2013 Feb 26 Presentation to the Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future on the Study of BRIK (Bitumen Royalty-in-Kind) Program
Gil McGowan, President
As elected officials from across the province, you all know that the majority of Albertans want to see more upgrading done within our borders.
You’ve seen the polls. And you’ve heard directly from your constituents.
In their hearts and in their guts, Albertans feel a strong need to move up the value ladder.
Albertans are saying “yes” to adding value and “no” to sending high-quality, high-paying jobs down the pipeline to places like the US Midwest, the US Gulf Coast and, in the future, to China.
The wishes and preferences of Albertans on this issue are clear.
But, we all know that public opinion isn’t enough. In order to become a reality, upgrading also has to pass the economic test.
On that score, the power players in the oil industry are on entirely different page than ordinary Albertans.
They say the numbers don’t add up for Alberta-based upgrading.
They put on their longest faces and sadly report that we have no choice but to get comfortable on the lowest rung of the value ladder.
They say that the case is closed.
But we at the AFL aren’t buying it.
I’m here today to challenge the industry’s conventional wisdom.
I’m here to say that the industry power players are wrong…and that the majority of supposedly ill-informed ordinary Albertans are right.
I’m also here to thank Premier Redford…but also to take her to task.
Albertans should thank her for drawing wide public attention to the whole concept of the differential between the price that’s paid for conventional oil and the price we get for bitumen.
The premier is right when she says that the differential is incredibly important to the future of the Alberta economy.
But she’s dead wrong when she says that a widening differential is a disaster for our province. The truth is that a wider differential dramatically improves the economics of upgrading and presents us with an opportunity to do exactly what they majority of Albertans want us to do – and that is, move up the value ladder.
To put it another way, the so-called bitumen bubble that has been inflated by the widening differential has a very significant silver lining. And if the goal of this committee and this government is to develop effective public policy, it’s a silver lining that cannot be over-looked or ignored.
For those of us in Alberta’s labour movement, the need for our policy makers to see and seize the opportunity presented by the widening differential is great. The need for policy leadership is great because, as a province, we are in the process of tumbling down the value ladder, rather than climbing up it.
This slide shows the reality we’re facing today. Throughout the 80s, 90s and well into this decade, we normally upgraded about two-thirds of our raw bitumen to synthetic crude. Former Premier Stelmach promised that his government would ensure that 70 per cent would be upgraded within the province. That’s why he established the BRIK program. But we’re moving in the wrong direction. Today, we upgrade only 58 per cent and the ERCB projects that by 2017, that figure will drop to 47 per cent.
Even worse, a report prepared last for the government by the consulting firm Wood MacKenzie projects that by 2025 Alberta will be upgrading only 26 per cent of our bitumen.
To be clear, no one is talking about shutting down existing upgrading or refining facilities. They’re all very, very profitable. In fact, there isn’t an upgrader or refinery in the country that isn’t making money hand over fist. Instead, the problem is that – with the notable exemption of the Northwest Upgrader and refinery – no new upgrading capacity is being added in our province. Virtually all of our province’s new oil sands production is going to be shipped out of the province in raw form.
Why is this a problem? It’s a problem because by shipping our bitumen raw, we’re letting literally thousands and thousands of good jobs slip through our fingers.
A single upgrader employs up to 2,000 people in direct operations positions. It also provides millions of man-hours of employment each year for construction workers doing regular maintenance and turnarounds.
In addition, as the Conference Board of Canada has pointed out, upgraders and refineries have incredibly long supply chains – so the spin-off affects to suppliers and local businesses are huge.
And these are temporary, transitory jobs in construction. These are long-term, stable, family-sustaining, community-building jobs. If you don’t build the upgraders and refineries, you don’t get these jobs – it’s as simple as that.
Our federation, working with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, has estimated that if the volume of diluted bitumen slated to go down the Keystone XL pipeline were instead upgraded in Alberta before being exported as synthetic crude, it would create as many as 18,000 permanent, direct and indirect jobs.
If the bitumen slated for the Northern Gateway pipeline was upgraded here and shipped as synthetic crude, it would create 26,000 jobs.
Those are numbers provided by economists working for the labour movement. But for our purposes today, I want to draw your attention to work done by other economists…in particular, work done by economists and energy experts working for the Alberta government itself.
We at the AFL do a lot of FOIP searches…and we recently did a search on reports conducted or commissioned by the government on the subject of upgrading.
The search netted about 8,000 pages of documents. But there were two that really stood out, both of which we have included in your kits.
The first is entitled “Alberta’s Value Added Oil Sands Opportunities and Bitumen Royalty in Kind.”
It includes this slide, which shows that when you export bitumen in raw or diluted form, you capture about 35 per cent of the value chain. But if you upgrade that same bitumen to synthetic crude and export that product, you capture 70 per cent of the value chain. And if you move even higher up the chain, to products like gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and petrochemicals, you can essentially capture 100 per cent of the value chain.
At the same time there is compelling evidence that moving up the value ladder will also generate more revenue for government to help pay for things that Albertans need like health care or education or which can be saved for future generations.
For example, just a few months ago, Ian McGregor from Northwest Upgrading told this committee that if his very small refinery had been in operation last year, it would have generated approximately $500 million more in revenue for the government than they got by allowing the bitumen to be exported raw. And that’s on a volume of 37,500 barrels per day…which is tiny compared to overall production from the oil sands.
So that’s what we stand to lose if we don’t find a way to arrest our province’s headlong tumble down the value ladder. Thousands of jobs. Millions, perhaps billions, in public revenue. And the difference between 35 per cent of the value chain and 70 per cent.
Of course, the skeptics will say – and have said – that the numbers just don’t add up.
And for a few years – just a few (between 2009 and 2011) – they didn’t. But they do now.
To illustrate my point, I’d like to draw your attention to the second very important document that we received as a result of our FOIP search.
This one is entitled “Oil Sands Fiscal Regime Competitiveness Review.” It comes to a number of very interesting conclusions about royalties (it shows we are not getting a fair share for the sale of our collectively owned resources) and carbon taxes (it shows that there is little to be feared from a carbon tax and actually something to be gained).
But for our purposes, I want to focus on the report’s findings on upgrading.
Basically, it says that there were two factors undermining the economics of Alberta-based upgrading between 2009-2011. The first was the spike in the cost of the oil sands related construction and the second was the narrowing of the differential between world oil prices and the price for bitumen.
Like many, many other studies I’ve seen this one concluded that the high cost of construction was a direct result of the pace of development. Too many projects, approved and under construction at the same time were undermining productivity and driving up costs.
On the differential side, the study points out that, contrary to the arguments presented and repeated recently by the premier, that a relatively wide differential is nothing new and nothing to be afraid of. In fact, the study shows that the differential has hovered in the 25-30 per cent range for most of the past two decades.
The study also shows that wider spread between conventional and oil prices and bitumen prices is not only good for Alberta-based upgrading, it’s our biggest competitive advantage.
Take a look at this slide. What it shows are the break even points for SAGD, mining and integrated projects at different differential and price levels. Look closely. What it shows is that projects with upgraders are very economic unless the differential gets narrower than 15 per cent. On the other hand, the viability of SAGD operations without upgraders plummets as the differential gets wider.
The picture is similar in the next slide, also from the same report. What this one shows is that upgraders are entirely viable in the current price and differential climate.
Here’s the report’s conclusion:
“Despite the fact that adding upgrading capacity makes less economic sense in today’s market (2011, when the differential was 15 percent), our sensitivity analysis suggests an integrated upgrader serves as a hedge against volatility of the light-heavy differential.”
Did you hear that? Upgraders profitable when the differential is above 25 per cent AND they are a responsible hedge against volatility in the light-heavy differential. They’re profitable over a greater range of market scenarios than extraction-only projects.
All this talk about differentials and sensitivity analysis sound confusing. But it’s actually really simple. Low bitumen prices are actually good for us because they allow our upgrader to buy their feedstock low and sell their refined products high. In fact SCO often trades at a premium to WTI priced conventional oil.
So that’s our question for the government as the steward of our collectively-owned resources: why shouldn’t we buy low and sell high? Why sell the world products that fetch a higher price and keep the jobs for ourselves?
That leads me to our recommendations:
First, we need to see the widening differential not as a threat, but as an opportunity.
Second, we need to stop chasing the mirage of price parity between bitumen and conventional oil. The differential is not the result of lack of market access. It the natural result of bitumen’s lower quality.
Do you remember the old Russian Ladas? The fact that they couldn’t get the same price for one of those hunks of junk as GM could get for a Cadillac was because they lacked market access. It was because their product was junk. We face a similar problem with bitumen. It may not be junk, but it’s not conventional oil. So instead of chasing the impossible dream of getting world price for our sub-par product, let’s upgrade and sell that higher-value product. The only way to get Cadillac prices is to sell a Cadillac product.
Third, we need to set a more reasonable pace for development in the oil sands. Unrestrained pace is driving up costs and higher costs are one of the factors leading companies to opt for the cheaper, extraction-only projects. But failing to set a more reasonable pace of development, as Peter Lougheed suggested, we’re pricing ourselves out of the market for the kind of value-added projects that Albertans want and which would be better for our economy over the long term.
