Alberta nurses: targeted for UCP rollbacks (Photo: United Nurses of Alberta).

The president of the Alberta Federation of Labour called out the Canadian Taxpayers Federation yesterday for the partisan role it plays supporting of the Kenney Government’s contract demands in negotiations with the union that represents the province’s front-line registered nurses.

Calling the CTF “a secretive anti-union lobby group,” Gil McGowan ripped the supposedly non-partisan “tax watchdog” for the way it “operates openly as a part of the United Conservative Party propaganda machine, serving media the government’s talking points about the nurses’ current round of bargaining with Alberta Health Services while the government directs AHS bargaining behind the scenes.”

Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

But as the United Nurses of Alberta’s negotiations with AHS show, when public sector unions bargain with the government of Premier Jason Kenney, they must also be prepared to deal with handpicked “expert panels,” giant multinational consulting firms, sympathetic journalists with privileged access to top officials, and publicly paid press secretaries, “issues management,” and “digital strategy” staffers all amplifying each other’s talking points.

When citizens push back against government plans and policies, they can expect to be swarmed and bullied, often quite personally, by government political staff, who quickly and unprofessionally turn into a mob of tax-supported social media trolls.

Yet for some reason, this use of tax dollars doesn’t seem to bother the CTF. Indeed, when it came to the government’s effort to bargain UNA’s contract in mainstream and social media, CTF Alberta “Director” Franco Terrazzano was happy to repeat UCP talking points in the misleading news release that prompted Mr. McGowan’s accusation the CTF is in “open collusion” with the government.

Canadian Taxpayers federation President Franco Terrazzano (Photo: Twitter).

Calling nurses’ pay and modest pensions ‘golden benefits,’ making misleading claims nurses receive ‘double pensions,’ and saying overtime for nurses who work overtime is ‘unfair,’ all show how the CTF dovetails its messaging with a government led by a premier who used to be the president and CEO of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation,” the AFL news release stated.

Clearly, though, Mr. Terrazzano’s efforts are part of a much broader strategy by the government and its allies, which illustrates how the right-wing propaganda ecosystem operates under the Trump-like UCP.

Even before bargaining for a new collective agreement between UNA and AHS began, the supposedly independent “Blue Ribbon Panel on Alberta’s Finances” headed by former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon (whose mandate didn’t include examining the impacts of the government’s $4.7-billion corporate tax giveaway) was calling for specific rollbacks in UNA’s collective agreement.

United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith (Photo: Dave Cournoyer).

It turns out, as we now know, the MacKinnon Panel’s efforts were being stage managed from within the Premier’s Office.

At the same time, the $2-million “review” of AHS conducted by British-based management consultants Ernst & Young was drafting calls to gut the nurses’ contract as if collective bargaining didn’t exist, and replace many RNs with licensed practical nurses who have a narrower scope of practice and typically are lower paid for that reason.

As soon as bargaining began in mid-January, the AHS negotiating team proposed massive rollbacks that, it turned out on Feb. 2 when the review was made public, appeared to have come straight from the pages of the Ernst & Young report.

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

The next day, UNA President Heather Smith responded to Ernst & Young’s analysis and recommendations, noting that “Statistics Canada figures show that average weekly earnings in virtually all job categories in Alberta are higher than in all other Canadian provinces.”

“Cherry-picking health care pay and trying to use that as a club in bargaining to make nurses and other front-line health care providers alone pay for big cuts the government hopes to make is unjust and certainly won’t impress our members, the majority of whom are women,” she said in a media release.

Jason Kenney’s “issues management” guy, Matt Wolf (Photo: Facebook).

Smith said she was troubled by the report’s recommendation the health care staffing mix should be changed to include a higher percentage of health care aides and licensed practical nurses. “These are patient care decisions that need to be made by clinicians, not accountants.”

Mr. Kenney’s publicly paid private Twitter troll army jumped on these points, trying to spin them into an attack by Ms. Smith on LPNs, presumably to try to drive a wedge between different groups of unionized nurses.

Unfortunate that some have decided to denigrate the abilities of Licensed Practical Nurses like this,” tweeted Matt Wolf, Mr. Kenney’s $200,000-a-year “issues management” director.

“Very disappointing to see @RachelNotley echoing these smears against licensed practical nurses,” tweeted Paul Taillon, the premier’s director of “digital strategy.” Ms. Notley, the Opposition NDP leader and former premier, had re-tweeted a CBC story that referred to LPNs and health care aides as “cheaper staff” in the headline.

Former CTF Alberta director Derek Fildebrandt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“‘Devaluing’ people who provide health care … like how Rachel Notley constantly insults LPNs,” tweeted Steve Buick, Press Secretary to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, taking the original accusation even farther from the truth. (Emphasis added in all cases.)

