It perplexes me that a pumpkin in the place of popular Premier Prentice piques people. Perhaps the public has a pinhole perspective on political participation.
I worked on that all day.
So skip the alliteration - I really am baffled when people show indignation at the leader of the PC Party of Alberta not showing up to a forum. They have no good reason to show surprise and disappointment.
This is the norm for the Mr. Prentice. Voters should have seen it coming.
In August of 2014, he was invited to the Alberta Teachers' Association's Summer Conference. He didn't show, despite a carrot being offered to get him there. Thomas Lukaszuk got the stage, and Ric McIver at least made a token appearance. Granted, there was no pumpkin there that time.
Prentice's reward: the Premiership of Alberta.
What else could he have possibly learned? He certainly didn't learn that if you don't show up, you don't get elected. He learned that if he stayed away, he would get elected. So he did.
And a pumpkin took his place. I'll bet that pumpkin doesn't get elected.
Maybe he thought the pumpkin would represent him well at a forum sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired.
Prentice was given affirmation of that lesson learned during the PC leadership election itself. He was elected with less than half the votes cast in the 2011 leadership race, and less than one-sixth of the votes on the second ballot in 2006. Therefore he learned that if voters don't show up, he gets elected.
So what better way to get into office than to disappoint voters to the point of apathy?
He's counting on voters being thick. He might be right.
I can only guess that the indignation I see on social media suggests voters didn't see it coming, that they fully expected Prentice to show up.
Mind you, if voters really are thick, it's probably because they keep building up the callus from banging their heads against the wall.
I have hope that voters aren't that thick, though. After all, they were prepared enough for an absent Premier that they had a pumpkin ready to take his place.
So voters, if you aren't thick, then you shouldn't be surprised. And should he be elected, you shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't show up to Question Period and lets his Deputy Premier field the tough questions for him.
Sound familiar? The only thing missing from this prediction is the margarita in Palm Springs.
And, voters, if you aren't thick, then you'll understand why an absent Premier is not a good thing. And you'll vote for someone who shows up.
So who showed up ready to listen to the constituents at the Calgary Foothills forum?
I know who I'm partial to, but the point I'm trying to get across is that voters should not let themselves appear as thick; they should be well-informed, and make the best decision for themselves going forward. So check these candidates out.
I will push one bias though. I'd rather voters vote for a person, not a pumpkin.
I had the pleasure of watching a forum on education last night.
Scratch that. There was no forum. There was a discussion. Punctuated with humour.
We had to laugh. It was the only way to look passed the fact that two potential Premiers of Alberta skipped it.
Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice are all running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and therefore our next Premier.
But Lukaszuk was the only one who showed up for a forum focussing on education at the Alberta Teachers' Association Summer Conference.
Prentice and McIver were given the opportunity to come long in advance. They were given significant encouragements to come. But they didn't.
You see, they don't care about education. Not that they don't care about teachers ... they don't care about education.
You know, the second largest, and arguably the most tumultuous, portfolio in the Alberta Government? Yeah, that one. They don't care about it.
So Prentice and McIver chose to let preconceptions about their positions speak for them. So Prentice is seen as a Jeff Johnson supporter, which is not a friendly position for education. McIver is seen as a tiny Wildroser in training, with a policy on education that is very similar to theirs.
These preconceptions could be totally wrong. But we have no way of knowing.
Lukaszuk was up front and honest with me after the forum; he pandered to his audience. He mentioned how he would have preferred to have been held more to account for what he was saying (moderator Ken Chapman did a great job trying to do that, but he was a moderator, and so couldn't firmly hold his feet to the fire). A good public forum would have done that.
That being said, if he felt like he had to pander to teachers, good. Because obviously Prentice and McIver provide no hope for Alberta Education's future whatsoever.
He didn't pander enough. He didn't lay all concerns about the Taskforce on Education to rest. He didn't commit fully to public education above all else. He didn't provide actionable ways of improving revenues for the province. So while he pandered well with what his platform and party would allow, he didn't pander well enough to convince me to lend even a single red cent to his party.
Thankfully the Alberta Teachers' Association, in the absence of the other PC leadership candidates, were able to bump the opposition Education critics in their place. Kent Hehr (Liberals), Bruce McAllister (Wildrose) and Deron Bilous (NDP) all were going to come on Tuesday, but came on Monday instead. It was truly an incredible opportunity for delegates to get a clearer understanding of the differences between the parties.
Well, at least the elected ones.
If we are having so many problems with the elected parties, then we should be made aware of actionable policies of other, not-yet-elected parties. I would have liked to have seen the Alberta Party and Green Party leaders have an opportunity to share their policies.
Nonetheless, we heard from four oppositions last night. Yes, Lukaszuk is in opposition. With two PC leadership contenders who do not value education, Lukaszuk is in the minority.
When are we going to hear from a government?
To see the live tweeting from the forum at the ATA Summer Conference, check out the hashtag #atasc on Monday, August 11, 2014.
