Provincial job cuts impact wildfire and forestry

·4 min read

Position reductions signalled through budget 2020 means the loss of around 930 jobs in social services, agriculture, and wildfire management in Alberta. The cuts could impact up to 546 positions in Community and Social Services and 247 in Agriculture and Forestry, according to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).

Within Forestry, 57 positions will be abolished across the functional areas of Wildfire Management, Forest Management and Forest Health, stated the disclosure letter from the province to AUPE.

“I suspect there will be a lot less people coming through the [Hinton Training Centre] to get training if they’re getting rid of positions,” said Kevin Barry, vice president of AUPE.

Barry did not have exact specifics on the Hinton Training Centre, but he knew forestry is taking a hit and suspects a reduction at the centre as a result.

“They make these announcements but don’t give any exact specifics. It leaves it up in the air for what will happen in your area,” Barry said.

Finance Minister Travis Toews stated that the job eliminations are the result of Alberta departments following through on plans in the last two budgets to make government more efficient.

“The vast majority of reductions will be obtained through attrition as government employees find other opportunities.”

He said the reality is that Alberta is facing a great fiscal challenge and significant economic headwinds.

Justin Laurence, press secretary to the minister of agriculture and forestry, stated that difficult decisions were made after careful consideration.

“After carefully reviewing the forest management program, long term goals were set to streamline the services we are providing. Our Forest Jobs Action plan includes an emphasis on helping to grow the value added wood manufacturing industry in Alberta while increasing fiber supply,” Laurence stated.

Besides the hit to wildfire management and forestry, Hinton will also feel the impact of the social services cut, according to Barry.

“You can certainly rest assured that the folks that are in need are probably going to have a much harder time accessing them,” said Barry.

The McCullough Centre in the community of Gunn, about 90 kms north-west of Edmonton, will close with the loss of 63 jobs, stated the AUPE.

The centre helps homeless men with mental-health and addiction issues transition to stable, healthy lifestyles where they find employment and secure housing.

There are 63 staff at the facility who currently serve 11 clients at an annual budget of $3M, said Jerry Bellikka, press Secretary and Senior Advisor to the Minister of Community and Social Services.

The decision to close McCullough Centre by February 2021 was made after a thorough review of the operation, he added.

Alongside the fact that the Hinton mat program is struggling to get off the ground this winter, which services mainly men, it could be dangerous for those in need, he added.

Social services are going to be harder to access, even in rural areas like Hinton, according to Barry.

On the other hand, Bellikka stated that they have not cut programs in rural communities.

Alberta Job Corps facilities are closing in Edmonton, Calgary, Medicine Hat, Lac La Biche and Calling Lake.

After a review of the program it was determined the program was not effective at placing people in permanent jobs, fewer than half the clients completed the training programs, and less than half of the remaining clients were able to find full time employment.

Bellikka stated the closure will save approximately $6.9 million annually.

“Clients of these centres will be referred to other job training and placement programs available through Alberta Supports,” Bellikka said.

Barry pointed out that the UCP continues to hand out money through almost a $5B tax give-away for corporations and other tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

While Albertans need oil and gas in the province, cutting jobs in the public sector is not going to help the oil and gas industry recover and will instead hurt the province further, he added.

“We’re getting tired of being cut, you see the 11,000 Alberta Health Services job cuts and now you’re seeing 930 in the Alberta government. There have been thousands of job cuts in the post secondary, boards and agencies have lost positions, they’re getting sick and tired of it and they’re getting angry and they’re not going to take it,” Barry said.

Any change is going to take action, not just from workers in the province but also from everyday Albertans that are going to lose services.

“It’s time for Albertans, especially rural Albertans to say enough is enough and start to hold this government accountable and not wait three years for an election. They can do it now,” Barry said.

Masha Scheele, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hinton Voice