Alberta’s Wildrose Party, in particular leader Brian Jean and finance critic Derek Fildebrandt, loves to throw around expressions like ‘hardworking families,’ ‘out of work Albertans,’ and ‘union bosses’ when criticizing how the current Alberta government is dealing with the province’s struggling economy.
The value judgements are pretty evident. Hardworking families and out of work Albertans are good and generally being victimized by the economy. The government and union bosses are bad and greedy and at least partly responsible for the province’s current financial woes.
Digging a little deeper reveals some troubling realities about whose interests exactly members are promoting and protecting when they use those expressions, and who they are actually blaming for the difficult times many Albertans are facing.
Recently, a mediator recommended a very modest wage increase for the Health Care Aides (HCA) and Licensed Practical Nurses (LPN) covered under the Auxiliary Nursing Agreement. Under the agreement, these HCAs and LPNs—who had been without an agreement since 2015—will receive wage increases of 1.2 and 0.8 percent in each year of the agreement.
These are not particularly easy or well-paid jobs by anybody’s standards. For an HCA currently earning around $20 an hour, for example, this will mean a total raise of about forty cents per hour. These are the folks who provide bathing, grooming, toileting, feeding, and other support services to the elderly, disabled, acute and chronically ill patients. LPNs are a little better compensated, because of the greater training and clinical expertise involved, but their raise still amounts to only about eighty-eight cents an hour. These people certainly work hard for their pay, and it is certainly work that Albertans overall value and would agree should be properly compensated.
You might be surprised, therefore, to learn these folks do not actually fit the Wildrose Party’s definition of what constitutes a hard-working Albertan that is struggling to make ends meet. For Jean and Fildebrandt these folks are part of the problem.
“This would be a completely indecent move at a time when thousands of hardworking families are worried about how they’re going to heat their homes or put food on the table,” Jean says in a release.
Because clearly someone working in health care for $20 an hour is neither working hard or struggling to make ends meet.
Fildebrandt went one step further, suggesting these raises were a way for the NDP government to “pad the pocket of its union bosses.”
This clarification by Fildebrandt is actually quite helpful, however. Now the next time you hear Fildebrandt, Jean, or even Jason Kenney use the expression ‘union bosses’ in a pejorative way, you will know exactly who they are talking about: the HCA getting paid $20 an hour to feed, toilet, and wipe the butt of your elderly parent or grandparent.
The Wildrose press release containing the quotes above was unequivocal in its efforts to draw a line or connection between these raises and the plight of Albertans, calling the raises “a slap in the face to struggling Albertans,” and an “insult to the more than 100,000 Albertans who have lost work since 2015.”
What is perhaps most telling, however, is that the Wildrose will call a thirty-nine cent raise to an HCA an insult to out of work Albertans, but did not say a peep when the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released its annual report on CEO compensation back in January. Apparently there is absolutely no problem with the CEOs of Suncor and Encana making $12.2 million and $11.2 million a year respectively.
Blaming underpaid health workers for unemployment in Alberta while ignoring the multi-million dollar salaries of the CEOs who have actually laid people off makes clear exactly whose interests the Wildrose Party is out to promote and defend, who they want to see prosper in Alberta, and how warped their sense of issues and priorities actually is. At least now they have made that clear. V
Ricardo Acuña is the executive director of the Parkland Institute, a non-partisan, public policy research institute housed at the University of Alberta. The views and opinions expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute.