The latest in the long line of Ministers of Municipal Affairs is perfectly positioned politically to connect with this conservative constituency. But it’s going to take more than announcements to truly connect. If there is to be a redeemer for this infamous ministerial position, it might just be Danielle Larivee.
Larivee, recently minted Minister of Municipal Affairs, becomes the sixth Minister of Municipal Affairs since the 2013 Floods, and the latest to inherit the DRP Disaster. That is a new boss every 4.5 months, or 19 weeks. Marginally longer than the average probationary period for a job at Tim Horton's.
Newly appointed Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee, who made an announcement in High River this morning about fixing the many issues still unresolved after the 2013 Floods, stands to the right of Premier Rachel Notley. On Notley's left is the most recent victim of the infamous ministerial position, Deron Bilous.
Following the provincial election in the spring we were expecting the NDP to appoint a saviour for the flood victims who would oversee DRP’s repairs and the completion of mitigation projects. Apparently the title Minister of Municipal Affairs is filled with bad joo joo, and Deron Bilous was shifted out of the job, just like his four predecessors.
It’s this premonition I am most worried about. Thankfully Minister Larivee is actively combatting those bad omens.
Today she announced $30 million in funding for the various mitigation projects on the Highwood River, the most significant of which is the southwest berm, a project High River Mayor Craig Snodgrass has deemed of the utmost importance. In addition, she has also committed to studying upstream and downstream mitigation to prevent further disasters. The Deltares reports have been used to reaffirm that diversion is not the best option, and represents a good decision and initiative started by the previous PC Government.
Minister Larivee has also stated a number of fixes to the DRP program. One of those fixes was that every file that was paid a little too much (likely from the 90% advance promised by Jim Prentice) will be able to keep that money if it was under $5000. For those who were given over $5000 too much, other arrangements need to be made. Larivee also said she was looking for complete closure of all DRP files by June 20, 2016. She indicated that DRP will take “a proactive approach to establishing contact with” the people whose files have remained inactive, likely because the applicant isn’t calling the province back. There are plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t call the province back, all of them legitimate, so it is great to hear that the government will seek them out rather than waiting for contact themselves. This should also allay fears that DRP will close files prematurely, and show care, consideration and compassion for the remaining applicants.
Much of this is good news. It means her hands are on the files, and she is actively seeking completion in this area of her ministry. I feel the need to apply a bit of pressure, as she is after all the sixth person tasked with this. To be clear, after having talked with Minister Larivee briefly, she is very aware that nobody wants yet another person in charge, and she wants to be the one to finish the job. That in and of itself is a huge plus, and if she gets it done, she could be considered the redeemer of that infamous ministerial position's bad joo joo.
The pressure has to be on three issues.
Time will tell how serious Minister Larivee is about getting this job done. The metric to be watching for is how hands-on she remains. Her predecessor didn’t. Maybe Larivee can rebuild some bridges, both literally and figuratively, and while she’s at it, make connections between the NDP Government and people out here in conservative country.
We want to trust our government. We need a reason to. Minister Larivee is perfectly positioned to give us that reason. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs is in big need of redeeming. So I’m watching.
And I’m hoping.
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.
Last week the Okotoks Town Council began the process of acquiring the Wedderburn land on the north end of town across from Holy Trinity Academy and the St. James Catholic Church. They want this to be an educational, recreational and cultural facility for the community.
Council has made it easy on the NDP in Alberta. In particular one man, David Eggen.
Eggen is the Minister of Education as well as the Minister of Culture and Tourism. In one decision, Council set the scene for Eggen to make his mark in our region.
10 days ago I sat in an audience listening to Eggen speak to a conference of teachers who all gave up their summer time for the teaching profession. At that conference, Eggen told us that he had “found” funding for all 232 school infrastructure projects the former PC Government had announced.
Two things on that; first I must never forget that the PCs were in the habit of announcing and never providing all in an effort to save their own political skin. The former Education Minister is a perfect example of that.
