As predictably as winter following autumn, or a Flames first-round playoff exit, the knives have started coming out for Premier Stelmach after the one-two punch of a poorly-received television address and poll numbers showing the Tories at 40% (or lower) popular support.
Those people most emboldened by the image of the Premier "on the ropes", though, haven't been the whispered leadership contenders waiting in the wings... it has been the public sector unions. In particular, 3 of them: The AUPE, the United Nurses of Alberta, and the Alberta Teacher's Association.
AUPE's head honcho has been quotes as saying wage roll-backs are not even worth discussing, as the union won't accept them. He's also leery of a wage freeze, noting that the "jobs ahead of raises" argument was used by Ralph in the early 90's - and that job cuts happened anyway.
United Nurses of Alberta have been on the warpath since the summer, when Stephen Duckett asked them to have a grown-up conversation about how nurses are used, and in what roles (they described the merest suggestion of changes as "bullying"). They haven't rejected the call for a wage freeze yet, as they're waiting to see how the health care system will be run before deciding their bargaining position. Rest assured, though, they'll be right there, standing side-by-side with the Friends of Medicare protesting every single paperclip order that gets cancelled due to budgetary concerns.
Then there's the ATA. They started protesting BEFORE Ed's announcement on Wednesday night, launching a website and a campaign that has made it very clear that they're against ANY cuts to education funding. There's not a single unnecessary worker, no redundant offices, nobody orders extra crates of photocopy paper from Grand & Toy that end up not being used... there's no fat to be trimmed in the education system, at all.
(This brings to mind the argument I have yet to fully articulate regarding why I am in favour of fully funding the provincial Auditor General. More on that some other time.)
We spent $36.4 Billion as a province this year. 36.2% went to Health. 25.7% went to Education. Since 1999, government spending on Education has increased by 87%. To say this government doesn't value those programs is as ridiculous as the assertion that there is absolutely no way to reduce spending in these huge bureaucracies without affecting front-line service delivery.
We are not in a sustainable position, here, folks. Health Care, Education, the 60,000-member public service (of which I'm a member, you'll recall)... these are all HUGELY expensive items in the provincial budget. And we can't just wait for the price of natural gas to rise again, and then everything will be hunky-dory...
This is the highest-spending government in the nation, per capita. A fact that our friends in the Wildrose Alliance are always more than happy to bring up. And do you want to know what's going to happen to these unions and special interest groups if costs AREN'T brought under control?
The Wildrose Alliance will get elected to govern.
Is that REALLY an outcome you'd prefer over wage freezes and manageable budget cuts, unions?
I dunno... it seems to me you're more likely to get a fair shake from Ed Stelmach or Ron Glenn than from Mark Dyrholm or his "outreach guy". But maybe that's just me.