NDP calls for emergency debate on healthcare cuts as UCP in Calgary sticks to fair deal plan – Edmonton Journal

NDP calls for emergency debate on healthcare cuts as UCP in Calgary sticks to \fair deal\ plan - Edmonton Journal
Hundreds protest public service cuts at UCP meeting in Calgary
As protesters rally against public sector job cuts, Alberta’s United Conservative Party in Calgary on Saturday made official its move to give the province more autonomy from Ottawa.

At the UCP’s first annual general meeting, the party held a session aiming to get a “fair deal” from the federal government, with members voting unanimously for Alberta to establish its own tax collection agency, pension plan, police force, trade relationships and firearms watchdog.

“I hope (Kenney) realizes that it’s not a minority, it’s a huge majority, that are against these cuts and this isn’t what we voted for. If people voted for the UCP, this was not on the platform so it’s coming as a surprise to many people,” said Quesnel. “We’ve been awfully loud. If he isn’t listening, then he isn’t listening to a really large chunk of Albertans because there is a shift happening and they have to listen.”

“We are not seeking a special deal. We are simply seeking a fair deal,” Premier Jason Kenney later told party members; the premier will take the message to an upcoming meeting of premiers in Toronto and to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa in a week and a half.

Borodey addressed hundreds of people who represented sectors that have felt the burden of the provincial budget, which dropped last month. Under a Kenney government, the fiscal plan has resulted in 500 front-line nurses losing their jobs over the next three years, the potential slash of 5,900 public sector positions, a cut of up to 300 teachers from public schools and another 250 jobs eliminated at the University of Calgary.

Earlier Saturday, a crowd of about 1,000 rallied outside the UCP meeting at the Calgary airport hotel in protest of public sector cuts.

Video: Alberta public workers protest job cuts

On Sunday in Edmonton, the NDP is poised to host a rally in opposition of impending health care cuts, with the party saying it will seek an emergency debate on the issue.

“Alberta is the youngest province by age in the country and because of our earnings level, we make a disproportionate net contribution to the Canada Pension Plan program every year,” he said. “We believe this is a bona fide issue to give serious consideration to.”

The Patient-Doctor Choice Rally is set for 11:30 a.m. outside the Alberta Legislature. NDP Health Critic David Shepherd will take questions after the rally.

“But I can’t just sit idly because there’s other people on AISH that physically couldn’t get here. I was able to get here, so I need to add my voice and say ‘No, you can’t do this. It isn’t OK.”’

Hundreds brave freezing temperatures to protest government cuts outside United Conservative Party meeting

Hundreds of public sector workers circled the Calgary hotel hosting the governing United Conservative Party's annual general meeting Saturday, chanting and shouting in –15 C weather while about 1,600 party members met inside. 

Informal straw polls were taken on the idea of Alberta establishing its own tax collection agency, pension plan, police force, trade relationships and firearms watchdog. A panel weighing those ideas is to complete its report by March 31.

Teachers, nurses and government workers marched in protest of cuts to public services and the potential loss of thousands of public sector jobs announced on Friday.

"Alberta is the youngest province by age in the country and because of our earnings level, we make a disproportionate net contribution to the Canada Pension Plan program every year," he said. "We believe this is a bona fide issue to give serious consideration to."

They carried signs that read "I love Alberta public education" and "Hands off my pension." 

Informal straw polls were taken on the idea of Alberta establishing its own tax collection agency, pension plan, police force, trade relationships and firearms watchdog. A panel weighing those ideas is to complete its report by March 31.

They chanted "Jason Kenney has got to go" and "Shame" from across the hotel parking lot, while UCP members lined up to get lunch from food trucks contracted to supply food for the event.

Kenney's government served notice to public sector unions on Friday that up to 6,000 job cuts are on the horizon, many in health services. The cuts are billed as a way for Alberta to get its finances under control.

ELECTION COMMISSIONER: Albertas chief electoral officer says the provincial governments decision to shift enforcement duties into his office and remove the election commissioner will have no impact on any continuing investigations. He told a legislative committee that theres been no change yet to the operations of the election commissioners staff and that investigative work shouldnt be affected.

Calgary Grade 9 teacher Colleen Hemsing said she attended the protest because she's concerned about what she perceives to be an attack on public services. 

Kelly Cryderman on Jason Kenneys climate pitch: Article 6 of the climate deal opens the door to voluntary agreements where emissions-reduction measures in one country can be credited to another. There is, of course, a strong Alberta angle to Article 6. Mr. Kenneys argument is that the export of Canadian natural gas to Asian countries will displace widely used, dirtier coal-fired power.

