Alberta’s public servants deserve a better government to work with

Asking them to carry the can for the government’s ineptitude is disingenuous


Alberta’s public servants deserve a better government to work with FREE to subscribers

Stephen Murgatroyd Eye on Alberta
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EDMONTON, AB, Mar 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Alberta Premier Jim Prentice thinks if he says something often enough then Albertan’s will accept it as a truth. For example, if he says often enough that the biggest problem (other than the so-called deficit problem, which is in fact an ideological debt) is the cost of the public service, then this must be true. Trouble is, he is wrong.

First, the public service is the size it is because of decisions the Progressive Conservatives have made. Part of the Premier’s fantasy world is that he represents “new management” (notice that this isn’t the same as new leadership) as if this means that he is the CEO of a completely different and totally new government.

Public servants being used as scapegoats

That is nonsense, as we all know. He is leading almost the exact same group of people (with a few exceptions) who agreed to the current salary and pension arrangements for the public service, who headed Ministries which were allowed to grow and who gave themselves pay rises.

Second, his suggestion that there is a need for a coordinated approach to public sector pay is exactly what the Redford government actually did. A group of Ministers who led the largest employers (Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, Dave Hancock, Thomas Lukaszuk met weekly to coordinate their approach to public sector pay. Johnson repeated Hancock’s feat of bargaining for teachers pay provincially rather than via each of the school boards, which used to be their statutory duty. Thus, the reason pay is what it is is that cabinet and a coordinated group of Ministers made it so.

public servants
The Alberta government needs to look in the mirror and stop scapegoating public servants

Third, the reason pensions are not reformed is that Hanckock, as Premier, “killed” the pension reform bill former Finance Minister Doug Horner insisted was needed and Prentice has not reintroduced it.

Fourth, Alberta actually spends less per capita on its public services than many other provinces in Canada. As of now, it ranks 6th in spending per capita on health, education and other public services. After the proposed budget cuts, we will likely by in 8th place.

According to figures published by the Royal Bank of Canada, Alberta currently spends about $9,786 per person on public services, slightly less than the average for other provinces. If the proposed cuts are enacted, this would be reduced to $8,905, ahead of only Ontario and Quebec, whose more urbanized populations allow them to deliver services more cheaply.

Fifth, the average teacher is Alberta (and there is a big difference in pay between a starting teacher and a Principal) earns $93,681 – up $9,414 since 2010. The average MLA earns $127,300 – up $49,162 since 2010. We can argue whether these salaries are high or low, but the reality is that the decisions to award them were all made by the government (in fact imposed by government in the case of teachers).

Finally, Alberta’s debts (including debt guarantees, contingent liabilities and program obligations) are around $200,176,000 and rising, though our net debt position is positive. We do pay over $530 million a year in interest payments and we are incurring more debt as we rush to catch up on infrastructure not replenished during the Klein era and not strategically developed to match population growth. We are likely to find ourselves playing constant catch up on this file. Yet, at the same time as we accelerate our building program for schools, we are likely looking at reducing our expenditure on hiring teachers. These are all government of Alberta decisions.

Attacking the public service and asking them to carry the can so that the government can continue to support those who can afford to pay more taxes and to support a government that seems ideologically incapable of making sound economic decisions (as we shall soon see in the budget coming on March 27th) is lowering morale. Many of the smartest people in government are looking to leave and will do so when it starts to reintroduce pension reform and roll back wages.

Public servants deserve respect

We need to honour and respect smart public servants and encourage them to act as servants for the public good. High quality, strategically focused and capable public servants who are remunerated well for the work they do and act as representatives of the peoples interest is exactly what Alberta desperately needs right now.

Attacking them and making them “scapegoats” undermines them. Not at all what Alberta needs.

Stephen Murgatroyd is a consultant in innovative business and education practices with a PHd in psychology.

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