November 2014: Parkland Conference: People vs. Profiteers; Energy East wrong type of petroleum infrastructure; Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility; did you k...
People versus Profiteers: Demanding justice and equity
The Parkland Institute’s Annual Fall Conference will explore why, at a time of remarkable wealth production, the money seems to be skewing in very particular directions and away from many groups (full-time, part-time, casual workers; women and minorities; the abjectly poor and disabled outside altogether of labour markets, etc.) and towards a small minority; and what can and should be done about it.
WHEN: November 21 – 23, 2014
WHERE: University of Alberta
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS)
Energy East the wrong type of petroleum infrastructure
The recent application by TransCanada Pipelines to build a pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Maritimes is another example of infrastructure projects that will impoverish Canada.
By allowing oil companies to ship low-value product, it will undermine the economic viability of upgrading here in Canada and potentially put Canadians out of work.
“The Energy East pipeline won’t bring Alberta oil to eastern refineries – instead it will channel that oil right past Canadian refineries on the way to foreign markets,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “The closest that Energy East will get to a Canadian refinery is the Irving Refinery in New Brunswick, but even there, oil transported on the pipeline will not go to the refinery itself; instead it will be delivered to a new oil export terminal.”
Through research and advocacy, the Alberta Federation of Labour is engaged in a campaign to encourage the public, media and government to look more closely at the claims being made by proponents of the pipeline, including the current Premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick.
“Despite all the rhetoric and the spin, it’s clear that Energy East is not a ‘nation building’ project. Instead, it is yet another in a long line of projects aimed to perpetuating the ‘rip-it-and-ship-it’ approach that has characterized Canada’s resource sector for too long,” McGowan said.
Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility
Thousands of companies misusing the Temporary Foreign Worker program, uncovered by the Alberta Federation of Labour, prove that the program should remain a federal responsibility.
Documents obtained under freedom of information requests show that in 2013 there were more than 2,000 businesses nationwide whose workforces were more than 30 per cent TFWs – the majority of which were in Alberta. In the same year, more than 1,000 businesses had workforces that were more than 50 per cent TFWs. Again, the majority of these were in Alberta.
“If people are coming to Canada to work here, they should have the right to stay here. And that means immigration, not a ‘temporary’ status,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “If someone is coming to Canada to work, whatever part of the country they move to first, they should have the right to move to other parts of the country if they so choose. That won’t happen if provincial governments are setting up their own separate ‘temporary’ programs.”
The list also raises serious concerns about the role being played by foreign state-owned corporations in the oil sands. More than half of the workers employed in Alberta by companies like Sinopec (a state-owned oil corporation from China) and Samjin (a subsidiary of Korea’s national oil company) are TFWs.
“The Government of Alberta has – pressured by business groups – floated the idea of taking over management of the TFW program from Ottawa. If that ever took place, it would be a disaster for Canadians and Immigrants alike,” McGowan said.
Did you know ...
- Over the past 40 years, the average Canadian on minimum wage has only seen their hourly pay increase by one penny.
- 86 per cent of Canadian families will see no benefit at all from income-splitting.
- Only 19 per cent of Alberta children 0-5 have access to a regulated child care space.
- Alberta is 2nd-last among Canadian provinces for number of regulated spaces per child. Only Saskatchewan has fewer regulated spaces per child.
• November 14-16: AFL Affiliate Political Campaign School
• December 6: Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
• December 10: PIA Open House
Pressure will be on delegates at Alberta's Progressive Conservative Party convention in Red Deer on Nov. 7 to halt the province's funding cuts to health care, education and other social services.
A Stop the Cuts rally at noon, outside the Capri Hotel where the convention will take place, is expected to attract a few hundred people, including members of Alberta Council On Aging, Public Interest Alberta, Friends of Medicare, Alberta Federation of Labour, other unions and the public.
David Eggen, Friends of Medicare executive director, said delegates can use their votes to convince Alberta's governing PC party to reconsider the cuts.
"We're calling on each of the delegates at the convention at the Capri to exercise good judgment and help us put a pause on these cuts and think more rationally about the long-term future of the province," Eggen said at a press conference on Monday to announce the rally.
"It's an investment in the security and quality of life for all Albertans."
Ken Collier, Friends of Medicare board chair, said the province doesn't seem to recognize that the purpose of government is to support the economy through its hills and valleys.
