We interrupt our regular programming—the PC spin on the cause of the $4 billion budget shortfall—to bring you an important public service announcement from the Premier-In-Waiting, Mr Lukaszuk.
Mr Lukaszuk steps up to the microphone and says: Listen up you pesky union types, and this includes all you doctors who aren’t in a union but who cares, from now on all collective bargaining will go through me. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.
OK he wasn’t quite that blunt, but that was the gist of it.
Last week Mr Lukaszuk announced that a newly created cabinet committee will analyse, scrutinize and negotiate every single collective bargaining agreement in the province. A lead negotiator will be appointed soon.
Mr Lukaszuk gave four reasons for this bizarre move. The Cabinet Bargaining Committee, chaired by Mr Lukaszuk of course, will: (1) provide a co-ordinated approach to offset changes in ministries and fluctuating conditions, (2) make the government’s costs more predictable, (3) make the government more prudent when it negotiates a settlement and (4) allow for “fairness” by “treating all public sector employees equally.”*
They say the devil is in the details, but in this case the devil is in the broad strokes because Mr Lukaszuk’s rationale makes absolutely no sense. Let’s break it down:
Co-ordination? Yes there’s a sense of dislocation (and sometimes relief) when a minister leaves a ministry, but surely the institutional knowledge in that ministry, starting with the deputy minister and percolating all the way down to the mail room clerk, doesn’t vapourize with the defunct Minister. Fluctuating conditions? I’m not sure what this refers to but if it’s the impact of a healthy or weak economy on pay scales, what’s the Committee going to do about it?
Predictability? Grafting the Cabinet Bargaining Committee onto the collective bargaining process does nothing to make the government’s costs more predictable. A better approach would be to follow the private sector example–plan for contract negotiations at least a year in advance, identify the contentious issues, forecast the anticipated monetary impact and develop a game plan. This is called a union strategy and it’s high time the government developed one.
Prudency? Frankly I have no idea what this means and would challenge the government to give us an example of an imprudent settlement.
Fairness and equality? Fairness means free from discrimination or bias—does this mean that all unions will be treated the same? Equality means being equal in quantity and amount—does this mean all increases will be the same? Really???
How will the Committee evaluate and compare non-monetary demands like the Alberta Medical Association’s demand for joint decision making and the Alberta Teachers Association’s demand for a cap on teaching hours at 1200/year?
OK maybe that was too hard. Let’s take an easier example. How will the Committee equalize monetary demands? Should all pay increases be the same, say 8.1%; that would be consistent with the 8.1% pay increase the MLAs gave themselves recently.** Or if 8.1% is too high, Mr Lukaszuk’s Committee could roll back the MLAs’ increase as a gesture of good faith (stop laughing!).
All this talk about co-ordination and prudency is PR puffery. While Mr Lukaszuk is extolling the value of the Cabinet Bargaining Committee vetting every single collective agreement his colleague Jeff Johnson, the Education Minister, is urging the teachers to settle their contract in the next 10 days. Either Mr Johnson is blithely unaware of Mr Lukaszuk’s edict that all settlements must run through the Committee or he doesn’t want to get bogged down in more red tape.
There is only one reason for Mr Lukaszuk’s Cabinet Bargaining Committee. The Premier is in trouble. She says the $4 billion budget deficit as a “spending” problem, not a “revenue” problem. Since she’s not about to restructure her revenue model the only way she can reduce the deficit is to make deep cuts in the public sector. And she doesn’t think her ministers are up to the task.
She’s right about Health Minister Horne. He’s botched the negotiations with the doctors so badly that the parties are barely on speaking terms. Ms Redford is peering into the deficit gloom and sees the United Nurses of Alberta and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees on the horizon. These are well organized unions with very capable leaders.
Ms Redford is cornered and needs the Deputy Premier to knock a few heads together. Mr Lukaszuk is in the catbird seat. He knows that if he delivers the unions on a silver platter the word “Deputy” might drop from his job description and if he doesn’t, it was all Ms Redford’s fault.
Either way, it’s going to be a brutal year for Albertans.
*Calgary Herald, Feb 23, 2013, A4
**MLAs doubled their taxpayer-paid annual RRSP contribution from $11,485 to $22,331
I am sure you are right on, a brutal year and then some but we had our chance last election and bypassed the chance and I think by time the next election comes voters will have had it with right wing politics and even the WR will not be an alternative and then what.
Agreed. We missed a big opportunity in the last election. I think the province is swinging more to the right and there will be more PC defections to the WR. If the PCs continue to go after the teachers and the doctors instead of trimming corporate welfare there may be a small uptick in the progressive/left camp but it won’t be enough to make a major difference.
Interesting news. I have been trying to not pay attention to this government anymore as it is naturally horrible for me to witness destruction of any kind but especially when it involves something as dear as our own province’s prospects and the future of our children and grandchildren. It is hard enough to watch day in and day out countries like Syria, Mali … being destroyed by predators taking advantage of vulnerable people without any resources and obviously very weak in face of what they have to do to stay alive. Here, where we have the resources, educated people and a fairly rich society, we fall to greed, arrogance and incompetence. It is completely mind boggling. Can we not sit down and do what we have to do to get our affairs in order? Is this so difficult that a lawyer like Alison Redford, apparently with a resume longer than a bathroom paper roll do better than what they are doing?
I always thought that in order to lead a committee one does not have to be a genius but certainly has to have some very important basic skills and in special some character. I would like to understand why Lukaszuk. Alison Redford had no one else other than this guy. Amazing. It just shows how naive and unskilled this premier is. This is one more screw up and it is going to show soon, of that I have no doubts. Let us just wait and see. How can Lukaszuk deal with issues of ‘predictability’, ‘coordination’, ‘fairness’ and ‘prudency’? Can someone explain to me how a person that has shown clearly that he does not fully understand any of those, be able to do anything about it? It is truly mind boggling. This man has been the best example of umpredictability in the caucus, I will not touch fairness and prudency! WOW, it is going to be a fully wasted 4 years.
Carlos, I agree…the future looks bleak. I just read the government’s press release about the teachers rejecting the Education Minister’s offer. Then I looked at the ATA website where they said the offer was worse than what they were offered in Nov 2012 (same thing happened to the doctors) and was accompanied by a “veiled threat” to roll back salaries and cut teachers. Nothing like intimidation to make people feel like cooperating. The ATA also said that the Minister’s decision to review potential settlements slowed down the process. If one minister slows down the process the Lukaszuk cabinet committee will bring it to a grinding halt.
They say that sometimes you have to hit bottom before you realize exactly how bad things are. Are we there yet?
I think the 8 dot something mla raise will be the start of some type of anarchy when they try manhandling folk’s lively hoods all hell will break loose and hitting bottom will be when everyone is getting hit in the pocket book.