Doug Griffiths made an announcement that put some people in a tizzy this past week. Some claimed it was insensitive to High Riverites, although I disagree. It's the detail this announcement was missing.
Monday night, people came in droves to the High River Expo at Highwood High School. They left more confused than ever.
I went with one question in mind, the one question that must be answered before anything can be detailed with this new flood-disaster funding policy. How long should we expect to wait until we have updated flood maps that take into account the changes in terrain from this most recent flood?
I first went to the Disaster Recovery Plan booth. They told me to talk to the people at the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) booth. I went there, and asked the same question.
They told me there was no need.
The floodway maps they are currently distributing, and the floodway maps that are on their oh-so-special app on their website are based on regular flood occurences, not the once-a-century floods, and so they should remain accurate.
I call Taurus Excrement.
I asked what would prompt them to start the process of remapping. They said they'd have to be there physically to reassess and see a potential need. I told them I'd save them that step and explain the need to them right now.
Examine the below diagram from ESRD's floodplains map. Running north and south down the center, near the bottom, is a line that seems to divide light red from yellow, meaning it divides flood fringe from no-risk land.
That line is a railroad track berm. Or at least it was.
Observe what remains of that berm.
The representative from the ESRD seemed to understand there may be a need, although somewhat grudgingly. I then asked what the next step would be.
She explained ESRD would need to consult with all the stakeholders, including the railroad company, the town and the province, to see if there was any intent to replace and repair that berm. They'd also have to wait until the municipality asked them to upgrade the flood maps.
And then ...?
And then they'll start the process of updating the maps.
A process before the request process to get a process started. In my mind, not acceptable.
Canadian Pacific Railway owns that track, and hasn't used it for at least 4 years. I'd be surprised if they have any interest in rebuilding it. I won't speak for the town, but I would suggest that they will take quite some time before they start discussing rezoning and building berms, as they have a bit more on their plate right now.
So I translate this to mean months of bureaucracy.
I know this to be the norm for our PC government, but I was hoping for a more common sense approach to our need during this abnormal time.
Here's the deal: if people in Alberta do not know where those flood plains
actually are (not just where some out-of-date map says they are), how can we protect our homes? Nowhere in Alberta is this more frustrating on such a mass scale as in High River.
This isn't just about whether or not we will get Disaster Relief in the future. This is about whether or not our homes and businesses are at risk in the first place. Nobody will build in High River if they can't even be assured of where the floodplains are.
We need to have these maps updated not now, not months from now, but on Sunday, the same day Minister Griffiths made his policy announcement.
Thankfully, Rick Fraser, Associate Minister for the Recovery of High River, was two booths away. So I pulled him aside and asked him about this process before the request process to get the process started. After about 5 minutes of listening to a few talking points, I pulled out my tablet showing him the map above, and he finally clued in. His response; "they will get going on this if I have anything to say about it."
Alright, one small step for one small man, I thought. But just in case, I went to Danielle Smith, my MLA, who was also right beside us. I explained the exact same thing to her.
She shared my sentiment. She said she had heard similar concerns before, although she had not yet heard what ESRD's triple-stage process was like. I told her I spoke to Mr. Fraser. She said "let's wait a couple of days, and be optimistic."
These days I find exercising patience for the sake of optimism much more challenging, and somewhat unnecessary, but I took Smith's suggestion. It is now two days later.
I asked @RickFraserMLA if there was any news, and did not involve Smith because I knew she was in Red Deer for the day. The Government of Alberta's twitter feed @YourAlberta responded instead, telling me that nothing has been started except to make the floodmaps mobile-device accessible. Apparently that will be ready next week.
Priority has been set on making sure I can read this on my cellphone, not whether or not what I'm reading is even accurate or applicable.
So finally, I am pulling my Alberta Party hat out. I have worked hard to avoid doing it, but I cannot any longer, knowing that what we need is not what either the PC government is willing to work for, nor is Danielle Smith going to do as she waits in optimism.
