A group of concerned Lethbridge residents, including union leaders, public sector workers and other community members, packed the Galt Museum’s viewing gallery on Thursday night, rallying together for the Join the Resistance Town Hall, hosted by the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The night began with an information session on Alberta’s economy and those in attendance were encouraged to contact their MLAs, armed with more information, and voice their concerns.
Siobhan Vipond, secretary treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said frustrations have stemmed from feelings of being mislead by Premier Jason Kenney’s government.
“People were promised that front-line work wasn’t going to be cut,” said Vipond.
“People really wanted to see a balance happen. That’s not what we’re seeing.”
“We’re being told lies. This is not just about bad policy; this is about being misled.”
Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was on hand to speak with community members.
“We need to talk about how we can work together to overcome some of those challenges,” said Smith.
“Certainly us, as a union, have been working very closely with our members to make sure they understand the issues and that they need to stand strong to protect the services people in our province rely upon.”
But it wasn’t just union members in attendance.
“I’ve never been that politically involved but I just decided to come out,” said Dan Lix, who was at the rally Thursday evening.
Lix said the UCP’s public sector cuts gave him no choice but to attend Thursday’s town hall. His wife is a teacher and the couple live on only her income because he is living with disabilities that don’t qualify for financial support.
Lix said the provincial budget produced uncertainty for him and his wife.
“She’s deeply stressed. We’re not sure what this is going to mean for us in the future,” he said, adding that their plans to adopt a child are now also in limbo.
Vipond said those feelings are not unlike what she has heard from many Albertans.
“We are going around and talking to not only union members, but just Albertans, about what they are feeling right now,” she said.
“People are worried and also disappointed that what we were promised is not being delivered.”
Presenters and panelists at the town hall suggested that many of the messages put out by the current government are simply scare tactics to excuse the budget.
“This is a time when we should be investing in Alberta,” said Vipond. “We’re a great province, we have a lot to offer, but this kind of rhetoric is not doing us any good.”
Finance Minister Travis Toews has previously explained the province has great respect for what the workers do, but public-sector pay accounts for more than half of government expenses, is higher than comparable provinces and there has to be a reduction.
The budget called for more than a seven per cent reduction in public-sector jobs over four years, mainly through attrition. Toews has said the goal is to bring salaries in line with workers in similar provinces.
Employees affected include nurses, teachers, social workers, hospital support staff, prison guards, conservation officers, toxicologists, restaurant inspectors, therapists and sheriffs.
Smith said AUPE hopes to empower members.
“One thing that unions do and community groups do is protect especially the most vulnerable,” he said. “That is what we’re all about. It’s a strong community sense… I want people to feel impassioned to stand up for what they believe in.”
Those in attendance, such as Lix, say they plan to continue to advocate.
“If you just sit there and do nothing, this stuff is going to keep happening,” said Lix.
The travelling town hall’s next event is set for Dec. 2 in Edmonton.
— With files from the Canadian Press