By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on May 22, 2020.
UCP decisions have increased pandemic pain for Albertans
Ordinarily, I would start May’s column in our local paper with some reflection on how glad I am to be able to wander the coulees in nice spring weather, or how wonderful the lilacs and fresh-cut grass in my neighbourhood smell on a sunny weekend morning. >
Unfortunately, this May (and this spring) has not been ordinary. They have been extraordinary in a number of ways. >The pandemic, and our time spent physically distanced from friends and family, have been extraordinarily difficult. The spirit of kindness, togetherness and civic pride, however, have also been extraordinary. So has the work of our essential workers – our medical professionals, food and commercial workers, and other vital public servants. >
I want to focus on one particular way that this spring has been particularly tough for our community, and the concerns that I have heard from many. >
First, there is the question of jobs. As many new graduates from our high schools, college and university enter the workforce, our community has been stripped of jobs and opportunities for these eager young people, as well as opportunities for many of us that aren’t so young anymore. Some of this can be chalked up to the pandemic. But the fact is that the employment situation had been deteriorating in our province for several months before COVID-19 entered our lives, and >Lethbridge was no exception. In the months preceding COVID, our local unemployment rate had been sneaking up slowly and steadily. >
Why? A large part of the reason is Jason Kenney’s budget decisions affecting our key employers. With nine of our top 10 employers being public-sector organizations, the UCP budget cuts have a tremendous effect on jobs in Lethbridge. The cuts have meant the elimination of positions at school boards, the U of L and Lethbridge College. Some folks have been laid off, while other positions have been left unfilled – meaning fewer opportunities for our community. >
In the context of a stumbling provincial economy, challenging global economic headwinds, and no UCP plan to diversify the Alberta economy, this was not good news for jobs.
In the context of COVID, it’s been even worse for Lethbridge. >
For the past three months, I have watched the UCP in amazement as they continue to destabilize our public health-care system during a global pandemic. It can’t be denied that Jason Kenney’s war with doctors, coupled with his government’s refusal to provide needed supports to frontline workers in continuing-care facilities, has a negative health effect, but also negative economic effects. >Managing the health-care system is linked to a good economic plan. We cannot safely reopen – with access to the right testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment and so on – if we do not see the strength of our health care as part and parcel of our jobs plan. Our economy is strong if our health-care system is strong.
I am also concerned about seniors’ issues. The UCP have de-indexed seniors’ benefits. They’ve de-indexed disposable income amounts for seniors in assisted living and lodges. They’ve dropped 45,000 people off the seniors’ drug plan. They’ve taken months to implement a basic safety measure during the pandemic by ensuring health-care aides only work in one seniors’ facility at a time. And now, they have at least one MLA in their caucus putting forward the argument that the economy should be swiftly opened back up because the virus is only serious for folks over 65, and our concern for older people “shouldn’t get in the way of the economy.” There is a lot that has set off alarm bells for me with respect to how seniors have been treated by UCP policies over the past year, and a lot I don’t agree with given that almost one in five people in Lethbridge is over 65. >
So, to be sure, this is a tough time for our city, and for our province. We are struggling with concurrent public health and economic crises that threaten both our lives and our livelihoods. >
Still, I know this community. I know its resilience. We’ll get through this together and by looking out for our neighbours whenever possible. Then, maybe next May we can focus a bit more on the flowers and sunshine. >
If you or anyone you know needs the services of my constituency office, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We can be reached at 403-329-4644 or Lethbridge.email@example.com. >
Shannon Phillips is the NDP MLA for Lethbridge West. Her column appears monthly.