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.
We've lost focus. We are talking about the wrong things.
Don't get me wrong, the things we are talking about need to be discussed. Raj Sherman is exactly right asking about how contracts are being distributed. Danielle Smith is exactly right to call for a public inquiry. The PCs are right to get started on mapping and mitigations, they just don't know how to do it.
None of this matters to many Albertans right now.
We must focus on the disaster at hand, and get the recovery taken care of. The PCs aren't getting that job done, but they are right to focus on it.
There are still hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who have no idea where their insurance coverage stops and the Disaster Recovery Program starts. This is not specifically a High River problem, even though they dominate the news. There are people in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat, Black Diamond and Calgary still in limbo waiting for answers from their insurance company. Companies are not necessarily at fault; they are trying to protect their bottom line, and they do so by saying "the Disaster Recovery Program will cover that for you". But the job of the government is to protect their citizens, and they aren't doing it.
There are still hundreds of people who also have no place to live. Again, this is not specifically a High River problem, although most of the people in this boat live there. However, there are those who live in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat and Black Diamond who, because they weren't in the floodplain but were rather in the flood fringe or no zone at all, are unable to relocate. Some of those people are unable to build on the former site because, as could be expected with flood waters, the ground their home used to be on is now very far downstream. Soil contamination is preventing homeowners from returning.
An exemplar; George Lane Park, a beautiful park and campground in downtown High River and just on the flip side of a berm from the river, was heavily flooded; at least 6 inches of silt covered the land. Today, grass grows through the silt.
However, if you drive through the northeast end of the town, almost 60 days after the flood, no grass grows. Not even a weed.
You cannot rebuild a home where grass won't even grow, and expect families to let their kids play there.
The Town of High River's Downtown Core is nothing but empty shell after empty shell. If small business doesn't come back right away, there won't be a reason to rebuild High River.
Residents across southern Alberta know they need help transferring from insurance coverage to Disaster Recovery Funding, and many also know they need help determining how to live anywhere when they can't rebuild where they are. And all they are hearing from opposition parties is stuff they couldn't care less about ... yet.
So congratulations PCs, you are focusing on the right thing. However, that's where my congratulations stops.
It's in their best interests to do what they refuse to.
Under the leadership of Doug Griffiths (not Alison Redford, she has been woefully silent on everything), we have seen flood victims treated like children under his "father knows best" mentality.
At a meeting in High River, Griffiths' numerous "I know how you feel" statements showed he knows anything but how High Riverites feel.
When the official Disaster Recovery Program email is shown to have an autoresponder that says "we will not respond to your email" and is admonished for it, Griffiths responds with "It was fixed already. Try to keep up". Yes father, I will understand that even though you did wrong, I should not expect an apology, but rather will be scolded like a child.
My favorite Griffiths quote (insert sarcastic tone here): "taxpayers cannot be on the hook just because you're scared." I now understand that being scared precludes me from being a taxpayer, thanks for the education, Mr. Griffiths.
The problem is that when Griffiths sees a gymnasium stuffed to the point of being called an illegal assembly full of people who are trying to tell him his government is not doing enough, he patronizes them instead of coming up with solutions.
The solutions are easy. They are in the best interests of PCs, just to get the mob to be quiet, if not to actually help them.
Fund an ombudsman who will help individuals with their insurance, and once they're insurance is completed, have that same ombudsman guide them into the Disaster Recovery Process. The sooner people get into the DRP system, the less Mr. Griffiths will have to hear gripe from flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government would not do this is because of the fear of the cost of paying these ombudsmen. I suggest spending a comparatively small amount on the salaries of these ombudsmen, as it will almost definitely save the DRP administrative costs, and will streamline the process, making it more cost effective and efficient.
Adjust the Disaster Recovery Program criteria to help those where rebuilding is simply not an option. Griffiths has already explained that each DRP claim will be treated on an individual basis. Why not just tell these people that if rebuilding is not an option, steps will be taken to either make it an option, or to relocate. Then Mr. Griffiths will not have to hear gripe from these flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government won't do this is because they are afraid that once they start relocating even just one resident, they've set a precedent. It's a more dangerous precedent to make residents feel as though they have no choice but to walk away from everything they've worked for. Once you do that, the government is going to need to start increasing funding for homeless shelters, because that's where all these flood victims will end up.
Do whatever it takes to get small and mid-sized businesses back in their buildings. Intervene on rental/landlord disputes for a temporary time, and get the repair process expedited in business-places immediately. Help retail outlets purchase stock right away, they are already passed the point of ordering for Christmas. Do what it takes.
The only reason the government hasn't done this, as Doug Griffiths has explained, is that they are still focused on residents, and they'll get to businesses later. Not good enough. No business means no residents. He of all people should know this.
It has become obvious that fatherly Doug Griffiths will not listen to the children. He can't see the forest for the floodwaters.
It also became obvious long ago that the Associate Ministers in charge of Recovery and Reconstruction are not in the position to make these decisions, being relegated by the father to the back of the room or even further outside the hall, as was the case with Rick Fraser in High River last week.