For those of you who don't know, "tatlo" is the number 3 in Tagalog.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Even though we’ve had issues including Jeff Johnson’s insertion into Alberta Education, and the calculated release of the grossly uninformed Task Force on Teacher Excellence, the reason parents should have first started freaking out was introduced to us even earlier. As one very prolific Edmonton Journal columnist calls it, this reason is/was the “Great Canadian Math Debate”.
Since Ralph Klein was Premier, every four years Education, and particularly Teachers, get attacked. Interestingly enough, it always happens to land at exactly the halfway point between elections. Two years after the 2008 election, teachers were in a battle to get the raise they were guaranteed in a province-wide agreement led by the Premier Ed Stelmach. Then as they approached election season, the government offered some concessions to Teachers in hopes that they have a short memory. Unfortunately, Teachers do. Two years after the 2012 election, again Teachers are in a battle against the government, and now the battle even includes the Official Opposition. What concessions should we expect from the government during the 2016 election that they won’t claw back in 2018? Is the Wildrose, widely viewed as the next government, any different when they have joined in the attack themselves?
The Great Math "Debate"
First, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies expressed a concern in a poorly-worded change.org petition (I originally dismissed it based on this very issue). It was rooted in the idea that Alberta students perform poorly on international tests in mathematics. It got a little attention. Then the Wildrose adopted it for talking points, Dr. Tran-Davies got an editor to correct (although not completely) the petition, and it developed into a “debate” pressed by the Official Opposition and a couple of very outspoken media personalities. The points of the "debate"; that the Alberta Government is trying to shift all of Education to an unproven “discovery” approach and is forcing instruction to ignore “basics” in math.
"Discovery" and "debate" are in quotation marks, because in actual fact both terms are misleading. The term "discovery" means to learn something for the first time. At which point, all learning is "discovery" learning. The term we should be using is "inquiry", which is more about investigating for understanding. The term "debate" connotes dialogue. There isn't much of that happening, mostly it's just a bunch of announcements of opinions. I should note that this blog does not constitute a dialogue, and therefore doesn't contribute much to the idea of "debate" either, but when in Rome...
The myths involved in this “debate” are plentiful. The problem is, nobody is debunking them completely (although some have approached it). So here is my attempt, finally, at doing just that.
The title of “Dr.” means that you are an expert in everything.
Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies is up-front about pointing out that she is no mathematician nor teacher. I give her kudos for that. However, other mathematics professors who have joined the “debate” seem to have forgotten that they profess (which largely means research) advanced math, and are not trained in Education. That unfortunately limits the value of their input (but to be clear, does not discount their concerns). Such individuals who can be considered experts of both math and education, such as Dr. Craig Loewen of the University of Lethbridge, have had constructive input into the curriculum.
Curriculum determines the approach used to instruct math concepts.
Teachers determine the approach used to instruct math concepts. Teachers are expected to use methods that are best for the students. There is no one-size-fits-all method to teaching math, but mastery is still expected nonetheless. Curriculum only informs what is to be taught.
Teachers are being forced to ignore "the basics".
Teachers are autonomous professionals. If a teacher feels as though they are not permitted to teach the basics, they should take their issue up with Member Services at the Alberta Teachers' Association. It is up to teachers how they feel it is best to deliver the curriculum to their unique and varied students, and oftentimes this requires a differentiated approach. To say that teachers are being force to ignore the "basics" is to say teachers are not autonomous professionals. If you fear that teachers are not given that autonomy, take your issue up with the Education Minister.
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a reliable measurement tool for the efficacy of a region’s math instruction.
Firstly, the OECD is for Economic, not Educational Cooperation and Development. This should be our first indicator that something is rotten in the state of ... well in this case, France.
Secondly, PISA is a measurement tool that uses data from different tests in different countries, and different countries report their results differently, almost in a self-selected manner. Certainly they’ll tell you it’s all the same test, but what they don’t advertise is that regions can also pick and choose various questions to be included in the test. If a country wants to improve their PISA scores, they simply need to make their math tests easier, or only have the best regions of their country participate. In Alberta’s case, our PISA score can drop simply because of the increase in our expectations of our math students, or because other countries pick only their best jurisdictions to report. Using PISA as a standardized test has the same problem as using Provincial Achievement Tests; a standardized test can't work if there are too many variables making each test subject different before you even test them. China reports only a few jurisdictions, Alberta reports the whole province. A student who grew up learning Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo writes the same Provincial Achievement Test as a student who grew up learning One, Two, Three. See the problem here?
Teachers have had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process.
Even though the world’s leading regions in education (such as Finland) ask the Alberta Teachers Association for advice, curriculum redesign has kept the ATA at arm’s length. It hasn’t been until just a few months ago (years after curriculum redevelopment started) that Minister Jeff Johnson has started listening to the ATA and considerably relaxed his deadlines and expectations for the completion of the curriculum redesign and its implementation. Had teachers had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process, you would have seen a much larger emphasis on professional development to prepare teachers for the new curriculum.
The Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) predetermines the direction education will take, so consultation with the public is merely a smoke screen.
The WCNP is simply an organization of collaboration, not of predetermination. For that matter, if the WNCP were in fact predetermining education, then we should also see scores from the Yukon, NWT, Saskatchewan and Manitoba plunge, and that is not the case. There is ample evidence showing that results from public consultations have been considered in the curriculum redesign process.
With the introduction of Student Learning Assessments (SLAs), grades will disappear, and so will accountability.
SLAs are completed at the beginning of the year. They are to be used by teachers to guide their instruction. Grading strategies for the remainder of the year are determined by the School Board, various curricular departments within the board, School Administration and finally teachers, in that order. If a school chooses not to use grades, it is not because it is mandated as such from the government. Furthermore, any assessment strategy employed by a teacher should show that each student matches the SLA at the beginning of the year, and show a trend for the student of either maintaining or improving their understanding of the curricular concepts. Any student who shows evidence of a reduction in performance should also have documentation to indicate what strategies were used to address that reduction, and should also show evidence of subsequent improvement following those strategies. All this documentation exists, teachers are required to do it. Accountability is not a concern here.
David Staples provides no useful feedback.
David Staples shows a bias because that is his job. He is very good at his job, somehow finding justification for writing 42 columns on this supposed “debate”. In fact, many people across Canada are now equating his name with this whole "debate". This is the time of stardom a columnist dreams of, so to maintain this high-profile status that sells his column, he must write prolifically. And write he does. His viewpoints are based on the idea that “basic math” is needed for every child.
Personal anecdote; when I was learning math, I didn’t not learn it because I could memorize things. My father, in fact, taught me math using a very “discovery”, or rather an "inquiry" approach. This was 20 years ago. So to go back to “the way we used to do it” might just mean going back to “discovery” ... *ahem* ... "inquiry".
Nonetheless, Mr. Staples does provide an insight that allows us to identify issues that require rectifying. Taken with a grain of salt, it can be very useful. But make sure you take it with a grain of salt, because much like the first myth debunked, a columnist does not a journalist make; see Joe Bower for more discussion on this thought.
The Wildrose are representing the concerns of all Albertans in this "debate".
The Wildrose, rather than representing concerns, are telling Albertans what to be concerned about. In a telephone town hall that I can only describe as a “push poll”, the majority of individuals whose questions were aired were those that were speaking against teachers, math instruction, or curriculum redesign. Of 15 questioners that I noted, 1 educational aide got through long enough to praise teachers on their balanced instruction, 1 parent got through to do the same, and no teachers were aired. When I pressed them about how they chose which questions got through, it became evident that their town hall had not only self-selected data, but also inaccurate data. They couldn’t even find the question I had asked.
That question was “Danielle, when a parent comes to you expressing concern, do you ask first if they have approached their child’s teacher, and if they haven’t, do you direct them there?” I have never received a follow-up as they promised in the teletownpushpollhall.
You know what seems odd to me? Numbers that aren't divisible by two.
Being an Education Critic makes you an Education Expert.
The Wildrose are seemingly unware of the fact that they are arguing about one thing when the issue is something completely different; similar to arguing about how clouds are formed when the discussion is actually about acid rain. The Wildrose are caught in a problem in that they confuse the “what” of teaching with the “how” of teaching. For example, if you need to transport oil, there are many ways you can do it. You can pipe it, drive it, put it on a train, break it down into other products that are easier to consume like gasoline and ethanol, etc. So if you don’t want the oil on a train, what should you do?
By Wildrose logic, don’t use oil, use canola instead.
Certainly that would change the transport options, and moving to “greener” solutions is a noble goal, but we would lose all the value that exists in oil.
Curriculum defines “what” teachers are expected to impart to students, not “how”. Certainly “how” to teach something depends on what is being taught, but if parents are displeased with “how” teachers teach, asking them to try a different “how” makes far more sense than trying a different “what”.
In a meeting with Wildrose Education Critic Bruce McAllister and Leader Danielle Smith, I was told that they believe strongly in a “return to teaching the basics.” At first that sounds like a “what” item. But when they explain what they think the basics are, they suggest things like memorizing times tables, methods of long division, vertical addition and formula memorization. These are not the “what”, but rather the “how”. As I’ve learned, there are more than a few ways to skin a fish.
When I asked them how they know what the basics were, the response from Ms. Smith was “the easiest way for a student to learn.” Again, a “how”. My response and question was “what if the easiest way for a student to learn divisibility by 9 is by summing up the digits, not memorizing the times table?”
The two seconds of stunned silence was telling. So was the response from Mr. McAllister when it finally came; “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.”
So we did.
I’m not saying don’t change curriculum, because in many cases a good curriculum update and overhaul is well overdue. I’m saying if you want to change the “how”, go to the person who actually make those decisions; go to the teacher.
