By September 4, 2017 Read More →

Opinion: Things looking up for working Albertans this Labour Day


Albertans building the clipper pipeline

When working people have more power, we’re more likely to get policies that benefit the many

By Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour

The past two years have been tough for working Albertans.

The global collapse in oil prices – brought on largely by an unprecedented fracking boom south of the border – caused a dramatic drop in energy sector investment which, in turn, led to the loss of thousands of jobs.

Given the central role played by oil and gas in our economy, even people who don’t work in the sector have been feeling anxious.

But as Albertans take time to enjoy the Labour Day weekend, there is reason for optimism.

Consider these promising signs:

Jobs: There are about 35,000 more Albertans working today than there were at this time last year. Every major sector is experiencing job growth, including oil and gas.

Wages: Albertans still lead the country in earnings. Alberta wages are about 20 per cent higher than the national average.

Investment: Despite the damage caused by low oil prices, Alberta still leads the country in investment. The amount of money being invested in our economy outstrips Saskatchewan by $2000 per person; it’s more than double the rate of investment in BC; and triple the rate in Ontario and Quebec.

Consumer spending: Retail spending in Alberta has recently exceeded pre-recession levels. Housing starts are up. Automobile sales are booming. All signs point to returning consumer confidence.

Growth: Most economists and economic think tanks agree that Alberta will lead the country in economic growth this year (and, indeed, for the foreseeable future).


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Based on these statistics, it appears that Alberta energy companies have found a way to be competitive even in a low-oil-price environment.

It also appears that the provincial government’s strategy of not engaging in deep cuts – cuts that they said would lead to even more job losses and reduced economic activity – has worked.

But that’s not the only reason why working Albertans should be feeling more optimistic this Labour Day.

They should also be feeling good because, thanks to recent changes to the provincial Labour Code, it will now be a little easier for them exercise their constitutional right to join a union and bargain collectively with their employers.

Some people will say “whoah, that will make things worse not better!”

But the people who light their hair on fire about unions are the same ones who said tax cuts for the rich would bring prosperity for everyone (instead, they brought rising inequality); that budget cuts could end recessions (instead, they ended up making them worse) and that de-regulation would strengthen the economy (instead, it brought us things like the global financial crisis of 2008).

Experience has shown that the major pillars of the conservative policy agenda have been failures. Given this track record, why should we buy their arguments against unions?

The truth is, the process of collective bargaining between workers and employers is good for both workers and the broader economy.

But don’t take my word for it…

Over the past three years, traditionally conservative organizations like the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the OECD have all concluded that jurisdictions that support and facilitate collective bargaining have stronger economies than those that don’t.

Why? The answer can be summed up in three words: consumer purchasing power.

When workers have better protections and better bargaining power, they bring home a bigger paycheques. That means they have more to spend…and more consumer spending means more economic growth.

In the same vein, economists agree that slow growth and increasing inequality are two of the biggest problems facing the 21st century economy.

Increasingly, they’re coming to the conclusion that the redistributive effects associated with unionization and collective bargaining are a big part of the solution to both of these issues.

But it’s not just economists who are taking a fresh look at unions. The Supreme Court of Canada has come to similar conclusions.


In in number of landmark cases over the past 10 years, they’ve ruled that all working Canadians, including Albertans, have the right under the Constitution to join unions and bargain collectively.

The Supreme Court has taken this position, in part, because they recognize that unions and the process of collective bargaining are good for society.

Strong unions help their members; but they also help everyone else by providing a counterbalance to the wealthy and powerful.

When working people have more power, we’re more likely to get policies that benefit the many (like Medicare and CPP) as opposed to policies that only benefit the few (like tax cuts for the rich).

So, this Labour Day, working Albertans should celebrate our province’s strengthening economy. And they should start making plans about how they can support that economy by exercising their expanded rights to join unions and bargain collectively.

After the BBQ or the last camping trip of the summer, of course…

Posted in: Canada

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