It’s been an interesting ride since 2015. We knew the election of the NDP would mess with our orientation in Alberta Politics. But this has simply got to stop.
Since I heard about the specifics of Haley’s condition, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and learning. I’m no healthcare professional, but I have been able to glean some details that allows me to speak a bit more confidently about it. The most important detail is that the drug Haley needs, Soliris (Eculizumab), is not approved for use with her condition, despite reports of it working for the very few others around the world who have it. The pharmaceutical company who holds the rights to Soliris has no financial incentive to seek out the drug’s approval. And Alberta won’t accept it’s use because there isn’t enough data to support it.
It's a rare disease. Getting the research volume Alberta Health is asking for is simply not possible. But the research that does exist is more than promising.
Research or not, it's a $700,000/year drug. There is no way that Haley’s family can float that amount.
It’s not like it’s a drug that will incapacitate her with side-effects, either. There are side-effects, but not much different than some people’s side-effects to antibiotics.
But Haley’s life is on the line. I’m not being melodramatic about it either. Within 10 years of having the condition, kidneys shut down, so a transplant would be needed. Haley is in year 7. But the disease isn’t even in her kidneys, so she’d have a high likelihood of damaging the new kidneys, too. The medical regiment she would have without Soliris is significantly limiting, to the point where she may not be able to contribute to the society she so desperately wants to enjoy.
She wants to be a nurse. Because while under treatment, other nurses have been so uplifting for her. She calls it her vocation, her calling, to help other kids when they are in tough times. Something she can’t do if she isn’t healthy herself.
In a letter I sent to Health Minister Sarah Hoffman, I point out that this wouldn’t be the first time that Alberta has found funding for medication that hasn’t yet been approved in Alberta, for another child with a different rare condition. Other jurisdictions, namely the National Health Service in England, are seeking approval for Soliris for others with Haley’s condition. But for some reason Alberta isn’t willing to give Soliris, the only drug that has shown efficacy at all for others with Haley’s condition, a chance.
This is where Wayne Anderson has been called upon for help, and now Brian Jean is bringing it directly to the Premier.
Now credit where it’s due. Premier Notley rightly states that it shouldn’t be politicians making the decision, but rather healthcare professionals. Brian Jean was obviously reading from a script, and missed the point he should have made at that response.
That point was that it IS the healthcare professionals who are telling Haley to use Soliris. Dr. Julian Midgley, a specialist in the field discussing Haley’s condition, has recommended Soliris despite it not having received approval. Why on earth would a professional do that unless they were absolutely convinced it was the best, nay, the only way forward? Why is the Alberta Government not listening to this healthcare professional?
If this scenario was about someone asking for a drug that would simply improve their quality of life, certainly the conversation would be completely different. But this scenario is about trying to ensure that the basic health of a 17-year-old Albertan is maintained, and it is the health care system’s duty to ensure it. At this point it isn’t, not for Haley.
I’ve joined Wayne Anderson (and now Brian Jean) in asking the government to reconsider their position. There is precedent. There is supporting research. There are other jurisdictions seeking approval. But most importantly, there is a young Albertan with dreams and aspirations of her own, to help others who are sick. For someone going through what she has, there is no higher calling.
What more could the province of Alberta want?
When I started this blog series, I was trying my hardest to make the questions open-ended to let the candidates take it where they wanted, making their platforms apparent. Yet in doing so, some of my readers felt as though some topics were missed.
Knowing me, it's no surprise those topics I heard were the Arts and Youth. After all, I surround myself with Artists and Youth.
The Arts seems to have wide support amongst the candidates, but the different approaches are what sets them apart. Terry Coleman would like to remove barriers for Arts Initiatives as a way of working with the Arts community. Jamie Kinghorn touts his direct involvement, and recognizes that in terms of "Culture", we have a significant immigrant population that should be included in our concept of community. Sandra Wiebe points out that Arts are not just an aesthetic, but also an industry and an approach to the look and feel of community. Michael Nychyk discusses a potential financial solution led by Council to support the Arts in the form of a development levy that can be directed to Arts programming or capital projects. From the perspective of an Arts Advocate myself, each of these approaches are necessary for Arts to thrive; the question ends up being "which approach is more accessible for a 365-day Councillor?"
