing the budget down earlier than usual - on February 9 - plans for the town-hall meetings had to be fast-tracked.
Two teams were formed to do concurrent tours in the first two weeks of the campaign with a third week of meetings planned for the week of the budget. Two final stops in Calgary and Edmonton were scheduled for the final week.
We were concerned about how to get the word out about the town-hall meetings, so we decided to use an interactive voice broadcast to almost every home in Alberta to let them know about the meeting closest to them and/or to express their concern about our province's public services. It also drove them to our website (www.JoinTogetherAlberta.ca) where there is a full discussion of the issues and an opportunity to take actionthrough writing letters, signing a petition, joining our Facebook group or following us on Twitter.
The response to the phone calls was remarkable, but we were still not confident about what turnout would be like at the town halls, especially in rural Alberta, where support for the Tories has been historic and strong. However, beginning with the first night, the rooms we booked were packed with people who were receptive to our message and who had plenty to say.
We heard heart-breaking stories along the way of how our government isn't doing what Albertans expect from the richest province in Canada.
We heard how a hospital in Pincher Creek was using the same IV pumps that it received when it first opened - 25 years ago.
We hear that the hospital in Brooks no longer offers maternity services and that nurses have heard of babies being delivered in the car on the way to Calgary.
In Hinton, we heard about a man suffering from MS who was left hanging in a lift over his bed at a local assisted-living facility for an hour because of a staff shortage.
In Edson, we heard how some high schools had class sizes of up to 45 students.
Provincial Budget 2010 OverviewOverall budgeted program expenses up $1.4 billion (to $38.4 billion), a 3.9% increase over last year $4.7 billion deficit forecast for 2010/11 Looking ahead, the government is forecasting a reduction in spending of $275 million in next year’s budget in a move toward a surplus budget in two years While this year’s budget included increased spending in health and flat spending in education, 14 ministries have been cut by $1.3 billion cumulatively Ministries with flat spending, such as education, are not accounting for negotiated salary increases and inflation, meaning that “holding the line” is effectively a cut The government intends to cut a further $240 million out of this year’s budget through “in-year savings” in addition to the cuts already announced The government has announced plans to lay off 795 full-time civil servants this year Early indications for pending negotiations are that the government will be pushing for minimal increases, or wage freezes Any increases will have to be found within departmental budgets The government continues to refuse any suggestions that revenue be generated through tax reform or through increased royalties
We heard about one Registered Nurse (RN) who works alone in a hospital emergency room in Grimshaw, near Peace River, and has to dial 9-1-1 when there is a heart attack so that an Emergency Medical Team will come in to treat the heart attack, while the RN takes care of the rest of the patients.
We heard from a parent of an autistic child who is about to turn 18 and, in spite of the remarkable progress he is making, will likely lose most of his services because funding for adults with developmental disabilities has been cut.
We continue to hear about seniors who are at their wits' end because they do not have the financial resources to deal with rising drug and care costs as they age.
People were sometimes unaware of how deep the problems had become in their own communities and were shocked at the stories they heard. For example, one gentleman who had not been to the hospital since the 1980s was shocked to learn about how stretched the staff had become.
Others knew about the problems that exist in their community and are becoming increasingly angry at a government that ignores the needs or continues to break promise after promise. Grande Prairie, where the promise of a new hospital has been the substance of more than one election campaign, has once again had the project delayed. Fort McMurray, a city of over 100,000 Albertans, still is without a single long-term care facility and the Conservative government kicked the local MLA out of the caucus when he dared to speak out publicly on the matter.
There was a growing sense that every issue affects each of us, even if we aren't faced with it on a daily basis. Everyone suffers when schools don't get the resources they need and the entire community is worse off when people with developmental disabilities are left to fend for themselves.
Many of the people who came to the meetings admitted voting for the Conservatives in the past and continued to support their local representatives. But their anger and frustration with the policy of cutbacks was evident.
They were eager to send a clear message that they wanted to the government to change course - and quickly - but they were unsure about how to get the government to listen.
