'They've got a knife' in the backs of Albertans: Ric McIver says of NDP government

PC caucus leader Ric McIver said his comment the premier and her cabinet have "got a knife in Albertans backs," was an expression of betrayal and not a call to violence.

PC caucus leader explains comment meant as ‘expression of betrayal’

PC caucus leader Ric McIver made the 'knife in the back' comment at a jobs rally alongside unemployed engineers on Tuesday. (Scott Neufeld CBC News)

At a job rally with unemployed Albertans, Ric McIver turned around a well-known phrase used by Premier Rachel Notley and her government.

"The premier and her cabinet say they've got Albertans' backs," McIver said Tuesday in front of a small group of demonstrators. "They've got a knife in Albertans' backs, and these people are evidence of that."

About 50 people who are out of work gathered outside the federal building, then moved down the street to the legislature, where there were speeches from several opposition politicians.

During the wildfire in Fort McMurray last year, Notley several times told people who lost their homes, "We've got your back."

McIver, the PC caucus leader, later defended his comment, arguing the "knife in the back" phrase was an expression about betrayal and not a call to violence.

"The premier and these ministers have betrayed these people because they won't meet with them when they're desperate to get their jobs back," McIver said.

'Still waiting for answers'

The protesters, mostly out-of-work engineers from Calgary, said they have already met with the energy minister and representatives from the departments of labour and economic development.

Sam Jayaraman, who has been out of work almost two years, was at the rally to push for more urgent action from the Alberta government to help get people back to work. (Scott Neufeld CBC News)

Sam Jayaraman said the group travelled to the legislature to push for a more urgent response.

"Although we have already met some of them in Calgary, we are here to follow up on some of the suggestions we have already made," Jayaraman said. "And we still are waiting for answers."

Out of work for almost two years after being an engineering project manager, Jayaraman said he is looking to the government for answers about how to create new jobs for engineers who have fallen on hard times.

Since the collapse of oil and gas prices, he said, companies have been sending jobs offshore.

That's an area he and others want the provincial government to control, in addition to help with funding for retraining.

"We are looking to the government here to champion our cause and understand what the issues are," Jayaraman said.

Government not doing enough

Wildrose official Opposition MLA Prasad Panda, who organized the rally, said it's not enough for the government to keep saying the economy is beginning to pick up.

Wildrose economic development critic Prasad Panda said unemployed energy workers need better support from the government. (Scott Neufeld CBC News)

"These guys are not feeling that recovery at all," Panda said. "That's why they're here."

The economic development critic said he plans to table some of the group's submissions in the legislature.

Unemployment levels in Alberta have improved slightly since November 2016, when the jobless rate hit nine per cent, the highest level since 1994.

After 20,000 Albertans found jobs in March, the rate dropped to 8.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

Deron Bilous, minister of economic development and trade, said he and the labour minister planned to meet with the group Tuesday after question period.

Economic Development and Trade Minister Deroun Bilous said several big projects will require engineers and agreed to meet with the group to hear their ideas. (Scott Neufeld CBC News)

Bilous chose not to address McIver's "knife in the back" comment, and instead drew attention to the government's plan to boost the economy and create jobs.

"Alberta is the best place in Canada to be an engineer," he said. "We have our historic infrastructure build, which will create 10,000 jobs per year. We've got two pipeline approvals, which will create 22,000 jobs. And all of these need engineers for detailed design work."

Economic growth in Alberta is forecast by the Conference Board of Canada to lead the country this year and next, Bilous said.

But McIver said the province isn't doing enough to help Albertans who are already struggling and now find it even tougher because of added costs from policies such as the carbon tax.