Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, at right, walks back the plan to end COVID testing and tracing in Alberta at yesterday’s news conference (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Friday the 13th appears to have lived up to its unlucky reputation for Alberta’s Kenney Government. 

Even before the fateful date arrived yesterday, the United Conservative Party strategic brain trust had concluded it would be a good time to walk back its risky July 28 decision to ignore the Delta variant and announce instead it would put off dropping COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation until late September. 

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange at the same event (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Don’t get me wrong, this is good news. But the government had to know the original decision didn’t reflect well on it, and, no matter what excuses it made or explanations it offered, Albertans were going to be reminded of that misstep when the news broke. 

This probably explains the Friday timing of what in normally would be considered a good news story, worthy of a serious publicity effort near at the start of a week. It was also the likely reason the newser was hosted by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, who emphasized what else is being done “to further promote a safe school year,” such as it is.

Nevertheless, the news coverage that followed focused on, as the Edmonton Journal’s reporter put it, how “Alberta is delaying its much-criticized plan to end routine COVID-19 testing and mandatory isolation this month until Sept 27.”

This must have been embarrassing after all the effort UCP issues managers like Matt Wolf put into assailing anyone who criticized the July 28 plan as “lockdown zealots,” “armchair quarterbacks,” and wholesalers of “fear porn,” not to mention his repeated accusation that “some just don’t want the pandemic to end!”

After all that work, the pushback from parents must have been fierce to persuade the government to pivot and take seriously rising hospitalizations here and the many children sickened by COVID south of the Medicine Line as the Delta variant rampages through the Lower 48.

“Given this emerging evidence, I want to further monitor these trends,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw told the news conference, nevertheless downplaying the danger to unvaccinated children in Alberta. 

It doesn’t appear to have occurred to any of the government’s issues managers, however, that an issue requiring management might come out of bargaining with the United Nurses of Alberta scheduled yesterday. 

Premier Jason Kenney’s Issues Manager, Matt Wolf (Photo: Facebook).

So it was probably an unpleasant surprise when a UNA news release revealed that Alberta Health Services has been in discussions with a nurse recruiting agency in Toronto, Greenstaff Medical Canada, to hire temporary nurses and pay them more than is now paid to the nurses from whom AHS is demanding significant wage rollbacks. 

This scheme is not going to be well received by the thousands of nurses represented by the union who are already angry at the government’s demand for 3-per-cent retroactive across-the-board pay cut and other monetary rollbacks that will cut at least another 2 per cent from the pay of most nurses.

On Wednesday, nurses at about 40 worksites across the province held information pickets to protest AHS demands for rollbacks – which are based on directives from the UCP government – and the chronic staff shortages that are leaving many burned out and exhausted. 

So the advertisements from nursing agencies now appearing online certainly undermine the government’s repeated claims nursing staff shortages plaguing Alberta hospitals are short term and mostly the result of summer holidays. The ads notwithstanding, AHS told media it’s only in “preliminary discussions” with Greenstaff Medical. 

United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“It’s outrageous that AHS, acting on the instructions of the Alberta government, is proposing to reduce the compensation of nurses that it already employs, and threatening to lay off hundreds more, while paying more to nurses hired by the Canadian arm of a multinational recruitment agency based in Texas,” said UNA Labour Relations Director David Harrigan in the union’s news release.

UNA President Heather Smith told the Edmonton Journal the plan was “beyond insulting.” 

The differences between what the agency proposes to pay contract nurses and the current pay of AHS nurses are dramatic – and they don’t include agency profit margins, so AHS would be paying even more. 

Ads for Greenstaff and Nurse Relief Inc. now found online show nurses from Ontario and other provinces are being offered up to $75 an hour to work in ICU and Emergency. Alberta nurses represented by UNA are paid between $36.86 and $48.37 an hour, which is at least 3 per cent too much according to Finance Minister Travis Toews. 

It’s hard to imagine Albertans, large numbers of whom revere the province’s nurses and the work they do, are going to like the idea of paying nurses from other provinces more while trying to cut the pay of nurses who live here and spend their money in Alberta! 

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

For his part, Mr. Toews issued a statement yesterday once again thanking Alberta nurses for their hard work, a sentiment not likely to win many hearts under the circumstances, and touting the employer’s request for an informal mediator. He urged both parties “to work together in good faith.” 

This is difficult for AHS to do, of course, when Mr. Toews is empowered by UCP legislation to require the employer to bargain in bad faith by giving its negotiators secret directives they may not describe or even acknowledge to the union.

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  1. Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Yet we continue to hear some of our fellow seniors bad mouthing doctors and nurses. In other words believing Kenney’s lies that they are overpaid.

