Provincial budget must emphasize jobs, not cuts, labour leaders say

EDMONTON - Next week's provincial budget needs to emphasize getting unemployed workers back to work and keeping those who have jobs at work, say the leaders of some of Alberta's largest unions.

To achieve these important goals, the unions today presented a proposed stimulus plan for Alberta that they developed with help from economists working with the University of Alberta's Parkland Institute.

"Albertans are depending on their political leaders to respond to the worldwide economic downturn with policies that protect working people and their families from the worst impacts of the recession," said Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Klein-style cuts are clearly not the answer. We went down that road during the last recession and we know that it just made a bad situation worse."

Doug Knight, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees agreed: "This government needs to resist their ingrained temptation to cut budgets when a crisis like this takes place. Clearly, the economy and all Albertans will benefit from increased stimulative spending in areas like health care, social assistance and post-secondary education."

Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, says that sectors like health care are just now starting to recover from the damage caused by years of cuts under former premier Ralph Klein - and she says if Albertans value their public services, we can't afford to return to policies that caused such pain and chaos.

"The downturn in the economy may actually be creating an opportunity to address the chronic shortage of nurses and other health care workers that has been plaguing our system," says Smith. "But that can't happen with a shrinking budget" or even a hold-the-line budget."

The union report, entitled Sink or Swim: A Labour Stimulus Plan to Keep Albertans Afloat, was released today in Edmonton at an apprentice-training facility operated by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW).

The setting was chosen to highlight how provincial spending can help Albertans working in both the public and private sectors weather the growing economic storm.

The report shows that job losses and bankruptcies are up dramatically in Alberta and predicted that "Alberta is likely to suffer the greatest downturn in GDP growth of all the provinces in Canada." It also showed that the Alberta government has among the greatest "fiscal capacity" in North America to finance a stimulus package.

The report concluded that three key goals should drive any Alberta stimulus plan:

- Instead of balancing the provincial budget every year, government should instead focus on balancing budgets over a 7 to 12-year business cycle.

- Program cuts should not be implemented, since they would increase job losses and, during the recession, government programs will be needed more than ever by Alberta families.

- Stimulus should be in the form of targeted spending in parts of the economy known to create jobs, not in unproductive tax cuts that favour a wealthy minority.

Other parts of the report call for building a bitumen upgrader to protect Alberta's value-added sector; greening the economy to create job opportunities; using less-expensive public financing to build projects that benefit the public; and maintaining or increasing funding for socially beneficial programs such as education, health care, transition training and social assistance.


For more information, contact:

Elisabeth Ballermann, HSAA (780) 991-1274 (cell)

Don Boucher, CEP (780) 920-1892 (cell)

Tim Brower, IBEW (780) 989-7259 (office)

Doug Knight, AUPE (780) 265-6655 (cell)

Gil McGowan, AFL (780) 483-3021 (office) (780) 218-9888 (cell)

Dennis Mol, CUPE Alberta (780) 918-3061 (cell)

Heather Smith, UNA (780) 425-1025 (office) (780) 940-9974 (cell)


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