Alberta Politics
Emergency Room nurses (Photo: Screenshot of Emergency Nurses Association video).

Canadian Taxpayers Federation commentary on nurse salaries isn’t research so much as an echo chamber

Posted on October 31, 2019, 12:37 am
8 mins

Has anyone noticed how the propaganda produced by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation seems to be growing more inept of late?

Misleading arguments and anti-union bias have long characterized many of the claims made by the Regina-based CTF, which claims to be a non-partisan “citizens’ group,” although its only legal members are in fact the five members of its board, making it a classic example of an astroturf organization.

Franco Terrazzano of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (Photo: Twitter).

Back in the day, though, a reader could be reasonably confident the organization’s data were accurate, even if its conclusions were unsound.

Not so much any more. A recent CTF publication purporting to show “Alberta taxpayers are paying for inflated health care salaries and benefits” illustrates this point.

The document looks like advance work done of behalf of Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government to soften up the public for the announcement this week by Finance Minister Travis Toews that he intends to roll back public employees’ salaries and benefits, including those of Registered Nurses.

Just for starters, the CTF document published earlier this month overstated by more than $18,000 per year the top salary earned by Registered Nurses under United Nurses of Alberta’s collective agreement. I guess that helps if you want to argue that Registered Nurses are paid too much, but it doesn’t seem like the best way to go if you want your argument to hold up for long.

The correct numbers, by the way, are easy to find: They’re on Page 287 of the current UNA Collective Agreement with Alberta Health Services and other health care employers, a public document available online and from the Alberta Labour Relations Board. (Full disclosure: I work for UNA and a copy of the Collective Agreement lies atop my desk.)

In addition, as UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan told CTV News in response to the CTF’s claims, “25 out of 29 footnotes in the CTF document cite the MacKinnon Report’s statistical appendix, with the others citing such questionable sources as the Fraser Institute and the CTF itself.” In other words, this isn’t research so much as an echo chamber, explicitly set up to amplify the CTF’s arguments.

United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The MacKinnon Report, of course, was the risible document created for the Alberta Government to justify its budget-cutting plans by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon and a small group of economists, senior officials and business people handpicked to deliver the recommendations desired by Premier Jason Kenney (a former CTF president) and Mr. Toews for last Thursday’s budget.

Franco Terrazzano, the CTF Alberta “director” who drafted the report, seems to have relied heavily and uncritically on the claims made by the MacKinnon Panel.

The CTF document ignored the findings of Statistics Canada that average salaries for all classes of employment are higher in Alberta than anywhere else in Canada.

On that point, while the CTF document didn’t include this calculation, the salary differential between what nurses are paid in Alberta and Manitoba that the CTF highlighted comes to to about 22 per cent.

So what would Statistics Canada say about this shocking news? Well, according to the national statistical agency, the across-the-board difference in Average Weekly Earnings including overtime between Alberta and Manitoba in 2018 was … 23 per cent.

So, one would think, 22 per cent sounds about right. No one, even a CTF researcher seemingly working hand in glove with Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government, should have been particularly shocked.

By the way, if you exclude overtime, the difference in Average Weekly Earnings in 2018 between Alberta and Manitoba was 21 per cent.

A professional researcher of my acquaintance notes that when both the MacKinnon Panel and the CTF compared compensation in Canada and other jurisdictions, they created a category that excludes Alberta, a bit of legerdemain designed to exaggerate any differences between Alberta and the rest of the country.

When Statistics Canada and responsible researchers make the same kind of comparison, by contrast, they usually measure compensation in one province against values for the country as a whole that include all provinces.

Moreover, as Mr. Harrigan noted, when the CTF researcher resentfully compared private-sector and public-sector salaries in Alberta, he failed to note that because of market conditions the demand for oil and gas employees in Alberta and other jurisdictions has declined.

By contrast, demand for health care professionals has increased worldwide, and this at a time when Alberta is already facing a shortage of Registered Nurses.

RNs are members of a regulated medical profession who nowadays must complete a four-year degree and a difficult professional exam to practice. According to Alberta Health Services, RNs “play a key leadership role in the delivery of an integrated and holistic approach to client health care, health promotion and health maintenance requirements. They provide expert knowledge, guidance and mentorship to students and other health care workers.”

So when groups like the CTF target the wages earned by Registered Nurses to help the government of Alberta justify its pay-cutting plans, they need to remember RNs are the backbone of the health care system, and not just in Alberta.

If the CTF wishes to see to lower average pay in Alberta for everyone except corporate bosses, which appears to this reader to be its objective, they might not want to start by targeting RNs. After all, there’s a worldwide market anxious for their skills out there that’s willing to pay them what they’re worth.

One would also have thought that an organization like the CTF, dogmatically devoted to the superiority of market economies and dogged in its advocacy of “market solutions,” would have recognized that market conditions play a role in what certain categories of workers can expect to be paid in a market economy.

Apparently not. One wonders why.

