Progress Report #208
Your weekly update on Alberta politics for March 10, 2020
(This is an online version of the Progress Report email newsletter which comes out every Tuesday morning. You can subscribe here)
To spite all the stress and anxiety that the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak is putting on us, I want to open this edition of the newsletter with a story that fired me back up a little.
Last Friday, Sammy Hudes with the Calgary Herald reported that CSEC, the corporation that owns the Calgary Flames, was not going to pay any of its event staff or part-time workers whose jobs were being cut because of the pandemic.
CSEC is owned by a group of extremely rich men--including CNRL chairman Murray Edwards, former CNRL chairman Allan Markin, and Alvin Libin, founder of Extendicare (a private senior-care operator recently in the news after the absolutely inhumane death of one of its residents in Viking, Alberta.)
These are some of the richest men in Canada. They enjoyed quite the windfall thanks to UCP’s recent gigantic corporate tax cuts, and CSEC itself only a few months ago received nearly $290 million from the city of Calgary to build a new arena. But when it came time for them to pay it forward, they were happy to turn hundreds of struggling and precarious workers out into the cold in the middle of a pandemic that is shutting down the entire country.
People pay a lot of attention to news about their favorite sports teams and word of CSEC’s cruelty got out quickly. By Sunday morning a massive backlash was spreading online under the #ShameTheFlames hashtag. And after getting absolutely thrashed online and in the media by public figures, officials, and thousands of working-class folks, CSEC blinked. They announced yesterday that yes, they would pay their workers.
If you think that no amount of pressure or outrage will be enough to drive back Jason Kenney and the UCP, you should think again. I guarantee you that the billionaire ghouls behind CSEC don’t have any more empathy for humankind than Mr. Kenney does. But they blinked. They caved. And the UCP will cave too.
There’s no shortage of things we need to push back against.
Yesterday the UCP announced--in the middle of a global pandemic!--that they were ending the contracts of roughly half of Alberta’s radiologists. These folks just three months ago had been forced to eat a 12% cut, but Minister of Health Tyler Shandro directed AHS to tear up those contracts anyway. As of March 2021, they’re fired.
Yesterday it was revealed that the UCP are selling off Crown land around Taber--land that they have no right to sell. All of Alberta is treaty land, and the free and informed consent of Treaty 7 people must be given before the province can sell Crown land in that area.
And the UCP are still rushing to ram through a budget that makes per-capita cuts to healthcare, education, and public services.
*UPDATE* The UCP just backed down on their plans to upend physician billing. While we can't depend on pandemics to stop Kenney from throwing our healthcare system into chaos we can organize and put pressure on them and get wins in the short term while building power in the long term.
They’ll tell you that now “isn’t the time for politics,” all while they're doing the politics to you. Meanwhile, even their response to the pandemic itself is deceitful. Did you hear in the news last week that the UCP were bringing in 14 days of paid sick leave for workers impacted by the coronavirus? You might even have seen the press release online where they promised to amend the Employment Standards Code to do it. All signs point now to that being a flat lie: the CBC’s Janet French, reporting on the budget yesterday, found that in fact there were no changes to the ESC coming, and that really this was just the 14 days of EI that the federal government--Trudeau, not Kenney--was giving to us.
It’s outrageous and I know that with all of us cooped up to avoid spreading the virus, it can seem like just another thing that’s out of our control.
But remember how quickly the billionaire owners of the Flames, some of Canada’s most powerful men, were forced to back down. All it took was us standing up as one. So even if all you’ve got to fight with for the next couple of weeks is your keyboard, fight. Don’t let up. We can win!
Folks with money in the bank or good union jobs that give sick days have been able to hunker down and isolate in order to slow the spread of the pandemic. But folks living paycheque to paycheque in low-paying jobs don’t have that luxury, and that’s turning our grocery stores, our Tim’s, our senior facilities and all kinds of other places into dangerous hubs for the virus. That’s why we’re demanding this provincial government go beyond just taking credit for Justin Trudeau’s EI crumbs and bring in legislation now to make paid sick days mandatory until at least the end of the pandemic. Add your voice by sending a letter to your MLA with our tool here.
We aren’t in this awful situation with the pandemic out of nowhere. It’s the consequence of a system that has been cutting corners and dumping all the risk onto working-class people for years just to run up a few billionaires’ bank accounts. On the latest Alberta Advantage podcast they break down just how we got into this mess.
Press Progress (not us! but we’re fans of their work) caught a bunch of Tim Hortons franchises last week demanding doctors’ notes from workers who wanted to take unpaid sick days. It’s of course madness to be piling even more sick people into doctors’ offices, spreading the virus, and tying up doctors’ time just to get a piece of paper; after big backlash online Tim Horton’s changed the policy the next day. If your boss is demanding a sick note from you, we heartily recommend you tip Press Progress off immediately.
- This should go without saying at this point, and you shouldn’t need to hear it from your local politics newsletter, but please stay at home as much as you can and absolutely avoid crowds right now. You can have the virus and not show any symptoms for up to two weeks--and during that time you can get other people sick! COVID-19 can permanently harm or even kill people and is absolutely terrible for seniors and for folks with compromised immune systems. Do your part to slow the spread of the virus: keep your distance from folks and for heaven’s sake wash your hands.
That's all for this week. Please share this with any friends or family who you think would like political news and commentary from a progressive point of view. If you like this content and want to get in you email inbox, you can subscribe here.
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