Last week the Okotoks Town Council began the process of acquiring the Wedderburn land on the north end of town across from Holy Trinity Academy and the St. James Catholic Church. They want this to be an educational, recreational and cultural facility for the community.
Council has made it easy on the NDP in Alberta. In particular one man, David Eggen.
Eggen is the Minister of Education as well as the Minister of Culture and Tourism. In one decision, Council set the scene for Eggen to make his mark in our region.
10 days ago I sat in an audience listening to Eggen speak to a conference of teachers who all gave up their summer time for the teaching profession. At that conference, Eggen told us that he had “found” funding for all 232 school infrastructure projects the former PC Government had announced.
Two things on that; first I must never forget that the PCs were in the habit of announcing and never providing all in an effort to save their own political skin. The former Education Minister is a perfect example of that.
Second, missing from Eggen’s announcement was how much he was banking on future generations to pay for it. He did say that the NDP were not borrowing for operations, but 232 infrastructure projects aren’t operational projects, they’re capital projects.
So I pulled him aside afterward (he was in a major rush to move on, but to be clear it was obvious he’d rather stay and have a depth of discussion). We had 60 seconds, but in that 60 seconds we covered a swath. The first thing he said to me was that he had to borrow through the nose to get that money.
That made the fiscal conservative in me cringe. I asked him if he really was willing to fund 232 projects that might not fit his philosophy. That peaked his attention.
“Mr. Eggen, there are school projects approved to be built outside of the communities, sometimes as far as 10 minutes outside of communities. And you just funded them.”
At that he asked for an example, and I gave him the planned school near Aldersyde which is to serve Okotoks students. I told him it is in an industrial area, it has inadequate infrastructure for traffic, which will also impact the 10-minute response time the closest firehall will have. He balked at the idea, and asked me to contact him with more details. That was the first 40 seconds. The last 20 are for another blog.
So here are the details. Okotoks has no water. It can’t get a commitment on water. As a result it can’t develop, and that includes schools. Yet its 26,000 residents keep having babies. So the Foothills School Division starts looking. It finds space in the open arms of the M.D. of Foothills by the Legacy Fieldhouse.
This would be the third school project designed to be built outside the Okotoks community. Davisburg has two schools, one in each school division, and while it could be argued that they serve a different community, that is prime agricultural land that has been eroded to form dots of acreages all over the countryside. Further, is some instances busses are covering or expected to cover areas on the outskirts of Okotoks. Much like a crosswalk, the lines separating Okotoks from M.D. do not stop cars, and those people are just as much Okotokians as on the other side of the road.
One outlier is an anomaly. Two raises an eyebrow. Three is a trend. The trend to break up communities is beginning to show. This is a trend toward shipping students out of a community, and away from the concept of schools as community hubs. It's a trend to put so much space between neighbours that they no longer need to talk to each other. So Minister Eggen needs to either agree with this trend the PCs set for him, or stamp it out. But if he stamped it out, where would this new school go?
Here comes the Okotoks Town Council to save the day!
Not only did they find a site, but they seem to be appealing to both Eggen’s portfolios. As Minister of Education, he should be thrilled there is now a site that would be basically inside town (remember, those town borders do not a blockade make). He should further be thrilled with the idea of a cultural space adjacent to it. It meets the philosophy of kids staying in the community they live in, and studying in a place that is a community hub.
So what’s the problem? One minor hurdle is that the M.D. needs to agree. That should be a minor issue, but there are some political issues at play that make it a slight challenge. Another is our Wildrose MLA; will he be more interested in the fact that money is being borrowed to build this school, something that is completely anti-Wildrose, or will he see the necessity of having kids go to school in town and give Eggen a thumbs-up? My feel of the current Wildrose opposition is it’s the same as the old one; opposition for opposition’s sake.
Those aren’t the deciding issues, though. Its whether or not Eggen has the political will to stop something he’s already funded. Its whether or not Eggen is just trying to tie up the PCs loose ends, or if he intends on righting the ship. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to stand for something. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to make a stand now, because the Foothills School Division cannot wait for a school for five years. They need it now.
I’d like to think he is. But the ball isn’t in my court, it’s in his.
Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants students to go to school in their communities, and not be bussed out. Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants schools to be community hubs. Your Alberta Party representative is giving the Okotoks Town Council a big fist pump.
So I call on the Alberta NDP Government, namely Minister Eggen, to endorse this shift to a school community hub, and to help Okotoks get the land to make it happen and quickly. After that, perhaps Minister Eggen should review all the school projects he just funded, and where construction or the tendering process hasn’t already commenced, review if they meet his philosophy of what schools should be. I’d suspect that he might find more than one that doesn’t meet his standards.
