In its first deficit budget in 16 years, the Alberta government anticipates dipping $4.7 billion into debt in an attempt to keep Albertans working through the recession.
Central to the budget is the province's capital plan that has $7.2 billion in infrastructure spending in 2009-2010, which is part of its three-year commitment to spend $23.2 billion building roads, schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure.
Bill Stewart, president of Merit Alberta, the province's open shop association, said he believes the budget will maintain momentum for Alberta.
"It's a reaffirmation that the government has committed to its infrastructure commitments it has made to Albertans," he said.
"There has been an ongoing need for infrastructure investment and the government appears to be stepping up to the plate."
The investment is a $1 billion or 4.5 per cent increase from the previous three-year total and will allocate $5.8 billion for provincial highways, $5.6 billion for municipalities, $3 billion for health facilities, $2.9 billion for schools and post-secondary facilities, $1 billion for affordable housing, $1.7 billion for climate change initiatives and $325 million in contributions for federal stimulus programs.
Although the government ramped up spending by $1 billion over its previous three-year capital plan, the majority of the increase will be spent on carbon capture initiatives.
Municipal infrastructure and provincial highway projects saw a $621 million and $457 million increase, but other parts of the plan saw decreases in spending compared to 2008-2011 levels.
Premier Ed Stelmach's Conservative government anticipates that this year's $7.2 billion infrastructure investment will support more than 80,000 jobs across a province struggling from lower energy revenues and the effects of the global recession.
Stewart said that he believes the province's decision to slash infrastructure spending in the wake of the post-9/11 market contraction was a mistake.
"This (the recently announced infrastructure spending) will come at a good time - there are more contractors that are out there bidding for work now, so it's a pretty competitive environment," he said.
But not everyone in the province sees the budget in a positive light.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), said that while he was pleased the government resisted the temptation to revisit Klein-style cuts, he felt the budget fell short of the mark in helping Alberta's unemployed, particularly those in construction trades.
"Our big concern is that, despite it's packaging, this is not a stimulus budget - it is almost a carbon copy of last year's budget," he said.
Daily Commercial News and Construction Record, Fri Apr 17 2009
Byline: Stephen Dafoe
The Alberta Federation of Labour is disappointed, but not surprised that two hundred full time Petro Canada employees have been laid off.
President Gil McGowan says it can be blamed on the stall of the Fort Hills Oilsands Project.
But he also expects more layoffs due to the merger of Petro-Can and Suncor.
The company says the layoffs have nothing to do with the merger and can be blamed solely on the delay in the Fort Hills project north of Fort McMurray.
CHQR Newsroom, Wed Apr 15 2009
EDMONTON - Next week's provincial budget needs to emphasize getting unemployed workers back to work and keeping those who have jobs at work, say the leaders of some of Alberta's largest unions.
To achieve these important goals, the unions today presented a proposed stimulus plan for Alberta that they developed with help from economists working with the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.
"Albertans are depending on their political leaders to respond to the worldwide economic downturn with policies that protect working people and their families from the worst impacts of the recession," said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Klein-style cuts are clearly not the answer. We went down that road during the last recession and we know that it just made a bad situation worse."
Doug Knight, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees agreed: "This government needs to resist their ingrained temptation to cut budgets when a crisis like this takes place. Clearly, the economy and all Albertans will benefit from increased stimulative spending in areas like health care, social assistance and post-secondary education."
Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, says that sectors like health care are just now starting to recover from the damage caused by years of cuts under former premier Ralph Klein - and she says if Albertans value their public services, we can't afford to return to policies that caused such pain and chaos.
"The downturn in the economy may actually be creating an opportunity to address the chronic shortage of nurses and other health care workers that has been plaguing our system," says Smith. "But that can't happen with a shrinking budget" or even a hold-the-line budget."
The union report, entitled Sink or Swim: A Labour Stimulus Plan to Keep Albertans Afloat, was released today in Edmonton at an apprentice-training facility operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).
The setting was chosen to highlight how provincial spending can help Albertans working in both the public and private sectors weather the growing economic storm.
The report shows that job losses and bankruptcies are up dramatically in Alberta and predicted that "Alberta is likely to suffer the greatest downturn in GDP growth of all the provinces in Canada." It also showed that the Alberta government has among the greatest "fiscal capacity" in North America to finance a stimulus package.