There was much more of this nonsense by other members of the publicly paid UCP political staff, but readers will get the idea from these examples.

The CTF’s Mr. Terrazzano then joined the fray on the government’s side with his press release, attacking the UNA collective agreement and supporting the UCP plan to make front-line health care workers pay for corporate tax cuts.

Within moments a web-based “news” site called the Western Standard repeated the misleading claims made by the CTF in a story headlined “Alberta nurses’ benefits should be rolled back.” It published another story attacking the UNA contract later in the day.

Rights to the Western Standard name, published as a print magazine by Rebel Media founder Ezra Levant in the mid-2000s, were recently bought by former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt. Mr. Fildebrandt, unsurprisingly, is also a former Alberta director of the CTF.

The same day, former Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith, now a right-wing radio talk jock in Calgary, was on the air telling listeners, “United Nurses of Alberta receive two pensions, unfair overtime pay and yearly top-up bonuses.” Ms. Smith is also a former Fraser Institute apparatchik and former Alberta director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, both of which are also key parts of the UCP support infrastrcture.

All that remains to be published is a Postmedia column by Rick Bell saying all the same things, a job he seems only to have started on Tuesday.

I think readers can understand quite well how this all fits together.

FULL DISCLOSURE: By day, the author of this blog is an employee of United Nurses of Alberta, and proud of it. This post has been amended to add mention of Danielle Smith’s talk radio show.

Join the Conversation


  1. It’s not too surprising the Kenney government has turned its propaganda machine on full blast for its war against the nurses. Well almost everyone in the cozy right wing media and public affairs cabal seems to have their marching orders on this from central command, except perhaps the war room (to the relief of some).

    In addition to his various other political talents, Mr. Kenney and his staff sure know how to direct his proxies and pawns, although they do seem inclined to micro management, which could potentially and become a hazzard and get them into trouble. I’m also not quite sure to make of the impression some of his closest twitterers give that they might work out of their mom’s basement. It does seem a bit of a frat boy club, doesn’t it?

    I suppose some of those that still support the Kenney government, probably lean towards the politics of resentment and the sentiment that misery loves company. Therefore, nurses who seemed to have survived the downturn relatively unscathed are a prime target and many of them are women, which also probably makes them an apealing target for this frat boy club. They’d probably also go after doctors with more gusto if they thought they could, but they are afraid they’d get whupped.

  2. I was surprised to see the Western Standard rise from the dead and continue to spew its crazed venom that passes for thoughtful discourse. What can one expect from the publication that once had its origins in Ted Byfield’s old Alberta Report. When the bright notion was conceived to spread the CON fantasy nation-wide, Alberta Report (d)evolved into The Report, which found the knuckle-dragging population outside of Alberta to be not as fruitful. Eventually, the Report became the Western Standard, when Ezra Levant took it over. He longed to follow in the footsteps of his hero, His Lordship Conrad Black of Crossharbour, and become a publishing magnat of the crazy conservative bent. That initiative went downhill fast and the Western Standard folded, before it’s ownership was assumed by Rahim Jaffer impersonator, Matthew Johnson. Now, Derek Fildebrandt has taken over the whole gongshow and turned it into a forum for like-minded alt-right loonies. As well as providing helpful tips on hit & run accidents, poaching, and occasional expenses fraud, the Western Standard also serves as an adjunct to Postmedia’s Kenney-fluffing.

    Given that history, it’s small wonder that nurses are now the UCP’s public enemy #1. In the 90s, Ontario’s Mike Harris turned welfare mothers into the Soviet Union when he declared war on the defenseless, all in the name of his own trickle-down mayhem. The UCP has decided to make healthcare workers their target to blame for everyone’s woes.

    Memories are long for the Harris Revolution, and Doug Ford fears those memories. We’ll have to see if Alberta can learn anything from that experience.

  3. “… replace many RNs with licensed practical nurses who have a narrower scope of practice and typically are lower paid for that reason. …” Meanwhile, the College of Licensed Practical Nurses of Alberta — that profession’s regulator — is expanding the scope of practice of LPNs to include more “restricted activities” formerly limited (with nursing) to RNs, and requiring their registrants to take education modules to obtain/demonstrate competence in those new activities. At the same time, LPNs are not being compensated for those increasing responsibilities with higher wages, and many — including the one I’m married to — are not impressed, specifically with their College. The line “if I wanted to be an RN, I’d have gone back to school & gotten my degree” is starting to float around among LPNs.