Wearing my Alberta Party hat in the constituency of Highwood, I will work to make sure floodplain maps are updated immediately. You don't need to elect me to do this. I will do it because I know it is needed. We'll start with the Highwood constituency, and then I will continue this work starting at all communities close to the mountains and working our way downstream of each river system in Alberta. We will endeavour to skip the three-stages of process-before-the-request-process-to-start-the-process and get this going right away because we need it in our hands already. If we can't do that, we'll pressure the process to get done faster.
Don't worry, this won't be the only thing the Alberta Party in Highwood works on, as there is a great deal more that needs our common sense input. If you would like to help in this, feel free to join me. Send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll get this work done so Albertans know what they need to know.
The Alberta Party will make common sense work for you.
Teachers don't have short memories. Many people think teachers have forgotten that they voted the PCs in. In actual fact, teachers did not vote PCs in, Albertans did. Many people think teachers will forget these most recent contract negotiations come 2016. In actual fact, it will be the only thing we remember.
Last week my local voted on the proposed framework shoved in our faces by Premier Alison Redford. To make sure I met the expectation that we not share the results until today, I haven't posted this until today. Regardless, it was obvious that our local did not buck the trend.
If you read carefully over this Proposed ... pardon me ... Imposed Framework Agreement, it stated that the ATA and the School Boards should work hard to "ratify" the agreement. This leaves us open to significant interpretation. One could argue that to ratify an agreement, all you have to do is recognize it as a legitimate document worthy of consideration. Simply by voting to accept or not to accept it would in effect be a ratification. I asked about this when our local voted, and the ATA representative there said I was not out-to-lunch. My question: "so simply by voting on this, we are ratifying it?" The response: "um, yes."
So the only way to tell Redford, Johnson, and the PCs to shove it was to not vote on it all.
I spoiled my ballot. I refused to vote on an "agreement" that so blatantly removed democracy as an option. As is the norm in Canada these days, the guise of democracy covered up an imposition. This was no "agreement", never has been, and now that we are entering a period of legislated teacher contracts, I would not be surprised if it never will be again.
Tell me it ain't so, that somehow the PCs figured out a way of making me think my democratic duty was best served by not voting!
So now Johnson has introduced legislation telling Boards, the ATA, and Alberta voters to shove it in return. There was never any intention on Johnson's part to "bargain" or "propose" anything. Working with teachers is not an interest of his. Johnson's suggestion that "legislation is the only way" shows an apparent lack of respect for the decades of successful local bargaining this province is used to. It also shows anything but forward thinking. It shows dictatorship, a complete reversal from the democracy we claim to espouse.
But don't you worry, teachers don't have short memories. Teachers will always remember who truly runs the Education system. It isn't Alison Redford, and it certainly isn't Jeff Johnson.
The problem is, until the PCs realize this, it isn't teachers, either.
Dear Board of Governors;
I understand that due to provincial funding cutbacks, Mount Royal University has had to make some difficult choices. I am very concerned about the direction Mount Royal University is taking with regards to its Fine Arts programming, and hope that you find other ways of dealing with inadequate funding from the current Progressive Conservative government
On recommendation from the Vice President Academic, the school will be cutting its entire arts and cultural faculty, effective Spring 2013. This is in complete contrast to comments made previously by government officials about how important fine arts education is. We respect the difficulty of the decision you are faced with, but we ask that you approach the decision well-informed and with an open mind.
The funding cuts equate to a complete loss for the school’s theatre and music programs. These are Mount Royal's only fine arts offerings. Of particular concern is the proposed cuts to the MRU Jazz Faculty. Mount Royal University is widely revered as the best two-year jazz diploma in Canada and unique in Alberta. I have a number of students who have benefitted directly from the Mount Royal University Jazz Program in particular, either as High School students attending camps, or as Post-Secondary students studying for performance. Many could attribute their success to the incredible leadership of Mount Royal University’s programs.
