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.
Residents of the Hampton Hills in High River continue to be victimized, but not just by flood waters or sewage backup, but by the Alberta Government.
17 months ago, I attended a meeting in a small room with a number of residents from that neighbourhood and others from the nearby Sunrise community to discuss their ongoing issues with flood recovery with MLA Danielle Smith.
Smith then said that the government needed to fix this, and they need to get it done right. They simply haven’t, and Albertans are now suffering through yet another loss.
The homes regrew mould, only a year after the Alberta Government spent $45 million on a contract with Tervita to remediate them, among other things. Now many are being torn down, and those that aren’t are left with vacant lots dotting their neighbourhood.
It’s not Tervita’s fault. They were placed in a no-win situation. The onus is on the Alberta Government to help these people the first time, and they didn’t.
10 days ago, Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark called on Premier Jim Prentice to show leadership and take an active role to resolve DRP claims. I'm glad to see Prentice answer that call as he makes his way to High River to discuss the issues with that town’s Disaster Recovery Program Advocacy Committee.
But simply resolving claims might not be enough, especially when resolved claims seem to be inadequate, so much so that people keep going back to appeals. These people have been victimized time and time again by the Alberta Government. Mr. Prentice must show he values Albertans and their contributions, and correct the wrongs this PC government has caused.
I'm calling on Prentice to put Albertans first, especially these less fortunate, and provide them with adequate compensation to return to a life of normalcy. This meeting with the DRP Advocacy Committee this weekend, along with Municipal Affairs representatives and PC MLA Danielle Smith is a perfect opportunity to get this done right.
Smith has been having "high level" meetings about this, apparently. What the product of those meetings will be is yet to be seen. However, she had a high-profile meeting 17 months ago, complete with cameras and reporters. She heard these concerns, and even then residents knew that these homes should not be remediated. They should have been razed. I know this, because I was there. If her high-profile meetings didn't produce fruit, why should we expect her high level meetings to be any different?
Any movement forward has been at the hands of volunteers on the DRP Advocacy Committee in High River. We must also acknowledge the hard work and effort to bring awareness to these issues by the Disaster Recovery Program Advocacy Committee, and I strongly believe they already know the best method forward.
The fact that a committee was required to intervene on behalf of people dealing with DRP is disturbing, but these committee members have done an amazing job at keeping the awareness up, and the hope alive. No other representative, even our MLA, has been able to do that.
So now it falls to Mr. Prentice to listen to these advocates. Solutions are possible, but as has been said by many others, "it's going to take some political will to do it."
I expect that when Prentice meets with the committee this weekend, he will have to make some politically difficult decisions about how to help these residents and others in limbo with the DRP process move forward. Decisions that the PCs have avoided for 17 months.
These decisions would show a will to help the least fortunate Albertans, so he must make them, and he must make them now. Only then can these residents truly recover.
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.
Yesterday, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta's leader, our unelected Premier, announced a plan to invest $2 billion in school construction projects over the next ten years.
If we ignore the fact that many of the projects announced were already announced once, in some cases twice, I mean thrice, and cancelled or postponed at least as many times, then this is good news.
If we don't ignore that fact, then it's still just wind on a brick wall. The PC's may huff and puff, but in the end, there wasn't a school to blow down.
But let's look positively at this announcement for a second. Finally, there is a plan to construct the space that we need for our growing population. Hopefully each school is going where 10-years-in-the-future Alberta needs it.
But there is something missing in the announcement; the explanation that the PCs are actually using binary math to calculate the real cost.
You see, $2 billion actually equals $10 billion.
(For those who don't understand binary, check my addendum at the bottom for an explanation)
Let me explain why $10 billion in particular, though.
You see, the $2 billion simply announces the construction of 230 empty buildings/modernizations. It costs a great deal more to actual turn those buildings into service centres of education. It takes lots of people (teachers and support staff), resources (textbooks, computers, etc.) and services (electricity, heating, internet, etc.) to operate them.
