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MORGAN: Nurses union is afraid its perks are under scrutiny

Nurses have a tough and important job, but the structure of their pay and perks is allowing far too many to milk the system.

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I’m not the first guy to poke the hornets nest of social media outrage. I regularly poke forks at environmentalists, politicians, First Nations politicians, and an assortment of categories of social justice warriors. But never have I received such an hysterical and vitriolic response as I did when I dared to question the work ethic of some unionized nurses in Alberta.

It was a simple and anecdotal tweet (most are). I wrote of a time when I was at a hospital and observed a number of nurses sitting around in the ward island drinking coffee, shuffling paper and complaining of their lot in life while a lone young nurse made the rounds on their behalf. Perhaps the tweet was a bit unfair. It wasn’t nice (I rarely am). But the response to it was explosive.

I was called every name in the book. People threatened to report it to Twitter (for what I don’t know). People called for boycotts of my restaurant and implied threats to my wellbeing (“I hope you don’t need the care of a nurse anytime soon”). This went on for days as the tweet was clearly being shared in union email lists and I was even beginning to be attacked by American nurses online.

This reaction did not make me consider backing down, apologizing or deleting the tweet, despite their demands that I do so. The response to my tweet made me begin to wonder why nurses felt so insecure about critique. Did they have something to hide? If we take a closer look at things, it appears so.

Alberta has been in a recession for years and it is clear that government deficits have to be tackled before debt servicing costs overwhelm us. Alberta decisively elected a UCP government on a platform to clean up our finances. Tasked with balancing the budget, the government can’t help but look at healthcare, which makes up a whopping 43 per cent of our provincial expenditures. Salaries make up a large part of our healthcare budget, and with tens of thousands of nurses, it only stands to reason that their compensation scheme should be examined.

When we look at how Alberta nurses are paid, “scheme” is the most appropriate term to use. While their base hourly rates are in line with or slightly above the average compensation levels at a glance, the other perks built into their contract are unimaginable when compared to private-sector workplaces.

The overtime payments to part-time nurses are the most egregious. While part-time workers make up 19 per cent of all other occupations in Alberta, 43 per cent of nurses are part-time. While nurses routinely go on about their long days and about how short-staffed they are, why are half of them part-time? Digging a little deeper, the answer becomes apparent.

Part-time nurses have “designated days of rest” built into their schedules. If any of these part-time nurses are called in on one of these days, they receive double-pay for that shift, even though they are doing a part-time week.

Nurses get 1.5 sick days per month which they can bank as well. In juggling schedules with others, they can ensure that many conveniently need to work on a “designated day of rest” and take double-pay. While the Alberta Nurses Association (ANA) claims it is chronically short-staffed, nurses often take overtime for working extended hours. A simple solution to this problem is to designate the majority of nursing positions as being full time. The rest of us have to work 40 or more hours per week. Why is it unreasonable to expect that of nurses?

Full-time ANA nurses get an annual top-up bonus of $1,750 per year. This costs tens of millions annually and it is based on a letter of understanding between the government and the union which provides no rationale for this extra payment. If it isn’t in the contract, why are we paying it?

While we shouldn’t begrudge anybody for having a pension plan, the nurses of Alberta have a more than ample one. The defined benefit plan contributions are matched by the employer (that is, taxpayers) plus 1 per cent. On top of that, nurses can have contributions to an RRSP or tax-free savings account matched by employer contributions up to two per cent of the nurse’s earnings. Good on them, but let’s not let anybody pretend that nurses are not well taken care of for retirement.

Nurses have a tough and important job. The majority of them work hard in environments of high physical and emotional stress. They should be compensated well for this highly skilled position. Because if we are to pay them well, the compensation of nurses should be under more, rather than less scrutiny. Taxpayers deserve the best band for their buck from the healthcare system.

Premier Jason Kenney promised that he would balance the budget without cutting frontline healthcare services. A step towards this could be achieved by simply increasing the full-time designation of more nurses and removing some of these non-contractual perks that the full-time ones are getting. The nurse’s union doesn’t want the public to know the details of their contracts, and so they loudly try to shout down anyone that raises the subject.