Upon discussion with Vice President and Provost, Manuel Mertin, members of the Alberta Band Association (of which I am a member) were informed that although the Mount Royal University Program is "exceptional", it is slated to be cut due to its status as a two-year diploma program; although there were other two-year programs that were spared. It was also suggested that students wishing to study jazz at a post-secondary level could move to Edmonton and participate at Grant MacEwan. However, Grant MacEwan is not a jazz school and they do not have capacity to take all of Mount Royal University's students. In order for Grant MacEwan or any other Alberta institution to be able to accept the would-be-stranded Mount Royal University students, they would need to have seen an increase in funding from the government, which we know to not be the case. They would also need to adjust their programs to meet the high standard of excellence Mount Royal University has developed as a reputation.
This equates to a loss of 120 student seats in theatre and music programs. Over the next year, this change will result in a loss of five full-time faculty members, two support staff, and nearly 20 part-time instructors, not to mention the programs' performance groups and theatre productions. It will obviously also have a significant impact on the mentorship of emerging artists on Calgary’s mainstages. It will also have an impact on the Public Education system who relies heavily on Mount Royal University’s leadership in jazz instruction.
I sincerely request that you save the Mount Royal University Jazz program and let it continue to be the globally-recognized program Calgary is known for. Please note that I will also be sharing my dismay with the Ministers of Advanced Education and Finance as well as the Premier for putting you in this situation.
Joel Windsor, B.A., B.Ed.
Music Specialist, Notre Dame Collegiate, High River, Alberta
President, High River and District Music Festival Association
Premier of Alberta
Liberal Party of Alberta Advanced Education Critic
Wildrose Party Advanced Education Critic
New Democratic Party of Alberta Advanced Education Critic
Member of Legislative Assembly for the Highwood Constituency
President of the Alberta Party
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?
You need to care about the Alberta Party's fortunes. Even if you don't agree with their policies, or think they're just another fringe party, the Alberta Party's viability is an indicator of the level of discourse in Alberta politics.
Let's be honest. The Alberta Party is small. It has no MLAs. If it is to be relevant, it is only because the level of discourse in Alberta politics has not improved.
Right now, the Alberta Party's fortunes are entirely dependent on the discourse in other circles of Alberta politics. As long as the Alberta Party does not direct its own conversation and depends on others, it will be the actions of others that shape its future.
So in 2013, these are the different actions that would need to take place to make the Alberta Party irrelevant in Alberta politics, and the people who will be the biggest indicators (with links to their Twitter feeds);
7) The PCs collaborate. With anyone. The reason why "41 years is enough" is because the PCs sense of self-entitlement is so deep, it has become the culture of Alberta politics. It's a major reason why the Alberta Party started up. If the PCs start making a history of collaboration with others, that self-entitlement culture will dissipate. The one to watch on this will be Fred Horne (@FredHorneMLA), because the Health portfolio is where the idea of collaboration is most needed, and least likely to occur.
6) The PCs finally produce a transparent, costed and complete budget with realistic projections. Borrowing for the future is not a bad idea when used sparingly, but plunging into debt because you used a pie-in-the-sky projection of revenue is unacceptable. When the PCs stop doing this, that is step 1. Watch Doug Horner (@DougHornerMLA) for this one.
5) The PCs take action on diversifying the Alberta economy. Adam Legge alluded to this need in his article about the need for the Alberta Advantage to evolve. It's something the Alberta Party has been saying for quite some time, and have even come up with some suggestions, such as the creative industries, or reinvesting in agriculture. Alison Redford has proven that she can't steer a ship, so watch the Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk (@LukaszukMLA) for this, if it ever happens.
4) The Wildrose Party manages somehow to shake the chains of the "Lake of Fire" history, and actually makes measurable and progressive changes to their social policy. I have doubts about the measurable changes to their policy. I have even more doubts that, even though they may want to, they will ever shake the unfortunate comments made by a few poorly vetted candidates. Danielle Smith will not be the one to watch for on this, because if there is one person in the Wildrose who fits that bill, it is her. It will be the most conservative and vocal on the Wildrose bench to be the indicator of a shift in social policy, and that person is Rob Anderson (@RAndersonMLA).
