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
Mass movement calls for urgent revenue reform in Alberta: Join Together Alberta launches campaign to save education, health and social services
EDMONTON – A coalition of hundreds of thousands of Albertans is gathering to force the Conservative government to fix its broken revenue system and save our schools, post-secondary education, health care and other vital social services.
Today (Thursday, May 26), a new campaign was launched under the familiar tartan banner of Join Together Alberta (JTA) to demand that the province reform its revenue model so that the vital public services that Albertans demand and deserve can be protected.
"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," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 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."
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta and campaign co-chair, says: "This campaign is going to mobilize 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."
Join Together Alberta is an alliance of community groups, social-services agencies and unions and was formed in 2009. The coalition already represents hundreds of thousands of Albertans, but this new campaign will reach out to many more. Coming events include:
- Phoning 250,000 Alberta homes in the coming days, asking citizens to join the new JTA campaign;
- A telephone town-hall meeting at 7 p.m. on May 31 that will allow people from all over the province to join an interactive show, much like a radio call-in show, to talk about solutions to Alberta's revenue problems;
- A town-hall tour that will visit seven cities including Red Deer, Medicine Hat, Grand Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Edmonton (click here for tour details); and
- The signing of the Our Alberta Declaration, which calls on the Conservative government to finally realize the province's real potential, reform its broken revenue system and fund vital public services.
CONTACTS: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director, Public Interest Alberta, 780-993-3736
AFL says Hastman is being "offensive" when he suggests Conservatives are the only party that can be trusted with the oil sands: Conservatives have broken their promise to stop oil sands j...
Conservative candidate Ryan Hastman is being both offensive and untruthful when he suggests that the federal Conservatives are the only party that can be trusted with the future of the oil sands, says the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents thousands of Alberta energy sector workers.
"The Conservatives have dropped their promise to stop raw bitumen exports to countries with lower environmental standards than Canada,” says AFL president Gil McGowan. “We can only assume that they’re now OK with exporting unprocessed bitumen, and the value-added jobs that go along with upgrading, to countries like India and China.”
In response to media reports quoting Hastman declaring that only a Conservative government can protect Alberta jobs, McGowan sent him a letter reminding him of his party’s backsliding on the issue of unprocessed bitumen exports (click here for full text of letter).
In his letter to Hastman, McGowan noted that Minister of Natural Resources Christian Paradis recently travelled to the Unites States to lobby the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline. If approved, this pipeline would export hundreds of thousands of barrels of diluted bitumen south. Exporting that bitumen before it is upgraded will create thousands of jobs in the U.S., but only a few here at home.
“As an Alberta labour leader whose job it is to defend the interests of working people in the province, I'm frankly offended when Hastman and other Conservative hopefuls talk about jobs in the oil sands when their party's own policies are sending those jobs down the pipeline to places like the U.S. and perhaps China,” says McGowan.
“I'm also offended when they suggest that anyone who questions the energy industry's 'rip-it-and-ship-it' approach to development is somehow anti-oil sands," adds McGowan.
"The truth is that the vast majority of Albertans want to see development in the oil sands proceed: but they want to see that development done in a way that is as environmentally sustainable as possible and in a way that creates as many good jobs for Albertans as possible. I'm frankly tired of people like Hastman saying that everyone who doesn't parrot the line put forward by big energy companies is somehow un-Albertan. This kind of bully-boy politics just has to stop."
McGowan concluded his letter by congratulating the NDP for developing a more nuanced policy on the oil sands -- one that mirrors public concerns in Alberta about environmentally responsible development and Alberta-based job creation.
"The NDP has come a long way on their approach to the oil sands," says McGowan. "And they've done that by listening to Albertans and people who actually live and work here. Hastman should try that sometime."
Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
The real story on Keystone XL pipeline is that Stelmach Tories are breaking their promise to keep upgrading jobs in Alberta
As Premier Ed Stelmach and his ministers continue to lobby the U.S. government to approve yet another massive bitumen-export pipeline, Alberta's largest union group has uncovered information showing that even more potential Alberta jobs in upgrading and refining are being "lost down the pipeline" than previously thought.
For years now, the government has said it aims to upgrade or refine two-thirds (67 per cent) of all oil-sands bitumen within the province before export. Up until yesterday, figures from the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) had suggested that about 61 per cent of bitumen was being upgraded or refined within Alberta.
However, as a result of research inquiries from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), the ERCB now admits the actual figure is closer to 56 per cent. And the ERCB's projections suggest the proportion of bitumen upgraded in the province will continue to fall.
An ERCB official told the AFL about the export figure in an email: "Therefore the percent upgraded would be 131.2/236.7 or 55.4 per cent. A small amount of in situ production was also upgraded to produce 0.8 m3/d but this would only round the total to 56 per cent."