Fourth, we need to make upgrading a condition of development, not an option. By leaving these important decisions entirely in the hands of largely foreign-based multi-national energy corporations, we’re ignoring Lougheed’s advice to act like owners. Even now that the numbers do add up for Alberta-based upgrading, these companies are not investing in value-added projects because have their own, existing refining plants in the US or in China. They see the money that can be made by buying our bitumen low and shelling the refined product high. But it’s our resource and it is we, the citizens of Alberta, who should be seizing the value opportunity, not some foreign based energy giant. It may make all sorts of sense from a private-profit point-of-view for Exxon and Sinopec to rip and ship our raw resources. But just because it makes sense for them, doesn’t mean it makes sense for Albertans, who own the resource.
Fifth, we need to expand the Bitumen Royalty In Kind program. It’s a good program, but we can’t build our provinces energy program with just one BRIK.
Finally, we need to be bold and build on Peter Lougheed’s legacy. Energy companies like Exxon and Sinopec cannot be counted on to make development decisions that are in the best interests of Albertans who own our resources. The approach that Lougheed took to build our petrochemical industry is actually the one we should take today with bitumen. He set a clear goal of building a value-added industry. He understood that the government, as the steward of the resources, had to be a participant in the market, not just a spectator. He introduced regulations about what could be exported and couldn’t be. He used public money to build critical infrastructure like straddle plans to support a value-added industry. And he created a public energy corporation to enter into joint-venture projects with reluctant private-sector investors. And it worked.
In the end, all we’re asking the government to do is to see and seize the opportunity that’s in front of us.
And we’re not asking you to do anything that previous Progressive Conservative governments haven’t already done. We are asking you to lead like Lougheed.
Standing Committee on Alberta’s Economic Future
review of the BRIK (Bitumen Royalty-in-Kind) Program
Committee Room A
4th Floor – Legislature Annex Building
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Gil McGowan, President
Our current provincial government wants Albertans to believe that these are tough times.
They want us to believe that the recession has left them with no choice but to trim budgets and cut funding ... even for vital services like education.
People like Premier Stelmach and Education Minister Dave Hancock put on their most sorrowful faces and said things like:
"We're sorry, but – really – there is no alternative."
But ordinary Albertans know in their hearts and their guts that there is something seriously wrong with this picture.
They see mega projects ramping up; they see glitzy office towers rising; they see the economy springing back to life.
And they wonder: Why?
Why, amidst such plenty, should we be laying off teachers and other education workers?
Why should we be under-funding our universities, colleges and technical schools?
Why should we be cutting services for the needy and the disabled?
Why should we be skimping on the services and programs that we need to build a stronger foundation for the future of our province and its citizens?
The truth is: There is no good reason.
The truth is: It is ordinary Albertans, with hearts and their guts, who are right, and it's our politicians, with their pious pronouncements, who are wrong.
Facts are sometimes inconvenient for politicians. They get in the way of the stories they tell voters and tell themselves.
But when we're talking about our schools and our hospitals ... about services for our kids, our grandparents and the most vulnerable members of our society ... then we can't afford to ignore the facts.
And what do the facts tell us?
Well, they tell us that Alberta is one of the most prosperous jurisdictions not only in Canada, but in the entire world.
They tell us that we still have no public debt ...
...that, on a person basis, our provincial economy is 75 percent larger than the Canadian average...
...that corporate profits in the province have increased by more than 400 percent over the past decade...
...that ten of billions of dollars in investment continue to pour into the oil sands each year.
These are NOT tough times.
We are a province that can think big and dream big. And we are certainly a province that can afford to provide adequate, stable long-term funding for core services like education.
There is another part of the government story that doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
That's the part where they tell Albertans that we has a spending problem – that costs are out of control for public services.
But, once again, the facts tell a different story.
They tell us that, despite our wealth, Alberta's per person spending on public services is bang on the national average.
They tell us that overall spending on public services has barely kept up with our province's robust population growth.
And they tell us that, as a share of our provinces overall economic pie, spending on public services has actually gone down over the last 20 years – and not by just a little bit.
All of this begs the question: if we can afford our services (which, clearly, we can) and if spending is under control (which, clearly, it is) why, then, is the Stelmach government still recording deficits?
This is the real question that Albertans need to be asking themselves and their politicians: now; during the Tory leadership race and in the next election.
And the answer is clear: the reason our cupboard is bare is because our provincial government has decided to make it bare.
Successive governments here in Alberta have deliberately stopped collecting a reasonable and responsible share of our province's economic pie to fund the public services that Albertans need. Years and years of ill-conceived tax and royalty cuts have left us with an inadequate and unreliable revenue base.
Alberta is like a rich guy with a big hole in his pocket. He keeps shoving the money in, but his pockets are always empty at the end of the month. The answer is not for the rich guy to sell his house, or tell his kids they're going to live on Kraft dinner. The answer is to fix the hole.
That's why we've re-established the Join Together Alberta coalition ... and it's why we'll be circulating our declaration and hosting townhalls across the province.
We want to help Albertans understand that lay-offs and larger class sizes are not inevitable or unavoidable.
We want to remind our leaders and the public about the important role that public services play in building a more sustainable, equitable and prosperous future.
We want to demonstrate that what we have is a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
We want to pressure our politicians to stop preaching austerity when it is clearly unwarranted.
And we to call on the government to deal with the real problem: which is Alberta's broken system for revenue generation.
The good news is that thoughtful members of our provincial community are starting to wake up and speak out. Peter Lougheed, members of the premier's advisory panel on economic strategy, think tanks like the Parkland Institute and the Canada West Foundation: they're all calling for a discussion on revenue reform.
Politicians don't like to talk about taxes. But for the sake of our kids, our families and our future, this is a discussion we have to have. We're going to do our part to make sure that happens.
River Valley Room, Chateau Lacombe
March 26, 2011
Launch of AFL Real Pension Reform Campaign
November 16, 2010
Matrix Hotel, Edmonton, Alberta
Good morning and welcome.
We've invited you here today because a crisis is looming: a crisis in retirement income.
It's a crisis which, in many ways, has already begun ... but which will only worsen as more and more Canadians reach retirement age without adequate savings.
It's a crisis which will rob millions of Canadians of security and dignity in their retirement years.
It's a crisis that will hurt the economy as the spending power of the seniors shrinks.
And it's a crisis from which Albertans will not be spared.
The good news - and there is good news - is that nine provinces and the federal government recognize that a serious problem exists and are prepared to do something about it.
The bad news is that our province, the province of Alberta, is acting as a spoiler and standing in the way of a real national solution.
Other provinces and the federal government agree that Canadians aren't saving enough for retirement.
They agree that fewer and fewer people are covered by workplace pensions.
They agree that the private investment industry has failed miserably to deliver on all the promises they've made over the years about private retirement savings and the dream of Freedom 55.
Other provinces and the federal government also agree on what action needs to be taken.
They agree that a big part of the solution lies in expansion of that one part of pension picture that remains solid: the Canada Pension Plan.
Unlike many private sector workplace pensions, CPP is fully funded and actuarially sound for at least the next 75 years.
It's also portable from job to job and from province to province.
And unlike mutual funds, CPP charges rock-bottom management fees and provides a guaranteed benefit, as opposed to the uncertainty of most mutual funds which are tied to fluctuations in the stock market.
The only real problem with the CPP is that it's too small. With an average annual payout of only $6,000 and a maximum annual payout of only $11,000, CPP is one of the least generous national pension plans in the developed world.
Pension experts say that people need income equivalent to about 70 percent of their pre-retirement income to maintain their standard of living in retirement. But CPP only replaces about 25 percent for people earning $47,000.
That's where we in the labour movement think pension reform needs to start.
We're calling for a gradual doubling of CPP benefits, so that CPP can replace 50 percent of pre-retirement income for people earning $47,000 a year.
It's a modest, incremental solution which has been endorsed by seniors groups, by student groups, by prominent economists and academics and, as I've said, by the Finance Ministers and Premiers from every province except our own.
Even the federal Conservatives support CPP expansion.
Federal Finance Minster Jim Flaherty is behind the idea. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given it his stamp of approval.
Even Diane Ablonczy, one of the last remaining original Reform Party MPs and currently Secretary of State for Seniors, is giving CPP expansion her support.
Just two weeks ago, I had a long talk with Minister Ablonczy in her office on Parliament Hill.
She admitted that, for ideological reasons, she hesitated to support CPP expansion.
But as the federal minister responsible for seniors, she said she's met too many seniors who simply can't make ends meet.
She's seen too many seniors who worked hard all their lives, raised families and contributed to their communities ... but who didn't have workplace pensions and just couldn't find any money at the end of the month to save for their retirement.
That's why she says we need across-the-board, mandatory solutions like an expanded CPP.
Unions. Seniors. Students. Economists. Provincial leaders. Federal leaders.
It's all part of what the Globe and Mail calls an "emerging national consensus" to address the looming crisis in retirement income by expanding CPP.
It's a consensus that could lead to a ground-breaking agreement when finance minister gather in Kananaskis a month from now. Alberta could be the site of an historic policy breakthrough ... or the meeting in Kananaskis could be remembered only as a missed opportunity.
At the moment, we remain optimistic ... but we're also more than a little frustrated.
The only dissenting voices to be heard on the issue of CPP expansion are coming from banks and insurance companies - who want to keep charging Canadians outrageous fees for the under-performing retirement planning services provide - and from the Alberta government, which has staked out an ideological position that is at odds with the facts and which does not reflect the opinion of Albertans or uphold their best interests.
Speaking on behalf of his government, Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton has said that Albertans don't need an expanded CPP. He has said they don't want an expanded CPP. He has also said that real solutions lie elsewhere.