  4. Interesting how the entire gang is going after two female-coded professions: nurses and teachers. I guess we can thank bully boy Kenney for making clear what will happen if a CPC government is ever again elected to a majority. The freak flag, she is flying. These people are evil and dangerous.

    1. “Interesting how the entire gang is going after two female-coded professions: nurses and teachers….”

      That was also a motto for Ralph Klein in the 90’s. It seems that Jason Kenney is really really fond of Ralph Klein, even though they were not such friends in the past.

    2. To see evidence of the UCP’s misogynistic mindset, we need look no further than bully-boys that make up Kenney’s inner circle. While there is a sprinkling of those-with-ovaries among the UCP, they are there mainly for show, to act as the adults in the room. Wolfman, on the other hand, is the leading troll, dedicated to the practise of pulling the girls’ ponytails and wolf-calling them from the sidelines. This is the level everything has sunk to.

  5. “…making misleading claims nurses receive double ‘pensions’…”
    What ‘double pensions’ is the Pee Wee Herman dress alike talking about? Government employees like MPs and other government workers earn pensions based on their earnings and years of service. Last I heard former CTF president and CEO Jason Kenney will qualify for a nice one based on his time as a federal cabinet minister and MP. Coupled with his Canada Pension Plan does Jason qualify for what his tax watchdog pal calls a ‘double pension’?

    Speaking of nurses, some years ago my son was cared for by Foothills Hospital staff and later in the Tom Baker Cancer Clinic. A more dedicated and nurturing group of men and women one would be hard pressed to find, outstanding professionals one and all. As for the paid loudmouths insulting them now, they can play in traffic on the Trans Canada at rush hour.

    1. What Premier Kenney’s supporters fail to take into account is the deep well of public support earned and enjoyed by nurses and other health care workers. Kenney can’t win a head-to-head battle against people who work on the front lines of health care. Everyone has some experience with the health care system, even if it’s visiting a loved one in hospital, and the vast, vast majority come away with respect and awe for the people working the front lines. Kenney will lose this fight.

  6. Readers should be reminded that while the Alberta Federation of Labour is a federation of labour unions from Alberta, a reasonably straightforward proposition, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is four people right now, not a federation at all, does not represent taxpayers, and may not even be Canadian — it’s hard to know, since the details of their funding are a big secret. It might better be called the Club for Right Wing Big Shot Wannabes Who Read Ayn Rand in College and Thought it was a Textbook.

    1. Thnx for the educative reminder. I might have known by the dorky bow-tie, the red sweater and the shit-eating-hound smirk.

  7. It’s all about gender. Most nurses are female, and women’s work is not valued by the UCP. It’s as simple as that.

    These UCP are uninformed and wilfully unaware. To them, a health care aide is the same as an RN or an LPN. My experience is different, but then my frail elderly mother was a retired RN, who was assaulted by a health care aide in a care centre. The case went to court. I know the difference. Health care aides in no way have the same education as nurses (some are hired off the street). In no way do they even come close (some are hired off the street and begin work that day, with no training or education).

    So how can the UCP, with no grasp of such concepts, even begin to comprehend the difference between an LPN and an RN?

    If I were a young woman entering a university nursing program right now, I’d choose medicine instead. Why live in the post-Klein era where RNs are constantly under attack by a government that has no use for them? Or I’d leave this godforesaken land for greener pastures, of which there are many. Get thee the h*[[ out of Alberta, stat.

    Of course, the patients will suffer, but the citizens of Alberta do not matter to the UCP. The citizens are subjects. That is all.

    1. They can get their education in Alberta and then move to B.C. or any other place in North America. there are nursing shortages all over the place.

  8. This is history repeating itself from the Klein era. I suspect many rural Albertans will be grateful to the UCP for not closing rural hospitals even if a lot of their RN wives and daughters may be out of a job.

    But things are never so dumb, they cannot get stupider. The UCP’s cousins in Saskatchewan have just come up with another innovation to increase the supply of medical people and lower costs. Today their veterinarian school announced it is going to admit people who whose applications were rejected if they pay five times the normal tuition fee.

    Why not bring this innovation to Alberta Health? Who needs those surgeons and doctors that cost so much when anybody with some spare cash can just send a cheque into the medical school and get their diploma? Lower costs, more staff, everybody wins!

    My neighbour, old shaky Horton, has always wanted to try surgery and he sure has the money now that he’s getting his oil welfare payments from the Government of Alberta.

