Wildrose reaction to proposed raise for front-line health workers illustrates the party’s rightward shift

Posted on February 05, 2017, 1:16 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: Rob Anderson, on the right, the Wildrose Party’s finance critic under Danielle Smith, at a rally supporting public sector workers in 2012. With him are AUPE President Guy Smith, left, and Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann, centre. Below: The Wildrose Party’s intemperate current finance critic, Derek Fildebrandt, Ms. Smith, and premiers Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford.

Unhappy Progressive Conservative traditionalists have termed the still theoretical united-right party PC leadership Jason Kenney hopes to create after he wins the party leadership in March, “Wildrose 2.0.”

But surely this is incorrect. If the Danielle Smith led Opposition party ginned up by oilpatch operators unhappy with former PC premier Ed Stelmach’s plan to get Albertans a slightly better return on the resources they own was Wildrose 1.0, surely the B-Team now headed by Brian Jean is already Wildrose 2.0!

That means that in the likely event Mr. Kenney succeeds in uniting the right on his radical social conservative terms, the new entity should be called Wildrose 3.0.

I’m not just saying this to be clever. We’ve already seen a significant shift to a more radical right-wing position from Wildrose 1.0 to 2.0. With plans to purge the new “united” party of progressive and moderate Tories being openly acknowledged, it’s reasonable to predict Mr. Kenney intends to double down to a whole new level of ideological extremism.

Evidence of the shift to date? Consider the moderate and cautious approach taken by Ms. Smith and then-finance-critic Rob Anderson to the attack on public sector unions by PC premier Alison Redford’s government back in 2013 and 2014 compared to last week’s commentary by Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and Finance Critic Derek Fildebrandt about the tiny pay increases proposed in a mediated award to a group of modestly paid front-line health care workers represented by a public sector union.

The difference, it is said here, represents a significant strategy shift from Wildrose 1.0 to Wildrose 2.0 – from a conscious effort to place the party closer to the moderate centre to angry anti-union rhetoric that clearly aims to position the party further right and appeal to its red-meat base.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It is exactly the strategy used by Donald Trump to win the U.S. presidency … and look where that’s getting us!

Ms. Redford beat the Wildrose Party in the 2012 general election in part by courting public sector union members.

But once in power, she turned on them. Her government proposed plans to gut their pensions. In early 2014, it passed two unconstitutional laws that imposed blanket strike bans on huge numbers of unionized public-sector employees and stripped 22,000 civil servants represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees of their legal right to compulsory arbitration while imposing a wage settlement on them.

The union reaction to Bills 45 and 46 was predictably determined, in the courts of law and the court of public opinion. But the Wildrose response was unexpectedly thoughtful and supportive of union members.

“Negotiating a collective bargaining agreement that is fair for taxpayers is an important goal,” said Mr. Anderson in a party news release in December 2013. “It does not give the government the right to terminate the legal arbitration rights of public sector employees.”

Calling the substitution of compulsory arbitration for the right to strike “a fair compromise that should be upheld,” Mr. Anderson said that “for these reasons the Wildrose will be actively opposing Bill 46 in the Legislature and will repeal Bill 46 and reinstate those lost arbitration rights should Wildrose form government.”

“The Wildrose is committed to fiscal prudence and balanced budgets,” he said. “However, we will not balance the budget on the backs of front line public sector workers and services, nor will we unilaterally terminate the legal rights of any Albertan.” (Emphasis added.)

Mr. Anderson also showed up at public demonstrations in 2012 defending public sector pensions.

Contrast this with the tone of the Wildrose 2.0’s finance critic, Mr. Fildebrandt, in his reaction to last week’s news a mediator had recommended extremely modest wage increases for health care aides and licensed practical nurses who have been working without a contract since the spring of 2015.

The mediator suggested a deal that would see these front-line health care workers receive a pay increase of 1.2 per cent in the first year and 0.8 in the second, then expire next month. That would mean a raise for 39 cents an hour in the current year for a health care aide earning $19.53 per hour. Members of the highest paid category, professional LPNs with extra education on how to set broken bones, would make just 88 cents per hour more.

The Wildrose reaction? “Pay raises for union employees at AHS can only be described as a slap in the face to struggling Albertans, and the NDP must now draw a line in the sand and freeze public sector salaries,” screeched the party’s news release.

“This would be a completely indecent move at a time when thousands of hardworking families are worried about how they’re going to heat their homes or put food on the table,” said Mr. Jean. “Albertans cannot believe what this NDP government is considering doing with their money and they want to see something done in the way of a freeze.” (Never mind that some of those families doubtless include LPNs and HCAs.)

It’s not clear why Mr. Fildebrandt, a supporter of Mr. Kenney’s PC leadership bid and a frequent poster of intemperate social media attacks, called Alberta Health Services employees paid less than $20 an hour union bosses.

