I have a difficult time bringing up the future of music education in Alberta in a public venue such as a blog. The reason is rather simple; when I bring up issues affecting music education, I am almost always given a cold shoulder or, even worse, vehemently and violently opposed.
Yes, it’s true, some music teachers don’t want me around. In Alberta music education, particularly instrumental music education, you don’t talk about things that can be spun to suggest that we take away from concert bands.
I’m spurred onward by a reminder of what it means to demand the best of your profession. That reminder came in the form of a friend, Joe Bower, who worked tirelessly for a better education system in Alberta. He passed away at the beginning of this year, and left many inspired individuals wanting to carry on his torch. I can only hope to carry on his torch with the same efficacy he had, but I’d rather not do it alone. I know a great many teachers who will continue to advocate as he had in their fields of expertise. Mine is music education.
So give me a cold shoulder if you must. But know that music education in Alberta is not yet complete, and with three decades of status quo, perhaps it’s time to address it.
It has been proven time and time again that musical activity and understanding is a uniquely human attribute. Daniel Levitin in his book “This is your Brain on Music” discusses in one chapter the direct links neurologically between music and emotion, a uniquely human attribute. Sociologically, Carljohnson Anacin has discussed how each society has created for itself an artistic rhythm, a specific pulse developed in every human based on their cultural upbringing. Philosophers point out rightly that only humans can truly experience music’s purpose (although they don’t always agree what that purpose is), and that as a result music is essential to our humanness.
Here’s the deal; politics has decided what subjects are core and what are not. Music is not a core subject in Alberta. Only recently (as in during the last 4 weeks) did the United States finally agree that music should be considered a core subject. But these are political entities that decide what is most valid in the development of human beings, regardless of what attributes actually constitute humanity.
It’s not dissimilar to climate change deniers in political office; they can deny it all they want, but the fact is it exists. Politicians can avoid making music core, but it doesn’t change the fact that music is a unique part of our humanness.
Just as easily as Donald Trump can offer a policy based on the idea that Muslims are bereft of humanity, policy can be implemented that suggests music is not an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. In both cases, the political entities would be dead wrong.
Humans communicate with depth and creativity, conceptualize numbers and values, develop social norms, explore and innovate, stand on two feet and have opposable thumbs, and are omnivorous as products of evolution. As a result, the political entity that is our education system places language, math, social studies, science, and physical well-being as core elements of developing our young humans.
For the political entity that is the Alberta Education system to not situate music as core to the development of our young humans is to deny them that aspect of their humanity.
The implication of course then is that if music is essential to our humanness and therefore should be core to the education of our young humans, it should be instructed to all our young humans in such a way as to develop the musical aspect of their humanity. Not only that, but it should be instructed by people trained to teach it, just as language, math, social, science and physical education is. To be clear, there is a pointed difference between a musician and a music educator; you can be both, but it is faulty logic to assume that any musician can teach it.
These assertions have major implications for music education in Alberta. First of all, only 10% of high school students participate in instrumental music programs, and even less in choral programs. What about our music education system prevents students from exploring this uniquely human attribute? Are there systemic issues that negate participation, either explicitly or accidentally? The answer of course is yes.
Another major implication is that music cannot be taught by generalists who have not been instructed on how to teach music, much less generalists who have no musical training of their own. That is a call to our post-secondary institutions to ensure generalists know how to teach music, and to our education system to ensure that every school has a music specialist on staff.
But the problem is nobody is talking about the fact that Alberta’s music education system has a race problem, a relevancy problem, a funding problem, and a professionalism problem. In fact, to suggest so is to label oneself as “against concert bands” (this is what a fellow music teacher accused me of being recently). The rationale for that label is for another blog, as is a deeper explanation of those problems.
I’m not against concert band in Alberta’s schools. I like concert bands, and I’d rather have band available at every school where concert band is considered a relevant part of the community. I’m not against music in any shape or form in our schools; rather I want more music in Alberta’s schools. I’m merely against teaching one type of music in schools, much as I’m against teaching students there is only one way to solve a math problem.
