Responding to Travis Toews’ statement about Alberta’s nurses

He left out some details that I thought I’d clarify.

Yesterday, Alberta’s finance minister, Travis Toews, issued a statement regarding the province bargaining with the United Nurses of Alberta union. He left out some details that I thought I’d clarify.

Alberta’s nurses have worked diligently throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and we respect and appreciate the invaluable role they have played in helping the province emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

This comes off as insincere. How can you say that you respect and appreciate the work nurses have done in the same breath that you’re telling them to make concessions on wages?

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As we move beyond the peaks of the pandemic and into a more manageable period, we need to continue the important work of getting the province’s finances back on track.

That’s not a problem caused by the nurses. That’s a problem of having unstable sources of government revenue. Successive Alberta government had relied too long on high oil prices to boost their coffers so they could subsidize low taxes. Those high oil prices are gone, but Alberta’s low tax structure is still here. Low income taxes. No sales tax. No wealth tax. This is unsustainable.

AHS is offering job security to nurses, despite record unemployment in the province due to the pandemic.

So, nurses should just be grateful that they had a job at all? Because everyone else is out of work, nurses are somehow special because AHS benovently gave them a job?

The Alberta government wasn’t doing nurses a favour; nurses were doing Alberta a favour. The government needs nurses more than the nurses need the government.

On average, Alberta nurses make 5.6% more than in other comparator provinces.

Of course Alberta nurses make more than other comparator provinces. Alberta wages in general are higher than other provinces.

Here is the median wages for the 4 largest provinces in Canada, as well as the Canadian media wage, for 2019. The column on the right shows how much higher Alberta’s wages are compared to that province.


So, Alberta workers make between 10% and 15% more than the workers in the 3 provinces bigger than it is, plus over 11.5% more than Canadian workers in general, but Toews is throwing a fit over 5.6%?

Sounds to me like Alberta nurses are being underpaid, not overpaid.

Not only is Toews highlighting the 5.6% higher wages in Alberta, but according to the nurses’ union, they’re being asked to take a 5% cut to their compensation.

So he basically wants them paid the same as in other provinces despite other workers not having to take a pay cut.

This costs Alberta approximately $141 million per year at a time when our finances are already stretched.

If Toews is so worried about the $141 million he’s paying to nurses that he thinks he shouldn’t have to, maybe he shouldn’t have cut the corporate tax rate by 20% last summer, which cost the government between $200 million and $300 million, as per last year’s first quarter report:

Acceleration of the corporate income tax rate reduction reduces government revenue by approximately $0.2-$0.3 billion.

2020 –21 First Quarter Fiscal Update and Economic Statement, p. 5

Back to yesterday’s statement:

The need to bring wages in line with other large provinces does not diminish our deep respect for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers. It is simply reflective of our fiscal reality, and one that many sectors in the province have experienced.

Why is there a need to pay Alberta nurses the same as in other provinces when Alberta workers in general are paid more than workers in other provinces?

Alberta’s fiscal reality is that their days of subsidizing budgets with oil revenue are over. They’ve been over for years. Cutting wages won’t fix that. Your deficit in the last fiscal year was nearly $10 billion. That $141 million you’re so worried about? That would cover only 1.5% of the deficit.

Nurses aren’t the problem. Revenue is.

The past 16 months have put a considerable strain on the province, following already high levels of debt and deficit.

Yeah, and you thought the smart thing to do to reduce that deficit is to get rid of a third of the revenue you get from corporate income tax.

Who honestly thinks it’s a good idea when balancing their household budget to say, “Woah, my credit card payments are too high! I better ask my boss to give me a pay cut. That’ll do the trick!”

An additional $5.1 billion was spent in response to COVID-19 and to support the Alberta Recovery Plan, which included $1.5 billion in health care spending.

This is misleading.

First, the government planned on spending $500 million on health operating expenses related to COVID-19 for 2020–2021 and ended up spending $1.093 billion instead. Yet, they spent $585 million less on non-COVID-19 related operating expenses than they did in 2019–2020.

While they increased health spending for COVID-19 expenses, they decreased it for non-COVID-19 expenses.

And that’s just for the 2020–2021 budget year.

This is above and beyond the $23 billion Health expense in Budget 2021 – the largest single-year investment in health care in Alberta’s history.

This also is misleading. The operating expenses is budgeted for just $21.4 billion for 2021–2022, and then the provincial government plans to freeze it for two years after that!

And even then, that’s only a 4.9% increase over the 2018–2019 fiscal year, the NDP’s last budget. A 4.9% increase over a 3-year period? That’s only 1.6% a year. That’s not even enough to cover inflation and population growth. And if we factor in another 2 years for the spending freeze, it comes to only 0.98% a year.

That’s pathetic!

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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.

10 replies on “Responding to Travis Toews’ statement about Alberta’s nurses”

All four of my kids have left the province because they don’t see a future here. We’re asking our nurses to remain in a province that holds little hope that their kids won’t do the same. Either pay nurses well to keep them or change the government to something that offers hope of better days.

Interesting as the Pandemic looks like it is coming to a close soon that NOW they want to pay nurses less.

Did a nurse save you or a loved ones life recently?

Did a politition save anyone you know?

Is it safe to say then that a nurse has greater value than a politition?

Why are you not grateful for them being overworked, exhaused and dedicated to help all of us in the last 18 months?

I think the government needs to cut their own expenses and cost of having them. The Nurses are NOT the problem. Over government spending and wasting money is really the problem in balancing the finances.

What happens if nurses don’t work anymore?

Perhaps a loved one will be lost and when that happens would you rather give them the 5% they deserve or kill one of your family members?

Think about that!

Nurses have worked hard for their wages.

Politicians are full of talk and lies and cost us money for not much in return!

Travis has incorporated his ranch so he benefits from low corporate taxes

Where would we be without Nurses. Especially the last 18 months! They deserve to be paid well.

Where is the contentious health minister these days? Shouldn’t he be the one resuming the fight with nurses, with doctors, with doctors on the driveway of their home, with reporters, with private citizens, etc.? It used to be that we could look forward to him turning red in the face every day on the TV news for one reason or another. Tantrum Tyler was predictable, if nothing else.

Waiting for the same trash about how teachers need to be rolled back as well. Predictable garbage from a political party whose so-called rationale is cutting all social programs. Except corporate welfare.

where would I be without nurses?? DEAD. I’ve had two heart attacks and the last one nearly killed me. If the nurses weren’t there to revive me, I’d be toast. Toews is doing the usual UCP thing, when they overspend and undertax, blame the workers. Time to give this man his walking papers…he is well past his stale date…btw…Alberta MLAs are the highest paid in the country…and that doesn’t include the graft from the corporate welfare bosses.

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