Editorial: The more things change ...

January 27, 2015
Jonathan Teghtmeyer, ATA News Editor-in-Chief

The Jan. 23 Calgary Herald headline says the premier is warning that Alberta will lose $6 billion in royalties. The premier is quoted as saying, “to put that into context, that’s equivalent to all our government’s spending on education each year.”

That same day, another Herald headline is, “Promise of all-day kindergarten pushed back” and features the education minister stating that the province’s “bleak” financial picture is putting the initiative on hold.

On Jan. 27, a Metro Edmonton headline reports that the premier calls public sector salaries unsustainable, saying, “Doctors and teachers mean an awful lot to us, but at the end of the day we can no longer afford to pay doctors 20 per cent more than they get paid anywhere else in the country.”

That was 2013. This is now:

On Jan. 13, 2015, now-Premier Jim Prentice told an economic development luncheon about a six-to-seven-billon-dollar hole in government revenues that “equates roughly to all of the money that we spend on education in this province.”

A Dec. 29, 2014, Herald headline states, “Funded full-day kindergarten likely to remain shelved” with Education Minister Gordon Dirks stating that the three-year-old Tory promise would be “ideal” but improbable due to slumping oil prices.

And on Jan. 13, 2015, under a Metro Edmonton headline that reads, “Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says public servant salaries not sustainable,” the premier is quoted as saying, “In every level of public employment we have, we’re paying vastly more than anyone else in the country and it’s not sustainable.”

Alberta teachers would be forgiven if they felt a sense of deja-vu … or is that whiplash?

President Mark Ramsankar is right.

“This isn’t new management; this is standard fare,” he said to a Metro reporter this January.

Unfortunately, because of our misguided obsession with having the lowest taxes in the land — to the tune of $11 billion a year in lost revenue — we are back in the same places where we always end up. Resource revenue has taken an unexpected dip and cuts have to be made and public sector servants have to pay with salary concessions.

I don’t see teachers taking the bait this time. They did it in the late ’90s and accepted a five per cent rollback, and they did it again in 2013 when they took a three-year salary freeze.

While teacher pay is frozen, the wages of average Albertans are rising by more than 10 per cent while the cost of living is up five per cent. Premier Redford said that teacher raises were unsustainable, but teachers took a five per cent rollback in their real incomes. That is not sustainable.

Premier Prentice lamented about having to pay public servants more here than in the rest of the country. But that is the labour marketplace here. If you are an employer doing business in Alberta, your labour is on average 22 per cent more expensive. It doesn’t matter whether you employ teachers, nurses, engineers or electricians.

In fact, not only do Alberta’s bankers, lawyers and politicians make more money here than their counterparts in the rest of the country, those who earn more than $100,000 also pay significantly less in tax — especially those making more than half a million in a year.

So, while public servants are being told to manage expectations on wages, the wealthiest Albertans are flying around the continent buying antique Thunderbirds with their tax returns.

That is what’s unsustainable. ❚

I welcome your comments — contact me at jonathan.teghtmeyer@ata.ab.ca.