While he does, he should tell us how much we’re paying for it. Or rather, tell us how much the next generations will be paying for it. I won’t necessarily be opposing, but I want to hear the NDP plan for making it easier for the next generations to cover the tab. So far I haven’t heard it.
Oh, and I hope that while Eggen is talking about the need for this school that he also talks about why this issue came up in the first place, and help Okotoks get a commitment for the Water For Life program.
Kudos to the Okotoks Town Council for their progressive thinking. It’s time for everyone to get back to building community.
Today the Wildrose party published a misleading “Reality Check” including claims about the economic situation in Alberta refuting supposedly misleading claims made by Finance Minister Joe Ceci.
Well, ain’t that the pot calling the kettle … um …
We have two elections going on; a federal one with the Conservatives, NDP and Liberals, and a provincial byelection with the Wildrose, NDP, Liberals, PCs and Alberta Party.
The Wildrose seems to be getting the two elections mixed up. Allow me to make an attempt at unspinning their Reality Check.
In the Wildrose “Reality Check”, they suggested the facts speak for themselves.
Claim: “The overwhelming majority of Albertan families are paying lower taxes overall than they would have under the former government.”
Wildrose Retort: “All Alberta families are paying more taxes under the NDP government than they would under a Wildrose government.”
Fact: The Wildrose used an unrelated fact to counter the NDPs argument. Both facts are true. Both are also spin. It’s like saying “I don’t swear as much as the last prick on stage,” only to have some schmuck from the audience say “yeah, well, I don’t swear as much as you, so I should be up there!” They aren’t saying anything that actually adds substance to any conversation about anything.
My corollary: The Alberta Party’s Greg Clark had an opinion editorial that discussed the minimum wage from the perspective of the party’s research-based policy. He didn’t talk about how much he swears, but rather added substance to the conversation. Scratch that, he didn’t get involved in the bickering between the Wildrose and the NDP, he just started a substantive conversation of his own. (Yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy I just exhibited, I explain that later on)
Claim: “People in Ottawa are playing politics these days, while here in Alberta we are focused on governing.”
Wildrose Retort: “If Minister Ceci was really focused on governing, we would have a budget presented to the legislature before the fiscal year was half over. It is Ceci who is playing politics by keeping the details of his ideologically driven deficit-and-debt budget hidden until after the federal election to protect Thomas Mulcair.”
Fact: The NDP are half-right. People in Ottawa are playing politics. People in Alberta are also playing politics, and to say otherwise is disingenuous. There is a byelection going on in Calgary Foothills, you can’t tell me you aren’t playing politics at least a little bit. Further, there is a real and valid concern about the autonomy the provincial NDP have from the federal NDP when their constitutions are so deeply linked, so to suggest Ceci is not speaking to the aide of his federal counterparts is quite suspicious. However given the mess the NDP inherited, getting a budget will take a bit to sort out, so having the expectation of a complete budget in the timeline they were given is a reckless expectation. Wildrose fearmongering over whether or not keeping this budget hidden is politically motivated is exactly that; fearmongering spin.
My corollary: Although I am obviously an Alberta Party supporter, I support the NDP’s decision to get the budget right, and not do so too hastily. I would ask them to make sure that when they change one thing, such as an income tax structure, they give us some substance like a real poverty reduction strategy that is actionable and implementable, or else the income tax structure change is just lip service.
Claim: “They have the worst job creation record of any federal administration since World War II, and they have added $150 billion to the national debt. These kinds of results seem to be in their DNA.”
Wildrose Retort: “Ceci’s NDP government has contributed directly to uncertainty and job losses in Alberta through business tax hikes, personal tax hikes, minimum wage hikes, tripling of the carbon levy, a royalty review and a climate review panel, all while businesses and families are coping with oil prices at a six-year low.”
Fact: The charge that an NDP government has caused any portion of the economic downturn is ludicrous at best, and ideological ignorance at worst. The NDP can only set up systems to shelter us from the effects of economic downturns, whereas things like OPEC, Greek meltdowns and Chinese economic stalls have been causing contractions around the world, and Alberta is not immune. Further fact is that the Federal Conservative record on job creation is completely unrelated to any record the Alberta NDP has, short as it is.
