Alberta Politics
Jason Kenney signs his “Public Health Guarantee” on Feb. 20, 2019 (Photo: CBC).

Groundhog Day on Black Friday! With 5,000 job cuts planned, perpetual chaos returns to health care in Alberta

Posted on November 30, 2019, 1:39 am
7 mins

With yesterday’s announcement the Alberta Government intends to wipe out close to 5,000 jobs in public health care by 2023, and another 2,500 or so in other parts of the public service, perpetual chaos has returned to health care in Alberta.

Get used to it. It won’t be getting better any time soon.

United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith addresses protesters on the steps of the Alberta Legislature Building (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Does anyone remember Jason Kenney’s “Public Health Guarantee”?

Back on Feb. 20 this year he affixed his signature to a large plastic sign that stated, “I Jason Kenney promise, if elected, that a United Conservative government will: maintain or increase health spending, maintain a universally accessible, publicly funded health care system….” Yadda-yadda.

A lot of Albertans, obviously, trusted him. Those of us who suggested that Mr. Kenney’s pledge might not be worth the coroplast it was written on were dismissed as alarmists. But as was written the next day in this space, if we were to bring back a Conservative government after the novel experience of four years of the NDP at the helm, we’d soon rediscover that how badly Conservatives manage the health file. “We’ll likely have to learn that lesson all over again and every day in health care will be Groundhog Day.”

At Mr. Kenney’s election stunt, the future premier also told credulous reporters “this is a guarantee to reallocate any savings found to the front lines.”

“There will be no cuts,” he said on many other occasions leading up to the election. Indeed, his pledge not to cut health care funding was repeated throughout the campaign, as was the promise to pass on any savings found to the people who save lives on what are euphemistically known as the front lines of health care.

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It turns out those promises were written on water with an axe. Now the axe will be wielded against the front-line workers whose lives and work the UCP vowed to improve.

Although the ugly news was delivered to health care unions by members of the Alberta Health Services labour relations staff, by the end of the day there could be no doubt the UCP is wielding the axe.

There was an official statement on the government website with Finance Minister Travis Toews defending the plan. And Mr. Kenney, speaking to a business conference in Lake Louise, said “we’ve always been clear that getting our province’s finances back in order will require some reduction in the size of the overall public service.” Well, not that clear.

This was no ordinary Friday afternoon bad-news announcement made in the expectation journalists had already gone home for the weekend and all would be forgotten by Monday morning. On the contrary, the UCP’s annual general meeting takes place today in Calgary and reporters will be there in force.

Mr. Kenney’s Corpolast pledge stunt, up close and legible (Image: United Conservative Party).

No, Mr. Kenney and the UCP are proud of their Black Friday event. They may not have made the promises in public they are about to keep, but you can bet on it just the same this is a case of “promise made, promise kept.”

The letters handed by AHS negotiators to health care unions also contain clear indications that widespread privatization, shuttered health care facilities, and health care service cuts are all in the cards. It seems obvious the UCP intends to transfer as much of the burden of paying for health care as possible to the sick and their families, be they rich or poor.

As United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith said in her union’s news release, “we do not believe Albertans will support this plan, and they should tell the premier so.” If I may say so myself, they should tell him.

Whether the premier will pay any attention is another matter. Recently elected by an absolute majority of votes, I imagine his strategists and supporters think they don’t have much to worry about. If Ottawa contemplates resisting the worst of their depredations through the Canada Heath Act, look for the volume to be turned up on Wexit. That will happen even if it costs Alberta’s economy, as the conference Mr. Kenney was attending was warned can happen. After all, Wexit chatter seems to give the prime minister the vapours instead of stiffening his spine like his old man’s.

The last time something like this happened, when Ralph Klein was premier, it was nearly 20 years before Alberta’s health care system recovered.

But you have to give this much at least to Mr. Kenney. He may go down in history as the greatest union organizer in the history of this province.

Already union members across Alberta are paying careful attention to their unions’ elected leaders, a phenomenon all but unheard of in the normal course of events. And it’s been at least a generation since union members have paid this much attention to what’s happening with their pensions, upon which Mr. Kenney has been casting covetous eyes.

Stay tuned. There are bound to be developments. Don’t get sick. If you didn’t enjoy Black Friday, it’s Groundhog Day again today.