However, who would want to go to a teacher now to discuss their child’s successes in school? After all, we are self-serving people who care more about our own then your children. But don’t worry, government has your back. They will ensure, from their offices in downtown Edmonton, that your child’s classroom is perfectly managed, and that teachers have so much oversight as to not have to think for themselves, or for your child, anymore. The government knows best.
And just in case you thought that was only a PC government, allow me to correct that misconception. Jeff Johnson believes the ATA cannot manage their own, which is why he has claimed himself savior of our discipline process. However, the Wildrose’s Rob Anderson jumped on the Johnson bandwagon. So, if the political pundits are correct and the blue and orange banners are replaced with green and pink ones in 2016, don’t expect any change to how they approach Education.
The only way to avoid that is to have an alternative. Kent Hehr had a dream of being a teacher cut short, but his passion cannot be ignored. Deron Bilous has been a teacher, so understands the profession. The Alberta Party is currently working on its Education Policy among other policies, soliciting input from all stakeholders. Ask each of these people about the Great Math "Debate", you will find a hugely different response than the one in the media.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Regardless of which of the conservative parties take power in 2016, it won’t be professional educators making decisions about Education. It will be some elected official whose only adult experience in our schools was either delivering a Xerox machine, broadcasting a special interest segment on a morning news show, or spending 10 months bickering instead of running a school board.
But not for the reason Jeff Johnson is selling.
A public school teacher does something against the Alberta Teachers’ Association Professional Code of Conduct. It’s bad enough to earn that teacher disciplinary action; a recommendation to have their teacher’s certificate suspended, let’s say for six years. What does this mean for students in classrooms six years from now?
Not much, because that teacher will likely never be back in the classroom.
Jeff Johnson, the Education Minister of Alberta, would have you believe that he’s the reason why. This is far from the truth.
Let’s take the Education Minister out of the equation (which is not abnormal because that’s how professional discipline has been taking place for 78 years).
Let’s say that teacher, who after six years has not been teaching in public schools, wants to go back into the classroom. They’d have to apply to the ATA to get their certificate back. They’d have to prove that there is no chance, beyond a shadow of a doubt, they will relapse into their previous inappropriate behavior. He or she would have to convince a panel of professionals who are under constant public scrutiny that he/she has rehabilitated him/herself so much so that he/she is worthy of that very same public scrutiny.
I can count on my index finger the number of times that someone has actually been able to convince the ATA they are worthy of that scrutiny in the 78 years the ATA has been doing this. The ATA doesn’t want unprofessional individuals in their midst, because where the media is involved, one bad apple rots the whole bunch.
There are some caveats here; that teacher simply is suspended from teaching in public schools. That means the teacher, who still holds a valid teacher certificate, can be hired to teach in a private school or charter school in Alberta, because the ATA holds no jurisdiction there. They can also apply for a teaching certificate in any other province or territory because, again, the ATA holds no jurisdiction there.
But really, who would hire that potential bombshell? The ATA sends details of their disciplinary actions to all other professional bodies in the country, just as those other professional bodies send their disciplinary action details to the ATA. This makes that person virtually unhireable, but if a private school were to actually be insane enough to hire that person, they’d have to justify that decision to the people who pay tuition to that school – parents (oh, and the people of Alberta who fund those schools to 70% of student instructional grants).
This is the way professional conduct issues have been dealt with for decades. The people of Alberta must recognize that it works as well, as we have one of the most enviable Education systems in the world, and that other top-notch education systems, including Finland, Singapore, and another leader in Canada in Ontario, come to the Alberta Teachers’ Association for advice and input. The professional conduct issues are dealt with not only adequately, but in such a way that the profession in Alberta can self-advance to the top of the world.
Government interference would completely inhibit that self-advancement. It’s why government doesn’t get involved in issues of professional discipline in the medical field, engineering field, legal field and other professions, so that they can self-govern, ensure every member adheres to a certain code of conduct, and therefore have the ability to advance themselves as well. Further to that, the only people who can appropriately self-regulate are the ones with the expertise and knowledge in the profession. It would be a scary scenario if people with no expertise in accounting started regulating what products chartered accountants can suggest to their clients.
The desire to advance the profession to the betterment of the public trumps any desire to represent poor professionals. We call this “enlightened self-interest”, recognizing that serving the public good also serves our own interests. In a self-serving way we could say “why would we want to keep around the bad, they could easily just drag us down”. For teachers, that has been the reason we self-regulate, to get rid of the bad apples that would cast a pall over the whole bunch, such that we do indeed serve the public good, namely our students.
Insert Jeff Johnson. Or rather, Jeff Johnson, insert yourself.
Recently he overturned 4 recommendations of disciplinary action by the ATA, saying they weren’t harsh enough. Rather than a suspension, that as previously discussed would make the person unhireable, Johnson nominates himself judge and jury and gives these 4 a life sentence, suggesting the ATA is unwilling to do so themselves.