In particular, in speeches, in guest columns, and most recently in a new document entitled "Alberta Aging Population Policy Framework" (which was released just last week) Morton outlines a vision for seniors policy that most Albertans have not heard about ... but which almost nobody would support if they had.
For example, Morton says the onus should be on individual Albertans to save for their own retirements - even though the evidence clearly shows that most Albertans don't have enough money left over at the end of the month to set aside for an adequate retirement.
Morton says that if they don't have adequate income, seniors should be encouraged to sell of their assets, most notably their homes.
Morton also says the looming crisis in retirement income should be seen as an opportunity for businesses worried about labour shortages because it will force more and more people to keep working until their 70 or 75 years old.In fact, one of the only major policy promises in the government's new Aging Population Policy Framework is to provide new career counselling services to seniors ... presumably so they can spent their golden years working as Wal-Mart greeters instead of enjoying a dignified retirement.
But that's not all. If any additional pension programs are needed, Morton says they should be voluntary - meaning employers should be able to opt out if they chose - and they should be managed by the private investment industry as opposed to the lower-cost, more efficient and more accountable people who run the CPP.
That's the Alberta government's vision for retirement policy. Sell your house. Work until your 75. And keep paying exorbitant fees to banks and insurance companies for under-performing mutual funds.
That's why we're launching our campaign today. And that's why our slogan is "Hey Ted, Albertans want REAL pension reform."
Behind me, you see our new campaign website at www.realpensionreform.org.
On the site you'll find all sorts of information, documents and links dealing with issues of retirement insecurity and pension reform.
We're also releasing the results of a province-wide poll that we conducted last month.
Like previous polls conducted by other labour organizations and media outlets, our poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Alberta support expansion of CPP as a solution to the looming crisis in retirement income.
78 percent of those surveyed don't buy the argument advanced by Ted Morton that Albertans have already made adequate arrangements for their retirement.
67 percent don't buy the argument that banks and insurance companies should be chosen over the CPP to run an expanded pension system.
And 71 percent say Ted Morton and the Alberta government should "get out of the way and allow changes to CPP that will put more money in the pockets of all Canadians when they retire."
We're also releasing a report outlining the real situation in Alberta when it comes to retirement income.
The report was prepared for us by economist and pension expert Hugh MacKenzie - and is appropriately titled "It IS Broke - So Fix It!"
So how bad is the situation in Alberta? How great is the need for reform?
Well, our report shows that Alberta has the lowest proportion of workers covered by workplace pensions in the country - and that number is falling.
Our report shows that only 38 percent of Albertans contributed to an RRSP in 2008 - and the median contribution was only $3,200 a year.
Our report shows that 60 percent of Alberta's RRSP contributions are made by people earning more than $80,000 a year, meaning that middle and low-income Albertans are being left out and left behind.
Our report shows that in 2007 half of Alberta seniors had no investment income at all and that a third of them survive on less than $16,000 a year.
And our report shows that management fees charged by mutual fund companies are eating up between 40 and 60 percent of the investment gains earned by individual Albertans on their retirement savings.
That's the real face of Alberta's retirement income system. It's a system that's broken. It's a system that's exposing a growing number of Albertans to insecurity. And it's a system that will only get worse if major fixes are not implemented soon.
So the goal of our campaign is to send a message to two groups: the first being finance ministers from other provinces and the second being Members of the Legislative Assembly here in Alberta.
For finance ministers, our message is simple: Ted Morton doesn't speak for all Albertans.
If he changes his mind and supports the consensus in favour of CPP expansion great. But if he doesn't, if he sticks to his guns about doing nothing in the face of the growing pension crisis...well, then we want to make it clear that he's out of step with the majority of Albertans.
Our message for Alberta MLAs, and especially for members of the government caucus, is also clear.
We want to send them the message that CPP expansion is needed and that it makes sense.
We want them to understand that an expanded CPP would be good for individual Albertans because it will give them a low-cost way to generate an increased stream of guaranteed income in retirement.
We want them to understand that an expanded CPP would be good for employers, especially small employers, because it will allow them to provide increased retirement benefits for their employees without exposing them to the risks and liabilities associated with running their own pension plans.
We want them to understand that an expanded CPP will be good for taxpayers because it will mean that fewer people will have to rely on tax funded supplements like GIS.
Finally, we want them to understand that an expanded CPP would be good for our broader economy and society because it would give seniors more money to spend in their communities and it would allow them to live with security and dignity.
In the end, despite the spin coming from people like Finance Minister Morton, tens of thousands of Albertans are facing a bleak retirement future.
But it doesn't have to be that way. We know what needs to be done. The rest of Canada is in the process of mustering the political will to solve the retirement income crisis before it takes hold.
What's required now is for Albertans to speak out and to demand that their provincial government either get on board with the move to expand CPP or get out of the way.
Thank you all for being here this morning.
Let's hope that when Canada's finance ministers gather in Kananaskis this December Alberta will join them in delivering the Christmas present that Canadians really need - the gift of retirement income security.
Gil McGowan, President
As most of you know, the AFL is Alberta's largest organization of labour unions. We represent 29 unions in the public and private sectors with a collective membership of more than 140,000 working Albertans.
As you probably also know, the AFL has played a central role in the fight to keep our health care system whole, and to keep it public.
With our partners in groups like Friends of Medicare, we fought against Bill 37 in the late 1990s.
In 2000, we fought against Bill 11- the provincial government's next attempt at expanding the role of private hospitals.
And in 2005 and 2006, we played a key role in the fight against the Third Way.
In all of these cases, the labour movement - through the AFL - marshalled its resources, mobilized its members and helped win the support of a clear majority of Albertans.
The ads, the town halls, the thousands of calls and letters to MLAs - we helped make those things happen. And we did it because we believe in our hearts, and in our guts, that public health care is worth fighting for.
All of these campaigns were instructive. They demonstrated that Albertans are passionately supportive of their public health care system. They demonstrated that Albertans are willing to pay for a top-notch public health services through their taxes. And they demonstrated that Albertans are deeply distrustful of, and opposed to, all efforts to weaken the system through privatization.
For our purposes this morning, I think it's particularly important that we look back on our province's experience with the so-called Third Way.
While we were preparing for this presentation, we dug up a document called "Removing Barriers" which was prepared by the government in 2005.
It was a summary of what the Third Way was all about - and it's worth reading if only to remind us that we've been here before.
According to the Removing Barriers document, the main goal of the Third Way was to pave the way for private insurance and for doctors to practice in both the public and private systems. Both of these changes were to be made by amending the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act and the Hospitals Act ... the same laws now under review by this committee.
Back in 2006, the people of Alberta heard this sales pitch and they made it clear that they weren't interested in buying.
They didn't want the government experimenting with private insurance. They didn't want the government to allow doctors to practice in both a public and private system or any other money-making scheme that would siphon resources from the public system to a for-profit one.
And the government was forced to back down.
So here we are, almost 4 years later.
The lesson from these earlier attempts at privatization should have been that the people of Alberta are not interested in more user fees, a parallel private system, or purchasing private insurance.
They are not interested in schemes that allow queue-jumping. And they're not fooled by loaded political buzzwords like "choice" and "flexibility."
What Albertans wanted then, and what they continue to want now, is a properly-funded public system that uses intelligent innovations within the public system to make sure people get the care they need, when they need it.
So what has the government learned from Bill 37, Bill 11 and the Third Way?
Well, they don't seem to understand what "no" means.
If anything, it appears the lesson the government has taken from all of these failed attempts at reform is not to accept that Albertans don't want more private health care, but rather that they should be just use new and better political "spins" to sell the idea.
That's why my organization is frankly suspicious of this committee and its work. Even some of your reassurances make us suspicious.
For example, this Committee has tried to reassure Albertans that we're not heading for a repeat of the Third Way by saying that whatever changes are made, the legislation that comes out the other end will be in compliance with the Canada Health Act.
With all due respect, this is perfect example of the political spin I was talking about - the kind of game-playing that makes Albertans more distrustful of the government's real intent, not less.
As all of you undoubtedly know, the Canada Health Act does not prevent private health services, private delivery, or private insurance.
The Canada Health Act does do is ensure that federal spending on health care supports publicly administered, comprehensive, universal, portable and accessible provincial health care insurance plans.
But the CHA is silent on whether there should or shouldn't be a parallel private system available to those who can afford to buy their way to the front of the line using US-style private insurance.
That means that restricting the growth of a parallel for-profit health care system is the role of provincial Legislatures, not the federal government through the Canada Health Act.
And what do the laws in Alberta say today? The good news, from our perspective, is that they actually do the job of protecting the integrity of the public system.
For example, in sections 6 and 7 of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act physicians are allowed to either opt in or opt out of the public system. There is no law against a physician setting up a wholly private practice. But the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act contains some powerful disincentives for physicians to go "private" - most notably the prohibition on opted-out doctors from receiving subsidies from the public system.
In addition, section 26 of the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act outlaws contracts for private insurance for services that are covered in the public system, and private insurance is also not allowed to pay for all or part of fees charged by physicians who opt-out of the public system.
In other words, these are the laws that keep our system public. These laws, Alberta laws, are what keep the privatization monster at bay.
Unfortunately, they also happen to be the laws that this committee is proposing should be amalgamated, streamlined, and possibly relegated to regulation.
That's why we're worried.
We're worried because you're proposing to tinker with legislation governing opting-in, subsidization, and private insurance contained in the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act which are the only barrier to the creation of a private health care market.
We also worried because the legislative model you're proposing for the new "Alberta Health Act" is the model that the government used in the Drug Program Act.
