Alberta Politics
Matt Wolf, Premier Jason Kenney’s executive director of issues management (Photo: Twitter).

What’s with the United Conservative Party’s emerging fury at nurses, of all people?

Posted on December 03, 2019, 1:46 am
9 mins

What’s with the sudden hate on for nurses by United Conservative Party supporters?

It comes from somewhere. Your average UCP internet troll doesn’t just come up with this stuff on his – or occasionally her – own.

The traditional Conservative approach to attacking nurses and other predominantly public and female employee groups for their opposition to neoliberal austerity policies and the harm they do is to express great regard, even fondness, for these widely respected groups, but to disparage their unions.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This was the strategy adopted by Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews last Friday as he sought to justify pay cuts and layoffs for Registered Nurses and other public employees included in the ongoing UCP government austerity binge that’s required to finance billions of dollars in tax cuts for billionaires and profitable corporations.

“We have the highest respect and admiration for all public sector workers. These potential changes do not change the value we place on their dedication to Albertans,” Mr. Toews said in the final pro forma line of the government’s news release that day.

You can take that for what it’s worth – not much, it’s said here, especially given the strong international market for RNs’ services and the UCP’s claims to believe in the freedom of the market – but at least it’s polite.

So whatever is prompting unusual critical commentary about nurses as a group that’s starting to be posted by Conservative agitators on social media, it’s not coming from the official documents left behind for posterity by the Alberta government.

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

But what about the subculture of officials like Matt Wolf and semi-official bloviators like Danielle Smith? The former, as is coming to be well known, is Premier Jason Kenney’s “executive director of issues management,” a title that could fairly be interpreted based on Mr. Wolf’s online behaviour to mean he is chief government troll. The latter is the former Wildrose Party leader and defector to the Progressive Conservative Party of yore, lately reduced to doing duty as a host on right-wing talk radio and frequent Postmedia contributor.

“Ever wonder why there are so many casual and part-time registered nurses? It’s because overtime allows them to make full-time pay working part-time hours … in 2018 alone there were 513 registered nurses making more than $129,800,” Mr. Wolf tweeted the same day Mr. Toews was taking his kinder, gentler and more qualified shots at Alberta’s supposedly overpaid public employees.

Now, $129,800 may not seem like a hell of a lot for a medical professional who can save your life – especially when the shot is coming from a fellow paid about $200,000 a year just to be mean to people online, without even worrying about getting his facts straight!

The fact, by the way, is that so many Alberta nurses are part time or casual because that’s the way Alberta Health Services wants it.

Regardless of what AHS and the government may say on any given day, AHS job postings speak for themselves. Consider the final three days of last month: On Nov. 30 AHS posted 36 new positions, 15 part time; five casual and 16 full time; on Nov. 29 it was 47 new positions, 26 part time; five casual and 15 full time; on Nov. 28, it was 46 new postings, 25 part time, four casual and 17 full time. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

The solution’s pretty obvious, as United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith said in a newspaper opinion piece responding to similar drivel published in the Calgary Herald by Danielle Smith, who in addition to the experience listed above is a former Fraser Institute apparatchik: “If you want to reduce nurses’ overtime, hire more nurses!”

The Kenney Government wants to do the opposite and roll back RNs’ salaries by 3 per cent to boot. What do you think the result of that is going to be, for crying about loud? Danielle Smith’s column also quoted salary claims about Alberta Registered Nurses pulled out of a Canadian Taxpayers Federation press release. The numbers didn’t come from what Alberta RNs are actually paid, which can be found on Page 287 of the current UNA collective agreement with AHS.

While what Mr. Toews says may represent the best advice of the Alberta Government’s public relations professionals, what Mr. Wolf said at the same time without any doubt represents precisely what Premier Kenney was thinking at the same moment. If it were not so, Mr. Wolf would already be looking for new employment.

No, the nasty and disrespectful tone inherent in Mr. Wolf’s tweetery is the real thing, the true UCP position on medical professionals who dare to push back against the increasingly troubling health care policies of the party — whose activists, at the UCP’s weekend annual general meeting in Calgary, voted down a resolution calling for any changes to the health-care system in Alberta to “comply with the principles set out in the Canada Health Act.”

Mr. Wolf’s commentary soon set off nastier stuff, with party supporters, for example, tweeting a fantasy about RNs sitting around complaining while a licensed practical nurse did all the work. I would wager it will get nastier still, until Mr. Kenney tells Mr. Wolf to tone down the rage machine for a while.