Alberta Education’s music curricula is approaching 30 years of implementation. I have no intention of idly watching music education stagnate and whither in a system that was built for a very different culture than exists in Alberta today. It is time to look at our school music programs and really question how well they help our young humans develop their ability to music. Is their in-school musical learning disconnected from what happens after the bell rings, or after they receive their diplomas?
Or are they developing into lifelong musickers?
As humans, it should be the latter.
Some other Education Blog Posts
Why I will never be an award-winning band director
The Arts: Good for the economy ... Banks on it
Just let me teach
Parents should be freaking out right now - Tatlo
Sources used in the writing of this blog
Anacin, C. G. (2014). Syncretism in rituals and performance in a culturally pluralistic society in the Philippines. The Social Science Journal. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2014.08.005
Blacking, J. (1973). How musical is man? Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
de Quadros, A. (2012). Music is essential to our humanness. (Y. O. Communications, Interviewer) Retrieved July 27, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7c1_LkJ0I4
Levitin, Daniel (2007). This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York, New York: Penguin Publishing Group.
Myers, D. E. (2008). Freeing music education from schooling: Toward a lifespan perspective on music learning and teaching. International Journal of Community Music, 1(1), 49-61. doi:10.1386/ijcm.1.1.49/1
National Association for Music Education. (2015, December 9). More than 140,000 music educators and music supporters celebrate the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, elevating music as a stand-alone subject. Retrieved January 7, 2016, from National Association for Music Education: http://www.nafme.org/more-than-140000-music-educators-and-music-supporters-celebrate-the-passage-of-the-every-student-succeeds-act-elevating-music-as-a-stand-alone-subject/
Paynter, J. (2002). Music in the school curriculum: Why bother? British Journal of Music Education, 19(3), 215-226.
Regelski, T. A. (2012, March). Musicianism and the ethics of school music. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 11(1), 7-42. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Regelski11_1.pdf
Wasiak, E. B. (2013). Teaching Instrumental Music in Canadian Schools. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
Some other articles on Music Education Philosophy
Alperson, P. (1991, Autumn). What should one expect from a philosophy of music education? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(3), 215-242.
Elliott, D. J. (2009). Praxial music education: Reflections and dialogues. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385076.001.0001
Goehr, L. (1989, Winter). Being true to the work. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 47(1), 55-67.
Koza, J. E. (1994, Fall). Aesthetic music education revisited: Discourses of exclusion and oppression. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 2(2), 75-91. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40327074
McCarthy, M., & Goble, J. (2002, September). Music education philosophy: Changing times. Music Educators Journal, 89(1), 19-26.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.
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.
So I could talk about the floor crossing and the embattled Wildrose Party today, but I've got a better idea.
Let's talk policy.
The Wildrose-proposed amendments to Bill 202 make absolutely no sense to me.
The first time I heard about Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) from a political perspective was from Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Party.
It was during a scheduled meeting with her immediately after the Wildrose voted against protecting their existence in schools. She sought out my opinion as a Catholic school teacher about them.
My response was that any initiative that promotes respect and dignity for every person is an initiative that any Christian should want to get behind. I also suggested that at no time could I fathom a faith-based school saying "no" to a group of kids who want to take that initiative on themselves.
A Christian school (Catholic or not) should want to encourage the teaching that every child is made in the image of God. A Christian school should also encourage the teaching that we are to love one another as we love God. A Christian school should also encourage the teaching that the only judgement that truly matters is the one by God, and even if someone makes a poor decision, they are still a child of God and eligible for His forgiveness. A Christian school should also encourage that we fight for the right of every individual to be treated with respect and dignity, regardless of circumstance.
My school teaches that. I have been given stories of other faith-based schools that don't, but I'm convinced that most faith-based schools teach that.
So when the Wildrose presents amendments to Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202 suggesting that such initiatives should not be forced upon faith-based schools, I ask "why not?"
If a Christian school is really worried about the term "Gay-Straight Alliance", then it's likely they already have an issue with acceptance among students in their school. It's such a school that may need a GSA the most. And if students in the school are comfortable enough, or brave enough, with even suggesting its existence then the school needs to embrace it.