Join Together Alberta gave them the means to take action and to be heard. As well as taking action through the website, the coalition encouraged people to act in their own communities.
In each meeting, we took time to break into small working groups to discuss what could be done locally to raise awareness about the issues and to bring pressure on the government to stop cutting funds for the services that matter.
On budget day, a number of people held events at their MLA's office or in their community that received media attention and gave a local perspective what was unfolding in the legislature in Edmonton.
The pressure brought to bear from all over the province, by Join Together Alberta and other organizations, had an effect.
To everyone's surprise, the government did invest much moreheavily in health care than was anticipated and held the line on education spending. While we are nowhere near what is needed to ensure our public health and education systems become as robust as they once were, most in those sectors had been bracing for far worse. We believe that our efforts focusing attention on these issues were at least partially responsible for the government's budget turnaround.
But, while health care and education may have received a bit of a reprieve, many other sectors experienced significant cuts. In particular, advanced education, children and youth services, culture and community spirit and employment and immigration have received cuts that will hurt Albertans - and the most vulnerable will be hurt the most. The Parkland Institute, a research group based at the University of Alberta, pointed out that the government had robbed Peter to pay for Paul - while attempting to quiet its critics in health and education, it hacked away at other sectors.
For this reason, the partners of the Join Together Alberta coalition overwhelmingly have decided to continue the campaign. There is much left to do and we recognize that the process will be slow as we hope to create an atmosphere of willingness in Alberta to invest in our public services.
We have begun Phase 2 of the campaign where we will once again meet, this time with smaller groups, in every community in which we had a town-hall meeting. We will be forming Community Action Teams that will decide on local actions to address the issues that are of greatest local concern. These teams will bring together neighbours to act as catalysts within their community for the things that matter to them.
Join Together Alberta will continue to support these teams however we can, including by providing some structure, resources and training. The hope is that as these teams become active, they will have an impact on government policy and that Albertans can finally get on the path to a sustainable future in which all citizens and all communities get the services they need.
(Jerry Toews was hired by the AFL and seconded full-time to the Join Together Campaign to act as its Co-ordinator. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
With 331 jobs set to be lost in Calgary's public schools alone, Join Together Alberta (JTA) is holding a town hall meeting tonight in Calgary to challenge cuts to education, health care, and other vital public services, and to address the real issue: Alberta's broken taxation and royalty system.
"The Calgary Board of Education is losing 172 teaching positions, the Calgary Catholic Board is losing 90 positions and across the province 1200 teaching positions are being cut," says Alberta Teachers' Association President Carol Henderson. "Our schools are being short-changed by over $100 million and our schools cannot handle those types of reductions. Class sizes are increasing, special needs students are losing their supports and our immigrant and refugee students are falling through the cracks."
"Alberta is one of the wealthiest places in the world, blessed with an abundance of extremely valuable natural resources – and yet our government has manufactured a financial crisis that is causing massive layoffs in our schools," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers and co-chair of the JTA campaign. "Our education system is experiencing the same kind of chaos that has been inflicted on our health-care system, and that pain is also being felt in post-secondary education and in social services struggling to help vulnerable Albertans."
"Cuts to public services are not necessary at this time," says Diana Gibson of the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute, "the Alberta government is giving away billions in needless tax cuts."
"Join Together Alberta is touring the province, mobilizing people from various public service sectors and citizens across Alberta who care deeply about the fabric of our communities. Albertans know that our public services and communities are worth fighting for, and this campaign is going to help make that loud and clear to all political parties," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta and co-chair of JTA.
"Today's cuts to education will be felt for generations. In health care, we need excellence in education from early childhood to post secondary levels. These building blocks are crucial in developing the highly skilled health professionals we depend on. But not only is it important to health care, it is important for all sectors of society, for all our children, and all our citizens," says Elisabeth Ballermann, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.
Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Location: Parkdale United Church, Conference Room, 2919 8th Avenue NW, Calgary
Panel Speakers and Media Spokespeople:Gil McGowan – President, Alberta Federation of Labour Bill Moore-Kilgannon – Executive Director, Public Interest Alberta Diana Gibson – Research Director, Parkland Institute Elisabeth Ballermann – President, Health Sciences Association of Alberta Carol Henderson – President, Alberta Teachers' Association
Please direct media inquiries to:Gil McGowan, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888 Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Public Interest Alberta, 780-993-3736
Concerns have arisen around changes to seniors care in Grande Prairie with the relocation of residents from the QEII's Mackenzie Place to the new Points West Living complex in the city's west end.
By December, 116 long-term care residents will be transferred from Mackenzie Place to the privately-owned Points West Living facility, as well as the new Grande Prairie Care Centre, set to open at the end of this year.
Since opening in May to serve seniors as well as mental health, dementia and palliative care patients, Points West has taken in 51 residents from Mackenzie Place.
Paula Anderson is a Grande Prairie resident and vice-president of the provincial lobbying group, Friends of Medicare. She said a close friend's husband suffers from dementia, and is among the Mackenzie Place residents who have already been moved.
Anderson spoke of her concerns to media at a Friends of Medicare appearance at the QEII Thursday.
"With patients in this situation, moving them is an upheaval in their lives, and we know that a lot of the people who have been transferred and moved from one facility to another don't do well – it can shorten life expectancy," she said.
"What I'm hearing is that there's a lot of minimum wage people being hired over at Points West. What kind of training do they bring to it compared to trained nursing staff that are very well versed in dementia patients and long-term care patients?"
"We're seeing a disturbing trend across the province of moving patients out of public long-term care facilities and into private centres," added Friends of Medicare director David Eggen of Edmonton.
"In the midst of doing that, we fear that we are losing economic efficiency for our health care."
Mary Dahr works as a technologist in the QEII's microbiology lab, and has seen concern among the Mackenzie Place staff over the transition.
"They're not only concerned for their livelihood, but they're concerned for the patients there," she said. "The families of the patients at Mackenzie Place were told that 90% of the caregivers from Mackenzie Place would be at the new facility, and that in fact is not happening."
But the province's health provider states that the move is an improvement to seniors care in Grande Prairie.
"Alberta Health Services are working to increase choices for seniors and others across the province," said Deb Guerette of AHS communications in Grande Prairie, adding that Points West Living has already taken in 32 local seniors who were previously without long-term care.
"In Grande Prairie, when the two new facilities open, there will be 91 new spaces for supportive living and continuing care residents that we have not had before. It also creates a much more modern and homelike environment for residents."
Guerette admits that Mackenzie Place staff will lose their jobs with the transition, but said that the new facilities will offer opportunity for them.
"Staff have the option of seeking a new position within AHS, or with working with one of the facility partners," she said.
"We have hired qualified staff from Grande Prairie, including staff from Mackenzie Place, and continue to look for more staff including from Mackenzie Place," said Doug Mills, manager of company that runs Points West, Connecting Care. "They are at similar wages and their seniority was recognized."
Friends of Medicare members expressed concern Thursday that the privately-run Points West Living will not uphold the same standards as the hospital's long-term care centre, but Alberta Health is assuring the public that services will not degenerate and that the fees Mackenzie Place resident's families pay will not increase.
"The private partners operate under the same standards and have for some 50 years in Alberta," Guerette said. "Whether the provider is public or voluntary or private they're all required to comply with the same standards."
Alberta Daily Herald Tribune, Sat Jun 10 2011 Byline: Eric Plummer
Consumer advocate cautions voters on politicians using “creative language” on health care in upcoming election
EDMONTON - With a provincial election expected this spring, voters are going to be wooed by politicians using "creative language" to promise improved health care when they're elected, consumer advocate Wendy Armstrong said Saturday.
But they won't tell you what will suffer because of those changes, because promises aren't always kept, she said.
"I don't think you can hold people accountable, whatever party they're with, after an election ... unless you have strong opposition. Otherwise, everything goes behind closed doors."
Armstrong made the comments after taking part in a panel discussion at a conference looking beyond acute health care hosted by the Alberta Federation of Labour, Public Interest Alberta, and a coalition of seniors' organizations.
