“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.”
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.
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”.
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
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”