Nothing in a Christian school is unteachable. In fact, in order for faith to truly develop, it must be challenged. By questioning one's faith, that faith can become stronger. By that very point, in a Christian school everything must be taught, especially the tools students need to strengthen their own convictions and faith. In that way they can understand the facts as they exist, and cultivate a belief system around those facts. The one thing that is most destructive to faith is a lack of action in it. By not challenging your faith, you take no action in it.
So what the Wildrose is in effect asking Christian schools to do is not allow their kids to challenge their faith, and therefore not grow in their faith. That should upset the parents of those kids, as well as any faith leader they interact with.
I further don't understand why the Wildrose seems to be so adamant about making teachers inform parents of conversations about sexuality, sexual health and religion. If the spirit of this is to simply keep parents informed, that is an expectation of teachers anyway, so the legislation is redundant.
However, if the spirit of this is to give parents the opportunity to limit their kids education, why not force teachers to also send a note home if they are discussing gender inequality, race or evolution? If a parent is prejudiced against the First Nations, why not afford them the opportunity to exclude their kids from instruction about them? If a parent truly believes that the role of a female is to be a servant to their male partner, why not afford them the opportunity to exclude their kids from instruction that promotes the authority of women? If a parent is prejudiced against the First Nations, why not afford them the opportunity to exclude their kids from instruction about them, or even moreso simply force a school to put their kids in classes with no First Nations students? If a parent doesn't believe in the scientifically proven concept of evolution, why not afford them to exclude their kids from such instruction (which would basically take them out of every Science class ever).
Eventually we'll see notes being sent home before discussing with students appropriate attire, and kids being removed from school because parents don't believe in sparkly clothing.
At which point, why doesn't the Wildrose just suggest an amendment that befits "ALL" issues Alberta students might be subjected to. They seemed to be rather content with that definition at their most recent AGM.
Then teachers will be forced under the Alberta Human Rights Act to send a letter to parents before each and every class. What else would the Wildrose like to see micromanaged?
The issues the Wildrose have to face right now have absolutely nothing to do with who jumps ship when. It has everything to do with their actions. And as they recently touted, their actions speak louder than their words.
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.
Yesterday, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta's leader, our unelected Premier, announced a plan to invest $2 billion in school construction projects over the next ten years.
If we ignore the fact that many of the projects announced were already announced once, in some cases twice, I mean thrice, and cancelled or postponed at least as many times, then this is good news.
If we don't ignore that fact, then it's still just wind on a brick wall. The PC's may huff and puff, but in the end, there wasn't a school to blow down.
But let's look positively at this announcement for a second. Finally, there is a plan to construct the space that we need for our growing population. Hopefully each school is going where 10-years-in-the-future Alberta needs it.
But there is something missing in the announcement; the explanation that the PCs are actually using binary math to calculate the real cost.
You see, $2 billion actually equals $10 billion.
(For those who don't understand binary, check my addendum at the bottom for an explanation)
Let me explain why $10 billion in particular, though.
You see, the $2 billion simply announces the construction of 230 empty buildings/modernizations. It costs a great deal more to actual turn those buildings into service centres of education. It takes lots of people (teachers and support staff), resources (textbooks, computers, etc.) and services (electricity, heating, internet, etc.) to operate them.
Alberta's operating budget for Education in 2014 is approximately $6.75 billion. If the province is building an additional 230 schools, that means they'll be adding approximately 10.5% of the current number of schools. Logic then dictates that it would require an additional 10.5% of the current operating budget to make these schools work. That would be an additional $710 million required in the operating budget.
Don't forget, the plan is to take place over the next ten years. That's $7.1 billion extra not currently included in the budget. Account for inflation, and suddenly that $2 billion promise ends up adding to over $10 billion.
Would the expected increase in population by 1 million help take care of that burden? Perhaps. Is the above example a little simplistic? Perhaps. However, it makes clear that simply building schools requires far more commitment than the PCs have undertaken.
You see, each Albertan would have to pay more taxes to cover that commitment. In order to fund healthcare and other social services to similar levels and similar growth while covering this commitment, the PCs would have to increase taxes by about 2%. That doesn't sound like much, until you hear that such an increase would be the difference between an average of about $10,000 being increased to $11,000. For those on a living wage, $1,000 is a lot of money.
