Jim Prentice is right about one thing; playing political games isn't going to get things advanced in Alberta.
But the way to solve it is not to play more political games.
He accuses the Alberta Liberals of pitting Albertans' beliefs against each other.
Then he turns around and does the same.
It's the one flaw Laurie Blakeman's private member's bill has; it talks about too much, and does pit one topic against another. If you believe GSAs should be supported, but also believe in parents rights, then Blakeman's Bill 202 isn't for you. The Wildrose ammendment is.
To be clear, Blakeman's bill is for me. I highly recommend you read my last blog to understand why, because it is also a good backgrounder for this blog. And as an Alberta Party supporter, I support good ideas, regardless of source.
Prentice wants to "show leadership and build consensus", but if his new bill, the Unwritten Bill, does all he suggests it will, he is not doing that.
Blakeman put her bill together based on principle, not based on political gamesmanship. She believes in safety for students at school in a world beyond discrimination. She believes in public education for every child, regardless of beliefs.
This is not a game for her. This is getting to the core of human rights for her.
Prentice hasn't stated what he believes, except that he thinks "the vast majority of Albertans" share the same beliefs. Well Mr. Prentice, if your party represents that vast majority, that must make me part of the minority. Can I get exempted in your new Unwritten Bill?
Prentice is putting the Unwritten Bill together for the purposes of usurping the conversation. The Unwritten Bill is touted to provide for safety for students at school in a world where discrimination is decided upon by school boards or the legal system. The Unwritten Bill is touted to give the opportunity for students to be exempted from learning certain knowledge, skills or attitudes.
Children should no have to fight for their rights. According to the Unwritten Bill, if kids are blocked from having a GSA or any other club that promotes a safe and caring learning environment, those kids must go to court. A government that sets up a system where children aren't guaranteed their rights to begin with is no representative of me.
There are two issues at play here that Prentice is ignoring and Blakeman is trying to respect.
Issue #1: MLAs bring forward motions and bills that represent the values of their constituents, most easily identified by the policies of the party they represent. This doesn't bode well for people like Kerry Towle or Ian Donovan, but it explains Blakeman's actions wonderfully.
Floor-crossing is a thorny issue, because a floor-crosser would, morally, need to provide evidence that their constituents did indeed want their MLA to cross the floor. The best evidence for such a decision would be to seek that mandate from their constituents again. Towle and Donovan, to my knowledge, have not done that.
But for Prentice to suggest that Blakeman is doing anything other than representing her constituents is ridiculous. It would be likened to a pot shouting "black kettle" while pointing at a red espresso machine.
Issue #2: It seems both the PCs and the Wildrose have no intention of offering any level of professionalism to teachers. You see, a professional teacher must adhere to a "duty ethic", much like doctors, which is roughly translated to "do no harm". Schools, by extension, must meet that same duty ethic.
Blocking knowledge amounts to harm done. This includes the differences similarities between evolution and divine creation, human sexuality, and what happens when you mix primary colours, among many other pieces of knowledge.
Blocking the development of skill amounts to harm done. This includes how to use logic to deduce, how to recognize bigotry and resolve conflict, and how to dribble a basketball, among many other skills.
Blocking the development of attitudes that will allow you to serve in your community amounts to harm done. This includes work ethic, how to respect the background of every individual (regardless of belief), and involvement in the democratic process.
So any legislation that permits the blocking of knowledge, skill or attitude development permits harm being done. Therefore teachers have no chance of remaining professional. What other aspects of teacher professionalism will the PC or Wildrose parties block?
If the Unwritten Bill is really going to give the opportunity for some kids to be exempted from certain knowledge, skills or attitudes, at what point do we bother with having a curriculum at all? Why don't we just ask the local parents what the curriculum should include? Who needs educational professionals at all?
If parents want to exclude kids from certain conversations at school, then don't use public school. Find a private school that will teach what you want it to teach. Public education must adhere to the duty ethic, and if you aren't willing to allow that to happen, find a private option.
Prentice's Unwritten Bill, if it does as it says, won't protect the rights of students. It will amount to harm being done. As I said before, every parent, teacher and student should but upset about that.