    As our host is wont to say, “you cannot make this stuff up:”

    1. All I can say, Kang, is that if we adopt this approach for human medics in Alberta, we must ensure that this never happens! DJC

    2. Old joke: “What do you call someone who graduated last in their class in medical school?”


  9. The politics of Conservative governments favour Corporate profits over public services. KENNEY clearly detests democratic rights and principles. Democratic societies support paying taxes so that all citizens receive ESSENTIAL SERVICES regardless of ability to pay. Essential services are healthcare, education, police, social services, etc. Simply essentials. The Free Market System works for all but essential services. Democracies are inclusive and benefit all Citizens. Governments before Kenney privatized communications ( AGT), power and gas and the cost has continued to escalate….. OUT OF CONTROL. They own the market and people are captive. These corporations and their CEO’S are now filthy rich. Prior to privatizing they provided excellent and affordable services and the public employees earned fair wages and served Albertans well. There are FAT CATS just waiting to take over seniors care and health care. KENNEY IS THEIR MAN. We all need health care and we will all get old so we had better all get out in full force and FIGHT LIKE OUR LIFE DEPENDS UPON IT BECAUSE IT DOES. Once health care is sold we cannot buy it back!

  10. A few points:
    -nurses and teachers do carry high levels of public support because they provide services to which people attach considerable emotion. That combined with their monopoly service provider status absolutely should preclude them from being allowed to unionize as they are already in outrageously advantageous bargaining positions
    -the nurses’ contract allows part time workers to earn over time before they hit 40 hours per week if they are called in on a designated day off. This is unprecedented and prone to workers gaming the system. Eliminating this provision would be easy savings
    -AB outspends every other province. That is binary truth

    1. Doug: As you will see, I have deleted one of your points. I regret doing this but under the circumstances, I am not prepared to take the time to get permission from the two people you mentioned to cover myself from the possibility of defamation litigation. I recognize the risk of that is probably low, so you are probably safe to print your criticism of those individuals, neither of whom were mentioned in the story, on social media. To readers who are wondering about this, Doug’s point was that some people on the left engage on trolling, too, which is certainly true, although I am not persuaded the examples he picked are the best examples or the way he portrayed one of them is fair. And, as I hve said to many others, it’s my blog, so I’ll print what I like. DJC

    2. “…should preclude them from being allowed to unionize as they are already in outrageously advantageous bargaining positions”
      How pray tell, do they bargain without being unionized? By going individually to the hospital chief clad in sackcloth and ashes and clutching a begging bowl?

    3. Many nurses work part-time for all sorts of reasons, usually related to their families’ economic needs & circumstances. For example, if I have a half-time job, but am forced to work up to full-time hours, why shouldn’t I get overtime fr those additional hours or shifts? Don’t I get charged more for child care for short-notice booking?

      1. JERRYMACGP: Nurses and teachers do a very hefty amount of work. They deserve more than what they are getting paid. Jason Kenney is doing a Ralph Klein style move and will make it harder for nurses and teachers. Many will likely be laid off. Does Jason Kenney care? No.

        1. Anonymous: I’m very well aware of how hard nurses & teachers work — I’ve been an RN for near on 35 years, & we had three children grow up in the Alberta’s public school system. I was probably insufficiently clear in my last post. I’ve never personally worked part-time, but my wife, who’s also a nurse, did when our kids were little, and most of my colleagues have worked part-time for at least a portion of their careers.

          Whether full- or part-time, though, work-life balance is key, & we all have obligations outside of work. If our employer can’t get their sh*t together to staff our workplace properly, & calls upon one of us to work over our agreed schedule, why shouldn’t we get overtime compensation for that disruption to our life? As I said, if one has small children in child care, and they have to be slotted into their child care arrangement for an extra day at short notice so that the parent can work an OT shift, the parent often has to pay extra. If there aren’t little kids to worry about, there are often other commitments we have to change, like hair appointments, car maintenance, painting jobs, or whatever. Overtime messes with your ability to plan a life, & compensation should reflect that.

    4. Doug: I don’t think you realize just how hard nurses and teachers work. They have very important jobs. Walk even a tenth of a kilometer in their shoes and see how you would deal with what they go through. You probably would not last very long. Jason Kenney has to have scapegoats for the follies him and the UCP have created. They not only include nurses and teachers, but the disadvantaged in Alberta, who cannot fend for themselves very easily. Oil booms are never coming back again, and Jason Kenney’s corporate tax cuts of $4.7 billion are making things worse for Alberta, not better.

  11. Unfortunately we here in BC have also witnessed our sixteen-year-long, far-right BC Liberal government attack nurses and teachers whenever they dared exercise their constitutional right to bargain collectively. “Selfish,” “greedy,” “evil” were commonly levelled at these highly trained, essential workers. Galling that anyone could be such a hater to publicly slag the very people who go the extra mile to save your life when you’d otherwise perish, or lay down their lives protecting your kids (and even educating them, to boot) all day while you’re out —maybe even spreading these disgustingly hateful lies.

