Nurses go forward, they do not go back, says UNA President Heather Smith of UCP’s austerity budget

Budget Reaction

I have said many times before, ‘Nurses go forward, they do not go back.’ — Heather Smith., President, United Nurses of Alberta

United Nurses of Alberta is deeply concerned but hardly surprised to see Registered Nurses and the vital work they do for Albertans placed in the bull’s eye of the United Conservative Party’s austerity budget today.

“Registered Nurses are the backbone of the health care system,” said United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith. “We are still recovering from the attack on RNs in Alberta during the mid-1990s. It’s outrageous and tragic that this government appears to want to repeat that mistake.”

Clearly stating UNA’s determination to fight hard to protect RNs and the vital work they do, Smith reminded Albertans the government promised repeatedly in the long lead-up to the budget it would not target front-line health care workers in its austerity budget.

Highlighting hard-won provisions of UNA’s Provincial Collective Agreement as targets in the 2019-2023 Fiscal Plan shows how sincere the government was when it made these promises, Smith observed. She noted that these provisions were bargained over many years and the collective bargaining process is protected by Canada’s Constitution.

The Fiscal Plan document cherry picks a number of articles in UNA’s agreement that are superior to similar provisions in some other jurisdictions, Smith said. Among those provisions, unsurprisingly, was the hourly pay range for Registered Nurses, which reflects the reality that wages are high in all job categories in Alberta because of the historically higher costs and relatively high inflation rate in the province.

Smith said UNA is proud of its work negotiating fair collective agreements for its members that rightly reflect the economic realities of Alberta and its health care system. “I have said many times before, ‘Nurses go forward, they do not go back,’” she stated.

The Fiscal Plan also identified RNs’ contractually designated days of rest and overtime rates for budget action and stated that the recent expansion of Licensed Practical Nurses’ scope of practice would allow long-term care operators to “lower the number of Registered Nurse (RN) funded hours per weighted resident day with no impact on residents’ quality of care.”

“We do not accept the claim such a policy would have no impact on the quality of care, and we will work hard to educate the public on why RNs play such a crucial role in any health care system that puts the health of patients and residents first,” Smith said.

“Anyone with a loved one in an Alberta nursing home should be concerned by the implications of such changes to the Nursing Home Regulations,” she said.

Beyond those specific issues, Smith said, the cuts outlined in the Budget and Fiscal Plan do not bode well for the health care system or the long-term health of Albertans.

While health care spending will rise marginally at a rate that does not account for increases in population and inflation, she noted that important capital projects have been deferred, including the new south Edmonton Hospital and the proposed Child and Adolescent Mental Health Building at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

Saying that overall budgets will be cut by “only” 2.8 per cent per year over four years adds up to a cut of about 17 per cent over the same period when the combined effects of inflation and population growth (about 3.5 per cent a year) are included in the calculation.

“That puts these Kenney cuts right in the same zone as the cuts by premier Ralph Klein in the mid 1990s, from which Alberta has barely recovered,” she said.

Combined with the Kenney Government’s tax cuts for profitable corporations, this budget is irresponsible and dangerous, Smith concluded.

UNA will be digging into the details of the health care implications of this budget in the days ahead and will communicate its findings to members and the public.