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Labour issues on tap at second United Conservative Party leadership debate

United Conservative Party

Three leadership candidates for the United Conservative Party say wholesale sacking of civil servants is not the answer to Alberta’s red ink woes, but they say something has to be done.

Labour relations is on the agenda Thursday night when the candidates arrive in the Alberta capital to hold their second debate.

Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean says Alberta’s public service is over-managed and needs to use attrition and move people around to deliver the best value for the tax dollar.

“I’ve managed enough businesses to recognize that if you go in and say, ‘Tomorrow I’m going to be firing 20 per cent of you,’ everybody is going to be looking for a new job the next day,” said Jean. “That doesn’t help anybody. We need these people. Our economy is going to grow again.”

Jean is running to cut $2.6 billion from the budget and says reforming spending practices and reducing jobs through attrition can get the job done.

Alberta’s economy is slowly rebounding from years of sluggish oil prices that drained thousands of jobs from the private sector and billions of dollars from the government’s bottom line.

Former Progressive Conservative leader Jason Kenney says some public sector attrition is necessary to get Alberta back to a competitive footing to grow the economy.

Candidate Doug Schweitzer said Alberta’s civil servants need to accept pay cuts that will reduce Alberta’s crushing debt load but still make them among the highest paid in Canada.

Jeff Callaway, the fourth candidate, could not be reached for comment.

Premier Rachel Notley has refused to balance the books using deep cuts in public services, saying that would make a bad situation worse.

The province is running a 10-point-5 billion dollar deficit this year and will be 43-point-3 billion dollars in debt by next spring.

The candidates say they’re also concerned about Alberta’s minimum wage, which is set to rise to $13.60 as of Oct. 1 from $12.20 an hour, then to $15 in the fall of 2018. All three say business leaders are telling them $15 is not sustainable, and that it will harm the economy because fewer people will be hired.

There are three more debates for the fledgling party, which will pick a leader by preferential ballot on Oct. 28. This Friday is the cut off date to sell memberships.