Alberta's operating budget for Education in 2014 is approximately $6.75 billion. If the province is building an additional 230 schools, that means they'll be adding approximately 10.5% of the current number of schools. Logic then dictates that it would require an additional 10.5% of the current operating budget to make these schools work. That would be an additional $710 million required in the operating budget.
Don't forget, the plan is to take place over the next ten years. That's $7.1 billion extra not currently included in the budget. Account for inflation, and suddenly that $2 billion promise ends up adding to over $10 billion.
Would the expected increase in population by 1 million help take care of that burden? Perhaps. Is the above example a little simplistic? Perhaps. However, it makes clear that simply building schools requires far more commitment than the PCs have undertaken.
You see, each Albertan would have to pay more taxes to cover that commitment. In order to fund healthcare and other social services to similar levels and similar growth while covering this commitment, the PCs would have to increase taxes by about 2%. That doesn't sound like much, until you hear that such an increase would be the difference between an average of about $10,000 being increased to $11,000. For those on a living wage, $1,000 is a lot of money.
Keep in mind, those simplistic calculations are only representative if every Albertan pays taxes. Don't forget, our kids don't really pay taxes, so the taxes have to be distributed over fewer Albertans.
But such an increase wasn't included in the announcement. Nor was discussion on changing how we collect royalty income from primary resources. Nor was there any announcement of some new magical income source for the province (mind you, we are in a by-election, and the PCs love announcements, it could come any day now).
So even if I am optimistic, and truly believe the schools would be built under a PC government, I have no clue how they plan on paying for the buildings and the stuff to go in them.
Thank goodness I'm optimistic about something else; an Alberta Government operated by someone other than the PCs.
Which leads me to the Wildrose Party, as they are the heavy favourites to form the next government. I am reminded of an announcement they made recently about Education. Actually, come to think of it, it was less than a week before the PC's announcement. It's value ... $2 billion dollars. Announced during a by-election.
Is there an echo in here?
As for the costing of this brilliant plan (I say brilliant, because it really is a good idea to inject that money into Education, regardless of who has the idea), again we are lacking in details. The timeline is more aggressive than the PC timeline, going for four years instead of ten. That means their $2 billion announcement becomes only a $5 billion commitment with the operating costs included.
But in four years, we aren't expected to have 1 million new Albertans. We're expected to have more around 400,000 new Albertans. That means more of a burden would be downloaded to Albertan taxpayers. Except that the Wildrose are adamant that taxes not be changed, so they have to find the money elsewhere. I'm not the first to realize this, Luke Fevin pointed it out clearly after the Wildrose release.
I think putting $2 billion into building schools is brilliant, regardless of who actually enacts it, and especially if they are placed in such a way as to encourage the development of communities. I think the commitment to operating these empty buildings should be expressed, and so far it hasn't.
So now I must express my optimistic frustration. I know a party who not only has a plan to fix the infrastructure crisis in Education, but has that plan costed, as well. However, that party hasn't had the opportunity to have that plan brought forth to their membership, and so hasn't been able to publicize it the way they want, which is hard for me as someone who has worked on it. So I have to rely on "just trust me, they have a plan, and it includes how to pay for it." Knowing that plan exists has me very optimistic, but knowing how hard it is for people to trust politicians, especially those who just say "just trust me", has me very frustrated.
So let me put it this way. You know what you'll get from the PCs. The Wildrose have explained their position as well, yet it still lacks the detail necessary to trust it.
You might not know Greg Clark or the Alberta Party yet. But at the very least, I hope you're optimistic.
