Alberta Politics
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney flipping pancakes in Calgary Saturday – expect to see more of the same today (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

As Alberta opens for summer, hospital beds start to close – enjoy your flapjacks while they last!

Posted on July 12, 2021, 3:15 am
6 mins

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his cadre of new Cowtown cabinet ministers will be flipping pancakes and engaging in cowboy cosplay at a Stampede breakfast in Harley Hotchkiss Gardens in downtown Calgary this morning.

The premier’s Stampede breakfast, according to the notice from his press secretary yesterday, “celebrates Alberta being open for summer.”

Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, where ER beds are being closed (Photo: Ian Stumpf, Creative Commons).

But not everything will be open for summer, as it turns out. 

Shortages of nurses are leading to emergency room beds across the province being closed. That’s nothing to celebrate, so I imagine the UCP MLAs manning the pancake flipping stations won’t be very enthusiastic about that topic today. 

Media reports last night said six of 27 acute care beds have now been closed at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, which has one of the busiest ERs in Canada.

Around 10:30 p.m., United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan tweeted that “shortly after being interviewed about the bed closures at the Royal Alec, I was informed that 12 beds now closed at the Cross Cancer Institute. They did it on the weekend with no memo or information to staff. Morale has never been lower.”

On Friday, 12 beds were closed in Lacombe’s hospital north of Red Deer. Staff shortages were identified as the problem there too. 

And that, as they say, is just the tip of the iceberg. Health care employers have been having trouble finding workers, especially professionals like nurses, for months. Beds are being closed in hospitals throughout the province.

The problem is particularly severe in rural areas. Pandemic exhaustion, mandatory overtime, chronic short-staffing, beckoning retirement, and lack of meaningful recognition for nurses’ sacrifices are all contributing factors. 

Happy-happy! UCP MLAs celebrate at the Calgary Stampede (Photo: Facebook/Jason Kenney).

With nurses, hailed as Alberta’s heroes throughout the long months of the COVID-19 pandemic, now facing significant pay rollbacks in contract talks with Alberta Health Services – in which AHS bargainers confirm the Kenney Government is calling the shots – this situation is not going to get any better. 

It’s astonishing, when you think of it, that a hard-line market-fundamentalist party like the UCP doesn’t seem to understand the law of supply and demand. 

As previously reported, Canada can expect a shortage of 60,000 nurses next year. Hospitals in Ontario are already offering bonuses as high as $75,000 to nurses who will come from out of province to work for them. Nearby provinces are signing collective agreements with nurses’ unions that contain modest pay increases. 

Does this sound like the right moment for the Alberta Government – pleading post-pandemic poverty after losing billions to corporate tax cuts, bad bets and giveaways – to demand across-the-board retroactive wage rollbacks from Alberta’s more than 30,000 public sector nurses? 

Where’s Adam Smith when you finally need him? 

Oh yes, the government keeps saying Alberta nurses are paid more than nurses in other provinces. Never mind that all occupations in Alberta are paid more on average than in other provinces.

For months, while risking their lives to fight COVID-19, Alberta’s already overworked nurses have lived under the threat of seeing about 750 layoffs take place as soon as the pandemic was declared over.

In bargaining with UNA last week, after the government faced considerable public pressure to drop the layoff scheme, AHS changed course and offered a letter of understanding on job security, but only if the union agreed to the 3-per-cent rollback to base salary. The loss of lump-sum payments in the current contract, which AHS is also trying to eliminate, would raise the pay cut faced by all nurses to 5 per cent.

If the nurses won’t take the pay cut, then the layoffs are back on the table.

It’s not hard to see that if layoffs proceed, or disgust at the government’s bargaining tactics drives more nurses out of the workforce, the bed closings spreading across the province are not going to go away.

But Mr. Kenney, in a political and financial bind of his own creation, has reverted to form.

He’s picked a fight with health care workers. If he can cut their pay, he can claim to be balancing the budget. If they push back, he’ll blame the problems he’s causing on their unions, and try to drive a wedge between voters and the Opposition. If he can use the fallout to make a case for privatization, he’ll view that as a bonus. 

None of this bodes well for Alberta.

Best summer ever? Enjoy your flapjacks while they last.