Keep in mind, those simplistic calculations are only representative if every Albertan pays taxes. Don't forget, our kids don't really pay taxes, so the taxes have to be distributed over fewer Albertans.
But such an increase wasn't included in the announcement. Nor was discussion on changing how we collect royalty income from primary resources. Nor was there any announcement of some new magical income source for the province (mind you, we are in a by-election, and the PCs love announcements, it could come any day now).
So even if I am optimistic, and truly believe the schools would be built under a PC government, I have no clue how they plan on paying for the buildings and the stuff to go in them.
Thank goodness I'm optimistic about something else; an Alberta Government operated by someone other than the PCs.
Which leads me to the Wildrose Party, as they are the heavy favourites to form the next government. I am reminded of an announcement they made recently about Education. Actually, come to think of it, it was less than a week before the PC's announcement. It's value ... $2 billion dollars. Announced during a by-election.
Is there an echo in here?
As for the costing of this brilliant plan (I say brilliant, because it really is a good idea to inject that money into Education, regardless of who has the idea), again we are lacking in details. The timeline is more aggressive than the PC timeline, going for four years instead of ten. That means their $2 billion announcement becomes only a $5 billion commitment with the operating costs included.
But in four years, we aren't expected to have 1 million new Albertans. We're expected to have more around 400,000 new Albertans. That means more of a burden would be downloaded to Albertan taxpayers. Except that the Wildrose are adamant that taxes not be changed, so they have to find the money elsewhere. I'm not the first to realize this, Luke Fevin pointed it out clearly after the Wildrose release.
I think putting $2 billion into building schools is brilliant, regardless of who actually enacts it, and especially if they are placed in such a way as to encourage the development of communities. I think the commitment to operating these empty buildings should be expressed, and so far it hasn't.
So now I must express my optimistic frustration. I know a party who not only has a plan to fix the infrastructure crisis in Education, but has that plan costed, as well. However, that party hasn't had the opportunity to have that plan brought forth to their membership, and so hasn't been able to publicize it the way they want, which is hard for me as someone who has worked on it. So I have to rely on "just trust me, they have a plan, and it includes how to pay for it." Knowing that plan exists has me very optimistic, but knowing how hard it is for people to trust politicians, especially those who just say "just trust me", has me very frustrated.
So let me put it this way. You know what you'll get from the PCs. The Wildrose have explained their position as well, yet it still lacks the detail necessary to trust it.
You might not know Greg Clark or the Alberta Party yet. But at the very least, I hope you're optimistic.
BINARY EXPLANATION: By referencing binary, I probably just geeked myself out a bit. Computers, who work in binary, only work with OFFs or ONs, Trues or Falses, represented as zeros and ones. In order to represent something else, you have to combine zeros and ones, so binary systems use 10 to represent the number two)
I spoke to a former PC supporter recently who voted for the new Premier. I've also read a blog by a PC supporter as well. Both indicated that the new Premier has given them hope that the PC party can lead the province again. These responses, only two weeks into Jim Prentice's Premiership, lead me to ask the question;
Do you like fishing with knots and kinks in your line?
Me, I'd prefer to fish with a good straight line. I have a better chance of getting the job done without the line breaking ... again.
Make no mistake, anyone who believes in the PC party's ability to govern is fishing with knots in their line. And there are a lot of knots.
Prentice was silent in his first week as Premier. He spent that entire week loosening knots so that he could unravel them in public in his second week, as a way of saying "look, I'm fixing things!"
But a trust is broken. The line is kinked. That makes the line weak. And Alberta is a big fish.
Not only that, but he has ignored some fairly significant knots that remain, and have no glimmer of hope that they be untied.
The Disaster Recovery Program, or DRP (which in flood-affected communities is now a three-letter swear word) is not even on Prentice's radar. He mentioned nothing of it to Diana McQueen, who is now the fourth minister in 14 months to be in charge of the program. The program is in shambles, and hundreds of people still remain displaced from their homes.