Second, missing from Eggen’s announcement was how much he was banking on future generations to pay for it. He did say that the NDP were not borrowing for operations, but 232 infrastructure projects aren’t operational projects, they’re capital projects.
So I pulled him aside afterward (he was in a major rush to move on, but to be clear it was obvious he’d rather stay and have a depth of discussion). We had 60 seconds, but in that 60 seconds we covered a swath. The first thing he said to me was that he had to borrow through the nose to get that money.
That made the fiscal conservative in me cringe. I asked him if he really was willing to fund 232 projects that might not fit his philosophy. That peaked his attention.
“Mr. Eggen, there are school projects approved to be built outside of the communities, sometimes as far as 10 minutes outside of communities. And you just funded them.”
At that he asked for an example, and I gave him the planned school near Aldersyde which is to serve Okotoks students. I told him it is in an industrial area, it has inadequate infrastructure for traffic, which will also impact the 10-minute response time the closest firehall will have. He balked at the idea, and asked me to contact him with more details. That was the first 40 seconds. The last 20 are for another blog.
So here are the details. Okotoks has no water. It can’t get a commitment on water. As a result it can’t develop, and that includes schools. Yet its 26,000 residents keep having babies. So the Foothills School Division starts looking. It finds space in the open arms of the M.D. of Foothills by the Legacy Fieldhouse.
This would be the third school project designed to be built outside the Okotoks community. Davisburg has two schools, one in each school division, and while it could be argued that they serve a different community, that is prime agricultural land that has been eroded to form dots of acreages all over the countryside. Further, is some instances busses are covering or expected to cover areas on the outskirts of Okotoks. Much like a crosswalk, the lines separating Okotoks from M.D. do not stop cars, and those people are just as much Okotokians as on the other side of the road.
One outlier is an anomaly. Two raises an eyebrow. Three is a trend. The trend to break up communities is beginning to show. This is a trend toward shipping students out of a community, and away from the concept of schools as community hubs. It's a trend to put so much space between neighbours that they no longer need to talk to each other. So Minister Eggen needs to either agree with this trend the PCs set for him, or stamp it out. But if he stamped it out, where would this new school go?
Here comes the Okotoks Town Council to save the day!
Not only did they find a site, but they seem to be appealing to both Eggen’s portfolios. As Minister of Education, he should be thrilled there is now a site that would be basically inside town (remember, those town borders do not a blockade make). He should further be thrilled with the idea of a cultural space adjacent to it. It meets the philosophy of kids staying in the community they live in, and studying in a place that is a community hub.
So what’s the problem? One minor hurdle is that the M.D. needs to agree. That should be a minor issue, but there are some political issues at play that make it a slight challenge. Another is our Wildrose MLA; will he be more interested in the fact that money is being borrowed to build this school, something that is completely anti-Wildrose, or will he see the necessity of having kids go to school in town and give Eggen a thumbs-up? My feel of the current Wildrose opposition is it’s the same as the old one; opposition for opposition’s sake.
Those aren’t the deciding issues, though. Its whether or not Eggen has the political will to stop something he’s already funded. Its whether or not Eggen is just trying to tie up the PCs loose ends, or if he intends on righting the ship. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to stand for something. Its whether or not Eggen is willing to make a stand now, because the Foothills School Division cannot wait for a school for five years. They need it now.
I’d like to think he is. But the ball isn’t in my court, it’s in his.
Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants students to go to school in their communities, and not be bussed out. Your Alberta Party representative in Highwood wants schools to be community hubs. Your Alberta Party representative is giving the Okotoks Town Council a big fist pump.
So I call on the Alberta NDP Government, namely Minister Eggen, to endorse this shift to a school community hub, and to help Okotoks get the land to make it happen and quickly. After that, perhaps Minister Eggen should review all the school projects he just funded, and where construction or the tendering process hasn’t already commenced, review if they meet his philosophy of what schools should be. I’d suspect that he might find more than one that doesn’t meet his standards.