"This is not about economics. This is ideology," she said. "This is our choice. We can come out and fight in the bitter cold, but it's what we have to do."

Adam Radwanski on Albertas emissions plan and Ottawa: Of the three [major issues facing the Trudeau government], industrial carbon pricing seems most assured of Albertas preferred outcome – acceptance that the province is sufficiently in line with national requirements to avoid the federal government imposing its own pricing regime – and least controversial.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, wore a hat commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike. 

But I cant just sit idly because theres other people on AISH that physically couldnt get here. I was able to get here, so I need to add my voice and say No, you cant do this. It isnt OK.

Protesters started chanting "general strike, general strike" as McGowan addressed the crowd.

Candie Olsen, who receives financial support through the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program, says she felt the need to speak out even though it was a tough trek for her to get to the event.

"We know that this is our moment," McGowan said. "This is our moment to stand up and push back, and that's exactly what we intend to do."

Honestly I have no idea what my future looks like at this point, Field said. Depending on what the next couple of years bring, I dont even know if Ill be able to finish my degree.

The UCP reserved the entire Westin Calgary Airport hotel for the conference so security only allowed attendees in through the door. However a group of protesters managed to get into the lobby over the dinner break and sing songs including Solidarity Forever before they were escorted outside. 

The UCP annual meeting is the first since the party won the spring provincial election, unseating the one-term NDP government of former premier Rachel Notley. The government has spent the subsequent months undoing many policies of the previous NDP government and recently tabling a budget that introduced significant cuts that have sparked protests, including outside the weekend conference.

Inside the meeting, delegates passed a number of party policy resolutions, including two on education: to recognize parents or guardians as the major stakeholder in their child's education, and to put a "voucher" system in place for education.

The latter resolution is controversial as it allows the "money to follow the child." This would allow parents to allocate their child's portion of provincial funding to the school of their choice, whether it is public, Catholic, charter, private or in the home. 

Mr. Kenney will be in Toronto this coming week for a meeting of Canadas premiers, where he will also be looking for allies on issues such as the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the repeal of recently passed environmental laws, and changes to the equalization program. Hell meet with Mr. Trudeau the following week.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, a proponent of school choice, said she currently has no plans to introduce a voucher system. 

The seats had been pre-stocked with bold ‘Andrew Scheer’ signs for faithful party members to wield at the Alberta UCP’s annual convention in Calgary. Once the Chinese dragon dancers and O’Canada singers cleared the stage, Scheer took the podium to defend his job. As Scheer faces a looming leadership review vote in April, he talked about little else.

"I'm just undertaking a funding and assurance review model but it does not include a voucher system," she told reporters. 

Scheer had most of the room on his side, but in politics, most people are willing to smile through their teeth while they hold a dagger behind their backs. How many smiles were genuine or not is hard to tell, but several Conservative operatives discussing their zeal to oust Scheer with me hours earlier, were among those standing and clapping dutifully.

Four Alberta cabinet ministers also led a session on the Fair Deal Panel, which seeks to change Alberta's relationship with Canada. 

Energy Minister Sonya Savage, Environment and Parks Minister Jason Nixon, Finance Minister Travis Toews and Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer outlined proposals that the panel could look at. These included having Alberta collect its income tax, a provincial police force, an Alberta Pension Plan and a provincial firearms officer. 

"Pain for gain isnt what we need to do right now. We need to make sure we reverse those cuts, make sure things are funded appropriately so our most vulnerable in the province arent affected by it, said Stephanie Quesnel, rally organizer and teacher with the Calgary Board of Education.

Toews said if Alberta decided to pull out of the Canada Pension Plan, the provincial plan would have to offer the same benefits. He thinks a separate plan could make the province more competitive. 

"In the event there would be substantial cost savings as some of the data indicates, that would result in a much lower contribution rate for employers and employees and improve our competitiveness," he said. 

The gathering, which consisted of about 800 protesters from across the public sector waved signs placards saying "no more cuts," "I love public education," and "united nurses of Alberta."

An informal straw poll showed nearly everyone who put up their hand was in favour of the panel looking at these issues. 

Last week, Kenney announced that Oryssia Lennie, the former deputy minister of Western Economic Diversification Canada, would chair the panel, which includes former Reform Party leader Preston Manning.

The panel will hold public forums across Alberta over the next two months. The first will take place in Edmonton on Tuesday.

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