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Commentary: There's a new health crisis building

Kenney government and Alberta’s nurses on a full-blown collision course

With most Albertans now vaccinated for COVID-19 and infections reaching the lowest levels in months, Albertans can take comfort in knowing that the pressures on the health system created by the pandemic have significantly lessened and are trending in the right direction.

Not only are hospitalizations, including intensive care admissions, down markedly, but other costs associated with the crisis, such as sick leave and business closures, are also falling.

Unfortunately for residents in this region and elsewhere in the province, the ending of the COVID-19 crisis is already being replaced by a building new health crisis.

Specifically, the Jason Kenney government and Alberta’s registered nurses remain deeply at odds on many key issues, including employment levels and compensation.

And there are indications that the battle between the UCP and the province’s nurses may become a full-blown crisis in the weeks ahead.

The UPC is calling for registered nurses to take a three per cent wage cut. For his part, Minister of Finance Travis Toews says Alberta is facing significant financial pressures that need to be addressed, including through cuts to public sector compensation.

“The need to bring wages in line with other large provinces does not diminish our deep respect for the exceptional work and dedication of public sector workers,” said Toews.

The United Nurses of Alberta says calls to cut nurses’ wages after many months of those very same nurses leading the fight against COVID-19 is wholly unreasonable.

“We’ve had our leaders in tears talking about the working conditions, the short-staffing, the mandatory overtime that is going on, the physical and psychological exhaustion that their members are feeling,” said UNA president Heather Smith.

With the Kenney government and Alberta’s nurses on a full-blown collision course, residents here should not be surprised to see significant disruptions and other impacts to the health system in the coming weeks and months. 

The COVID-19 crisis may be waning - but Alberta’s health care worries appear to be far from over.

Dan Singleton is an editor with The Albertan.

Dan Singleton

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