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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

MORGAN: It’s time for Joe to go

Cory Morgan writes that other politicians have been driven from office for much, much less than what Joe did.

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With news that the Calgary Police Service has asked the RCMP to begin an independent investigation into Councilor Joe Magliocca’s expense scandal, it becomes clear that it is time for Mr. Magliocca to step aside from his council seat.

Citizens have little patience for well-heeled politicians abusing expense accounts on the backs of taxpayers. In 2012, a $16 glass of orange juice expensed by Conservative cabinet minister MP Bev Oda caused such outrage that Oda eventually resigned in disgrace. It may have been small peanuts and the controversy overblown, but it was a symbol of disrespect to taxpayers, rightly or wrongly. Magliocca’s abuse of his expense account is much worse than anything Oda did.

This wasn’t a one-off – or even an accident – for Joe. A forensic audit concluded that there has been a pattern of personal expense abuse carried out by Magliocca for years. From room upgrades to luxury hotels, to airline seat upgrades, to what appears to be the outright fraudulent efforts to cover up the event hosting expenses by falsely adding names of attendees who were never there, it is clear that Magliocca has a serious and ongoing problem with abusing the taxpayer’s trust. Any private organization would have fired Magliocca years ago.

Conservatives are few and far between on Calgary’s city council. Councilor Joe Magliocca had been considered one of them. That makes Magliocca’s repeated and flagrant abuse of taxpayer’s dollars for his personal benefit all the more odious and damaging. Nothing undercuts calls for fiscal restraint more effectively than hypocrisy. How could or would anybody take Magliocca’s calls for the city to tighten it’s fiscal belt when he has so brazenly gorged on the taxpayer’s flesh himself?

It’s not as if Magliocca wasn’t paid enough as a counselor to begin with. With a base salary of $113,416 plus benefits and pension, along with an already generous expense policy, there was no excuse for Maglioca’s abuse his expense account so flagrantly. It is a slap in the face to taxpayers who are currently wondering how they are going to make their mortgage payments in light of ceaseless city tax increases and who can’t afford to go on vacations, much less lavish ones fully expensed by their employers.

So far Magliocca has been silent and keeping a low profile. Yes, he paid back a few thousand dollars, but that was of course only after he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Joe knows he can’t justify this, so I am guessing that he hopes that if he keeps his head low that this will blow over. This is not going to blow over.

At this point, the only acceptable response from Joe Magliocca should be his immediate resignation as a city councilor. This may even serve Joe’s interests in a sense, because if there does indeed turn out to be criminal wrongdoing found and he is convicted, at least some evidence of remorse will have been shown prior to sentencing.

The next best thing at least would be for Magliocca to openly announce that he will not be running in the next election. His brand is befouled and there is no way he could win his seat on council again. It would leave Joe as a lame-duck councillor, but at least the path would be cleared for for principled candidates to begin campaigning to replace him in 2021.

If Magliocca does run again, he could cause damage to the entire outcome of the election. Joe could split the vote with a real conservative and put yet another free-spending councilor at the table at a time when Calgary can least afford one. Magliocca’s presence in the election would likely turn into a sideshow where his ill-behavior is used to try and discredit conservatives running in other wards or even for Mayor.

Joe Magliocca’s political reputation is irreparably damaged even if he doesn’t know it yet. The best thing Joe can do for the city of Calgary now is to step aside. This election is much too important and we can’t allow this circus to keep us all from finally getting the fiscally responsible mayor and council that we so desperately need.

Politicians have been driven from office for much, much less than what Joe did. It’s time for Councilor Magliocca to do the right thing.

Cory Morgan and a columnist for the Western Standard and a business owner in Priddis, Alberta.

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Opinion

BARNES: Albertans deserve the right to make the big decisions in referenda law

Guest column from Drew Barnes says that Alberta’s referendum law should be expanded to allow votes on big constitutional issues.

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Guest opinion column from Alberta MLA Drew Barnes

“I am and I will remain a populist, because those who listen to the people are doing their job.” Matteo Salvini.

At its core the word populism is the action that government policies should be determined by the will of the people, not the will of the elite. Direct democracy is the institutional populism in action.

