“Public services are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” – Protest cheer
Ms Soapbox, her husband and her good friend from Edmonton joined the public school teachers, healthcare workers, and deeply concerned Albertans at the huge rally outside the Westin Hotel where the UCP were holding their AGM.
Over 1000 people showed up on a bitterly cold Saturday to protest the UCP’s budget cuts and loss of public sector jobs.
While the UCP delegates debated the wording of various policy proposals*—should parents be the major stakeholder in a child’s education (yes), should Alberta uphold the principles of the Canada Health Act (no)—the protesters listened to speakers, shared their stories, and marched around the hotel taking care not to set foot on hotel property because heaven forbid they got too close to the UCP members gathered inside.
Jason Kenney blew off the demonstration, saying if people weren’t protesting, he wasn’t doing his job properly.
This was a dangerous mistake on his part because Albertans will not stand by while he bulldozes public services in the name of free market conservatism.
Every protester represents at least five like-minded Albertans who were unable to attend the rally. These people will make their UCP MLAs’ lives a misery as the impact of these cuts are felt in their individual ridings.
And these MLAs (who Mr Kenney described as the most talented and competent and impressive caucus and cabinet he’d ever had the honour of serving with) will have nothing to say in defence of Mr Kenney’s Grand Plan.
Why? Because Mr Kenney offered nothing to alleviate the suffering and turmoil that will result from his austerity budget. In his AGM speech Mr Kenney said:
- Let’s put the budget cuts into perspective. It’s just a “modest 2.8% reduction” in operating costs over 4 years. Mel McMillan, professor emeritus, Dept of Economics U of A says the real cut is 14.7% when you factor in inflation and population growth.
- The UCP is keeping its promise to protect healthcare and education; the healthcare budget is increasing and the education budget is flat. How does he explain the loss of 500 FTE nursing jobs (this equates to 750 nurses), 1000 HSAA healthcare workers jobs, 300 public school teaching jobs in Calgary alone, 200 U of C jobs, and between 4,900 to 5,900 AUPE full time jobs lost by 2023?
- Mr Kenney will deploy every legal, economic and constitutional tool at his disposal to get a fair deal from Canada. Fine, but any plan to wring more money out of the feds that involves amending the constitution requires the support of other provinces and any plan involving litigation triggers the judicial process. Both will take years and are no help to an unemployed Albertan today.
- The Fair Deal Panel will come up with solutions. It’s considering opting out of federal programs and replacing federal services with Alberta’s own tax collection services, RCMP, and APP. Not only does this duplicate existing federal services and increase our costs, it will take years to accomplish, once again doing nothing for the unemployed Albertan banging on his MLA’s door.
- In 1905 when Alberta became a province someone produced a document entitled “The Province and People of Destiny.” It said Alberta “is destined to become the brightest gem in great empire that encircles the world.” A land of opportunity for “every kind of effort and enterprise.” Mr Kenney said we’ll get through this because “we are and always will be that province and people of destiny.” Flowery words, but of no use whatsoever to an unemployed oil worker and his unemployed partner, a nurse, and their children who’ve lost their teachers and are struggling to learn in overcrowded classrooms.
When the UCP MLAs looked out the window and saw hundreds and hundreds of us streaming by they should have felt a shiver run down their spines because their leader has given them an impossible task: defend the austerity budget (which further increased unemployment by attacking the public sector) with a pipedream that depends on bullying the federal government and other provinces into bailing Alberta out until the oil boom returns. And if that doesn’t cut it the MLAs can fall back on Mr Kenney’s platitude that Albertans are people of destiny who can get through this because Mr Kenney says they can.
Given a choice between Jason Kenney’s UCP who imposed a brutal austerity budget and thinks it can fix the economy by bluffing the feds and provinces into bailing it out, and Rachel Notley’s NDP who implemented the sustainable economic policies and caring social programs we need to carry us into the future, who do you think we’ll vote for in 2023?
*With thanks to @kieranleavitt and @MBellefontaine who provided live Tweet coverage of the UCP AGM