    1. ALAN K. SPILLER: There are also younger people who believe the UCP’s lies. Their elderly relatives sure brainwashed them well. We know the UCP wants to privatize healthcare in Alberta, just like their hero Ralph Klein wanted to do. That’s why layoffs of all these nurses are eminent. Ralph Klein did that too. Janice MacKinnon was on the UCP’s Blue Ribbon Panel. She was an NDP MLA in Saskatchewan, who closed down rural hospitals. Ironically, the NDP government was mimicking Ralph Klein’s bad policies, to fix the big mess made by the conservative government in Saskatchewan. What a horrific mess the UCP made. Pretend conservatives and Reformers don’t help us one bit.

  2. Walked back again?

    Just when you think Premier Crying & Screaming Angry Midget has resolved that he is determined to show a spine and his giant pair of brass, he chickens out and walks his resolve back. He did hand the task of admitting the bad news to Dr. Hinshaw. It can now be confirmed that the wheels on that bus may have to go in for an overhaul once all this is over.

    There is a tasty rumor going around that the reimposition of restrictions occurred because it is believed there is will be an election call this Sunday. What if PMJT calls out CONs and Jason Kenney for being irresponsible when the fourth wave wreaks its havoc on Albertastan? Better can that call for “personal responsibility” because nobody listens to that b.s. anyway. There, crisis averted thanks to Kenney’s brilliant timing.

    Kenney is the one who endorsed and installed Erin O’Toole in the CPC’s leadership. This is the closest Kenney will get to being PM without having to actually run for the position himself. In the 2019 federal election, Premier Doug Ford was sidelined by Andrew Scheer and Kenney was called to work his special magic in Ontario. Campaigning in twenty-eight ridings, Kenney managed to lose twenty-seven of them. Kenney can only thank his stellar performance as “I Dunno, Some Guy From Alberta” in this electoral debacle. In the election’s aftermath, Scheer and Kenney declared victory in winning the popular vote. But this vote was overwhelmingly concentrated in Alberta and Saskatchewan and nowhere else, so I guess neither of them understood the importance of vote distribution. Oh, well.

    Best Summer Ever? It was nice knowing you.

  3. Further to another writer’s comment that CONs tend to attack and diminish the work — paid and unpaid — performed by women, I have no doubt that this is the mindset among the hyper-male ranks of the UCP and CPC. The respective leaderships of these parties are prone to wage a very real war on women at every turn.

    It should be noted that, while one by one, provinces are reaching agreements with Ottawa for a commitment to a national daycare strategy, Alberta has failed to step up as others join this laudable initiative.


    I suspect that even with the support of Ontario and Doug Ford, Kenney will stamp his feet and say, “No! Not me. Never!!”

    There is a fair bit of back and forth over the nature Kenney’s personal life over the last twenty or so years. Recently, there was a claim that keeps popping up that I believe is closer to the truth. Kenney is, what is described by the colloquialism, an incel.

    For those that don’t know, incel (involuntary celibate) is an offshoot of the so-called MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) movement. These two mindsets are rooted in the men’s rights movement nonsense that rears its ugly head from time to time. The one apparent commonality that these movements have is their misogyny and their fetishistic desire to act on it.

    Considering that Kenney and the UCP spend a lot of time and resources attacking public education and healthcare, two industries that employ substantial numbers of women, maybe it’s time to think of UCP policies as being a mirror of Jason Kenney’s attitudes toward women?

    Thinking back to an encounter with Kenney years ago, the one thing that struck me is that he always travels with an entourage of “bros”. Get the boys together and the fun starts, as well as the bad behaviour. This is Kenney’s world and he revels in it. What is the role of a woman in this world? To be a willing servant and subservient to the man’s will.

    Make no mistake about. The UCP failures are not always the result of simple incompetence. Those failures are about living inside Jason Kenney’s head.

  4. The UCP and Kenney just can’t seem to help themselves as they continue to stumble from one self inflicted crisis to the next – now from prematurely removing the least onerous COVID procedures and restrictions to recruiting casual and part time nurses to desperately try fill the shortage (they still deny exists) at higher rates of pay, while trying to argue the current full time ones are overpaid.

    Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad, if Kenney didn’t surround himself with so many like minded clones – hyper aggressive partisans, like Wolf. Effective communications is about persuading, not bludgeoning anyone who has doubt or other views to death. While there isn’t a great deal of diversity in the UCP and I suspect much of it is for show, people like Leela Aheer exist, although they seem to be pushed aside these days by a inside gang that is in full group think mode and perhaps desperately circling the wagons around the dear leader.

    So now we get Hinshaw trying to apologize and show contrition, something our Premier seems to be unable to do convincingly. I suppose he prefers to show up for the good news photo ops, unfortunately for him there are not that many these days.

    I am fairly certain Kenney (the rest are really just acting on his behalf here) is trying to provoke the nurses into action, in the hopes that if they do, this will create a negative reaction against them from the public. Perhaps, but few of Kenney’s gambles this year have turned out as well as he hoped. Most Albertans have at least some appreciation for the challenging circumstances faced by all health professionals over the last year or so, regardless how they feel about current pay rates for them.

