Premier accused of 'arrogance' over possible health-care job cuts

Alberta NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused Premier Jason Kenney of arrogance Monday after public sector unions were put on notice last week that thousands of workers may lose their jobs over the next three years.

'The outcry since Friday is real,' Opposition Leader Rachel Notley says

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley says as many as 8,000 health care workers could lose their jobs due to privatization and service cuts. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

Alberta NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused Premier Jason Kenney of arrogance Monday after public sector unions were put on notice last week that thousands of workers may lose their jobs over the next three years.

At a joint Edmonton news conference with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), Notley said the job losses could affect 8,000 paramedics, lab technicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and other health-care workers.

Kenney didn't say he intended to fire nurses, close hospital beds and privatize lab and ambulance services during the election campaign, Notley said.

"The outcry since Friday is real."

On Saturday, hundreds of teachers, nurses and other public sector workers protested outside the Calgary hotel where Kenney's United Conservative Party was holding its annual general meeting. 

Kenney made a quip about the protest in his keynote speech to UCP members hours later, remarking, "I'm reminded of what premier Ralph Klein used to say. 'If a day goes by and there's not a protest, I'm wondering what I'm doing wrong."

Kenney was ridiculing and diminishing protesters, Notley said.

"To Jason Kenney, I will say, 'This is not a joke," she said. "And the arrogance of laughing away people who may lose their jobs … that is a new level of arrogance, a new level of disregard for the majority of Albertans."

UNA president Heather Smith said Friday's letters to the unions shows the UCP government wants to privatize some parts of the health-care system.

In the letter to the nurses' union,  Alberta Health Services (AHS) raised the prospect of "reconfiguring services provided at some smaller sites."

"What smaller sites are those?" Smith asked. "I'm sure some people in rural Alberta would like to know, Mr. Premier. What sites are being targeted and what services are being targeted?"

The HSAA was told AHS subsidiary Alberta Precision Laboratories plans to contract some public lab services to private providers, which could affect at least 850 jobs. The government also told HSAA it is looking at privatizing ambulance services. 

HSAA president Mike Parker said 3,000 EMTs could be affected if the government goes ahead with that change. Parker said union members will decide whether to take labour action against their employers. 

"Our members are afraid. They have gone to school for many years to prepare for their careers to help Albertans," he said. "In no way did they prepare to harm Albertans. And that's what these job actions will do following cuts that are so extensive coming from this government." 

The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees also received word on Friday of possible job cuts: 2,500 employees of the Government of Alberta, up to 3,000 general support workers employed by Alberta Health Services, and 400 licenced practical nurses and health-care aides employed by Alberta Health Services. 

AUPE president Guy Smith said his members are preparing for the possibility of a strike early next year if collective bargaining is not successful.  

"Obviously our goal is to get negotiated agreements at the bargaining table," Smith said at a news conference Monday afternoon. "But to be perfectly frank, what we've seen from this government ... they're obviously looking for a confrontation. I don't think we'll be able to get a deal at the negotiating table."

The NDP introduced a motion for an emergency debate on the cuts but failed to get the required unanimous consent of the House.


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