If you think this morning was a crazy moment for Health Minister Tyler Shandro to announce a major restructuring of public health care in Alberta, including the layoffs of 11,000 public health care workers, right in the middle of the most serious health care crisis in 100 years, you’re right.

Everybody, including the government, understands this. There may well be repercussions that are far from ideal from the government’s perspective.

Alberta Health Services President and CEO Verna Yiu (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta Video).

But look at it from the point of view of Premier Jason Kenney, his United Conservative Party and their strategic issues management brain trust.

They knew the CBC’s Edmonton investigative reporting unit was hours away from breaking a major scoop on the recommendations of the “review” by multinational management consultants at Ernst & Young that included one to lay off closer to 16,000 public health care workers, among them nurses and other front-line clinical health care workers.

They also knew a lot of Albertans, including many of their own supporters, would be furious at the thought the government was about to make heavy cuts to an already overstressed workforce on the front lines of the war against COVID-19 — the one health care war almost everyone except a few cranks agrees really needs to be happening.

They knew what the CBC was going to do because reporters Jennie Russell and Charles Rusnell did everything right, including calling the government up, telling it what the story was going to say, and asking for the government’s comments and explanations.

So this is how Mr. Shandro and his press secretary Steve Buick responded, Mr. Rusnell said in a tweet posted early this afternoon. “We have had a leaked copy of the AHS draft implementation plan for weeks,” he explained. When Ms. Russell “reached out to Shandro thru Buick on Thurs. with briefing note explaining issues. Buick promised an interview for this morning.” … “Instead, they leaked info from an updated plan to The Journal that left out critical info,” he said in his next tweet.

Providing an opportunity for a response is what every journalist is taught in J-school must be done when they are about to publish controversial story about any individual or organization.

The government’s obviously panicky response will have journalists interested in protecting their scoops seriously reconsidering this traditional approach, and with good reason.

CBC investigative reporter Charles Rusnell (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Government and AHS officials both promised to give Mr. Rusnell and Ms. Russell the comments they requested — but they reneged and never called them back.

Instead, they appear to have spent the long weekend writing up an 82-page implementation report that eliminated acknowledgement of the plan to lay off nurses and other front-line clinical professionals, which they proceeded to send to friendlier reporters at Postmedia, allowing them to beat the CBC reporters who did all the work.

Then they called the hastily organized news conference at which Mr. Shandro and an uncomfortable looking Alberta Health Services CEO Verna Yiu did their best to spin the story as not having any impact on front-line health care while COVID-19 remains a threat.

Mr. Shandro’s department put out a press release that opened with the claim, “There will be no job losses for nurses or for other front-line clinical staff.”

And – since COVID-19 is a great excuse not to hold news conferences at which reporters can actually shout out their questions if they’re ignored – when Mr. Rusnell and Ms. Russell called in, they wouldn’t let them ask any questions.

“We were not allowed to ask questions in the news conference,” tweeted Mr. Rusnell, who tends to say what he’s thinking. “I asked @stevebuick2 how we should deal with him in the future, given that his word is no good. He wouldn’t say.”

If you want further evidence the government wasn’t expecting to have to announce the Ernst & Young report just yet while they considered how to implement their plans, consider the letter to United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan sent just this morning by Lee McEwen, AHS’s executive director of negotiations and labour relations.

Mr. Shandro’s press secretary, Steve Buick (Photo: Linked-In).

In it, Mr. McEwen stated confidently that AHS intends to proceed with its previously announced elimination of 500 full-time equivalent nursing jobs, which the union says will work out to about 750 actual living, breathing nurses being laid off.

The news conference was an interesting affair in other ways too. Mr. Shandro kept repeating that there would be no layoffs of nurses or other health care professionals, and he kept saying that this would be the case until the government declared the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. Which, of course, the government can do any time it pleases, facts notwithstanding.

So that commitment’s not worth all that much.

Mr. Shandro also made the point over and over that AHS’s so-called Operational Best Practices scheme, under which the layoffs confirmed in Mr. McEwen’s letter are planned, was implemented under the NDP.

OBP was implemented by AHS when the NDP was in power. For some reason, though, Mr. Shandro forgot to mention that when the plan was implemented, the NDP made a commitment that no full-time equivalent hours would be lost. In other words, no layoffs.

Still, it was amusing to hear the health minister repeatedly referencing the NDP for its wisdom and foresight — this from the party that promised us a Summer of Repeal. Any old port in a storm, I guess.

Like the E&Y report, Mr. Shandro also kept promising that layoffs of laundry and other support workers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, and future layoffs of cooks and housekeeping staff, will save money. This is highly unlikely. Laundry will still have to be cleaned; food will still have to be cooked. But now there will have to be a profit margin built in as well.

Dr. Yiu tried to help him out by noting that AHS now won’t have to borrow to pay for expensive upgrades to laundry plants. Good try, but that doesn’t wash either. Someone’s going to have to pay for those improved facilities, and businesses will have to pay higher interest than governments. So, one way or another, taxpayers are going to end up paying the freight for this.