McGowan says: "What these figures demonstrate is that Albertans have been lied to by their leaders. They also show that government ministers like Ron Liepert and Iris Evans have become little more than pitchmen for energy and pipeline companies that prefer raw bitumen exports over Alberta-based job creation."
Earlier this week, Stelmach wrote to the New York Times promoting TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, which, if approved by the Obama administration, will send at least 435,000 barrels of raw bitumen per day to the U.S. Gulf Coast for upgrading and refining.
This will be in addition to the hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of raw bitumen that is already being shipped to refineries in the U.S. Midwest on two other bitumen pipelines (the Alberta Clipper and the original Keystone). Those pipelines were approved and built over the past three years with the Stelmach government's blessing.
In his letter to the Times, Stelmach boasted that oil-sands production will create more than 342,000 jobs in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015. The same job-creation figures have been used by Iris Evans, the minister of international and intergovernmental relations, in her many pitches for the pipeline to the U.S. audiences.
"It's outrageous that, while the Alberta government is so far from meeting its own targets for bitumen processing within the province, the premier and other cabinet ministers are actively campaigning to ship even more bitumen beyond our borders," says McGowan. "Who the heck do these guys work for - the citizens of Alberta or the pipeline companies?"
"Every barrel of raw bitumen we send out of Alberta means lost jobs," adds McGowan. "It also means lost revenue for the province, revenue that could be used to pay for things like health care and education. We are losing jobs down the pipeline and pouring revenue down the drain."
The ERCB is investigating the error in its most recent figures for bitumen processing in Alberta, which are from 2009. It expects to confirm corrected figures in the coming weeks. Once that's done, the figures will show that the proportion of bitumen upgraded in the province dropped from 58 per cent in 2008 to 56 per cent in 2009.
"Good jobs are leaking out the province right now as a result of bad decisions made by the Stelmach government at the behest of big oil companies," concludes McGowan. "But that leak will turn into a gusher if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. When the heck is this government going to realize that what oil companies want is not always good for Albertans?"
McGowan will be available at the Legislature (Rotunda) today at 1:00 p.m. to answer questions from the media.
As the leader of the only party that has consistently opposed the construction of bitumen export pipelines, NDP Brian Mason will also weigh in on the issue at 1 p.m. from the NDP office in Calgary at 321, 3132-26 Street N.E.
Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Richard Liebrecht, Communications Officer, Alberta NDP Caucus @ 780-916-3937
Tories table Wildrose Budget in all but name: Empty coffers, empty hospitals and empty schools to be part of premier’s legacy
Edmonton - This is the budget the Wildrose Alliance made, says Gil McGowan, leader of Alberta's largest labour group.
"This budget is straight out of the Wildrose Alliance's playbook - continued starvation diet for Alberta's valued public service, unrealistic expenditure limits and a total lack of any measure to shore-up the province's flagging revenues," says McGowan.
"This year's budget shows the Progressive Conservative Party is more concerned about the Wildrose Alliance than it is about Alberta's workers, families and communities."
McGowan notes that this year's budget contains $6.6 billion in infrastructure spending, while program spending will not increase over last year, meaning a reduction when inflation is taken into account.
"After years of neglect, Alberta needs infrastructure investment," says McGowan. "However, without adequate program funding, Stelmach's legacy will be empty hospitals and schools. There is little point building new health facilities and schools if we don't have the funds to hire staff to run them."
"Stelmach's budget caps program spending at below the rate of inflation and population growth, a direct response to a key platform plank of the Wildrose Alliance. Only a few months ago, the Stelmach government argued that this approach ‘does not necessarily match the practical demand on government for services, programs, and infrastructure.'"
"On the cusp of the next boom, we should be investing in workers, not cutting programs that support training," says McGowan in response a $61 million cut to Employment and Immigration.
McGowan says the budget proves the Tories are like the Wildrose Alliance in another important way: both parties only look at the spending side of the budget and ignore the revenue side.
"This budget is totally bereft of any plan to deal with the billions of dollars the government is failing to collect by not meeting its own targets on royalty revenues. The provincial purse lost about $37 billion in the last decade thanks to this madness," says McGowan. "Like the Wildrose Alliance, the Tories are willing to let billions of dollars disappear because of politically motivated giveaways and a shoddy collection system."
"This government has broken the public trust by claiming poverty in order to justify axing program spending, while ignoring lost revenues and the fact that we're almost out of the recession," says McGowan, noting that the Conference Board of Canada predicts the Alberta economy will recover all the jobs lost during the recession by the end of the year.