The report concluded that three key goals should drive any Alberta stimulus plan:
- Instead of balancing the provincial budget every year, government should instead focus on balancing budgets over a 7 to 12-year business cycle.
- Program cuts should not be implemented, since they would increase job losses and, during the recession, government programs will be needed more than ever by Alberta families.
- Stimulus should be in the form of targeted spending in parts of the economy known to create jobs, not in unproductive tax cuts that favour a wealthy minority.
Other parts of the report call for building a bitumen upgrader to protect Alberta's value-added sector; greening the economy to create job opportunities; using less-expensive public financing to build projects that benefit the public; and maintaining or increasing funding for socially beneficial programs such as education, health care, transition training and social assistance.
For more information, contact:
Elisabeth Ballermann, HSAA (780) 991-1274 (cell)
Don Boucher, CEP (780) 920-1892 (cell)
Tim Brower, IBEW (780) 989-7259 (office)
Doug Knight, AUPE (780) 265-6655 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL (780) 483-3021 (office) (780) 218-9888 (cell)
Dennis Mol, CUPE Alberta (780) 918-3061 (cell)
Heather Smith, UNA (780) 425-1025 (office) (780) 940-9974 (cell)
For the April 3rd press conference, click here.
The Alberta Federation of Labour says the increased unemployment rate in Alberta last month only confirms that the province is not going to escape the economic downturn unscathed. President Gil McGowan says no one should be surprised that most of the job losses ocurred in the oilpatch and construction industry, but says he is concerned that manufacturing and retail jobs have also suffered.
Alberta's jobless rate in February came in at 5.4 percent from January's 4.4.
CHQR Newsroom, Fri Mar 13 2009
Stop the carnage, AFL says after job losses: Alberta job loss more than 29,000 so far this year; minister predicted 15,000
EDMONTON - An Alberta labour group is calling for the province to come up with a new stimulus plan for the economy after news Friday that 23,700 people were thrown out of work in February alone.
"The government needs to stop covering its eyes from the economic carnage building around them," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We need immediate action to help protect jobs in Alberta."
The February job losses pushed the province's unemployment rate up a full percentage point to 5.4 per cent - the highest rate since June 2003.
Edmonton's rate climbed from 3.8 per cent in January to 4.4 per cent in February.
February's losses are on top of the 5,700 Alberta jobs Statistics Canada reported were lost in January - bringing the total so far in 2009 to 29,400.
Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans had predicted that 15,000 Albertans would lose their jobs this year as the province entered "a very sharp period of recession."
"We've always said that we were not immune to the global recession," she said on Feb. 19. "Many Albertans in the province will face a difficult year. The best response at this time is to stay true to Alberta spirit."
McGowan called on the government to develop and implement a stimulus package that would focus on building key public infrastructure and keep Albertans working during the downturn.
"The government's dithering leaves us months behind other jurisdictions in responding to the crisis, but better late than never," said McGowan.
"The total job loss is now above 36,000 jobs in the last three months. How many more Albertans must lose their livelihood before this government acts?" asks McGowan.
He was concerned the job losses were no longer confined to construction and energy sectors. "Manufacturing shed 11,000 jobs last month. Retail lost 7,500 jobs. This says to me that the crisis is spreading to all sectors of Alberta's economy. And that is worrying," he said.
One Alberta-based bank economist called the job losses announced Friday surprisingly high.
"This February was the largest drop in employment Alberta has ever seen," said Todd Hirsch, senior economist for ATB Financial. "And it comes after a month in January when we also saw a very large drop in employment. It's a little surprising because often when you see a big drop, the following month it's a little bit of a bounce back."
The industries that lost most jobs were non-instructional educational services at 13,400; manufacturing 10,100; construction at 8,900 and wholesale and retail trade at 7,600.
Still, Alberta posted the third-lowest rate in the country behind Saskatchewan's 4.7 per cent and Manitoba's 4.8 per cent.
The national average was 7.7 per cent, a six-year high.
Edmonton Journal, Fri Mar 13 2009
Byline: Bill Mah
When the Economic Party is Over...
- Someone has to clean up the mess. The latest Labour Economic Monitor, the AFL's digest of economic statistics and analysis, is out - and this time looks at the quickly changing economy. Find out what is really happening, what is causing the rapid flux and how you and your family might be affected. Read Labour Economic Monitor ...
Hands off Our Assets!
