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Never mind Jason Kenney's 'Blueprint for Jobs': 26,000 jobs disappear in one day

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Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr​

So, make that 26,000 Alberta jobs, gone with the wind!

Now that some of the smoke is starting to clear from Premier Jason Kenney's Saturday afternoon massacre of school board jobs, its apparent initial estimates by school trustees and union leaders of 20,000 jobs lost were about 30 per cent low.

The true number of workers affected by the mass layoff of substitute teachers, educational assistants, non-essential school support staff and school bus drivers is closer to 26,000 -- 6,000 with teaching credentials, the other 20,000 in support roles.

That kind of confusion is understandable given that the Kenney government, as Progress Alberta director Duncan Kinney put it Saturday, managed to come up with the perfect way to announce a mass layoff: "With a tweet on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of a global pandemic and massive recession with 15 minutes' notice to the school boards."

According to University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe -- no raging Marxist, by the way -- the latest layoffs amount to about one per cent of the entire Alberta work force. Or, as he tweeted, "Massive scale."

Saturday's surprise purge is probably the largest mass layoff in Canadian history, certainly the largest in the public sector, surpassing in one day Ralph Klein's public-sector layoffs throughout the mid-1990s.

Klein's cutbacks saw about 13,000 employees leave the public service and as many as 10,000 nurses laid off, a disaster the health-care system was still recovering from when Kenney was elected. Many of the public service "layoffs," though, were administrative fakery, with public employees simply switching from the civil service to public boards, agencies and commissions to do the same work for the same pay.

The jobs lost Saturday are supposed to resume when schools reopen, whenever that is. We'll see how that works out.

The rest of Tombe's Twitter commentary was enlightening as well. Premier Kenney's talking-point claim, repeated by Education Minister Adriana LaGrange, that $128-million in savings will be reallocated to the response to COVID-19 is false, Tombe explained. "Money is fungible and the spending on health during the crisis will be unaffected by this decision. What is affected is Alberta govt's debt levels."

As for other false statements, did LaGrange know of this plan when she promised on March 15 that "school authorities will receive their full allotment of funding for the 2019-2020 school year"? It's more likely she learned about Saturday's decision not long before the rest of us did.

Does Kenney consult anyone other than Jason Nixon, Travis Toews and Stephen Harper? I doubt it. And maybe not even all of them.

As for the argument the money is better spent in health care, "which is not the case anyway, but even if it were," Tombe asked why the Kenney government persists in spending $30 million a year in public funds "on a terrible marketing campaign through the War Room?" He can take comfort from the fact a lot of other Albertans are asking the same thing.

As many have pointed out, yesterday's announcement amounts to telling 26,000 people who are doing important, necessary work to collect employment insurance for doing nothing, while the nine employees of the Canadian Energy Centre who appear to do almost nothing are costing $82,000 a day!

But to give Kenney credit where credit is due, he demonstrates remarkable chutzpah.

He came into office vowing to restore the "Alberta Advantage," which basically meant unsustainably low taxes and a government that functions anyway, most of the time, because of oil.

When he turned out to be as powerless as former NDP premier Rachel Notley was to control or even influence the global price of oil -- now at historic lows thanks to the double whammy of the coronavirus pandemic suppressing demand and the Russian-Saudi price war increasing supply -- he vowed to focus on creating jobs.

The fantasy budget rammed through the legislature in mid-March with almost no debate, which assumes oil prices of close to $60 a barrel, was named "A Blueprint for Jobs." (Yesterday, Western Canadian Select, the respectable name for bitumen crude, touched $3.72 a barrel. That's not a typo.)

"We are laser-focused on creating jobs, growing the economy, and getting Albertans back to work," the budget's online cover page proclaims.

Since this government had already seen some 70,000 jobs disappear on its watch before the arrival of the coronavirus and collapse of oil prices, cutting another 26,000 at a moment when the right thing to do economically and morally was to keep as many people as possible employed leaves only 4,000 to go for Kenney to have presided over the disappearance of 100,000 jobs!

Some blueprint for jobs! A blueprint for pink slips, more like.

As for offloading the cost directly onto the level of government that's actually doing something to limit the spread of the coronavirus and counter the effects of rock-bottom oil prices, Tombe mildly commented: "Laying off provincial public servants to shift salary burdens to the Feds doesn't strike me as the best approach."

You could certainly put it that way. Count on it, given half a chance, it won't be long before Kenney is again complaining about Ottawa spending too much.

So when you think about this man, remember author Leo Rosten's famous definition of chutzpah: "That quality enshrined in a man who, having killed his mother and father, throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan."

I give you, Jason T. Kenney.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on his blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Government of Alberta/Flickr​

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