Alberta gets a cleaning lesson from Saskatchewan
There was a fair amount of press coverage recently over the Notley government’s decision to cancel an Alberta Health Services contract with a local company to clean bed sheets in our hospitals.
However, what hasn’t received as much attention are the benefits Saskatchewan taxpayers are set to enjoy by partnering with that same Alberta company.
Information from Saskatchewan suggests, once again, that Alberta is missing out. The situation also reinforces the reality that the people we elect to public office actually matters. Some politicians put taxpayers first and govern based on values that are aligned with the broader public — others, not so much.
To begin, note that several years ago, both the Alberta government and the government of Saskatchewan faced the prospect of having to spend millions on building new laundry facilities to clean bed sheets and linens for government-run hospitals. While the two governments faced a similar challenge, how they dealt with it is quite different.
Brad Wall’s Saskatchewan Party government decided to shop around for a good deal. They compared the cost of what bureaucrats would spend on building and running new laundry facilities with what a private company would charge for providing the same service. The Wall government ultimately proceeded with a competitive process and hired K-Bro Linen Systems, an Alberta company, to handle the service. Why? Because K-Bro could provide the service for a fraction of the cost.
In July 2013, the Saskatchewan government announced the partnership with K-Bro would save an estimated $93 million over a 10-year period. Fortunately for Saskatchewan taxpayers, that savings estimate has since increased to a whopping $97.7 million. Let that number sink in for a moment – it’s a staggering figure.
If you’re a patient in Saskatchewan, the government’s deal is great news. The near $100 million in savings can be used to hire nurses and doctors or purchase more equipment to provide faster health care.
As Saskatchewan was first out of the gates with such a great partnership, one would expect the Alberta government to be eager to follow suit. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Under the previous Progressive Conservative government in Alberta, health officials sat down to negotiate a deal with K-Bro. However, as noted, Rachel Notley’s government has cancelled the plan. It seems they want no part in saving taxpayers money. To them, it’s more important to have unionized government employees cleaning bed sheets than it is to give everyone, including private businesses, a chance to compete to provide the service.
The Notley government’s allegiance to powerful government employee unions is not surprising. Readers should know the constitution that governs Alberta’s NDP actually sets aside delegate positions for unions. That means that the elite that run unions have immense power when it comes to selecting NDP leaders and deciding party policy.
Consider that in Manitoba, during a 2015 NDP leadership race, the Canadian Union of Public Employees was entitled to “up to 288 of 2,217 delegate spots,” according to CBC News. Again, that’s just the delegate allotment for one union.
While it’s unclear how much the Alberta government could have saved by partnering with K-Bro, it would have likely been a significant sum. The cost to Alberta taxpayers for building new, government-run laundry facilities has been estimated to cost as much as $200 million. On top of that would likely be a significant savings due to operational efficiencies as well.
Whatever amount the government ends up spending on this project, you can bet it will be millions more than what K-Bro would have charged. Sadly, tax dollars that could have been spent on improving the health-care system for Albertans will instead be lost on inefficiencies related to dirty bed sheets and favours to powerful unions. Next time, the Notley government should follow the Wall government’s lead and put taxpayers and patients first.
Colin Craig works for the Manning Centre and is the author of The Government Wears Prada.
This column was published by the Calgary Herald on September 3, 2016