BINARY EXPLANATION: By referencing binary, I probably just geeked myself out a bit. Computers, who work in binary, only work with OFFs or ONs, Trues or Falses, represented as zeros and ones. In order to represent something else, you have to combine zeros and ones, so binary systems use 10 to represent the number two)
I spoke to a former PC supporter recently who voted for the new Premier. I've also read a blog by a PC supporter as well. Both indicated that the new Premier has given them hope that the PC party can lead the province again. These responses, only two weeks into Jim Prentice's Premiership, lead me to ask the question;
Do you like fishing with knots and kinks in your line?
Me, I'd prefer to fish with a good straight line. I have a better chance of getting the job done without the line breaking ... again.
Make no mistake, anyone who believes in the PC party's ability to govern is fishing with knots in their line. And there are a lot of knots.
Prentice was silent in his first week as Premier. He spent that entire week loosening knots so that he could unravel them in public in his second week, as a way of saying "look, I'm fixing things!"
But a trust is broken. The line is kinked. That makes the line weak. And Alberta is a big fish.
Not only that, but he has ignored some fairly significant knots that remain, and have no glimmer of hope that they be untied.
The Disaster Recovery Program, or DRP (which in flood-affected communities is now a three-letter swear word) is not even on Prentice's radar. He mentioned nothing of it to Diana McQueen, who is now the fourth minister in 14 months to be in charge of the program. The program is in shambles, and hundreds of people still remain displaced from their homes.
It was one place former Premier Alison Redford tried to keep the line straight, by telling flood victims that they would be helped to full recovery. Then other ministers like Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, and lastly Greg Weadick tied it into the DRP knot. And this isn't just some shoe-tying knot, this is a Gordian knot, and Prentice is no Alexander the Great.
Another knot made bigger since the 2012 election was patronage appointments. Starting with Evan Berger, who was ousted in the last election but given a sweet management position in the Agriculture Ministry, this knot was made bigger by the appointments of Stephen Mandel in Health and Gordon Dirks in Education. Nothing suggests that Mandel and Dirks can't do a good job, it's just that no Albertan chose them. Prentice might be able to untie the patronage knot, but that kink will always be in the PC line, making voters wonder if they just can't see the trough for the pigs.
A kink sits where the government aircraft knot once sat. Just because government officials can't take advantage of planes anymore doesn't mean there aren't other ways. That kink can still knot up again, but it might not be airplanes doing it.
The entire Education portfolio is tied up in knot after knot. Former Education Minister Jeff Johnson started by bargaining in bad faith (knot 1), compromising teachers' private emails (knot 2), legislating instead of negotiating (knot 3), trumpeting an uninformed taskforce on teaching excellence (knot 4), usurping teacher conduct review unnecessarily (knot 5), and attempting to force Boards to provide information that had no chance of being compiled properly (knot 6).
Prentice had a chance to start loosening these knots back in August at a gathering of some of the most influential teachers in the province. He skipped it. Instead, he appointed someone nobody had the opportunity to speak to about Education. To teachers, that equates to appointing someone with no intention of listening. Teachers will say they hope that's not the case, but they have no proof. Not only that, but Jeff Johnson was given another portfolio, but rather than the defenceless youth, now he's in charge of the defenceless seniors.
Prentice also made an attempt at untying a knot when he announced the opening of four starter schools in Calgary. But have you ever tried to untie a knot using mittens? That is in effect what he's doing when he builds makeshift schools with no gyms, libraries, music rooms or other specialty spaces. Taxpayer dollars will be spent on sub-par temporary buildings that will direct resources away from the permanent facilities that are meant to replace them. That's like using 4-pound test line to fish for tuna ... after dark.
Am I taking the metaphor too far when I say schools of fish will never be caught with this tangled line?Albertans need a hook. Albertans need a straight line. And Albertans need a strong angler to reel us in.
The PCs have no hook. Their line is so kinked and knotted it looks like it's been braided by a four-year-old. And Prentice is no fisherman.
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.
If you haven't read it, read my first blog on the topic for some back story.
Teachers are influential people. Just ask Ric McIver.