As you know, the Drug Program Act is enabling legislation, which permits the Minister to establish a drug program for the purpose of providing funding for, or providing, drugs, services and approved drugs.
The Drug Program Act then permits the Minister to make regulations which will determine all of the details of the plan, including who is covered for what kind of drug coverage, amounts of co-payments and deductibles.
The Drug Program Act puts most of the power to decide the future of Albertans' drug coverage in the regulations, not the legislation or statute itself.
The key difference between a statute and a regulation - and I know this is obvious, but it bears repeating - is that a statute is approved by the Legislative Assembly following debate before it becomes law, while a regulation is not.
If the Drug Program Act is accepted as the model for the new Health Care Act, Alberta's health-care legislation will contain no details of the core health-care framework.
All details will be left to the Minister's discretion and will not subject to debate in the Legislative Assembly. Further, the Minister can change the regulations at any time without notice and without debate.
This model offers no assurances that delivery of insured services using public funding will be organized in a manner that preserves delivery of health care on a non-profit model; or appropriate standards for health and health services in Alberta will be established and enforced.
To us, it seems like a tool designed to ram privatization down the throats of Albertans. It seems to be a strategy aimed at giving the government the power to fundamentally change our health care system under the cover of night, because they haven't been able to do their dirty work successfully in the full light of day.
All of this is not to say that there aren't constructive changes that could be made to our various pieces of health care legislation.
For example, we could expand the services covered under the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act to include more services, such as eye care.
We could move all Health-Insurance related legislation into one piece of legislation, consolidating the Hospitals Act and the Health Care Insurance Act, setting out more services that are insured under our public plan.
We could beef up accreditation and inspection of non-hospital surgical facilities such as the now-bankrupt Health Resources Centre, so that they are subject to the same rules as a public hospital.We could improve the standards in nursing and mental health care, which every reasonable person agrees would help to protect and better care for Alberta's most vulnerable citizens.
But there is no need to amalgamate all of the legislation, and there is even less need to structure our health care laws as enabling legislation. This committee appears to be breaking the things that don't need fixing while not even looking at the areas - like mental health and seniors' care - that are actually broken.
In conclusion, I want to be perfectly clear with this committee.
My purpose here this morning is to let you and the government know that we have a pretty clear idea of what you're up to.
In the language of that old Third Way document, it seems to us that your task is to remove barriers. And the barriers you seem intent on removing are the barriers that currently exist in legislation to private insurance and the introduction of a parallel, private health care system. Perhaps most disturbingly, you want to achieve these radical changes in a way that is profoundly undemocratic.
So please, tell the Minister, tell the cabinet, tell the Premier: if they go ahead with this attempt to structure our health laws against the wishes and best interests of Albertans, we in the labour movement will, once again, stand up for and with ordinary Albertans.
Tell them not to fix something if it's not broken.
And tell them to do what Albertans have been asking for from the beginning: and that is to improve the public system by focusing on reforms within the public system itself, not by constantly returning to discredited and dangerous privatization schemes.
Gil McGowan, President
Alberta Federation of Labour
Thursday, June 29, 2010
2010 Jun Speaking Notes - Presentation to Alberta Legislative Assembly Standing Committee on the Economy - Minimum Wage
As most of you know, the AFL is Alberta's largest labour organization, representing 29 unions in the public and private sectors with a collective membership of about 140,000 Albertans.
On behalf of that membership I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to present to this committee on the important question of how to set Alberta's minimum wage.
I've often been described in the media as one of the government's most vocal and persistent critics.
I'm the first to admit there's a lot of truth in that label.
On behalf of my members, I've raised concerns about this government's approach to workplace health and safety; its approach to labour law; its approach to temporary foreign workers; and its approach to development in the oil sands... among many other things.
So you can imagine my surprise when, two years ago, I found myself in agreement with a major decision made by the Premier and his then Minister of Employment, Hector Goudreau.
And I didn't just agree...I actually wanted to shout my enthusiastic support from the roof tops.
The decision I'm referring to, of course, was the decision to increase the minimum wage - and even more importantly - to explicitly tie future increases to changes in the average weekly wage index.
At the time, the premier and the minister basically said that whenever other Albertans got a raise, the lowest paid Albertans should get a raise too.
It was the same logic - and the same mechanism - that the government used to determine pay increases for MLAs.
I had a few quibbles. I thought the starting base wage should be set a little higher. And I thought the Alberta Consumer Price Index might have provided a more appropriate benchmark.
But, on balance, I felt the government had done the right thing for the right reasons. It was a simple system; a transparent system; a predictable system; and a fair system. It was, I would argue, an example of public policy at its thoughtful best.
I'm a strong believer in giving credit where credit is due, so I wasn't shy about praising the government. I did it in writing; I did it press releases and I said it to anyone who would listen.
Whole-heartedly supporting the Alberta government on a major policy issue was uncharted territory for me - but honestly, it felt good.
Unfortunately, today find myself in more familiar territory.
We're here because the new Minister of Employment, Thomas Lukazuk, has called for a review of Alberta's Minimum Wage policy and has suspended the small increase that was supposed to be given to minimum wage workers this spring.
To say that I'm disappointed by this turn of events would be an understatement.
When the Minister made his announcement about the freeze and the review, he said he was doing so because many employers had told him that an increases in the minimum wage, however small, would lead to significant job loss.
That's really why we're here today - because business owners - especially business owner in the service sector - played the jobs card ... and they did it during a recession.
To be fair, anyone sitting in the Employment Minister's chair, has to take concerns about job loss seriously - especially at a time when the number of unemployed is increasing.
But if you're a business or a business lobby group that is asking the government to take money out of the pockets of our poorest citizens, then the onus is on you to back up your arguments with facts, not fear.
Anecdotes aren't evidence and rhetoric is not reality.
But that's what this review is based on: unsubstantiated anecdotes; overheated rhetoric; and thinly disguised self interest.
I say all of this because when it comes to the argument that is at the core of this debate - the argument that even a small increase in the minimum wage would kill jobs - there is no evidence.
In fact, what the evidence shows is exactly the opposite. What the evidence shows is that employment in the low-wage service sector has actually INCREASED in Alberta whenever we've increased the minimum wage.
The Alberta Federation of Labour has conducted an five-year analysis of the occupations most likely to pay minimum or low wages - occupations in retail sales, cashiers and clerks, food and beverage service workers, and those employed in travel and accommodation.
Since 2005, Alberta has made four upward adjustments in the minimum wage...and every time the number of Albertans working in low wage jobs went up.
In 2005, the minimum wage was boosted from $5.90 to $7.00/hour. One year after the increase, there were 26,700 more Albertans working in the food and beverage, service, and travel/accommodation industries.
In September 2007, the Alberta government boosted the minimum wage from $7.00 to $8.00/hour. In April 2008, they increased it again to $8.40/hour. In the 8-month interval between these increases - and just as the global credit crisis was beginning to shake business and consumer confidence - the number of Albertans working in the food and beverage, retail, and travel/accommodation industries grew from a total of 342,800 to 363,300 employees.
Finally, in April 2009, the minimum wage increased again - from $8.40 to $8.80 per hour.
Around this time overall unemployment in Alberta had increased from 6% in April 2009 to 7.4% in May 2010. If increases in the minimum wage really killed jobs, you'd think surely at this time, when other jobs were being shed, this would happen. But it didn't.
- Employment in food and beverage service, retail sales, and travel/accommodations actually grew in the year since the last minimum wage increase.
- Albertans employed in retail sales as clerks and cashiers grew from 129,600 in April 2009 to 142,400 individuals in May 2010
- Albertans working in food and beverage service went from 64,700 in April 2009 to 68,700 in May 2010
- Albertans working in travel and accommodation services grew from 185,800 in April 2009 to 188,400 individuals in May 2010.
So why have all the conservative predictions about job loss related to minimum wage turned out to be empty phantoms. Partly because they we motivated more by the self-interested desire by some employers to keep wages low. But more importantly, those predictions were wrong because they were based on economic models as opposed to empirical evidence.
Models only work if the assumptions that they're based on a true ... that's why they're dangerous tools to rely on for policy making. Empirical evidence, on the other hand, is by definition true ... it's reality. And reality, not ideologically driven conjecture, should be the basis of all public policy - especially those policies that affect our most vulnerable citizens.
What the empirical evidence from right here in Alberta shows is that there is no substance to the argument that modest, predictable increases in the minimum wage kill jobs. It's a myth, plain an simply.
Unfortunately, it's not the only myth that has been clouding the debate on minimum wage.
For example, there's the minimum wage is a living wage. It's not.
An Albertan earning the minimum wage of $8.80/hour, working 40 hours per week and 50 weeks per year earns $17,600 per year before taxes, which is $4,533 below the before-tax Low-Income Cut-Off for an individual living in a city, better known as the poverty line.
If one is the head of a lone-parent family with two children in Edmonton or Calgary, a full-time hourly wage of $10/hour - the wage earned by 6.9% of working Albertans - still sees that family earning $13,133 per year less than the before-tax Low-Income Cut-Off.
Another myth has to do with the number of Albertans who struggle with low wages. Some people in government and business fond of reminding Albertans that very few workers earn minimum wage - as if this is a justification for keeping the minimum wage far below any accepted measure of poverty.
While it is true that only 1.4% of Alberta workers earn the bare minimum, fully 6.9% of the Alberta workforce earns less than $10/hour and 13.7% earned less than $12/hour, a wage that still constitutes a life of poverty.
