Jason Kenney’s UCP is offering to cut taxes for the rich, wind back the clock on wage gains and declare war on unions
United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney has received a lot of attention for his hardline social conservative views.
What’s received less attention is the impact his economic policies will have in terms of hurting workers and helping Alberta’s wealthy elites.
Here’s a closer look at how Kenney’s right-wing economic policies would transfer wealth from Alberta’s workers back into the pockets of the rich:
Tax Cuts For The Rich
Kenney has spent a lot of time promising his supporters he can restore Ralph Klein’s so-called “Alberta Advantage.”
For Kenney, what that means is a return to the flat tax Klein introduced in 1999. Last year, the Calgary Herald reported draft policies from the UCP’s convention listed a return to the flat tax as one of its promises and Kenney won’t rule the idea out.
Most economists agree flat taxes are a terrible idea, with one noting it would cost Alberta’s government $900 million in revenue, with wealthy taxpayers ending up as the biggest winners. As one economist told CBC news:
“A return to the ‘Alberta flat tax’ would benefit only the wealthiest, and the government might then need to boost revenues by cutting programs and adding a sales tax — measures that would disproportionately hurt low- and middle-income people.”
While Kenney is cagey about his tax plans with the public, he told a business group last year he fully plans to cut taxes for corporations and restore a lower tax rate for wealthy individuals.
That will bring Alberta back to the old days when it paid for low taxes on high income earners off the backs of everybody else.
Even former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge warned the old PC government it “under-invested in public capital in the past and now has some catch-up to do to ensure an adequate level of public capital to meet current needs, let alone meet future needs.”
A Frozen Minimum Wage
Thanks to recent reforms, Alberta leads the country with a minimum wage that rose to $15 per hour this year.
The raise means the 133,000 workers in Alberta can now live on $600 a week, but that’s still barely enough to make ends meet when the average cost of living in the province as a whole is $347.31.
For a city like Edmonton, a University of Alberta study estimates the cost of living in Edmonton is barely met by the current minimum, as living there costs $28,640 for a single adult. In Calgary the cost of living is even higher, meaning a true living wage would work out to $17.70/hour. As the Calgary Herald noted, many minimum wage workers still live on the “knife-edge of poverty.”
Apparently that doesn’t bother Kenney. In an October 2018 speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Kenney announced his plans to freeze the minimum wage, based on the advice of big business lobbyists like Restaurants Canada.
Creating Loopholes to Lower the Minimum Wage For Vulnerable Workers
Kenney has also lately been singing the praises of Australia’s minimum wage laws.
Kenney told CBC News “Australia has an age-graduated minimum wage, Ontario has a differential for people who serve alcohol, because they get bigger tips … There might be other ways of structuring this.”
As the Edmonton Journal noted:
“Under current minimum wage laws Down Under, an adult working casual hours at a fast-food restaurant earns $25.99 per hour (C$24.11). On a statutory holiday, that increases to $51.98 (C$48.21). By comparison, a 15-year-old doing the exact same job makes $10.39 (C$9.64) or $20.78 on a stat (C$19.27). Pay rises by increments each year until the worker is 21.
Employees with a disability and reduced work capacity also get paid less under the Australian system.”
In Australia, for example, in addition to young workers only getting around half of the actual minimum wage, people with disabilities have been reportedly paid as little as $3 per hour and even $1 per hour of work.
According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, “Kenney is floating a regressive model that lets employers slash pay for students, teens, and people with disabilities, creating a double standard that hurts many of Alberta’s most vulnerable people.”
Not only does Kenney want to give tax giveaways to corporations, he also wants to make it easier for them to stop union drives cold in their tracks.
Kenney previously tweeted that, if elected, he will eliminate card-check union certification and replace it with an outdated system that allows employers to intimidate workers to stop them from unionizing.
The introduction of card-check certification in 2017, resulted in the highest number of single-year, new union certifications in Alberta in a decade, CBC reported. The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) found for the fiscal year 2017-2018, the most recent year for which statistics are available, 104 union locals were certified in workplaces previously unorganized. The increases were mainly in construction, food service, retail and healthcare.
That was a significant increase over the 40 certifications the year before and there was a noted drop in the number of failed certification drives.
Athabasca University Labour Relations professor Bob Barnetson, told CBC News the “fewer lost votes reflects that employers have less opportunity to interfere with workers exercising their associational rights.”