UNA president gives Alberta budget an F for fairness and future vision
Significant cuts to Alberta’s beleaguered health care system and the loss of close to 1,700 jobs at Alberta Health Services cannot be implemented without impacting the ability of front-line staff to deliver safe and high quality health care, United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith warned this morning.
“The government promised this budget would be fair to Albertans and lay out a clear vision for the future,” said Smith. “They get an F for both!”
The 3.3-per-cent, $371-million cut announced to AHS funding in yesterday’s 2015 provincial budget is likely to exacerbate problems the health care system is now experiencing, Smith explained.
She said she was not reassured by promises made by Health Minister Stephen Mandel and AHS CEO Vickie Kaminski that front-line services won’t be impacted by job losses, even if many of them are achieved through attrition.
“They are suggesting that 1,700 health care jobs are not currently required,” Smith said. “They need to identify which jobs they are talking about.”
Nor was it reassuring when Kaminski told reporters yesterday that front line health care employees “may get fewer hours than they’re getting now” or see their jobs restructured to what the AHS executive called “a different model of care.”
Said Smith: “Moving employees out of Alberta Health Services to ‘a different clinic across the street’ is not going to improve the ability to provide health care in a province where substantially more than the entire population of Medicine Hat is arriving every year if the infrastructure and the beds are not there to support them.”
If this is code for privatization of some public health care services, she added, Albertans should be as concerned as front-line nurses. “This shouldn’t be hidden from the public.”
In addition, Smith said, AHS should be able to use some of the $1.2 billion accumulated surplus it reported in 2014 to keep the health system operating during the current financial downturn.
Smith said the return to a slightly more progressive income tax system, including the so-called health care contribution levy that will be paid into general tax revenues, does not mean the government has implemented the revenue reform that is required to give Alberta true independence from volatile revenue from the province’s petroleum resources.
“Making working people pay the freight and asking nothing of business and the corporations extracting our resources for the lowest royalty rates in the world is no substitute for the real revenue reform Alberta needs,” she said. “If we all got into this together as the premier says, we should all be asked to contribute to the solution.”
Prentice talks a lot about the need to keep public sector wages and government costs near the national average, but he is not so enthusiastic about bringing corporate taxes and resources revenues closer to the national average, Smith noted.
“Premier Prentice has promised Albertans his 10-year plan will get us off the fiscal roller coaster,” she concluded. “I think he’s taking us for another ride!”
Kaminski & Mandel Link:
United Nurses of Alberta