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MORGAN: Nurses union is afraid its perks are under scrutiny

Nurses have a tough and important job, but the structure of their pay and perks is allowing far too many to milk the system.

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I’m not the first guy to poke the hornets nest of social media outrage. I regularly poke forks at environmentalists, politicians, First Nations politicians, and an assortment of categories of social justice warriors. But never have I received such an hysterical and vitriolic response as I did when I dared to question the work ethic of some unionized nurses in Alberta.

It was a simple and anecdotal tweet (most are). I wrote of a time when I was at a hospital and observed a number of nurses sitting around in the ward island drinking coffee, shuffling paper and complaining of their lot in life while a lone young nurse made the rounds on their behalf. Perhaps the tweet was a bit unfair. It wasn’t nice (I rarely am). But the response to it was explosive.

I was called every name in the book. People threatened to report it to Twitter (for what I don’t know). People called for boycotts of my restaurant and implied threats to my wellbeing (“I hope you don’t need the care of a nurse anytime soon”). This went on for days as the tweet was clearly being shared in union email lists and I was even beginning to be attacked by American nurses online.

This reaction did not make me consider backing down, apologizing or deleting the tweet, despite their demands that I do so. The response to my tweet made me begin to wonder why nurses felt so insecure about critique. Did they have something to hide? If we take a closer look at things, it appears so.

Alberta has been in a recession for years and it is clear that government deficits have to be tackled before debt servicing costs overwhelm us. Alberta decisively elected a UCP government on a platform to clean up our finances. Tasked with balancing the budget, the government can’t help but look at healthcare, which makes up a whopping 43 per cent of our provincial expenditures. Salaries make up a large part of our healthcare budget, and with tens of thousands of nurses, it only stands to reason that their compensation scheme should be examined.

When we look at how Alberta nurses are paid, “scheme” is the most appropriate term to use. While their base hourly rates are in line with or slightly above the average compensation levels at a glance, the other perks built into their contract are unimaginable when compared to private-sector workplaces.

The overtime payments to part-time nurses are the most egregious. While part-time workers make up 19 per cent of all other occupations in Alberta, 43 per cent of nurses are part-time. While nurses routinely go on about their long days and about how short-staffed they are, why are half of them part-time? Digging a little deeper, the answer becomes apparent.

Part-time nurses have “designated days of rest” built into their schedules. If any of these part-time nurses are called in on one of these days, they receive double-pay for that shift, even though they are doing a part-time week.

Nurses get 1.5 sick days per month which they can bank as well. In juggling schedules with others, they can ensure that many conveniently need to work on a “designated day of rest” and take double-pay. While the Alberta Nurses Association (ANA) claims it is chronically short-staffed, nurses often take overtime for working extended hours. A simple solution to this problem is to designate the majority of nursing positions as being full time. The rest of us have to work 40 or more hours per week. Why is it unreasonable to expect that of nurses?

Full-time ANA nurses get an annual top-up bonus of $1,750 per year. This costs tens of millions annually and it is based on a letter of understanding between the government and the union which provides no rationale for this extra payment. If it isn’t in the contract, why are we paying it?

While we shouldn’t begrudge anybody for having a pension plan, the nurses of Alberta have a more than ample one. The defined benefit plan contributions are matched by the employer (that is, taxpayers) plus 1 per cent. On top of that, nurses can have contributions to an RRSP or tax-free savings account matched by employer contributions up to two per cent of the nurse’s earnings. Good on them, but let’s not let anybody pretend that nurses are not well taken care of for retirement.

Nurses have a tough and important job. The majority of them work hard in environments of high physical and emotional stress. They should be compensated well for this highly skilled position. Because if we are to pay them well, the compensation of nurses should be under more, rather than less scrutiny. Taxpayers deserve the best band for their buck from the healthcare system.