"For years, the Tories have consistently under-estimated revenues and over-estimated expenditures and then announced surpluses in later quarters," says McGowan. "Cutbacks now are not only cruel and unnecessary, they're politically motivated. This is further evidence that the Progressive Conservative government is too distracted by polls and leadership squabbles to govern on behalf of the public good."
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Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021
Morton's fiscal update shows government gearing up for severe cuts despite what Albertans want
Edmonton - Today's fiscal update shows the government of Alberta is laying the groundwork for a round of severe cuts to health care, education, and social services.
Though private sector forecasters are calling for robust economic growth for Alberta in 2011, the government of Alberta appears to be painting as grim a financial picture as possible.
"Clearly, the agenda for Conservative Finance Minister Ted Morton is to find ways to justify cuts to health care, education, and social services," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers.
"No matter what the actual economic data tell us, the province clearly has a plan for aggressive layoffs and cuts to services," continues McGowan, adding that government is already in the process of slashing $240 million from government operating budgets. He adds that, when it comes to spending on core government programs, the government is increasingly offside with the wishes and priorities of ordinary Albertans.
"While the government preaches cuts and austerity, the people are telling Conservative pollsters that services are more important than deficit reduction," says McGowan. He was referring to a recent poll done for the Progressive Conservative Party convention, which found that two-thirds of Albertans preferred investments in health care and other services to "deficit elimination."
The AFL also questioned the government's assertion that the financial picture is nothing but doom and gloom. For example, private-sector forecasters are calling for at least 3.5-per-cent growth in 2011; oil, gas and bitumen prices are precisely on the forecast targets; oil and gas futures markets show upward trends; and land sales - a key indicator of the oil and gas industry's exploration, development and production intentions - are as swift now as before the recession.
At the same time, the government of Alberta has failed to invest in the economy to ensure the rebound is lasting and accomplishes the most important goal - job creation. Full-time job growth has stagnated in Alberta; employment gains have been almost exclusively in part-time jobs.
"While other places invested in people, Alberta cut more than 300 public-service jobs. When other provinces invested in job training to get people back to work, Alberta cut job training budgets by $23 million. When other provinces and the federal government invested in economic stimulus, Alberta did nothing," says McGowan. "It should come as no surprise that our recovery has been slow when the province has done precisely the opposite of what it should have been doing to guide the economy out of recession."
Click here for backgrounder.
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Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Friends of Medicare launches campaign to drop health law changes: Legal opinion commissioned by AFL says proposed changes are undemocratic
Edmonton - Friends of Medicare (FoM) today launches a new campaign to persuade Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky to abandon proposed changes to provincial health laws.
"It's time to move on from the unpopular and discredited policies of former Health Minister Ron Liepert and his advisory committee on health and abandon proposed changes to the laws governing health care in Alberta," says David Eggen, executive director of FoM. "It's clear the Albertans care deeply about health care and don't want or need existing laws and protections to be weakened or removed."
The Alberta Federation of Labour commissioned a legal opinion (click here for AFL summary) from Gwen Gray of Chivers Carpenter LLP, who examined the existing provincial legislation and the proposed changes. She found our current laws do a good job of protecting the publicly funded, publicly delivered health-care system that Albertans want. The opinion also finds that protections against private health care are contained within Alberta's laws, not the Canada Health Act. The legal opinion concludes that changing Alberta's health laws would significantly weaken Albertans' protections against private insurance, extra billing, and U.S.-style private hospitals.
The changes proposed by the Minister's Advisory Committee on Health would scrap all existing health care laws - including protections against privatization - and replace them with what is known as "enabling legislation." The Health Minister could make new health-care laws without even having a debate in the Legislature. The legal opinion concludes that the plan for putting health-care laws into regulations is "not consistent with a democratic society."
AFL president Gil McGowan says: "We believe that Zwozdesky shares the concern of Albertans about protecting our public health-care system. The revisions to provincial health laws planned by his predecessor sparked legitimate fears among the citizens of this province. It's time for Zwozdesky to make a clean break from those discredited ideas and embark on a new path that will reassure Albertans that the future of health care is in safe hands."
"This is far too great a risk to public health care," says Eggen. "Perhaps Zwozdesky might be able to assure us that he won't allow more private health care, but he cannot make that reassurance about future health ministers. They would have the power to do whatever they wished, without public consultation or even debate in the Legislature."
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Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780-218-9888
David Eggen, Executive Director, Friends of Medicare, 780-887-0446
Gwen Gray, Chivers Carpenter LLP, 780-4393611
Too often the budget dialogue in Alberta is dominated by shrill, kneejerk calls for cuts. That's the dialogue that takes place in the mainstream media and among some of the business and political elite. However, it's isn't representative of what Albertans think.
Whether it's the best of time or the worst of times, the public sector is vital to the health of Alberta's economy and society.