Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Senior Economist David MacDonald (Photo: CCPA).

It’s very hard to resist the temptation to juxtapose the Kenney Government’s response to the plight of underpaid front-line health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the troubles faced by well-heeled owners of private continuing care facilities. 

When it comes to the former, Premier Jason Kenney and his United Conservative Party Government seem determined to do whatever they can to keep federal funds on the table to top up the salaries of health care workers on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 from actually getting to them.

UCP MLA Richard Gotfried, chair of the government’s panel reviewing continuing care legislation (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

According to the recent report by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Senior Economist David MacDonald, Alberta has only accessed $12 million of the $335.8 million in federal top-ups for low-paid essential workers in Alberta.

“Alberta has, by far, the highest amount left on the table as it accessed almost nothing from this program,” Mr. Macdonald noted, adding that Saskatchewan isn’t far behind. 

You’re never going to hear a reasonable explanation from the Kenney Government for why this is, of course. Its opacity is legendary – and intended to serve a political purpose. 

In such circumstances, it’s reasonable to speculate: The UCP wants no part of anything for which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could take any credit, as would certainly be the case with this program. 

It’s also important, however, to remember that during his successive campaigns to lead the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative parties, Mr. Kenney promised when he was in the company of business groups to make Alberta a lower-wage jurisdiction. It is reasonable to assume he wasn’t just talking about the public service.

Paying health care workers more now, while they’re risking their lives to save us from COVID-19, isn’t going to help the government’s plan to reduce labour costs when the pandemic eventually fades away.

Meanwhile, though, the owners of private seniors’ care and continuing care facilities – which have been hotbeds of rampant COVID infection, especially although not exclusively, in the private sector – apparently have found the costs of responding to this situation to have an unfortunate impact on their bottom line. 

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

Readers need not take my word for this. Here’s Richard Gotfried, UCP MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek and the chair of the government’s panel reviewing continuing care legislation: “I have heard loud and clear from the continuing care sector that remaining in compliance with public health orders can be costly.”

To this type of COVID-caused economic hardship – which readers can be assured is considerably less painful than that suffered by many front-line health-care workers – the government responded quickly, announcing last week that it would immediately cough up $68.5 million in support for continuing care homes.

Indeed, Mr. Gotfried’s quote above came right out of the news release announcing the infusion of cash. In the same passage, he went on to say: “This funding will help operators further protect those most at risk of severe outcomes.”

It’s not quite clear, of course, if Mr. Gotfried was talking about the patients and residents in continuing care homes – nowadays dangerous places to be – or the owners of these facilities. 

The government certainly tried to spin its spending as an effort to “help operators pay for increased staffing” among other costs such as cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. In other words, for the good of all.

It is reasonable to suspect, nevertheless, that much of this support will pass directly through to corporate bottom lines, and from there to premiums for shareholders and bonuses for top executives. Because that’s the way things are supposed to work in Kenneyworld. 

Organizations operating during the period of March 15, 2020 to March 31, 2021 will be eligible,” says the government’s news release. (Emphasis added.)

Also included in the subsidy program are contracted home-care services, hospices, and private addiction and mental health treatment centres.

93% of per-capita COVID-19 direct spending in Alberta comes from Ottawa

Something else worth juxtaposing, I suppose, is the absolute level of support for the fight against COVID-19 coming from the federal and provincial levels of government. 

Returning to Mr. Macdonald’s CCPA report, “Albertans are receiving the highest level of per capita (COVID-19 direct) spending compared to any other province, worth $11,200 a person.”

Importantly, he reported, 93 per cent of that comes from Ottawa, either in direct funding or from transfers to provinces. “Federal supports amount to $10,400 a person in Alberta, the highest per capita federal support level of any province by a fair margin. Albertans actually receive $1,200 more per person from the federal government than any other province.”

To adapt child care centres and schools to respond to the pandemic, he added, “Alberta has mostly just spent the federal transfers meant for these areas.” 

“Despite the overwhelming federal support for the province, Alberta has the lowest debt and the lowest per capita amounts raised in taxes of any province. It receives the most, on a per capita basis, from the federal government but has spent among the least on a provincial GDP basis,” he wrote. 

Don’t expect to hear anything about this, of course, either from our provincial government or most Alberta media during the run up to next fall’s cynical and constitutionally meaningless equalization referendum. 

