Alberta's public sector could benefit from efforts to control spending, premier says
'It's pretty clear that we're going to see a full-frontal attack on the public sector,' Deron Bilous says
Premier Jason Kenney suggested on Wednesday that public sector workers could benefit when the government takes measures to get its debt and deficit under control.
In a news conference to highlight the United Conservative Party's first 100 days in office, Kenney deflected questions from reporters about whether nurses, teachers and other government workers could expect job cuts or wage rollbacks this fall.
"It's always been my preference that we not have to reduce the size of our broader public sector or compensation through layoffs," Kenney said. "I've always said that there may have to be some attrition but we haven't made final decisions on anything."
Shortly after taking office, Kenney appointed former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon to chair a "blue-ribbon panel" on the state of Alberta's finances.
Kenney said the previous NDP government lied about the real state of the province's treasury, so he expects the report, due on Aug. 15, will "tell us exactly how bad the situation is." He said the report will be released to the public in early September.
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Public sector unions believe the MacKinnon panel will give Kenney political cover to cut services and rollback wages when the government delivers its first budget in late October.
Deron Bilous, the NDP MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, said what Kenney didn't say at the news conference was more revealing than what he said.
"I think it's pretty clear that we're going to see a full-frontal attack on the public sector," he said.
"What's not going to help the Alberta economy and help Albertans is to lay off or cut significant public services that Albertans rely on."
MLA salary cut
On Tuesday, the members' services committee helped Kenney deliver on a promise to cut his own salary by 10 per cent and decrease MLA salaries by five per cent.
When Kenney first made the promise in February, he said the move wouldn't be used to seek wage rollbacks from the public sector.
Six months later, Kenney praised the MLA salary rollbacks as an "important symbol of leadership by example" but wouldn't say if he was still committed to his statement from February.
A legislated attempt to delay wage arbitration for public sector unions has ended up in court. The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) persuaded a judge late last month to grant an injunction against Bill 9, which would have pushed the talks until Oct. 30.
The government is appealing the decision and has asked for a stay on the injunction.
Kenney would not provide assurances that his government won't introduce more legislation this fall to further delay wage arbitration talks.