She wasn't the only participant expressing concern. Ryan Geake, who works with adults with disabilities in Calgary, told more than 300 delegates a set of policies called the Community Inclusion Framework disappeared from the government's website sometime in the last six months.
The policies, which outlined what the lives and services of disabled Albertans should be, had been agreed upon by disabled groups, community groups, parents, families and the government, he said.
"This is gone and no one will tell us where it's gone, so if you want to destroy a system, I think I'm learning the very first step is to destroy the values of that system that were said to be important and take them away so people don't have a way to discuss what's going on."
He also said the IQ level at which people with a developmental disability can receive services was changed, making it harder for some to qualify.
"It's another great way to do some cost containment in this province on the backs of disabled folks."
However, after an uproar the move was amended so it wouldn't affect people already receiving services, he said.
But Armstrong said many people are afraid to speak up about such issues.
"There have been times when I've been afraid to speak up too, and this is wrong. We need to have these discussions out in the open. People shouldn't be punished for speaking out in public."
Government officials couldn't be reached for comment.
Speakers mentioned the Health Quality Council of Alberta report released last week, which detailed how the creation of Alberta Health Services in 2008 led to confusion and widespread instances of physician intimidation and muzzling.
The government is expected to release details this week about a judicial inquiry into the report's findings.
Edmonton Journal, Sat Feb 25 2012 Byline: Chris Zdeb
Statements from press conference, 10:00 a.m., March 14, 2012 Family Statement, March 14, 2012 Noel Sommerville Statement, March 14, 2012
Family of evicted long-term-care patient attacks plans for more privatization
Long-term care in Alberta is in crisis and the privatization solution being pushed by the Conservative government will only make the situation worse, says an Alberta family whose mother was evicted last week from a private care facility.
Grace Denyer is an 80-year-old who suffers from dementia, had a stroke in August 2011, has a pacemaker and is unable to walk and feed herself and has only limited speech ability (click here for backgrounder).
"Within days of moving into the Tranquility Care Home Inc. in South Edmonton, the for-profit facility started to ask for more money. They wanted to increase the monthly rent from $3,495 to $4,995, despite the fact we had signed a one-year contract for the lesser amount and they assured us they could care for my mother. When we instructed the home that we wanted to stick to the terms of the contract, they responded with an eviction notice, to take effect in only a matter of days," says her daughter Beth Podgurny of St. Albert.
"My mother was assessed as being in stable condition and designated as a long-term-care patient, but on the same day the assessment was made, the private-for-profit home where she was living decided it no longer wanted her and so dropped her off at a hospital emergency department without notifying us," says Podgurny.
"What has happened to our mother should not happen to anyone. It is clear proof that the profit motive and patients make are a poor mix."
Podgurny says she and her family have been concerned about Conservative government talk of raising the cap on accommodation fees for long-term care to encourage more private, corporatized care.
"Today, my family wants answers from the Conservative government. Why was it possible for our mother and our family to be treated in this appalling fashion? Why is this facility allowed to advertise for and accept long-term-care patients when it is not licensed to do so? How can they increase the rent in excess of 42 per cent within weeks of entering the home? How can they be allowed to evict and dump a resident at the emergency door when they decide they no longer want to provide care?"
The family also wants to know why they have not had the courtesy of a response from an earlier letter they sent to Health and Wellness Minister Fred Horne and Seniors Minister George VanderBurg seeking a public inquiry into long-term care.
"We wrote to the Ministers two months ago asking for a public inquiry and expressing concerns over the treatment of our mother at the Youville Home in St. Albert. We have heard nothing since," says Podgurny.
"Because of the treatment our mother endured at Youville, we were cautious about trusting the care she would receive in a private, for-profit home. Based on their assurances, we removed our mother from Youville and placed her in private care, even though we knew the fees would be a source of constant stress for the family. Little did we know that the situation was going to get far, far worse."