19 Comments to: Groundhog Day on Black Friday! With 5,000 job cuts planned, perpetual chaos returns to health care in Alberta

  1. David

    November 30th, 2019

    Ground hogs may be plentiful, but these days jobs are not. Since the UCP budget and even before as much was frozen earlier, the news in Alberta has been a steady drip, drip of layoffs, some in the private sector, some in the public sector. It almost feels like a repeat of the dark economic days of a few years ago, except this time not driven by the energy sector but more by various recent government decisions. This time it is more to the bone, high end restaurants, travel and clothing, were impacted a long time ago by the last wave, now it is the more prosaic parts of the economy that are struggling. Even coffee shops are closing in Alberta’s larger cities now.

    Despite whatever anger and frustration chanelled against outsiders, I have the feeling that Albertans are about to come to a realization things are not going as the UCP promised and they sure are not getting better. Hold onto your hats for the political reaction that creates.

    Now perhaps the UCP thinks two things. First, that misery loves company. The number of government enployees that get laid off is a somewhat abstract number for most of the people that work in the private sector. However, they do care about the quality of government services they use or may use and the general state of the economy. Big public sector layoffs can affect both negatively. Second, the UCP may think when the layoffs end it will be like someone who was hitting his head against the wall and feels so much better when he stops. However, he could also just have a huge terrible headache that just does not seem to go away.

    I do think the UCP under sold the pain and cuts in their election campaign and encouraged people to believe a change of government was all that was needed for the economy to quickly pick up. However, economically things seem to be going backward in Alberta not forward now, in large part due to current government actions. This will not be good for the UCP’s future political fortunes.

  2. Expat Albertan

    November 30th, 2019

    I didn’t see the 5000 announcement – when was that? I did see the 750 reduction in the number of nurses (a personal concern, as my brother is a critical care nurse in a large Alberta hospital). In fact, I come from a medical family where we have four nurses, either active or retired. I had just left Alberta when Klein started taking a hatchet to nurses positions and the nurses in my family regaled me with tales of stress leave and mayhem in the Emergency department as nurses were forced into impossible situations. As David noted, here we go again.

    • David Climenhaga

      December 1st, 2019

      There is no specific announcement from the government of course. This is an estimate based on the letters sent to UNA and HSAA, which have been published, and AUPE, which I personally haven’t seen. The government states the positions being eliminated as FTEs, or full-time equivalents, so the number of human beings who will lose jobs is higher, sometimes much higher. About 750 Registered Nurses will lose their jobs if 500 FTE are eliminated, for example. A conservative estimate seems to be that about 5,000 jobs will be lost over three years in health care, the focus of my piece, plus another 2,500 in the public service. The wording of the letters also indicates that more job losses may be announced later, so this is unlikely to be the last of it. This does not include municipal public employees who will lose their jobs as a result of cuts in transfers to municipalities, and jobs lost in the private sector as public employees become unemployed, move, or for some other reason stop spending in Alberta. Many nurses, of course, will move to other jurisdictions since there is a strong global market for their services. This will exacerbate the growing nurse shortage in this province. So nothing good will come from Premier Kenney’s cuts except the warm feeling of vengeance felt by many of his core supports who were envious of their friends, relatives and neighbours who did not suffer as severely from the downturn in the oilpatch because they had invested time and money in education. DJC

  3. Jerrymacgp

    November 30th, 2019

    This is an assault on working Albertans, the likes of which have not been seen in Alberta since the 1930s. Even King Ralph, he of the 5.3% rollbacks, massive job cuts & downtown Calgary hospital demolition in the early 1990s, did not go this far. The UCP have declared war on workers in this province, and I most sincerely hope workers & their unions don’t take this lying down. Mere legal action, & appeals to the federal government for punitive action under the Canada Health Act, are not enough. We need decisive action now.

  4. David

    November 30th, 2019

    Well, so much for UCP promises.

    Don’t expect an oil price boom anytime soon either because is we old dodgers want to preserve a decent chance for our grandkids we have to reduce emissions a lot faster than we have been going. Rations anyone?

  5. Keith McClary

    November 30th, 2019

    “Canada’s nursing shortage unlikely to get better, report finds” Globe & Mail, Nov 28
    “Nursing job vacancies have risen 77 per cent since the second quarter of 2015, outpacing the overall rate of openings …”

    They also promised:
    “… consultations with front-line employees such as nurses, physicians, paramedics …”

  6. Just Me

    November 30th, 2019

    I recall when, in the aftermath of the 2015 federal election, I said to a group of pubgoers that they should be ready for the return of Jason Kenney, I was mystified by the blank stares that greeted my statement. It was then that I discovered none of these people, who I thought were quite politically literate, had ever heard of Jason Kenney. “Well, in four years, he’s going to be your premier, so get ready for that angry midget.”

