Kenney: Opposition, unions treating budget cuts like the ‘the apocalypse’

WATCH: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at a press conference in Calgary on Sunday.

CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his critics ought to tone down their rhetoric, arguing some of the reaction to recent budget cuts is overblown — including talk of a potential general strike.

“They’re making this out to be the arrival of the apocalypse,” Kenney said of his critics at a Sunday news conference to close off the United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting.

“This is ridiculous. This is by modern Canadian fiscal standards one of the most modest periods of fiscal restraint. So I just wish everybody would be a little more objective in their language around this.”

The United Conservatives aim to cut overall operating spending by 2.8 per cent over four years, which Kenney said amounts to $1.3 billion out of a $55-billion budget.

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Click to play video: 'Alberta government expected to cut 500 nursing jobs'
Alberta government expected to cut 500 nursing jobs

In a speech to party faithful on Saturday night, Kenney noted the Ralph Klein government cut spending by 20 per cent over two years.

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Kenney said Sunday his government is not cutting as deeply as Klein did because the province is in an economic trough that it wasn’t in the 1990s.

“We want to take a very deliberate and careful approach to this,” he said. “I think one of the lessons learned from the Klein experience was they had to go back and undo some of those cuts because they were fairly arbitrary across the board and we don’t [want] to make that mistake.”

The Alberta Union of Public Employees said Friday that it expects up to 5,900 jobs to be eliminated over the next few years.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney leads a “Bear Pit” session with cabinet members answering questions from delegates at the Alberta United Conservative Party Annual General Meeting in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

On Saturday, hundreds gathered outside the airport hotel where the UCP held their AGM to speak out against the public sector job cuts, including nurses, teachers and university staff.

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Some in the crowd were chanting about a general strike and Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan donned a tuque commemorating the 100th anniversary of the famous mass labour disruption in Winnipeg.

“I thought it would be appropriate for today,” he told the crowd.

Kenney said that kind of talk is tone-deaf and would not be well-received, when public sector workers have fared well relative to those in the private sector during the last five years of oilpatch doldrums.

“I would say to those folks: let’s sit down and work this out. We want to minimize any effect on our public services, including our teachers and nurses,” Kenney said.

“We value what they do. I would just plead with them to look at the general economic and fiscal situation of this province.”

The NDP Opposition is demanding an emergency debate in the legislature over frontline heath-care cuts.

“This premier tried to claim it was fear and smear when we accused him of cutting front line nurses and health workers,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said in a release Sunday.

“Today, Albertans can see the so-called ‘smear’ was just the truth and the real fear is in the eyes of every Albertan relying on quality public health care.”

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