Wildrose leader advocates a return to deep cuts and deep freezes for public services and public employees

Posted on November 02, 2015, 12:19 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Opposition Leader Brian Jean holds forth on public jobs and public services during his Oct. 30 interview with the CBC. (Screenshot.) Below: Is this Mr. Jean’s idea of the future of Alberta’s public services? Below that: NDP Finance Minister Joe Ceci.

Wildrose Leader Brian Jean is starting to sketch out his party’s policies in broad strokes and, if you’re a public sector worker in a union job or in management, the picture is not a pretty one.

It would be a good idea for public employees to pay attention now to what Mr. Jean has to say, while the political stakes for him are relatively low. This is because having established his credentials with the party’s base as an advocate of deep cuts and deep freezes, statements by the leader of the market-fundamentalist opposition on public sector labour policies will likely grow more guarded as an election nears.

defrostIn the past few days, Mr. Jean has offered up some revealing commentary on how a hypothetical Wildrose government would act in this important policy area.

Naturally, Mr. Jean’s comments are clothed in professions of respect for “front-line” workers and the work they do, not to mention promises that the front-line jobs done by nurses, teachers and physicians are safe. But the implications of what he is saying suggest the Opposition party would quickly return us to the days of massive cyclical cuts to essential public services, plummeting numbers of public employees to deliver them, privatization where possible and generalized austerity in the name of living within our (intentionally restricted) means.

So in his rambling response Thursday to Finance Minister Joe Ceci’s budget – part of the Wildrose Party’s efforts to filibuster away the outrage of having to report for work at the ungodly hour of 9 in the morning – Mr. Jean was soon bloviating about the need to freeze public sector salaries, shrink the size of the public service and, in particular, reduce the number of public service management positions.

Now, I understand that one goal of Mr. Jean’s long declamation was rhetorical. He wants to differentiate his party from the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley and appeal to a sub-set of the population that is actively hostile to public services and the people who deliver them.

Moreover, borrowing heavily from the Harper Government playbook – with regular references to “Risky Economic Experiments” and the like – the Opposition Leader would certainly like to leave the impression in the public’s mind that the government is too close to public sector workers and their unions.

cecirabbleNevertheless, it is said here that his comments reflect a real commitment to public policy the Wildrose Party would implement if it managed to form government.

And so, Mr. Jean demanded in the Legislature, “… Begin discussions now with the public-sector unions because now is the right time to start down that path and to talk to them about getting a temporary freeze on public-sector salaries.” (Emphasis added.)

To the political right, as we saw with the Klein and Redford Conservative governments in particular, “discussions” is code for marching orders. In addition, as anyone who understands the mechanics of collective bargaining knows, the impact of temporary wage freezes is permanently lower wages.

Mr. Jean said this approach should not apply just to unionized workers – to whom recent court judgments guarantee collective-bargaining rights – but should also be dictated to managerial and excluded employees.

“Wildrose has also expressed its support for (a) mandated freeze many times. That would be for all government managers and non-bargaining union employees,” he told the Legislature, noting that “we have about 6,000 government managers that are not unionized.” Without contracts, easy prey for pay freezes.

As for the size of the public sector in Alberta – and this to me is where the supposed Wildrose commitment to front-line jobs rings false – Mr. Jean advocates cuts reminiscent of Ralph Klein’s approach. “We do need to shrink the size of the civil service. We do,” he exclaimed at one point in the Legislature. “We can do that in a number of ways that don’t include any firings, any layoffs. There is a thing called attrition. People actually leave the civil service.”

Well, fair enough, I guess, but this hardly sounds like a scheme for maintaining front-line services. And members of the civil service will recall, often with bitterness, that they were promised no layoffs by Mr. Klein too if only they agreed to a pay cut. They did, and the layoffs came anyway.

And remember that in Alberta the reality is many “managers” and “excluded” employees – classified that way by previous conservative governments to keep them from having union representation – are really front-line workers, both in the civil service and health care. So cutting “managers” often equals cutting front-line services.

On health care, Mr. Jean stuck to the same theme: “Seven hundred more spaces, more employees, at Alberta Health Services, the fourth-largest employer in the country, and the government is adding more employees.”

It would be a waste of breath to remind Mr. Jean that those 700 additional hirings approved by the budget are for front-line positions, and that it is slightly disingenuous to harp on the fact AHS is one of the country’s largest employers in hopes of suggesting other provinces’ public sectors don’t employ similar or larger numbers of health care workers.