With regards to youth, there were a few similarities once again, but each had their own perspective as to the manner in which youth should be supported. First, it should be clear that each candidate seemed to agree that the term "youth" refers to people under the age of 30, and most discussed this category as young families. Both Coleman and Kinghorn referred to a Youth Committee and consulting them for ideas forward. Wiebe focused on the public spaces and safety for youth in those spaces. Nychyk referred largely to the need for economic development to encourage a youth population, pointing out that High River's youth population remains much smaller compared to other locations. However, both Kinghorn and Wiebe also pointed out that there is a plethora of activities available for youth.
Finally, I gave the candidates an opportunity to sell themselves to the voter one last time. In their final bid for your votes, candidates once again showed their knowledge, experience and aptitude for the role. The differences between them in their final statements were more about nuance than about glaring differentiation. Coleman's experience outside of High River can be coupled with his experience inside High River. Kinghorn has a clear understanding of what the role entails, having done it before and having stayed immersed in it. Wiebe touts her communication skills, and the fact that she is "a citizen just like you". Nychyk has also remained immersed in the goings-on of Town, and claims to be a good fit with Council. With as many credentials, approaches and similarities as there are, it really leaves a voter wondering what it is they should do.
But that is for a different blog.
Candidates Responses Part 3
The Town of High River has a vibrant Arts community. What initiatives would you pursue as elected Councillor to support and grow the Arts in High River?
Our High River's Vital Signs report shows High River has a sizeable youth population. Yet youth find few activities and entertainment available to them with the exception of organized sport. What solutions would you promote for youth in High River?
Do you have anything to add that you think will make the difference in convincing voters to cast their ballot for you? This is your opportunity to market yourself.
It was likely an informative evening for the current Councillors who were in attendance as well. As I mentioned to one Councillor, it must be gratifying to hear how many things the residents support the current Council in doing, even if they didn’t realize Council was working on them.
For example, some residents didn’t know Council had already approved the removal of the 12th Avenue sandbags. Some residents didn’t know how taxes were calculated. Some residents didn’t know that user fees for the recreation centre are established by a committee of residents. Candidates were able to not only inform residents about how these things happen, but the questions showed that they approve of the current Council’s direction, even if they didn’t know they approved of it.
So how did the candidates perform? The good news is that they all performed very genuinely. Not a single individual at that head table came across as canned, plastic or curated. Voters can count on the “what you see is what you get” feel of their choice. Each of them are also very well-qualified in their own way.
I am excited to say that I could easily see any one of them in that vacant seat on Council, and feel confident with their work. But alas, only one gets to win, so …
One place where every candidate shone was on the highest contentious issue of secondary suites. A number of audience members spoke to the issue, and were joined by choruses of agreement from those who came to listen. Each candidate stated something unique about the issue, which shouldn’t be surprising considering its complexity, but in doing so each showed they had done some research into the topic. Wiebe first mentioned the Town Plan which seeks to increase density, but argued that secondary suites was not the way to do it. Coleman rightly pointed out that the “policing” of illegal secondary suites seemed to be largely inadequate. Kinghorn offered that it is a province- and country-wide problem that requires collaborative effort with other municipalities, and even suggested that a secondary suite should be classified as such if someone other than the family is living in a unit. Nychyk pointed out that it cannot be as simple as that, especially with a large immigrant population whose norm it is to have multigenerational family units in the same dwelling. The unfortunate news for voters is that there are no simple answers, and no single candidate will provide the silver thread that ties everything together into a nice tidy package. The great news is that they can be guaranteed that no matter who gets in, they’ve all considered it, and are ready to dive into those discussions head-first.
There were a variety of questions that ended up having similar answers throughout the night. How do you encourage businesses back in, boarded up houses to recover, young families to move in, additional facilities for Seniors, and the Arts? In each of these questions the answer was common; support the Economic Development department because through economic development all of these other issues will be addressed. That also means that each candidate is acutely aware of the necessary support Economic Development requires, and are ready to give that support.