The minimum wage is a floor. If the floor is too low, all workers at the lower end of the income ladder suffer... they're dragged down. That's why the minimum wage matters, even if only a small number of workers actually earn that wage.
Another myth is that low-wage earners are predominantly high school students living with their parents, who only work to pay for the latest video game or new cell phone.
This stereotype is an insult to the tens of thousands of Albertans - predominantly women - who are working for low wages in order to put food on the table.
59% of low-wage earners (less than $10/hour) are over 20, and 42% are over 25.
In other words, 42% of low-wage earners are likely to have family responsibilities.
The final myth that I want to address is the myth that Alberta is doing enough for its poor, especially its working poor.
In his letter of invitation for groups to present to this review, Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk urged the Standing Committee on the Economy to examine practices in other jurisdictions.
Minimum wage standards are part of an overall strategy to combat poverty and ensure economic security for all Albertans.
However, Alberta is in a minority of provinces without some form of anti-poverty strategy. For example:
- New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Manitoba all have comprehensive anti-poverty strategies, and part of the strategy in all of these provinces is ensuring the minimum wage keeps pace with the economy.
- 6 out of 10 provinces have provincial child benefits similar to the federal Child Tax Benefit, which supplement incomes for families headed by low-wage earners. Alberta is in the minority of provinces without a provincial child benefit.
So what conclusions can be drawn from all of this?
The main conclusion, I think, is that Alberta can and should do better. The other main conclusion is that Alberta can and should base its policy on minimum wage on facts and empirical evidence, not hearsay, rhetoric and self-interested fear-mongering.
And what do the facts tell us?
They tell us that too many working Albertans are suffering with low wages.
They tell us that regular, predictable increases to the minimum wage would help those struggling Albertans.
And they tell us that increases in the minimum wage have not in the pass and will not likely in the future result in the loss of jobs.
The bottom line for us is that Alberta can afford to be a leader in fighting poverty - and any serious strategy to fighting poverty has to include a regularly indexed minimum wage that is at least close to being a living wage.
We believe that anyone who works full-time, full-year in our province should earn a wage that allows them to stay out of poverty. The current minimum wage doesn't do that - and without a system for guaranteeing regular increases, the situation will only get worse as the value of the minimum wage is eroded by inflation.
The Alberta Federation of Labour applauded the government's 2007 decision to tie increases in the minimum wage to the average weekly earnings index.
We recommend that the government return immediately to following its own policy, and boost the minimum wage immediately to $9.05, as it was supposed to happen earlier this year.
In addition, as the economy recovers, the government should consider a one-time boost to the minimum wage in the months ahead.
As we have seen, thousands of Albertans earn less than $10/hour, and many of them are likely to have family responsibilities.
Boosting the minimum wage to $10/hour in the months ahead is unlikely to have any effect on the economy besides giving low-income families a little more breathing room.
Putting more money in the hands of hard-working, low-income people, according to every economic analysis available, actually provides a boost to the economy in times of recession.
As I've said, this is a government that did the right thing for the right reasons on minimum wage. Please do the right thing again. Thank you.
Gil McGowan, President
Alberta Federation of Labour
June 23, 2010
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour
Good evening and thank you all for coming.
We've organized this rally tonight to send a message to Telus. And based on the size of the crowd tonight & it's a very strong message.
As many of you know, our rally here in Edmonton is just one of three big rallies being held tonight in support of locked-out Telus workers.
Right at this moment, union members and union supporters are also gathering outside the Telus tower in Calgary and the Telus' headquarters in Burnaby in B.C.
These rallies are the culmination of a week of hard work by the TWU, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the B.C. Federation of Labour.
Over the past few days, our two federations have convened meetings of almost all the major unions in Alberta and British Columbia.
Yesterday afternoon, for example, leaders from dozens of unions gathered at the AFL office.
We had leaders from the United Nurses of Alberta. The Canadian Union of Public Employees. The Communication Energy Paperworkers. The Health Sciences Association of Alberta. The United Food and Commercial Workers.
We were also joined by construction trades unions like the Carpenters, the Plumbers and Pipefitters, and the Electrical workers and by independent unions like CSU 52 and NASA from the University of Alberta.
Similar meetings have been held in Vancouver and Victoria.
The result of all these meetings is that, starting today, under the banners of the AFL and BCFL, we'll be launching a two-province, multi-union campaign of support for locked-out Telus workers.
Our campaign will be coordinated. It will be sustained. And it will be escalating.
The key to our campaign will be our members.
Here in Alberta, we have 120,000 union members from 29 unions affiliated to the AFL.
We also have support from building trades unions representing 40,000 workers and from various independent unions representing nearly 100,000 workers.
All tolled, here in Alberta, we have enlisted the support of unions representing about 250,000 workers.
And it's not just us. In B.C. Federation of Labour has signed up unions representing nearly 500,000 workers.
Telus may think they're taking on one union representing 13,000 workers. But they've miscalculated.
Starting today, they're going to up against the full weight of the entire labour movement in two provinces.
Together, we represent hundreds of thousands of working people and their families - and that means hundreds of thousands of Telus customers or potential customers.
We're going to show them that the flip side of union power is consumer power.
The first component of our campaign will be the leaflet that is being circulated through the crowd tonight.
It's just one piece of paper & but it carries a powerful message.
Our members have been asking what they can do to support you. Now were giving them the information they need.
At this point, we are NOT asking people to boycott Telus services.
Instead, we will be asking our members to do three things.
First, we're asking people to discontinue some of their Telus land line services. And the leaflet tells people how to do that.
Second, we're asking people to discontinue some of the cell phone services. And the leaflet tells people how to do that.
Finally, we're asking people to report service complaints to the CRTC so we can demonstrate that Telus managers are lying when they service has not been disrupted.
The unions who have signed up for our campaign are not just giving passive support. They have committed to get these leaflets out into the hands of their members.
Your message will be mailed, faxed, and e-mailed to hundreds of thousands of people.
And this is just a start. We've got more ideas up our sleeves. This is just the first shot across Telus' bow - it won't be the last.
At this point, I'd just like to say a few words about our friend Darren Entwhistle.
In the days before this lock-out began, he was talking tough.
He told the media and he told investors that he was going to bust the union. And he said the first place he was going to break you was here in Alberta.
Well, we're here tonight to say show the world that Entwhistle was wrong.
This line is solid. Telus workers are solid. TWU is solid. The Alberta labour movement is solid.
And you know what? It's not just union members who Entwhistle has misjudged. He also misjudged other Albertans.
We don't take kindly to what this man, this Rambo CEO, has done.
In five or six short years, he's taken a company that was built largely with taxpayers dollars, a company that had a proud history of service, a company that had a long record of positive labour relations and he's poisoned it.
He's poisoned customer service and he's poisoned the work environment.
So tonight, we're here to say that we want a fair contract for telus workers. But we're also here to say, "we want our company back!"
For me, this is all kind of personal.
My Dad worked in this tower for nearly 25 years. I was an AGT kid.
Unlike Mr. Entwhistle, my dad was never a millionaire. But he was proud of the work he did.
He had a good union job. And, as a result, he was able to pay the mortgage and raise a family. He was able to plan for his retirement and even have a little left over to take me and my brothers on a few vacations.
That's what this dispute is really about. It's about defending family sustaining jobs, community sustaining jobs.
Telus makes its money here, in our towns, in our cities, from our citizens.
As a result, it has an obligation to give something back by investing here and maintaining good jobs here.
But Mr. Entwhistle's contract - the one he's tried to ram down you throats - would allow him to contract out jobs, to strip benefits, to send work down to the southern United States or to the Phillipines.
Tonight we're here to say "no" to this kind of corporate irresponsibility. We're here to say "no way" to the Entwistle way.
I'd like to conclude tonight with two promises and a predication.
On behalf of the Alberta Federation of Labour, our Executive, our members and affiliates, I promise that you will not stand alone.
We will be with you for however long it takes to get the kind of fair agreement you deserve.
We also promise that we will use our people power to make Telus feel the heat.
As far as my predication goes, let me say this.
The problem with this company has never been the workers. And the problem is not your old contract. The real problem is Darren Entwhistle and his Rambo-style management.
Through our collective efforts, and by keeping your picket line strong, we're going to help Telus investors see the light.
And six months from now, I predict that you'll be back at work with a negotiated contract. And Darren will where he should have been three years ago - out of work!
Together we can make it happen. Thanks for coming. Solidarity!
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour
Good afternoon. In a way, I am here today in two capacities.
I'm here first as the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which is our province's largest labour organization, representing 29 unions and 115,000 members.
As a provincial advocacy organization, our focus is usually on issues of provincial policy.
But every once in a while, a local issue comes along that has the potential to affect a broad range of our members, not just as workers and union members, but also as taxpayers and citizens.
The proposal in front of us today - to transfer $8 billion of City owned and controlled assets to EPCOR - is one of those issues. That's the first reason I'm here.
The second reason I'm here is more personal. As some of you may remember, up until very recently, I was chair of community planning for the Strathcona Community League. Even though I've moved on from that position, I'm still a proud Edmontonian and issues of municipal planning and development are still near and dear to my heart.
Given my background, and the magnitude of the decision Council is about to make, I simply could not remain on the sidelines.
At this point I'll admit that there are probably many other people better versed in the technical details of this proposal. So I won't try to delve into the intricacies of the transfer.
Instead, I simply want to raise a few questions that continue to float in my head (pardon the pun).
The first question is this: why are we trying to fix something isn't broken?