25 Comments to: As Alberta opens for summer, hospital beds start to close – enjoy your flapjacks while they last!

  1. Anonymous

    July 12th, 2021

    This is pretty much a repeat of the bad old days under Premier Ralph Klein. Ralph Klein made a horrific mess of healthcare in Alberta, with the goal to privatize it. Thousands of nurses lost their jobs when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. The UCP intends to further Ralph Klein’s agenda, by putting in private for profit healthcare in Alberta. This is what happens when you allow pretend conservatives to be in power, and they don’t get the oil royalty rates that Peter Lougheed got, lose billions of dollars on abysmal corporate tax rates, and throw away money on the most pricey shenanigans. It’s rather ironic that the UCP will give funding for building a new hospital in south Edmonton. This project will likely run into problems, knowing how the UCP operates (no pun intended).

  2. jerrymacgp

    July 12th, 2021

    Leaving aside the fundamental policy disagreements over health care privatization, one of the major flaws in the UCP government’s apparent strategy to starve the public health care system of resources to open up a pathway into the system for the private sector, is that private operators will want to go where the profit is. That being, densely-populated big cities — but the losses in public health care staff are being felt most acutely in rural & remote communities that would never be profitable, AND that are the UCP’s voter base.

    • karl roth

      July 13th, 2021

      Apparently AB rural voters would be rather be dead than red/vote NDP.

      • jerrymacgp

        July 16th, 2021

        Well, maybe better dead than … orange? Hmmm … neither rhymes nor scans. Oh, well 😉

  3. Abs

    July 12th, 2021

    This hard-headed war on nurses is reaching new heights of danger and neglect. Health care is close to collapse in the province’s ERs. I would be surprised if people haven’t already died due to the dire situation now unfolding. It is that bad, but unless you have friends and family needing emergency care, or you need it yourself, you might not know.

    LPNs in long-term care are pulling double shifts, too. It’s not because they want to. It’s because they don’t want patients to be left with no nursing care at all.

    Everything is not fine. That is why people with protest signs representing a variety of issues follow Kenney to his pancake flipping events. Never before have I seen this level of outrage. I cannot recall protests over pancakes. Even the Raging Grannies are out. So much for Kenney’s Coroplast pledge to leave health care alone. Kenney lied, people die.

    Worst. Summer. Ever. So bad that the Stampede won’t release their gate admission numbers. That has never happened before, either. Kenney is much worse than Klein. Worst. Premier. Ever.

  4. Neil Lore

    July 12th, 2021

    IMO this is not about balancing the budget, it is about destabilizing Alberta’s socialized health care system. A few hundred nurses laid off, or even a few thousand, or a few percent pay cut, or even a few dozen, isn’t going to balance Alberta’s budget. Making every nurse work for free wouldn’t balance Alberta’s budget. If the UCP wanted to balance the budget, they would be trying to. They are instead using the budget as a pretext to pursue their Neoliberal ideology. The idea is that Albertans will get mad at the system, then when they go complaining to politicians they’ll be told, “Government is wasteful and incompetent. We need to privatize this service so that it will be efficient and effective. Plus then we can balance the budget with the sales! It’s the only responsible option.”

  5. Just Me

    July 12th, 2021

    I noticed that during Premier Crying & Screaming Midget’s pancake gorge-fest, there were two things that I noticed in abundance: legions of security officers and lots and lots of day-drinkers.

    I noticed that Kenney was getting a lot of photo-ops with the day-drinkers, so I wondered what all the security was for. Then it occurred to me: day-drinkers are Kenney’s people. They will never harm him, because haven’t a clue what’s going on, and they likely have never voted for anyone. Kenney must love it when a plan comes together.

    Judging by the presence of Erin O’Toole in Alberta, that can only mean one thing: CPC fortunes must be very low in the Blue Heartland.

    There is this delightful rumour going around that says that O’Toole’s approval rating among conservative voters is so low — in all regions of Canada — that the CPC is considering installing Stephen Harpo as a “temporary leader” when the election is called. Then, win or lose, O’Toole will be (re)installed as CPC leader or Prime Minister. If this rumour has any legs, it serves as an indicator that the CPC War Room has, like the CEC War Room, fallen into the grips of some form of collective dementia. And I suspect that Harpo’s negative-30% approval rating from 2015 hasn’t changed much.

    In regard to the pancakes, I’ll pass. I’ll stick with the popcorn.