Perhaps it’s because what the CTF, with many well-established connections to anti-union individuals and groups, just can’t stand public service unions.

Maybe it’s because even though it claims to be a non-partisan organization, it’s an important part of the ecosystem of support for both Mr. Kenney’s UCP Government and the federal Conservative Party in Ottawa.

Who knows? Whatever the reason is, readers are advised to take CTF “reports” with a healthy dose of skepticism.

12 Comments to: Canadian Taxpayers Federation commentary on nurse salaries isn’t research so much as an echo chamber

  1. Bill Malcolm

    October 31st, 2019

    You have to ask yourself — why? Why is Kenney and his tribal ilk, no matter if they be the CTF off on a jag or bought-and-paid-for academics slaving away producing conservative political nonsense in “institutes” (often financed as charities by US oil billionaires), so determined to beat public sector wages to death? What in hell do they hope to accomplish in the end?

    I suppose it’s the same answer we got when the US emerged triumpant from the Cold War. Instead of treating Russia compassionately and gaining influence that way, they sent in the plunder boys to pick up bargains on the cheap by greasing appropriately criminal hands like Yeltsin, and totally screwed the place. The result was Putin kicking the buggers out and having been demonized ever since in the West – he buggered up the slash and burn capitalist party going on.

    The forces of regressive capitalism don’t like having educated and literate foes who can see through their childish and possibly illegal ploys to return society back to more feudal days. The latter has been a fetish of the neoliberal privatization crew of whacked-out right wing “economic” thought makers since Maggie Thatcher thundered scorn down on “lazy” Brits, and flogged off their national birthright to the grasping corporate classes for pennies on the pound.

    We sit around and wonder why the West seems to unerringly place dictators on thrones worldwide, while going on about democracy. Say one thing and do another seems to bother our political class not one whit. Look at the unrest currently in Latin America where democratic forces are being trashed by autocrats on cue supported by the West. Name a country there that is ostensibly a full democracy that has the full support of the West. The opposite is true — it’s easier to issue orders to one person running a place than to have to deal with myriads of actual, you know, democracies with independent opinions that might not agree with Western policy. Besides, the West need their resources cheap, just like they need Alberta’s.

    So I submit that Alberta is being given a run of top-down authoritarianism for having been bold enough to have had a “socialist” government for four years in the middle of a US-run corporate oil patch. Not allowed. The outcomes were not predictable enough for the capitalists. Just as in Latin America but in more subtle ways, the new dictator Kenney is delivering a well-aimed kick in the pants to the educated members of society who allowed such sovereign thought to briefly run free. The biggest agglomeration of these people in a one-horse industry jurisdiction are, praise the Lord, government employees. Hallelujah! These people better get it through their thick heads that deviating from the neoliberal line is NOT allowed, runs their reasoning, and talkback will not be tolerated. Cut their pay!

    Far fetched? I don’t think so. My reasoning has been honed by reading a bit from historical perspectives that can occasionally be found online.

    And there are links to many other articles. The historical perspective not good enough for you? You think we’re living in a new rationalist era with smartpones to free us all and thus have no reason to refer to old fuddy-duddy thoughts from history? Boy are you naive.

    Those articles will get you started, and as you recoil in horror that things could possibly be the way they are, you may dismiss the cold clammy thought of it out of hand. But you need to persist and learn. Because all the arm-waving in the world isn’t going to stop Kenney. It’s a historical certainty of force that we had thought we were past. And if people want to defend against it, they’re going to have to be a lot more serious in opposition than they are now and realize how thoroughly we’ve all been had. And propagandized. I mean, c’mon – $4.5 billion for the rich and Alberta has to cut civil servant salaries to do it? It’s completely ludicrous. If that’s not transparent punishment for having had a social democrat government for a while, then what the hell is it? Just being done for no reason at all?

  2. Murphy

    October 31st, 2019

    My old man gave me a copy of the CTF rag almost thirty years ago, thinking it was an amusingly kooky artifact, on a par with John Birch material or evangelical tracts featuring ads for Miracle Water. At that time it was inconceivable to either of us that their ginned-up reactionary nonsense could one day form the “intellectual” underpinnings of both the federal government of Stephen Harper, and the current provincial government. Dreams can come true!

  3. Alex C Polkovsky

    October 31st, 2019

    It will be a cold day in purportedly hot Hell and a very strange day indeed in Regina if the CTF ever recommends lowering corporate executive salaries based on the comparative pay in India and the Philippines. Maybe not even fuzzy logic and bad math can justify compensating CEOs of failed American companies more than those at solvent, productive, and high functioning British or German corporations.

    If, on the other hand, the point is to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, you can’t do better than working to make CEO pay as high as America and workers pay as low as India. (Source: )

  4. Dave

    October 31st, 2019

    What is the saying – something like a lie can travel half way around the world before the truth gets out of bed?

    I don’t think Kenney is a convincing populist, after all he is a career politician, but he and his collaborators (I am sure he is even more cozy with the Taxpayers Federation than most conservative politicians, because of his past employment history) seem to be adept at getting their story out quickly without regard to the truth, especially when what they say panders to some prejudices and preconceptions. In that way, they have adopted the Trump playbook.