The Drainage Branch is a very well run city service. It's regarded as one of the highest quality systems in North America. The Goldbar plant is one of the best examples of environmental stewardship and effective water treatment on the continent. And even more importantly, Edmontonians, are very satisfied with the service.
So why, if we've got such a good thing going, do we want to mess with it?
EPCOR has indicated it wants to combine its expertise with the expertise from the Drainage Branch to create a Centre of Excellence. What I don't understand is why we need amalgamation to have cooperation. Surely EPCOR and the Drainage Brach can collaborate within the existing corporate structures.
My second question comes in two parts: why does EPCOR want the assets? And what's in it for citizens?
Reading the Price Waterhouse report and hearing the discussions up to this point it seems to me that this proposal is about two things - getting lower interest rates on loans for EPCOR, and making EPCOR more competitive for contracts outside of Edmonton.
But, is what's good for EPCOR necessarily good for the citizens of Edmonton? Is it really worth giving up direct control of our City's largest asset in order to help EPCOR shave a quarter point off the loans they need for corporate expansion?
On the subject of loans, I'm also concerned that any gain for EPCOR might be balanced by a loss for the City. If they get lower interest because of increased assets couldn't the city face higher rates because of reduced assets? Just as importantly, this proposal would essentially mean that our public assets would be turned into debt to help finance corporate expansion. I'm pretty sure that most taxpayers would feel justifiably uncomfortable having their public assets used to underwrite potentially risky business ventures.
The third big question I have is: how is all of this going to affect the City's future development planning?
If EPCOR owns the drainage assets, then they control the decisions about how those assets will be deployed, expanded and updated.
This has huge ramifications for Edmontonians for future development.
What leaves me feeling particularly unsettled is knowing, as I do, that not a single City Councillor sits on the EPCOR board - and that all interaction between EPCOR and City Councillors as shareholders is secret.
As a citizen, I would feel much more comfortable knowing that decisions about the future development of the city will be made here in this chamber, in an open forum and by people who are directly accountable to voters - rather than by corporate managers behind closed doors.
The fourth unanswered question I have is this: how is this transfer in the public interest?
When preparing for this presentation, I went searching for tangible ways that Edmontonians would benefit from the transfer. And you know, I was hard pressed to find any.
Will it lead to lower rates for taxpayers? Apparently not.
Will it lead to better service? I've seen no evidence it will. EPCOR's plan is to use the new assets to build its portfolio outside of Edmonton. Improving service here in the City is secondary.
Will it help us plan for our future better? No, it will actually take planning power away from accountable, elected officials and put it in the hands of unelected corporate managers whose interests may not coincide with the public's interest.
In the end, I think there are simply too many troubling questions attached to this proposal.
I urge you to think about these questions, and only move forward if you are completely confident about the answers. Let's not sacrifice public control over development for the sake of corporate empire-building.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, Tuesday, April 3, 2007
Just under four years ago, the Alberta government introduced and passed a controversial law that radically altered labour relations in the health care sector.
Bill 27 allowed the government to tear up dozens of freely negotiated contracts covering the pay and working conditions of literally tens of thousands of health care workers.
It also forced unions into run-off votes, denying many workers the right to choose the union they actually preferred.
And, finally, it removed the legal right to strike from thousands of union members in areas like community health and mental health - without ever attempting to justify how the public interest would be threatened if a speech pathologist or a physiotherapist or community health nurse walked a picket line.
Our concerns about the substance of the law were profound. In many ways, it was the most blatantly anti-union piece of legislation introduced by an Alberta government in more than 20 years.
But in addition to being strongly opposed to what the new law said and what it meant for health care workers in this province, we were also deeply troubled by the process that led to its introduction.
In particular, we were concerned about the role that the Alberta Labour Relations Board played in drafting the law.
The Labour Relations Board is supposed to be the impartial referee in all labour relations matters. It is supposed to be free from influence from both employers and unions. And it is supposed to be independent from government.
However, in the case of Bill 27, it became clear to us that the boundaries between the board and the government had become dangerously blurred.
In the process, we felt that the Board's ability to act as an independent and impartial third party had been compromised.
Our concerns about the LRB's role in Bill 27 prompted us to file numerous freedom of information requests aimed at getting a clearer picture of what really happened behind the scenes between government and the Board.
It also prompted two major unions - the United Nurses of Alberta and the Communications, Energy Paperworkers - to launch legal action.
In September of 2004, Justice Watson of the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench dismissed the unions' application for a judicial review of Bill 27 - not because their arguments lacked merit, but because so much of their case rested on things that had gone on behind closed doors. We simply did not have enough evidence.
However, in the months following the lower court decision, the evidence that had been missing started to pile up. As a result of freedom of information requests launched by the Federation of Labour, a picture of what happened in the run-up to Bill 27 began to emerge.
That picture featured a government, who was also the employer - either directly or through the Regional Health Authorities it created and appointed - using its legislative power to force concessions on health care workers that it couldn't win at the bargaining table. It featured a Labour Board helping the government draft a law which they knew would be used against health care workers. And it also featured Board officers sitting in judgment on cases involving the law they had just helped write.
The new evidence that we managed to gather - and the picture that evidence painted - caused unions across the province to ask a very fundamental question: how can we possibly have confidence appearing before a tribunal that had so clearly worked with a major employer to undermine the rights and interests of a large group of workers?
How could we possibly trust a referee who had been working with the other team?
Today was supposed to be our first day at the appeal court. We were eager to have our day in court and, as a result of the new evidence, we were confident about the outcome.
But instead of appearing before the appeal panel, we are here to respond to a major new development.
Earlier this morning the Labour Relations Board released a new protocol designed to more clearly define future interactions between the Board and the government.
The protocol begins by asserting that the only way for the Board to maintain the confidence of the parties appearing before it is to defend its independence from employers, unions and government.
It goes on to say that it is the responsibility of the government, not the Board, to develop policy and draft labour legislation.
It acknowledges that in some cases the government may approach the board for narrow technical advice on legislation or regulations. But it puts strict boundaries on what this kind of consultation would involve.
Most importantly, the protocol guarantees that all interactions between the board and government on either legislation or regulation will be fully and publicly disclosed.
No more veil of secrecy. No more backroom meetings. No more government behaving as if the Board is merely a branch of one of its departments. No more guessing about what's going on behind closed doors.
The protocol also guarantees that, in those cases where the board does give technical advice, the board officers involved will not be allowed to sit in judgment on the laws or regulations they gave advice on.
It also puts restrictions on the role of outside legal counsel - so they can't act for employers one day and as advisor to the board the next.
With this document, the Alberta Labour Relations Board has gone from having essentially no clear internal rules dealing with its independence from government to having some of the best rules in the country.
We may still have some of the worst labour laws in Canada - and we do. But this protocol makes it clear that the Board's only role will be to interpret those bad laws, not help write them.
The importance of this change cannot be overstated. In a province where working people can't count on the Legislature to consistently protect their rights in the workplace, at the very least they have to have confidence that the referee isn't working against them as well.
The Board now has the tools to say "no" when the government comes calling. They now have the tools to tell say to the government, "we won't help you with your dirty work."
We expect the Board to aggressively use these new tools when appropriate.
We also have expectations for government. Now that clear boundaries have been set, we expect the government to respect those boundaries and to not compromise the independence of the board.
As a result of this new protocol, which has been signed by the Board chair and all the vice-chairs and which will be signed by all future vice-chairs, we at the Alberta Federation of Labour, the United Nurses of Alberta, and the Communication Energy Paperworkers union have collectively decided to withdraw our court appeal.
We have pursued this case tenaciously for the past four years. We have invested significant amounts of time, money and resources. And we have persevered in the face of efforts to discourage us.
But our goal was never to put trophy heads on our wall. Our goal was to improve public policy. Our goal was to defend and guarantee the independence of the Labour Board from undue influence from government and employers. And our goal was to restore confidence among all those who have to appear be before the Board.
Looking at the protocol released by the Board today, we are satisfied that our major goals have been achieved. As a result, we see no reason to proceed with the court case.
From our perspective, this is a victory for working people because we can now have more confidence in the tribunal that hears our concerns and complaints.
It is a victory for the Labour Board itself because it more clearly defines and defends its independence from government.
And it is a victory for the broader public because it sets in place a new model for governance which we think can and should be adopted by other public boards and agencies.
If the Stelmach government is sincere in its efforts to promote transparency and accountability, we think this protocol is a very good place to start.
Building a better model of governance - one that the public can really have confidence in - was our goal from the start.
That's why, last year, we at the AFL commissioned an expert study on the situation related to Bill 27. That study was done by Professor Lorne Sossin, a highly respected authority on administrative law from the University of Toronto.
It's clear to us that the Board took Prof. Sossin's recommendations to heart.
Prof. Sossin talked about the importance of maintaining a clear distance between government and administrative tribunals such as the LRB. He talked about the importance of rules to guarantee that distance. And he talked about the importance of transparency and full public disclosure.
The board may not have used the exact words proposed by Professor Sossin, but the spirit of his recommendations has clearly been given life in the Board's protocol.
As a result of these new rules, the Board has gone a long way to reestablishing confidence among the public and stakeholders.
Obviously, we would have been happier if Bill 27 had never been introduced. But we can't re-write history. We can, however, make sure that we don't repeat it.
If these rules had been in place four years ago, the government would not have been able to enlist the Board in its campaign to gut health care labour laws. We may still have gotten those laws - but their introduction would not have triggered a crisis in confidence in the Labour Board.