But clearly the days of Wildrose 1.0, when senior party officials like Mr. Anderson would promise not to express their mania for balanced budgets on the backs of front-line health care workers are long gone.

Heaven only knows what these people will start calling for once Mr. Kenney’s supporters have completed their double reverse hostile takeover of the PCs and the current version of the Wildrose, creating a new alt-right variant of the Trump Republicans in its place.

In 2015, weeks before the provincial election that brought the NDP under Premier Rachel Notley to power, the PC government of premier Jim Prentice repealed Bills 45 and 46, recognizing they were likely doomed in the courts anyway. But his action was, as they say, a day late and a dollar short.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

28 Comments to: Wildrose reaction to proposed raise for front-line health workers illustrates the party’s rightward shift

  1. Topiary

    February 5th, 2017

    David, do you remember Twain’s reference to “Looy the Seventeen”… you know the ‘dauphin’ in Huck Finn ? I think Fildebrand is playing out the part. Given his penchant for defending big monied interests under the guise of being for the little person, he shows himself to be quite the ‘con’ man. Hopefully some driven investigative journalist will look deeply into his background. There’s gotta be something there! Or at the very least someone ought to investigate what the hell kind of economic courses are offered at Carleton University. Fildebrandt appears to be completely smitten by failed neo-liberal economic policies that have served to prevent real income gains by the vast, vast majority of middle & lower income earners since the late 70’s. So then… who does this guy really serve?

    Reply
  2. Farmer B

    February 5th, 2017

    I will be the first one to agree that the cost of living increases every year as does the cost of government. If the NDP do not wish to reduce spending how do you propose to balance the budget? Alberta’s deficit is projected to be 58 billion by 2019. At 3% interest that is a cost of 1.74 billion per year. If interest rates rise to 4% the cost is 2.32 billion per year. To put that in perspective Alberta’s new carbon tax when it reaches 30 dollars per tonne in 2018 is projected to bring in 3 billion dollars. If a 5% sales was implemented and it raised the projected 5 billion dollars per year a good portion of it would just go to servicing the debt. Does that make sense? No doubt it is easier to call the Wildrose heartless right wingers than it is to face the reality that government spending needs to be reduced and government revenues need to increase at the same time for the budget to balance.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      February 6th, 2017

      The RW’s biggest lie is that Alberta has a spending problem. Not true. If anything, they have a revenue problem.

      “If interest rates rise to 4%….” Are you kidding? What if it rises to 9%, or 20% – oh, the horror….

      Be realistic. The likelihood of interest rates going that high anytime soon is nearly zero.

      Therefore, rather than inventing a doomsday scenario to make a point, it would be better to deal with the revenue side rather than punish the population using so-called austerity measures that disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in society.

      Reply
      • Val

        February 6th, 2017

        i guess it doesn’t much matter how high or low interest rates, in any case it will be covered not by entrepreneurial activity of government but rather by taxpayers. so at the end the austerity measures won’t be proclaimed officially but it will be implemented “voluntarily” in every household by tightening belts due to less disposable income.

        Reply
      • Farmer B

        February 6th, 2017

        How did I invent a doomsday scenario? At present Alberta’s debt is 28.6 billion and the projected 58 billion dollar deficit is calculated using the NDP’s own budget projections! As well I believe 3% interest is also accurate. As for your assertion that austerity hurts the most vulnerable, are Alberta government employees Alberta’s most vulnerable? If you are concerned about our most vulnerable why aren’t you lobbying our government to fund more drug addiction treatment spaces instead of wasting money on subsidizing solar panels that even with government subsidies don’t make financial sense. How will roof mounted solar panels help the homeless, those addicted to fentanyl?

        Reply
        • St Albertan

          February 6th, 2017

          Farmer B “At present Alberta’s debt is 28.6 billion and the projected 58 billion dollar deficit is calculated using the NDP’s own budget projections! ” You seem to be borrowing numbers from unreliable sources. Our current financial position is still debt free. Yes we have bonds out at historically low rates, but when you look at our balance sheet, it’s in the positive. Given that there is a difference between deficit and debt, I find it truly disingenuous for you to make such sweeping claims of authority with so little backing it up. If I were you, I’d hire an accountant to take care of all the tax credits your farm generates. Wouldn’t want to miss out, now would we.

          Reply
          • Farmer B

            February 7th, 2017

            St Albertan, Edmonton Journal article April 14,2016 titled Alberta Budget 2016: Books won’t balance until 2024. If you read through this article you will see clearly stated a combined operational and capital debt of 57.6 billion dollars 2018-2019. Global news reported similar numbers rounded to 58 billion. Are you saying that both news organizations incorrectly stated what the government said? So if we are debt free does that mean our debt obligations are imaginary?