Moreover, it must be said, real managers are necessary to run an organization as large and complex as a single hospital, let alone a province-wide health region or civil service.

The next day, Mr. Jean seemed to mix up the civil service and Alberta Health Services in an interview with the CBC, telling political reporter Rosemary Barton that “what they have done is they’ve added another 700 people to the public service, which, it’s already an over-bloated public service.”

His solution, pared down for TV, was blunt. He combined the dubious promise to preserve front-line jobs with one to slash the public service: “We would immediately make sure that no front-line positions were lost. Either teachers, nurses, doctors; anybody that serves the public. But then freeze salaries and make sure that we, through attrition and early retirement, we would, you know, downsize our public service. It’s necessary.”

In such circumstances, high-skill health care workers such as physicians and registered nurses will do what they did when Mr. Klein was premier: leave for greener pastures, a reality from which Alberta’s health care system is still recovering.

Without a doubt, Mr. Jean’s approach will appeal to some hardline voters. It is naturally in tune with the market-fundamentalist ideology that the Wildrose Party was created to promote with theological fervour, irrespective of facts or empirical analysis.

But it offers a dark vision for public services – both for the Albertans who need them and the people who provide them. This is worth keeping in mind.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

25 Comments to: Wildrose leader advocates a return to deep cuts and deep freezes for public services and public employees

  1. Northern Loon

    November 2nd, 2015

    I may have to re-think my choice of pen names as Mr Jean seems to fit the name better as he is from further north than me and is decidedly more of a loon. I’ll have to think on this.

    I have been a public service worker through the storms caused by the twin dervishes of Mr Klein and his hatchet man, Mr West. It was not pretty, but Mr Jean seems to be an inept student of history and has clearly failed to learn that simply chopping positions does not work well.

    During that time I almost filed a grievance on the lack of management as managers were so scarce that decisions could not be made, but I thought that it might bring ridicule on AUPE and it was just too weird. In any case the level of management in my area has not climbed significantly so I might still get a chance should the “Colonel of Sleeping In” get his way.

    It just goes to show how inept the WRP are that all they can come up with for opposition is disruption over reasonable start times, re-visiting the tried and failed firing of employees and of course the bizarre construct of declaring the NDP of somehow failing by following through on promises. It seems that the WRP and Mr Jean are simply manifestations of a previous crazy time and perhaps need some counselling – which might be even harder to find should they get the cuts they seek.

    Reply
    • Cindy

      November 4th, 2015

      I currently work for AHS. In the last year we have had a huge turnover in staff and management and a lot of positions are left unfilled because of a management decision made from the top. The work load does not decrease, but they find a way to juggle workloads. At the same time there has been quite a lot of empire building in management where teams of cherry picked workers are brought into teams and less favoured workers are shuffled on. Senior management positions have been awarded a 18 percent raise over 3 years at the same time that Support staff were offered freezes In my department we have 6 vacant positions, and when I look at the reporting structure you see the same in most departments. At the same time, we have longer wait times in hospitals, less supplies being ordered, burnt out staff and general fatigue of the entire system. The government wants to get their mitts on my pension, and they want to shut us up. Come April of 2016 we will have the right to strike. And get ready folks because it is going to set this province back a decade. For the last number of years we have been marginalized by being classified as essential services. We, the support staff, are not given raises or respect, but everything marches on our backs. You couldn’t operate without us, but the Front Line staff are under the impression that they are by far the most important workers. So when we are losing about 3 or 4 percent a year to private enterprise (this is all good, right Mr. Jean?) and we are underpaid for the work we do you can go and hire temporary workers to do what 30000 workers are doing right now, and very efficiently. Wages, in the Public Sector, have lost pace with the “Private Sector”, and they removed perks like coffee or tea.

      Reply
  2. Eric Cameron

    November 2nd, 2015

    Those people are nuts.

    Reply
  3. political ranger

    November 2nd, 2015

    “… real managers …”?
    Ok, let’s keep the real managers around, as scarce as they are.
    But the vast majority are just party hacks biding their time till retirement or an offer from the petro-industry. Turfing 30% of these incompetent boobs would be an unalloyed good thing; for Alberta, for the public and even for the remainder who might actually begin to do something resembling their job.
    Long-time rank and file employees are only long-timers because they were able to appear loyal to the PC ideology. Whether this was subterfuge or an alignment with personal views is unknown but my experience is that there are an awful lot of public service workers who think Klein is the best thing to happen since Jesus and Notley is going to ruin their good thing.
    Unless and until a good portion of these types are fired nothing different is going to happen under the Notley regime. Well, except taxes.