It perplexes me that a pumpkin in the place of popular Premier Prentice piques people. Perhaps the public has a pinhole perspective on political participation.
I worked on that all day.
So skip the alliteration - I really am baffled when people show indignation at the leader of the PC Party of Alberta not showing up to a forum. They have no good reason to show surprise and disappointment.
This is the norm for the Mr. Prentice. Voters should have seen it coming.
In August of 2014, he was invited to the Alberta Teachers' Association's Summer Conference. He didn't show, despite a carrot being offered to get him there. Thomas Lukaszuk got the stage, and Ric McIver at least made a token appearance. Granted, there was no pumpkin there that time.
Prentice's reward: the Premiership of Alberta.
What else could he have possibly learned? He certainly didn't learn that if you don't show up, you don't get elected. He learned that if he stayed away, he would get elected. So he did.
And a pumpkin took his place. I'll bet that pumpkin doesn't get elected.
Maybe he thought the pumpkin would represent him well at a forum sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired.
Prentice was given affirmation of that lesson learned during the PC leadership election itself. He was elected with less than half the votes cast in the 2011 leadership race, and less than one-sixth of the votes on the second ballot in 2006. Therefore he learned that if voters don't show up, he gets elected.
So what better way to get into office than to disappoint voters to the point of apathy?
He's counting on voters being thick. He might be right.
I can only guess that the indignation I see on social media suggests voters didn't see it coming, that they fully expected Prentice to show up.
Mind you, if voters really are thick, it's probably because they keep building up the callus from banging their heads against the wall.
I have hope that voters aren't that thick, though. After all, they were prepared enough for an absent Premier that they had a pumpkin ready to take his place.
So voters, if you aren't thick, then you shouldn't be surprised. And should he be elected, you shouldn't be surprised if he doesn't show up to Question Period and lets his Deputy Premier field the tough questions for him.
Sound familiar? The only thing missing from this prediction is the margarita in Palm Springs.
And, voters, if you aren't thick, then you'll understand why an absent Premier is not a good thing. And you'll vote for someone who shows up.
So who showed up ready to listen to the constituents at the Calgary Foothills forum?
I know who I'm partial to, but the point I'm trying to get across is that voters should not let themselves appear as thick; they should be well-informed, and make the best decision for themselves going forward. So check these candidates out.
I will push one bias though. I'd rather voters vote for a person, not a pumpkin.
I learned my lesson.
In 2011, I was duped. I obtained (they were free) a membership in the Liberal Party of Alberta. I voted for who I thought would be a great leader.
But all the other free members voted for Raj.
It took me too long to figure out what I'd done wrong. I even purchased a membership in the PC party. I voted for who I thought would be a great leader, not once, but twice. It was at that point I finally figured it out.
51% of the PC members, including the temporary ones, voted for Alison on the third ballot.
This is why I refuse to get involved in this "elected Premier" campaign. I have no business voting for the leader of a party I don't believe in.
That would be like me voting for the Prime Minister of Australia. Tony Abbott would not be happy, and neither would the rest of his Liberal Party.
Yet the PCs seem quite happy to hand their entire future over to people who have no vested interest in their policies or beliefs, not once (as with Alison's election), but twice (with either Jim, Tom or Ric as their carrots for the disinterested masses).
Is it because they have no policies or beliefs, and therefore don't care who steps in?
They sell (unless you run into Jim) memberships with the promise that the new members get to pick the next Premier, and that it's their civic duty to do so. What a great lie! And it's an amazing fundraiser for the PCs - $10 times even 1000 new members equals a tour bus for the first week of a provincial election.
It is not your civic duty to vote for the leader of a party you don't believe in. It's your civic duty to vote in a general election for the person you want to represent you. That's what I did in 2012.
Granted, I still didn't get who I wanted, but the Alberta Party is making great strides to change that, and I believe they will even do it in the next by-election.
Certainly, I have no interest in funding even an air freshener in the next PC campaign bus. Febreeze won't be able to cover up their issues. They will not see a single red cent from me.
