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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

MORGAN: Big labour wants big government in Calgary’s civic election

“Calgary’s Future used to be called “Calgarians for a Progressive Future” and the Canadian Union for Public Employees pumped nearly $1.4 million into the group in 2019 alone.”

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Alberta’s civic election fundraising laws used to be pretty ‘wild west’. There were no contribution limits for candidates. Disclosure requirements on contributors were loose and candidates could spend contributions on whatever they pleased.

Just think about how ridiculous that was. A person, company, or union could give tens of thousands of dollars to a candidate and we were supposed to pretend that it wouldn’t impact how they govern. There was no formal campaign period, so fundraising could happen during the entire term of the councillor. The official didn’t have to actually spend the funds on their campaign. They could and did build surpluses in their campaign accounts. It was a perfect system for (soft) bribery and money laundering, and let’s not pretend that it never happened.

Campaign accounts could be used as retirement funds for city councillors. Upon leaving office, whatever surplus funds were in the campaign account could go to the councillor as a tax-free gift.

Ward 11 councilor Barry Erskine was so flagrant in his abuse of the system, he can at least be credited for helping spur the reform of it. In 2004, Erskine claimed $67,000 in election expenses while he was acclaimed. How do you spend so much on a campaign against nobody? In 2007, Erskine pretended an intent to run right up until a couple of days before the deadline. He then dropped out of the race, pocketed whatever campaign funds were in his account, and rode off into the sunset. While the act was grossly unprincipled, it was entirely legal.

Multiple campaign finance reform bills have been passed since the unregulated days of 2007. Unions and corporations can no longer donate to candidates and the maximum that anybody can donate to a campaign is $5,000 per year.

Campaign finance reforms have not stopped the influence of well-heeled groups, however. Rather than donating directly to candidates as they used to, organizations have formed a myriad of Third-Party Advertiser (TPA) groups and have been funneling a lot of money into them. Most of these groups have modest funding. A TPA called “Calgary’s Future” is an exception and is sitting on a $1.7 million campaign war chest.

While contributions to TPAs are capped at $30,000 now, there was no limit on contributions to them prior to 2021. Calgary’s Future used to be called “Calgarians for a Progressive Future” and the Canadian Union for Public Employees pumped nearly $1.4 million into the group in 2019 alone.

Calgary’s Future may have dropped the term “progressive” from their name, but their leftward slant isn’t hard to see on their website. Every candidate that they have endorsed is running on a progressive platform. The group gives an impression of transparency but no organizers or principles behind the organization are disclosed beyond first names. It is hardly a secret that they are a creation of government unions.

We can try to cork the bottle when it comes to campaign funding, but big money will always find another way to influence candidates. Having nearly $2 million in union dues directed towards promoting a specific set of candidates is surely going to impact the election. There is no TPA with a budget even close to Calgary’s Future. No other TPA has the paycheques of thousands of union members to tap for funding either.

If any of the candidates being backed by Calgary’s Future do get elected, they will have more than a little bias in favour of labour unions when contract negotiations with civil service unions are done. We are in a period of fiscal crisis and need councilors who will stand up to organized labour as opposed to being beholden to it.

We clearly needed to fix our unregulated campaign funding system; but have we now created a monster worse than what we had to begin with? Things are less transparent than ever and the dollars are bigger. Interest groups with multi-million dollar budgets will be supporting campaigns while the average voter doesn’t even realize it. It is more difficult to tie a candidate to who their backers may actually be. The money is still there, but now it is indirect.

It is too late to change the campaign funding system for 2021, but we should work to expose it. Organized labour is funding a large campaign for a small number of candidates. Calgary needs councilors who are working for the interest of the city as a whole rather than the labour unions for city employees. If Calgarians want the city to return to fiscal responsibility, they need to look at the list of candidates being endorsed by Calgary’s Future and choose not to vote for them.

Cory Morgan is the Alberta Political Columnist for the Western Standard and Host of the Cory Morgan Show

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Opinion

Allison: Official bilingualism creates a regional power imbalance

Westerners must join the elite minority of bilinguals by learning a second language or be left behind when it comes to rising the ranks of Canada’s federal institutions.

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Bilinguals make up only 18% of our population, yet they dominate our federal institutions.

The reason for this is no secret. Canada’s official bilingualism, legally enshrined in the Official Languages Act (1969), gives a distinct advantage to one class of Canadians; bilinguals, over all others. The Act requires that federal institutions provide services in both French and English. The result is that 40% of federal public service jobs are “designated bilingual.” This means that some 300,000 jobs which make up our federal bureaucracies are available only to 18% of Canadians and closed to the other 82%

What does this mean for regional representation in our federal institutions? It means overrepresentation from Quebec and underrepresentation from the West. About 45% of Quebecers are bilingual whereas only 7% of those in the prairie provinces are bilingual. Thus, the pool of qualified candidates for federal public service jobs is going to be overwhelmingly filled with Quebecers while having scarcely any Westerners. As spokesman for Canadians for Language Fairness, Gordon Miller, writes: “The Official Languages Act has allowed this group [the “Laurentian elite”] to dominate the federal government bureaucracy and further entrench the dominance of the Eastern provinces in federal affairs.”

The Laurentian elite does dominate the federal public service. A total of 67% of the federal public service is made up of Quebecers and Ontarians and only 11% are from the prairie provinces. Of course, official bilingualism is not the only cause that has explanatory power in the case of this discrepancy. The federal capital being located on the border between the two most populous provinces also plays a significant role in determining the regional makeup of the federal public service (a separate and distinct advantage that the Laurentians have over Westerners in controlling federal institutions). In fact, 42% of federal public service employees live in the National Capital Region in Ottawa-Gatineau.