          • St Albertan

            February 7th, 2017

            Oops, sorry there Farmer B. I hadn’t realized that the contingency fund and the Heritage trust had been completely mismanaged and raided by your “(C)onservatives” silly me.

  3. Topiary

    February 5th, 2017

    … oh and by the way David … Fildebrandt’s reference to “Alberta Health Services employees… (as) union bosses” is made because Alberta doesn’t have an issue with Mexicans. Alberta’s very rich classes have to seek ways to misdirect hard working and unemployed citizen’s attention from the fact that they have enjoyed unparalleled wealth and income accumulation over the last approx 30 years. So the strategy is … send out trained minions like Kenney & Fildebrandt & Klein (previously) etc and have them manipulate us into believing that the ‘real’ problem is with the greed of our fellow co-workers and co-citizens rather than the rich people who make sure that tax regimes, subsidies etc highly favor their continued income & wealth accumulation… at our expense! As the NDP government continues its attempt to properly rectify this wealth & income imbalance, I can assure you that rich people will intensify their efforts to misdirect the citizenry’s gaze from the top to the bottom of the pile. The only question that I have now… is which group– surely that is being presently contemplated– will be the next one to face the righteous indignation of the minion operatives?

    Reply
  4. jerrymacgp

    February 5th, 2017

    Let us also not forget, this is a 2-year retroactive package that will already expire March 31st, 2017, meaning that AUPE will be right back to the bargaining table as soon as this one is signed … assuming, that is, that AUPE’s ANC members ratify this agreement, not a guaranteed outcome by any means. There is a lot of grumbling among those members against this mediator’s report. And, the legal framework around public-sector collective bargaining has changed significantly since the Redford era, with the courts having found that blanket strike bans are unconstitutional and the current government having passed legislation to bring Alberta’s labour laws into compliance with those court rulings. AUPE now has the legal right to strike; will their ANC membership decide that now is the time to use it? Stay tuned …

    Reply
  5. Ken Larsen

    February 5th, 2017

    Hospital workers and others should be worried about Harper’s side-kick taking over. Mr. Kenney was there when the collective bargaining rights of prairie farmers were removed by effectively decertifying the Canadian Wheat Board. Independent economists have calculated the loss to prairie farmers at around one third the annual value of their wheat and barley crop with much worse on the higher quality durum and milling wheats.

    So why would a Premier Kenney respect the collective bargaining rights of hospital workers, even if it only amounts to thirty-nine cents an hour?

    Reply
  6. Chris

    February 5th, 2017

    The reason Anderson and the Wildrose went down last election is because they got too close to the unions. The one conservative policy in the last government wass to reign in runaway entitlements, ie pensions. From defined benefit to defined contribution. It’s time for common people to stand up to the greedy entitled union bosses and for taxpayers. Bravo Fildebrandt!

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      February 6th, 2017

      It never ceases to amaze me that over- privileged politicians and their billionaire friends are always at the ready condemning middle class workers as greedy entitled moochers.

      I find it insulting to our intelligence that politicians with their over inflated salaries and their platinum-plated pensions are the first to rail against improvements for overage workers.

      Wake up people. It’s not unions who are ripping you off. It is in fact, the loudest (and by coincidence the most insincere) critics of unions who are draining the public purse.

      Fildebrand is a classic case in point. How does he earn and what’s his benefit package look like? I guess it’s OK for him to earn that, but no one else is worthy?

      Reply
    • St Albertan

      February 6th, 2017

      Chris The front line workers who empty your bed pan are common people. So are the folks who pour your coffee. Give your shoddy rhetoric a rest. Albertans know that teachers, nurses, cleaners, drivers, police, fire-fighters, road builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, plasterers, computer technicians, labourers, are all common people. So my question now I guess, is who in heavens’ name do you think are common people?

      Reply
  7. spranch

    February 5th, 2017

    derek filibuster and the wildrose are all for wage freezes for teachers and doctors (excluded from the category of “hardworking REAL albertans” and instead cast as “overpaid government employees”), but what did they do back in 2015 when the ndp proposed wage freezes for mla’s? they responded to it with the same belligerently reactionary obstruction they went on to meet every single govt proposal with. typical! “austerity for thee, but not for me.” so much for fiscal responsibility!

    Reply
    • Val

      February 6th, 2017

      if NDP does have majority at legislature then why this “proposed wage freezes for mla’s” didn’t pass? could be there aren’t so much difference between politicos from left, right or even alt-right after all, as some try to push it to masses?

      Reply
  8. Alfredo Louro

    February 5th, 2017

    Maybe it’s a shift to the right.