"Making cuts in the middle of a recession is exactly the wrong time to do it," Collier said.
Instead, government would rather privatize seniors care, which will double or even triple the cost to seniors, he said.
"If they would no longer engage in resource giveaways that they've been doing for decades, I think we would see ample funding to be able to carry on public services as we have been able to enjoy."
Retired teacher Norm McDougall said the province's $80-million cut to education is the wrong way to go if it wants a better educated society that can reduce the cost of health care, crime, and homelessness.
"(Education) produces taxpaying members of society and the educational ability to adjust to economic situation as it changes so they can go with the flow," McDougall said.
"Education pays off. It's a long-term investment."
Stop the Cuts Rally participants will meet at 11:30 a.m. at the Kinsmen Community Hall, at 4726 34th St., before the rally at the Capri Hotel.
For more information, call Public Interest Alberta at 780-420-0471 or Friends of Medicare at 780-423-4581.
Red Deer Advocate, Tues Oct 27 2009
Byline: Susan Zielinski
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Campaign Launch News Conference, May 2005
(In the spring of 2005, the AFL joined Public Interest Alberta in launching a province-wide campaign to pressure the Alberta government to support the long overdue national child care program being proposed by the then-Liberal federal government.)
Some of you might be wondering why a union leader is participating in this event.
When you think of unions, you probably don't think of finger-painting and story time.
But I'm here today for two reasons.
First, because I'm a father - and children and child care issues are near and dear to my heart.
But, more importantly, I'm here because child care has become a fundamental workplace issue.
In the labour movement, we respond to the challenges that confront people at work.
Those challenges have been different at different times in our history.
When the challenge was unsafe working conditions, unions fought for and won better health and safety protections.
When the challenge was the prospect of poverty in old age, unions fought for and won public and private pensions.
When the challenge was unequal access to health care, unions were at the forefront of the battle for Medicare.
Today, here in Alberta and across the country, the issue many working people are struggling with is the issue of child care.
To understand the scope of the problem, we have to look no further than the study that was released yesterday by researchers from the University of Toronto.
What the study shows is what most of us know from our own personal experiences - namely that the majority of parents have to work to ends meet.
And when they work, they need to make arrangements for the care of their children.
To put the situation in concrete terms, consider the numbers.
In 2003, there were about 219,000 kids in Alberta between the ages of 6 months and five years.
Of those kids, 117,000 had mothers who were in the paid workforce.
That means 54 percent of Alberta pre-schoolers have a mother who works. And that's just the average for the group - when you look at Alberta mothers whose youngest child is a little older - between 3 and 5 - then, 71 per cent are in the workforce.
Of course, not everyone is working full-time - but it comes pretty close. On average, kids of working parents in Alberta need some kind of care arrangement for 22 hours a week.
At this point we have to be clear about something. The vast majority of two-income families in this province are not working only because they want to - they are working because they have to.
Even here in prosperous Alberta, the reality is that most families need two incomes to maintain their hold on the middle class.
As a result, there is a large and demonstrated need for high-quality, accessible, affordable child care services in this province.
And that's the problem - the need is not being met.
As a father and someone who advocates for working people, I look at the system we have in this province and I come away feeling deeply frustrated and, frankly, more than a little angry.
By almost any measure, we are the wealthiest province in country.
But as Bill pointed out, despite our wealth, we have the fewest available spaces in regulated child care facilities.
We spend the lowest amount on child and early education services. Quebec spends more than $4,800 for each regulated child care space; places like Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario spend more than $2,000 - and we spend $816.
But it doesn't end there. To top things off, we are the only province where spending on early childhood services has actually declined over the past ten years.
To put it in a nutshell, we are at the bottom of the pack and moving backwards.
Largely as a result of under-funding, we have a system that can't really be called a system. It's a patch-work - one that is failing kids and failing parents.
The good news is that, there is a ray of hope.
After years of unfulfilled promises, the federal government has finally agreed to move forward with a national child care strategy - and they've set aside $7 billion to get the ball rolling.
The bad news is that our provincial government and their allies in the federal conservative party have, for reasons that can best be described as ideological, been throwing up roadblocks to Alberta's participation in the national program.
That's why we're all here today.
We want to encourage our province to do the right thing.
