About 30 determined protesters gathered for a couple of hours on July 22, on 46 St. across from the entrance to the Ponoka Golf Club, hoping to get a peek of Premier Jason Kenney as he arrived.
Kenney was the guest of honour at an event hosted by the Ponoka and District Chamber of Commerce.
With the United Conservative Party’s (UCP’s) ongoing changes and cuts to health care and education, there has been a growing atmosphere of discontent among some voters.
The local demonstrators ranged from nurses and teachers, with a couple of unions represented, along with those concerned with water quality and coal mining.
“I’m here in support of public service workers and the assault the UCP government is making on public services,” said Doug Hart, Ponoka resident, nurse and former NDP candidate.
“They campaigned on jobs and the economy and the pipeline and they haven’t delivered on those things. They’ve given away our revenue, they gave away $4.7 billion in taxes to their corporate donors and now they’re cutting public services,” said Hart.
“They want to cut nurses’ wages … they’re on a campaign of desecration and we’re here to say we’re opposed to it,” he said.
“Most of the people here are demonstrating in favour of a healthy public sector.”
“I’m fighting for democracy and the future,” said Miriam Farrington, a retired teacher and Ponoka resident.
Farrington added she was advocating for a number of issues, including the environment, women’s rights and childcare.
Jules Noel was concerned about the province privatizing health care laundry services and the workers who could potentially be laid off, and how it would affect Ponoka and local businesses.
“When those people stop getting paid, they stop buying,” said Noel.
“If they do have a job, it will be a lot less pay. If those dollars aren’t there, it’s going to affect the town, bottom line,” he said.
“So far, everything they’ve contracted out has cost more in the long run, not less,” said Noel.
In a recent press release, Alberta Health Services stated that remaining linen and laundry services at Alberta Health Services (AHS) will transition to K-Bro starting in September, 2021.
The transition will be done by zones and the total process is expected to take 34 weeks to complete (by April 1, 2022).
According to AHS, if current in-house laundry services were continued, it would cost more than $38 million in needed upgrades, and $100 million would be needed to build new, modern linen systems across the province.
The transition will impact 334 employees and AHS says it is committed to working with those employees and their unions to “explore potential options.”
The Alberta Party is calling on the UCP government to “withdraw public calls for AHS staff wage reductions and negotiate in good faith.”
”Minister of Finance Toews has told the media that there will be no negotiating with nurses and other AHS staff over wage reductions,” stated a release dated July 30.
“Being a tough negotiator and telling the world there will be no negotiating are two very different things. Leaders bring people onside with their vision, they do not pick public fights.”
During the event at the golf course, which was only open to chamber members, Kenney answered a question about how the province is supporting rural health care.
“Let me just say some comments about health care generally, because I had some of my fans there across the street protesting … Ralph Klein used to say that if a day went by without a protest he’d wonder what he was doing wrong, so I just keep it all in context,” he said.
Alberta is spending more on health care per person than any province in Canada, says Kenney.
“We spend 20 per cent more per person than the average amongst the larger Canadian provinces.”
Kenney referred to Dr. Janice MacKinnon’s report on Alberta’s finances.
“This is not my opinion, this is hard data,” he said.
“We compensate our wonderful, fantastic, frontline health care workers better than anywhere in Canada and I’m good with that … but we need better management tools to be able to avoid unaffordable future increases of health care costs, given that they are 45 per cent of Alberta’s budget.”