I will support our Wildrose MLA Wayne Anderson when he does something right, such as his demanding better of the DRP program this past Monday.
But I will not support him when his comments jeopardize our constituency’s chance at being heard by the government.
Such is the case when he told Albertans in Highwood that the NDP are socialists with no business sense. He seemed proud enough of that comment to single it out and share it widely on Facebook.
Firstly, to suggest the NDP have no business experience is ludicrous. 10 MLAs have business backgrounds either as entrepreneurs or as economic advisors and experts. That is if you don’t include lawyers, who may or may not run their own businesses as well, at which point that number would be much higher.
Secondly, the NDP are democratic socialists. There is a significant distinction between that and socialism, and that distinction is the ballot box. Alberta elected a government whose principles of social equality and fiscal equality are paramount. To use the word “socialists” as a dirty word is to say you dislike equality, just as to say “capitalists” as a dirty word is to say you dislike getting what you earn. Personally, I believe in the term “equity”, where you get what you earn, but the system isn’t set up in such a way as to prevent people from having that chance at earning.
But I digress with this oversimplification. The point is that if you are planning on using terms in a derogatory fashion, expect to be shut out of conversations.
And that is where my biggest beef with Mr. Anderson is. By discounting the business experience the NDP have, and derogating the NDP, he risks being ignored by the governing majority NDP for his lack of interest in elevating the level of discourse. He lives up to the moniker “Team Angry”, and will likely be ignored. That’s a problem for Highwood.
Another assertion Anderson put forward was that the NDP did not campaign on economic diversification, and that too is inaccurate. That campaign pledge was number 1.4 in their platform, although the pledge may have been implemented a mite early (they said they’d wait for economic recovery first).
Anderson is right about one thing; the job creation tax credit won’t help those who won’t be able to afford to keep those employees once hired. Further, why wouldn’t I fire someone, change the job title of the vacant position, and rehire them just to get that tax credit? There has to be a better solution.
But that idea will be lost on the NDP. They won’t bother listening to someone who does the equivalent of calling them “damn dirty socialists”.
Insert my support of the Alberta Party, but for those of you who find I’m too prone to Alberta Party rhetoric, I promise to be just as critical this time, so stick with me.
Greg Clark, Alberta Party Leader and MLA in Calgary-Elbow, has shown that he can work with the NDP government. His solutions provide alternatives without derogation. He offered a report card in advance of the budget release, marked the budget, and then offered a solution tabling it yesterday. It is my expectation that if anyone is willing to listen to alternatives, the alternative offered as a collaborative opportunity will be the one listened to.
No other opposition party has done that. With Anderson’s comments, I don’t expect that even if the Wildrose offer an alternative, anybody in the NDP will listen to it.
Now is Clark’s budget perfect? If I use his own report card on the budget, his gets a C+, and seeing as he gave the NDP budget a C- (with which I concur), that is a minor improvement. Chances are, had he opted not for brevity and provided the details behind his choices, he would have had a far higher grade. For details on the differences, see my version of his report card here.
Hang on, didn’t I run as an Alberta Party candidate? Why would I not automatically give the Alberta Party’s budget an Grade A rating?
Like other Alberta Party members, I believe in doing politics differently. I believe in MLAs representing their constituencies first. Greg Clark is doing the same, placing focus on the flood mitigations to Calgary’s benefit, and that should be expected of him. He made a report card based on Calgary-Elbow’s needs first and Alberta Party principles second. My mark is critical because I demand more for Highwood.
I also know Clark isn’t going to hold it against me, or whip me into a party line, simply for the very fact that amenable and constructive dissention IS the party line. It’s how the conversation gets elevated. We, as Alberta Partiers, don’t get angry. We get collaborative.
But you better believe I’ll be upset with someone if they prevent Highwood’s interests from being represented properly. Hopefully Mr. Anderson will be able to rectify it and kindle a working relationship with our government to the benefit of our constituency.
If not, there’s always 2019.
Wildrose MLA Wayne Anderson, the DRP Advocacy Committee, and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark have all been upset about the supposed progress the DRP has been making.
I don’t believe they’ve been upset enough. I am so disappointed in this government operation that I am now calling for the resignation of the Director of the AEMA Shane Schreiber, and am joining the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association in calling for an independent review of the Disaster Recovery Program.
Minister of Municipal Affairs has shown how out-of-touch he is with the program in his latest statement to the press. It is obvious he is being fed manipulated information from the AEMA Director, and has no clue what actual progress on the DRP files actually looks like.
Allow me to review how I came to this conclusion.
