Thomas Lukaszuk

It will take a while to sort out what really happened in yesterday’s deal between the Redford Government and Alberta’s doctors, but you can count on it there’s more there than meets the eye.

Premier Alison Redford, Health Minister Fred Horne and Alberta Medical Association President Dr. Michael Giuffre were all smiles at a news conference in Calgary yesterday afternoon where they announced the seven-year agreement that will run from April 1, 2011, to March 31, 2018. The deal will give the physicians three years with no pay increase, followed by two years with 2.5-per-cent increases, then two years of cost of living adjustments.

This will allow the government or its proxies to go into negotiations with its public sector unions and say the teachers did it, now the docs have done it, so you’ll just have to take your zeroes too. Smile while you swallow your medicine.

It will also give the government a spell of “labour peace” that will last until well after the next provincial election with a group that’s made plenty of trouble in the past.

So what’s in it for the docs? The saw-off as it’s being described by the media is that the deal will let the doctors keep several generous programs that pad their bottom lines, give them a role in future consultations on how they are paid, provide the AMA with the comfort of what a real collective agreement would call a “union rights” clause, plus hand them a $68-million one-time lump sum that will “address various financial challenges faced by physician practices,” whatever that means.

But you can count on it that there’s more to this deal than meets the eye — and that the docs got far more than the media coverage or the government’s press release suggest.

The two-year-plus fight this agreement ends, it is said here, has always been about who controls the province’s health care system, the doctors or the government.

After this, without being able to read the fine print, it’s probably safe to put your money on the doctors.

Programs and jobs go over the side as post-secondary education cuts start to bite

When progressive Alberta voters suddenly switched their votes in April 2013 from their traditional parties to Redford’s supposedly Progressive Conservatives, it’s unlikely they expected to trigger a wholesale attack on public post-secondary education. It certainly wasn’t what they wished for.

But thanks to Redford’s conveniently timed and already dissipating “Bitumen Bubble,” that is what they got.

In the latest episode, the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees revealed Friday that the budget attack on post-secondary education will result in elimination of paramedic, practical nursing and other programs at Lakeland College sites in Camrose, Lloydminster, Vermilion, and Edmonton. Lakeland’s American Sign Language training program will also go over the side.

The cuts at Lakeland will result in the loss of 60 jobs in those communities, including 20 teaching positions.

But the situation at Lakeland barely scratches the surface of what’s happening in post-secondary education as the Redford Conservatives — to whom progressive voters naively turned out of legitimate fear of what the seemingly more market fundamentalist Wildrose Party might do — move sharply back to the right

The day before AUPE’s revelation, Advanced Education Minister Thomas Lukaszuk met with the presidents of 26 post-secondary institutions, but refused to retreat from his plans for destructive budget cuts.

The government has hinted it will temporarily freeze tuition increases, which would keep students out of the streets and the whole fiasco out of the media.

Meanwhile, however, the post-secondaries are left to figure out how to trim millions from their budgets — $42-million at the University of Alberta alone, with entire programs like the U of A’s Master of Library and Information Services degree rumoured to be facing the chop.

In this atmosphere of gloom, faculty at Athabasca University exchanged bargaining proposals with their employer on last week. The university is seeking two years of salary and grid freezes, plus 10 days without pay.

Free spending university administrators, who have rewarded themselves generously in the past, are threatening layoffs if they don’t get their way — potentially a problem since one in seven Athabasca employees have already been laid off or bought out.

For its part, the faculty proposed a one-year agreement (July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014) with a cost-of-living adjustment 2 per cent effective July 1. In 2010, teachers also took zero and five pay-free days.

Lukaszuk has said he thinks the answer is “creative solutions” to open up more post-secondary seats in Alberta. This has led to speculation he doesn’t understand the difference between “creative” and “imaginary.”

Classless federal Tory attack ad likely to backfire

Liver disease may not be as sexy as heart disease or cancer when it comes to fund-raising, but the Canadian Liver Foundation gave Justin Trudeau a boost just the same on his first day on the job as Liberal leader by making it obvious just how cheesy that long-anticipated first Conservative attack ad was.

The classless ad released within minutes of Trudeau’s victory announcement yesterday showed the new Liberal leader slipping off his shirt and tried to imply that means he’s some kind of flaky kid.

The Liver Foundation pointed out in a Tweet that Trudeau was raising money for them in the clip: “We feel @JustinTrudeau should be applauded for his support of a serious health issue that affects 3.4 million Cdns,” the message said.

Now, this wasn’t quite as bad as the Kim Campbell Conservatives mocking Jean Chretien’s appearance back in 1993, but it’s likely to be about as effective.

It’s said here the Conservative smear machine’s broadsides against previous Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff worked in large part because most Canadians knew very little about them when the sleaze machine set about to define them for us.

But Canadians, even those who don’t support him, have a much better picture of whom Trudeau is, what he stands for and what he’s usually doing when his shirt comes off. (Viz., raising money for charity, even if it means he has to beat the snot out of a Tory Senator.)

Moreover, we all expected the Tories to attack Trudeau on the grounds of inexperience — an odd strategy by a party led by a man like Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has never held a real job outside politics.

In this context, the ads are likely to flop as badly as Harper’s bizarre and muddled suggestion Trudeau is calling for lower taxes in China. Possibly, they even have the potential to flop as badly as Campbell’s election campaign, way back when.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...