3) The Liberal Party sorts out its mess of an organization. It will do this by admonishing its upper brass for hanging one of its most respected Members of the Legislative Assembly out to dry (see letter written by Todd Van Vliet about Kent Hehr). It will clear up its marketing issues by actually choosing one of its brands, and ramming it down the throats of Albertans until they know what it means to be Liberal. Interestingly, the one to watch for on this will be Kent Hehr (@kenthehr). If he continues to fly the Liberal flag (whatever colour they end up choosing), it will either be because he really doesn't believe in collaboration amongst progressives, or because the Liberals have fixed their issues and welcomed him back into the fold.
2) The Alberta New Democrats lose the sarcasm and add a willingness to collaborate. In the last sitting of the Legislature, there were very few comments that I heard during Question Period from the Dippers that were anything different from what the Wildrose came up with, with an added turn-of-phrase or clever quip. It seems odd that with the amount they seem to agree with other opposition parties that they would flatly refuse to collaborate with anyone to make positive change happen. There is nothing wrong with their policies, they are well-formulated, but their approach to doing politics is fundamentally flawed. The guy to watch on this will be Deron Bilous (@DeronBilous), as he is the future of that party, and will be the one to set the standard of behaviour for those who follow him.
1) The Alberta Party doesn't do anything. At all. In order for it to be truly irrelevant, it must never do anything that will make itself visible to the rest of Alberta. It must never make any attempt at providing more definition to its policies. It must never try to listen to Albertans, and create innovative solutions to the problems they hear. Unfortunately, there isn't really any truly visible individual on this, as there is a group of people who will be the indicators on this. The current board, led by William Munsey as President (@AP_President), will be the identifiers here.
If you see four of these things happen, I would suggest that the Alberta Party would no longer be relevant, and seeing as only one of them is within their own control, their fortunes are very much tied to others.
But in all honesty, I don't see the PCs collaborating, costing out their budget, nor diversifying the economy. I don't see the Wildrose shaking the chains of their past candidates (although I do see them trying). I don't see LiberAlberta sorting out their mess. I also don't see the New Democrats changing their approach.
I have a very big concern, as an Alberta Party Member, about whether or not my party will do anything. They are updating their constitution on February 23, and that will be a big indication to me of the party's directions. I do, of course, have high hopes.
However, 2013 will be the true litmus test for the Alberta Party, and Alberta politics on the whole. Let's hope it starts representing all Albertans, and soon!
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.
In the past five years, 55 people have died on Highway 63. It is a fact. It is not a commentary that was created for political gain.But somebody hasn't told Alison Redford's Communications office that.
I'm not one to support the Wildrose regularly, but when they called for increased enforcement on Highway 63, I didn't argue because it is in fact a need.
Then Redford's Communications office tweets that Minister of Justice Jonathan Denis stated that the Wildrose wanted a reduction in enforcement.
Come on, Redford, I know when someone's pissing on my boots and calling it a rainstorm.
They justify the claim by saying that the Wildrose wanted less than what the PCs put together. Shayne Saskiw co-authored a report a few days ago recommending AT LEAST 8 officers get placed on the death-stretch. Denis was happy to announce 16 new officers, and said that 8 was a reduction from what the PCs put in place.
I don't know what kind of math the PCs are running, but a Kindergarten student could explain to them that a minimum is not a maximum, 8 is still more than 0, and is not a reduction.
No wonder Raj called it a "fudge-it budget".
But what Denis doesn't realize is that he has just played politics with 55 people's lives. 55 people have died. 19 kilometres of highway have been twinned in an effort to stop this slaughter. And the PCs are comparing the size of their ... commitment.
The last time a political official in Alberta tried to use the lives of others for political gain, the backlash was swift. Just ask Danielle Smith, and her suggestion to "let them eat tainted meat", as it were.
Enough of the gamesmanship. Unless the PCs get their priorities straight, we run the risk of having another 55 people die in the time they've committed to.
Stop using these peoples' lives as a way of trying to gain political points. You're already in office.