I have kept a log of the various updates to DRP statuses, particularly for High River. Here are some strange anomalies I have found:
In early June, Mr. Anderson reported that the promise former Premier Jim Prentice made to close all DRP files by that time only referred to residential files. Even so, the number of open residential files have steadily increased since that promise was made, and even well into the NDP era.
Between mid-April and early-June, one High River Small Business file was lost. It was recovered between early-June and late-July along with another Small Business file and new residential High River files. This can be the only explanation for the discrepancy in the statistical reports, as the deadline to submit an application was way back in November of 2013.
That wasn’t the only time that happened. In fact, between mid-August and early-September, 4 more residential DRP files (including tenants) seem to have been found. This makes the total “found” files since Prentice’s promise to close all files by the summer add up to 11. Where have these files been since the deadline 22 months ago?
These are just the examples of mismanagement. Now I get to the anomalies that show misinformation.
Up to mid-April, an application may have been considered fully-funded, and therefore in progress, but it was not considered “open”. Yet every month following, fully-funded files were considered “open”. I have to wonder if this was done so that the DRP office could report, during an election, that only 6% of High River files remained open, even though a month after the election that number would suddenly jump to 16% after the NDP took office.
Stranger still is Minister Bilous’s explanation of what “fully-funded” actually means. He suggests that designation means a claimant has received all the money they are going to get. To be clear, I don’t believe this is his own personal definition, but rather a definition that has been handed to him. One has to wonder what the “paid” designation means, if not that the claimant has received all the money they are going to get.
In mid-August, across Alberta there were 1327 files still open, yet at the beginning of September suddenly 59 more files were categorized as “open”. 4 of those files had to have just been “found”, but where did the others come from? There have been 16 files that have been magically un-”withdrawn” over the summer, maybe they finally found their way into the “open” column? Even so, some files that were once “closed” suddenly were not anymore.
950 of those open files were fully-funded in mid-August. At the beginning of September, that number decreased by 83 files, despite having more open files. Where did those files go? Apparently into the “Administrative Processing” column, which according to Bilous’s latest statement indicates that they have cheques waiting to be processed. But I thought “fully-funded” meant they’ve already received all the money they’re going to get!
If you have observed the number of Small Business DRP applications in High River over the past 9 months, the number of “open” files have swung wildly, from 106 down to 62 back up to 100 and eventually down to the 82 at the latest report. According to members of the DRP Advocacy Committee, that number may drop drastically the next time we see it, as small businesses were given a 45-day timeline to respond (I don’t know what they are supposed to respond to) or their files would be permanently closed. That deadline has passed.
On July 24, the DRP Advocacy Committee indicated that there were 160 cheques that had been approved yet not delivered. Since then, the number of “paid” files has increased only by 18. Are we to therefore assume that there remains 142 cheques floating somewhere in Canada Post-land? Or that 160 cheques were only for 18 people, meaning each person received 8 or 9 cheques? Or perhaps, as Bilous suggests, the “Administrative Processing” column is for those cheques that need to be sent out, as he told the media exactly 103 cheques are ready for mailing. But if that were true, wouldn’t the statistics in July have had 160 in that column?
Between mid-August and early-September, 80 fewer closed residential files across Alberta were considered “paid”. Somehow, people whose files were closed and had been paid out in mid-August suddenly had not received money at the beginning of September. Unless Alberta has 80 Benjamin Buttons, I don’t understand how that’s possible, unless the definition of “paid” has changed.
Webster would have a field day with these problems. The word “defined” means “precise, fixed, or exact”. None of the definitions offered for the terms “open”, “closed”, “fully-funded” or “paid” have been precise or fixed.
“Open” doesn’t really mean requiring closure. Based on how DRP has been run, even a closed file can be open again without entering an appeals process. Interesting to note, while the PCs were in power, the number of “open” files got smaller more quickly. Once the NDP came to power, the number of “open” files suddenly spiked, and the only way to close them is to force the issue, such as with the small business deadline mentioned.
“Paid” doesn’t really mean applicants have received money. It means a cheque has been authorized. It hasn’t necessarily been printed, and certainly doesn’t mean it’s been delivered. I think.
I don’t believe the definition of the term “fully-funded” Mr. Bilous offered, although I suspect the definition was fed to him. None of the statistics up to this point verify his proferred definition. “Fully-Funded” is a particularly confusing term, because what it suggests to me is that those that are not fully-funded have no funding available for them, even though DRP currently has a surplus. Based off information I've received from the DRP Advocacy Committee, this is not far from true. Claimants submit their receipts, and hopefully 100% of those receipts get funded; or claimants who can't afford to pay up front submit quotes for work to be done, and hopefully 90% of these quotes get funded (matching Prentice's January Promise). Those that are in “Administrative Processing” therefore must be files that are open and for whom DRP must lobby government to fund. Those that are in “Eligibility Review” must be those that are being reviewed as to whether or not they are worth lobbying for. Those that have “Action Required” must be those that are waiting to enter into either category. I hope I’m wrong about these, but one thing is for certain; “fully-funded” cannot simply mean claimants in that category have received all they’re going to get.