  6. Just Me

    July 12th, 2021

    Another nugget from the “Tyrant’s Playbook”…

    Become a ‘man of the people’ and convince the people that you are one of them, all the while you are working against their interests.

    Kenney wearing a cowboy hat while flipping pancakes is a bizarre way to convince the masses that you are one of them, especially while wearing blue jeans that were dry-cleaned and pressed.

  7. Mike J Danysh

    July 12th, 2021

    As it was in the Old Days, is now, and ever shall be, turmoil without end.

    Kenney will keep right on banging the same worn-out drum until he hurts enough rural voters to make them disgusted with his purblind, ideological agenda. Only then will they rebel and demand he stop screwing things up.

    There are rumbles of a general strike in Alberta. It might be enough to get Kenney to back down. The trouble is, it will also get his stupidest supporters’ backs up. Anything that emboldens the UCP “base” and gives them an excuse to feel picked on will, inevitably have repercussions.

    Still…if it’s the only way to drag Kenney & the Klowns into the 21st century, it’s gotta be worth trying.

  8. Carlos

    July 12th, 2021

    Not sure what else to expect when the government is definitely composed of a bunch of idiots.

  9. Bret Larson

    July 12th, 2021

    “Does this sound like the right moment for the Alberta Government – pleading post-pandemic poverty after losing billions to corporate tax cuts, bad bets and giveaways – to demand across-the-board retroactive wage rollbacks from Alberta’s more than 30,000 public sector nurses?”

    The perfect time would have been 6 years ago. Now will have to do.

    “As previously reported, Canada can expect a shortage of 60,000 nurses next year. Hospitals in Ontario are already offering bonuses as high as $75,000 to nurses who will come from out of province to work for them. Nearby provinces are signing collective agreements with nurses’ unions that contain modest pay increases.”

    And it seems like the perfect time for nurses too as sounds like they have alot of opportunities.

    • Just Me

      July 13th, 2021

      Opportunities…but not in Alberta.

      Of course, your typical Albertan knuckle-dragger prefers the treatments provided by grifting chiropractors and charismatic evangelical faith healers.

      “Be touched by the ‘Blood of Christ’ and the satanic COVID will be cast out. CAST OUT! BE GONE DEVIL’S POWER!!”

      The United Clown Party’s solution to everything is more stupid.

      • Bret Larson

        July 14th, 2021

        Biased against religious people and elitist dreams. Must be a dipper.

        • Athabascan

          July 14th, 2021

          Name calling, really?

          Ok, how about this: Biased against science, rationality, and compassion. Must be a conservative.

  10. ayeamaye

    July 12th, 2021

    So our illustrious Premier gleefully channeling ” Geech Dingum ” to flip his flapjacks at the best Premier Breakfast at the best stampede in the best summer ever is also doing a pretty good Ralph Klein impersonation. It’s more like a cowboy Ventriloquist Ralph Klein with a cowboy dummy Jason Kenney sitting on his knee.

    When you start your mandate by cutting the corporate tax rate and starting numerous expensive grifts it’s pretty hard to make the case for austerity. The UCP tough guys have no intention of barganing in good faith because they will use Alberta’s flawed labour laws to legislate any job actions with injunctions and monetary penalties.

    The UCP strategy seems to be the usual pandering to the base. After bungling every other file he now wants to appear tough on organized labour and the nurses just happen to be the first in their sights. Worst Premier of the worst party Alberta could have. It’s just hard to picture Geech Dingum as a tough guy.

  11. Scotty on Denman

    July 12th, 2021

    It really is astonishing how the UCP is making a mess of healthcare during a pandemic—until, that is, you realize it’s been making a mess of everything all along (electoral policy, climate-change and environmental policy, federal and interprovincial relations, &c.), that it never did, despite its rhetoric, adhere to strict market-fundamentalism (and, even then, its professed neoliberalism is salted with enough contradictory social conservatism to crystallize back-bacon), and that there isn’t a single communitarian aspect to UCP bullshit anyway, nothing truly conservative in the old Tory sense—just ask Adam Smith (who admitted that sovereignty must intervene in the ideal free market and potential excesses of capitalism for the state’s own political and strategic sake).