Well, you may see federal expenditures counted as a percentage of provincial GDP, which would make it appear that Albertans got a smaller percentage than Canadians in, say, Nova Scotia. But, as Mr. Macdonald’s report observed, “this is simply because the GDP, per person, is much higher in Alberta than in Nova Scotia.”

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  1. This certainly comes as no surprise with the UCP. The UCP clearly doesn’t have any care for frontline workers, nor everyday Albertans. The UCP is also great at the art of contradiction themselves and doing doublespeak. The UCP screams that the federal government isn’t helping Alberta, but when the federal government does so, the UCP sits on the money.

  2. To give another example of how the private continuing care operators keep making their $millions/billions, this memory comes to mind: A friend and her husband went to visit a relative in a southern Alberta private long term care facility and signed up to have dinner with their relative. Dinner was: poor quality mac’n’cheese and yellow jello. They were incredulous! Myself, being a former employee in two ‘government’-funded long term care facilities can certainly attest to the fact that, on the whole, the meals are much ‘better’ than that.
    But, when it comes to the work that Health Care Aides (HCAs) have to do on the frontlines of long term care, it is hard, hard work for not enough pay. It has been said that if there is to be adequate HCA staffing in long term care not only to attract more folks to the job, but to retain them, their wage should be at least $30/hour. Not only is the work extremely strenuous, it is chronically short-staffed as well. It is absolutely heart-breaking to hear some of these folks calling out for various reasons, one being assistance for toileting, and the staff, are not able to assist everyone at the same time, so these folks have to wait, and wait, until help arrives.
    Another thing, just so everyone knows, even though the ‘government’ funds most of the care at non-private facilities, it does not cover all of it, so there is still, the monthly fee which is well more than $60/day, and then extra costs, if it can be afforded, for fees at the hair salon and for outings with recreation therapy, etc. Some folks in long term care cannot afford ‘outings,’ and some have family that come in to cut/do, their hair. Foot care is also ‘extra.’
    It is then wondered why, some folks say they’ll do whatever it takes to not, go into long term care, sadly.

    1. Our experience too Albertan. It should also be noted that when the seniors suffer bladder and kidney infections due to the neglect of the private non-care homes, they are shuffled off to hospital for treatment at public expense. The neglect of pedicures often result in some pretty horrific infections and occasionally very serious blood poisoning. There is however some justice to this. One very wealthy Red Deer couple of our acquaintance was put into a very prestigious private care facility. The Mom got repeated bladder and kidney infections due to neglect. The Dad did not fare much better. Both suffered a miserable final few years in spite of the family spending a lot of money for extra care to watch over them. Not unlike King Ralph drowning in his own miserable juices at the end. The justice in this was the Dad was a strong financial and public supporter of Stockwell Day.
      Death comes to all, large and small, and in many cases an unkind death is richly deserved.

    2. Albertan We still remember Ralph Klein telling us that he had no intention of spending any money on expanding long term health care he was going to make it so profitable that private corporations would take it over and that’s exactly what he did.
      When our family eventually needed a bed for a relative they were unable to get one in the public sector. They were told there was a waiting list of over 1,800 people because these phoney conservatives hadn’t created anymore spaces. They were desperate as she had become violent and had to accept a private for profit one in Calgary at a cost of $7,000. Plus $3,600. Per month for a full time care giver that she desperately needed. It cost our family members $10,600. Per month for five years.I wonder how many of these UCP supporters could afford that?

  3. David, you have hit a really sore point with me this morning. Thank you for bringing it up.

    My wife and I had shares in Boston Pizza Royalties, the company that sells BP franchises. As primarily a sit-down restaurant, it was not surprising that the company took a real Covid induced hit , and was forced to look for refinancing. One of the conditions the lender gave BP was that it had to suspend the monthly dividend it paid its shareholders. That seemed pretty reasonable.

    Now compare that to the seniors’ housing industry. I am aware of 3 publicly traded housing companies, Extendicare, Chartwell and Sienna. (Sienna does not have any locations in Alberta, so presumably they will not be receiving funding from the Alberta government.) All 3 companies pay a monthly dividend, which based on their current share price, ranges from 5.7% (Chartwell) to 7.7% (Extendicare) annually. Covid has not changed the dividend paid at all, in fact Chartwell increased it dividend a little bit last March. Chartwell historically has increased its dividend every March, so it will be interesting to see if they are insensitive enough to increase their dividend next month. The limited number of analysists that follow the companies don’t seem to be too concerned about the state of things.