While he does, he should tell us how much we’re paying for it. Or rather, tell us how much the next generations will be paying for it. I won’t necessarily be opposing, but I want to hear the NDP plan for making it easier for the next generations to cover the tab. So far I haven’t heard it.
Oh, and I hope that while Eggen is talking about the need for this school that he also talks about why this issue came up in the first place, and help Okotoks get a commitment for the Water For Life program.
Kudos to the Okotoks Town Council for their progressive thinking. It’s time for everyone to get back to building community.
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.
This weekend I was in Didsbury helping move picnic tables, water tanks buildings, fences, flags and signs from one side of a quarter section to another to set up a park. This park will be a beautiful place for an Arts Festival in just over a month.
When it came to the fence posts and wire, my wife and I would load them into the back of the truck, drive them to the destination, and unload them where they needed to be. Then the fence was installed immediately. Likewise with the picnic tables and water tanks, they were delivered to their destination.
What we didn’t do was load the picnic tables, unload them at a neighbour’s place for storage, reload them later in the month using a different truck, and deliver them later. We got it all done at once.
Why on earth would we do that? Unless we were watching the companies building school portables, we would never even consider that strategy.
Not even a half mile away from that park site we were setting up is an industrial park where at least 30 school portables are sitting. They aren’t being built on that site, just stored. In fact, they were built in a facility outside Crossfield. That facility also has a large cache of school portables. Stored.
Also, if you look in the back field of Notre Dame Collegiate in High River, it seems as though that is now a storage facility for school portables as well. And at Senator Riley school in High River two portables remain unused, and have been unused and ready for transport for nearly 18 months. Stored.
They are not attached to schools, who reopen to students for another school year in under four weeks. By my simpleton calculations, in order for each of these portables to be delivered and installed in time, Alberta Education would have to install 5 portables each day with no weekends off. Somehow, I doubt that, but anything is possible.
Meanwhile, school portables are being stored, and not always appropriately. The company storing portables at the Didsbury site are not meeting their development permit obligations. It looks like a dump. And I can’t imagine Alberta Education wants empty school portables with wires, nails and other dangerous materials stored in the back field of an existing populated school, either.
ABOVE LEFT: The first lot outside of Didsbury jam packed with school portables. They have so many stored there they needed another lot.
ABOVE RIGHT: The second lot outside of Didsbury. Note the perfectly good truck for transporting portables that sits unloaded, the landscape feature that is supposed to provide a screen, and the missing 12-metre abuttment from the edge of the property.
UPDATE: As this blog was being written, portables were loaded onto a truck, moved to a different part of the property, and dropped there instead.
But here’s the kicker; according to WREM ICI Ltd., one of the companies building the modulars, those portables have to be stored until someone else picks them up (see page 10). They have their own trucks to move the buildings around, but apparently those trucks are not good enough to actually deliver the portables to the schools themselves. School boards are contracting other companies to deliver the buildings.
So even though the buildings are already on a truck, that truck will not be delivering the buildings to the schools. Schools will remain crowded. And when the school board can finally get the building delivered, students will already be in session, so the school site also becomes an active construction site. From experience I can tell you that is not a wise idea, just considering the safety of the kids.
Almost a year ago it was reported that modulars were not being delivered as a result of delays in getting permits, but nobody was willing to accept the responsibility for it.
Well, it’s time for someone to take responsibility. And now the responsibility falls to the Alberta NDP Government. One great way to ensure Albertans are not concerned about how the NDP is spending money is to make sure we don’t when we don’t need to. Offloading a school portable from one truck to another is one way to make sure we spend money when we don’t need to. And for a party who suggests they value education to the extent they do, they sure are putting a few things at risk.
School portables should not be dumped at storage sites. They should be installed, ready to house the future.
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 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