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More than 2,000 people demonstrated against the UCP’s 2020 budget on Feb. 27. The budget may result in more than 1,400 job losses in the public sector over the next year. Photo by Lincoln Ho

Budget stokes anxiety among Catholics

By  Kyle Greenham, Canadian Catholic News
  • March 7, 2020

EDMONTON -- Alberta’s Catholic community is sharing in the anxiety over the United Conservative Party (UCP) government’s 2020 budget.

Thousands marched on the Alberta legislature grounds on Feb. 27 to protest the provincial budget that was tabled the same day, angry and anxious over what cuts and job losses lay in the province’s future. According to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the budget plan could mean the loss of 1,430 public sector jobs in the next year and an estimated 16,000 over four years, with many of those in education and health care.

“We have to send a message that we as Catholics are part of an outstanding publicly funded school system,” said Sandra Haltiner, a teacher at Mother Margaret Mary High School and president of Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local 54.

Haltiner marched alongside more than 2,000 other teachers at the protest.

“The Catholic school division is a key part of how we build a sense of community. My siblings and I went to Catholic schools, and I value that we are a part of that public system,” she said.

“There’s a lot of unknown right now, but going into this budget I can see that our resources, workload, class sizes and the funding available for new students are going to be seriously affected.”

Despite campaign promises of growth in education, the province’s Catholic and public schools will be funded at $8.2 billion, equal to the former NDP government’s spending in 2019.

“Maintaining that same budget does not account for new students, and this is the same as taking a loss,” said Haltiner. “Edmonton Catholic is a fast-growing division and there are as many as 16,000 students entering public schools in Alberta next year. Going forward, there will be less money and the division will have to make difficult decisions. It’s unfortunate; Catholic education is here for the betterment of society and now we may have to make decisions that gravely hinder that.”

The budget also calls for schools to raise an additional $100 million in their own funding this year, a number that has many representatives worried.

Lisa Turchansky, a trustee with Edmonton Catholic Schools, says the division is looking at how they can cut costs and increase funding out of their own pocket. The division wants to avoid job losses, but cuts will be necessary.

“Our senior leadership team is hard at work right now to find different areas we can make cuts and manage differently,” said Turchansky.

“We’d hate to see any job losses. Our priority is to always ensure our teachers and staff are in the classroom with our kids.”

Edmonton Catholic Schools was able to prevent any job losses last year.

Sarah Hoffman, the NDP education critic, believes the schools will have no other choice but to load those additional costs on to parents.

As Haltiner waits to see what the future holds for her and her fellow Catholic school teachers, she says faith has been a source of hope during this time.

“I hope the government is listening and things do change, because I’m not sure how much more can come out of the public sector before future generations are seriously hurt.”

The fear of cuts, wage freezes and job losses has been particularly high in the province’s health-care sector. A government-commissioned report on Alberta Health Services, released Feb. 3, called for cuts up to $2 billion to AHS. While this is yet to be implemented, the 2020 budget notes that the government is still reviewing the report.

Covenant Health contracts with AHS to operate 16 Catholic hospitals and health-care facilities across the province.

“We’ve been working closely with AHS and the Minister of Health and we’ve had several discussions on that review,” Ed Stelmach, former premier and current board chair for Covenant Health. “We wait to see how it will be implemented.”

It has brought a lot of worries about the future for Tayana Beltran, a nurse at the Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton.

“Here at Grey Nuns a lot of the people are worried about their jobs, especially the newer nurses. They feel they’ll be the first to go,” said Beltran, who has worked at the hospital for 13 years.

“We will for sure see pay cuts. We are noticing already that when people retire their positions are not filled, we’re not getting as much overtime, and we’re shorter staffed in general.”

(Grandin Media)

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