Between 2014 and 2018, total workers pay in Alberta dropped seven per cent while Alberta government compensation rose by 12 per cent. Put another way, the differential between those working in the government and those working in the private sector spread by 19 per cent in just four years. This is unfair in a period of recession, and it is not unreasonable to look at bringing public sector worker compensation in line with today’s economic reality.

The Kenney government has some tough decisions to make in the coming years. Every provincial role and position needs to be examined to ensure that we are getting the most from them. This includes nurses. In light of their response to simple critique, it’s clear that they know it.

Nurses are indeed only human. That means they have needs but they also have flaws. Some are milking the system and it needs to be addressed. Nobody is irreplaceable, and no position is sacred.

Opinion

ALLISON: Forget trade agreements. Just give us free trade.

Andrew Allison writes that Canada should end its semi-“free trade” agreements, and push for complete market access.

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On December 31, 2020 the 11-month transition period which gives the U.K. time to sort out its international affairs before Brexit is finalized will come to an end. One of the most important diplomatic items that the British government must decide upon is its various trade deals with other countries. While focus has largely been on the trade deal that will emerge between the U.K. and the E.U., there are many other trade deals which must have their terms decided on. This includes their trade agreement with Canada.

The trade deal which Canada and the E.U. operate on is the Canada-European Trade Agreement (CETA). This trade deal is still in effect until the end of the transition period, but once January 1, 2021 arrives, the deal will no longer be in effect and Canada and the U.K. will be operating without a trade agreement. As the looming deadline gets closer, the U.K.’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Lizz Truss, and Canada’s Minister of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade, Mary Ng, have begun work on what they call a “transitional agreement” which would be an interim solution before a full agreement can be finalized.

CETA, according to the Canadian government, reduces barriers to trade between Canada and Europe. Since CETA’s enactment, 98 per cent of Canadian goods have become exempt from European tariffs when previously only 25 per cent were. As Canada and the U.K. come to a trade agreement, it’s time to ask why we should stop at 98 per cent and not move to 100 per cent and remove other barriers to trade. In fact, it’s time to ask why we need trade agreements at all. As American economist Murray Rothbard notes, “Genuine free trade doesn’t require a treaty or its deformed cousin, a ‘trade agreement’ … If the establishment truly wants free trade, all it has to do is to repeal our numerous tariffs, import quotas, anti-‘dumping’ laws, and other American-imposed restrictions on trade. No foreign policy or foreign maneuvering is needed.” If the benefits of CETA are that we get reduced barriers to trade, then why not eliminate all of them? Why indulge in protectionism at all?

One argument for protectionism is the claim that that jobs will be saved and domestic wages will be raised. As William McKinley, the American mastermind behind the McKinley tariff of 1890 argued during his 1892 presidential campaign, “Open competition between high-paid American labor and poorly paid European labor will either drive out of existence American industry or lower American wages.”

But this thesis proves far too much. For if it is really the case that places with different wage rates do not benefit from free trade then we should reject not only international free trade but intranational free trade as long as there are unequal wages between different regions. As German economist and philosopher, Hans-Hermann Hoppe explains,

“Any argument in favor of international protectionism rather than free trade is simultaneously an argument in favor of interregional and interlocal protectionism. Just as different wage rates exist between the United States and Mexico, Haiti, or China, for instance, such differences also exist between New York and Alabama, or between Manhattan, the Bronx and Harlem. Thus, if it were true that international protectionism could make an entire nation prosperous and strong, it must also be true that interregional and interlocal protectionism could make regions and localities prosperous and strong. In fact, one may even go one step further. If the protectionist argument were right, it would amount to an indictment of all trade and a defense of the thesis that everyone would be the most prosperous and strongest if he never traded with anyone else and remained in self-sufficient isolation.”

McKinley ironically also noted in 1892 that the United States had free trade between the states. He said in the speech title “The Triumph of Protection”, “We have free trade among ourselves throughout our forty-four States and the several territories. That is because we are one family, one country. We have on standard of citizenship, one flag, one Constitution, one Nation, one destiny.” What these states did not have was equalized wages across states. And thus, based on McKinley’s own arguments, he should have aimed to restrict trade between the states as well as between America and the rest of the world. Just as Toronto benefits from free trade with Hamilton and PEI benefits from free trade with British-Columbia, so too does Canada benefit from free trade with the U.K.

