PHOTOS: An image of the May 2016 Fort McMurray fire taken by Alberta Government photographer Chris Schwarz. Below: The Wildrose Party sees government workers like forest fire fighters (GoA photo) and Licensed Practical Nurses (AUPE photo) as “union bosses.”

Just guessing, but you probably won’t read much news coverage about the national award the Alberta Public Service received yesterday for its effective response to last spring’s Fort McMurray fire.

Deloitte Canada, the Canadian branch of the well-known international consulting firm, and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, gave the Alberta Public Service their Gold Leadership Award at a lunchtime event in Toronto for the effective response not just to the huge wildfire, but to its complicated aftermath as well.

“Alberta Public Service members stepped up, working with the task force and public service leaders to activate the province’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre for the first time,” said part of the news release sent out by Deloitte’s PR department in Toronto yesterday morning. “The deployment of resources to distribute emergency financial donations, and to manage the operation of reception centres and other social supports, captivated the public and global media for weeks.”

Postmedia’s Alberta Frankenpaper and other media, meanwhile, have lately been devoting an awful lot of ink and its virtual equivalent to a campaign of vilification against front-line public service employees by the Wildrose Opposition and other conservative politicians. Some overheated Postmedia columnists seem to have pitched in as if they are actually part of the Wildrose effort. Perhaps with Postmedia’s fortunes in decline, they hope to be.

As noted in this space during the weekend, a recent Wildrose Party news release, effusively covered by Postmedia, responded to the recommendation by a mediator that modestly paid front-line health care workers who have been working without a contract for two years should have a collective agreement that includes 1.2 and 0.8 per cent raises in each year by calling the very idea “a slap in the face to struggling Albertans.”

Demanding the NDP Government of Premier Rachel Notley forget about the rule of law and ignore the mediator’s recommendation, Opposition Leader Brian Jean called a pay increase of 39 cents an hour for health care aides earning less than $20 an hour “completely indecent.”

In the same news release, Wildrose Finance Critic and longtime Jean rival Derek Fildebrandt called for a pay freeze for all public employees and an end “to these out-of-touch union pay hikes.”

On social media, Mr. Fildebrandt went farther, lumping the licensed practical nurses and health care aides covered by the mediator’s recommendation together as “union bosses.”

In addition, the intemperate former Canadian Taxpayers Federation propagandist accused your blogger of being “a union propaganda officer,” which isn’t as good as being a union boss, although the attention from the esteemed frontbencher is appreciated nevertheless. (Full disclosure: I am proud to be an employee of United Nurses of Alberta, which represents more than 30,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied health care workers.)

Speaking of the Alberta government’s response to the Fort Mac fire, also high on the Alberta Frankenpaper’s story list lately has been Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative MP Dave Yurdiga’s 11th hour effort to paint the NDP’s management of the destructive wildfire as a failure.

It will be interesting to see if Postmedia offers a similar coverage to the assessment of Deloitte and IPAC, people who may actually know what they’re talking about, to that given Mr. Yurdiga’s alternative version. No sign of such a story had appeared as this post was being written yesterday evening.

Well, it is true that 2017 is going to be a year in which the NDP Government will be faced by challenging collective bargaining with three major public sector unions – the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Alberta Teachers Association and UNA – which have contracts mostly signed under a previous conservative government that will expire this year.

It’s also true that thanks to rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada public service unions everywhere in Canada now have a legal right to strike – subject to essential services legislation and normal labour relations laws.

It’s certainly true Ms. Notley has made it clear that under her government, Alberta will conduct itself in accordance with the rule of law and allow the collective bargaining process to work as required by the Supreme Court and our country’s long democratic tradition.

There was a day when Alberta conservatives, the Wildrose Party included, believed in the rule of law in such circumstances too.

Perhaps it’s the example of President Donald Trump south of the 49th Parallel that led to the party’s new approach. Or maybe the Wildrose Party just can’t resist the temptation to score points off the NDP by trying to tie it to “union bosses” in the hopes their own supporters have no idea how the law in Canada works, or to whom it applies. (Hint: Everyone.)

For its part, the now-departed Progressive Conservative dynasty could usually be counted on to praise the public service, even as it oh-so-regretfully implemented cuts.

Getting back to yesterday’s luncheon in Toronto, another Gold public service leadership award went to the Nova Scotia Health Authority for its 2016 restructuring of that province’s health care system after nine distinct regional authorities were merged in 2015. The groups’ Bronze award went to the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for a research-driven initiative to improve services to children and youth with complex social, emotional, physical and mental health needs. There was no Silver award.

The awards are designed to recognize and reward excellence in leadership within the public sector in Canada.

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    1. The good times ended during the last year of the PCs being in power in Alberta and the layoffs had already occurred. The right wing had no solution then and won’t in the future.

