The Alberta Federation of Labour’s Litmus Test for Alberta’s Opposition Parties

“Sometimes telling the truth hurts…and it will hurt here.”—Rob Anderson, Wildrose MLA at the Alberta Federation of Labour Conference in response to a question about the legal right to strike*

The Alberta Federation of Labour held a two day conference this weekend in Calgary. Ms Soapbox was extremely fortunate to receive an invitation to hear Rob Anderson (Wildrose), Deron Bilous (NDP) and Dr David Swann (Liberal) speak at a panel on “Alberta Political Parties’ Vision for Labour and Working People.”

Mr Anderson

Apparently, the Progressive Conservatives were also invited but Premier Hancock was busy and none of the 60-odd PC MLAs were able to attend in his place. Pity.

The litmus test

The litmus test is a metaphor for questions asked of political candidates for high office. The trick is to get the question right and to keep digging if you get a slippery answer. The Alberta Federation of Labour and its moderator, Bob Hawkeworth, made it look easy.

The result was an engaging discussion on issues that are critical to all Albertans. Here are the highlights:

Revenue generation? The Wildrose is satisfied with the existing royalty and tax structure. Its focus is the elimination of corporate welfare ($2 billion to Shell’s carbon capture and storage project) and wasteful spending ($1 billion in sole sourced contracts at Alberta Health Services). The Wildrose is banking on a $5 to $6 billion royalty “bonanza” to buttress the revenue side of the ledger in coming years.

Dr Swann

The Liberals and NDs on the other hand are not content to stay with the PC government’s boom/bust revenue model. They’d take bold steps to increase revenues by revisiting existing royalty and tax structures. Dr Swann noted said that royalties should be closer to 25% not 9%, while Mr Bilous pushed for a “competitive royalty”. Both parties are in favour of progressive taxation.

Private delivery of public services? The NDs would never allow the private sector to deliver public services and would reverse all past privatization decisions. The Liberals support publicly delivered services, but may allow private delivery where it is too difficult to revert back to public delivery.

After a (Freudian?) slip of the tongue, Mr Anderson said the Wildrose supports public service delivery and would allow private service delivery only if it is based on a solid business case. Forgive me for being skeptical, but I don’t recall the Wildrose making much of a fuss over the PC government’s decision to privatize all lab services in the Edmonton area.  

Labour’s success in reversing governmental policy? The moderator, Mr Hawkesworth, wondered about labour’s role in getting the PC government to delay or reverse its stance on pensions, the elimination of compulsory arbitration and penalizing anyone who even whispered the word “strike”.

Mr Bilous

The Wildrose attributed this about-face to the unions’ efforts to educate politicians so MLAs could effectively oppose these anti-labour measures in the Legislature. The Liberals and the NDs gave credit to the unions for massive demonstrations protesting the legislation and, in the words of Mr Bilous, scaring the PC backbenchers sh**tless.

While these were important activities, let’s not kid ourselves. The PCs were not shamed into dropping their anti-labour agenda by the unions or the opposition. The government did not back down until the courts slammed Bill 45 for being unconstitutional. That, plus Ms Redford’s fall from grace, created such political chaos that the PC government could not risk any further political fallout.  

Labour and politics

Tory Behemoth

All of the political parties want labour’s support. Dr Swann pointed out that the Tories and the Wildrose would split the vote on the right and urged the Liberals, NDs and labour to work together to take down the “Tory behemoth” (I’m sure he meant the mythical beast not the Polish band).

Mr Bilous reminded everyone that the NDs and labour share the same priorities and that now was the time for labour and the NDs to work together to bring about a change in government.

Mr Anderson stressed that government must be humble and respect labour. He said the Wildrose respects the Rule of Law and the unions’ right to bargain in good faith and promised to repeal all of the PC government’s anti-labour legislation if they were elected in 2016.   

Who do we trust?

According to Calgary pollster Janet Brown, the PC party is crumbling right before our eyes. They may be down to eight seats in the next election.**One can only hope! So the question is this: who do you trust to replace them? And can they elect enough MLAs to make a difference?

It’s a given that labour will support the NDs, however the likelihood of a majority (or even minority) ND government is slim. Consequently organized labour should ask itself some critical questions. Does the Wildrose really mean what it says? Should the Liberals and the NDs cooperate to increase the chance of sending candidates who support labour to the Legislature?  What’s the best use of labour’s influence and resources?

Remember, the PCs are an arrogant and disrespectful government. Unless they lose their majority government status they will return in 2016 to finish the job they’ve started—restructuring labour markets in ways that harm organized labour and ultimately all Albertans.***

That would be beyond tragic.