It was one place former Premier Alison Redford tried to keep the line straight, by telling flood victims that they would be helped to full recovery. Then other ministers like Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, and lastly Greg Weadick tied it into the DRP knot. And this isn't just some shoe-tying knot, this is a Gordian knot, and Prentice is no Alexander the Great.
Another knot made bigger since the 2012 election was patronage appointments. Starting with Evan Berger, who was ousted in the last election but given a sweet management position in the Agriculture Ministry, this knot was made bigger by the appointments of Stephen Mandel in Health and Gordon Dirks in Education. Nothing suggests that Mandel and Dirks can't do a good job, it's just that no Albertan chose them. Prentice might be able to untie the patronage knot, but that kink will always be in the PC line, making voters wonder if they just can't see the trough for the pigs.
A kink sits where the government aircraft knot once sat. Just because government officials can't take advantage of planes anymore doesn't mean there aren't other ways. That kink can still knot up again, but it might not be airplanes doing it.
The entire Education portfolio is tied up in knot after knot. Former Education Minister Jeff Johnson started by bargaining in bad faith (knot 1), compromising teachers' private emails (knot 2), legislating instead of negotiating (knot 3), trumpeting an uninformed taskforce on teaching excellence (knot 4), usurping teacher conduct review unnecessarily (knot 5), and attempting to force Boards to provide information that had no chance of being compiled properly (knot 6).
Prentice had a chance to start loosening these knots back in August at a gathering of some of the most influential teachers in the province. He skipped it. Instead, he appointed someone nobody had the opportunity to speak to about Education. To teachers, that equates to appointing someone with no intention of listening. Teachers will say they hope that's not the case, but they have no proof. Not only that, but Jeff Johnson was given another portfolio, but rather than the defenceless youth, now he's in charge of the defenceless seniors.
Prentice also made an attempt at untying a knot when he announced the opening of four starter schools in Calgary. But have you ever tried to untie a knot using mittens? That is in effect what he's doing when he builds makeshift schools with no gyms, libraries, music rooms or other specialty spaces. Taxpayer dollars will be spent on sub-par temporary buildings that will direct resources away from the permanent facilities that are meant to replace them. That's like using 4-pound test line to fish for tuna ... after dark.
Am I taking the metaphor too far when I say schools of fish will never be caught with this tangled line?Albertans need a hook. Albertans need a straight line. And Albertans need a strong angler to reel us in.
The PCs have no hook. Their line is so kinked and knotted it looks like it's been braided by a four-year-old. And Prentice is no fisherman.
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.
There has been a great deal of good news coming from High River. Our presence has never been more noticeable at the Calgary Stampede, what with our float getting so much coverage and awards, and a chuckwagon with our logo on the side running every night. Shortly a book will be released sharing some of the stories of the flood; stories of immense challenge balanced with unyielding persistence and survival.
If that were only the way it really was. For many High Riverites, the nightmare doesn't ever end.
Recall Richard Murray, given full approval to remediate his basement, only to have that approval swiped away from him after he sunk every last dollar he had into it. With three separate Associate Ministers managing the portfolio, all answering to three different Municipal Affairs Ministers in the past year, it's no wonder the DRP changed multiple times. The process stole his home from him as a result, and now he is no longer a resident of Alberta.
Introducing Jim Morgan, owner of a small business in High River, and a passionate High Riverite. His Facebook and Twitter feeds are a treasure trove of one-liners and insightful knee-slappers mixed with musings about the awesomeness in High River. He is known for his positivity.
Except when the Disaster Recovery Program, the system whose primary purpose was to help people get back to what they once were, offered him $702 to cover the costs of all things lost in his business. They demanded 350 photos, reams of itemized lists of things lost, and even 3 years of business statements, only to tell him that they were covering half of the labour for cleaning his business. Why only half? Because DRP expects insurance to cover the rest. Morgan is being shirked by insurance as well. Again, as I have asked for from the very beginning, where is the event-specific ombudsman that would have negotiated these nebulous lines?