After an impromptu twitter campaign to blast Ric McIver and Jim Prentice for not showing up to the Alberta Teachers' Association Summer Conference for a PC Leadership Forum, McIver caved in. That's the best way I can describe it.
Prentice didn't. He held strong in his unspoken position that he doesn't value education. With Jeff Johnson in his court, the writing was already on the wall.
On the last possible day of the best opportunity to engage with teachers, McIver snuck out to have breakfast. Great timing, you know, because then teachers have their mouths full and can't berate him for not showing up.
Now context is important here. The forum on the Monday night was attended by every teacher at the Summer Conference. Every. Teacher. These are the most influential teachers in the profession, the hyper-engaged, the extremely well-informed, the movers and shakers.
The Friday morning breakfast was held in the on-campus restaurant. 8 people at a time, and only if they stayed on campus.
Unless of course you're ridiculously hyper-engaged like me, and even if you stay off campus and stay up enjoying life with teachers until 2 AM, you still come in to eat the $20 breakfast just to see what this McIver fellow has to offer.
I inserted myself into the first table McIver was at in the morning. McIver got to 4 tables.
For those of you who are good at the basics, 8 people per table, times 4 tables, less the seat taken by your staffer at each table ...
Yup, less than 10% of the teachers there who were ready to be engaged. 10% of the most influential of the most influential in Alberta Education. That's not even 1/1000th of the teachers in Alberta.
And he didn't even have a good showing. He didn't even offer platitudes. He made himself look like he was listening, using the Stephen Covey "seek to understand before being understood" approach, but he never approached depth of discussion. Not once.
A friend asked if I'd live-tweet the conversation. I tried, I really did, but in order to tweet effectively, one must have some substance, some form of content, to tweet.
And the iPad in one's hands as opposed to a fork and knife.
There was, however, a pretty telling moment in the conversation. Another new friend of mine who I sat with numerous times throughout the week asked a lovely question, "what is your take on curriculum changes in Alberta".
Ric McIver's response: "Well, I'll to you what, I'm not going to tell you how to teach, and that is what the taskforce got wrong ..."
Lost? So was I, although I could have been confused for having just taken a bite of particularly grissly sausage.
It was like he didn't know what talking points to use.
Mr. McIver, first of all, curriculum has nothing to do with how to teach. Read my blog on that.
Secondly, the Taskforce on Teaching Excellence had nothing to do with either item. To learn more about the taskforce, read my blog on that.
I know he won't read them. He admitted to us at the table that he doesn't read everything that he should with regards to education.
Again, the second largest, and arguably the most tumultuous, portfolio in the Alberta Government is the one he doesn't care about.
Education is not an afterthought. It is the cornerstone of our future.
And if Ric McIver thinks that coffee is going to cut it, he's dead wrong. As for not making promises one can't keep, that does not justify making no promises at all.
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.
There has been a great deal of good news coming from High River. Our presence has never been more noticeable at the Calgary Stampede, what with our float getting so much coverage and awards, and a chuckwagon with our logo on the side running every night. Shortly a book will be released sharing some of the stories of the flood; stories of immense challenge balanced with unyielding persistence and survival.
If that were only the way it really was. For many High Riverites, the nightmare doesn't ever end.
Recall Richard Murray, given full approval to remediate his basement, only to have that approval swiped away from him after he sunk every last dollar he had into it. With three separate Associate Ministers managing the portfolio, all answering to three different Municipal Affairs Ministers in the past year, it's no wonder the DRP changed multiple times. The process stole his home from him as a result, and now he is no longer a resident of Alberta.
Introducing Jim Morgan, owner of a small business in High River, and a passionate High Riverite. His Facebook and Twitter feeds are a treasure trove of one-liners and insightful knee-slappers mixed with musings about the awesomeness in High River. He is known for his positivity.