    Mr. Wolf actually got it completely wrong – it is not that some Albertans don’t want the pandemic to end. We all want it to end. However, wanting something to happen is not the same as it actually happening. Unfortunately, this pandemic is stubbornly dragging on, despite all our hopes and efforts, even though we are all very tired of it by now. So, I believe once again this year, Kenney’s timing is totally off.

  5. Speaking to “just Me”, my husband just got a “personal” 2 page letter, printed both sides, apparently from Erin O’Toole but of course we all know this is his campaign workers, extolling all the virtues of the CPC along with a lengthy claim of what they are fighting for, on my husband’s behalf.

    Funny thing is, as the wife of this valuable voter, he never once mentioned me, nothing, nada! I can only assume that Erin’s staff didn’t realize that my husband has a Mrs/Ms in his life and she, as well as he, is on the voter’s list and that “she” has a record of voting in every federal election since she turned 21, which is a long, long time ago!

    My response is this: Dear CPC Party… you ignore me at your peril!

  6. Gradual but determined privatization of health services. We’ll end up paying more in order to pad the coffers of wealthy executives.

    This also appears as possible preparation to bring in replacements for laid off and locked out Alberta nurses. i.e. Scabs.

    1. Jimmy: further to your suspicion about the motives behind this move to engage agency nurses to work in Alberta, did you see those ads a few weeks ago for Security Guards to work in “labour relations” roles? In other words, it seems like someone is seeking to hire goon squads to terrorize workers on legal & constitutionally-protected strike.

  7. My sense is that the average UCP supporters that I interact with have reached the end of their tether with this group.

    Not just with Jason Kenney, but with the Party as well.

    Time will tell…next election is a long way off.

    I would think that Pierre Poilievre is very happy these days. Kenney has probably lost any chance of a successful run at the Conservative leadership.

    O’Toole has a good chance on not being successful in this election. The knives have been out for some time. The Party will punt him in a heartbeat.

    That may result in a Conservative Leadership contest early next year. Kenney will not be candidate, or at least a serious contender.

  8. The federal election is on! Looks like Kenney’s dream of leaving the Alberta backwater to rule the entire great dominion in 2023 have been derailed.

    Now it’s back to the drawing board. Kenney’s plan to restore Covid TTI is only partial. Let’s drop the pretense of our CMOH making these decisions. Schools are left on their own to deal with it, and won’t be notified of any child or adult in the schools who tests positive. And by the way, use your reserve funds to pay for all the extra Covid interventions. That’s what reserve funds are for, doncha know!

    What a few days it has been. Our federal Minister of Health expressed concern over the fourth wave of Covid in Alberta. Kenney balked. Now it turns out he knew she was right all along, as his caucus had been sitting on Covid projections from a B.C. group of experts for a week.

    We might want to refer to this point in Alberta’s history as the “let them eat sourdough waffles with blueberries” era (cake is so passé). Kenney has tossed a crumb to parents of children under 12. Will it be enough to keep them quiet until all Covid interventions are removed again on September 27, because “science” says the pandemic will really, for sure, end this time, as previously promised, as soon as the federal election is over? Doubt it.

    As for Kenney’s UCP and the nurses, the federal election is about to show Kenney what the people of Alberta really think of him. Bring it! Best. Autumn. Ever!

  9. Unfortunately the covid writing is on the wall for Albertans, many of them rural, over the next 4-6 weeks.

    It will be down to our rates of vaccination in those areas of the Province.

  10. It maybe that Jason and the gang are getting ready to privatize the nurses. This is step one. If nurses go on strike, they’ll be ready and then they’ll fire them all. Its so like B.C. and the el gordo act. Of course they’ll pay the private nurses $75 an hr. It helps them recruit.

    If the Alberta government is truly short of ICU nurses, you’d think they would do what other provinces have done over the years: paid their nurses to attend the courses to up grade. In some instances they were trained in their hospital they worked in.

    My take on this private “initiative” is there is more afoot than the government is telling the Nurses Union or the people of Alberta.

    Over the years governments have privatized hospital cleaning, maintenance, security, food services why not nurses. Its not about the money, well it is, its about the money the private sector can make off the public purse. My impression has always been Jason and his are fond of the american style of things and their conservatism is not unlike some American conservatives. What will be interesting to see is if these nurses have the qualifications required to do the job and will any be brought in from other countries.

    To the nurses of Alberta: B.C. is a nice place to live. Vancouver Island could always use more nurses and so could all sorts of other towns outside the lower mainland. Our premier announced new hospitals will be built.

  11. As the legal guardian of a son of Alberta, I have prevented this Pogo from many sayings. However, I grown tired of my duties and will now turn this moment over to a full blown Pogo! Howdee! Yay! I’m out of the stall! Yippeee Ki ayyy! Ya Hoo! My first act will be to post a song dedicated to Matt Fracking Wolfee! Here you go lil’ buddy! Meet the meat at 104st and Whyte avenue on Tuesday at 1 pm!

    1. Matt are you a graceless shirker? Or maybe a panty-waste? Pick one you useless consumer of air! Afraid of time in the care of nurses? I wonder frackin’ why!

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