    Albertans have always struck me as they stupidest people alive, and the election of Jason Kenney’s UCP left no doubt as to the astuteness of that assertion.

    The UCP will make morality front and centre for all policy. Whose and what morality is up for grabs, but they truly believe they can get away with it.

    Alberta will be plunged into a even deeper recession, which Kenney claims he will cure with even deeper tax cuts. Wait until the Royalty Program is abolished in favour of a PST. Of course, Kenney will blame PMJT because…the GOP Dirty Tricks Rule Book says so. And the tantrums will ramp up with the stupid, because it just does in Kenney’s angry little man universe. He will be denied the leadership of the CPC, because that kind of crazy will ruin them in Quebec and the GTA. (Thank goodness for that) So, Kenney will remain, trapped in Alberta’s hellscape, where he will take out all his frustration on Albertans.

    Now, do you know who Jason Kenney is now?

    • tom in ontario

      December 1st, 2019

      “Albertans have always struck me as the stupidest people alive…”
      You didn’t elect Doug Ford as Ontario Premier, we did.

      • Death and Gravity

        December 2nd, 2019

        Big difference is, Ford was elected with a bare plurality of the popular vote: 40%, and his government could easily be, and probably will be, wiped out in the next election.

        There is near-zero probability that the UCP will not form the next government in Alberta, and the one after that, and the one after that.

        I’ll put $1000 on the first outcome, and $500 on the 2nd and 3rd outcomes, if David will hold the bet.

  7. Abs

    November 30th, 2019

    Jason Kenney is a lying liar who lies. That’s a fact, proven in coroplast.

  8. Keith McClary

    December 1st, 2019

    About 1600 nursing students graduate annually in Alberta, so (allowing for some retirements) there will be about 2000 looking for jobs.

    This is a great business opportunity to organise a series of “job fairs” in our cities where healthcare organisations from around North America can come to hire Alberta nurses. For-profit, of course – you would charge admission to nurses and employers.

    • David Climenhaga

      December 1st, 2019

      This happened the last time we cut nursing jobs in Alberta. Normally, though, admission is charged only for employers. The young nurses who flock to these things provide the draw. DJC

      • CovKid

        December 1st, 2019

        I wonder what it cost the provincial government to train these new and soon-to-graduate nurses who will now be forced to work in other jurisdictions?

        Great work, Kenney. Together with cuts to Alberta Innovation forcing tech companies to look elsewhere, you’re a job exporter!

        Meanwhile, $4.5 billion in tax cuts also leaves the province.

        And still the average, stupid, Albertan voter will cast their ballot for you.

        (Is there an inherent problem with our education system?)

        • Jerrymacgp

          December 4th, 2019

          It isn’t just young, recently-graduated nurses & allied health care professionals that are likely to bail on Alberta for greener pastures. All this talk about f*cking around with our pensions & the CPP is likely to drive a lot of older, more experienced professionals out of the province, leading to a “wisdom drain” that will have serious implications for the safety of the people seeking care.

          (Apologies to our host for the asterisked f-word, because he normally tries to maintain a family tone in this blog — but I can’t think of a better way to express what the UCP is proposing to do).

  9. alan

    December 1st, 2019

    The implementation and selling of the cynical Jason Kenney ideological program is as old as politics itself, as deception and lying are both the central core of politics and are enthusiastically embraced by the tribal followers and idol worshippers. The words and actions of Jean-Claude Juncker could just as easily be directly applied to the current situation in Alberta:

    “Mr Juncker has never hidden his view that the compromises and deals being worked out in EU meetings or leaders or ministers need be protected from public scrutiny, by lies if necessary. “When it becomes serious, you have to lie,” he said.” And, “In May 2011, he told a meeting of the federalist European Movement that he often “had to lie” and that eurozone monetary policy should be discussed in “secret, dark debates”.