Canadian and British consumers deserve the low prices that come with free trade. Mary Ng and Liz Truss are presented with a unique opportunity to make that a reality for their respective consumers and they should seize it. Let us begin our relationship with the newly independent U.K. as one of free trade and free exchange.

Andrew D. Allison is a graduate student at the University of Waterloo

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Opinion

McCOLL: Ending Alberta’s paid plasma ban is the right thing to do

Tany Yao’s private members bill would lift the NDP’s ban on people being paid for giving their own blood.

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On October 26, UCP MLA Tany Yao’s private member’s bill – Bill 204: The Voluntary Blood Donations Repeal Act – was debated in the legislature. It is now only one step away from repealing the previous NDP government’s 2017 law that banned private paid plasma clinics.

In an interview with the Western Standard, Tany Yao outlined how this issue has been important to him since he was the opposition health critic in 2017. Back then, Yao said that the law “does more harm than good.” 

History has proven him right, as the NDP law made it illegal for pharmaceutical companies to make plasma medicines in Alberta by paying donors like they do in the United States and Saskatchewan. Proposals to build paid plasma clinics and laboratories to manufacture plasma medicines in Alberta were cancelled.

Yao stated that the goal of his bill is to “attract those companies to develop these life saving medications right here in Alberta.” When it came to objections from the NDP, Yao lamented: “I do find it unfortunate that only labour groups are fighting this. Their arguments are from the 1980s and from the tainted blood scandal.” When asked to explain the opposition from public sector unions and Canadian Blood Services (CBS) – even though CBS imports paid plasma products from the United States and has testified that paid plasma products are perfectly safe Yao said, “Labour is trying to protect their monopoly given to them by the NDP. [CBS] admits they cost more versus private companies.”

Over seventy per cent of global plasma comes from paid donors in the United States. It’s a $26 billion (USD) industrythat should grow to $40 billion by 2040. Plasma medicines make up a greater share of US exports than steel or aluminium. This is a high-tech growth industry that saves lives, creates high paying jobs, and could attract billions of dollars in pharmaceutical company investment to Alberta. 

During Monday’s debate, UCP MLAs Jackie Lovely, Mark Smith, Devinder Toor, Michaela Glasgo, Ronald Orr, and Richard Gotfried all spoke in support of bill 204. As Yao predicted, NDP MLAs Richard Feehan, Marie Renaud, Lorne Dach, and Shannon Phillips spoke against the bill voicing debunked public safety concerns. NDP MLA Marie Renaud argued that it would be morally wrong to allow low income Albertans to be paid for their blood. She didn’t say how rich you had to be for it to be moral to earn an extra $2000 per year for weekly donations of life saving plasma.

One NDP critique of the bill was that all paid plasma donations made in Alberta would be exported to other countries. If the NDP MLAs had paid attention to Dr. Peter Jaworski’s July testimony to the Standing Committee on Private Bills, they would know that Canadian plasma is exported because CBS refuses to buy it – even when offered lower prices!

“Canadian Plasma Resources was only Health Canada-certified when they first opened… It is only when Canadian Blood Services rejected their offer of all of their plasma in 2016 at $166 per litre, which was 20 per cent less than the price in the United States, that Canadian Plasma Resources sought to get European Medicines Agency approval, which means that they are allowed to sell their plasma within the European market… Canadian Plasma Resources has made two subsequent offers to Canadian Blood Services. In 2018 they offered all of their plasma at $195 a litre for a term of seven years and then most recently in 2019, $220 per litre for a term of 20 years.”

CBS unpaid plasma donation centres cost the taxpayer about $412 dollars per litre. The answer to this problem is clear: first pass Bill 204, then open paid plasma centres in Alberta, and finally shame CBS and Ottawa into ending the irrational policy of importing American paid plasma instead of buying Canadian paid plasma.

Alex McColl is the National Defence Columnist with the Western Standard and a Canadian military analyst

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Opinion

Sask PCs Say “no” to merger with Buffalo Party

With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent.

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A recent column in the Western Standard proposed the idea of uniting Saskatchewan’s Buffalo and PC parties. Progressive Conservative candidates and leadership responded quickly with a hard ‘no.’ 