- On January 20, Edmonton City Council will consider privatizing the Gold Bar Waste Treatment Plan by handing it over to EPCOR at a fraction of its value. EPCOR plans on using the asset to help it win bids to operate privatized utilities in other cities in North America. Edmontonians would lose public control of this valuable public asset and public accountability would be lost. Edmontonians need to make their voice heard in the next few days.
The Making of Our Movement
- As we build toward the AFL's Centennial in 2012, we want to celebrate our past victories and achievements. Last year we launched Project 2012 to create popular material to celebrate labour history in Alberta. The latest in our series of posters has just been released. It is the first poster in the "Making of Our Movement" series, and it honours the courage and struggle of the workers in the 1986 Gainers Strike. A powerful image anchors the poster, which is available free of charge from the AFL office. Framed copies are also being sold for $150. See sample of the poster ...
Fed Up With Labour Laws? Change 'Em!
- The winter 2009 issue of Union magazine came out recently, offering a look at the state of Alberta's labour laws and what we can do about them. Union is the AFL's seasonal publication of insight and analysis. The issue also examines the growing use of Temporary Foreign Workers, the possibility of "decent work", and takes a look back at a groundbreaking coal miners's strike in 1906. And remember, subscriptions are FREE! Read Union Magazine ...
- Workplaces are becoming more diverse, which presents both challenges and opportunities for workers. Three of the AFL's Standing Committees are collaborating to organize a conference that is looking at diversity in the workplace. The conference will address racism, aboriginal issues, Temporary Foreign Workers, and pride and solidarity. The Conference runs February 27 & 28 at the Crowne Plaza Chateau Lacombe in Edmonton.
Stop the Bloodshed in the Middle East
With over 700 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed and the death toll mounting daily as the Gaza offensive escalates, citizens around the world are urgently demanding action to end the violence and protect civilians.
One group has launched an online petition calling for robust international action to achieve an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and take further crucial steps toward a fair and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Join the more than 400,000 people worldwide who have signed the petition and are calling for an end to the bloodshed. Sign the petition ...
The Folly of Free Trade Agreements
The Parkland Institute is hosting a speaking event with Professor Jane Kelsey, one of New Zealand's best-known critical commentators on issues of globalisation, neo-liberalism and so-called liberalized trade. Dr. Kelsey will be talking about how working people around the world suffer the worst under free trade agreements, and how such deals embed the corporate principles of neo-liberalism.
Tuesday February 3
7:30 pm - 9:30 pm
University of Alberta Campus (ETLC 1-003)
Did you know ...
Temporary Foreign Workers in Alberta
In December 2007, there were 37,257 TFWs in Alberta, which would make up Alberta's 10th largest city.
There were 73,000 unemployed Albertans in the same month.
Unskilled workers now make up 1 in 4 TFWs in Alberta.
60% of food industry employers with TFWs were found by the Alberta government to be breaching the Employment Standards Code in some significant way.
The May 2007 issue of Labour Economic Monitor compared a booming economy to a party, where some of the guests have a bit too much to drink and get carried away. Well, the party is over, and it's time to clean up the mess. The crash of financial markets in 2008 pushed the whole global economy into recession, and no one knows how deep or how long this downturn will be.
New Government Safety Ads Fall Flat
- New, gory health and safety ads from the Alberta government aimed at young workers strike the wrong chord with workers. The new, web-only, ads are designed to use graphic blood and gore to shock young workers into working safely. Unfortunately, the ads send a message that young workers are "stupid" and that is what causes accidents. The AFL strongly criticized the ads and pointed to a similar campaign in Ontario for how to do it right. Read the criticism and see the ads ...
The Moral of the Story...
- Is that arts, media and politics always mix. This year's Parkland Fall Conference, running November 14-16 at the UofA campus, examines the issue of culture, media and politics and how the language we use affects the shape of our society. The Conference will look at framing, myths and metaphors and how they are used to shape political realities. Speakers include Tariq Ali, Murray Dobbin, CBC's Nora Young and many others.
Unions and Coops - Building Together
- Unhappy at work? Try firing the boss. Worker Coops are a viable alternative to traditional workplace ownership, and one unions are increasingly looking to as possible ways to save jobs and improve working conditions. A one-day workshop on November 12 in Winnipeg, hosted by the Western Labour-Worker Coop Council, explores how the labour and coop movements can work together more closely to develop more strong worker-centred workplaces.
