It’s “courting disaster” to proceed with an austerity budget while the Alberta economy is “falling off a cliff”
EDMONTON – Alberta unions are demanding that Jason Kenney’s UCP government immediately scrap the budget they just passed.
In an emergency video-conference meeting, the presidents of public and private-sector unions affiliated with the Alberta Federation of Labour unanimously passed a motion calling on the UCP to scrap their budget in favour of more aggressive policies being adopted by governments around the world.
“As a result of the double-barreled crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the global oil price collapse, our economy here in Alberta is in the process of falling off a cliff,” said AFL president Gil McGowan.
“A massive wave of bankruptcies and layoffs is about to hit our oil and gas sector. And some experts are predicting that the drop in consumer demand brought on by the pandemic response will lead to 20 percent unemployment. Yet, the UCP has seen fit to ram through an austerity budget that will heap public-sector job loss on top of private-sector job loss. This isn’t just a recipe for recession; it’s a recipe for a full-blown economic depression. They’re courting disaster.”
The AFL points out that the budget that was passed last night in an unprecedented – and arguably undemocratic – session of the Legislature, is basically the same budget that the UCP introduced two and a half weeks ago: before oil prices collapsed and before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The budget is built around recommendations from Janice MacKinnon’s so-called “Blue Ribbon Panel” and a report from Ernst & Young Consultants on health care, both of which called for significant cuts to public spending. Independent experts and academic economists have estimated that the fiscal plan mapped out in the budget will cut per person spending in Alberta by at least 15 percent over the next three years. Hundreds of jobs had already been cut in K-12 education, post-secondary education and health care – and thousands more will follow because of the budget.
“The Kenney government is standing alone in the world. While other governments, including the Trump government in the United States, are implementing massive health care spending and fiscal stimulus packages to keep their citizens safe and rescue their economies, the UCP has decided to use the crisis as a pretext to pass a budget aimed at achieving their ideological goal of shrinking government. It’s outrageous,” said McGowan.
In the place of the budget, the AFL is calling on the Kenney government to adopt its eight-point “Alberta Rescue Plan”, which includes many of the emergency policies being adopted or considered by governments around the world.
These policies include the following:
- Immediately provide 14 days of job-protected paid sick leave for all Albertans who have to stay home from work because of illness or the need to self-isolate.
- Immediately start sending cheques of $1000 to all Albertans (adults and children) each month until the crisis passes in order to help replace income for people who lose their jobs and to maintain household spending power.
- Immediately reform the Employment Insurance system to lower the hours for eligibility, remove the income caps, increase maximum weekly caps and make the system available to all who lose their jobs (including gig workers, cultural workers, and the self-employed).
- Quickly begin providing support for businesses to weather the economic storm – but make the support contingent on them keeping their workers on payroll until the crisis passes.
- Immediately start making massive public-sector investment in things Alberta needs – starting with the purchase of ventilators and the construction of hospital and ICU beds so our health care system doesn’t get overwhelmed by a surge in COVID-19 patients. Follow this with a WWII-scale investment to support diversification, because investment and jobs in the oil and gas sector will never return to previous levels.
- Immediately introduce legislation to allow distressed individuals and families to stop making mortgage, rent and credit card and other payments without penalty – and without having to pay missed months – until the crisis passes.
- Immediately commit to ending all public-sector lay-offs and privatization initiative and commit to keeping all public sector workers on payroll, even if they’re sent home because of the pandemic response. This will be one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep money flowing to Alberta household and keep money circulating in the economy through consumer spending.
- Immediately make a plan for construction projects and construction camps in Alberta. We are on the cusp of a very significant shut-down and turn-around season of maintenance work on Alberta’s major oil and gas facilities. This means that more than 20,000 construction workers will soon be congregating in construction camps near Fort McMurray and other locations around the province. The province needs a plan for this situation, now. If workers are to be sent home to their families, in accordance with advice from public health officials, they need adequate compensation and support.
“The UCP are putting their political and ideological interests ahead of the interests of Alberta citizens and the Alberta economy. For heaven’s sake, even Donald Trump is contemplating a $1 trillion stimulus package that focuses, in significant part, on direct supports for workers. And yet Jason Kenney thinks he knows better than the rest of the world. It’s shameful and all Albertans will pay the price for his arrogance and ineptitude.”
Backgrounder: Alberta Rescue Plan