“Won’t happen Lee,” PC leader Ken Grey posted on Facebook below the article. “We will welcome ex-Buffalo members but merger is a no go. We are a federalist party and from what I see Buffalo wants to broker left and right wing ideologies. We are different parties with different mandates.”

Grey cited the Buffalo Party’s approach of reaching out to both left and right policy goals. “That’s distasteful to me,” said Grey, whose party slogan is “True Conservative.”

The Buffalo Party – despite being just a few months old and running in a handful of ridings – finished as Saskatchewan’s third-place party on October 26th. With 17 candidates, the BP won 2.9 per cent of the vote. The PCs with 31 candidates won 2 per cent. In ridings in which they ran, the BP averaged 10 per cent, and the PCs 4 per cent. 

Frank Serfas, a founding signatory of the Western Independence Party and its interim leader in 2015, placed third as the PC candidate in Moosemin. He commented on my Facebook post, “Any talk of PCs and Buffalo merging are completely [p]remature and [h]alf [b]aked.”

In an interview, Serfas said that he joined the PCs in 2018 to support Ken Grey’s leadership bid, but also bought a membership in Wexit Saskatchewan (the Buffalo Party’s original name). He said the Buffalo Party lacks the needed foundation to last.

“No constitution, no membership-adopted platform. There is no elected executive, no elected leader,” Serfas said. “I’ve been watching this a long time, since the early 80s. The only time western separatist parties or independence parties had any traction is when their leaders were legitimately elected by the grassroots.”

Serfas said the party initially indicated they would do these things, then gave reasons why it did not. “Covid. Not enough people. Oh, and my favorite one was not enough time,” he said.

“They’re two different parties in two different places, organization wise, leadership wise, stuff like that. Things still need to be settled in both camps before you can even start dialogue.”

Ironically, a PC press release on August 13 already called it a “merger” when former Wexit candidates such as Harry Frank decided to run as PC candidates. “This merger comes after complaints of top down decisions, candidate removals without reason, and dictatorial style leadership within the Buffalo Party.”

The press release quoted Frank saying, “By uniting the right we have a greater chance of being in a position to challenge this liberal leaning SaskParty and pushing for the changes the residents of this province have been needing.”

The two parties share common policy ground in supporting MLA recall, a provincial police force, and a referendum on equalization to trigger a constitutional convention, all welcomed by Serfas.

“They’re willing to explore other avenues of autonomy. That’s a good start. But the thing you have to remember is that the PCs are a party with one foot in the past and one foot trying to reach into the future,” Serfas said.

Serfas said the PC Party trust fund was one example of control by legacy PCs.

“The party leader does not control that. The party executive does not control it. There is a trust executive that is basically made up of PC luminaries of the past, and they control it.”

PC candidate Tony Ollenberger was a founding member of the Alberta First Party and ran as a candidate in 2001. His former party eventually was refounded in 2018 as the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta. The FCP would later merge with Wexit Alberta to form the Wildrose Independence Party. 

Ollenberger does not want the Saskatchewan PCs to follow suit. 

“Buffalo is a flash in the pan. This is exactly what happened with the Alberta Independence Party in 2001,” Ollenberger said. “When they come onto the scene, and not even as a registered party, immediately the media just jumped all over them because they were just the next great thing. And you know after the election in 2001 they went nowhere.”

Ollenberg said his decades of observing independence movements in both provinces suggests some Buffalo Party members will eventually challenge interim leader Wade Sira’s position of “secession if necessary, but not necessarily secession.”

“He’s going to find someone come along and saying, ‘Well we need to separate now,’ and they’ll factionalize, and then they’ll refractionalize… until there’s six parties that need to get registered,” Ollenberger said.

“I’ve seen this movie before and I’ve seen exactly how it ends,” said Ollenberger. “We’d be shooing ourselves in the foot if we wanted to hitch our wagon to the Buffalo Party because I see the same fate unfolding again.”

Ollenberger, who placed third in Saskatoon Fairview, said the party’s message of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility had a positive response at the doors.

“We certainly need to do more to get our main track on the political radar, get our messaging out there, and make sure that people understand that there is a difference – that when people hear the word ‘Conservative’ they think of us again and not the Sask Party.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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