Noel Somerville, Chairperson of Public Interest Alberta's Seniors Task Force, says: "The Premier has told us that she supports expanding the role of corporations in providing care to seniors. As we see from this shocking story, the province needs to protect our most vulnerable seniors by stopping these types of private facilities who decide they no longer want the bother of caring for your mother, your sister, your father – and simply drop your loved one off at hospital and leave them to clog up the acute-care system."
"Unfortunately, this is not the only case we have heard of private facilities forcing seniors out who they feel are too costly to support," says Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta. "On the eve of a provincial election, we are calling on all political parties to commit to build a high-quality public-care system for the growing population of seniors with chronic health-care needs – and to stop the profiteering off our most vulnerable seniors."
MEDIA CONTACT: Bill Moore-Kilgannon, 780-993-3736
NOTE: The Alberta Federation of Labour got to know the family of Grace Denyer while working on the recent Beyond Acute Care Conference in Edmonton. When approached by the family, the AFL agreed to help organize the media conference to bring this important issue to the attention of Albertans.
Additional information:Parkland Institute, "Delivery Matters," February 23, 2012 YouTube video, "Fighting for Her Mother's Long-term Care in Alberta"
February 21 2012: Beyond Acute Care Conference; Better Way Alberta; Budget 2012; farm workers; HSAA information pickets
Last chance to see Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow at Beyond Acute Care ConferenceYou have only until tomorrow afternoon (Wednesday, Feb. 22) to register for the Beyond Acute Care: Covering Seniors and the Disabled with the Medicare Umbrella. This is an important event affecting all Albertans, bringing in experts from around the world and across Canada, including world-renowned consumer advocate Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians. For information on the conference and to register, click here; want to find out what the conference is all about? Watch this great animated video here.
For information about the speakers at the Beyond Acute Care conference, click here ...
Great video ad shows there is a Better Way for AlbertaIt just doesn't add up! Alberta is one of the wealthiest jurisdictions on Earth, but can't seem to find enough money to adequately fund the public services that Albertans want, including health care and education. The reason? Our tax and royalty system is broken and wealthy individuals and corporations aren't paying their fair share. But there is a Better Way. Watch the great video ad for Better Way Alberta. Here the cheeky radio ads, follow the campaign on Twitter and like the Facebook page at www.BetterWayAlberta.ca. For more information ...
Tax and royalty giveaways continue in Alberta's Budget 2012The first budget from Conservative Premier Alison Redford showed that little has changed in the government's attitude to the oil industry and wealthy corporations. There was no sign of an end to billions of dollars in tax and royalty giveaways and no honest conversation with Albertans on how to fix the province's broken revenue system. For more information ...
Alberta government must act now to prevent farm-worker tragedyA transportation tragedy on the scale that killed 11 farm workers in Ontario in early February is looming in Alberta unless the government acts now to prevent it, says the AFL. It called on the Conservatives to close the legal loopholes that allow farm workers to be transported in the back of open trucks and in other dangerous vehicles now - not to wait until there's a tragic accident in this province. For more information ... Urgent Action Join HSAA members on information pickets - HSAA will be holding information pickets tomorrow (Wednesday, Feb. 22)from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Bargaining with AHS broke down after 10 months when they finally tabled a monetary package that included an "offer" of 0, 0 and Cost of Living and failed to address the issues brought forward by the HSAA membership. Please show you support by joining them at the following locations: Edmonton: University of Alberta Hospital - 112th Street entrance Edmonton: Royal Alexandra Hospital - Kingsway Avenue Edmonton: Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital - 111th Avenue Calgary: Foothills Medical Centre - Main Entrance on 29th St. NW Calgary: Peter Lougheed Centre - 36th St. NE Red Deer: Red Deer Regional Hospital - 50A Ave Medicine Hat: Medicine Hat Regional Hospital - 5 St. SW Fort McMurray: Northern Lights Regional Health Centre - Hospital Street Grand Prairie: Queen Elizabeth II Hospital - 105 Ave
HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann will be addressing the media from the University of Alberta Hospital picket.
