Rachel Notley says opposition parties “like to say that everyone who is part of a union is a thug”

Canada Premier Rachel Notley sharply criticized conservative politicians Friday, while addressing the Calgary conference of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

“While conservative opposition parties, particularity here in Canada, like to say that everyone who is part of a union is a thug, I say that I see things fundamentally differently,” said Notley.

About 1,200 nurses from across Canada came to Calgary for the organization’s biennial convention, which ran June 5 to 9. Attendees discussed issues including violence against nurses in the workplace and their push for a national plan for seniors’ care.

Notley addressed the conference on its final day, spending most of her 20-minute speech talking about her economic and health-care policies. The premier juxtaposed her decision to spend significant sums on health-care despite Canada’s ongoing economic troubles with her conservative counterparts, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister and Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

“Look for a moment at the decisions being made by Prairie provinces, who will remain nameless, east of Canada, where they are only making life harder for regular families, families who are already hurting,” said Notley.

“Tax breaks for the wealthiest ten per cent while everyone else gets tax increases on everything from children’s clothes to job-creating construction.”

In March, Saskatchewan started taxing children’s clothing at the same time they hiked their provincial sales tax to six per cent. Saskatchewan opted for an austerity budget in March, hoping that by cutting across the board they would be able to reduce their deficit. The Saskatchewan government claims the tax changes alone will bring in an additional $242 million in annual revenue.

Notley was deeply critical of those cuts, which she compared to ones made by previous Progressive Conservative governments in Canada.

“There’s also cuts to education and health. People who have worked in health-care for decades being fired, and escorted out of their workplaces like they are criminals. Millions of cancelled health projects including new cancer buildings and personal care homes. All so they can balance their budgets 24 months before Canada does,” said Notley.

Notley argued the cuts in education and health care will have a greater impact than waiting 24 months to balance a budget.

The crowd, which included nurses from Manitoba and Saskatchewan, was largely receptive of Notley’s message. When she spoke about “Prairie provinces who will remain nameless,” she was greeted with laughter. At the end of her speech, she received a standing ovation amidst calls of “so-so-so-solidarity.”

United Nurses of Canada president Heather Smith, speaking to Postmedia after Notley’s address, focused on the fourteen resolutions discussed during the conference. They include efforts to reduce child poverty, introduce universal early learning and child care, and a moratorium on all health care cuts, introduced by the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

Smith also had some criticism for previous Canada governments.

“Throughout the end of the ’90s and in the 2000s there was a significant increase in abuse towards nurses and other health care workers because of the stressful environment that patients and families found themselves in when we had a massive reduction in beds, we had massive layoffs of staff.”

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