Alberta taxpayers should be complaining, not union bosses

Franco TerrazzanoEvery government-employee paycheque ultimately comes from taxpayers. That seems like an obvious point. But union bosses seem to need a reminder.

Surrounded by striking government employees in Alberta Union of Provincial Employees garb, union boss Guy Smith claimed that “only in Alberta do they not give you the resources you need to do the work that you’re committed to.”

Who are “they?” Union bosses focus attacks on politicians. But who are “they” really? They’re taxpayers who are enduring jobs losses and pay cuts and can’t afford union demands.

Taxpayers are the ones who should be concerned about the amount of health-care spending. The Alberta government spends more per person on health care than any other province except Newfoundland and Labrador. If Alberta spent like other large provinces, taxpayers would save $3.6 billion every single year. And as Finance Minister Travis Toews pointed out, Alberta’s already high level of health-care spending is at “record highs.”

The one-day illegal strike was designed to protest Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s plan to find $600 million in savings, which is less than three per cent of the health budget.

Shandro is using a common-sense approach to find these savings by phasing out some management bureaucrats and contracting local businesses to do the laundry, catering, housekeeping and lab services.

Shandro is right to look for savings at the top of the bureaucrat pyramid. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation’s analysis revealed that more than 900 Alberta Health Services management bureaucrats are on Alberta’s sunshine list, which discloses annual compensation above $132,000. The president and CEO of AHS took in $677,785 last year, while Saskatchewan Health Authority’s CEO Scott Livingstone makes $406,328.

Shandro is also right to ask local businesses to help find efficiencies, with the majority of Alberta’s laundry and lab services already being done by local businesses.

“Currently, 68 per cent of hospital laundry is contracted out and despite the weeping and gnashing of teeth that occurred back when that took place, the sky never fell and filthy bed sheets didn’t descend upon our hospitals either, as was absurdly predicted by union reps back then,” wrote Licia Corbella in her recent Postmedia column.

Having local businesses prep meals is another common-sense way to find savings. In 2017 and 2018, 13 government-run hospital cafeterias lost $5.5 million in Alberta, which was higher than losses in any other province, according to research from Secondstreet.org.

With Alberta’s government employees receiving a nine per cent wage premium compared to their counterparts outside of government and Alberta’s government employees tending to make significantly more than those working for other provincial governments, letting local businesses do the laundry and run cafeterias and labs will likely lead to labour savings.

This is the crux of Alberta’s unfairness: over the last five years Albertans outside of government have been losing their jobs and taking pay cuts. But instead of tax relief, struggling taxpayers have been paying for inflated government wages, big government benefits and government employees who have been shielded from sharing in the burden of the downturn.

More than 10,000 Alberta government employees were added since the end of 2014. Government labour costs increased by $3.5 billion, or  about 15 per cent, between 2014 and 2019. Meanwhile, total compensation paid to all Alberta workers declined by five per cent.

Unfortunately, there is a class divide in Alberta. But it’s not between businesses and their employees. It’s between those who receive a government paycheque and those forced to pay the growing tab.

Albertans won’t have much sympathy for striking government employees while “they” are struggling to manage pay cuts and look for jobs.

Franco Terrazzano is the Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

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