In 2020, while other governments fought COVID-19, Kenney fought Albertans
By the Alberta Federation of Labour
A look back on the Kenney UCP government’s damage to Alberta
We know the Kenney UCP government came in with a plan to reward their donors, cut our public services and privatize health care and education. They commissioned reports like Janice MacKinnon’s Blue Ribbon Panel and a report from Ernst & Young Consultants on health care, both of which called for significant cuts to public spending to justify their austerity budget. This was a budget they passed last March, even after the World Health Organization had already declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
The year 2020 will go down in history as the year the COVID-19 pandemic hit most of the world and the responses of governments will no doubt be analyzed for years to come as we try to learn from our mistakes. And what we see in Alberta, as it now leads Canada’s second wave of COVID infections, is that the UCP government continued to put their political and ideological interests ahead of the interests of Alberta’s economic recovery and Albertan’s lives.
It’s clear now that the Kenney government is more worried about politics and narrow economic interests, than listening to expert public health advice. And Albertans are now paying the price. If Kenney had listened to doctors, health care workers and unions when they called for a “circuit breaker lockdown” in early November, thousands of infections, and potential hundreds of deaths, could have been avoided.
But Kenney didn’t just fail Albertans by ignoring expert advice – he also failed them by cutting funding during a pandemic; refusing to support paid sick leave; neglecting to adequately fund contact tracing; being the only Premier to refuse to adopt the federal COVID-19 app; and by standing in the way of federal ‘hero pay’ wage top ups that were supposed to be distributed to frontline health care workers.
The year began with the UCP ending benefits for spouses and dependents of seniors under the Seniors Drug Benefit Program cutting an estimated 60,000 Albertans off of drug coverage. Then, billing changes for doctors came into effect, cutting doctor’s fees by $400 million. The UCP refused to negotiate with doctors and Alberta began to lose doctors in droves, especially from rural communities. The UCP continued to aggressively engage in bad-faith bargaining, cancel contracts (for example, radiologists) and lay off health care staff even as the pandemic set in. The latest UCP cuts announcement: 11,000 health care jobs will be cut including 2,000 laboratory jobs, 4,000 housekeeping jobs, 3,000 food service jobs, and 400 laundry jobs. Plus, 800 nurse and doctor staff jobs will be lost through attrition. They are planning these cuts for next April, presumably after the pandemic, as a ‘thank you for risking your lives’ lay off notice.
Additionally, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta said 850 full-time jobs were at risk, while United Nurses of Alberta received a letter about 500 full-time positions that would be gone by 2023.
Education, post-secondary education, child care
As in health care, the funding cuts and freezes to education began in 2019, as did the ideological curriculum reviews. Additionally, instead of helping workers weather the pandemic, the UCP took advantage of the COVID-19 lockdown to force 20,000 layoffs of K-12 education workers in what became Canada’s biggest pink-slip binge. The people laid off were education assistants, drivers, secretaries and other support staff, and many of them were working on the complex business of setting up home learning and actually delivering it.
In the spring budget, post-secondary education funding was cut 6.3 per cent which has led to many layoffs, restructuring and tuition increases. It is clear this is an agenda to privatize education.
While other provinces recognized that child care was needed for essential workers and offered free child care during the first wave of COVID-19, the UCP offered no such support and instead, cut child care programs, which increased fees, and removed accreditation regulations. The UCP failures are also in stark contrast to the federal government’s commitment to funding child care as a key component to any economic recovery.
Social programs, parks and environment
One of the UCP’s most heartbreaking cuts to social programs was the closing of the supervised drug consumption sites, which has no doubt lead to the deaths of many Albertans struggling with addictions. Other shocking UCP social service policies include the cuts they imposed to family services, AISH and various low-income supports, treatment centres. The cruelty of the Kenney UCP government cuts is in these areas is unprecedented in Alberta history.
In the parks and environment category, the UCP plans on de-listing 175 sites from the Alberta Parks system. Conservationists say that once parks lose their protected area status they are not protected and are open to industrial and commercial uses. This appears to be the plan as the UCP also rescinded the decades-old policy that banned open-pit coal mines. It also came to light that the UCP government plans to rewrite water use rules along the Rockies, removing barriers that will help industrial users like coal and risking drinking water for about a million people in southern Alberta.
Worker rights and safety
In July, the UCP rammed through Bill 32, the so-called Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act, an undemocratic, anti-worker law that will enact sweeping regressive changes to the rights and protections available to working Albertans.
The Bill 32 changes to the Labour Relations Code, for union workers, seek to damage the relationship between unions and their members and undermine workers’ ability to bargain. It’s also an effort to defund progressive campaigns that push for things like Pharmacare, Universal Child Care and speak out against Kenney’s cuts. It adds red tape and increases the involvement of the Labour Relations Board in day-to-day affairs, making strikes more difficult and limiting workers from picketing. It also adds to the unconstitutional Bill 1, which will limit the ability of citizens to protest by also limiting how and where workers can picket.
The Bill 32 Employment Standards Code changes, for non-union workers, are about tipping the scales in favour of employers, lowering employees’ pay and benefits and increasing a lower-wage workforce. These changes include forced averaging “arrangements” for less overtime pay, less notice for shift changes, less layoff pay and relaxing the safety work permit rules for 13 and 14-year-olds.
In November, the UCP followed with another omnibus bill, Bill 47, the so-called Ensuring Safety and Cutting Red Tape Act, which hollows out basically every major component of a good workplace health and safety system and also restricts access for injured workers to recover and start working again. Bill 47 rolls back workers’ compensation hurting injured workers in many ways, including limiting presumptive coverage for psychological injuries, removing the requirement for employers to rehire injured workers once they are well and continue health and dental benefits when an injured worker is on a WCB claim. It also changes Occupational Health and Safety rules to limit a worker’s ability to refuse unsafe work by changing the language, adding extra steps to the process and removing worker representation in the investigation.
There has been much more UCP damage, including trying to take control of Albertan’s pensions, downloading costs to rural communities and cities, allowing insurance companies to hike Albertan’s insurance rates… There are too many to list here but check out our Kenney Cuts Tracker. And if we missed anything, please submit a cut. And if you’d like, join us and take the pledge to Stand up to Kenney. (AFL)