*Please check video to verify exact language, this is what I scribbled down

** Comment by Gil McGowen at AFL conference

**Thank you Harry for giving me your conference materials, including the Executive Summary of “On the Job—Why Unions Matter in Alberta”

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6 Responses to The Alberta Federation of Labour’s Litmus Test for Alberta’s Opposition Parties

  1. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan thank you for your summary on what happened at the Alberta Federation of Labour Conference.
    The fact that the Conservatives were not represented is not new and it just shows that the disrespect and arrogance continues. They never show up anywhere other than the ones organized by the PC Party. They know it all of course. They would never participate in event organized by labour anyway – are you kidding? That pestilent species!!
    The Wildrose happy with the current tax and royalty structure it is also not surprising. They are a corporatist party and improving businesses advantage is why they exist. All the cheap talk about Alberta and the people of Alberta is just the whip cream. Their support for private services with a solid business case for Health Care is just the nice catch phrase to get the votes. I have to confess that here I expect them to do what the Federal Government has done for the last 8 years – NOTHING. They know it is a hot potato and so why touch it and get burned, just let it continue until it implodes and then implement whatever they want because by that time things will be so bad that anything private or not is better than what we will have.
    The Liberals not touching anything that is too difficult to change back from private to public funded is not surprising. I have never understood what their real policies are and I think that is deliberately done so that they can go either way depending on the polls. At the Federal level Jean Chretien never really defined was his position was in terms of health care. What is annoying about these positions is that it does not educate the citizens and it does not create a stable environment for those working in the Health Care System. It is time that people define what their policies are and when time comes show us what exactly a solid business plan means. Not like the lab disaster that seems to be more of a monopolization of services by a private company rather than government.
    As far as the NDP and their relationship with labour again it is not surprising at all. If the corporate world donates billions for the right wing parties to serve them, labour does the same on the left side of politics. Here I think that the NDP would benefit a lot by creating a party completely independent from labour and be a more progressive party and join forces with the Liberal party. Of course we have discussed this here and it does not seem a viable alternative and so the next election will be more of the same. The right wing will continue letting billions fly into the coffers of oil companies, corporate taxes will be lowered and more cuts to pay for them and Albertans will continue hoping for better management of their province which really is not a concern of the party in power.

    • Carlos, I was intrigued by your comment that the NDs should consider creating a party completely independent from labour and joining with the Liberals. I believe that both David Swann and Kent Hehr tried to engage with the NDs at different times but didn’t succeed. And somehow along the way another party–the Alberta Party–was formed. So that tells me there are disgruntled people all over the place trying to find a workable solution. My fear is that all this fiddling around on the fringes diverts people and resources from building the parties that exist now. I’ve been to a few Wildrose events and believe me, they expect to make a very good showing in 2016.

  2. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan you have mentioned a couple of times before that the Liberal party has tried to engage the NDP and it was not successful but I still think that it is possible especially now that Brian Mason is leaving the leadership. I respect Brian tremendously but I always felt that the party is too close to labour for their own good. I believe that in the future parties that are too close to corporate interests or labour will not do well.
    I understand your concern about the weakening of the existing progressive parties but I think that in my opinion that is only because of the voting system which favours voter concentration. I am way more concerned with changing the electoral system and the implementation of the subsidized per vote system that Jean Chretien created based on European models, which I believe to be fairer than expecting that regular people can actually support a party like the corporate elite does. That is the Main reason the Alberta Party has struggled and continues to. It is almost impossible to financially support a viable party with just the money that the regulat person can afford to donate. Furthermore people are so fed up with political parties that they do not trust them anymore. So it is a real problem to change the status quo. The only reason the Wildrose is doing well is because they get a lot of money from the corporate world.
    So an alliance between the Liberals and the NDP would be one possible solution and to me the most likely to succeed in the possible split of the right wing vote. That is the way Harper got in and with the stinky Post Past system they have a majority with 39% of the total vote.

    • Carlos, very good observations. You’re absolutely right that Brian Mason has been steadfast in his opposition to any sort of merger or cooperation with the Liberals and that there may be an opportunity to explore this further with the new leader. I have no idea where David Eggen stands on this issue. I understand from a friend who has been close to the NDs that Rachel Notley is in the same camp as Brian Mason (which is unfortunate). I assume that Gil McGowen may be more receptive to the idea given that the unions made an effort to push the NDs in this direction a few years ago. It will be interesting to see whether Rachel or Gil enter the leadership race. Speaking of the ND leadership race it’s interesting to note that the ND leadership race requires a non-refundable $5,000 deposit while the PCs required 10 times that amount. The limit on ND candidate spending is $100,000 whereas the PC leadership candidates are expected to spend in the range of $1 million. And the PCs call themselves fiscally prudent. Hah!

  3. Carlos Beca says:

    Well Susan the concept of fiscally prudent is in the eye of the beholder. To a person like Alison Redford fiscal prudence is what I call bankruptcy.
    1 million dollars for people like Prentice that made 3 million a year is not a big deal really. Now for the average Canadian family making 40 thousand a year that is money one can only imagine by wining a lottery.
    1 million dollars for a person like Katz with a fortune of almost 4 billion now is ……. pocket change.

    I think that what you mention about the difference of 100 thousand versus 1 million is just another example of how degenerate we are in terms of democratic values. Fair elections in Canada today means anything but fair. To me, considering the voting system we have, it means a waste of time and money especially in provinces like Alberta where the oild money soaks the right wing parties.

  4. Pingback: The Alberta Federation of Labour’s Litmus Test for Alberta’s Opposition Parties | tdhssp's Blog

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