Nurses enjoy immense respect from the public because of the work they do — which is known to any Albertan who has been in the health care system, or had a family member there.

If Mr. Kenney and his mouthpiece, Mr. Wolf, continue in this vein, my guess is they’ll get some pushback from members of the public, including members of their own party, and return to the traditional formula of saying one thing about public employees and another about their unions.

Still, this is a troubling development, which shows just how cocksure the UCP is right now as it sets about dismantling public health care, and just how intolerant of dissent, no matter how respected the dissenter, the party is.

The more respected the dissenters, the angrier it seems to make the UCP.

There are many signs Alberta is not a healthy democracy right now. This is another one.

Full disclosure here: I’m proud to be an employee of United Nurses of Alberta. I’m also on the road this week, so I may not file as frequently as readers of have become accustomed, and the photo selection may not be as complete. DJC

16 Comments to: What’s with the United Conservative Party’s emerging fury at nurses, of all people?

  1. Dave

    December 3rd, 2019

    I think some hoped the sort of takeover of the PC’s by the Kenney and Wildose would result in a party that was less extreme, less arrogant and more willing to listen to the grassroots, let’s call that the optimistic scenario.

    I suppose that right after it’s first convention their new leader Kenney verbally tore up his grassroots guarantee was not a good sign – strike one. Strike two was probably on the issue of GSA’s. Kenney can briefly mumble nice things about inclusion and diversity, but only when forced to politically and he soon reverts to form as soon as the pressure is off. Perhaps strike three was firing the Elections Commissioner. Yes, they now think they can get away with almost anything.

    I think the UCP looked at political history in Alberta – the last Conservative party governed for over 40 years, so after the election they have become quite cocky. Interestingly, in coverage just this weekend local media has bought the party line on this, citing Kenney’s high approval ratings. However a more recent survey by a national newspaper shows his popularity is around 18% lower. No, this drop didn’t happpen overnight, as the last survey referred to by local media was a few months old. I suppose in these tight times local media didn’t want to pay for more recent surveys that they probably suspected wouldn’t give the results the paper’s top management wanted.

    Mr. Kenney’s high priced aide may be able to throw some shade on the reputation of nurses, but Kenney’s own popularity may now be in more acute decline. If the symptoms persist he may be the one to need medical attention to revive it.

  2. Bob Raynard

    December 3rd, 2019

    I expect the salary discrepancy between what the UNA reports and what the Fraser Institute claims lies in things like the cost of benefits and pension contributions the employer (i.e. government) makes.

    Given how the government seems ready to use public sector pension funds to prop up the failing industries that got it elected, the Fraser Institute’s calculations are less accurate now than they were with previous governments. Indeed, perhaps the money civil servants contribute to their pension funds should be SUBTRACTED from their salary contributions, since they are not likely to see any pension after the UCP has mis-managed the fund.

  3. Bob Raynard

    December 3rd, 2019

    Hire part time nurses to save money, then pay them overtime because you are understaffed. Yet another example of our government’s tacit motto: We will spare no expense to cut back.

  4. Abs

    December 3rd, 2019

    A line has been crossed. The conduct of the UCP and its leader has shown us that the War Room is for the war being waged against us, the people of Alberta, with our own money. Women and chidren first — easy targets for this pack of raging cowards.

    • Expat Albertan

      December 3rd, 2019

      Yup. I told my friends in Edmonton, before the UCP won the election, that electing Kenney IN Alberta (as opposed to having him in Ottawa) would be like bringing a nasty junkyard guard dog into the house; he’ll smash the china and bite the children. He’s not the type of domestic conservative Albertan’s are used to.

  5. Dale Perret

    December 3rd, 2019

    Great work in keeping us involved on what is the actual story behind the UCP. Absolutely disgusting behaviour by the UCP and it will only get worse. Keep at it because we need to get the real stories out. While there were 1,500 comfortably inside at the UCP AGM, there were over 1,000 anti UCP marching outside in bitter weather which I am sure scares the UCP although they won’t admit it publicly of course.Those inside – from the pictures- were the typical white, over 40, men with few women included. These 1,500 were the ones that are rabid social conservatives and obvious by the exhibitors that were there. Hopefully there are many that don’t share these values that stayed away from them and hopefully they will start to see the damage UCP are causing and do something themselves to stop Kennery and his minions. We are no longer a democracy in Alberta, we have a wanna be dictator – a cloning of Trump! Thanks for all you do in holding their feet to the fire!

