Instead of blaming public-sector wages, should look in the mirror
Edmonton –Premier Jim Prentice needs to stop taking unprovoked potshots at Alberta’s public workers.
At a speech to the Edmonton Rotary Club on Monday, March 2, the Premier said his new “labour strategy” will look to other provinces like British Columbia for direction on top-down negotiation mandates. The announcement came in his address that unfairly blamed Alberta’s budget woes on public-sector workers for the government’s unwillingness to fix Alberta’s finances.
“To demonize public-sector workers is inappropriate, it’s unfair, and it doesn’t actually address the situation as it is. This problem is a revenue problem,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said outside the premier’s press conference. “The solution is not to set unfair, command and control restrictions on negotiations before coming to the table. The solution is not to demonize public-sector workers who provide important services. The real solution is to fix the holes that the government created in our revenue system.”
The premier unveiled plans to enact changes to the government’s approach to bargaining with public-sector unions. Prentice suggested that they will adopt a ‘co-ordinated approach’ to negotiations, which will likely be modeled on the approach taken in British Columbia with top-down “mandates” set by the Public Sector Employers’ Council Secretariat.
“What we’re talking about here is a dramatic centralization of responsibilities for bargaining with public-sector workers — and it’s going to be centralized in the hands of the premier. That’s what they do in B.C.” McGowan said. “Frankly it hasn’t been a very productive model — It’s been in place in B.C. for the past 10 years — and ever since it was introduced, it has led to a poisoning of the labour relations atmosphere.”
Over the past 20 years, successive Conservative premiers have undermined the province’s finances with tax giveaways and corporate handouts. Today, Alberta is the lowest-taxed province in Canada — if our tax rates were equivalent to any other province, the government would collect $11-billion more each year, and have no deficit regardless of the price of oil.
“Even in the good old days — you remember, seven or eight months ago — we had a government that couldn’t balance the budget and struggled to pay for middle-of-the-road services because they had given away revenue that we need to pay for those services,” McGowan said.
The Premier has suggested that there will be up to a nine per cent cut in government spending across the board in the next budget. This will mean billions of dollars less each year for the front-line services on which Albertans rely, without addressing the underlying problem with the province’s budget.
“The flat tax, which was a gift to the wealthy; slashing our corporate taxes from 15 to 10 per cent; introducing the penny on the dollar royalty for oil sands — these are the things that have deprived our government of the revenue they need to pay for public services,” McGowan said. “The solution is simple and clear: Prentice needs to repair the holes previous PC governments blew in Alberta’s revenue regime.”
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org