    Personally, I don’t have a problem with the government helping out seniors’ care businesses with the added expenses Covid has caused, but it has to be with the condition that the shareholders (ie the company owners) also take a hit by suspending, or at least significantly reducing, the dividend. With the way things are we have a classic case of socializing the risk and privatizing the profit.

  4. More tales from the Far Side, daily edition. Presumably, the federal Liberal Brains Trust, if one exists beyond Trudeau’s smallish brain (and Babel on the Bay says it doesn’t, that it’s a one-man show) are saving up all these tidbits of kenney nonsense, ready to drop it on the nation come election time to show what Cons are really like. Over $600 million of federal largesse dropped in kenney’s lap to pay bonuses to front line health care workers in the pandemic, and your pudgeball autocrat of a “premier” hogs it for himself.

    It’s beyond disgraceful. It’s vengeful.

    Also, the federal Dept of the Environment is not without some powers of its own. They never seemed to mind proffering free advice to me on my job with the electric utility, over and above what the provincial department required. Any sign that they may not be impressed with kenney’s coal washing and the subsequently contaminated rivers that cross provincial boundaries? I know schMoe would still drink the water, mmm delicious selenium smoothie, as he’s in thrall to jason, but what about the cows and people of Saskatchewan? Or across the border in the US (bear in mind I have zero idea where the affected rivers run)?

    It’s all most strange is Alberta. kenney has even Boris beaten on the Wack-O-Meter.

  5. It seems to be easier to blame workers “in the northeast” for Covid than to acknowledge the role care home workers play in keeping seniors safe. This would require paying them wage top-ups directly. Thinking care homes will top up worker pay with government money, no strings attached, is like believing in trickle-down economics and unicorns. More money to corporate interests means more executive bonuses and shareholder dividends, not more staff or more remuneration for staff. It’s all about the bottom line.

    We only have to look at what has already happened in the worst case scenario in specific care homes during the first wave of Covid to know how much worse this is going to get if the vaccines are not effective against the new variants. Workers are allowed to move between care homes once again, so it seems no lessons have been learned from round one and round two.

    The only motivation I can figure for care aides to work in these places is to hire on for the purpose of getting both Moderna vaccines, then quit. I wouldn’t doubt if some of them have done exactly that. Not all, of course. Some individuals are truly dedicated to this calling in spite of the low pay and demanding working conditions. There are saints out there, but apparently they are invisible to this faith-based non-secular government. Saints are supposed to be dead before they’re recognized, aren’t they?

  6. “It’s also important, however, to remember that during his successive campaigns to lead the Progressive Conservative and United Conservative parties, Mr. Kenney promised when he was in the company of business groups to make Alberta a lower-wage jurisdiction.”

    And many Albertans will applaud, because they favour lower wages–for other Albertans.

  7. The summer soldiers? Who are they? They’re the ones who never plan for problems and when confronted by them? Run away. Why? Because problems, in their minds, should be avoided. Why? Because problems if you try to solve them, you might change because you engaged with the problem and change is a big concept. That’s polite speak for the risk that the cowards decline! Summer soldiers are everywhere. They are us and we are them.

  8. Why the circus? Well. You elected it. They’re your monkeys now. What to do? I’d find your hind legs, stand up and defend. What? You decide. Do I have to tell the story of Hanuman? Y’all must be better educated. I’m embarrassed by my religion! You should be to, but no. It’s all about something else. Want. Just want. if the dictionary had a picture to underscore want? It would include a soothing song of longing.

  9. Looks like MLA Richard Gotfried is not that many months away from a long term care facility. I wonder if he labours under the same delusion former Environment Minister Ty Lund did that being in a private long term care home is better? A word to the wise Mr. Gotfried, it ain’t necessarily so.

  10. Further to this scam by the UCP, please note another act of UCP pandemic skullduggery as noted also by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

    As part of the national pandemic response, Alberta received $262 million for safer school openings from the federal government. The UCP decided that $250 million from that would be equally divided among each Alberta student, according to CCPA Monitor (Jan/Feb, 2021) That distribution occurred whether a student was in a private school in a class of 12, or in the public system with a classroom of 40.

    As the CCPA points out, the UCP did not distribute these federal funds based on equitable safety needs “but rather as an opportunity to make a political point: Money should follow the student to wherever their program of choice happens to be — even if it is a privately run school — effectively turning the federal COVID-19 emergency fund into a voucher system.” And, as we know, introducing an education voucher system is yet another perverse wet dream the UCP wants to foist on Albertans.

    The stream of nonsense from the UCP never ends.

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