There is also another designation that hasn't made it to the statistics reports, and that is the term "Complete". At one point in time "Complete" meant everything that could be done with a file was done, the only thing missing was the issuance of a closure letter. Why have this designation if not to delay sending closure letters so as to delay potential appeals?
But that's not even the best part; the term "Complete" has also changed as well, the biggest change surrounding then-Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes. At one point in time we thought he'd be running for the PC Leadership, and his announcement that all DRP files would be 90% "Complete" by March 31, 2014. When he realized that wasn't possible, he changed what the word meant; "Complete" now meant that DRP had sent out cheques for 90% of receipts received. Suddenly lots of small cheques backlog the system, and claimants get confused when they are told their file is "Complete" yet they haven't handed in all their receipts yet.
This is similar to the current issue around the term "Fully-Funded", it is a term that confuses claimants into thinking they've got all the money they're going to get, so why bother continuing on?
All of this results in the steady, albeit slow, increase in the number of “closed” files (to the tune of two or three files each week). At least that is true in High River, where the DRP Advocacy Committee continues to raise a stink. If you live anywhere else, your number of “closed” files are actually decreasing.
Meanwhile 2014 DRP files (for the floods that happened in southwestern Alberta) have been delayed by the 2013 backlog, and Calgary has been denied DRP funds to deal with “Snowtember”, yet DRP money is not being completely spent. I can only conclude one rationale for all these things.
Someone is trying to save their own skin.
If the 2013 DRP files appear to be closing, and the program manages to turn a surplus, your boss, the Minister of Municipal Affairs, is likely to let you to do your work. He might even give you some leniency for your high rate of staff turnover, the apparently complicated files being closed slowly, and the fact that almost 20% of files go to appeals (much higher than the 10% norm).
Frankly, I might be willing to do the same. Until I see how I’ve been manipulated.
And make no mistake, Mr. Bilous has been manipulated. I would bet certain staff are counting on the fact that Mr. Bilous may not fully understand the definitions of each category of claim, which is why those definitions keep shifting. He may agree with a staff member who says “snow is not an abnormal event in Alberta”, despite “Snowtember 2014” being the heaviest snowfall any September has ever seen in the past 130 years. But the fact is definitions are being manipulated, facts are being blurred, and staff members are keeping their jobs by doing it.
And through it all, somehow one extremely important fact has been lost in the reporting of statistics. At the end of each statistic is a human being.
A human being who has watched their file move from open to fully-funded to administrative processing to fully-funded to closed and paid back to open again to closed and finally to appeals. For over 2 full years.
I personally have lost patience, and I don’t even have a DRP claim. The Disaster Recovery Program is a Disaster in need of Recovery.
The lowest common denominator is not the government; it has changed and DRP has not improved. The lowest common denominator is not the advocates; they too have changed not only their personnel but their approach. It's also not the front-lines staff trying to process the claims, as even the Municipal Affairs Report to Legislature said that staff has had a high rate of turnover. The lowest common denominator is the staff leading the program. Only they could lose files, redefine categories, and manipulate data to make it look like work was getting done when in fact it hasn’t. The goal of a good DRP manager should be to work themselves out of a job. It seems managerial staff in this case are preventing their jobs from being lost, and they’ve managed to do so across a government change through confoundery.
Mr. Bilous must recognize that he has been played, and ask the AEMA Director Shane Schreiber to step aside. Even he named Mr. Schreiber as the individual who has been the main communicator, so therefore the main manipulator of facts.
91% of Alberta Urban Municipalities don't trust DRP. This is why they have called for an independent review. An independent review will allow the rest of the staff to continue working on open files (preferably in a case-management format), and not interrupt their work too much. But more importantly, it will clarify what exactly is going on in those offices, where data has been manipulated, and what must improve so that those who suffer disasters in the future do not have to contend with a governmental disaster as well.
Thanks to the DRP Advocacy Committee, Mr. Clark, and most recently Mr. Anderson and their colleagues for never giving up. While we hope every Albertan never needs to use the Disaster Recovery Program, we must feel as though we can count on it if we do need it.
Alberta Urban Municipalities can't. Neither can I.
Mr. Bilous, fix the DRP.
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.
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)