    Of course, there is no powerful Fox News in Canada to support Kenney, just the ailing Postmortal media, which keeps on cutting back (you can almost see through the paper now) and could go under any time. Fortunately for them, Kenney has already thrown them a little life line with his energy war room. Does that mean they are even more likely to print what Kenney or the Taxpayers Federation wants and ignore or bury the facts. Does that sort of arrangement count as a Quid Pro Quo?

  5. Bruce Turton

    October 31st, 2019

    Whenever I see a picture of one of the little CTF group, they are very young! I wonder how many of them actually worked at a real job in their lives! Or maybe they still live (legally or illegally) in their mothers’ basements.

    • David Climenhaga

      October 31st, 2019

      Actually, I think many CTF provincial “directors” do live and work in their mothers’ basements, or the equivalent. None of them seem to operate from a normal business office, and a PO box is as businesslike as they get. Also, none of them direct anything, as they are clearly the only employee in each region. You have to give Mr. Kenney credit for really living the life, though, still residing in his mom’s basement when he was in his late forties. DJC

      • Northern Loon

        November 1st, 2019

        Does Jason Kenney have an address? Or does he still live in his mother’s basement in the facility that does not allow guests? Where does he stay when he is Edmonton?

        I wonder if Jason Kenney has ever had to pay rent from a job that pays less than $100,000.00 per year?

        There is so much about Jason Kenney that screams he is not like the average Albertan and he makes no effort to understand what an Albertan really is beyond dressing up in cowboy hats and pickup trucks.

  6. tom in ontario

    October 31st, 2019

    What with UCP imposed rollbacks of MLA salaries and the high cost of lodging in Calgary, when Jason visits his home riding, tight finances could force him to move back into that nursing home basement again and claim it as his principal residence, just like the old days when he was dancing with Harper in Ottawa. He could even claim a Premier’s discount.

    • Athabascan

      November 1st, 2019

      I agree Tom, but it’s more likely he’s move into a closet than a basement. I think he’s more comfortable in there.

  7. Just Me

    October 31st, 2019

    Judging by some of the commentary about Jason Kenney living in his mother’s basement, well into his 40s, and well beyond enjoying the lavish income and perks of being a federal MP/minister of the Crown, it’s proving to be easier to cast him as a “Norman Bates” sort of personage. While this claim maybe perfect for this ghoulish eve, it is, in fact, very close to the truth.

    Single well into adulthood, clearly far removed from having personal relationships of any kind, and seemingly without any desire to show any kind of empathy, Kenney is, for the most part, a full on sociopath. But let’s go deeper – let’s go into the realm of Norman Bates.

    As the antagonist from Hitchcock’s classic thriller “Psycho”, Norman Bates is an interesting character. On the one hand, he a sad person; he alone all the time, tortured by his memories, and lives in extreme isolate. Apart from working the front desk at the Bates Motel, he shows little signs of being anything other than a person waiting for his life to end. But once Janet Leigh’s “Marion Crane” comes into Bate’s life, things begin to take a turn for the worse.

    Crane, who is on the run, comes to Bates as seemingly sympathetic towards him. She even manages to bring out a bit of what little humanity that may still exist in Bates; he seems to be genuinely moved by her empathy and kindness. No sooner than it begins to look like Bates is about become what could be called a normal person, he turns on Crane. Listening to the voice in his head, that of his mother, screaming her hostility and disappointment toward Bates, he turns and goes on his murderous misogynistic rampage. Bates’ destructive turn envelops everyone who comes into contact with him, and then himself.

    Kenney is without a doubt Norman Bates. Spend a little time with him and you notice immediately that he is a strange sort. One moment, he is friendly and calm; the next, he turns and becomes angry, aggressive, and curt in his manners. He reveals that he believes that those who oppose him are his threatening enemies, who insult his worldview and diminish his mission, which is to remake the world in his own image. He grooms all those who come forward as supporters and allies. And if you are in some way broken, Kenney will comfort and welcome you into his tribe – the cult of Kenney.

    Once he turns Alberta into a hellscape to his liking, he will move onto the leadership of the CPC and fill it with every single broken and empty person he can find. At that point, “Psycho” will evolve into “Night of the Living Dead”.

    Watch everything Kenney does and think of Norman Bates – there are more similarities than there are differences.

  8. Doug

    November 1st, 2019

    In addition to the wage roll back, the government needs to reform nurses’ overtime and pension policy. Many nurses work part-time. They earn double time if called in on a designated day off even if still working less than 40 hours in a week. This is ridiculous and invites abuse. Over a certain part-time threshold, they qualify for full benefits. Instead, benefits should pro-rate. For example, working 0.8 would result in 80% of the full-time benefits coverage.

    • Murphy

      November 2nd, 2019

      You just solved the province’s fiscal woes! Great job!


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