After reading about an Innisfail school no longer willing to introduce their Grade 6 students to Question Period, I should have been shocked.
I was just disappointed.
When I'm with my children in a grocery store lineup, or with my students at a fast food joint on school trip, and I hear another adult choosing inappropriate language, I politely tap them on the shoulder and ask them to choose different language, gesturing to my students. Thankfully, they usually acquiesce.
However, for some strange reason, they didn't seem to notice the children in the public space. Have we become so ignorant as adults that we don't recognize the opportunities we have to impact on our youth?
Not that we can't recognize when youth are around us. We simply don't. We choose not to pay attention. Or at least, a select few of us don't choose to pay attention.
Our elected officials, theoretically the people who were so fine and upstanding that they managed to get thousands of Albertans to vote for them, don't.
What makes this truly downtroddenly expectoratingly disappointing is the fact that in Question Period, the guests have to be introduced.
MLAs were told the students were there. They even waved at them.
And then they turned around and told each other they "blow and suck" and called each other out to fight.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is verbal abuse and bullying. And we're letting it happen. Every time we vote some of these bullies into the legislature, we're letting this verbal abuse happen.
It's like second-hand smoke. You smoke, you damage your own body. But don't forget, you also damage the body of those who also inhale your putrid vapours.
You call people out, name-call, swear, or otherwise bully in the legislature, you damage your own relationships. But don't forget, there are a bunch of 10-year-olds in the gallery who also hear your colourful metaphors.
If you speak in Legislature, don't forget you're on public camera. If there's a school in the gallery, it becomes even more obvious that you're under scrutiny. And if you still choose to use inappropriate language and throw decorum out the window, remember this;
You've just become a child abuser.
I can't tap you on the shoulder politely to ask you to consider your surroundings. The Speaker in the Legislature has done that plenty enough, to no avail. I'm honestly surprised he's actually taking supplementals and questions away from members now to penalize them for poor behaviour. But I welcome it.
But I will have a very difficult time standing for an institution that abuses children. Even if it's second-hand abuse.
Duly elected Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, this is what I am asking you to do; abide by Rule #2 of the Alberta Party's Guidelines for MLAs.
"Each MLA of the Alberta Party shall ... conduct themselves in a professional manner and with integrity, including within the legislature. Alberta Party MLAs shall conduct themselves in a manner that is respectful to other members of the legislature and shall not engage in disrespectful behaviour."
There was only one other rule that the Alberta Party listed before that one, and that rule has to do with engaging in direct in-person conversation with their constituents. Something that should be viewed as necessary, but also something you can't do effectively if you don't treat others with respect.
We need the "Honourable" members of our elected assembly to treat each other with respect and act with decorum. Then maybe, just maybe, our youth will believe in our "Honourable" adults the way I believe in our youth.
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.
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Attention: The Honourable Rick Fraser, Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction for High River
Dear Associate Minister,
I write to offer you the opportunity to directly respond in an open format to questions and concerns expressed by victims of the most recent 2013 Alberta Floods. It is in Albertans' best interests to have open, clear and concise communication about the needs of Albertans, and the Government's efforts to fulfill them. I intend on being a partner with you in the development of this communication.
In particular, the questions and concerns I refer to are many of those expressed at the Flood Information evening in High River on July 18, 2013, a meeting that left the vast majority of those attending dissatisfied with a lack of details. While the five gentlemen at the forum-styled information session answered questions to the best of their ability, they simply were not equipped to provide the details that High River residents were expecting, and that many other Albertans will also be expecting at their own Flood Information nights.
This has led to a great deal of frustration, and the level of discourse between residents and officials is dwindling rapidly as a result. I am hoping that through this letter we can retain a high level of discourse, and yet provide the details Albertans need, want and expect.
I am writing in this open format as many were unable to attend the meeting for a variety of reasons, and should have access to the content of the discussions, just as much as they should have access to the detailed responses. I believe this to be a perfect opportunity for you to connect more directly with the concerns expressed by residents, and therefore improve the level of communication with your open responses.
The format of the questions attached provide synopses of those expressed at the July 18 Information Night, the answers provided that same night, and the remaining detail High River residents in particular are looking for. It is my hope, as a partner in communication, you respond in a similarly open fashion. Should you do so, I would be very happy to share as publicly as possible on your behalf the responses you provide.
It should be noted that none of the questions attached refer to how the flood was managed, although it was a significant theme brought forward by High River residents during that Information Night. That would be a topic that should be assigned to an independent inquiry following the Stabilization phase of the Provincial Recovery Framework publicized earlier today. All questions below apply directly to the current stage of that Framework, the Stabilization phase.
I know you share with me a desire to help Albertans move forward following this flood. I hope you share with me a desire for improved communications, and therefore can work with me as a partner in informing Albertans with the details they need. Albertans have shown great resiliency through working in concert with each other, and I hope that working as partners in communication, we can continue that collaboration to the benefit of all Albertans.
