Hundreds protest public service cuts at UCP meeting in Calgary

Hundreds of public sector workers circled the Calgary hotel hosting the governing United Conservative Party’s annual general meeting Saturday, chanting and shouting in –15 C weather while about 1,600 party members met inside. 

Teachers, nurses and government workers marched in protest of cuts to public services and the potential loss of thousands of public sector jobs announced on Friday.

They carried signs that read “I love Alberta public education” and “Hands off my pension.” 

They chanted “Jason Kenney has got to go” and “Shame” from across the hotel parking lot, while UCP members lined up to get lunch from food trucks contracted to supply food for the event.

Kenney’s government served notice to public sector unions on Friday that up to 6,000 job cuts are on the horizon, many in health services. The cuts are billed as a way for Alberta to get its finances under control.

A police estimate put the crowd size at 700 to 1,000 people. 

Calgary Grade 9 teacher Colleen Hemsing said she attended the protest because she’s concerned about what she perceives to be an attack on public services. 

“This is not about economics. This is ideology,” she said. “This is our choice. We can come out and fight in the bitter cold, but it’s what we have to do.”

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, wore a hat commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike. 

Protesters started chanting “general strike, general strike” as McGowan addressed the crowd.

“We know that this is our moment,” McGowan said. “This is our moment to stand up and push back, and that’s exactly what we intend to do.”