With the Board's new protocol, we consider our case against the Board's conduct on Bill 27 closed.
We can now turn our attention where it really belongs - to the bad laws we have on the books and to the government that has passed those laws and still defends them.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, January 10, 2007
There's no denying that times are good in Alberta. Unemployment is low, profits are high - and many Albertans are enjoying wages and opportunities that people living in other provinces can only dream about. This is the story we read about on the business pages. It's the story our politicians talk about and it's the story the public is encouraged to focus on. But there's another story in Alberta. In fact, there's a whole other Alberta. There's a whole population of Albertans for whom the boom is little more than a distant echo. That's why we at the Alberta Federation of Labour have participated in the preparation of this report. We think it's long past time that our leaders acknowledge the fact that not everyone is sharing in the so-called Alberta Advantage. The truth may not be comfortable for the comfortable to look at - and it may not jibe with the government's preferred script - but it's a truth that needs to be brought out from the shadows. The truth, as this report shows, is that not all boats are rising. The truth is that, even in here in wealthy Alberta, thousands of Albertans go to work every, they work hard - and yet they still can't make ends meet. The truth is that a quarter of working Albertans make less than $12 an hour and that the minimum wage is a cruel joke. The truth is also that wage increases for most Albertans are not keeping pace with the increase in costs for things like transportation, gas, home heating, food, child care and, especially, housing. For me, what is perhaps most troubling is that these issues don't even seem to be on the provincial government's radar screen.
You probably all remember that just before Christmas, our new Premier gave letters to each of his new cabinet ministers outlining his expectations and setting out his priorities for each ministry. The letter to Employment, Immigration and Industry Minister Iris Evan talked about the labour shortage, it talked about training - but it didn't talk about poverty and it didn't talk about struggling families. There's an old saying that the first step toward recovery is to admit you have a problem. Well, what we seem to have here is a government in denial. Some people may say: what can government do about these kinds of problems? They might say "the market will decide" or that we can never truly eliminate poverty. But what we're saying today is that the government, through its low minimum wage and patch-work approach to social policy - has helped create this problem. And they need to be part of the solution. The good news is that our governments have their hands on policy levers that can help. The provincial government could and should increase the minimum wage and index it to inflation. They could and should develop and fund a real child care program. And finally they, along with municipal governments, could and should adopt living wage policies for their employees and all their contracts. In the end, government is about choices. And when it comes to social policy, governments have a choice to take the high road or low road. The low road says let the market decide and let workers fend for themselves. The high road says all society benefits when families are given a hand up and when we as a society say we will not condemn any of our fellow citizens to lives of poverty and despair. Living Wage policies, like the ones outlined in this report, are concrete ways we can make the goal of reducing and eliminating poverty a reality.
But the first step is for all of us to convince our leaders and our governments that's it's time to take the off the rose coloured glasses. This report is the first stage in what will be an on-going campaign to do just that.
Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, June 13, 2006
Sometimes life proceeds as expected - sometimes you get thrown a curve ball
Getting an invitation to speak at this conference was a curve ball
It would be an understatement to say it's unusual for management here in Alberta to come to labour for advice - especially management in the resource sector.
But the truth is there are actually a lot of things we can agree on. For example, we all want the Alberta economy to remain strong. And we all want individual Albertans to benefit from that prosperity.
And despite the stereotypes about unions - that we're always spoiling for a fight and never want to cooperate - the truth is we want to be constructive.
In that spirit of constructive engagement, I'd like to do three things this afternoon:
First, I'd like to begin by talking about the nature of the challenge that we face in the Alberta labour market - for the obvious reason that if you don't have a clear understanding of the problem, you'll have a hard time coming up with solutions.
Second, I'd like to offer suggestions about what, from a union perspective, employers should be doing - and what they shouldn't be doing - if they want to attract and retain employees.
Third, I'd like to step back and look at the big picture. In particular, I'd like to address the question: what can and should government and business, broadly defined, be doing to help makes the challenges presented by Alberta's tight labour market more manageable?
I'm big on metaphors and analogies - so I'll describe my mission is nautical terms: what I'd like to do today is talk about just how choppy the waves are in Alberta's labour market; what individual firms can and should be doing to avoid getting swamped; and what we can do collectively to calm the waters and keep all of our boats afloat&
So just how high are the seas?
Looking at the Alberta economy from a distance, it looks like an almost entirely unblemished good news story.
There is unprecedented demand for our most important commodities: oil and gas. And all signs suggest that demand will remain strong.
In the past, oil producers like Alberta were almost entirely dependent on the U.S. economy. If demand fell there, world price would fall. But this time around things are different - U.S. is not the only game in town. China, and to a lesser extent India, have emerged as major forces. So even if the U.S. economy slows oil prices may dip, but probably won't collapse.
We're also bumping up against the reality of declining world-wide petroleum stocks in a way that was the case in the 70s or 80s.
The result for Alberta has been staggering amounts of money being invested in our economy - particularly in oilsands development. Depending who you talk to, more than $100 billion in energy projects are on the books.
At the same time, after years of neglect, the government is finally spending substantial amounts of money on public infrastructure. This spending is welcome, and many would argue long overdue. But in an important way, they're competing with the private sector for resources.
All of this has led to record employment levels, strong job growth, strong consumer demand. And after 15 years of virtually zero growth in average real wage, over last three years we've been seeing wage increases that have been keeping ahead of inflation.
Some critics in the business community have complained about the increase in average wages. But, from our perspective, the real test of an economy is if it's working for ordinary people. So we strongly believe that rising incomes are something to be celebrated, not feared.
But, despite first impressions, the Alberta economy in not all good news - there are downsides.
First, the truth is that prosperity in Alberta is not universally shared. Energy is king, but it is not everything. Prices have been going up for oil and gas, but not for many of the other things we produce. Livestock, agricultural products, forestry products & the Alberta Advantage has not included rising demand or prices for these things.
Just last week, Stats Can released a report showing that farm incomes in Alberta have fallen by 50 per cent - 50 per cent in one year. The price for cattle about the same as it was during the BSE crisis. And the price for wheat, barley and oil seed, lowest in decades
In forestry, I've been talking to our members in the Hinton pulp mill and our guys who work in saw mills. Their employers aren't talking about growth. In many cases they're talking about lay-offs.
Wage increases are also not universally shared. The AFL represents 31 different unions in all sectors. One of our big private sector affiliates is UFCW, which represents thousands of retail workers. Their employers - companies like Safeway and Superstore - are not giving out double-digit wage increases.
And just this morning, I was on the phone with a group of school board workers in the Pincher creek area who are looking at a wage offer of 9 per cent - over five years.
It sounds like what workers came to expect during the last recession - but it's still the reality for many.
So, like the broader economy, the Alberta labour market, is a complex beast. The headline in today's Calgary Herald screams about a labour shortage & a shortfall for the city of 30,000 workers over the next ten years. It sounds ominous. But the truth is much more nuanced.
The construction labour market has been the subject of greatest attention lately. And there is no doubt that the industry is red hot & thanks mostly to oil sands development. But some important points need to be made about construction.
For example, construction is by its very nature cyclical. 60,000 trades people may be needed this year, but maybe only 10,000 the next year. That's the way construction works.
We're currently at or near the top of the cycle. But even here at the peak, within the construction labour market, we need to acknowledge that the situation is fluid.
The best you can say is that some trades are in shortage at some times & it depends on which trade and which time.
So right now for example, several major projects have recently been completed & the biggest example being the UE-1 expansion at Syncrude. The result is that hundreds of trades people who have been tied up in some cases for two or three years are now available for work.
The Alberta Building Trades Council just completed a survey of hiring halls around the province and what they found was that there are literally thousands of unionized trades people available for work.
So for those of us in the labour movement, something just doesn't compute. On one had we have employers screaming labour shortage and calling for desperate measures like radical increases in the use of temporary foreign workers. And on the other hand, we have thousands of unionized tradespeople people who are ready, willing and able to work - but who are still sitting on the sidelines.
That's why we have a hard time agreeing that there's a labour shortage in contraction - when the pool of unionized tradesmen is not being fully utilized.
Having said all that, there is no doubt that in many sectors and in many occupations we have a tight labour market.
As I said, this tight labour market is the natural result of a strong economy & and it's good for workers. But we recognize it does create challenges for some employers.
The challenge for employers - people like everyone in this room - is compounded by what I would describe as Alberta's labour market hierarchy.
There has always been a pyramid in the Alberta labour market & with the energy sector at the top.
They've always been able to pay more. But with oil at $70 barrel, the energy sector's ability to outbid other employers in other sectors has probably never been greater & and that's a challenge.
How, for example, do you compete with energy companies that are offering signing bonuses of up to $30,000; moving bonuses of $15,000 and annual retention bonuses of $25-30 thousand?
Interestingly, the challenge is no longer restricted to non-energy companies. Probably for the first time ever, energy companies are competing with each other. In fact, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the most popular past-time at Petroleum Conference around town this week will be staff poaching.
So how do you stay afloat in these stormy seas? You've been discussing this amongst yourselves for past day and a half & and I'm confident that you've identified many workable solutions. But for what it's worth, I'd like to present my list of do's and don'ts from a union perspective.
My first "do", perhaps not surprisingly, has to do with wages.
DO accept that the cost of labour has gone up & and DON"T attempt to defy the economic laws of gravity.
Not that long ago, I remember one of the buzz phrases used by employers was "cost certainty." They were always coming to the bargaining table and saying they couldn't proceed with this project or that project without guarantees that wages would stay flat.
