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Anti-union Wildrose Party's fund-raising pitch piggybacks on union's heavy lifting

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Kerry Towle

Is it just me, or is there a certain irony in the spectacle of a political party dedicated to the proposition that trade unions are bad trying to raise money by taking credit for the good work done by a union?

I refer, of course, to the Wildrose Party's recent exploitation of the brilliant exposure by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees of the appalling menu fed to helpless seniors in the province's continuing care facilities -- which even the mainstream media seems to think was the main reason Health Minister Fred Horne ordered 73 such residences to return to home cooking by Christmastime.

Alert readers will recall that nothing was done about Alberta Health Services' so-called 21-day menu -- the unpalatable tinfoil- and plastic-wrapped meals that have been trucked in, reheated and fed to helpless nursing home residents for months now -- until AUPE created a video that cleverly asked a food critic to say what he thought of the culinary qualities of the frozen meals.

Words like "sawdust," "mush," "nasty" and "obscene" were used and, before you could say "Anthony Bourdain," the video went viral on the Internet and the pressure increased on the Health Ministry, if not Alberta Health Services, to do something about it, at least as far as nursing homes went.

As an aside, it seems to me that this might have been the solution to the public relations problem created by former AHS Chief Financial Officer Allaudin Merali's notorious entertainment expenses. Merali should have been told he could entertain anyone he liked, anywhere he liked, any time he liked, at AHS expense … as long as he served something from the 21-day menu!

Indeed, this might be considered as a sound policy to implement for Merali's successor, since, as far as anyone knows, the 21-day menu remains in use at more than 200 Alberta hospitals and health centres. Heck, it might cost 6 per cent more, as AUPE says the 21-day menu does, but it would be almost worth it to imagine the looks on their entitled executive faces!

Regardless, the Wildrose Party, which under its market-fundamentalist Leader Danielle Smith is endlessly seeking ways to "reform" public health care by making it more private, jumped on AUPE's bandwagon and, to give credit where credit is due, referred its supporters to the video and properly acknowledged AUPE's role in the complaints about the 21-day menu.

But now, Wildrose Seniors Issues Critic Kerry Towle, the MLA for Innisfail-Sylvan Lake, has sent out a fund-raising letter soliciting donations from Albertans to help the Wildrose Party to make AHS "make things right."

No mention, alas, in the letter of the group that did the heavy lifting to bring this issue to the public's attention and that, arguably, did the most to resolve it, at least as far as seniors in Alberta-run nursing homes are concerned.

It's hard to knock Towle's argument that there's something wrong with not using fresh, local produce in meals for the ill and the incapacitated. But when we consider this, we need to remember that a major part of the Wildrose Party’s push -- just like that of the Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford -- is to privatize nursing homes. That will mean better food for some -- excellent food, indeed -- if you can afford the tab.

For the rest of us? Not so good. Not unless we can count on our children to bring us doggie bags, anyway.

Likewise, the Wildrosers -- like their colleagues in their federal branch, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Wildrose Party of Canada -- are big fans of the dismantling of the Canadian Wheat Board, a decision that over time will impact the ability of Canadians to get quality locally produced food, and not just grain.

Another significant policy platform of the Wildrose Party, ironic under the circumstances, is to make it impossible for unions to do their job -- if not to exist. The Wildrose, for example, has a policy to bring in U.S.-style "right to work" laws (nowadays increasingly called "worker choice" laws because too many citizens are onto the Orwellian implications of the original mischaracterization). That would mean individual workers could opt out of paying union dues even if they are enjoying the benefits of a contract negotiated by a union.

You can be sure that the market-fundamentalist Wildrosers are also sympathetic to the idea that unions should be forced by law to do nothing but "labour relations," strictly defined as negotiating contracts and conducting workplace grievances, which is part of their long-term agenda to defund and defang the left (which really means to make our society even less democratic) and leave working people at the mercy of aggressive employers.

Most certainly if union activities were restricted as the Wildrose supporters advocate, AUPE would not have been able to make the video that opened the kitchen door to better means for Alberta seniors lucky enough to be in a publicly run nursing home.

Remember that when you think of making donations to the Wildrose Party, or consider them to be a meaningful alternative to the policies of Ms. Redford and Mr. Horne. There are better alternatives.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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