    Or maybe it’s just hypocrisy. It’s possible the Wildrose will say anything to set themselves apart from whoever is in government at the time. Coherence is not their strong point. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

    Reply
  9. Val

    February 5th, 2017

    oh dear, not again. it is obvious for all readers of blog – PC, WR, SC and anything just one degree right of center are evil. NDP only white and fluffy, sort of descendants of Santa Claus.
    on more serious note – frankly all your arguments just a rubbish. sure, counting the rise in pennies, as you did, doesn’t looks scary but AB already has way over inflated salaries for public sector workers comparing to rest of the Canada. in fact highest in all Canada.
    here is some average numbers (2011):
    Alberta – $61 000
    Ontario – $56 000
    BC – $54 000
    Feds – $53 000
    Sask – $51 000
    N.S. – $49 000
    Manitoba – $49 000
    Quebec – $47 000

    that’s understandable, Ms. Notley has concern about even distant but still upcoming election and small bribe of unionized sector here and there won’t hurt in the future. sadly she pays it not from own pocket. as of 2015, there are 85 803 provincial workers in Alberta. what about remaining 4 167 097, who can expect under NDP governance only growth of day by day expenses and taxes but not personal income?

    b.t.w. David, not on topic but i’m curious why responses takes quite long time, before appearing in blog? it’s kind of censorship on your side or tech. spec of the site?

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      February 6th, 2017

      Thanks for raising this question, Val. Of course, if it were censorship that caused my sometimes slow approval of comments, your comments might not appear at all! That’s not it, however. Nor does it have to do with the technical specifications of the site. It is simply a matter of time management. This blog is a hobby, and typically, I write my posts late in the evening. Sometimes quite late in the evening. I still work full time, and I don’t write posts on employer time, although during the week I do update comments during breaks. I try to make it to the karate dojo three nights a week, to stay fit. I moderate all comments because so many offensive and defamatory comments slip through the spam filter – those I edit, if parts have merit, or do censor. So this is a substantial commitment of time that means, sometimes, and this weekend was one of those sometimes, I just don’t get to the comments until I sit down to post my nightly thoughts. This evening is a case in point. Sorry. DJC

      Reply
      • Val

        February 6th, 2017

        thanks for explaining. though i think such approach somewhat kills liveliness of discussions.

        Reply
        • David Climenhaga

          February 6th, 2017

          Fair enough, but not much I can do about it. I suppose one alternative would be for readers to use the donation button to give me so much money I could afford to update comments all day long. Plus hire bodyguards, of course. And a dog sitter … Wait! I’m thinking of someone else …

          Reply
    • Athabascan

      February 6th, 2017

      He published your comment, so obviously he is much more gracious than you give him credit for.

      Hey Val, what’s stopping you from starting your own blog page? Then, you can be free to publish all the comments you get without any vetting.

      Reply
      • tom in ontario

        February 7th, 2017

        Before Val starts any blog, he/she should take a basic course in english grammar, punctuation and sentence structure. Come on Val, make it easier for us intellectually challenged readers.

        Reply
  10. 9 sided

    February 5th, 2017

    “union bosses” is a tired old term the righties use to conjure up the image of a cigar smoking mafioso character. It presumes the reader is so ignorant that they do not realize union leadership is democratically elected by the members. Contrast that to business executives who are appointed by a board of directors consisting of other business executives. It also presumes the reader is so ignorant that they are unaware that most corruption in the last 40 years involved businessmen and politicians rather than duly elected union leaders.

    Reply
  11. James Williamson

    February 6th, 2017

    It’s fairly clear from your brief history of this issue that the common thread connecting Redford to Fildebrandt is the willing of conservative politicians to use the loyalty of working people for political gain when convenient. The NDP appear to have broken this model by bargaining in good faith. That’s what infuriates the WRP.

    Reply
  12. David

    February 6th, 2017

    Wildrose 1.0 was a populist party with no ties to any established party, so while it was generally right wing, on occasion it was not always conservative in view. I would argue that Wildrose 2.0 is trying to become a more traditional conservative party and be less populist, except when electorally convenient.

    If Wildrose 3.0 comes to be, it will likely follow the path of the Reform Party that morphed into the Conservative Party. Preston Manning frequently talked about listening to the “grassroots”, Harper seemed to excel at silencing the “grassroots”.

    I suspect the deal that may be made with the PC’s is that social conservatives will be given a lot of power and influence, but publicly they will have to be quiet and accept traditional conservative policies such as corporate tax cuts and a battle against unions.

    Reply
    • February 15th, 2017

      I disagree. Rob Anderson and Danielle Smith ran the show without much reference to the grassroots beyond rhetoric. That’s why they were so tight with Guy Smith. There was certainly no pressure from the Wildrose rank and file to make nice with the union bosses. With Anderson & Co out of the picture, we have a reversion to a more natural state of affairs.

      Reply

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