An Educated Worker is a Powerful Worker
- The latest AFL/CLC Annual Jasper School is fast approaching. With 21 courses being offered over two weeks, there is something for every activist looking for an advantage with their employer. From Collective Bargaining to Advanced Health and Safety, the School promises to be chock full of both learning and socializing. The School is open to affiliates of the AFL. Interested students should contact their local union about attending.
Check out the New Digs!!
- The AFL has re-located to new, more centrally located offices in Edmonton. We recently hauled all our stuff to a new downtown location, located on 101 Street just south of 107 Avenue. The address might be new, but all our other contact information remains the same.
National Boycott of Petro-Canada
The Canadian Labour Congress has officially declared a National Consumer Boycott of Petro-Canada. 260 workers, members of CEP Local 175, at the Petro-Canada refinery in Montreal have been locked out for almost a year - since November 17, 2007.
The CLC is asking Canadians to refuse to fill up at Petro-Canada stations and to inform the company you will not be patronizing its stations until it settles a fair deal with its workers.
December 6: Talking about Violence Against Women
The Alberta Federation of Labour Women's Committee is hosting a one-day deliberative dialogue on the impact of violence against women on our work and union roles as well as its impact on our communities and within society.
Guest speakers include Jan Reimer, Executive Director of Alberta Council of Women's Shelters and Elisabeth Ballermann, President of Health Sciences Association of Alberta.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
ATA Offices, Barnett House
11010 - 142 Street NW, Edmonton
9:00 am to 4:00 pm
Registration Fee: $80.00 (Register by Nov. 17)
Did you know ...
Inequality in Canada
- Inequality in Canada has "increased rapidly in the past 10 years".
- Canada now ranks 18 out of 30 OECD countries in income equality, below Sweden, Germany, France and even Hungary.
- Canada spends less on unemployment insurance and family benefits than most OECD countries.
- The reason for growing inequality is the rich are getting richer, leaving most Canadians behind.
Source: OECD (2008), "Growing Unequal: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries"
NAFTA bumps into Albertas upgrader plans; Trade deal would prohibit the province from reducing the flow of bitumen to the United States once it starts
EDMONTON - Eighteen months ago, Premier Ed Stelmach -- the man who said shipping oilsands bitumen south was like selling off the topsoil -- asked his energy minister to develop a strategy to encourage more upgrading in Alberta.
Otherwise, the value-added jobs from this oil boom will go to the United States, said the new premier.
But with two large pipelines underway, which combined could carry all the existing oilsands production, and with billions being invested in converting U.S. refineries to upgrade oilsands bitumen, questions are being raised about Alberta's upgrader prospects.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says the premier needs to get the long-promised upgrader strategy in place soon or the opportunity may well be lost.
That's because under NAFTA, the province can't reduce the flow of bitumen once it has started, says McGowan.
"I'm not sure most Albertans -- or the Stelmach government -- realize what could be lost if those exports go ahead.
"I'm not sure all the upgrading here will actually be done here once the super pipelines are built," he said.
"The government wants a target of 70 per cent upgrading here, but it's meaningless unless the government steps into guarantee it."
Energy department spokesman Jason Chance said it's "too speculative" to comment on whether fast-rising bitumen exports under NAFTA will impede Alberta's promised value-added strategy.
The government has no intention of interfering in the free markets protected by NAFTA.
"There is no intent on slowing down exports that create thousands of job," Chance said.
University of Calgary economist Bob Mansell says NAFTA isn't the main issue in developing upgrading in this province.
"There's nothing stopping us from putting on a rule to say it must all be upgraded here," he said. That could be done on future oilsands plants, for instance.
"But Alberta hasn't made that choice."
Alberta oilsands production is currently about 1.32 million barrels a day. Bitumen, the tar-like oil-and-sand mixture dug out of open-pit mines, must be separated and diluted (called upgrading) to make "synthetic crude" which is then sent to a refinery to be made into gasoline, jet fuel and other products.
Currently, about two-thirds of bitumen is upgraded in the province at sites like Suncor and Syncrude in Fort McMurray; about one-third goes south to U.S. facilities.
"So the question is -- what's the right percentage? That's the policy issue from an Alberta point of view," said Mansell. "My position is: let's do as much upgrading as is practically possible."
But upgrading and refining capacity in Canada is limited because no new facilities were built for years on this side of the border, he added.
According to a U.S. report released last week, U.S. refiners are investing $56 billion to convert old facilities to process an additional 1.6 million barrels a day and two-thirds of that is aimed at handling Alberta oilsands product -- more than one million barrels.