So if you don't hold a PC membership, don't worry about your civic duty. If you voted in the 2012 general election, you still retain your right to complain.
But if you happen to hold one of the PC memberships, think long and hard about the value of your vote, especially if you're a "soft" PC, or not even a PC supporter at all. Keep in mind that we do this all over again in as few as 16 months, but that time you actually get to vote for a party you believe in.
Then do what you believe in. It will tell me a lot about you.
Me, I believe in voting for someone who will represent me. The PCs stopped doing that a long time ago.
I had the pleasure of watching a forum on education last night.
Scratch that. There was no forum. There was a discussion. Punctuated with humour.
We had to laugh. It was the only way to look passed the fact that two potential Premiers of Alberta skipped it.
Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver and Jim Prentice are all running for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, and therefore our next Premier.
But Lukaszuk was the only one who showed up for a forum focussing on education at the Alberta Teachers' Association Summer Conference.
Prentice and McIver were given the opportunity to come long in advance. They were given significant encouragements to come. But they didn't.
You see, they don't care about education. Not that they don't care about teachers ... they don't care about education.
You know, the second largest, and arguably the most tumultuous, portfolio in the Alberta Government? Yeah, that one. They don't care about it.
So Prentice and McIver chose to let preconceptions about their positions speak for them. So Prentice is seen as a Jeff Johnson supporter, which is not a friendly position for education. McIver is seen as a tiny Wildroser in training, with a policy on education that is very similar to theirs.
These preconceptions could be totally wrong. But we have no way of knowing.
Lukaszuk was up front and honest with me after the forum; he pandered to his audience. He mentioned how he would have preferred to have been held more to account for what he was saying (moderator Ken Chapman did a great job trying to do that, but he was a moderator, and so couldn't firmly hold his feet to the fire). A good public forum would have done that.
That being said, if he felt like he had to pander to teachers, good. Because obviously Prentice and McIver provide no hope for Alberta Education's future whatsoever.
He didn't pander enough. He didn't lay all concerns about the Taskforce on Education to rest. He didn't commit fully to public education above all else. He didn't provide actionable ways of improving revenues for the province. So while he pandered well with what his platform and party would allow, he didn't pander well enough to convince me to lend even a single red cent to his party.
Thankfully the Alberta Teachers' Association, in the absence of the other PC leadership candidates, were able to bump the opposition Education critics in their place. Kent Hehr (Liberals), Bruce McAllister (Wildrose) and Deron Bilous (NDP) all were going to come on Tuesday, but came on Monday instead. It was truly an incredible opportunity for delegates to get a clearer understanding of the differences between the parties.
Well, at least the elected ones.
If we are having so many problems with the elected parties, then we should be made aware of actionable policies of other, not-yet-elected parties. I would have liked to have seen the Alberta Party and Green Party leaders have an opportunity to share their policies.
Nonetheless, we heard from four oppositions last night. Yes, Lukaszuk is in opposition. With two PC leadership contenders who do not value education, Lukaszuk is in the minority.
When are we going to hear from a government?
To see the live tweeting from the forum at the ATA Summer Conference, check out the hashtag #atasc on Monday, August 11, 2014.
For those of you who don't know, "tatlo" is the number 3 in Tagalog.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Even though we’ve had issues including Jeff Johnson’s insertion into Alberta Education, and the calculated release of the grossly uninformed Task Force on Teacher Excellence, the reason parents should have first started freaking out was introduced to us even earlier. As one very prolific Edmonton Journal columnist calls it, this reason is/was the “Great Canadian Math Debate”.
Since Ralph Klein was Premier, every four years Education, and particularly Teachers, get attacked. Interestingly enough, it always happens to land at exactly the halfway point between elections. Two years after the 2008 election, teachers were in a battle to get the raise they were guaranteed in a province-wide agreement led by the Premier Ed Stelmach. Then as they approached election season, the government offered some concessions to Teachers in hopes that they have a short memory. Unfortunately, Teachers do. Two years after the 2012 election, again Teachers are in a battle against the government, and now the battle even includes the Official Opposition. What concessions should we expect from the government during the 2016 election that they won’t claw back in 2018? Is the Wildrose, widely viewed as the next government, any different when they have joined in the attack themselves?
