Alberta lays off 80 workers as they privatize driver exams

Earlier this week, Ric McIver, the minister of transportation, announced that by the end of the year, Albertans will be able to book road tests with local registry agents.

Starting 1 December 2020, those needing to book passenger vehicle road tests can do so through local registry agents for tests to be conducted after 5 January 2021. An online booking system will be available as well.

These registry agents, according to the announcement, will be free to hire or contract driver examiners directly, effectively privatizing the driver examination industry in the province.

This is one more step in the public–private dance consecutive governments have played with each other.

For example, for decades, driver examination was the sole responsibility of public sector workers. Then in 1993, the PC government under Ralph Klein privatized the industry, making Alberta the only province in Canada with a fully privatized driver examination system.

In October 2018, the NDP government announced that they were reverting to the public system, following consultation with industry stakeholders. They cited “inconsistent fees, poor service, reduced access in rural areas, and an overall lack of integrity” as reasons for the switch.

At the time of the announcement, there were 153 private examiners in the province. A release from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees last March claimed that the new move would lead to 161 public examiners.

The switch to the public version, according to the NDP announcement, would include a call centre and an online scheduling tool. The costs of these would be offset by the revenues generated by testing fees.

In his announcement, McIver’s claimed that instead of creating 161 positions, the return to a public model led to half of the private examiner leaving the system, which resulted in only 77 examiners taking on the workload when the system switched last March.

However, that number had increased to 132 by the the time his announcement was released this week, 188 if you include the 56 contracted positions.

Instead of hiring just a few more driver examiners to improve the service and to address the concerns of limited availability, I guess McIver thought the best solution was to just lay off the ones that were there. In fact, according to a letter made public at the start of the week, Steve Stringfellow, an executive negotiations strategist with the Provincial Bargaining Coordination Office, confirmed that the transportation ministry would be abolishing 80 positions, connected with the switch back to a privatization model.

According to McIver’s announcement, privatization will eliminate over $12 million in operating expenses for his ministry, which is about half of the $25 million they planned to cut (see p. 140) from their operating expenses in total.

And like I’ve said before, tax cuts are job cuts.

The announcement failed to include how much government revenue will be lost as private examiners, instead of the government, collect the testing fees. Speaking of fees, a 2016 report commissioned by Alberta Transportation found that Alberta had the most expensive road exams in Canada in all classes under the private model, being as high as 5 times as expensive as that in other provinces.

So, I guess there’s that.

The new changes won’t affect government driver examiners conducting class 1 to 3 commercial truck and bus road tests.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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