Premier Jason Kenney promised that he would balance the budget without cutting frontline healthcare services. A step towards this could be achieved by simply increasing the full-time designation of more nurses and removing some of these non-contractual perks that the full-time ones are getting. The nurse’s union doesn’t want the public to know the details of their contracts, and so they loudly try to shout down anyone that raises the subject.

Between 2014 and 2018, total workers pay in Alberta dropped seven per cent while Alberta government compensation rose by 12 per cent. Put another way, the differential between those working in the government and those working in the private sector spread by 19 per cent in just four years. This is unfair in a period of recession, and it is not unreasonable to look at bringing public sector worker compensation in line with today’s economic reality.

The Kenney government has some tough decisions to make in the coming years. Every provincial role and position needs to be examined to ensure that we are getting the most from them. This includes nurses. In light of their response to simple critique, it’s clear that they know it.

Nurses are indeed only human. That means they have needs but they also have flaws. Some are milking the system and it needs to be addressed. Nobody is irreplaceable, and no position is sacred.

Cory Morgan the Alberta Political Columnist and Host of the Cory Morgan show for the Western Standard. cmorgan@westernstandardonline.com

Opinion

WAGNER: Coming federal election could drive support for Alberta independence

“The election results may very well convince enough Albertans that independence is the only alternative to a future of continued economic decline and impoverishment.” – Michael Wagner

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Many commentators have speculated that there will be a federal election this year, quite possibly in the spring. Early in February, Bob Hepburn of the Toronto Star wrote a column entitled, Trudeau’s strategic plans aimed at June election. A few days later, Brian Lilley of the Toronto Sun contributed a similarly-themed column, Spring election could still be in Trudeau’s cards. And on March 1, Lilley’s Toronto Sun colleague Lorrie Goldstein added another, Liberals looking for excuses to call an election.  

These columnists are speculating, of course, but they offer strong reasons why an election may not be too distant in the future.

The outcome of the impending election will have a very big impact on Alberta. If Justin Trudeau is re-elected with a majority government – as some polls seem to indicate – his climate change policies designed to phase-out Alberta’s oil industry will be locked in place for at least four more years. Alberta will continue to suffer job losses and other fiscal and economic hardships. The provincial outlook will be truly bleak.

Many Albertans realize that the stakes in the election will be very high. The future of their livelihoods is in jeopardy. For them, a Trudeau majority government would be the last straw. Government-imposed financial suffering will be impossible to endure any longer. A new path forward will be needed. For a growing number of us, that means independence 

In other words, if Justin Trudeau wins the upcoming election, expect to see the Alberta independence movement experience unprecedented growth. Large numbers of people will be desperate and willing to consider previously unthinkable options. 

This kind of thing has happened on a smaller scale before. It was due to widespread anger after the February 1980 re-election of Pierre Trudeau that Elmer Knutson formed West-Fed and began holding large meetings around the province. In the wake of the November 2000 re-election of Jean Chretien’s Liberals, province-wide anger propelled support for Cory Morgan’s Alberta Independence Party, while Stephen Harper and some of his colleagues published the famous “Firewall Letter.” 

More recently, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were re-elected with a minority government in October 2019, well-attended Wexit meetings were held around Alberta, including one with 1700 people in Calgary. The Wexit organization formally merged with the Freedom Conservative Party in June 2020 to form the Wildrose Independence Party of Alberta. 

Indeed, the existence and growth of the Wildrose Independence Party and the federal Maverick Party can be attributed in large measure to the outcome of the 2019 federal election. It seems clear then, that federal election results have been a major factor in the development of Alberta’s (and Saskatchewan’s) independence movement.

This pattern is likely to be repeated when the next federal election is held later this year. Unless Erin O’Toole can engineer a miraculous turn-around in Conservative Party support, Trudeau will be back and Alberta will be trapped within a country whose government is determined to destroy its primary industry. In that case, expect many Albertans to fight back. Expect big meetings around the province with impassioned speakers advocating independence to preserve our future. Memberships in Wildrose and the Maverick Party will sell briskly and new volunteers will step forward.