      However if the PCs had properly managed the province like the government of Norway did Albert would have had a rainy day fund of several billion dollars when the price collapsed and would still be in power. Instead they gave in to oil companies desire to have the people’s oil at very low royalty rates. Even when Lougheed and later Stelmach tried to raise more oil revenue for Albertans the oil companies played hardball and the PCs gave in both times.

      The Conservatives and Wild Rose will do nothing for Albertans but will give in to oil company pressure once again.

      1. Why is it that you ignore what the NDP did after winning the election. After a royalty review they concluded the royalties we are and were collecting were appropriate and in fact lowered royalties on conventional oil and gas. Does this mean the NDP also gave into pressure or were we collecting enough royalties all along? And if you don’t believe me Jack Mintz was the first to point out that the NDP had lowered royalties.

  1. The current Alberta Social Studies programs of study (K-12) were officially adopted in 2005. They contain only three outcomes referring to the fact that unions even exist; one in Social Studies 9 and two in Social Studies 30. There is no mention of the history or constitution of unions, or legislation relating to workers’ rights. There are no outcomes which mention strike action including such major events as the Winnipeg General Strike.
    School curricula are political documents, and Social Studies certainly reveals the political ideology of previous governments. It helps explain why there is no broad public understanding of the role and importance of unions in this province. It also helps explain why politicians like Jason Kenney, and Derek Fildebrandt think they can spout off about unions and public sector workers without being called on it. Thank you, David, for doing so!

  2. The 1.2% and 0.8% pay rate increases that seem to have so riled the Wildrose party hardly seem extravagant. I am guessing they are not quite keeping up to the increase in the cost of living. However, Wildrose never seems to let the facts get in the way of an ideological argument, perhaps to try rouse their base. The sky hasn’t fallen since the introduction of the carbon tax, so I suppose they have to find something new to be permanently outraged about.

    Perhaps they hope their arguments for austerity will appeal to struggling energy workers, based on the old saying that misery loves company – so lets create more misery. However, the energy industry has always been very cyclical. In the good times many people working in the industry get paid better than other sectors, such as government, but when the roller coaster goes down it can be tough.

    I think it is better for the government to help those suffering from the roller coaster energy economy and try help the industry move up again, rather than trying to bring people in other sectors down too. Perhaps misery may love company, but more misery does not help the economy recover.

    1. David I agree with you that the amount of outrage over a small wage increase seems overblown. Let’s look at the government’s numbers for the 2016-2017 budget. Total income including 3.5 billion in the capital budget is 44.876 billion. Total spending including 8.5 billion in the capital budget is 59.597 billion, a difference or deficit totalling 14.721 billion. I haven’t been able to find a clear definitive labour expenditure except on Statscan for 2011 of roughly 20 billion or 1/3 of Alberta’s budget, although I am sure labor costs are higher in 2016 than 2011 so this is just an estimate. Obviously labor is a significant line item. Also notice that 24.7% of Alberta government spending is borrowed money. Do you think this is sustainable? How many years can we maintain this level of financing our costs of government? If it is a revenue problem as most on the left believe where does almost 15 billion of revenue come from?

      1. From the contingency fund that was created by the former government from decades of resource revenue generated during all those profitable years after the last Bust, of course!

  3. Congratulations to the Alberta Public Service for the leadership award. They were amazing in dealing with the disaster!

    I don’t think the oppositions’ opinions are getting much traction. In the Sun article a poll asks readers to grade the Alberta NDP government’s response to the McMurray wildfire. Currently, it is showing 57% at grade A and 17% at grade B (a total of 74% of 1,502 votes). The remaining votes fall into C, D, and F grades.

  4. Pure fluff !
    Here’s the real “public service”:

    “The regulator has not provided “the public with accurate, credible, complete, unbiased and timely information and fails in its responsibility to protect the environment,” the study concluded.

    Kevin Timoney, author of the report and an independent ecologist based in Alberta, called for the province’s auditor general to audit “the failure of the regulator.”

    Timoney’s review of the regulator’s spill database found spills that were not recorded in the database at all, or didn’t include information on volume spilled.
    In Alberta, industry is required to report any release of hydrocarbons into a waterway, or “any unrefined product release” that flows off an industry lease, or spills greater than 12 barrels on an industry lease site such as a well pad.
    As part of his research, Timoney examined Alberta’s spill database over a 38-year period between 1975 and 2013 and visited major spill sites to gauge the impacts on water, land and plants.

    In that time period, industry spilled at least 1.6 million barrels (256,712 cubic metres) of crude oil and more than five million barrels of salt water onto the land and waterways, according to Timoney’s analysis of the AER database.

    That works out to 42,105 barrels of oil spilled every year across the province, whose landscape has been marked by 400,000 well sites and 415,000 kilometres of pipelines. 

    In contrast, Enbridge spilled more than 23,809 barrels of diluted bitumen into the Kalamazoo River in 2010. It cost more than $1 billion to clean up the disaster.”

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