    WTF? These are the caring professions! How can anyone hate those who preserve the most precious things in anyone’s life?

    We got rid of the BC Liberal government and the socialist-green alliance has since overseen a new, booming economy and the lowest unemployment rate in Canada. We welcome Albertan refugees just as we have Albertan retirees. I wonder if it’d be asking too much that our foothill compatriots keep that kind of hateful rhetoric to themselves —at least while in booming socialist BC.

    1. Scotty isn’t making any of this up. I too live in B.C. and during the 16 yr reign of B.C. Lieberal (Conservative) reign of terror and error, they tried to attack nurses and teachers without much success. People still liked them. we did however become the center of Canada for money laundering. Perhaps Kenny will try that next to raise more money for his “friends”.

      The former government didn’t do much for health care, so the current government is playing catch up and they’re not only hiring, they’re providing more seats in colleges, etc. to train more health care workers.

      We have a lot of Albertans living in Nanaimo, B.C. come on over. You’ll love it here.

  12. I am glad this is not happening in Saskatchewan, but then again maybe it is. The Sask Party is facing an election this year so they are trying to appear reasonable, but will that be the case after the Nov. election?

    1. Re: Saskatchewan: They, recently, increased their PST from 5% to 6% because their right wing, conservative government said they needed more revenue.
      Have look at their revenue figures:
      “Saskatchewan Tax Revenue Figures”
      The Alberta Kenney UCP government, on the other hand, is not dealing with/generating, adequate revenue now that there will be no more booms. I tried getting “Alberta Tax Revenue Figures,” but nothing as specific as Saskatchewan’s came up.

      1. I would google government of alberta annual report. In the 2018-2019 annual report there is a historical fiscal summary on page 14 from 2008-09 to 2018-19 which shows the different sources of revenue in all those years, quite interesting. As for a sales tax in Alberta I have always advocated for one.

        1. Farmer Brian: Actually, the idea of a P.S.T in Alberta predates Alison Redford being premier. The Alberta PCs were thinking about putting in a P.S.T for Alberta then.

          1. A PST? Sure why not tax those who have less money so the oil oligarchs (who are even more stupidly profitable now that royalties and corporate income tax have been lowered) can send even more money to their foreign owners? What part of “UCP’s $4.7 billion Alberta corporate tax cut has done nothing to create jobs” don’t you understand?

  13. I will attempt to refrain from criticizing your most esteemed and most obvious leader of.. well.. shall we say many folks? Safe enough? Anyhoo! Since your Jason, has planned his holiday in order to be able to bask in the absolution of “He effing Mungous!111!!!” While trolling anyone, in your rather tedious province, that isn’t one of the chosen flock, so as to avoid the pointless friction of his own policies coming into focus for the blind. Jebus DC! Ban me!

  14. Let the dying begin. Lets have lots of it and frequently. Carry the corpses and drop them on Kenny’s door step.

    If nurses are not paid adequately they will leave Alberta. Almost every province and state has a nursing shortage. There won’t be a problem finding other employment. Attacking nurses as elite workers who are being paid too much isn’t going to work that well.

    If Alberta is so short of money it needs to gut nurses salaries, to survive, they need to implement a higher tax schedule. There is something other provinces have, its called a sales tax. End of problem. Yet on the other hand, Kenny and his ilk continue to shovel tax support dollars for oil and gas. If they have enough money for foreign corporations they ought to have enough money for nurses. Of course Kenny may have attacked nurses, the majority of them being women, because he doesn’t seen them as having any value. Kenny and his base might want to remember this is an attack on women and other women may not be too keen on that, come the next election.

  15. It’s nice that the government and its sock puppets are so impressed by Licensed Practical Nurses and don’t think they should be considered a “cheaper” option. So how about they put their money where their mouth is and give them the exact same pay? THEN we’ll see if they want to replace lots of RNs with them.

  16. Full disclosure, more than half my families income originates for nursing(you notice I have the disclaimer first)

    That said, the UCP arent going after nurses. They are going after health care costs. And subsequently, you may notice that they have gone after other major costs of the healthcare system as evidence.

    Are nurses over paid, underpaid or just right. Well the funny thing about prices is that it has nothing to do with fairness and everything to do with competition and those willing to do the job in the location the job needs to be done. It also has to do with how much the person who wants a service has in their pockets.
    It doesnt matter how fair the price is if the person having to pay it doesnt have the money.

    So yes, a correction in government worker pay is in the works as long as industry isnt going very well.

    Maybe the unions can give nurses a discount on the union fees to make for a portion?

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