If O’Toole can pull a rabbit out of the hat, the initial response in Alberta will be celebratory. Trudeau would be gone. What could be better than that? But O’Toole’s commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change would tie his hands and limit his enthusiasm for developing Alberta’s rich energy wealth. 

O’Toole has also been a defender of the current Equalization formula and supply management, policies meant to win votes in other parts of Canada. 

After voting overwhelmingly for the Conservatives, Albertans would justifiably anticipate some payback. If O’Toole didn’t deliver, there would be severe consequences for him and his party. A betrayed electorate would look to its only remaining option: independence.

The upcoming federal election will likely be a key event for Alberta’s future. Another term for Justin Trudeau would be an existential threat to the province. A victory for Erin O’Toole would be somewhat better, but would hold no guarantees for Alberta’s well-being. Pro-fossil fuel policies are very much out-of-favour in Central Canada where both parties are eager to please the voters. 

The election results may very well convince enough Albertans that independence is the only alternative to a future of continued economic decline and impoverishment. For Alberta, it seems that there is no way forward except out. 

Michael Wagner is a Senior Columnist for the Western Standard

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Opinion

PARKER: Kenney is the wolf in sheep’s clothing

“Alberta conservatives were deceived by one of Canada’s greatest political showmen. He bought a new blue truck, put on a cowboy hat, and sang us a Siren’s song.” – David Parker, Guest Columnist

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Guest Column: David Parker was the Regional Organizer for Central Alberta on the 2017 Jason Kenney Leadership Campaign and GOTV Membership Chair of the Wildrose Unity Campaign

In the Book of Matthew, Jesus gives his followers a warning, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Whether you are a Christian, follow another creed, or simply a person who cares about freedom, we should always pay attention to those who claim to be prophets. Jason Kenney came to Alberta as a kind of secular prophet. He claimed that he would unite the Wildrose and PC parties, restore the Alberta Advantage, defeat Ottawa, and lead his people back to the proverbial Promised Land. 

Now, he puts preachers in jail, destroys small businesses, takes on record levels of debt, and fills our province with fear. 

Even worse, he is not a leader. His true talents lay in being the right-hand man to a leader; but he has proven himself unable to make clear decisions or even adhere to any real comprehensive set of principles. He claims to be a conservative; but he has his government buy up and subsidize private businesses with record levels of corporate welfare. He says he is a man of faith (and he probably is); but he crushes those who wish to practice their faith in a manner that disagrees with his government’s authoritarian policies. 

This is evident from many angles; but the most obvious example of it is how he ran nominations. He is an authoritarian. I was the campaign manager for Rita Reich’s nomination race in Lacombe – Ponoka (one of Kenney’s staunchest supporters during both the PC and UCP leadership races). He disqualified her over a single Facebook post that said Hitler was actually a socialist. That was it, it did not praise Hitler, it just said that Hitler was a socialist based on the fact that he led something called the National Socialist German Workers Party, and repeatedly referred to himself as a “revolutionary socialist”. He did this to a woman who had him to her house for BBQs with hundreds of people and who sold hundreds of memberships in support of him. Why? It was easier for him to simply disqualify her than let her challenge a sitting MLA in a nomination. 

The list of loyal people that Jason Kenney has used and discarded is long and full of many very talented people. The worst case of this is perhaps the story of Caylan Ford, who Kenney praised as his, “political love at first sight” and who the UCP used in much of their campaign digital and visual messaging. When she encountered a targeted and malicious attack from a bad actor within the conservative movement, he dumped her as a candidate and left her to bleed out under the wrath of the SJW mob. Kenney folds to cancel culture like a cheap house of cards. Just like he bows to Rachel Notley when she calls for more lockdowns.