We want them to do what other provinces have done and agree to participate in the national childcare program.
We also want them to pull their heads out of the sand and realize that the "leave-it-to-Beaver" era is over and that most mothers simply can't afford to stay home full-time with their kids.
Most importantly, we want to make sure Alberta doesn't squander this historic opportunity to build a system that parents can have confidence in and that can provide the kind of quality care and early education that our kids need.
At this point I'd like to quickly address some of the arguments and suggestions put forward by those opposed to the national child care plan.
They say they want parents to have choice. And they point to the fact that only about 20 percent of Alberta parents put their kids in centre-based child care. They say that proves that Albertans don't really want the kind of care being proposed under the national program.
But the real reason Alberta parents aren't choosing centre-based care isn't that they oppose the idea - it's that they usually can't afford it.
It�s true we have some subsidies - but they don't cover the full cost and they are available to only a small group of low-income parents.
So if parents want to put their kids in quality programs, they have to pay between $600-700 per month per child. Frankly, especially for parents with more than one child, that's more than most of us can afford.
A choice that you can't afford is not really a choice at all. So if we want to give parents a real choice - then we have to properly fund high quality care, so it is affordable and accessible to all families regardless of income.
The second thing that opponents of the national program talk about is using tax breaks instead of direct public funding of child care centre to address the problem.
Rona Ambrose from the federal Conservative party for example, for example talks about tax incentives for businesses to set up on-site daycares and $2,000 a year tax breaks for families to encourage one parent to stay at home.
With all due respect to Ms. Ambrose, $2,000 isn't going to replace the income earned by one parent. I'd don't know were she lives, but for most of us $2,000 isn't going to pay the mortgage for a year. We'd be lucky if it covered the grocery bill for a few months.
As far as the idea of tax incentives for businesses go - most Albertans work in small workplaces with 50 employees or less.
I don't care how many incentives you give businesses that small, they're simply not going to be able to afford to establish their own childcare centre - and even if they do, they're likely to be nothing more than babysitting stations, not real centres for child development and learning.
The real solution is the one that research and experience has pointed us towards for years - and that is the creation of a system of quality, publicly supported child care centres that are affordable and accessible. Most Albertans currently don't have that option - but based on the demonstrated demand that's out there, I'm convinced that if we build it, they will come.
Before I wrap up, I just want to say a few words about a group of people who sometimes are overlooked in the debate on child care.
We talk about the kids, we talk about parents - but we also need to talk about the child care workers themselves.
In many ways, child care workers are the backbone, the life blood of a quality child care system. They are the people that bring quality child care and early childhood education programs to life.
But they are also the workers most likely to be under-paid and under-valued in our economy.
Here in Alberta in 2003, the average pay for early childhood educators with three years experience was a paltry $10.37 an hour.
That's about the same pay earned by landscape labourers and people who pump gas.
Among all the workers who need specialized training and certification to do their jobs, child care workers are the lowest paid, bar none.
If we ever hope to build a real child care system in this province, one that parents can have confidence in, one that focuses on developing kids' potential instead of simply warehousing them, then we're going to have to accept the idea that we need a public system; that we're going to have to fund it generously; and that we're going to have to offer decent pay so we can attract and retain high calibre workers.
With the proposal from the Federal government, we have an opportunity to do all those things. Today our message for the province government is clear - don't squander this historic opportunity. Don't cut Alberta kids out of the national child care program.
Kerry Barrett, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, January 2005
Good evening and thank you for this opportunity to talk to you about the work of the AFL.
As many of you know, this past year has been a difficult one for the Federation.
As usual, there has been no shortage of issues for us to deal with.
The provincial government has continued to pursue its anti-worker agenda.
And employers have continued to throw roadblocks in the way of our efforts for progressive change in the workplace.
On top of these on-going challenges, we've had not one, not two, but three elections to deal with.
In the best of times, all these things would have stretched the Federation pretty thin. But unfortunately, these have not been the best of times.
Part of the problem had to do with personnel. As most of you know, last April our former president, Les Steel stepped down to accept a position with the CLC. And, at about the same time, one of our senior staffers went off on a ten-month parental leave.
By themselves, neither of these changes would have been debilitating. But when you have a small staff like we do at the Federation, losing two key people at the same time obviously makes it more difficult to get things done.