The Great Math "Debate"
First, Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies expressed a concern in a poorly-worded change.org petition (I originally dismissed it based on this very issue). It was rooted in the idea that Alberta students perform poorly on international tests in mathematics. It got a little attention. Then the Wildrose adopted it for talking points, Dr. Tran-Davies got an editor to correct (although not completely) the petition, and it developed into a “debate” pressed by the Official Opposition and a couple of very outspoken media personalities. The points of the "debate"; that the Alberta Government is trying to shift all of Education to an unproven “discovery” approach and is forcing instruction to ignore “basics” in math.
"Discovery" and "debate" are in quotation marks, because in actual fact both terms are misleading. The term "discovery" means to learn something for the first time. At which point, all learning is "discovery" learning. The term we should be using is "inquiry", which is more about investigating for understanding. The term "debate" connotes dialogue. There isn't much of that happening, mostly it's just a bunch of announcements of opinions. I should note that this blog does not constitute a dialogue, and therefore doesn't contribute much to the idea of "debate" either, but when in Rome...
The myths involved in this “debate” are plentiful. The problem is, nobody is debunking them completely (although some have approached it). So here is my attempt, finally, at doing just that.
The title of “Dr.” means that you are an expert in everything.
Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies is up-front about pointing out that she is no mathematician nor teacher. I give her kudos for that. However, other mathematics professors who have joined the “debate” seem to have forgotten that they profess (which largely means research) advanced math, and are not trained in Education. That unfortunately limits the value of their input (but to be clear, does not discount their concerns). Such individuals who can be considered experts of both math and education, such as Dr. Craig Loewen of the University of Lethbridge, have had constructive input into the curriculum.
Curriculum determines the approach used to instruct math concepts.
Teachers determine the approach used to instruct math concepts. Teachers are expected to use methods that are best for the students. There is no one-size-fits-all method to teaching math, but mastery is still expected nonetheless. Curriculum only informs what is to be taught.
Teachers are being forced to ignore "the basics".
Teachers are autonomous professionals. If a teacher feels as though they are not permitted to teach the basics, they should take their issue up with Member Services at the Alberta Teachers' Association. It is up to teachers how they feel it is best to deliver the curriculum to their unique and varied students, and oftentimes this requires a differentiated approach. To say that teachers are being force to ignore the "basics" is to say teachers are not autonomous professionals. If you fear that teachers are not given that autonomy, take your issue up with the Education Minister.
PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), carried out by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, is a reliable measurement tool for the efficacy of a region’s math instruction.
Firstly, the OECD is for Economic, not Educational Cooperation and Development. This should be our first indicator that something is rotten in the state of ... well in this case, France.
Secondly, PISA is a measurement tool that uses data from different tests in different countries, and different countries report their results differently, almost in a self-selected manner. Certainly they’ll tell you it’s all the same test, but what they don’t advertise is that regions can also pick and choose various questions to be included in the test. If a country wants to improve their PISA scores, they simply need to make their math tests easier, or only have the best regions of their country participate. In Alberta’s case, our PISA score can drop simply because of the increase in our expectations of our math students, or because other countries pick only their best jurisdictions to report. Using PISA as a standardized test has the same problem as using Provincial Achievement Tests; a standardized test can't work if there are too many variables making each test subject different before you even test them. China reports only a few jurisdictions, Alberta reports the whole province. A student who grew up learning Isa, Dalawa, Tatlo writes the same Provincial Achievement Test as a student who grew up learning One, Two, Three. See the problem here?
Teachers have had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process.
Even though the world’s leading regions in education (such as Finland) ask the Alberta Teachers Association for advice, curriculum redesign has kept the ATA at arm’s length. It hasn’t been until just a few months ago (years after curriculum redevelopment started) that Minister Jeff Johnson has started listening to the ATA and considerably relaxed his deadlines and expectations for the completion of the curriculum redesign and its implementation. Had teachers had meaningful input into the curriculum redesign process, you would have seen a much larger emphasis on professional development to prepare teachers for the new curriculum.
