In Alberta a privileged class has been created through political favouritism and by the power of government. And no, it’s not the capitalist or white male or some such character. It’s government employees.
This class of Albertan has better pay and pension benefits, retires earlier, and has been less likely to lose their job under the current economic crisis than workers in the private sector.
And some government employees have one more classic hallmark of a privileged class – the inability to see themselves as privileged.
Alberta’s government employees enjoyed a 9.3 per cent wage premium, on average, over their counterparts working for a business, according to a recent Fraser Institute report.
What’s more, 66 per cent of government employees receive a generous defined benefit pension plan while the vast majority of Albertans outside of government don’t receive such a generous workplace pension at all.
Which helps explain why government workers in Alberta retire nearly two years earlier than their private counterparts.
The economic shut down exacerbated the divide between government employees and everyone else.
Jack Mintz, a University of Calgary Economist, noted in May 2020 that “almost all current job losses (96 per cent) are in the private sector”.
The irony is that current union bosses, many politicians and many academics, themselves privileged public sector employees, support this systemic unfairness and class privilege in the name of equality and justice.
One would think it would be a non-partisan issue and that all folks, regardless of political stripes, would favour a system where everyone is treated fairly and without political favouritism.
Which brings me to the case of New Zealand.
In 1984, when Sir Roger Douglas became finance minister under Labour Party Prime Minister David Lange, the government was insolvent. No-one was prepared to extend any more financial credit. It had literally run out of money.
In response the government conducted extensive economic reforms including the privatization of numerous government agencies and even whole government departments, moving tens of thousands of government employees off the public payroll and into the private sector.
And when he was challenged as to how he could do so as a lifelong member of a Labour government, including by left-wing activists in Canada, his answer was very insightful:
“Oh that’s very simple,” he said, “I’m a socialist, and I’ve always been opposed to privileged classes of people, especially when those people achieve that privilege through political favouritism or by the power of government”.
Of course you don’t have to be a socialist to oppose privileged classes enjoying government favour. But it’s hard to see how you could be one without opposing it.
In Canada a surprising number of leftists manage the feat. Indeed the more a Canadian inclines toward socialism, the more they oppose efforts to reduce pay, benefits or pensions in the public sector or to introduce any sort of competition or privatization.
In the process they generally depict government employees as oppressed even though one final highly ironic proof of the entrenched privilege of this class is the incredible political power of public sector unions.
Especially when they combine, the strongest governments in this province tremble. But might does not make right.
It’s high time governments across Canada, facing severe budgetary pressures, act to attack economic privilege and reduce inequality as well as increase efficiency.
Then Tommy Douglas, Jack Layton and Grant Notley could stop rolling over in their graves over this injustice.
Stuart Taylor, Hinton
Retired Government of Alberta Pensioner