Premier accused of ‘arrogance’ over possible health-care job cuts

Alberta NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley accused Premier Jason Kenney of arrogance Monday after public sector unions were put on notice last week that thousands of workers may lose their jobs over the next three years.

At a joint Edmonton news conference with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) and the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), Notley said the job losses could affect 8,000 paramedics, lab technicians, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and other health-care workers.

Kenney didn’t say he intended to fire nurses, close hospital beds and privatize lab and ambulance services during the election campaign, Notley said.

“The outcry since Friday is real.”

On Saturday, hundreds of teachers, nurses and other public sector workers protested outside the Calgary hotel where Kenney’s United Conservative Party was holding its annual general meeting. 

Kenney made a quip about the protest in his keynote speech to UCP members hours later, remarking, “I’m reminded of what premier Ralph Klein used to say. ‘If a day goes by and there’s not a protest, I’m wondering what I’m doing wrong.”

Kenney was ridiculing and diminishing protesters, Notley said.

“To Jason Kenney I will say, ‘This is not a joke,” she said. “And the arrogance of laughing away people who may lose their jobs … that is a new level of arrogance, a new level of disregard for the majority of Albertans.”

UNA president Heather Smith said Friday’s letters to the unions shows the UCP government wants to privatize some parts of the health-care system.

In the letter to the nurses’ union,  Alberta Health Services (AHS) raised the prospect of “reconfiguring services provided at some smaller sites.”

“What smaller sites are those?” Smith asked. “I’m sure some people in rural Alberta would like to know, Mr. Premier. What sites are being targeted and what services are being targeted?”

The HSAA was told AHS subsidiary Alberta Precision Labaratories plans to contract some public lab services to private providers, which could affect at least 850 jobs. The government also told HSAA it is looking at privatizing ambulance services. 

HSAA president Mike Parker said 3,000 EMTs could be affected if the government goes ahead with that change.

The NDP introduced a motion for an emergency debate on the cuts but failed to get the required unanimous consent of the House.