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Alberta public employees, subject to constant Wildrose and media vilification, win national award for effective service

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Fort Mac Fire

Just guessing, but you probably won't read much news coverage about the national award the Alberta Public Service received yesterday for its effective response to last spring's Fort McMurray fire.

Deloitte Canada, the Canadian branch of the well-known international consulting firm, and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, gave the Alberta Public Service their Gold Leadership Award at a lunchtime event in Toronto for the effective response not just to the huge wildfire, but to its complicated aftermath as well.

"Alberta Public Service members stepped up, working with the task force and public service leaders to activate the province's Emergency Co-ordination Centre for the first time," said part of the news release sent out by Deloitte's PR department in Toronto yesterday morning. "The deployment of resources to distribute emergency financial donations, and to manage the operation of reception centres and other social supports, captivated the public and global media for weeks."

Postmedia's Alberta Frankenpaper and other media, meanwhile, have lately been devoting an awful lot of ink and its virtual equivalent to a campaign of vilification against front-line public service employees by the Wildrose Opposition and other conservative politicians. Some overheated Postmedia columnists seem to have pitched in as if they are actually part of the Wildrose effort. Perhaps with Postmedia's fortunes in decline, they hope to be.

As noted in this space during the weekend, a recent Wildrose Party news release, effusively covered by Postmedia, responded to the recommendation by a mediator that modestly paid front-line health-care workers who have been working without a contract for two years should have a collective agreement that includes 1.2 and 0.8 per cent raises in each year by calling the very idea "a slap in the face to struggling Albertans."

Demanding the NDP government of Premier Rachel Notley forget about the rule of law and ignore the mediator's recommendation, Opposition Leader Brian Jean called a pay increase of 39 cents an hour for health-care aides earning less than $20 an hour "completely indecent."

In the same news release, Wildrose Finance Critic and longtime Jean rival Derek Fildebrandt called for a pay freeze for all public employees and an end "to these out-of-touch union pay hikes."

On social media, Mr. Fildebrandt went farther, lumping the licensed practical nurses and health-care aides covered by the mediator's recommendation together as "union bosses."

In addition, the intemperate former Canadian Taxpayers Federation propagandist accused your blogger of being "a union propaganda officer," which isn't as good as being a union boss, although the attention from the esteemed frontbencher is appreciated nevertheless. (Full disclosure: I am proud to be an employee of United Nurses of Alberta, which represents more than 30,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied health-care workers.

Speaking of the Alberta government's response to the Fort Mac fire, also high on the Alberta Frankenpaper's story list lately has been Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative MP Dave Yurdiga's 11th-hour effort to paint the NDP's management of the destructive wildfire as a failure.

It will be interesting to see if Postmedia offers a similar coverage to the assessment of Deloitte and IPAC, people who may actually know what they're talking about, to that given Yurdiga's alternative version. No sign of such a story had appeared as this post was being written yesterday evening.

Well, it is true that 2017 is going to be a year in which the NDP government will be faced by challenging collective bargaining with three major public sector unions -- the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the Alberta Teachers Association and UNA -- which have contracts mostly signed under a previous conservative government that will expire this year.

It's also true that thanks to rulings by the Supreme Court of Canada public service unions everywhere in Canada now have a legal right to strike -- subject to essential services legislation and normal labour relations laws.

It's certainly true Notley has made it clear that under her government, Alberta will conduct itself in accordance with the rule of law and allow the collective bargaining process to work as required by the Supreme Court and our country's long democratic tradition.

There was a day when Alberta conservatives, the Wildrose Party included, believed in the rule of law in such circumstances too.

Perhaps it's the example of President Donald Trump south of the 49th Parallel that led to the party's new approach. Or maybe the Wildrose Party just can't resist the temptation to score points off the NDP by trying to tie it to "union bosses" in the hopes their own supporters have no idea how the law in Canada works, or to whom it applies. (Hint: Everyone.)

For its part, the now-departed Progressive Conservative dynasty could usually be counted on to praise the public service, even as it oh-so-regretfully implemented cuts.

Getting back to yesterday's luncheon in Toronto, anotjer Gold public service leadership award went to the Nova Scotia Health Authority for its 2016 restructuring of that province's health-care system after nine distinct regional authorities were merged in 2015. The groups' Bronze award went to the New Brunswick Department of Education and Early Childhood Development for a research-driven initiative to improve services to children and youth with complex social, emotional, physical and mental health needs. There was no Silver award.

The awards are designed to recognize and reward excellence in leadership within the public sector in Canada.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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