Much has been said in the past month about a “culture of intimidation” in Alberta’s healthcare system. Allegations of bribery and corruption, hush money and two sets of books have been made with virtually no proof, and Alberta’s opposition parties have added a healthy dose of drama and theatre to the whole event in an attempt to keep the story alive.
It’s been quite a show and it may continue for a while.
But I’m here to argue that Albertans have accepted and condoned a culture of intimidation in this province, and the consequence has been a substantial erosion of our public services, as well as a democratic deficit. If this culture continues, I’m afraid that the hard working silent majority of Albertans will continue to lose.
I have spoken to several seniors on a board I serve on in the past few weeks who have been asking me why Alberta’s teachers are receiving these relatively large raises in this economic environment. While these individuals are not against paying teachers well and don’t suggest that the Government should not support public sectors employees, they feel that the raise this year is too high relative to the economic realities in the province. The fact that most of these seniors received an extra ten dollars a month from government support programs, while teachers received much more doesn’t exactly sit well with them either.
What also doesn’t sit well with them or with me is that despite the fact that teachers are getting these increases, the quality of our education system is eroding. What makes this pill even more difficult to swallow is the fact that most individual teachers I have talked to say that they would rather see this money go into the system to support their ability to teach effectively. Teachers, like every other professional, need tools and resources to be effective.
Have you ever tried to fix something in your house or on your car without the proper tools? You can usually get the job done, but it will typically take much longer and the final product will not be as good as it could have been. This is the situation our relatively well paid and over worked teachers face on a daily basis in their professions.
Five years ago, the government and Alberta Teachers Association signed a historic 5 year labour deal, which turned out to be a very bad deal for tax payers. At the time, the government was comfortable signing huge cheques to pay for the unfunded pensions and generous pay increases. After all, the future was bright for our province and there was no place to go but up!
The global economy tanked and Alberta’s economic situation flip flopped more extremely than Rob Anderson did on Bill 36 after switching political parties. Down was the new up – red the new black; and many Albertans found themselves in financial difficulty. So did the Alberta Government. Teachers, however, received pay increases that did not fit the economic realities of the times and classroom resources suffered.
Actually, Alberta’s students suffered and the many hard working taxpayers with kids in the system are picking up the tab.
The Alberta government and ATA are now in the preliminary stages of discussions about what the next collective agreement should look like and the province has once again indicated that another five year deal is desirable. At the same time, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) has mounted an offensive against the government, asking Premier Stelmach “to confirm he is not considering U.S.- style attack on the rights of public sector workers.” These two things are not happening at the same time by accident.
AFL is throwing up a smoke screen to create an environment where the government has its back up against the wall during negotiations with the ATA. The rhetoric is getting ratcheted up and a completely unfounded environment fear is being created. The AFL’s open letter to Premier Stelmach is nothing more than public fear mongering and intimidation. As a tax payer, I find the entire exchange appalling!
The ATA and AFL are working together to give taxpayers another raw deal, while the quality of our education system continues to erode. We are buying the silence of public sector unions at the expense of future generations and it’s not right.
If the government insists on a five year labour deal with the ATA, that deal should have no pay increases for teachers in the next three years and very modest increases in the last two. Money needs to be directed back into the system. Taxpayers got a raw deal last time, so the ATA should be reasonable. Teachers need the right tools to effectively do their jobs and all available resources should go toward providing the tools.
I have no faith, however, that the ATA will agree. The rhetoric will continue to get ratcheted up and the culture of public fear will be alive and well. AFL will play trusty wing-man and help to create this “culture of intimidation” against taxpayers based on claims of a potential attack on the public sector, which are made with virtually no evidence or substantial support.
Tax payers should not be so willing to give into this culture of public intimidation that is created by the ATA, AFL and other public sector unions and we should not be OK with buying their silence.
Either the government or the opposition parties should stand up for tax payers. Enough hush money – lets fix our problems.