The Western and Northern Canadian Protocol (WNCP) predetermines the direction education will take, so consultation with the public is merely a smoke screen.
The WCNP is simply an organization of collaboration, not of predetermination. For that matter, if the WNCP were in fact predetermining education, then we should also see scores from the Yukon, NWT, Saskatchewan and Manitoba plunge, and that is not the case. There is ample evidence showing that results from public consultations have been considered in the curriculum redesign process.
With the introduction of Student Learning Assessments (SLAs), grades will disappear, and so will accountability.
SLAs are completed at the beginning of the year. They are to be used by teachers to guide their instruction. Grading strategies for the remainder of the year are determined by the School Board, various curricular departments within the board, School Administration and finally teachers, in that order. If a school chooses not to use grades, it is not because it is mandated as such from the government. Furthermore, any assessment strategy employed by a teacher should show that each student matches the SLA at the beginning of the year, and show a trend for the student of either maintaining or improving their understanding of the curricular concepts. Any student who shows evidence of a reduction in performance should also have documentation to indicate what strategies were used to address that reduction, and should also show evidence of subsequent improvement following those strategies. All this documentation exists, teachers are required to do it. Accountability is not a concern here.
David Staples provides no useful feedback.
David Staples shows a bias because that is his job. He is very good at his job, somehow finding justification for writing 42 columns on this supposed “debate”. In fact, many people across Canada are now equating his name with this whole "debate". This is the time of stardom a columnist dreams of, so to maintain this high-profile status that sells his column, he must write prolifically. And write he does. His viewpoints are based on the idea that “basic math” is needed for every child.
Personal anecdote; when I was learning math, I didn’t not learn it because I could memorize things. My father, in fact, taught me math using a very “discovery”, or rather an "inquiry" approach. This was 20 years ago. So to go back to “the way we used to do it” might just mean going back to “discovery” ... *ahem* ... "inquiry".
Nonetheless, Mr. Staples does provide an insight that allows us to identify issues that require rectifying. Taken with a grain of salt, it can be very useful. But make sure you take it with a grain of salt, because much like the first myth debunked, a columnist does not a journalist make; see Joe Bower for more discussion on this thought.
The Wildrose are representing the concerns of all Albertans in this "debate".
The Wildrose, rather than representing concerns, are telling Albertans what to be concerned about. In a telephone town hall that I can only describe as a “push poll”, the majority of individuals whose questions were aired were those that were speaking against teachers, math instruction, or curriculum redesign. Of 15 questioners that I noted, 1 educational aide got through long enough to praise teachers on their balanced instruction, 1 parent got through to do the same, and no teachers were aired. When I pressed them about how they chose which questions got through, it became evident that their town hall had not only self-selected data, but also inaccurate data. They couldn’t even find the question I had asked.
That question was “Danielle, when a parent comes to you expressing concern, do you ask first if they have approached their child’s teacher, and if they haven’t, do you direct them there?” I have never received a follow-up as they promised in the teletownpushpollhall.
You know what seems odd to me? Numbers that aren't divisible by two.
Being an Education Critic makes you an Education Expert.
The Wildrose are seemingly unware of the fact that they are arguing about one thing when the issue is something completely different; similar to arguing about how clouds are formed when the discussion is actually about acid rain. The Wildrose are caught in a problem in that they confuse the “what” of teaching with the “how” of teaching. For example, if you need to transport oil, there are many ways you can do it. You can pipe it, drive it, put it on a train, break it down into other products that are easier to consume like gasoline and ethanol, etc. So if you don’t want the oil on a train, what should you do?
By Wildrose logic, don’t use oil, use canola instead.
Certainly that would change the transport options, and moving to “greener” solutions is a noble goal, but we would lose all the value that exists in oil.
Curriculum defines “what” teachers are expected to impart to students, not “how”. Certainly “how” to teach something depends on what is being taught, but if parents are displeased with “how” teachers teach, asking them to try a different “how” makes far more sense than trying a different “what”.