In byelections, the best strategy for a candidate is to set yourself up as the one every other candidate is trying to beat, and forums help to solidify that stance. No candidate did that yet with a significant amount of certainty. If there was a candidate or two who had the opportunity to do that last night, they did not capitalize, and instead the other candidates closed the gap. This election is still anyone’s game, and anything can happen in the last week.
See all the installments of the Byelection series by WindyJMusic:
Stirring the Pot in High River
The 365-Day Councillor
Dance a Little Sidestep
Post-Forum Mashup: Keeping It Classy
Bonus Round: Taking Your Questions
What's a Voter in High River to do?
As a post-script, the byelection night was not without shenanigans. An audience member chose to grandstand in support of a candidate with obvious intent to shame the other candidates, and in doing embarrassed another audience member, devalued every community-minded citizen’s contribution to High River, and stunned the candidate’s panel and moderator. I’m not even sure the candidate receiving the support was even aware of what was going on because it was so out-of-place. Grandstands like that have no place in Canada.
I’m sure the vast majority of High Riverites do not need the reminder to stay classy. The respect each candidate showed one another was incredible and illuminated High River’s true nature. With leaders like these on our Council, we will have no problems remaining High River Strong. Let’s make sure we follow their lead.
As one would expect, the completion of the southwest berm is a priority for each candidate, with only Jamie Kinghorn suggesting the delay may mean a different plan may be necessary. But some similar themes emerged elsewhere in these responses, including accessibility for everyone including those with mobility issues must be maintained, and patience with the construction. However what we find in these questions about flood recovery, Downtown, secondary suites and community-led initiatives is that there are now far more differences between the candidates.
"Walkable" High River is a large target for the current Council, and each candidate supports it. Michael Nychyk rightly points out that the construction Downtown is not because we wanted to make town more "walkable", but rather that infrastructure required repairs following the flood; upgrading the look and feel of Downtown is simply taking advantage of the timing of the rebuild to reimagine a vibrant Downtown. Jamie Kinghorn, Sandra Wiebe and Terry Coleman focused on the economic impacts of the Downtown design, with Coleman being specific about not wanting the Downtown to be "a medical center". Wiebe and Nychyk also discussed the healthy-living and community components of a "walkable" High River.
The issue of parking shows the most significant contrasts between candidates so far. Kinghorn suggests that the vast majority of residents are disappointed with parking and is worried about problems amplifying with the completion of the provincial building. Wiebe and Nychyk, on the other hand, indicated they felt the issue of parking has been exaggerated, and encourage the physical activity of walking. Both Coleman and Nychyk indicated that communities are dynamic, and review would be necessary, with Coleman being quite specific about how that might look. Kinghorn, Nychyk and Coleman offered some ideas for solutions, but each referred to consultation to get to the best solution.
Where the issue of secondary suites is concerned, once again there is a clear difference amongst candidates. Kinghorn demonstrated a strong understanding of many of the various sides of the issue, and suggests that the solution can't be found in High River alone, but must be done in collaboration with other communities. Wiebe was interested in supporting the existence of secondary suites to deal with affordable housing issues.
Each candidate points out that economic recovery for the community should encourage the rebuild of empty houses in "swiss cheese" communities, but the assessments of "the real problem" are what sets candidates apart. Kinghorn states a solution must be found because empty non-taxpaying houses impact everyone else's taxes, but solutions must be approached on an individual basis. Nychyk offers that the best solution is to keep the public areas around these properties in good repair, and that attractiveness will help. Each candidate suggests incentives are required.
Improved marketing and communications are the orders of the day according to Kinghorn and Wiebe when it comes to community-led activities. Coleman instead wants to get rid of reducing red tape and barriers to success, while also helping people to be stronger community supporters.
Many of my readers (and my students) have asked questions that did not get covered by candidates' responses in my original questions. As a result, I sent out another request for responses to candidates over the Thanksgiving weekend (and told them not to answer until they had turkey). So you will see a "Bonus Round" blog later this week to cover the questions you have raised.
In the meantime, on Tuesday night (October 11) from 7:00 to 9:00 PM you will find me at the Highwood Memorial Centre for the All Candidates Forum hosted by the High River and District Chamber of Commerce. It leads into my next blog in this series, the "Post-Forum Mashup".