But, when it comes to those who rise the ranks in Canada’s federal bureaucracy, official bilingualism provides an explanation for its overwhelmingly Quebecer makeup. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner, the Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal Marc Noël, the Governor of the Bank of Canada Tiff Macklem, Government Film Commissioner and Chairperson for the National Film Board of Canada Claude Joli-Coeur, the Director and CEO of the Canada Council of the Arts Simon Brault, the Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Stéphane Perrault, and the Director of CSIS David Vigneault are all Quebecers. The board of directors for the CBC, is also made up of 33% Quebecers with only one member hailing from the prairie provinces — Jennifer Moore Rattray from Manitoba. As Washington Post columnist, J.J. McCullough, suggests: “It is really hard to argue that by some massive coincidence the most qualified people for all of these jobs just happen to be Quebecers.”

Indeed, it is no coincidence. Since all federal institutions must provide services in both French and English, it is likely to have a bilingual in charge of these federal bureaucracies in order to ensure that these institutions run smoothly. As a result, Quebecers with their disproportionate number of bilinguals, have come to dominate the highest ranks of these bureaucracies.

Official bilingualism lays the groundwork for these regional disparities in Canada’s federal bureaucracies. Quebecers are overwhelmingly more likely to be bilingual than Westerners. As such, Westerners must join the elite minority of bilinguals by learning a second language or be left behind when it comes to rising the ranks of Canada’s federal institutions.

Andrew Allison is a PhD philosophy student at the University of Calgary
andrew.allison@ucalgary.ca

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Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Doug Ford’s daughter could teach her father a thing or two about freedom

Daughter champions freedoms, daddy seizes them. Some who despise Premier Dad’s authoritarian decrees say the wrong family member heads Ontario.

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Krista Ford Haynes, daughter of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, is going to make for some interesting Thanksgiving Dinner family conversation.

On Tuesday, Krista issued another dire warning against governments forcing vaccine passports, urging people to “collectively wake up” and not be obedient and unquestioning.

The following day, her father, Ontario Premier Doug Ford, launched COVID-19 vaccine passports, forcing people to choose between taking the jab, or losing many of their most basic freedoms. He claimed the passports are temporary.

Sure, they are. And 14 days would flatten the curve. No government relinquishes control it grabs. When COVID eventually passes, the newly established government powers will be turned elsewhere.

Daughter champions freedoms, daddy seizes them. Some who despise Premier Dad’s authoritarian decrees say the wrong family member heads Ontario.

Ford family get-togethers can’t be fun. Hopefully, they’re amicable. That’s not always the case.

Polarizing COVID-19 views about forced-masking, lockdowns, vaccines, and mandatory vaccine passports are dividing and destroying families and friendships.

Screaming matches and brawls over masks and social distancing aren’t confined to the aisles of Walmart among strangers.

Loved ones nearly, or maybe do, come to blows at dinner tables before the soup gets cold. That only happens when the government permits them to visit in between intermittent lockdowns.

Everyone’s ready to fall on their swords, convinced that their side — whichever it is — is solely righteous and right.

Haynes, 30, is an anti-vax crusader. Insults are hurled at her. The indignant demand she is reported. She’s been called “ignorant.” She makes people’s “blood boil.”

The feisty Haynes won’t back down from views some declare extreme.

Haynes, with thousands of followers, delivered her latest message in a video posted to Instagram after the federal election.

“Good morning, everyone. Happy Tuesday. As we could have all expected, the Liberal government won last night with a minority government,” said Haynes.

The Liberals will carry on “stripping our freedoms away one day at a time,” she said.

Haynes has long warned that forced masking was a steppingstone to vaccine passports. She was mocked. Few are laughing now.

The passports are here. Alberta succumbed, despite Premier Jason Kenney’s solemn vow to gallantly fight the feds if they forced them. Then he did a 180 and imposed them with a vengeance.

Now Haynes warns vaccine passports are a steppingstone to more controls and lost freedoms.

“When I posted in May or June of last year about the upcoming mask mandates and not to comply, this is why I wanted people, urged people, not to comply,” she said.

“We found out right away that masks weren’t very effective at all based on how people were wearing and revising them, and it actually could have made things a lot worse for some people and are making things a lot worse for certain age groups today.”

“That was one, but we complied, we complied. We could have put our foot down collectively, and we didn’t.”

So, the worst of it has arrived?

“You think it’s just going to be movie theatres, restaurants, gyms. That’s the first step. The first step. They’re going to take it all. They’re going to take it all and we’ve allowed it.”

Australians wore their masks and obeyed ‘temporary’ lockdown orders. The former penal colony turned into one of the freest countries, has become an effective police state. Citizens face the most extreme lockdowns globally. Wednesday, police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of 400 unarmed and peaceful protestors against severe lockdowns and vaccine passports.

Chaos erupts around the world. People fear pandemic “mandates” have morphed into a sinister grab for complete control over their lives to advance ever-greater government control.

Many are losing their jobs for no good reason.

Citizens are enraged their children suffer abuse, being forced to wear masks with little proof they effectively prevent transmission of COVID.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended emergency use authorization of Pfizer’s booster (third) shot six months after full immunization for the elderly and high-risk. It rejected an application to approve booster shots for all Americans 16 and older. They’ll circle back to that.

Haynes urged people to ask questions, discuss, research. She, like others who advocate this, are ridiculed, attacked, discredited, even fired.

Their critics just want everyone to comply with the latest orders and shut up.

Fear, anger and distrust over this curse called COVID-19 prevail. There’s little common ground.

Doctors who question the official doctrine are dismissed, shamed, and now, being fired in some cases.

Asking questions is a good thing. Blindly complying isn’t.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard
lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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