Alberta conservatives were deceived by one of Canada’s greatest political showmen. He bought a new blue truck, put on a cowboy hat, and sang us a Siren’s song. We don’t have to keep believing him. His actions have shown us who he truly is. 

The mask is dropped. We can now see as clearly as day that the sheep is truly a wolf. 

Guest Column: David Parker was the Regional Organizer for Central Alberta on the 2017 Jason Kenney Leadership Campaign and GOTV Membership Chair of the Wildrose Unity Campaign

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Opinion

SCOTT: Supreme Court injustice allows Ottawa to rule all

“In one fell swoop the Supreme Court of Canada has gutted any meaningful provincial jurisdiction, creating an untenable situation that, if left to stand, will add unbearable tension to the federation.” Mike Scott

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Guest Column from Mike Scott, Reform MP for Skeena, BC from 1993-2000.

The recent Supreme Court decision, which provides legal cover for the Trudeau government’s usurpation of provincial jurisdiction on carbon taxes, should be of immense concern to all Canadians.

In essence, the Supreme Court did not take issue with the argument put forward by three provinces that the federal government’s carbon tax is an intrusion into provincial jurisdiction. 

What the majority on the court did accept is the Liberal government’s argument that such an intrusion is justified under the rubric “Peace Order and Good Government (POGG)”.

On the face of it, this is an astounding conclusion.

POGG was never intended to be a substitute for clear, constitutionally delineated jurisdictions, nor a tool for constitutional monkey wrenching.

This is a clear case of an activist court seeking justification – no matter how thin – to endorse a progressive political agenda.

First, the court is clearly taking sides in a public policy debate and the reasons for judgement underscore this. Public policy arbitration was never intended to be the purview of the court and, by venturing into this highly charged political debate, it is signaling a willingness to take ever more activist positions.

Citizens don’t get to vote for judges – the prime minister appoints – but it is vital to the credibility of the institution that the court remains assiduously neutral. Jurisdictional disputes must be weighed against the metric of the constitution and adjudicated based on longstanding principles of law – jurisprudence – not creative or specious arguments.

Secondly, by accepting the federal government’s “POGG” argument, one can see the door has now been swung wide open for future intrusions. This is the slippery slope the Supreme Court’s decision has set us on. Going forward, all the feds need to do is invoke “POGG” – there will be no judicial recourse for the provinces.

This is exceedingly dangerous for confederation. As the provinces come to understand that their constitutional jurisdictions are trumped by POGG – with the collusion of the high Court – what recourse do they have?

There is already far too much political power concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Adding the Supreme Court to the list of institutions lined up against the country’s regions is exceedingly provocative. When, on this continuum, do we reach a tipping point?

It is worth quoting the dissenting voice of Supreme Court Justice Russel Brown who brilliantly spells out the ramifications.

“It is not possible for a matter formerly under provincial jurisdiction to be transformed, when minimum national standards are invoked…This would open up any area of provincial jurisdiction to unconstitutional fedreral intrusion once parliament decides to legislate uniform treatment”

Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe, also in dissent, cogently adds; 

“Canada’s proposed doctrinal expansion of national concern should be rejected because it departs in a marked and unjustified way from the jurisprudence of the court and, if adopted, it will provide a broad and open pathway for further incursions into what has been exclusive provincial jurisdiction. (the act) is not an exercise in cooperative federalism; rather, it is the means to enforce supervisory federalism”

The Supreme Court’s willingness to allow POGG as a means to justify abrogating a clear provincial jurisdiction, is a threat to the regions of Canada that is unprecedented. It is an egregious assault on one of the very foundational principles of our constitution – the division of powers between the provinces and the federal government. 

In one fell swoop the Supreme Court of Canada has gutted any meaningful provincial jurisdiction, creating an untenable situation that, if left to stand, will add unbearable tension to the federation.

All provinces – particularly those in the West with significant energy resources – should see the writing on the wall.

Guest Column from Mike Scott, Reform MP for Skeena, BC from 1993-2000.

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