• Garrity Beales

AN ALBERTA DIVIDED



I have become disillusioned with the province I have called home since birth. I am frustrated by how our government is acting, by their heavy handedness in the bills they continue drafting and passing, and by the lack of critical thought and long term foresight their current budget employs. 

I’ve thought long and hard about how to put these frustrations into words lest they continue to fester inside me.  After a thought-provoking civil debate occurred in the comments on one of the articles I re-shared today on my private Facebook page (about cuts to education), I put my thoughts into words onto paper.


I am thankful we live in a province and country where we can engage in civil political discussion and debate, and am fearful that with the slippery slope our politicians seem to be teetering on this freedom will be placed in jeopardy (today’s passing of the bill firing the investigator into the election irregularities an example of absolute power over democratic due process).  


PUBLIC vs PRIVATE SECTORS

There is a growing divide between the public and private sector with our discord and baffling perceptions of inequity.


The current Alberta government released their budget earlier this month, along with two bills outlining all the cuts to services. Most of these targeted the public sector, the main players being first responders, healthcare and education.


When cuts are made to first responders, healthcare, and to education, it’s typically front line workers hit hardest and not the bureaucrats behind the scenes. Those who directly impact how services are delivered to the public are usually the ones cut first, or their positions are left vacant and not re-filled equaling a cut to service. 


FIRST RESPONDERS


These cuts for first responders directly impact wait times for an ambulance, meaning a higher potential for loss of life due to delay and lack of vehicles available and trained professionals behind the wheel. These cuts directly impact the response times for firefighters arriving on scene to put out a fire, increasing the potential for both loss of property and loss of life. These cuts spread our police force thin, making protection of our communities and our province harder. 


Albertans are already aware and vocal about the scarcity of these responders in our communities, urban and rural alike. How will we cope with an even greater dearth of critical services?


We are seeing increased wildfire activity in our province, putting life and property at risk, and yet the government has already made cuts to the critical services targeting these fires. 


One consequence of these cuts is they may lead to higher insurance rates. 

As insurance companies begin paying out more claims, they lose money. As a private business, they are in it to make money and as such will increase fees to compensate for these increased financial losses.  They may revise policies to not cover certain things, or to upping the deductible to mitigate the hits to their bottom line.


The result is that not only are we, the end users, hit from the lack of first responder support, we are now hit financially on the insurance end as well. 


The first responders will keep putting us, the public, first, doing their best to provide the services we need with less. They will do it for less, because unlike private business, they don’t get a say in their salary (like us in the private industry, who have the potential to do so by moving companies and requesting a higher starting salary based on experience).


Another result of these cuts is the potential increase in mental health claims put forward (or suffered in silence) by our front-of-line first responders. The amount of stress, physical health ailments due to their job, and PTSD these workers deal with is astronomical. The chance of their not returning home to their families, every time they leave the house for a call, is a very real fear and possibility.

I know that we as a society already fail them when it comes to not only acknowledging their mental health, but in providing them support without stigma and to the jeopardy of their career. These cuts will only exacerbate these failings by our society to our first responders.


HEALTHCARE


Healthcare workers: RN’s and LPNs, Respiratory Therapists, family physicians and hospital specialists, Home Care, Palliative and Hospice care, Community services such as clinics, labs, diagnosing imaging services… you name it, they’ll feel the cuts. Critical Infrastructure needed to ensure patient care is maintained... on hold or canceled.

Not to mention the back of house staff CRITICAL to the operation of hospitals and clinics such as the food service workers, custodial staff, and workers in charge of sanitizing equipment and linens. The Health Officials that ensure our water is safe to drink, that restaurants won’t make us sick, and that recalls are documented. All vital operators, that are easy to dismiss because we don’t ‘see’ them. These public servants and the risks their cuts will have on the public have already been identified in Toronto and Ontario, as their government makes sweeping cuts to Healthcare similar to our own.


The cuts to these workers and staff will create dirtier facilities as the hospitals take longer to clean with less staff.  It will lead to longer wait times, in both the clinical environment and in receiving services, and less surgeries booked per day. These cuts directly compound the already long wait times for a variety of health services and diagnosis, and will negatively impact the health of our provinces citizens. 


City and rural hospitals will be engaging in Overcapacity Protocols letting the both other healthcare facilities and the first responders know there are no more beds available at a site, more often than they do now (this happens more regularly than the general public knows, or wishes to believe). Overcapacity Protocols exist to ensure patients needs can be continued to be met, even when hospitals are at capacity. As these are already a regular occurrence, for a variety of reasons, what will our treatment and care outlook look like once our Healthcare is stripped down further? AHS can only do so much with what they have. It is a terrifying thought, if we were to ever deal with a massive situation where we crash the ER’s like a terrorist attack, virus outbreak, or mass casualty situation. None of these are outside the realm of possibility in today’s world.


To cut more with our population continuing to grow shows a severe lack of insight and care for the tax paying public. For the future generations of our province. Even holding funding steady while not accounting for population increases nor inflation is equivalent to a reduction in funding.