    Reply
  4. Maria

    November 2nd, 2015

    Well said ‘NorthernLoon’. I too was a public servant at the time of Ralph Klein and Mr. West – or Doctor Death as he was called. Reducing the Public Service through attrition is an illusion. People don’t quit or retire if they know that they might be laid off and get severance pay. There were voluntary lay-offs which prompted many of the best workers to take the severance pay because they could easily find other employment. Work was re-distributed among the remaining employees – who also had to take salary cuts – and certain activities stopped altogether. The use of sick leave and disability claims went up. After a while some holes had to be filled by new hires, and low and behold some of the people previously laid off came back to work – and kept their severance. It was chaos and cost millions. Mr. Jean – and the Party that can’t show up for work at 9:00 AM – doesn’t know what reducing the public service means.

    Reply
  5. Alfredo Louro

    November 2nd, 2015

    I think one should also consider that efficient public services are Mr. Jean’s worst nightmare. His constituents might start thinking “wait a minute – I like having access to high-quality health care services, and having the same access as everyone else”. Mr. Jean would like nothing better than to cripple public services. It is every conservative politician’s wet dream.

    Reply
  6. joe guy

    November 2nd, 2015

    I work in the public service and go to work and risk my life everyday. These clowns stay in an office and descide to cut my wages. How about you cut your own wage and be a leader. You already make more than we do and you do less.

    Reply
  7. jerrymacgp

    November 2nd, 2015

    Typical right wing, simplistic thinking. Yes, it is entirely possible, maybe even probable, that there is still some bureaucratic bloat in the middle and upper tiers of certain large public sector organizations. But (to coin a phrase) let me be clear: managers are essential to delivering “front line” services. Without them, who would hire staff, sign payroll, provide guidance and leadership, and weed out bad apples? Who would set policy and provide that financial oversight so beloved of Auditors-General everywhere? Who would authorize the purchasing of mission-critical supplies and equipment?

    Mr Jean is out to lunch.

    Reply
  8. mike

    November 2nd, 2015

    Brian Jean should be commended but it doesn’t go far enough. We need to be cutting everywhere including on our front line. Albertans simply don’t need these wasteful service.

    Reply
    • Gord

      November 3rd, 2015

      You mean wasteful public services like health care, schools, police, firefighting, environmental protection, etc. Mike (or whatever your real name is)? Yeah, who needs useless stuff like that? Only 99% of the population but then we’re just parasitic wimps that leech off the 1%, right Mike?

      Reply
  9. Corey Lee

    November 2nd, 2015

    Wage freeze? After 4 years of a wage freezes I received a modest increase this September. Now he wants me to take another one? For how long? And NONE of my classes are under 30. Yes back in the day they might have been higher but the demands on us are much different and couple that with the integration of special needs kids makes it much more challenging than ever before. Give your head a shake Brian. You want to balance the books on the backs of average Albertan’s, just like how Ralph Klein did. I took a 5% hit with a promise of getting it back later. It never happened.

    Reply
  10. November 3rd, 2015

    David John Climenhaga (born February 1, 1952) is a Canadian journalist, author, teacher and union activist. Your opinion Mt. Climenhaga carries absolutely no weight with real Albertans.

    Reply
    • Val Jobson

      November 3rd, 2015

      So who are you to declare anyone a “real Albertan”? This guy?:

      https://www.facebook.com/AlbertansagainstNDP/posts/917990278263419

      Did you post any criminal threats against Rachel Notley on that Facebook site, or are you one of the spineless ones who didn’t object to the threats? I won’t say that bunch aren’t Albertans, but they sure as hell aren’t smart.

      Reply
    • Adam

      November 3rd, 2015

      My maternal grandmother immigrated with her parents to Alberta in the 1930s, my maternal grandfather found a job in Edmonton a few years later. My mother’s godmother, with whom I was close, came to Alberta a bit before 1910, while my younger sister’s godfather (a friend of my grandfather) was born in Okotoks in 1914 to Ontarian parents who came to Alberta in the 1880s. My father, a “new Canadian,” came to Alberta from Germany in the 1960s, as did many of his relatives. Of course, there are “Albertans” whose families came to Alberta after 1960, and there are also Albertans, especially First Nations, who came to Alberta long before 1880. All are equally real Albertans.

      This is just a long way of saying – Harpercon filth and Wildrosers have no right to say who is and who isn’t a real Albertan.

