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Jason Kenney’s war on workers

By: 
John Bell

March 3, 2020

 

Looking at Jason Kenney’s Alberta is enough to give you whiplash.

First he moves to privatize education. Then he strikes a blow at public health care by cutting the pay for ER doctors by 20%.

Then he uses public funding to prop up an increasingly unprofitable oil and gas industry, literally throwing taxpayers’ money into a hole in the ground.

So which is the real Jason Kenney: free market zealot or closet corporate welfare bum?

Education

Currently Alberta leads the country in using public money to finance private schools. Last year Albertans gave $290.7 million to for-profit schools.

Public schools are being replaced by voucher schools, private/public partnerships. Five news schools are being built as P3s. US-style P3 and voucher schools have poor records and have been condemned by edcators. But they make money for business so there is no debate for the United Conservatives.

To top it off, the UCP has hired an “expert” to rewrite its school curriculum who is an apostle of private education. Ashley Berner is an expert by virtue of financial support from the far-right Koch Brothers Foundation. The panel that she has been appointed to, charged with redesigning education, includes no teachers. 

We have seen the direction corporate influence is likely to go. Kenney and his ministers have attacked teachers who allow any criticism of the fossil fuel industry in their classrooms. 

Health

The Alberta Health Services has proposed cutting $1.9 billion per year from health spending. This means closing and “streamlining” services especially in rural jurisdictions and small towns.

It also means a 20% pay cut for doctors. This is certain to drive doctors out of the province.

And it will mean cuts to nurses and nurse practitioners. According to Kevin Champagne of the United Nurses union: “What’s at stake is the ability for every Albertan to have access to registered nurses or licensed practical nurses and to see them in a meaningful time.”

Especially as the Corvid 19 coronavirus is becoming a public health crisis, drastic budget cuts are a direct assault on public services. The new UCP report recommends “contracting out” everything from laundry to lab testing to surgery. Doctors and nurses warn that it means “There’s corners cut. The services aren’t necessarily of the highest quality.” 

Corporate shills

Kenney’s first order of business was to cut the corporate tax rate by 1%, giving Alberta the lowest tax rate in Canada. They made the tired old promises of “trickle down” benefits: 55,000 new jobs over 4 years.

It is a weird fantasy. Investment is fleeing Alberta’s tar sands because they are not economically viable. In November alone, the province lost 18,000 jobs, mostly in the fo==ssil fuel industry. Capital investment in the tar sands has been declining for years: in 2014 it was $33.9 billion, now it is down to $12 billion. 

CNBC investment guru Jim Cramer says fossil fuels are in the "death knell" phase: "They're done. We're starting to see divestment all over the world. We're starting to see... big pension funds saying, 'We not going to own them anymore.'"

No amount of corporate welfare can counter that, but Kenney is trying.

Fightback

Thousands of Alberta workers have organized and protested against Kenney’s cuts. Connect that rising tide of opposition with growing anger about the climate change denial that is inevitable with fossil fuel corporate influence. Toss in some Indigenous land claims issues and the solidarity protests accompanying them.

That is the recipe for a fightback that can defeat Kenney and his cuts. He knows it. He is trying to head it off by introducing Bill 1, criminalizing protests. If  this reminds you of the kid who tried to stop the flood by putting a finger in the dike, you aren’t alone. 

 

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