To make matters worse, 2004 turned out to be one of the most difficult years ever for the AFL financially.
There were many factors that contributed to the problem - but the end result was that mid-way through the year we faced a serious cash crunch.
In response to this crisis, our executive council met and hammered out a plan to get the Federation back on an even keel.
Part of that plan included arranging emergency loans from affiliates. But we also made the tough decision to lay-off staff. Lay-off notices were given based on seniority to one of executive staff member and one support staff member.
The good news is that we are now in the process of turning things around. Thanks to the support of affiliates, we've been able to postpone our support-staff lay-off. And Tom Fuller, one of our executive staff members, has accepted a position with UNA - so we won't have to proceed with an Executive Staff lay-off either.
The other item of good news is that, despite all of the difficult times we've faced, the Federation has still managed to keep working on your behalf.
I've distributed a report which outlines all the things that the AFL has been working on. I won't read it all - but I'd like to touch on some of the highlights.
Over the last year:
The Federation has continued to advocate for workers issues in the media. Most recently we attempted to show Ralph Klein's so-called "third way" health plan for what it really is - yet another thinly veiled blueprint for privatization. We've also continued to lobby all levels of government on worker issues. We are currently making plans to meet and lobby the new provincial Human Resources minister. And we're preparing a presentation for Edmonton City Council aimed at convincing them to adopt a Living Wage policy. This will be the first installment in what we plan to turn into a province-wide campaign. We're also continuing to improve our communications. As many of you know, the Federation launched a new website last year. Over the summer, a literacy website was added, as was a new on-line version of Labour News. The Federation has also continued to organize one of the most popular and comprehensive annual labour schools in the country. This years' school was held in December in Jasper and attracted more that 250 participants from both public and private sector unions. In addition to the school, AFL staff organized stand-alone seminars on a variety of topics including, parliamentary procedure, pensions and health and safety. This year, the AFL also continued its involvement with progressive coalitions and community groups. We played a prominent role in establishing a new activist network, called Public Interest Alberta (PIA). And we're also working with Friends of Medicare and other community groups to plan a response to the Klein government's latest push for private health care. The Federation has also been active in many other areas. Our Kids' Camp was bigger than ever this year. Our Membership forum dealing with the breakdown of Canada's post-war labour-relation system was well-attended and positively received. And we played an important role in supporting progressive candidates in all three elections. So, as you can see, despite all the hurdles and challenges that the Federation has faced this year, we've still managed to move forward. And, now that we've started a new year, we have even more in store.
The most important upcoming event that I want to draw attention to is the Federation's biennial Convention. This is the forum where people like you get to set the direction for the AFL. And, to make things even more interesting, this time around we'll also be electing a new president.
The Convention will be held in Edmonton May 12-15. For those affiliates interesting in sending delegates, the deadline for submitting your credentials is Friday, March 28. The deadline for resolutions is earlier: Monday, March 14.
In conclusion: I'd just like to say two things.
First, thank you for this opportunity to address your meeting tonight. It's always good to come together with other activists.
Second, on behalf of myself and the entire AFL Executive Council, I'd like to wish you good luck with you deliberations this evening.
The CDLC continues to lead the way for labour councils in this country - and that's thanks in large part to the dedication and commitment of everyone in this room.
I look forward to working with you throughout the upcoming year - and I also look forward to seeing as many of you as possible at our Convention in May.
Thank you, good luck and solidarity!
Public Interest Alberta, a new provincial advocacy organization, has launched a great campaign to challenge all provincial candidates to define where they stand on key public interest issues. Called "A Fair Deal for Alberta Families", this campaign outlines eight important public interest themes and proposes policy solutions that will greatly benefit all Albertans.
Now is your chance to communicate directly with your candidates to ask them where they stand on public interest issues. When you go to the website of Public Interest Alberta and click on the Fair Deal For Alberta Families link, you will be able to send an e-mail message to the candidates that are running in your constituency, asking them to let you know what their position is on these issues.
Please let your politicians know you care about quality health care, education, support for people in need, the environment, seniors, early childhood programs, post-secondary education, farmers and rural communities.
It only takes a minute to send a message.
Public Interest Alberta is a new provincial advocacy organization for public interest issues. It was founded in June 2004 to serve as a vehicle through which to foster in Albertans an understanding of and commitment to the importance of public services, institutions and spaces.