Under NAFTA's proportionality clause, Canada is prohibited from reducing oil, gas and bitumen exports to the U.S. unless there is similar reduction to Canadian consumers. Also, Canada cannot change the mix of exports products to substitute, say, gasoline for bitumen.
The new Keystone pipeline, which starts construction this spring, will be able to carry 600,000 barrels of bitumen a day from Hardisty to the U.S midwest. The Alberta Clipper will carry 800,000. There are reports TransCanada has plans for a second pipeline for 800,000 barrels a day to Gulf Coast refineries and two-thirds of that is aimed at handling Alberta oilsands product.
"If you add all that capacity to new pipelines, it could take all the bitumen and leave none for Alberta," said McGowan.
"The government wants a target of 70-per-cent upgrading here, but it's meaningless unless the government steps in to guarantee it. The market is already moving in the direction of more exports. American refiners got out of the gate first."
But Mansell says the urgency is overstated. Oilsands production has only just started -- 90 per cent is still ahead. So there is still plenty of opportunity for upgrading in future.
Currently, Canada exports 60 per cent of its oil to the U.S. and more than half its natural gas, while eastern Canada imports its oil from the Middle East. In the event of a shortage, Canada must maintain exports at the same percentage of overall production as the three previous years under NAFTA.
In a recent report, the Edmonton-based Parkland Institute says the proportionality clause makes it impossible for Canada to supply its own needs if there is an energy crisis. It could not divert U.S. exports to eastern Canada.
Also, Canada's ability on the environment is restricted, the report argues. If Canada wanted to reduce oil production by, say, 10 per cent, in order to cut back on polluting emissions, it would have to cut domestic production by eight million barrels (four days' consumption) in order to reduce exports by the same amount to meet proportionality requirements, says the report Over a Barrel by Gordon Laxer, political economist at the University of Alberta, and Sarnia-based researcher John Dillion.
The debate over proportionality surfaced recently in Quebec, which gets all its natural gas from Alberta. The province is looking at building liquefied natural gas terminals to bring Russian natural gas in for local consumption and into the United States. If that goes ahead, more Alberta gas will be freed up for export to the United States -- increasing NAFTA obligations, argues the Parkland report.
The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says a free market protected by NAFTA provides the most efficient distribution of supply.
If it were efficient to send oil to eastern Canada, that would happen, but who wants to pay more for it, asked CAPP vice-president Nick Schultz.
Also, NAFTA is based on the principles of "neighbourliness" -- that you don't do things to a neighbour that you don't want done to yourself."
Mansell also defended the NAFTA's proportionality clause as necessary to create long-term stable conditions necessary to attract investment in oil and gas production.
If the supplier reserves the right to withdraw supply at any time, the U.S. buyer has no certainty and therefore no incentive to invest in a long-term agreement, he said.
"We are to an extent giving up some sovereignty, but most trade agreements do that," said Mansell. "But we're not like Russia, we don't just cut the flow."
If people are really concerned about national security issues, they should worry about electricity supply. "You can get a substitute for transportation, but not for" turning the lights on, he added.
Mansell also downplayed the concern raised by the Parkland report that the country's ability to make environmental policy is restricted by NAFTA.
"As for climate change, we'll have to continue to reduce emissions. But is it likely that one side of the border will reduce and the other won't? Realistically, no."
Recently, the more worrisome problem for the Stelmach government is the growing environmental movement against oilsands products because of the high level of greenhouse gases and pollution released in production.
The Parkland report also argues the provincial government is violating its own 1949 Gas Resources Preservation Act that requires a 15-year established supply of gas on hand before exports are approved.
Natural gas production peaked in 2002. Currently there is only about an eight-year supply of natural gas to serve all customers, says the report.
Alberta Energy's Chance says Parkland is misinterpreting the act. The legislation does not protect all users, only residential and small commercial users who cannot go out and find their own contracts -- and there is 15-year supply for those "core users."
Edmonton Journal, Page A19, Sat Jun 7 2008
Byline: Sheila Pratt
These are odd times in Alberta. With oil prices on the spot market topping $130/barrel and natural gas prices on the uptrend, you'd expect the public mood to be giddy with delight. ... So why aren't Albertans swinging from the chandeliers, and ordering up more champagne? Well, there's an old Leonard Cohen song called "Everybody Knows" that talks about the unpleasant realities that everyone is familiar with, but that nobody wants to talk about.