  6. Just Me

    December 3rd, 2019

    I’m not surprised by Wolf’s antics. His long time work for the Reform Party/CA/CPC reveal him to be a nasty piece of work. And being a hired dirty trickster/goon from Hill & Knowlton just solidifies his Nixonian behavior. But being slavishly loyal to Kenney’s nonsense assures Wolf a ticket back to Ottawa, once Kenney decides to start twisting the knives already in Scheer’s back.

  7. pogo

    December 3rd, 2019

    I have come here to complain:! Why is it that some flavour of zombie un-dead apocalypse is everywhere on the pop cultural mind waves? Oh, and don’t forget the blue ribbon and assorted panels that have taken you from there to here using alternate facts, from an alternate reality. The one they used on Kansas worked great until it didn’t by the way. Why then, in the name of numeracy, are there so few corporate faqirs like Matt Wolff manning the armies of the undead? Oh well I don’t expect answers. Some peace would be nice. Yours from one who knows to you know who you are, and why you need to know! Just Be Best! Oh! Where was I? Ah yes! Matt Wolff of the superfluous consonants Wolffs! For him then! Beware young sith! These are dangerous times!

  8. pogo

    December 3rd, 2019

    I’ve had my complaints. Now I want more! I want answers! What are the key indicators of a systematic devolution of logic in this “Kenney as Pope of the western empire” balogna? It’s always “who did it”, but in this case blame is inconsequential. The fact that western voters are signing up for his obvious failure as a cabinet minister in Harper’s reign is deeply troubling. Somebody should inform people about who they’re electing! What?! You did? Ok. So is it the irrational nastiness of our species? If you constructed a sliding scale, best to worst, based on obvious criteria would he have risen to gloat like this? Well babies, electing him has broken the Overton window out where you are and in Ottawa! A special song for all those li’l cowpokes!

  9. pogo

    December 3rd, 2019

    I have been fixated upon the glorious pulchritude of our new overlords! I am bowing and scraping as we speak! Here my lord hear! From us. The people. You know. The guys with a completely legitimate desire for relaxed gun laws.

  10. Don Slater

    December 3rd, 2019

    Use absurdities to make people afraid, then they will allow atrocities.

    Empathy was once a conservative value, it surely isn’t a neoliberal one. I wish people who consider themselves conservatives would recognize the neoliberal Wolf in conservative clothing.

  11. Jim

    December 3rd, 2019

    It’s the someone is getting something for nuthin’ approach to dehumanizing the opposition. Once they are dehumanized anything goes and, ample historical examples exist, anything will go. We are yet again seeing angry little men getting their payback for all the times they have been bullied. Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to have power of any kind.

    And seriously $129k a year really isn’t that much especially for a job that requires what being a nurse requires. Aren’t there 30,000 nurses in Alberta so a small percentage? This really shows the target audience for the UCP though and how they haven’t thought things through. If you think 129k is a huge salary how are you going to be able to afford private healthcare and private schools on what you are making?

    • David Climenhaga

      December 4th, 2019

      It occurred to me after this piece was filed last night that if the fact only 513 nurses are making this much suggests anything, it’s that a hell of a lot of Alberta nurses are working overtime and not claiming it. I also suspect the likes of Mr. Wolf think anyone working for a mere $129,000 is working for chump change, but that they figure any six-figure will excite their base. I would even be prepared to bet Mr. Wolf thinks he’s worth far more than the sum he receives in pay. DJC

  12. David Grant

    December 4th, 2019

    I am not surprised that the UCP has these views. They hold this view on all public sector workers. By the way, there is going to be a protest against the health cuts when Health Minister Tyler Shandlo is speaking at the Willow Ridge Community in the Southeast part of Calgary. It will be from 1:00 to 3:00 pm and the information can be on the Facebook page by searching Protest Shandlo. I encourage anyone who has the time to head on down. I have attended five rallies, four that were AUPE sponsored as well the one at the UCP AGM. While one rally by itself will ever make any change they are a way of building support and solidarity towards making change. They are psychologically positive and they can be a lot of fun. I hope to be there and I hope everyone who can go will do so.


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