Candidate Responses Part 2
The southwest berm has not yet been completed, and other flood mitigation projects are underway. Which of these projects do you deem most important, and how do you intend to approach these projects if elected?
Downtown is constantly under construction moving towards a vision of a "walkable High River". What, in your opinion, is the value of a "walkable High River"? If you support it, how exactly will you do so. If you do not support it, how will you see that issue addressed?
Another issue in the Downtown region is parking, or a perceived lack thereof. If you see it as a significant issue, do you intend during your term to address this issue? If you do not believe it to be an issue, how do you intend to address the fact that many have such concerns?
The Land-Use Bylaw, particularly with attention to secondary suites, seems to be an ongoing issue. What solutions are you hoping to achieve with respect to secondary suites, and how will you work toward those solutions?
Following the flood, there remains "swiss cheese" communities and business areas, where vacancies exist. What role will you take as Councillor in addressing these vacancies to help rebuild these communities?
Community-minded people build a sense of community. How will you, as Councillor, encourage the continued development of community through citizen-led initiatives? Are there any initiatives you envision that must instead be Town-led to achieve prosperity?
Perhaps I'm a little mean to the candidates.
I asked big questions. They required big answers. So to flush this out a little better, I've split their responses into 3 posts, this being the first.
To their credit, 3 of 4 candidates answered them as quickly and as completely as they could. I'm still waiting to hear back from the fourth. I also offer the candidates a chance to change their responses at any time, but once their first response is posted I will be clear about the changes they send me.
These first questions didn't do much to show the differences between the candidates positions, but their approaches are quite different. I provide a synopsis (so that if you are only reading this while on the toilet, you won't have to read too much), but if you want to get into the meat of their responses, they are further down this blog.
In the interests of full disclosure, I've also shared many of these things with my students, who provided me with their own reactions. Some of those reactions are reflected in this blog.
The first thing to note is that each of the candidates are strong proponents of community, and have volunteered in a wide variety of different ways. They are also apparent fans of the current Council's general direction. But that's where the similarities stop.
At this point, Jamie Kinghorn, Michael Nychyk and Terry Coleman are the candidates with a clearly defined vision for their 365-day term. As methods of providing incentive for economic recovery, Kinghorn focuses on the budget while Nychyk focuses on completion of outstanding projects. The budget gets debated right away at the end of October, so the new Councillor will be able to make their biggest stamp there. There are a great many started and unfinished projects though, and completing these will make the Town far more business-ready. Sandra Wiebe offers that she will simply learn where she is needed most, and go there. Coleman in contrast is focused on the Land-Use Bylaw, as with his 365 days he feels that is where he can be most impactful.
Kinghorn and Nychyk also look outside the Town to our neighbours, with Kinghorn focusing on intermunicipal committees, the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Province of Alberta, while Nychyk eyes the Calgary Regional Partnership and all levels of government to help with infrastructure. As the AUMA had a large gathering this week, that seems appropriately timed, and the AUMA has been very supportive of the Disaster Recovery Program Advisory Committee's work. Consideration of the Province with regards to the impending changes to the Municipal Government Act is also apropos. High River recently rejoined the Calgary Regional Partnership, and the most recent visible result is the town's participation in the On-It Regional Transit routes.
Neither Nychyk nor Wiebe have constructive criticisms to offer Council, but Kinghorn has a few words focusing on the construction of a major recreation complex, and on Council's willingness to listen to concerns about downtown parking. Kinghorn's views may be caused by a lack of movement on the Master Recreation Plan proposal presented earlier this year, and the fact that Council tends not to bend to the will of some naysayers. Meanwhile, Coleman is focused on safety with regards to hazardous materials transportation, traffic flow and Land-Use. This may be of significant importance, especially with all the construction going on, and the emergency bottleneck that is the Centre Street Bridge.
The differences in this first section seem small, until you ask about how they will work with non-government groups. Here, a chasm begins to open. Kinghorn points to his extensive volunteer resumé adding that he can be a voice for those groups to Council. Nychyk points out the fact that High River has as many community leaders as it does is in part due to supportive programming to help get them there. Wiebe suggests she would join or meet with groups when needs arise, and Coleman is concise in his desire to have face-to-face interactions.