He never mentions the fact that the ATA has already recommended numerous other life sentences on its own. Something about these four very serious cases, with public hearings and legal counsel present, gave the ATA the impression that rehabilitation might be possible if the offenders so chose. History has reflected that the offenders would not choose to return to the profession, so it would be a non-issue, but in our society, even in the legal system, we allow the opportunity for rehabilitation. However, Johnson isn’t interested in opportunities to improve one’s behavior, nor is he interested in precedent. Just in opportunities for him to be judge and jury. So judge he does.
The offenders are never going to teach again. Johnson just used red ink instead of black ink on the death certificate of those individuals’ teaching careers.
The only other thing that Johnson’s decision has done is ensure the offenders can’t teach at private or charter schools in Alberta. As many who have decried the ATA’s “soft” approach suggest, this is probably a good thing. However there is another way of dealing with that.
Don’t have private or charter schools in Alberta.
Not only would you ensure that anyone who the ATA disciplines can’t get a job in Alberta, but every dollar of public education money would actually be spent on – get this – public education. This has been the position of the ATA for many moons.
So, as this seems to be the latest battle in a war Johnson has declared against the ATA, one must ask themselves the question “which is more likely, that a disciplinary process that has been in place for 78 years has been defunct that entire time and that the quality of our Education system is simply a 78-year-old fluke, or that the Education Minister has a particular agenda against the Alberta Teachers’ Association.” For the answer to this question, we must surveil the activities between the two thus far.
Johnson has gone out of his way to make the Alberta Teachers’ Association his adversary. Had he spent even an iota of this warring time on reducing child poverty, reducing student inequality, correcting infrastructure issues, enabling the professional development of teachers, improving classroom conditions, developing a balanced curriculum, or any other issue that actually exists in education as opposed to fabricating issues, we would be looking at a vastly improved Education system.
However, Johnson seems adamant about living up to the designation he earned as no longer having the confidence of the ATA. Here’s how to earn such a designation.
After reviewing all this, it becomes pretty obvious which is more likely. Johnson has a vendetta. No wonder the Alberta Teachers’ Association has lost confidence in him. While Johnson says "we have to stop pointing the fingers at individuals and start talking about the issues," he has shown no interest in discussing class sizes, classroom conditions, bullying or student inequality, which are true issues in Alberta Education, not a fabrication of a non-existent problem in teacher discipline.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. The people who interact with their children every day are having their profession attacked on a daily basis by someone in power who seems to have a vendetta. That profession is under threats of being dismantled, and the powers that be are not talking about the things that truly affect their children. Yup, parents should be freaking out right about now.
We are now passed the cross-roads. It is now over two months since the flood, and less than two months before we have a new Town Council. Very soon, if you haven't already, you'll see the campaigns begin.
Look at what has happened. Basements have been stripped out. Tens of thousands of tonnes of our former lives have been taken to the dump. Infrastructure has been moved, changed, remodelled, and rebuilt. Yes indeed, lots has been done.
However, there are still multitudes who feel like they are being left behind. Landlords, renters, small and mid-sized businesses, and residents who have nothing left and limited coverage are still in limbo.
Yet out of the receding waters comes opportunity. In High River, a building stands empty where a library once stood. An incredible opportunity to rebuild the arts and culture in the town now sits in that empty shell. Schools in town are undergoing slight modifications to better use the space they have. Serious consideration to mitigation efforts is being given, and various roadblocks to getting those completed are being removed.
2 weeks after the flood I saw the "For Sale" signs pop up, and I was worried. Within the past two weeks, many of those "For Sale" signs have been replaced with "Sold" signs, and I am encouraged. My neighbours, two wonderful people I've had the pleasure of sharing a fence with, are moving on, but our new neighbours hale from Calgary, which reminds me that High River, even in it's most significant need, is still a place other people want to live.
Yes indeed, there is opportunity in them waters.
We need clear communication to understand how every action helps our town.
We need decisions to be informed and to fulfill a long-term vision. No more band-aid solutions with short term gains, long-term consequences.
We need to stop doing studies that are already done, and start moving forward.
We need to spend smart. Rather than tear out a road to fix one problem, repave it, and tear it out again months later to fix another that could have been fixed the first time, we need to spend the resources we have in the most efficient way possible.
We need to redevelop all of High River, not just the location of berms. This community is rich in culture, even though there is minimal support for it. The character of our town resides in our Downtown core, and it must be retained. Developments must be smart, forward-looking, and with a 10-year vision, not a re-election vision.
Some people still fear how High River will recover. The answer is "it will". How it recovers is dependent on who leads the recovery. The best parts of democracy start with the right people for the job in the local government.
I've heard time and time again "it won't matter what Council does, because in two years everyone will forget." Do not allow yourselves to forget. Hold Town Council to account. Only then can we have any hope of avoiding June 20, 2013 again.
I implore everyone to really get to know your Town of High River Council candidates. The right people can make this Town a beacon of light in Alberta. The wrong people can cause a flood of problems that we will be managing for decades.
The right people are electable because they will do what's right. The wrong people are electable because they are the loudest.
