Alberta budget 2021: Finance minister defends public sector slashing, says ‘we’re not on a path of cost cutting’

EDMONTON — A government pledge to increase or maintain spending in some areas is happening, at least in part, at the expense of an ongoing mission to reduce the size of Alberta’s public sector.

Budget 2021 reduces spending on public sector wages, salaries and employee benefits by roughly one billion dollars to $21.5 billion. 

The decrease falls on Alberta Health Services, Alberta Public Service departments and impacts all levels of education. 

Exactly how the reduction in spending will affect paycheques is not laid out in the budget, nor would the finance minister provide details. 

“We’re not on a path of cost cutting. We’re on a path of delivering government services most efficiently,” said Toews of the government goal to reduce the public service by nearly eight per cent.

Since 2019, the Alberta government has promised it would bring public sector worker compensation to be more ‘in line’ with other provinces like Ontario and B.C. 

According to budget estimates for the coming year, the so-called efficiencies will result in the loss of 311 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in various government departments. The hardest hit departments are Infrastructure (72 FTEs), Justice and Solicitor General (71), and Agriculture and Forestry (70).

“There’s just minimal adjustments to be made, the vast majority of changes can be made through attrition at this point in time,” said Toews.

In Budget 2019, the province announced intentions to reduce Alberta’s public sector by 7.7 per cent including “targeted reductions” resulting in more than 1,500 job losses.

UNION PREPARED TO STRIKE

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the largest union in the province, said Thursday’s budget decisions will take money out of pockets of people who’ve helped Alberta through the pandemic.

“Obviously, I’ve only seen some highlights. We’ll be digging into the details in the days to come, but this is devastating,” said Smith.

“It’s devastating to the public sector workers who’ve dedicated themselves to helping Albertans through this pandemic.

“We know they’ve requested rollbacks at the bargaining table and we believe that the bargaining process should continue. So how they can build into the budget a preconceived outcome? I don’t know, but obviously that’s what they’re trying to do.” 

Smith said AUPE is preparing members for strike action, if necessary.

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