The only possible way for this to save money is to reduce the wages now paid workers to poverty levels. Even so, it’s predicted here, the promised savings will prove illusory.

Remember, the people now promising that 11,000 layoffs will save $600-million are the same ones who said a $4.7-billion tax break would create tens of thousands of jobs. We all know how that worked out.

Needless to say, telling health care professionals that they won’t be laid off … until after the pandemic a few months from now … is probably not a great plan to keep them from thinking about moving to other jurisdictions where their services are valued.

So on top of everything else, thanks to our UCP government, Albertans can look forward to a shortage of nurses in the months ahead. Oh well, there’s always the Babylon app. If you’re worried about your health, that ought to reassure you.

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  1. About three weeks ago Premier Kenny was lecturing Prime Minister Trudeau about his Throne Speech.

    “[There was] no recognition that what the federal government must do at this point is first to do no harm. All we are asking of the Government of Canada is to let this province and our resource industries to get off their knees, to get back on to our feet during the largest economic contraction since the Great Depression. Yesterday’s speech reflected a total lack of understanding about the economic crisis through which we are living as a country.”

    I am sure everyone of the employees affected by this layoff announcement wishes Premier Kenny heeded his own words to first do no harm.

    Two links to the speech:



  2. The Notley government tried “borrow another billion”. Unfortunately, other people’s money only lasts so long. It’s not desirable but healthcare has to be more affordable.

    1. When Kenney and Shandro run out of health-care providers to cut–either through layoffs or because they’ve already left the province–only the patients will be left. What then? Herd immunity?

      1. Now the main problem that the current government has to deal with is the premium for the services government unions have been able to extract from society for the purchase of their votes.

        Currently those premiums cannot be afforded and the price has to drop.

        You do that by setting up a market for the service and have competing entities bid on the jobs.

        This isnt rocket science after all.

        1. Matti, or Brett: A “market” is really just code for taking from the public and giving it to the oligarchs of business.

          What you are really saying about wages and bargaining is that the UCP are much too stupid to appeal to reason, hence the big threats. Since their horrible behavior towards rural doctors you cannot blame people for regarding the UCP as nothing more than a dishonest wrecking crew. But coming from a Premier whose main claim to fame is systematically destroying Federal research and medical libraries, this is no surprise.

          1. I know this is a surprise to alot of people, but its not “horrible behaviour” to ask for a discount. Any business which wants to survive will go to leaner margins in tough times.

        2. Bret Larson: Much like electricity deregulation in Alberta. That wasn’t a success whatsoever, but was a boondoggle that is close to $40 billion. That didn’t help Alberta power consumers.

          1. I talked to the electrical engineer who advised the Notley government on their boondoggle with electricity, is that what you are talking about?

            Just addressing your contention, do I have this correct?

            “Market based pricing was not executed in an poor fashion in the past so we shouldn’t try in the future.”

            And as an example, even though every competitive business has to get three quotes before they make a purchase?

        3. Apparently it is rocket science for some people. If Alberta wants to be like the United States, and you privatize medical care, you too will have the uninsured, the underinsured and the bankrupt just like they do. You haven’t seen anything when it comes to health care costs until the private sector runs it. Co-pays, deductibles, life time limits and non coverage of a pre-existing conditions, welcome to the world of private medical coverage.

        4. Bret: As suggested in the article, you replace those unionized higher wages with profit margins. Now instead of paying a worker $20/hr you pay that worker $15/hr and the shareholders get the other $5. Any guesses as to which system is more likely to balloon in costs?
          Privatized government services are bad for everyone except the owners of those companies (and don’t tell me that those cooks, janitors, and laundry workers should take some of their minimum wages and put it towards the stock market!).

        5. Alberta is a dumpster fire, and you are far, far too good of an example of the Alberta electorate, who you will not be wrong in observing overwhelmingly support — or at least vote for — the kind of junior high-school glibertarian policies you so ardently and smarmily defend here.

          At this point in my life, I can summon only a sort of glee at the prospect that you, and I trust your entire family, will suffer the consequences of your policies as well as the rest of us. Unless you are very, very rich, of course. You wouldn’t all be very, very rich, would you?

    2. You say “”health care has to be more affordable”. Do you have a plan to make it so?

      Doctors who have to pay for their costly education have become used to earning big bucks and will not take kindly to working for much less.

      How do we reduce costs without reducing services?

    3. Bret Larson: Unfortunately, the UCP is good at throwing our money away. It’s much greater than a mere billion dollars. It will be 100 times one billion dollars. This is another very bad move by the UCP, and it will cause them to be gone after the next provincial election in Alberta. Cutting needed services isn’t a good move, whatsoever. Albertans are still dealing with the after effects of Ralph Klein’s cuts.

    4. W. Bret Larson, putting the screws to the elderly is no doubt your party line. As explained by Nicholas Milliken on Twitter, caring for the elderly is not sustainable.