There is debate over whether populism should be termed as a movement or an ideology. Since the actions of populist engagement can transcend the ideological spectrum, I believe it should be viewed as a movement, that can sometimes manifest itself ideologically. As a movement, populist participation can take place on all points of the spectrum. Ultimately, that is what is wanted from a democratic society – engagement from all points of the spectrum.

Now more than ever, we need a new grassroots-populist approach to politics. Grassroots politics by its nature suggests that it is a movement that is sparked from the bottom-up. Politicians who came from grassroots movements must never forget where they came from, or lose sight of what they came to do. We need more of the bottom-up approach to politics, and make listening to the people that elected us a priority.

This is taking place in some measure here in Alberta. Political party policy processes allow for constituency associations to generate policy proposals for conventions, where they are voted on by the membership. Every party in Alberta – with the exception of the NDP – uses a ‘one member, one vote’ system.

Another grassroots/populist tool is referenda, that when used the right way are a valuable democratic tool. Referendums however, must stay true to their purpose, and the process for bringing them forward must allow for citizens to craft their own – fair – wording on a question. This is not to say that any question – however subjectively worded – that anyone wants to ask should be put to a referendum. Therefore, the rules on the use of referendums must not be overly onerous, nor overly temperate.

Switzerland is a prime example of a country that takes full advantage of referendums, including citizens’ initiative. In their democratic system, referendums can occur up to four times annually. All citizens registered to vote can cast their ballot on issues affecting decisions within both their federal government and their cantons (autonomous provinces). Before each vote, all registered voters receive a package of booklets in the mail which provide details on the coming referendums. Since these referendums began in 1848, just under half of the referendum proposals have passed. Even if they don’t always pass, the process is crucial to starting conversations and keeping citizens involved in debate. Referendums also force political parties to reach beyond partisan lines to reach consensus.

Alberta’s legislature recently passed a bill that guides referendums on non-constitutional matters. While this is a positive step forward, there are issues in this bill that need improvement. 

For example, Albertans initiating a referendum might go through the process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures, only to have the cabinet alter the wording the question. While fair wording of the question is critical to the integrity of direct democracy, that issue is not best dealt with by politicians who may have a stake in the result. Instead, clear guidelines should be established in law on question wording, and left to non-partisan officials at Elections Alberta. 

And while the new referendum legislation is a big step forward over the status quo (that is, nothing), it deliberately bans citizens-initiated referendums on constitutional questions. This means that if Albertans wished to force a vote on adding property rights to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, that they would not be allowed. Similarly, Albertans are barred from forcing a vote on reforming the Senate, equalization, or internal free trade. Ominously, Albertans have no right to force a vote over the heads of the legislature on independence or other forms of sovereignty. 

I believe that Albertans can be trusted with the right of citizens’ initiative on all questions, both constitutional and non-constitutional. 

We trust the people to elect a government to run our systems, so why can’t we trust them to bring their own questions forward? 

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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Opinion

LETTER: Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East

A reader says that Erin O’Toole isn’t “woke” enough to beat Trudeau in the East.

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In this ‘Era of Wokeness” along with the ascension of Black Lives Matter into the public consciousness, I believe that it would be detrimental to the Conservative Party of Canada to have Erin O’Toole as
it’s leader.

Mr O’Toole recently refused to use the word ‘racism’ and did not answer clearly when pressed on whether he believes it even exists. Erin O’Toole will hand the Trudeau Liberals an easy victory during the next election, should he become Tory leader. Canada cannot afford another four years of Justin Trudeau. 

Like it or not, most people in Ontario and Quebec (where all federal elections are ultimately decided owing to their number of allotted seats), are very much ‘woke’ on the issue of racism, as well as
sexism, homophobia, ect. In my experience, this also includes most Conservative Party of Canada voters in Eastern Canada.

Right-wing populism and social conservatism does well in Western Canada – but centrist Red Toryism is all they are prepared to accept in most of Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. CPC members in Western Canada need to keep this in mind when voting for their next leader. 

CPC members need to be sensible and realistic if they want to win the next federal election. 

Gila Kibner 
Edmonton, Alberta

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