More than 80 people gathered in the cold in City Hall Park on Friday to protest what they called a provincial government assault on health care, education and some of Alberta’s most vulnerable.
The Council of Canadians’ Red Deer chapter organized the rally, which also featured speakers from the unions representing nurses, teachers and other provincial employees.
“I’m very happy with the turnout. I expected 10 people,” said chapter chair Chris D’Lima.
The turnout shows the level of public concern with the direction the government is taking and the need to push back, he said.
“Absolutely, you wouldn’t get 85 people if the message didn’t resonate. What we want people, down the road, is to get more involved.”
D’Lima worked with those who benefit from Alberta’s Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program for more than 40 years and knows how hard it is for them to get by under the current system that provides less than $20,000 a year.
“These guys are really hurting, and it’s wrong.”
United Nurses of Alberta representative Sue Beatson criticized the government’s plan, announced by Health Minister Tyler Shandro earlier this month, to lay off up to 11,000 health positions in hopes of saving $600 million annually.
While the minister has said no front-line doctor and nurse positions will be lost, critics contend that health care cannot but be affected.
“Stability in the midst of a pandemic cannot be achieved through short-staffed hospitals and burned-out workers,” Beatson told the crowd.
Alberta Union of Provincial Employees vice-president Bonnie Gustola lambasted the government for throwing away billions of tax dollars on corporate handouts.
“This government promised to create jobs, and what have we seen? Tens of thousands of lost jobs disappearing every single day in this province,” said Gustola.
Premier Jason Kenney made a promise not to cut health care, but plans to lay off thousands of health-care workers and replace them with cheaper labour as soon as they are not needed to fight the pandemic, she said.
About 1,000 other government workers who provide services have also just been laid off, said Gustola.
“As taxpayers, we deserve better.”
Alberta Teachers’ Association Local 60 president Kelly Aleman said the Kenney government has fired thousands of educators, reduced school funding, eroded protections for LGBTQ+ students and failed to provide adequate guidance on reopening schools during the pandemic.
“I keep wondering why (the premier) wants to take a highly ranked education system, one of the best in the world, and turn it into something we would not recognize,” said Aleman, whose local represents Red Deer Public Schools educators.