Looming 'compassionate cuts' to Alberta budget worry nurse, teacher unions

Premier Rachel Notley issued a warning last week that the Alberta government plans to start compassionately cutting spending in the spring budget, and that has union leaders worried.

Presidents of both unions say NDP government should raise taxes rather than cut services

Premier Rachel Notley warned her government would start "compassionately" cutting spending in the upcoming budget at an event on Thursday. (CBC)

Alberta's teachers and nurses are concerned about looming spending cuts in the province.

Last week in a speech to the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Councils, Premier Rachel Notley warned the crowd her government plans to start compassionately cutting spending in the spring budget.

"Now is the point in the plan where the same steady approach that saw us through the recession is going to see us carefully and compassionately tighten our belts," she said.

Notley said the government plans to negotiate "common-sense agreements" with public sector unions, as it deals with a ballooning debt, which is expected to reach $71.1 billion by 2019-2020. 

The cuts are not good news for teachers right now, said Alberta Teachers' Association president Greg Jeffery.

"Class size is already a major concern for teachers across the province," he said, adding he's worried cuts could make the problem worse.

Nurse, teacher contract negotiations

Alberta teachers are set to begin contract negotiations in the new year.

"Teachers have been doing their part, however, in that regard," Jeffery said. "We have had five years of zero in the last six years in terms of salary increases, so there is an expectation from teachers that that trend be reversed as well."

Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses Alberta, said they are in contract negotiations with Alberta Health Services right now.

Smith said the province should take a serious look at its revenue streams.

"As long as we continue on the boom-bust and again being vulnerable to the commodity markets, we are going to continually be in this cycle at looking at saving dollars on the backs of public sector workers," Smith said.

"I just do not believe that that's appropriate, nor is it appropriate to diminish services to the people of this province."

Both Smith and Jeffery said the province should consider raising taxes instead.

With files from Jennifer Lee