My corollary: This is where both the NDP and the Wildrose have truly shown their colours. Ceci just attacked a federal party, showing he is obviously coming to the defence of his federal counterparts, solidifying the links between Alberta NDP and Federal NDP. That question is now laid to rest. With their retort, the Wildrose are not green and pink as they would have you think. They are good old fashioned RGB(0,0,192) Federal Conservative Blue. And they have come to the rescue of their federal friends. If they are going to go about doing so as blatantly as they did in today’s release, they really ought to change their colours.
The hypocrisy of inserting the Alberta Party into this conversation is not lost on me. It was done on purpose. The point I am trying to put out there is that everyone you hear in politics today is in campaign mode. Even the Alberta Party. That, however, is where the similarities end.
The provincial NDP, according to their constitution, are intrinsically linked with the Federal NDP.
The provincial Liberals have long been connected to the federal Liberals, like it or not.
The Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives seem to be duking it out to see who will be the favourite child of the federal Conservative party.
Only the Alberta Party has no federal links. Certainly many members are volunteering for NDP, Liberal and Conservative campaigns, but others like myself have decided to stay completely out of the federal elections. Alberta Party policies and principles are not beholden to any federal counterpart.
That means anything you hear from the Alberta Party proper is 100% completely Alberta-focussed.
In the sea of spin that you will be centrifugally forced to deal with, if you’re looking for a champion of Alberta, that’s where you need to look.
If you don’t fully agree with me, I’m okay with that, but at least be careful of any ideological vomit that may fly off the political merry-go-round.
This weekend I was in Didsbury helping move picnic tables, water tanks buildings, fences, flags and signs from one side of a quarter section to another to set up a park. This park will be a beautiful place for an Arts Festival in just over a month.
When it came to the fence posts and wire, my wife and I would load them into the back of the truck, drive them to the destination, and unload them where they needed to be. Then the fence was installed immediately. Likewise with the picnic tables and water tanks, they were delivered to their destination.
What we didn’t do was load the picnic tables, unload them at a neighbour’s place for storage, reload them later in the month using a different truck, and deliver them later. We got it all done at once.
Why on earth would we do that? Unless we were watching the companies building school portables, we would never even consider that strategy.
Not even a half mile away from that park site we were setting up is an industrial park where at least 30 school portables are sitting. They aren’t being built on that site, just stored. In fact, they were built in a facility outside Crossfield. That facility also has a large cache of school portables. Stored.
Also, if you look in the back field of Notre Dame Collegiate in High River, it seems as though that is now a storage facility for school portables as well. And at Senator Riley school in High River two portables remain unused, and have been unused and ready for transport for nearly 18 months. Stored.
They are not attached to schools, who reopen to students for another school year in under four weeks. By my simpleton calculations, in order for each of these portables to be delivered and installed in time, Alberta Education would have to install 5 portables each day with no weekends off. Somehow, I doubt that, but anything is possible.
Meanwhile, school portables are being stored, and not always appropriately. The company storing portables at the Didsbury site are not meeting their development permit obligations. It looks like a dump. And I can’t imagine Alberta Education wants empty school portables with wires, nails and other dangerous materials stored in the back field of an existing populated school, either.
ABOVE LEFT: The first lot outside of Didsbury jam packed with school portables. They have so many stored there they needed another lot.
ABOVE RIGHT: The second lot outside of Didsbury. Note the perfectly good truck for transporting portables that sits unloaded, the landscape feature that is supposed to provide a screen, and the missing 12-metre abuttment from the edge of the property.
UPDATE: As this blog was being written, portables were loaded onto a truck, moved to a different part of the property, and dropped there instead.
But here’s the kicker; according to WREM ICI Ltd., one of the companies building the modulars, those portables have to be stored until someone else picks them up (see page 10). They have their own trucks to move the buildings around, but apparently those trucks are not good enough to actually deliver the portables to the schools themselves. School boards are contracting other companies to deliver the buildings.
So even though the buildings are already on a truck, that truck will not be delivering the buildings to the schools. Schools will remain crowded. And when the school board can finally get the building delivered, students will already be in session, so the school site also becomes an active construction site. From experience I can tell you that is not a wise idea, just considering the safety of the kids.
Almost a year ago it was reported that modulars were not being delivered as a result of delays in getting permits, but nobody was willing to accept the responsibility for it.
Well, it’s time for someone to take responsibility. And now the responsibility falls to the Alberta NDP Government. One great way to ensure Albertans are not concerned about how the NDP is spending money is to make sure we don’t when we don’t need to. Offloading a school portable from one truck to another is one way to make sure we spend money when we don’t need to. And for a party who suggests they value education to the extent they do, they sure are putting a few things at risk.
School portables should not be dumped at storage sites. They should be installed, ready to house the future.