Introducing D and L, High River residents who have not spent a single night at home for 13 months. Their full names are not shared because they don't want anything jeopardizing their work with the DRP. DRP is not offering them even a fraction of the cost to remediate their homes, because they determine whether or not the home is in flood fringe or floodway based on the elevation of their front door - not their walkout basement. Their walkout basement is clearly in floodway (and as Jim Morgan explained in the Facebook post listed above, that should never have been allowed to happen, but because it did, Government now needs to deal with it), yet this tiny piece of fine print the DRP has arbitrarily decided to create is preventing the Sundby's from affording to live at home. They hold out, hoping to move back to the town they love soon.
Interestingly, the government is still using outdated maps for determining where floodplains are. Observe the two maps below. The first was the one I demonstrated shortly after the flood as grotesquely out of date.
The second is what is currently posted by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The changes are only in roadways and town boundaries. When we asked for updated flood maps, we didn't ask for something Google could produce for us; the floodplains were supposed to be updated long ago and they haven't been.
By the way, if you are a Cardston resident or business owner who got flooded this year, do everything possible to get your recovery assistance to ignore flood maps, because your maps are horribly inaccurate as well.
If it's not changing leadership, confusion with insurance, or maps, what other reasons could there be for people to be denied DRP funding? Introducing Chuck Shifflett, High River luthier. As a single example in his saga with DRP, he was told that his heritage home needed to have the foundation completely fixed, and to mitigate against future floods they even raised it two feet. Then DRP chose not to reimburse him for his foresight or care for parts of our heritage. The reason: the house is too old.
If these four people were in the buyout territories known as floodway, they would have cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 million. They aren't looking for buyouts, so really their combined costs are actually half that, if not even lower. Still sounds like a lot, right? So if the government is saving that money by not giving it to the homeless and businessless, where is all this money going?
To golf courses. $18 million that will fix a golf course that will likely be damaged again in the next high rainfall event.
They say it is to help encourage the tourist economy in that area of the province. What they didn't divulge is the link to another Progressive Conservative party sole-sourced contract to PC friends.
But let's look passed that little nugget for a moment and consider the 150 jobs lost when the golf course closed, and the 51,000 rounds of golf Albertans play there each year.
I guess the 120 people still living in Saddlebrook, homeless, and with no certain resolution on their homes is less than 150 jobs.
I guess the many businesses, like Morgan's, that have to close up shop, or the dozen businesses that will be left homeless when their temporary structures get torn down this summer (their original locations are still under heavy construction or in lease agreement disputes) is less than 150 jobs.
I guess rounds of golf are more important than people.
If each damaged home in High River cost $200,000 to remediate (not an unrealistic number), that $18 million would fix 90 homes. So I ask you, 600 rounds of golf, or a place for a family to sleep?
This argument, however, ignores a problem the government is having to deal with; inappropriate developments in inappropriate places. Homes are built in floodplains. Thankfully the local government is trying to deal with this by undeveloping certain areas. It might be wildly unfair to people who purchased those places hoping to stay until their mandatory relocation to Heaven, but hopefully even they understand that those developments are costing taxpayers year after year. However, in saying this, people in these areas, like Jamie Kinghorn, need to be compensated for the loss of their homes due to undevelopment (and any money they unwittingly spent fixing them prior to the undevelopment announcement).
But a golf course with links to the PC party is too important to relegate to undevelopment.
All development in the foothills causes problems in the watershed. In a natural state, the water gets slowed down, spread out in the groundwater, and doesn't gather anywhere near as much in rivers to cause high water events.
When development occurs, it packs down the ground, making it so that water doesn't seep, spread out and slow down. Rather it gathers in gutters, ditches, and eventually rivers, and causes high water events.
But don't you dare suggest undevelopment when it comes to a golf course. High River homeowners can be shunted to ... well, wherever, but PCs need to make sure Albertans get their 36 holes in.
How many of those golfers at this golf course were High Riverites, I wonder.
Please don't fall into the trap of thinking High River is on the road to recovery. It's not. It's not even on a paved secondary highway getting there yet. There are too many golf courses in the way.
The Alberta Party has a plan for the following things that would be of interest particularly to flood victims still dealing with DRP;
This is just a smattering of how the Alberta Party views proper management of the disaster recovery, and all of these measures can still be put into place after the PC government is gone.