High River Resident
CC: The Honourable Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta
Ms. Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for HighwoodThe Honourable Doug Horner, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
The Honourable Doug Griffiths, Minister of Municipal Affairs
The Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
His Worship Emile Blokland, Mayor of the Town of High River
Mr. William Munsey, President of the Alberta Party
Citizens of the Province of Alberta
Question: Regarding Flood Maps - It is obvious, particularly to High River residents, the current flood maps were out-of-date prior to the flood, are now even moreso as a result of changes to the terrain due to the flood, and in some cases inaccurate as residents expressed a history of flooding even though their property is not in any designated flood zone. Residents not only want to know their status regarding potential future Disaster Recovery Funding but also the general safety and flood-mitigative needs of their houses regardless of the occurence of disasters. We recognize that no map can necessarily be perfectly accurate, but the extent to which the inaccuracies exist is causing undue pressure on residents. What is the timeline for the updating of these maps?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, however the need for updating the maps was recognized.
Associate Minister, can you please provide a commitment to a timeline for the updating of these maps so Albertans can make informed decisions about the future of their homes?
Question: Regarding Insurance Complaints - One representative at the Flood Information Evening explained that many houses were affected by sewage as high as the second level of their houses due to the pressure the floodwaters placed on the sewage system. Some insurance companies refuse to cover damage at those levels of the houses stating “sewage that high is not possible.” This is simply one example of the many disputes residents are having with their insurance providers. If there is a dispute between a resident and their insurance company, what recourse does the resident have?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: Hire a lawyer.
Follow-Up Question: If the insurance company is found to be at fault, will the Disaster Recovery Program cover those legal costs?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: No.
Recommendation provided by a representative from the Insurance Bureau of Canada via a Tele-Town Hall hosted by Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for Highwood: For any grievance, complaint or even minor inconvenience, consumers are asked to call the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-800-377-6378.
Associate Minister, can you please commit to collaborating with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to ensure not only are insurance contracts appropriately adhered to, but that consumers are protected from insurance companies who downplay the damage caused by the effects of the flood?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Residents are ready to remediate their houses now. These residents, however, have no financial means to procure the professional services to do so. How long will residents need to wait before they have the various resources, including financial, to begin the remediation process?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as responses are likely on a case-by-case basis, and require the presence of assessors prior to allocation of funds.
Associate Minister, in order to begin the remediation process immediately, can you please make funds available to residents immediately, understanding that residents will be responsible for costs over and above what is allocated to them through the Disaster Recovery Program? If not, can you offer another solution that will expediate the process of getting funds to residents so they can remediate their homes sooner?
Question: Regarding Mortgages - Many residents are at the season where they need to renegotiate their mortgages. Some of these residents are uncertain as to the future of their homes, and therefore do not know the next step in the mortgage-renegotiation process. What course of action should these residents take?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as the panel recognized they did not have the skillset to answer the question.
Associate Minister, can you and the Alberta Government advocate on behalf of residents to the various financial institutions to temporarily stay all mortgage activity of those who are eligible for Disaster Recovery Funding so that residents can focus on making the best decisions for themselves and their property which those financial institutions have a stake in? If not, can you ensure that Disaster Recovery Funding will also cover the costs of not renegotiating mortgages in a timely fashion?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Program Loophole - For residents living in Flood Fringe or Overland Water Flow zones (according to current maps) as well as residents who were not in any designated Flood zone, yet were devastated by these most recent floods, many of them are no longer in the physical, mental and/or financial position to remain in the same premises. Some of these homes have been condemned, and therefore residents have no choice available to them but to relocate. According to the summary flowchart provided by the Disaster Recovery Program, residents in these zones are only provided assistance if they chose to remain. For residents who, due to condemned houses, health-related inability or significant financial malady are incapable of choosing to remain and have a need to relocate due to the devastating impacts of this flood, what Disaster Recovery Funding is available to them?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: None.
Associate Minister, please recognize that the criteria for Disaster Recovery Funding for individuals in Flood Fringe zones assumes residents have a choice. Can you please adjust the criteria to also provide assistance to those residents who, for their own individual circumstances, have no choice remaining, and must relocate?
Question: Regarding Floodproofing Standards - Many residents expected that with an announcement that the Government of Alberta would only provide future disaster funding in the event of another flood if homes were appropriately mitigated, that the announcement would be followed presently by a description of those floodproofing standards. They expected at the July 18, 2013 meeting to be told what those standards are. High River residents are very resourceful and well-experienced in flood recovery, so knowing those standards would have undoubtedly assisted residents in speeding up the recovery process. What are those floodproofing standards?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was that those standards are as of yet unidentified, but are likely to differ on a case-by-case basis.
Associate Minister, standards are benchmarks that all Albertans can be expected to adhere to, should not differ on a case-by-case basis, and through their very existence can help speed up the recovery process. Can you commit to providing at the very least guidelines, or preferably a document detailing floodproofing standards that can be applied across the province, and when can Albertans expect those documents to be made publicly available?
Click here to see the original letter and document.
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.