Want to know the ramifications of being interpreted as callous, cold and non-appreciative of the ordinary and extraordinary non-business people who make a difference? Just check out the reactions of people when Premier Jason Kenney announced 380,000 front-line workers in Alberta education, health and continuing care, work in the grocery industry or in transportation would receive a one-time $1,200 cheque.
Now, granted they had to work 300 hours between Oct. 12 and Jan. 31 and 75 per cent of the money was actually from the federal government — but why let details spoil a beautiful moment? Not to mention the fact the provincial government had been sitting on that federal money since oh…ummm… May.
The point is, receiving $1,200 unsolicited, unrequested and just as a “thank you” for doing a good job, seems pretty decent right? And hey, as one Albertan who I used to know always mentioned when asked what he wanted for his birthday or Christmas, “say it with cash.” So stereotypically Albertan right? “I mean who would not want $1,200 to spend on Cheezies right?” asked Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland United Conservative MLA Shane Getson (see CERB recipients comment at a September 2020 town hall).
But here we are, in the middle of brutal cold snaps, in a crippling pandemic, where people’s mental health is being pushed to the brink, where businesses are one hair away from closure and along comes some money to spend.
Yet, no one is happy. No one is celebrating or saying, “hey, what a nice thing to do?” The reason is when you create a culture of discontent, a landscape where people are pushed to the brink and have no trust in their elected officials to do the right thing because of all the past actions (threat of cuts to health, education despite the pandemic; perceived aggressiveness of cabinet ministers and the premier, the deafening silence of some cabinet ministers, focus on saving energy industry and watching money disappear) in spite of and sacrificing core needs such as health; the bullying of Alberta government officials on social media and getting into open verbal warfare and etc.
That’s the perception. Cold, callous.
Maybe they aren’t; but that’s the perception.
So, with the $1,200 coming — no one is buying it.
In a release, the NDP noted this was coming two weeks ahead of what is supposed to be a not-surprisingly tough budget, “in which Jason Kenney has explicitly stated he will be seeking public sector wage rollbacks.”
“I am deeply concerned today’s announcement is just a smokescreen by this premier, “said Christina Graay, NDP Labour Critic. “Jason Kenney has already committed to laying off 11,000 front-line health care workers after the pandemic ends. It’s $1,200 for Albertans today, and a pink slip tomorrow.” (At the time of writing, that had not happened…yet?). Those are legitimate points, but it is not surprising. They are the Opposition right? The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who cynical critics say are closely tied to Conservatives of all stripes even complained it would cost taxpayers $118 provincially. They say money should be earmarked for “struggling businesses” like perhaps cutting the small business tax.
“We’re thankful for the hard work and important services these Albertans are providing, but businesses should be paying the wage top-ups, not struggling taxpayers,” said Franco Terrazzano, the CTF’s Alberta director.
“Many of these businesses have been able to stay open throughout much of the pandemic and struggling Albertans shouldn’t be forced to pay higher taxes to cover this payout.” Okaaay. The workers must be happy right? Again, that’s a $1,200 bonus… “It’s also an unnecessarily divisive and provocative move. Only lower wage workers in select jobs will get the support. Many workers in both the public and private sectors in the trenches, delivering the services our province needs during the pandemic, will not see a dime,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “Another troubling aspect of this is private sector workers have to rely on their employers to apply on their behalf with a deadline.”
“And it’s a cynical and political announcement. With the Kenney government’s political fortunes sagging, it wants to change the channel from the premier’s mishandling of key economic, environmental and public-safety SNAFUs during the pandemic,” says McGowan.
“And let’s not forget Premier Kenney wants to cut the wages of front-line public sector workers and fire thousands of nurses and other health care workers. For them, (the) announcement might seem like a cruel joke.”
This is like a real life version of the John Steinback novel, “The Winter of Our Discontent.”
However, the UCP government has painted themselves into this corner, with the most bristle of brushes.
The UCP have until March 1, 2023, and May 31, 2023 to figure it out.
This editorial originated in the Prairie Post West and Prairie Post East.