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Kenney Brags about Higher Wages. After Fighting Them

New ad targeting Vancouver forgets Alberta’s premier did all he could to drive down pay levels.

David Climenhaga 22 Aug 2022Alberta Politics

David J. Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator. He blogs at AlbertaPolitics.ca. Follow him on Twitter at @djclimenhaga.

Who knew that higher salaries were part of the Alberta Advantage?

At last Monday’s press conference announcing his vanity “Jason Is Calling” advertising campaign in Toronto and Vancouver that will attempt to lure members of the Laptop Class to move to Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney bragged about how wages are higher in Alberta.

Actually, the $2.6-million ad blitz is officially named Alberta Is Calling, but if you listen to the recordings, it is in fact Jason who’s making the call. Go figure! Maybe he’s looking for a new job in telemarketing when his current position ends this fall.

Bullet No. 1 in the press release published last week by the Alberta government to tout the ad campaign was: "Highest average wages and lowest taxes in the country.”

“Alberta workers continue to have the highest earnings across all provinces,” the release enthused a few paragraphs down.

“Alberta’s $1,251 average weekly earnings (May 2022) are the highest in the country (and) according to Statistics Canada’s 2020 Canadian Income Survey, released in March 2022, Alberta families earned a median after-tax income of $104,000 in 2020, which is more than $7,000 higher than Ontario and nearly $10,000 higher than families in British Columbia.”

There’s even a transit ad that will be appearing in Toronto and Vancouver that boasts, “Bigger paycheques. Smaller rent cheques.”

But bragging about how Albertans are paid more than other Canadians is a weird flex for a man who spent almost all of his political career in Ottawa and Alberta whingeing about how Alberta’s high wages were a bad thing, and how something needed to be done to ratchet them down.

This is the guy who campaigned for premier by calling for cuts to the NDP’s $15 minimum wage, whose pre-pandemic “Blue Ribbon Panel” was struck in the fall of 2017 to set the stage for legislated wage rollbacks for public sector health-care workers, and who prosecuted a war with doctors over — what else? — pay cuts.

Throughout contract negotiations with Alberta’s health care unions in 2021, Kenney’s government aggressively pushed Alberta Health Services to demand wage rollbacks for nurses and other trades and professions on the grounds their pay was above the Canadian average.

Here’s Travis Toews, then Kenney’s finance minister and now Kenney’s presumed choice to replace him as premier, in a press release published on July 6, 2021: “On average, Alberta nurses make 5.6 per cent more than in other comparator provinces. This costs Alberta approximately $141 million per year at a time when our finances are already stretched.”

All through those long negotiations, Alberta’s nurses kept telling the government that nurses’ salaries here were higher than the Canadian average because everybody’s salaries here are higher here than the Canadian average. Back then, nobody in the Alberta government wanted to listen.

And now Kenney and the UCP are bragging about it?

Well, the only explanation is... that was then and this is now.

How likely this campaign is to attract the kind of internal immigrants the UCP is looking for — skilled trades people and the sort of folk we used to call Young Urban Professionals as Kenney calls the Laptop Classes when he’s mad at them — remains to be seen.

It won’t be very successful as long as the pages of the national media are full of dire warnings about UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith’s “Alberta Suicide Act,” including overwrought columns in respectable newspapers about how “Alberta is on the verge of the constitutional abyss.”

Potential immigrants probably don’t need to worry about plunging into that particular abyss if they’re contemplating a move to Alberta, though.

Anything the United Conservative Party cooks up under Smith, the leader of the Great Floor Crossing of 2014 who is now thought to be the candidate most likely to succeed Kenney, is much less likely to end in tragedy than in farce.

But still, they might want to think about the long-term prospects of the international bitumen market or even to the high oil prices buoying up the UCP government right now, mainly thanks to the war in Ukraine, which one of these days will end.

And they might also want to ponder the prospect of what having their Canada Pension Plan savings hijacked by the Alberta government to prop up the petroleum industry might do to their retirement security.

Then there’s the state of education for their kids if the UCP’s 1950s curriculum remains in place — and the possibility that there won’t be any nurses in the local hospital when those kids are born, if indeed it’s still open.

Plus, of course, if Conservatives are still in power when the latest boomlet goes bust again, count on it that austerity will immediately be back on the agenda.

Prospective new Albertans will get the picture.

Other than that, as we say out here in the New West, “Fill yer boots!”  [Tyee]

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