That's was the rationale that the provincial government and Canadian Natural Resources gave when CNRL was granted special status under the labour code for the Horizon project. They said that government intervention to keep wages flat was warranted be Horizon was so important to the Alberta economy and because the company needed "certainty."
But as an acquaintance of mine, who happens to be an engineer and project manager for a big construction firm, pointed out: if you don't pay the going market rate, if you try to defy the economic laws of gravity, you loose out.
As he said, if you balk at paying the going market rate, workers vote with their feet & and you end up with what he described as the "bar stools and high schools" approach to recruiting.
This approach sets off a vicious cycle. In a tight labour market, with lower pay you get a lower quality of worker or no worker at all; you get declining performance; you get increased workplace accidents; you get delays and missed deadlines; you get angry clients, maybe lawsuits and you get lost business opportunities.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the Alberta economy and the broader Canadian economy was sluggish. In that kind of economy, employers could more easily get away with doing the minimum. They could more easily get away with layoffs and "outsourcing" & and with treating employees like Post-it-Notes, to be used and discarded.
But those days are over. Bragging about being the "low cost" provider doesn't mean being the smartest guy in the room anymore, if it ever did.
Now it means being the guy who is going to have chronic labour relations problems. It means being the guy who provides a sub-standard product. It means being the guy who's going to miss targets, disappoint investors and clients and who's going to loose out on the next contract.
The bottom line is that you need to value you employees. Part of that means viewing paying the going market rate as an inescapable cost of doing business.
Of course, paying them well is not the only way to show your people that they're valued. It's necessary, but not sufficient. That leads me to the rest of my list of "dos" & and some of these may surprise you &
For example & DO make a point of having on-site HR people &
Delegating day-to-day hr responsibilities to you foreman may sound like a great way to save a few bucks & but it'll cost you & why? & because most of these guys couldn't tell the difference between the Employment Standards Code and the DaVinci Code & because you might get a foreman who wants to be everyone's buddy on the morning shift and a foreman who's Attilla the Hun on the afternoon shift.
Employees hate that kind of inconsistency and petty unfairness. And in a tight labour market where employees have options, you can't afford to loose people because one of your manager like to play job-site Rambo.
Also DO think of the other half of your employees life & the half that they spend away from work.
This is particularly important given that so much of the work that's being done in Alberta today is in remote locations & where people are forced to be away from their families for long stretches & and where they don't have access to amenities.
The good news is that Albertans are hard workers & they don't mind putting in a hard days work in exchange for their paycheques.
But given a choice & and in the current sellers market workers have choice & employees will choose those employers that do more to make it easier for them to live a real life.
Whenever I want to understand what trades workers in particular really want out of their jobs, I sit down with my brother in law.
He's a journeyman electrician & and for the better part of the last three years he worked in Fort McMurray on Syncrude's UE-1 expansion.
He made buckets of money & more than he every imagined. But it came at a price. He has a wife and three young kids at home. For three years, almost never saw them.
So a lot of people in our family used to rib him about his huge salary. But you know what he really wanted? To be closer to his family.
His dream job is not another stint in the camps. He may end up doing that & but his real dream job is to get on with Epcor, the Edmonton power utility. Because it would allow him to live his real life - instead of the half life that works live in isolated camps.
So those employers that are in the bigger centres & where people can actually settle and build lives & you have an advantage & which you should play up. For those who have no choice but do put people into remote locations & ever effort you make to that isolation more tolerable and the time away from family shorter will pay dividends.
Another important item on my DO list is training.
Your employees want to gain more skills, they want to get better at their jobs, they want to contribute and they want to advance. To put it in a nutshell they want the prospect of a better future & and training helps them get there.
Training & whether apprenticeship or some other kind of on-the-job instruction & makes sense for both the employee and the employer.
For workers it makes sense because with their improved skills comes confidence, self-worth and hope for the future.
And for employers training makes sense because you get a bigger pool of trained workers to draw from. Training also makes sense because you get that most of elusive things: loyalty. I've seen it time and again & employers who train, get employees who stay.
But there's a problem & and I think all of you know what it is. For years now, both governments and employers have been neglecting apprenticeships and training.
Only recently has the provincial government ramped up spending to fund new apprenticeship spots at technical schools like NAIT and SAIT. That's great, but those spots are only part of the solution. We all know that these young people can't get their journeyman's tickets without being indentured & they can't become an answer to your labour market shortages until they get on-the-job training from companies like yours.
And that's where the system is falling down. According to a study that was done recently by Skills Canada and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, only 18 per cent of Canadian employers take on and train young apprentices - although 41 per cent had the capacity to do so because they already had qualified tradespeople on staff who could supervise training &
The Construction Owners Assoc of Alberta came up with similar numbers. Of the 20,000 trades employers in Alberta, only 11,000 have apprentices.
This is what economists call the free rider problem. Most employers agree that it's desirable to train more apprentices. But too many of them don't want to bear the cost themselves.
Instead, they assume that "the other guy" will do it. Unfortunately, the "other guy" usually makes the same assumption and the number of apprenticeship positions available - even if Alberta's hot economy - fails to meet demand.
The energy sector is a particularly big culprit in this regard. A few years ago, the federal government - through the tripartide petroleum industry sector council - produced a report on training in the energy sector. As part of that consultation, the council's steering committee consulted with a number of big energy CEO from right here in Calgary. And do you know what they said? The petroleum big wigs said: "we don't have to train. We pay more, so we can just take the people we need from other sectors." That was only three years ago.
This helps explain why thousands of the young people who enroll in the trades never finish. The numbers on non completion are actually staggering. Less than half of those who enroll are completing their apprenticeship in the expected timeframe & and more than 40 per cent have still not earned their certificates after 10 years.
Given the current nature of Alberta's labour market, this is a travesty. And it's direct result of employers shirking their responsibilities when it comes to taking on apprenticeships.
And unfortunately, it's not just apprenticeships. Employers in Canada spend less on on-the-job training than almost any other OECD country & including the US.
So when it comes to my list of DOs training is a big one. In fact, I present it to you as a challenge. We're all suffering because, employers have shirked their obligations in training & it's time to start holding up your end.
That leads me to my list of don'ts.
DON'T be afraid of unions & and don't allow yourself to fall prey to the snake oil salesmen, often dress up as reputable sounding lawyers, who promises fool-proof "union avoidance" strategies. Those strategies, make the snake oil salesmen money. But they often leave you with a legacy of poisoned labour relations. And for what? So you have bragging rights?
The truth is that in tight labour markets, having a union in your workplace can be a big advantage. The record clearly shows that there is lower turn-over in unionized workplaces. Unions can also be useful partners in recruitment. Build trades unions have formal connections with hiring halls in other parts of the country where there are higher rates of unemployment. Industrial unions don't have hiring halls with guys sitting on lists & but we do have networks.
Unions can also be important partners in developing retention strategies that are tailored to your workplace. And a union contract can actually help you achieve that elusive goal of "cost certainty" & at least in the short term.
At the beginning I promised to do three things & I promised to talk about how rough the waters were; how you could avoid getting swamped and finally; I promised to look at the big picture. In particular, I talk about the importance of understanding what has been causing all the waves in our labour market. And I promised to make some suggestions about what, collectively, we can do to calm the waters.
As I've said, a big part of the problem is the failure on the part of government and employers to invest in trades training.
But I also think at least part of the problem is that the provincial government has deliberately been administering steroids to our economy & in the form of unreasonably low royalty rates.
The interesting thing about steroids is that they work - at least in the short term. They can greatly improve performance. But in the same way that steroids are ultimately bad for the human body, economic steroids can be bad for the economy.
What I'm talking about of course is the Alberta government's now famous one-per-cent royalty rate for the oil sands.
Like the steroids that athletes use, the one-per-cent royalty rates have worked. Coupled with record high oil prices, the one-per-cent royalty has set off a gold-rush of development. Oil companies are flocking to the oil sands - and why not. With the one-per-cent rate the provincial government is essentially giving away ours resources. None of the big oil companies want to miss out on the party.
Why you might ask is this of concern to a union leader. This is a labour issue because these low rates - all this development comes after years in which government failed to invest in trades training and employers failed to hold up their end by taking on adequate numbers of apprentices.
The result is as frustrating as it was predictable. Because of the steroids, demand goes up for trades people, but because of the inattention training the supply struggles to keep up.
The bottom line is that the Alberta government and the Alberta business community are authors of the tight labour market they are now complaining about. They are reaping what they have sown.
And what do they offer as a solution? More of the same on training and temporary foreign workers, that's what.
We think a better approach would be to get business and government to make commitments to ensure our apprenticeship system actually works. In particular, we need to squarely address the reality that employers are not holding their end up when it comes to providing jobs and placements for apprentices.
It's probably also time to revisit the one-per-cent royalty. These kind of fire-sale incentives were never prudent - even when oil was at $15 a barrel. And they are certainly not justifiable when it's at $70 a barrel.
It's also important to keep in mind that the oil sands is a resource that we, as Albertans, own collectively. It's fine for the Premier to say we'll get our pound of flesh eventually. But with all due respect, he's wrong. Once that oil is gone at one-per-cent, we'll never see it again - and we'll never get another chance to get money for it.
And we're not talking about pennies here. We're talking about tens of billions of dollars lost. That's money that could be spent on public prorities like health care, education and infrastructure.
We're short of like a junky. Not only are we taking a drug that ultimately hurts us & we're flushing our money down the drain to get it &