I believe Richard Murray is one of those "right people". Murray will do what's right. He won't be the loudest, but his background knowledge, his "big picture thinking", and his vision make him the "right person". So while I know he won't be the loudest, I'll be loud for him.
While I've already told you why, I still believe you need to see for yourself, so visit his site at www.voteformurray.ca.
Because I love this town.
Through the Associate Minister Responsible for Regional Recovery and Reconstruction in High River Rick Fraser, I've been pressing for details on what's next for Albertans affected by the flood. Sunday, 38 days after the flood, most answers came.
Yet today, 40 days after the flood, there are still High River residents falling through the cracks in the foundation.
Refer to my letter to Fraser identifying the details Albertans needed. The only question remaining completely outstanding is that of the Disaster Recover Program Loophole. If the Disaster Recovery Program is the foundation upon which we "rebuild Alberta", then residents in the Hamptons of High River (and a few in other areas) are falling through the cracks in that foundation.
Hamptons residents are not in a flood plain or fringe zone. Therefore, according to the Disaster Recovery Program, if they want to be able to get help from the Government in the event of a future flood, they have to floodproof. And let's face it, where the water has gone, the water will go again.
This assumes, of course, that the Hamptons residents CAN stay, and therefore can choose to floodproof or not. It provides nothing for them if they CAN'T stay.
While everyone else was already allowed back in, people in the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise were given an escort into their homes, and 15 minutes maximum to collect their most precious things. Two days later, they were allowed back in.
I was there helping out a friend of mine. The stench of the entire community was sickening. I drive a Honda Fit, a car that can park in those tiny spots that nobody else considers in the parking lot, and there was so much activity I couldn't even drive through. People had obviously been waiting for this moment, and every helper and volunteer they could get was there.
Residents could see it; the reason it took so long to get them home. It is a massive berm that runs along 2nd Avenue. Certainly creating that berm in the middle of Lake Hampton would have been no small feat. But creating that berm meant everyone south of it could have the Lake pumped out, and everyone north of it, including the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise, would be sacrificed. Water out of the south end would be pumped into the backyards, basements, and sewage systems of the Hamptons. While the flood caused the water to be there, the extent of the damage was due to being bermed in; a man-made solution.
For interest's sake, those who made decisions during the emergency phase never admitted to sacrificing the Hamptons. In fact, they never received that admission until last Friday, 37 days after the flood, 34 days after the decision to sacrifice, and only in a very closed-door meeting (which I was invited to, but not allowed in because I was not a resident of a small area known as Hamptons Commons).
Ask almost any resident in the Hamptons and Sunrise, and they'll tell you they understand the need to be sacrificed. They are the few, and the Central and Southeast areas of High River was the many. In fact, some residents will even tell you they were proud to have their homes selected for sacrifice to save the town they love.
Approximately 48-hour of straight labour with that berm looming over them later, Alberta Health Services came around and told people to leave their homes, labelling them "Not Fit for Human Habitation", whether it be for structural or mould problems. Many AHS assessors didn't even come in the front door, unless they were forced to do so by a contractor working on their clients behalf. The vast majority of those who got the NFH designation were never told what to do or what to expect next.
Nobody has told the Hamptons residents why it took so long, although they have figured it out for themselves. Nobody had told them what the next step was, except to sign up for a Disaster Recovery Program whose criteria never applied to them. None of the litany of assessors that have been around are giving any details as to what needs to be done next.
One resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own structural engineer. The recommendation by that independent engineer was to bulldoze.
Another resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own mould specialist. This specialist explains that he had seen marijuana grow ops in better shape than this Hamptons house, and they were bulldozed.
A resident of Sunrise, a very well-respected landscaper, explains that to get rid of the soil contamination from sewage, chemicals left in garages that will have spilled into the Lake, and other leaching effects, they may need to strip the entire community down to the clay. One look at the vegetative death in the community that has shown no signs of recovery weeks after Lake Hampton was gone, and its hard to not agree with him.
The residents are getting a pretty good picture of what's going to happen. They can't afford to raise their families or live in a home with structural problems, mould contaminating both the inside and outside, and sewage-ridden soil. They can't afford to stay. There is no choice for them, they must move. And that leaves their neighbours who think they might be able to stay wonder why they'd stay in a community with no community. Finally the phrase "property values" is mentioned. And as the Disaster Recovery Program is announced, they also realize that their situation is exacerbated by the fact the criteria don't even fit them.
Take a peek at these photos. The photography is beautiful, the subject material is spirit-breaking. This is a typical Hamptons home. This is a typical sacrificial lamb.
And the foundation for "rebuilding Alberta", the Disaster Recovery Program, is telling these people they must stay. There is no coverage for stripping the soil to the clay. There is no amount of remediation that could correct both the structures and the mould. Even a rebuild is not an option.
In prances Tervita, fresh off a $45 million contract with the Province of Alberta, here to save the day. Even though they just finished refurbishing the Saddledome in Calgary, they haven't got enough employees to do the job, so they hold a job fair to hire High Riverites. They're ONLY mandate; remediate.