    If Mr. Kenney was even remotely aware of the current situation in Alberta hospitals, he would know that many hospital units are already short staffed and that at least some patients spend an inordinate amount of time sitting in soiled diapers. That is especially so during the night shift, where; at least some patients remain in soiled diapers until the start of day shift, or until a family member complains. He also has not seen those patients begging and calling out to be toileted, with no staff around to either hear them and/or attend to their immediate needs. I have seen, heard, and assisted such patients. Mr. Kenney and his ideological fellow travellers need to both get out more and actually get their hands dirty doing that work that needs to be done in a civilized society (if people are to retain any sort of dignity and humanity) and that most people would rather not do. Perhaps the mythical bottom line is more important.

    In the new reality, “The letter, dated Nov. 29, and sent to UNA’s director of labour relations, David Harrigan, said AHS needs “to be more efficient and focused in terms of healthcare spending.” The health agency said, while the budget has “remained stable,” Alberta is facing a growing and ageing population.”

    If it truly is the case that, “Alberta is facing a growing and ageing population.” and if patient needs are already not being met, how is further reducing front line staff going to enhance the quality of patient care that is already apparently lacking?

  10. Scotty on Denman

    December 1st, 2019

    The UCP leader has been in steady campaign mode since no later than his successful 2015 bid for federal incumbency, but has very probably been planning a larger campaign for much longer—probably since no later than 2004 when dissent against Alberta’s long-governing PCs began to show. The campaign against Alberta’s first NDP government of course began unofficially, as we’ve come to expect of the right, immediately on the very day Notley’s party won the election, nonstop campaigning even while the right was assiduously divided, re-divided, re-united and then re-re-united.

    The resulting UCP victoriously grabbed the national spotlight on Big Bitumen, shining now more intensely than ever, which allowed the new provincial government to share the centre stage during this autumn’s federal election campaign. Indeed, the UCP leader sounds like he’s still campaigning two moons later, after the federal CPC failed to avenge the HarperCon government’s 2015 defeat, and a full seven months after his own victorious provincial election—with tRump-like rally speeches, just one of the tactics he’s copied since The Donald’s 2016 upset win. As the background radiation of Canada’s federal election decays, the UCP can substitute with the US federal election now underway, at least as smoke, if not direct covering fire for the next year, maybe longer.

    The US campaign (the UK campaign being too sudden and short) allows the UCP government to deploy campaign-style rhetoric without having to have an election, all the way between elections, the hyperbole of which we Canadians normally put up with knowing our official writ periods are relatively and mercifully brief, but which in this case, shadowing the American drama, will be uglier than anything most of us have ever witnessed. We’ve already seen how tRumpoid alarmism, absurd braggadocio, bigotry, preposterous promises, vicious scapegoating and hateful factionalism has been wielded by Jason KeKangaroo Kenney; expect him to keep taking these queues for as long as they distract Albertans from retrogressive policies the UCP is just beginning to inflict. Presumably the strategy is to get the most painfully impolitic repealing of rights and services to which citizens are accustomed done by the time the US federal election is over.

    You gotta keep a healthy respect even if perversely in disapproval for the UCP leader’s shrewdness in politicking, in backroom secrecy or broadcast spectacle: he knows when to walk away (as he did from his Catholic university when his campaign to prevent student abortion activists from speaking on campus failed) and knows when to run (as he did when the just-defeated CPC needed to replace its founding and only leader). But another Kenny—of the Rogers persuasion—would quickly spot the Premier’s inadvisable behaviour: he seems to be counting his money while sitting at the table.

    How much of the UCP’s nearly 60% of electoral approval will it cost to dull the socio-economic pain the K-boy’s government is about to inflict on Albertans? Let’s see, now…taking into account the peculiarities of our “First-Past-the-Post” electoral system…and the fact that a third, maybe even fourth non-socialist party will probably rival the UCP’s rod-bundled axe in protest… the incumbent government could likely squeeze a victory with… as little as the fabled “39%” that proportional representation proponents harp about…leaving…gosh!—about 20% to work with! But it’s true the clever UCP leader can always gin-up his considerable, partly expendable provincial voting base by goading the feds into conflicts over any number of issues like healthcare, policing, state pensions—even secession or declaration of war (what else is a “war room” good for?)—these voters being already in their cups of a very fine, aged NEP vintage. As far as it goes, anyway. And that signed “pledge” to protect and increase funding for public healthcare?—pfft! —chump-change!

    If we assume the KeKangaroo wants, however, to hop back to federal politics, we’d have to wonder how much any of this recommends the would-be reincarnation of Stephen Harper to Canadian, instead of only Albertan voters.


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