This is just the first group of questions. The next group of questions are more issue-specific, including flood mitigation, walkability vs. parking, and secondary suites.
Watch for the next blog, where I try my best to at least feign impartiality.
Candidate Responses Part 1
Recently the High River Times published a biography on you. Is there anything you wish to add that the newspaper did not include that will help voters learn about what experience and expertise you will bring to the role of Councillor?
You only have one year in this term. What is your first and most significant priority during this term?
What are some of the directions the current Council is taking that you are most pleased with?
What are some of the directions the current Council is taking that you think require addressing?
What ways do you see yourself working with other government organizations (neighbouring municipalities, provincial, federal) during this term if elected?
How do you see yourself collaborating with non-governmental organizations in your role as Councillor if elected?
Minimum wage recently took another jump. Some are bleating that this will kill our economy. Others are bleating that if we don’t increase minimum wage, current minimum wage earners will make less than the cost of impoverished living.
Way to go, divisive politics, you’ve done away with common sense once again.
Minimum wage does not have to jump up 50% in 3 years. However it isn’t unreasonable to want employers to pay a reasonable amount so that their employees can enjoy a basic standard of living. But that isn’t a minimum wage you are arguing for, that’s a living wage.
The key difference is that a minimum wage is a mandated amount for all workers in a jurisdiction. A living wage will differ from one region to another. As an example, Calgary’s living wage is $18.15/hour, Medicine Hat’s living wage is $13.00/hour. So a minimum wage of $15.00/hour (which is Alberta's target in October 2018) is far more than a living wage in the deep south of Alberta, but not high enough to be a living wage in our big cities.
Minimum wage is a blunt instrument used for the wrong purpose. It can’t be treated as the only means to achieve a living wage. Instead, as has been done successfully in B.C. and Ontario, we must work to make living wage be a decision made by employers, responsive to the local cost of living, interested in creating peace of mind for their employees, and therefore having far more productive employees. Minimum wage is not that tool, but it can help start that conversation.
But in Alberta, the NDP has chosen this blunt instrument to get to the living wage, and the very real risk is a loss of jobs. Rachel Notley is even aware of this, with easy access to a 2010 study in Québec about what the minimum wage increase will mean for jobs. That study recommends a minimum wage that is 42% of the average wage will cause the best reduction in income inequality while causing the least impact on the jobs market. Even so, Notley says she doesn’t expect any jobs to be lost due to minimum wage.
She is relying on a turn of phrase, and an uninformed voter to be able to make that statement with confidence.
What Notley means to say is that we should not expect any jobs to be lost due to the minimum wage alone. Add in the carbon tax, beer tax, and a dismal showing of support for our economy, and absolutely jobs will be lost.
She’s also relying on the fact that 42% of the average wage in Alberta ($29.54/hour - incidentally I started writing this blog a week ago, when the average wage was over a quarter lower at $29.21) is a a couple of dimes more than the newly-raised minimum wage. According to that Quebec study, that means job losses shouldn’t be noticeable. Notley knows this, and so has had a free pass to blame job losses on other factors, like the economy or the federal Liberals who don’t approve pipelines quickly enough.
However, when that increase comes again next year, it will increase the ratio to 45% of the average wage, and in 2018 it increases again up to 50%. If the Quebec study is any predictor, that will translate to a loss of approximately 24,000 jobs in 2017, and a further 40,000 jobs after that.
And those are just the jobs that actually get reported.
What about the jobs that just simply disappear? Mom and Pop shops can see these wage increases coming, and when someone vacates a job for any reason, they are likely to seriously consider whether or not they want to fill that empty position. A position that goes empty and just never gets filled is not a laid-off position, but make no mistake, it is most certainly a job lost.
These kinds of job losses are already happening. One business in High River I am aware of has simply chosen not to fill 50 hours/week left open by vacating staff members. But because nobody reports these as positions that are cut, Notley’s NDP will never notice them.
And darn those evil Mom and Pop shops for not being willing to pay their employees a living wage! Those people have no care and consideration!
Please, please, please, please, please don’t forget that Mom and Pop are Albertans too.