For further information, visit http://www.hsaa.ca/homeAttend the Calgary launch of Kevin Taft's Follow the Money - Ever wonder why Alberta's so rich, but our schools and hospitals seem to be so poor? MLA Kevin Taft has the answer in his new book, Follow the Money, and accompanying video documentary by award-winning producer Tom Radford. Join us for the Calgary launch of Follow the Money at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23, at Memorial Park Library, 1221 2 Street S.W., Calgary. For details ... To view a clip from the documentary, click here ... For more information on the book ... Events February 24-25: Beyond Acute Care conference with Ralph Nader and Maude Barlow February 24-26: EDLC Annual Labour School March 8: International Women's Day March 21: International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination March 21-23: CUPE Alberta 62nd Annual Convention March 22: World Water Day April 3: International Day for Mine Awareness April 6: World Health Day April 21: Earth Day April 27: International Day of Mourning for workers who have been killed, suffer disease or injury as a result of work.
Spending cuts, OAS changes and giveaways to corporations are unnecessary and irresponsible, say Alberta unions
Based on the magnitude of the cuts and changes contained in today's federal budget, you'd think that Canada was about to "hit the debt wall."
But the truth is that Canada has weathered the global recession better than almost any other industrialized country – thanks largely to its natural resource wealth, decisions made by previous governments and pressure from opposition parties that stopped the previous minority Harper government from enacting harsh cuts at the height of the recession.
"Given the reality of Canada's current economic situation, there's no good reason why we should even be contemplating cuts on this scale," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"What we see with today's budget is a plan that will turn a rough patch into really tough times. It's the opposite of what this country needs. It's both unnecessary and irresponsible."
If there's a problem, McGowan says it's that the Harper government's various tax cuts have cost the federal treasury more than $200 billion since 2006. For example, the effective federal tax on corporate profits has dropped to its lowest rate since before the Second World War.
"The only reason that the Harper government isn't looking at a balanced budget right now, or at least in the very near future, is because it has given away literally hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue in a very short period of time," says McGowan.
"If there's a crisis, it's a crisis caused by the Harper government's irresponsible tax giveaways, especially to profitable corporations that are no longer being asked to pay their fair share of the cost of keeping this country running. The crime in this budget is that ordinary Canadians – especially seniors – are being forced to pay the price for Stephen Harper's ideologically driven irresponsibility."
Despite Finance Minister Flaherty's argument that the cuts really only amount to "backroom efficiencies," McGowan says ordinary Canadians will feel the bite of this budget in three important ways.
First, there will be a real and noticeable erosion in the quality of service provided by the federal government. With fewer workers, the government simply won't be able to provide the same level of service that Canadians need and expect in everything from handling passport applications to inspecting food.
Second, the Harper government's plans to restrict payments to the provinces and remove the "strings" attached to the remaining dollars will mean it will become even more difficult for provinces to pay for things like health care and more likely that governments like ours in Alberta will resort to increased privatization.
Third, by increasing the age of eligibility for OAS from 65 to 67, the Harper government will be taking thousands and thousands of dollars out of the pockets of seniors. This will force many seniors into poverty or to the brink of poverty.
"As it stands right now, Canadians between age 65 and 67 get an average of 25 per cent of their income from OAS," says McGowan. "By taking that income away, we run the risk of reversing one of the biggest public policy successes of the 20th century: which was the use of GIS and OAS to pull almost all Canadian seniors out of poverty."
McGowan points out that the attack on OAS is particularly galling because the federal government's own Parliamentary Budget Officer has concluded that the current OAS system is affordable and that increasing the eligibility age to 67 is unnecessary and unwarranted.
"The real thread that runs through this budget has to do with gifts and giveaways to Stephen Harper's corporate friends," concludes McGowan.
"The cuts to public-sector jobs and benefits are being made so Harper can finance his tax giveaway to big business. His changes to OAS eligibility rules are being made to address business concerns about a looming labour shortage – just make seniors work longer! And the so-called streamlining of approvals for resource projects is really a gift to oil companies so they no longer have to worry about pesky things like environmental impacts and the public good.
"In many ways, this is more than a budget: it's a road map towards a conservative future in which corporations matter more than citizens. The Harper government should be ashamed of itself ... and ordinary Canadians should be deeply concerned."
CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
EDMONTON - After a day in which 326 Edmonton teaching positions were likely lost, school boards say they desperately need consistent funding.
Both Edmonton school boards passed versions of their budgets Tuesday that include severe cuts. Now, boards across Alberta say they need five years of sustained funding to escape the roller-coaster of finances that stunts long-term planning.
"It's critically important that the government provide predictable and sustained funding," said public board chair Dave Colburn. "We absolutely have to find a new funding model."
Debbie Engel, chair of the Catholic board, agreed with Colburn that five years of predictable funding would be ideal. "With three years, we could do a good job of planning for the future, but could do a better job with five."
Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said schools are at the mercy of oil prices and a boom-and-bust economy. The last few years of recession have been particularly bad. New programs fail because funding is pulled after the first year.
Hansen said a five-year plan, similar to funding for Alberta Health Services, would make education "more than a line item in the budget."
Tuesday night, the public board passed a budget that Colburn called "heartbreaking."
Within the $851 million budget, 345 full-time jobs will be cut, including 229 teaching positions.
The budget will use $21.5 million in reserve funding, which leaves no surplus for the public board by the time the next school year ends.
In 2009, the board's surplus fund, used for any unpredictable expenses in a school year, was $52 million. Now it's gone.
"The trend over the past three years has been disturbing," Colburn said. "It raises serious questions about the adequacy of funding from the province."
The budget signals a loss of nearly any flexibility as principals become teachers and lose time for professional development.
All 62 school boards in Alberta are reporting a net loss this year, Hansen said.
Earlier Tuesday, the Edmonton Catholic board passed a draft budget that will cost it 97 teaching positions in the next school year, as well as 63 support staff and 24 custodial positions.
Currently, the Catholic district has 1,848 full-time teaching positions. The public district has roughly 4,000.
Earlier this year, the province increased the overall education budget, but only enough to cover the promised 4.5-per-cent wage increase for teachers. It cut back many of its other programs, particularly the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement and English Language Learning program.
That led to a $9.6-million shortfall for the Catholic board. Its draft budget reflects a $1.8-million operating deficit, which leaves the district with a surplus of $2.4 million, half of what the surplus was three years ago.
Both boards have said class sizes will be affected because they have a growing number of students and fewer teachers.
Education Minister Dave Hancock said the potential number of teachers cut was higher than he expected, but he was "not overly" concerned.
Hancock said changes in class sizes will likely not affect education.
While Colburn agrees there are differing views on how class sizes affect education, he said the number of students per teacher is always a priority concern for parents.
The Catholic board's draft budget, which is scheduled for an approval vote on June 28, is $353 million.
Decisions about which schools will lose teachers won't be made until enrolment numbers are known in the fall.
The Alberta Federation of Labour and other groups held a town-hall meeting in Calgary Wednesday night to address public sector cuts, especially cuts to education. A similar meeting will be held in Edmonton on June 23.
Edmonton Journal, Wed Jun 15 2011 Byline: Ryan Cormier
Hundreds of people gathered at the Alberta legislature on Saturday afternoon to protest cuts to public services.
Chanting "Save Our Services," the protesters carried signs warning of cuts to funding for healthcare, education and social programs.An estimated 500 people, from communities across the province, turned out for the rally.
Jerry Toews, with the Alberta Federation of Labour and one of the rally's organizers, said the provincial government's financial blueprint is being misunderstood.
"It seems to us that the government has somehow spun a story that this is a good news budget, that this in fact is a spending budget," Toews said.
"When you look into it, it isn't. It's anything but a good news budget."There are billions of dollars that are being cut to public services that Albertans need."
The protest was organized by Join Together Alberta, a relatively new group that has banded together a number of unions and public interest groups.
"It may be the first time in many years that such a broad base of groups has gotten together," Toews said.
"Whether it's unions and labour groups, but also public interest groups, social services groups, students, elderly folks - it's people realizing that public services impact all of our lives and that they're worth investing in."
CBC News, Sat Mar 20 2010