      Let’s not forget that the elderly spent their entire lives paying into the health plan, in times when they did not need its services. What kind of plan allows people to contribute, but never withdraw? The public purse is paid for by the public, and the elderly have paid their fair share. The public purse is meant for the public, get it? The public, not multinational corporations and Kenney donors, not vitamin C showers and exclusive hotels with little white slippers for the elite.

      Once the UCP dumps granny out of the long-term care home into the street, what then? Who should be drawn and quartered next? We know these things have a way of accelerating.

  3. “Providing an opportunity for a response is what every journalist is taught in J-school must be done when they are about to publish controversial story about any individual or organization.”

    Well, this requires a level of integrity UCP does not have.

  4. Bait and Switch

    Shell Game

    Bad Information

    The Waiting Game

    Seems that the UCP is using some of those well-worn car salesman tricks.

    Used Car Party, indeed.

  5. I’m not sure the weasily efforts by Mr. Shandro and Mr. Buick to revise their plans and put them out to more friendly media outlets achieved much. The headlines still screamed about 11,000 AHS job losses. I think Mr. Shandro has mostly alienated whatever media friends he may have had.

    His promise not to lay off nurses right now is essentially meaningless when everyone knows he means soon, but just not right now.

    In any event AHS will be in plenty of disaray over the next few years, whether it is from the contracting out announced now or the lay offs to come. They don’t seem inclined to much rethink their preconceived plans, so we should probably hit peak disaray close to the time of the next election.

  6. This was done 20 years ago in BC by the BC Liberals.
    There were no savings, just a transfer of $ from workers to foreign owned corporations.
    Foreign corporations who were allowed and encouraged to make political donations.
    Follow the money!

    1. Correct! and resulted in a large group of people, all having only part time work and barely minimum wages, being put in a position of having to cobble several part time jobs together in order to obtain some semblance of having a full time livable wage.

      These kinds of actions happen all too often when you have right wing politicians in the driver’s seat. It also caused, especially in the current pandemic crisis, in leaving our elderly at risk, unable to have loved ones see them, and resulted in many unnecessary deaths of our most vulnerable citizens. Shame on these uncaring politicians!

  7. Six hundred million dollars divided by eleven thousand is a bit more than $54,500 per job lost. I am guessing that is the average salary of the lower-end jobs that have been eliminated. The only way that much money is really saved is if the people are not replaced, period. I expect our government’s creative bookkeepers will show a six hundred million dollar saving on AHS wages, then neglect to mention the outsourcing costs.

  8. In addition to building a profit margin, the private company who contracts this work will also have to pay a higher price to borrow money. The link below outlines the details of Extendicare’s borrowing of $110 million loan at a rate of 5%.

    If you look carefully at the long term care operator, you will find that it has been getting a subsidy from the governments of Ontario and Alberta. During a pandemic that makes sense, but the company has not reduced the dividend during the same time period. So much for the investors taking the risk.


  9. Can you imagine what kind of entrepreneur would be attracted to this proposal? “You will agree to replace our current housekeeping staff, who make about $20 per hour, actually do a good job and know what they’re doing, with your own minimum wage employees who will need to be recruited, scheduled, trained and closely supervised, may or may not show up for work, and will leave as soon as a better-paying job comes along. Your profit will come from any saving you manage to achieve. Now apply that business model not just to Edmonton and Calgary but to Stettler and Hanna. Only a UCP back-bench fast-food purveyor would see this as a reasonable business model.

  10. The UCP have done a very foolish move here. When we are in a second wave of the pandemic, with covid, it will only make things even worse. The UCP’s ultimate goal is to have privatization of health cate. The UCP are doing the same foolish things that Ralph Klein did. This won’t end well.

  11. All the ‘little’ people, the ones who will lose pay, benefits, full time hours, holidays, livelihoods, are merely “cogs” in the machinery of J.K., T.S., and too many Used Car Party sycophants; cogs instead of persons; cogs in their fantastical, ideological, wet-dream ‘world’. I, for one, have advocated that the men who pick up our garbage every week, keeping our homes and lives cleaner, are far more valuable than any politician.
    Incensed is my feeling, intense disgust, deep dismay. I can imagine those people, those real human beings, who are going into UCP austerity programmes, will be less caring about what they do because those who are doing it to them are the least caring pieces of shit in this province. You get what you give!

  12. question for the UCP health minister: I am a senior who is still working full time, but plan to retire in the next year or 2. Presently my pension would be enough t o go into LTC if my health deteriorated to the point where I could not take care of myself, but if the UCP implement the increases to LTC costs, I would not have enough to pay the increased fees. Will the UCP offer MAID as a solution to seniors who are unable to afford care?

  13. None of this should be surprising. A quick google search pre-election of Jason Kenney (his background, education, family, views, political background/connections) would have made it very clear what this party would be all about. The sad thing is many people – who are going to feel this firsthand – voted UCP.

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