    Rather, the community the UCP thinks it represents and should be pandered to is a virtue-signalling cult captured shipboard at the event horizon of circumstance where and when a course can either steer away from or into a vortex it can thence no longer avoid. The UCP can prod dissenters off the plank or press them into free galley service, or recruit more privateers to brandish the Jolly Roger or Badge of Odin, but it won’t be able to pull out of it’s vicious, ill-fated spiral as lashed Friedman and Hayek thump around in a three-legged race on the poop hailing: “We seek the White Grail!”

    As the event horizon looms, zealous UCP rhetoric is foreboding for Alberta indeed! Albertans can either commandeer the tiller or swim for it. The question increasingly becomes: is there enough time left before it’s too late?

  12. Alan K. Spiller

    July 12th, 2021

    Here we go again, just like we knew it would with Reformer Jason Kenney being so proud of what Ralph Klein did to us. While Klein was closing hospitals, 1,500 hospital beds and cutting 5,000 nursing jobs, Klein’s father Phil said to me “Al what in the held is the matter with that son of mine. While he gives away billions in royalties he is forcing us into trying to live without a proper health care system. This could cost some people their lives.” Phil was right it did cost some people their lives, and one was almost my father.

    One guy told me that an uncle lost his life because of Klein. His family sued him and it was settled out of court, behind closed doors, under a gag order, so Albertans couldn’t find out what it cost taxpayers. They weren’t allowed to tell him but he knew it was lots because they went from being dirt poor farmers to Beverly Hillbilly types.

    • Anonymous

      July 13th, 2021

      ALAN K. SPILLER: Albertans certainly have been duped by Ralph Klein, and they also have been duped by the UCP. When will they ever learn?

  13. brett

    July 12th, 2021

    This is exactly what I do not understand about the Kenney Gov’t cancelling the physicians or their clumsy bargaining attempt that suggests a pay cut for RN’s.

    The people who will be hurt by these foolish acts are the exact same people who support the UCP through thick and thin.

    What on earth is going on with the ‘gang than cannot shoot straight’

    My only thought is that they are trying to outdo their Federal cousins in political stupidity.

  14. Bruce Turton

    July 12th, 2021

    From Loralee Martin: Some perspective – 5% rollback in nurses salary takes them back to 2010. MLA’s made $52,000 a year in 2010, and now they get $121,000/annum, plus a bunch of expenses. Teachers have no gains in income in 10 years! How about Kenney and group go back like they want the nurses to do!
    Thanks Loralee for this “perspective”!

  15. pogo

    July 12th, 2021

    I have nothing good to say about Jason Kenny and his simulacrum of governance. According to my Grandmother? I Should remain mute. So I will only hope that some can hear.

  16. Em

    July 12th, 2021

    Thank you so much for some enlightened logic in the midst of this brainwashed province where Kenney only has to wear a cowboy hat and hug an oil barrel to get elected. Risking our lives every day at the bedside is now completely forgotten by the province.

  17. Just Me

    July 13th, 2021

    What is the one thing that can be counted on by those who govern Alberta?

    They hate the place, and they intend to leave ASAP.

    It’s hard to find anyone who is *really* from Alberta. Kenney is a carpetbagger from Saskatchewan, who managed to scam his way into a career in federal politics from an Alberta riding. Judging by his antics, and those of the recently lavishly rewarded members of the UCP caucus, he has no intention of remaining in Alberta past the next eighteen months. Of course, he’s praying for Erin O’Toole to lead the CPC to victory, so Kenney can jump back into Ottawa (his real home) and play in a much bigger pond. And even if O’Toole falls flat on his face, Kenney will go into his Captain Canada mode, declare he’s on a mission to save Canada, and run from Alberta as if it was a crime scene.

    There’s a sweet riding in Regina just waiting for his patronage, so it’s not like he doesn’t have an exit strategy.

  18. Dave

    July 13th, 2021

    This reminds me a bit of when the PC’S cut health care funding. However, the PC’s generally later reversed themselves somewhat, usually in anticipation of an election. Kenney, the UCP cabinet and perhaps the UCP caucus behind him, don’t show any signs so far of backing down yet. Although, on occasion I have noticed public and other pressure can get to them.

    My observation is politicians can get away with this sometimes for a while, as most voters do not deal with the healthcare system often, so do not experience first hand the impacts of this. However, if it starts to get difficult to get medical care for more common issues, the public may start to blame the government. Also, if this gets linked in the news to people suffering due to lack of care, this can become a bigger issue.


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