Hamptons residents are told to register with Tervita (after already having had to register with Red Cross, Emergency Operations Centres, the Volunteer Centre, their Insurance Companies, and Alberta Health Services). They're told within 24 hours they'll get a call, and within 48 hours of that an assessor will come out. Nope and nope. 9 days after Tervita was awarded the contract, the Hamptons still looked as if Tervita had only been around for a day. It was still deserted.
It's an eery feeling driving through that neighbourhood that just a week ago had so much activity I couldn't drive my subcompact car through it.
The homeowners expect to see seasoned experts come and assess, and so are surprised when they find the assessors coming are much younger than they. One pair of assessors go in saying it will take them about 90 minutes, and come out 19 minutes later with puffy eyes and shortness of breath.
On Friday, July 26 at 1 PM, Tervita met with some of the Hamptons owners. They were given a sheet of paper with a fill-in-the-blank statement giving the Queen, the Town of High River and Tervita access to their homes and to strip whatever they decided they needed to strip. No letterhead, and no other paperwork indicating what assessments had been done to show work was even required. Residents asked what was going to be stripped. Residents asked what chemicals would be used to deal with mould. Residents asked who the engineer was in charge of the job. No answers came. So the residents didn't sign.
I wouldn't have signed either. It sounds almost like an unsavoury car mechanic trying to convince me that it cost $200 to put a plug in a door panel.
Then the proverbial gun-to-the-head: those residents who said they wouldn't sign were immediately told that if they didn't, the Government wouldn't help them, and they were on their own.
A meeting with Danielle Smith, and she gathers many notes and starts pounding the pavement with insurance providers who are still giving residents the run-around, pressing for the Government to reconsider their stance on the Hamptons in light of the fact they were sacrificed, and keeping track of the charlatan contractors that come around.
Smith, for her part, has done very well by the Hamptons. But even she, at that meeting, admitted there was only so much she could do.
So, indeed, as promised by Tervita, the Hamptons residents are on their own. This is why you saw them at a protest in front of Alison Redford's office in Calgary. They had no problem going, as they have no home to work on, and for many of them their businesses are also on standby due to the flood.
Work through the Governments formula for Disaster Recovery Funding, and you'll find that the average Hamptons home would cost only $10,000 less to rebuild than it would to simply buy them out. And that doesn't even include the soil, loss of property value, and the fact that the community will be, as a colleague of mine stated, a "Swiss Cheese" community. All value, either financial, physical or community-based, is gone in the Hamptons, and the owners know it was because they were sacrificed.
Don't you think that they deserve a bit better than 40 days with only half-measures and no answers?
More follow-up on the questions I posed to Fraser.
On July 18, 2013 there was a Flood Information Night that left many scratching their heads. I posted some questions as a summary of what we needed to know. The status of those questions is as follows;
Flood Maps - A flood mitigation panel has been set up, one that is supposed to solicit the experience of everyday Albertans who go through floods on a regular basis. Contact information for them is outstanding, as is a timeline for when to expect the maps to be updated by.
Insurance Complaints - Detailed procedures for how to manage this have been documented, and Danielle Smith in particular has been working hard on this, but in many cases complaints still arise. It is for this reason, as well as the confusion behind the purpose Tervita has in High River and the Disaster Recover Program, that I have called on Premier Redford for employ an "Event-Specific Ombudsman". With a person in that role, those with continuing challenges of various sorts with their coverage can have those challenges fixed faster, and therefore they can get back home faster.
Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Not provided, although details on the formula for coverage has been released.
Mortgages - The Government has asked for all renewal and foreclosure activity to stop for the time being. Also, the Government has started to institute the Floodway Designations on the Land Titles for those who have been affected. This recommendation came from the 2006 Flood Report. The jury is still out as to whether or not that will protect homeowners from issues in the real estate market, or make it harder for them to sell. In many cases, I think protection is what it will achieve.
Floodproofing Standards - The Government, yesterday, released the details every Albertan needs to figure out how to prepare their homes best. They call them the "Minimum Individual Flood Mitigation Measures". I call them Floodproofing Standards. Either way, details on what floodproofing looks like have been announced, and this is good news for everyone.
On Wednesday this week, I was surprised to find out that Premier Alison Redford had made another provincial proposal to teachers for a framework for their contracts. The Provincial Executive Council of the Alberta Teacher's Association has sent it on to locals for consideration. This could mean we'd be entering into another province-wide agreement very shortly.
Two things from this. If it takes the Premier to get involved everytime, such as when Dave Hancock was Education Minister when then Premier Ed Stelmach pitched a 5-year and got it signed, and now with Redford superseding current Education Minister Jeff Johnson, why bother having a Minister of Education at all?
But that's not the biggest thing I get from this. The biggest thing starts from the question "where was the Alberta School Boards Association in all this?" It seems to me they had no idea this was going down at all, trustees were never informed the conversation between the PC government and the ATA was even happening, and one blogger has even wondered why the ASBA even exist in the first place.