Consider small town Alberta, where many small business owners exist. These small business owners don’t have a large operation that have more latitude to absorb this increase in the cost of labour. They likely also don’t have a large clientele that they can distribute this extra cost across. No indeed, they will be forced to either raise their prices quite noticeably, or simply get rid of those jobs/let those jobs disappear. If they don’t, how can these small business owners make their own living wage?
Raising prices puts them at a real risk of losing their clientele to Amazon or to the big cities. And having worked with many of these small businesses, not a single one of them wants to lose an employee, much less take on the extra workload without that employee. But they will make that decision, and as they don’t have a demographic of 1,000,000 people to serve, they lose their viability. It’s not a poor business model, it’s the reality of the labour of love that is running a small business in small towns.
This is no small issue for small business in small towns. And when a small town’s economy takes a hit like this, the whole town does.
What’s the solution? Change course. According to the study suggesting what the perfect balance is, we’re already there. Continue with that study’s recommendation to index the minimum wage to the average wage. If every year we index the minimum wage to 42% of the average wage, we can always expect a properly proportional increase that manages income inequality while not cause a major expense in the jobs market.
If you really want, make like a Canadian and round it to the nearest nickel.
But the current course is on a sure path to attack our economy. Our small towns can’t take any more.
From Left to Right: Dr. Terry Coleman, Jamie Kinghorn, Michael Nychyk, Sandra Wiebe
Online Presences for Each Candidate
Your First Glimpse Courtesy the High River Times.
On September 29, 2016, the High River Times published an introduction to each of the candidates. View each candidate's profile by the High River Times as below.
An update appears mid-post in Italics.
It has been a very interesting week.
At the end of the work day on Friday, Alberta Party President Pat Cochrane sent out a message to people who subscribe to emails from the party (although the subject line indicates it was intended for members).
To all the members who received this message yesterday and were unaware of my departure, this message is exactly what needed to be said. They would feel reassured that their party stands for something, and abhors sex crimes committed on youth. They would even feel the party wants to stand up for victims of such crimes. This is a very good thing, and is exactly what those members should feel.
However, to all those who were aware of my post yesterday, this message rings a little hollow. They would be aware of the fact that I departed from the party because the party did not take a stand as their first reaction. They would be aware of many of the messages of support I received on social media. They might not be aware of the nearly dozen phone calls and dozen more private messages I received yesterday providing support for my departure and even considering it themselves, but they might suspect I would have had those conversations yesterday. And unless they live in Highwood, they would likely not be aware that the radio picked up the story yesterday, too.
They would see this new email as exactly the right message, issued far too late, to the wrong people. It should have been the first response, to stand up for victims, to take a stand as a party, and to reassure members and Albertans that the Alberta Party is a truly principled party who fights for those who need a hand. It should have been sent to the media, so that they could have helped spread the word that the Alberta Party is strong. By being one more voice to stand up for victims, perhaps the silent victims would feel a bit more confident in reporting crimes perpetrated on them, as it seems such crimes are one area of weakness for our justice system.
But it wasn't.
It was a response sent almost 45 hours after the original response which was, despite my recommendations and advisement, woefully inadequate. It was a response sent 20 hours after the phone call conversation I had with the same Pat Cochrane who wrote the response; a conversation in which I was told to "trust the people in the party making the decision, because they know more than you do" (obviously oblivious to the implications it had on me and other members professionally). It was a response sent 8 hours after my public departure, with a litany of people expressing their support and concern over the party's actions. It was reactive once more.
There are many people who have seen this whole exchange, and it has shaken their faith in the party. I know, because I've had conversations with many of them in the past 24 hours. I'm sorry your faith is shaken, but I understand. There may still be hope for the party, but many of you are absolutely right, they must get back to their grassroots in order for that hope to be realized. I encourage you to keep on fighting for prosperity, fiscal and social responsibility, sustainability, democracy and quality of life, and if you think the Alberta Party can make that happen, stick with it.
What I've seen this week has shown me the party hasn't the capacity in its current form to do it. But I'll still be fighting for those principles. So for those who live in Highwood, I have a message for you.
I'm not going anywhere. I'm here for you. And I'll be stronger than ever.