These cuts can lead to higher rates of infection in hospital, higher rates of loss of life due to delays in diagnosis and lack of treatment availability, either because of financial costs going up or lack of resources.  Doctors will leave the province seeking employment elsewhere – we’ve already seen this happen in our province. This is why we pay them the way we do now, as Alberta had to woo doctors back. We had cut too deep in the 90’s and so in the 00’s we were paying the price both in dollars and in lack of available family physicians. It’s all a pendulum swing and right now it’s swinging further into austerity than it has in the past. To our collective detriment.


And this is only touching on how cuts could affect the ‘typically healthy’ population, those without chronic health care needs or disabilities. That population is already underfunded and these cuts now put their lives and their families lives more at jeopardy as they reduce the already skint resources available. 


EDUCATION


For education, our children are our future. They will be the ones taking over when we retire (if we CAN retire).  The more education is cut and/or privatized, society will suffer as a whole, through no fault of their own.  This works for the politicians, as an undereducated populous is easier to manipulate through use of propaganda and rhetoric.


Educators are already spread incredibly thin yet do their best to provide for each of their students they best education they can. Often, they spend their own money to ensure their classrooms have what the students need. They work unpaid hours before and after their standard workday to ensure extracurricular activities happen, to grade, prepare lessons and do report cards. Just as in other industries, there are educators who don’t give their personal time in this manner, however, the majority appear to.


As classroom budgets are reduced, societal needs and demands continue to increase (technology being a big one!).  


As resources for classrooms diminish, class sizes increase, putting additional strain on remaining staff trying to meet the needs of typically developing students as well as those with exceptional needs such as ESL and students with developmental delays or medical diagnosis.  These children will fall through the cracks as the number of Educational Aids are reduced, and the teachers won’t be able to fill the gaps these cuts leave behind. 


I know a family who was directly told that even though their child had a diagnosis that allowed him an aide, because the school was allocated only for three students, he wouldn’t have one because he wasn’t ‘the worst’ of the kids. The principal was apologetic yet their hands were tied.


How horrible is that.


That child will now be underserved and left to flounder, placing increased pressure on the teacher and other students in the classroom as well.

I work in the private sector, but grew up with educators. I see and understand both sides of the ideological debate and appreciate the arguments for/against and us/them from both sides.  


However, there seems to be an almost public disgust for the people we trust to raise our children (and public servants as a whole). We as a society seem to relish when they ‘get what’s coming to them’ with cuts, or that ‘it’s about time we reign them in.’ Truthfully, if you factor in the amount of time and energy they spend on each child, (and their own personal education these professionals need in order to even BE a teacher) they make a pittance compared to what we willingly throw at a daycare. 


And yet school educators aren’t babysitters or early childhood caregivers, as much as society chooses to consider them as such.  They are professionals, just as you and I are, in their career within the education system. Regardless of their job (educator, custodian, maintenance, etc…) they are vital to the success of future generations. 


When the private sector got hit, teachers and healthcare workers and first responders jobs got harder and their workload increased – in order to assist in our time of crisis. And yet…. you never heard them collectively say, “GOOD!! About time!!”


No, instead they took our youth and taught them. They patched us up, they towed our cars, hosed down our houses, put their own lives on the line time and again.


WHY THE DIVIDE


This despite the potential in the private sector to earn ‘crazy money’ depending on what company/focus their career takes them. This is seen as just the cost of doing business and the perks that follow. The goals for success.


Public service positions do not have this ability. They have steady pay, but are capped at a maximum for the rest of their career and do not receive bonuses or other perks we in the private sector potentially can. They go into these careers knowing that. 

Despite this, those in the public sector seem to be perceived as the greedy, whiny ones. I don’t know if it’s because when times are tough they are still working and have a steady income while others struggle due to industry/economic supply and demand, or because their fights for fair pay or any percentage increase becomes public knowledge up for scrutiny rather than decided behind the scenes in closed door meetings. 

Whatever the reason, it’s baffling to me this imbalance of perception. We as a society are happy to see those in the public sector ‘get what’s coming to them.’ It makes me really heartsick to see our province divided this way.


But those are who we as society target first—those visible to us. Not the ones behind the glass, making decisions without being in the trenches. We target instead  those we ‘see’ and throw our own disillusion with the system at them.  


There is a difference between good and bad debt – mortgages on houses, car payments, assets to liabilities… We need to hold ourselves as accountable as we are demanding our government to be, and vice versa. 

Without investing into the economy through social services and initiatives, supporting our province opportunities for growth through creating construction projects (leading to jobs in both private and public sector), and investing in education and health to ensure the success and strength of the people of Alberta, we will see our citizens leave and go elsewhere. Which they have before.


And when that happens, then we as a province will really struggle… 

I’m really frustrated with the blinders that seem to be on our society as a whole.  Where we pit private against public sectors, instead of fighting for each other.

My hope is that one day this divide will dissipate and the lines between Private and Public sectors won’t be as contentious or as drawn in the sand.https://www.alberta.ca/implementing-budget-2019.aspx

©2017 BY GARRITY BEALES