So where is the leader of our province in all this? Nowhere. She doesn't run this province. Even when she said "we will return all to what it once was", the rest of her caucus isn't following through with it. She is not leading. Such a shame that she isn't even willing to consider what her late mother's neighbours are suggesting. Even her constituents in Calgary-Elbow can't get in touch with her. I wonder if the PCs will be willing to allow a non-leader to allow the caucus to continue to run amok?
I hope she steps up to the plate. She needs to show up to her own party. But she needs to do it now, because we're starting to lose focus on the needs of right now.
The floods in late June of 2013 were unlike anything our province has every experienced before. It should come as no surprise that challenges and conflict arise when our livelihoods are at risk. The most recent communication between residents of High River and Heather Mack, Director of Government Relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, received from @okotoksNow is a great example of one set of challenges that we must face.
Insurance Providers are expected to be, in the common vernacular, "the good guys". We rely upon our Insurance Provider in times when we need it most, and we expect them to come and "save the day". When this doesn't happen, it is no surprise we leave the interaction very wounded.
It is obvious from this communication and the nature of the forum at the Flood Information Night on July 18, 2013, and many other meetings I’ve had since across Southern Alberta, that there are some very wounded people as a result of confusion with regards to insurance. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what is supposed to be covered, what impact independent adjusters have, why some receive coverage and others don't, what procedures are appropriate for adjusting a claim, and other issues of communication.
The Alberta Party endeavours to focus on common sense solutions, and believes it can govern this way. One such solution that would best serve Albertans is to appoint an independent Event-Specific Ombudsman, paid for through the Disaster Recovery Program, selected by the Superintendent of Insurance in Alberta, and given a strict set of parameters in their job description. Those parameters would include meeting with those who experience confusion with their insurance policies and helping to educate those individuals as to what their policies cover; assisting individuals in claims appeals processes where necessary; educating and advising individuals as to what the next steps should be once the claim process has been completed (whether covered or not) including Disaster Recovery Program applications.
Individuals with insurance questions remain in limbo. Any effort the Alberta Government makes in helping individuals through the insurance process and into the Disaster Recovery Program processes means less limbo for residents. It also means less overall cost on the Disaster Recovery Program; the sooner residents receive the assistance they need, the less cost they will need to incur to return to normal. The cost of employing an Event-Specific Ombudsman would easily be made up in the savings in reconstruction, should that reconstruction happen sooner rather than later when the destruction is even worse. It only makes sense to help this process get completed quickly.
Certainly changes to the Insurance industry is not a common sense solution. While competition within the industry is one reason why there are such varied issues, it is also a way of ensuring the best services are available to Albertans. An insurance company who treats its clients poorly and does not make appropriate coverage affordable will not likely be retained following this flood. What is needed, therefore, is a method of speeding the recovery process.
Flood victims need to get through this recovery process quickly. Their livelihood and Alberta's economy depends upon it. It is easily seen in the best interests of residents, Insurance Providers and the Province to go through these processes quickly and efficiently. The Alberta Government is in the perfect position to make this happen.
As a member of the Alberta Party in the Highwood constituency, I have written this letter to our Premier, the Honourable Alison Redford, asking her to work with the Insurance Industry by funding the appointment of an Event-Specific Ombudsman to effectively complete the insurance claim process for those affected by the flood. This will help the Alberta Government show to Albertans how much they truly value rebuilding Alberta after the flood.
I'll give the Alberta Government credit for being forward thinking. However, they are leaving a lot of Albertans behind in the present while they focus on the future.
This is not unusual, as our province is dealing with chronic symptoms of this approach. There are homeless people being left behind, mentally ill not being cared for, and senior citizens being ignored. As many of us have heard before, the quality of a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. Today's example of vulnerable Albertans being left behind are those still trying to get back into their homes after the 2013 flood, 32 days later.
This past weekend, the Government of Alberta announced a volunteer panel of experts in flood mitigation who would work to come upon solutions for the future. Their intent is to take into account the knowledge, experience, and opinion of everyday Albertans. This is a fantastic concept, and I'll congratulate the Alberta Government on this project, as it is necessary for us to move forward.
However, the Government is missing out on one key thing; flood mitigation does not matter in the slightest in the minds of Albertans who can't even get into their homes as a result of this flood.
I thought the Government already set themselves out a framework of priorities for response to this flood. It seems they forgot them already.
For many Albertans in High River, the Siksika Nation, Exshaw and Calgary (among other places, I'm sure), they are still in the "Stabilization" phase of that framework; some could even argue they are still in the "Response" phase. This panel is only applicable to the "Intermediate Recovery", arguably the "Long Term Recovery" phases.
Yes we need to discuss how to prevent this from happening again to the best of our ability. But not at the expense of those who are waiting to be helped back into their homes right now.
These people need answers to questions of what they should do now. These questions aren't "what should we do in the future to prevent this?" These questions are "what do I need to do to be able to go home?"
A lady at a Flood Information Night in High River called the residents who haven't gotten home yet the "sacrificial lambs". Announcing a flood mitigation panel is not likely to change that viewpoint.
Please share this Open Letter addressed to Rick Fraser. These are the questions we need answers to immediately, before anybody should care about flood mitigation for the future.