      Reply
    • Northern Loon

      November 3rd, 2015

      John, it would seem that many ‘real’ Albertans follow and read David’s blog on a regular basis and all the while are aware of his bona fides. I’m not really sure how a persons birth date or middle name affects their credibility, so I’ll choose to ignore this as unneeded information. I don’t agree with all that David blogs on, I do find that his blogs do encourage thought and often interesting discussion.

      Reply
  11. Solstice1953

    November 3rd, 2015

    Market Fundamentalism is now the synonym of ignorance. The memorize all of the buzz words, all of the nice sentences but know nothing about what they are talking about. Bryan Jean is not really known for being a brilliant mind, one just has to remember his debates during the election campaign. He sounded like a good character for the next movie of THE BORG.

    Reply
  12. John

    November 3rd, 2015

    Market fundamentalism is the reason Alberta is a success, and a rejection of it by the NDP is why our economy will continue to fail. We need a return to massive cuts to our overpaid and bloated public service (more expensive than any other province) and start saving our resource revenue.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      November 3rd, 2015

      Great plan!

      Let’s not have anyone or any corporations pay any taxes on anything. Fire all public service workers, including police, firefighters, doctors, nurses, teachers, politicians, and judges. Let’s close all schools, hospitals, and courthouses. We could save tons of money.

      Then, we can all be free to have the benevolent oil and gas companies look after everything our taxes used to pay for. That would be great. We’d all be so rich, healthy, educated, and law-abiding.

      John, you are an idiot Wildrose troll.

      Reply
      • ADAM SMITH

        November 5th, 2015

        Corporations don’t pay income tax. They pass it on to consumers with higher prices. Economics 101 pal.

        Corporate tax rates should be at 0%.

        And I am not Wildrose.

        Reply
        • political ranger

          November 5th, 2015

          what a little dreamer …

          If that was even partially true, there would never be any issue with corporate taxes.
          No, they pay very little tax, especially over the last few decades, and certainly not even close to what they consume in society. Corporations are, generally, free-riders on a system that is primarily funded by citizens.
          Not such a bad thing if corporate profits and earnings stayed in Canada but the vast majority go to foreign shareholders. So, a net cost to Canada and it’s citizens.
          Corporate tax should be at 33%.

          Reply
  13. Sassy

    November 3rd, 2015

    Having worked in the public service a number of years ago but for less than a decade (due to the dysfunctional work environment), I’ll throw in my two bits. I interacted with several ministries and not all are the same. Most departments were top heavy with both managers and executives, but in some select areas, middle managers were scarce. From what I saw, promotions, for the most part, were given to sycophants and had little to do with merit. The higher levels of management were populated with people who had no idea what service meant or the purpose of government. So, while I agree that management personnel can and should be pruned, it must be done at an individual level. Are they fit for their job (understand service to Albertans)? Do their staff consider them useful, fair, etc.? Can their colleagues work with them? Does the quality of their decisions and their work output, whether budgets, policies, strategic plans, and so forth, match their position and salary? Do they hire contracters to do their actual work?

    A review of public service management would take time and effort but save a bundle and improve morale. Not filling a position when someone leaves makes no sense. The manager could be a highly competent, experienced employee serving a valuable function. Assuming all managers are interchangeable or unnecessary is as bad as assuming they are all needed.

    A fresh start for all public servants could be education on the role of government in society and the public they ultimately serve. I remember at one departmental meeting an arrogant deputy minister reminded us, in no uncertain terms, that we worked for HER (bullies were rampant).

    Reply
    • political ranger

      November 4th, 2015

      hear, hear!!

      My experience as well.

      Reply
  14. pogo

    November 3rd, 2015

    You know, I could try to wax poetic about what an empty suit this Chauncey Gardener of the right Brian Jean really is but let’s just say he’s a rake magnet. Ok?

    https://youtu.be/tbd4t-ua-WQ

    Reply
    • Northern Loon

      November 4th, 2015

      Chauncey Gardner of the right – I love it! Nothing but pithy statements, but elevated to pinnacles of power because he was so simple. Peter Sellers in perhaps his best role in Being There – well worthwhile watching. The similarity between Chauncey Gardner and the rest of the presidential advisers and Brian Jean and his ‘brain trust’ is striking.

      Reply
  15. Hana Razga

    November 7th, 2015

    What could one expect from one of Harper’s minions. Hell learned his lessons well. But it does not hurt to be reminded from time to time what we just left behind, in Alberta and in Canada

    Reply

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