CALGARY – Opposition Leader Rachel Notley met with more than a dozen nurses Thursday to discuss the impact the provincial budget will have on health care in Alberta.

Speaking in the atrium of the Cumming School of Medicine, Notley criticized the budget's plan to delay funding for the Calgary Cancer Centre by $184 million in 2019/2020 and $114 million in 2020/2021.

She said the funding holdback will delay the opening of the new centre, which is currently under construction, and hinder Albertans from accessing the critical care they need. 

In addition to the cancer centre holdback, Notley took exception to the UCP government's plan to make cuts to front-line health-care workers.

"They plan to cut funding for nurses by $100 million over the next four years," she said. "Nowhere is there a plan to invest in the additional front-line caregivers who would otherwise work in the new Calgary Cancer Centre."

But the UCP pushed back against that claim, saying the Cancer Centre being delayed “is simply not true.”

The project is on time and on budget. There are cash-flow changes within the multi-year project but they don’t change the total or the completion date,” wrote Steve Buick, press secretary to the minister of health.

“Budget 2019 includes just over $1 billion over four years for the Calgary Cancer Centre. The total project cost remains $1.4 billion.”

Notley said the budget is an example of the stale planning on the part of the UCP and questioned the decision to reduce funding for the Green Line LRT project and policing.

Rachel Notley, nurses, Cancer Centre, budget

Karen Craik, secretary treasurer of the United Nurses of Alberta, expressed her concerns with the delays.

"Cancer does not wait, nor should cancer care," said Craik. "It’s critical that the government ensures that AHS (Alberta Health Services) receives the necessary funding to complete the project on schedule as well as ensure there are enough funds to properly staff the new facility."

The union for Alberta nurses agreed to a wage freeze in 2018 with an understanding that this year's budget would be subject to a wage reopening provision.

Craik said after months of delays due to Bill 9 — the injunction that had paved the way for delays in negotiations – the wage reopener arbitration is set to begin Nov. 22.

"We expect to go to that arbitration and meet with Alberta Health Services and negotiate fairly under the law to have the wage reopener looked at, the government should not be in the room."

Buick  countered that the NDP is simply “pitting nurses against each other for their political purposes.  

“The NDP are trying to create fear about our decision to expand the scope of practice for LPNs but they know it was the right thing to do and something they should have done themselves,’ he wrote.

“Expanding LPNs’ scope only allows them to do the care they’re trained to do, it’s better for patients and it saves money. It doesn’t mean registered nurses will be laid off, it only means the work will be rebalanced as the system grows. How sad to see the NDP pitting nurses against each other for their own political purposes.”