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Minister of Health Tyler Shandro in Calgary, Alta., on Oct. 7, 2020.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Alberta government will cut up to 11,000 jobs at Alberta Health Services to save money – a move the Opposition says is cruel and will create chaos in the health care system.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro made the announcement Tuesday at a news conference in Edmonton, saying nurses and front-line workers will not lose their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some of the cuts will come from further contracting out of laundry and lab services, with possibly housekeeping and food services also being outsourced in the future, he said.

A minimum of 100 management positions will also be eliminated and there will be a review of senior executives before the end of the fiscal year.

The government estimates the move will save up to $600-million a year.

“Given the circumstances that Alberta faces, this approach strikes the right balance between the two unprecedented challenges we face as a province – on one hand the response to the pandemic, and on the other hand the fiscal responsibility we face as Albertans,” Mr. Shandro said.

He said that every dollar saved will go into patient care to improve the health care system.

But Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Premier Jason Kenney is intent on bringing American-style health care to Alberta.

“These plans are cruel. They are irresponsible and they are stupid,” Ms. Notley said at a news conference. “They will create nothing but chaos throughout health care institutions across this province.”

Ms. Notley said people who do housekeeping, prepare food and provide laboratory services are front-line workers in every way, and forcing them out to seek lower paying jobs in the private sector is unconscionable.

“It is a turning point in Alberta history,” she said.

“I think that all Albertans are going to be very, very upset because this is the exact opposite from what Jason Kenney committed to Albertans when he asked them for their vote.”

An official with the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) said Mr. Shandro’s promise that the layoffs won’t affect front-line workers does not seem sincere.

“There is nothing to prevent this government from prematurely declaring the pandemic to be over whenever it pleases, so this is a relatively meaningless promise,” said David Harrigan, labour relations director for the UNA.

“Stability in the midst of a pandemic won’t be achieved by short-staffed hospitals and burnt-out health care workers.”

Dr. Verna Yiu, president of AHS, said the pandemic is the single greatest public-health challenge the agency has ever faced.

“The pandemic is not over. It is far from over,” she said at a news conference Tuesday.

“We must also continue to evolve the health care system so that it is financially stable now and into the future.”

The cost-cutting measures received the endorsement of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Today’s announcement is an excellent step to make Alberta’s health care system more efficient,” said Franco Terrazzano, the Alberta director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“Alberta’s businesses do a great job of doing laundry and preparing meals, so this is a no-brainer to help relieve some of the mounting costs to taxpayers.”

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