That's not deep enough. The ASBA has other purposes, just like the ATA is not simply a bargaining entity. However, trustees don't have too many other significant duties than good interactions with their teachers. Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well.
Trustees have been sidelined for years now, starting most prominently with Stelmach. When he pitched a 5-year deal, ASBA was concerned then about funding, but much worse, trustees were not given the opportunity to bargain as much for local issues. Some boards didn't even have trustees involved at all, and instead had Employer Bargaining Authorities, like the one that my Board was a part of called the School Boards Employer Bargaining Authority. That means that trustees have been removed from discussing complete contracts with their employees for over 8 years. Some trustees have never even been involved in such discussions at all.
So why do we even have elections for them if they aren't given an opportunity to represent us? Well, okay, they give direction to the implementation of education in their area as well. However, if you were to ask Education Minister Jeff Johnson, the only direction required should be "Inspiring Education". So again, why do we even elect trustees at all?
Then I recall some of the recent goings on following the latest provincial election. Evan Berger, appointed (without a competition) to a six-figure post in the Alberta Government, despite being dumped by the electorate for a Wildrose MLA in Pat Stier. A police college that was expected to go into Fort Macleod because those citizens elected a mayor that would make it happen got cancelled. It makes one wonder ... if the PCs are in government, does it matter who we elect?
We want elections to count. We want our voices heard. So we vote for trustees who we think will represent our interests best. We vote for MLAs who we believe will do the same. We vote for mayors who will work to better our communities, but aren't able to anyway because their hands are tied to the Alberta Government's purse-strings. Our elections don't count. Considering our elections come up this October, the fact that who I elect doesn't matter bothers me significantly, because I firmly believe we need trustees who are empowered, and councillors and mayors who aren't going to have to worry about the PC boot falling on them.
If we are to see this change, we need to vote for a party who will make elections count. They'll give your vote an opportunity to work. They'll give trustees, councillors and mayors the opportunity to represent our interests to the better of our community.
Do you know of a party who has made it their platform to get elections to count?
A Twitter friend of mine, best known as @ManitobAlex, posted a view that I share with him, but requires more than 140 characters to explain. I’ll share this tweet later, but suffice it to say it refers to the decorum of the Alberta Legislature, most specifically Question Period.
The behavior in the Legislature has been appalling. Insults, innuendo, and accusations are viewed as the norm.
Just ask Wildrose MLA Pat Stier of Livingstone-Macleod. In an article printed in the Gateway Grassroots on November 26, Stier explains that even though it looks like the Opposition is “lashing out” or “attacking” the government, that it should be expected in order to hold the government to account.
But what is happening in Question Period is not “lashing out” or “attacking”. It is daily slander and libel. And it’s on record.
When it is acceptable for MLAs to interject out of turn, and shout and scoff at other members who already have the floor, or even for an MLA to charge that a Minister is “full of you-know-what” (Heather Forsyth, November 26, 2012, Hansard Page 989), then the party of MLAs represented by such comments lose all their credibility.
When it is acceptable for an MLA to table tweets of citizens neither present nor informed (Richard Starke, November 26, 2012, Hansard Page 993), or to even consider calling other members “bottom-feeders” (Thomas Lukaszuk, November 19, 2012, Hansard Page 698), then the party of MLAs represented by that unprofessional conduct lose their credibility.
Any MLA who chooses to participate in such behavior loses their “Honourable” distinction, and that such a title becomes nothing more than ink on a page.
The common view seems to be that in order to hold either the government or the Opposition to account, you must use such inflammatory language. However, if you review the number of changes in behavior or policy on either side of the House that have occurred, you will find a whopping zero.
So obviously holding each other to account in this way is either ineffective, or a colossal waste of tax-payer money.
I believe this too, but not because the Alberta Party would bring butterflies and puppies into the legislature (thanks for the idea, @JoeAlbertan, but we would both agree how useless that would be). I believe this because the Alberta Party, whether on the government side or on the Opposition side, would ask tough questions without the accusations or insults. You can get tough on election finance without calling each other criminals. You can get tough on senior’s care without calling into question another person’s grooming habits. You can discuss difficult budget questions without dropping F-bombs (Premier Alison Redford today).
The way it should look is an MLA would question a Minister on a particular aspect of governance, and get a well-reasoned non-insulting response. The MLA would then ask if the Minister would consider their alternative, and the Minister would say yes or no with reasoning. What happens following this should only be for clarity, or to provide avenues for solutions to be implemented.
This would mean that any particular issue of governance would come to Question Period once. But it requires appropriate input from both the government side AND the Opposition side.
You can scoff at this idea, saying that it would be a pie-in-the-sky, supremely ideological concept. Perhaps it would be. But if you try to argue that it would be ineffective, you should keep in mind that it would be no moreso than what currently exists.
Why don’t MLAs of today try this Alberta Party concept? The worst that could happen is that something could actually get done.