The head is useless without the body

Written by Brenda Schimke

There are two kinds of employees—those who work to generate profits and those who work to serve others. For the last 40 years, those workers in the profit sectors, and especially their owners, have had the upper hand in controlling government policy.

Great strides were made to reduce corporate taxes, enhance corporate subsidy programs, declaw unions, eliminate regulations and embrace self-reporting, all under the guise of creating jobs.

It worked well until the 2008 crash which was caused by loosely-regulated, irrational profit seekers in the financial sector. Ironically, it was also this sector that required taxpayer largess to save their skins.

Governments spent 40 years down-sizing and putting all their efforts into making the public service lean and efficient.

They focussed on creating a public service in the image of corporations, even to the point of giving tax-dollar performance bonuses to civil servant managers. Ironically, bonuses facilitating greed were major factors in the 2008 world economic implosion.

Governments moved to download complex societal issues to the private sector in the enlightened belief that ‘the private sector can do everything better than governments’. The public servants became the enemy, a balanced budget became the holy grail.

In the trash heap went a well-equipped military, professional civil servants, public health infrastructures, research, resiliency, and a capability to cope with catastrophic events.

Even as the pandemic raged, our premier, Jason Kenney, and his UCP caucus couldn’t get their heads and hearts to focus on the importance of civil servants who were on the front line fighting the pandemic.

They continued their onslaught to cut remuneration for doctors, tore up the nurse’s contract, threatened to roll-back wages for the entire civil service and laid off thousands of support workers in hospitals.

The UCP was paralyzed in ideology.

They could not imagine a reality where employees of the public service became more important to Albertans than oil workers.

Private sector employees, of course, are absolutely valuable components of our economy, but so, too, are public servants. That’s what needs to change.

We’ve spent years knocking them down as less important than oil workers and financiers, but when floods, fires, pandemics, droughts, unemployment and other catastrophes hit, then we expect a wellprimed, responsive public service to meet our immediate needs—even after decades of cuts, de-moralization and disrespect.

But, alas, some small miracles have happened within the UCP government. The pandemic after two years has finally started to chip at Kenney’s ideology.

Not only did the Alberta government decide to negotiate remuneration with the Alberta Medical Association and stop portraying doctors as members of a radical union, they settled with the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for a staggered pay raise in 2023 totalling 3.5 per cent, up to 4.0 per cent depending on economic conditions.

They also offered registered nurses a four-year deal with a pay hike over that period of 4.25 per cent.

Of course, not all is done, Jason and his gang still treat teachers as Jimmy Hoffa union radicals rather than educated professionals who are responsible for the future success of our children and consequently our economic future.

Settling contracts with the public service and two of the three largest professional associations is a good start. We can only hope and pray that the pandemic, the fires, the floods, the heat waves, the droughts will continue to teach Jason Kenney that the ‘head’ is quite useless without the body and he, and the rest of us, equally need those servants who serve the public— not just those who serve profit-taking.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.