In a meeting with Wildrose Education Critic Bruce McAllister and Leader Danielle Smith, I was told that they believe strongly in a “return to teaching the basics.” At first that sounds like a “what” item. But when they explain what they think the basics are, they suggest things like memorizing times tables, methods of long division, vertical addition and formula memorization. These are not the “what”, but rather the “how”. As I’ve learned, there are more than a few ways to skin a fish.
When I asked them how they know what the basics were, the response from Ms. Smith was “the easiest way for a student to learn.” Again, a “how”. My response and question was “what if the easiest way for a student to learn divisibility by 9 is by summing up the digits, not memorizing the times table?”
The two seconds of stunned silence was telling. So was the response from Mr. McAllister when it finally came; “we’re just going to have to agree to disagree on this.”
So we did.
I’m not saying don’t change curriculum, because in many cases a good curriculum update and overhaul is well overdue. I’m saying if you want to change the “how”, go to the person who actually make those decisions; go to the teacher.
However, who would want to go to a teacher now to discuss their child’s successes in school? After all, we are self-serving people who care more about our own then your children. But don’t worry, government has your back. They will ensure, from their offices in downtown Edmonton, that your child’s classroom is perfectly managed, and that teachers have so much oversight as to not have to think for themselves, or for your child, anymore. The government knows best.
And just in case you thought that was only a PC government, allow me to correct that misconception. Jeff Johnson believes the ATA cannot manage their own, which is why he has claimed himself savior of our discipline process. However, the Wildrose’s Rob Anderson jumped on the Johnson bandwagon. So, if the political pundits are correct and the blue and orange banners are replaced with green and pink ones in 2016, don’t expect any change to how they approach Education.
The only way to avoid that is to have an alternative. Kent Hehr had a dream of being a teacher cut short, but his passion cannot be ignored. Deron Bilous has been a teacher, so understands the profession. The Alberta Party is currently working on its Education Policy among other policies, soliciting input from all stakeholders. Ask each of these people about the Great Math "Debate", you will find a hugely different response than the one in the media.
Parents should be freaking out right about now. Regardless of which of the conservative parties take power in 2016, it won’t be professional educators making decisions about Education. It will be some elected official whose only adult experience in our schools was either delivering a Xerox machine, broadcasting a special interest segment on a morning news show, or spending 10 months bickering instead of running a school board.
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.
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!
It's similar to "liking" your own Facebook status, or laughing at your own joke, when nobody else does.
The High River Times printed in yesterday's paper an article about the Alberta Liberals efforts in touting their new brand, or wordmark, or whatever they wish to call it. It stated that people (all 30 of them that came out to hear about it) were generally pleased with the brand. Had they known how the green logo came about, they would likely change their viewpoint to match that of a number of Alberta Liberal Party insiders.
Jody MacPherson, former Alberta Liberal Party VP of Communications and President, raised the alarm over how grassroots the organization truly was. In the same Executive meeting the logo was endorsed, the decision to not cooperate with other political parties was made, contrary to the wishes of the general membership of the party.
Alex MacDonald, an Alberta Liberal policy wonk, explained to a number of Twitter followers, including blogger Dave Cournoyer that the new brand was not focus-group tested. It was just the brainchild of the Executive, who approved it quickly like a fashion model giddy with a new Versace.
And the President, Gerald McEachern, touts the party's grassroots and transparent nature?
A party whose Executive flouts the wishes of the general membership, and then does a massive rebranding without public consultation sounds neither transparent nor grassroots to me.
And with the backdoor decisions made by the PCs of late, we know that we can't expect transparent, accountable grassroots policy from them.
The Wildrose and the Alberta Party are the only two parties who can truly lay claim to representing average Albertans; the Wildrose from within its party membership, and the Alberta Party through its Big Listens. There are some fundamental differences in how the two groups work, but they both develop their viewpoints from a grassroots base.
If the people of Highwood are to truly value grassroots politics, I hope they seriously consider where examples of grassroots actually exist. Explore the Wildrose and the Alberta Party, and support the party that best represents your views.
And I would be happy to answer questions about the Alberta Party.