Except when the Disaster Recovery Program, the system whose primary purpose was to help people get back to what they once were, offered him $702 to cover the costs of all things lost in his business. They demanded 350 photos, reams of itemized lists of things lost, and even 3 years of business statements, only to tell him that they were covering half of the labour for cleaning his business. Why only half? Because DRP expects insurance to cover the rest. Morgan is being shirked by insurance as well. Again, as I have asked for from the very beginning, where is the event-specific ombudsman that would have negotiated these nebulous lines?
Introducing D and L, High River residents who have not spent a single night at home for 13 months. Their full names are not shared because they don't want anything jeopardizing their work with the DRP. DRP is not offering them even a fraction of the cost to remediate their homes, because they determine whether or not the home is in flood fringe or floodway based on the elevation of their front door - not their walkout basement. Their walkout basement is clearly in floodway (and as Jim Morgan explained in the Facebook post listed above, that should never have been allowed to happen, but because it did, Government now needs to deal with it), yet this tiny piece of fine print the DRP has arbitrarily decided to create is preventing the Sundby's from affording to live at home. They hold out, hoping to move back to the town they love soon.
Interestingly, the government is still using outdated maps for determining where floodplains are. Observe the two maps below. The first was the one I demonstrated shortly after the flood as grotesquely out of date.
The second is what is currently posted by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The changes are only in roadways and town boundaries. When we asked for updated flood maps, we didn't ask for something Google could produce for us; the floodplains were supposed to be updated long ago and they haven't been.
By the way, if you are a Cardston resident or business owner who got flooded this year, do everything possible to get your recovery assistance to ignore flood maps, because your maps are horribly inaccurate as well.
If it's not changing leadership, confusion with insurance, or maps, what other reasons could there be for people to be denied DRP funding? Introducing Chuck Shifflett, High River luthier. As a single example in his saga with DRP, he was told that his heritage home needed to have the foundation completely fixed, and to mitigate against future floods they even raised it two feet. Then DRP chose not to reimburse him for his foresight or care for parts of our heritage. The reason: the house is too old.
If these four people were in the buyout territories known as floodway, they would have cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 million. They aren't looking for buyouts, so really their combined costs are actually half that, if not even lower. Still sounds like a lot, right? So if the government is saving that money by not giving it to the homeless and businessless, where is all this money going?
To golf courses. $18 million that will fix a golf course that will likely be damaged again in the next high rainfall event.
They say it is to help encourage the tourist economy in that area of the province. What they didn't divulge is the link to another Progressive Conservative party sole-sourced contract to PC friends.
But let's look passed that little nugget for a moment and consider the 150 jobs lost when the golf course closed, and the 51,000 rounds of golf Albertans play there each year.
I guess the 120 people still living in Saddlebrook, homeless, and with no certain resolution on their homes is less than 150 jobs.
I guess the many businesses, like Morgan's, that have to close up shop, or the dozen businesses that will be left homeless when their temporary structures get torn down this summer (their original locations are still under heavy construction or in lease agreement disputes) is less than 150 jobs.
I guess rounds of golf are more important than people.
If each damaged home in High River cost $200,000 to remediate (not an unrealistic number), that $18 million would fix 90 homes. So I ask you, 600 rounds of golf, or a place for a family to sleep?
This argument, however, ignores a problem the government is having to deal with; inappropriate developments in inappropriate places. Homes are built in floodplains. Thankfully the local government is trying to deal with this by undeveloping certain areas. It might be wildly unfair to people who purchased those places hoping to stay until their mandatory relocation to Heaven, but hopefully even they understand that those developments are costing taxpayers year after year. However, in saying this, people in these areas, like Jamie Kinghorn, need to be compensated for the loss of their homes due to undevelopment (and any money they unwittingly spent fixing them prior to the undevelopment announcement).
But a golf course with links to the PC party is too important to relegate to undevelopment.
All development in the foothills causes problems in the watershed. In a natural state, the water gets slowed down, spread out in the groundwater, and doesn't gather anywhere near as much in rivers to cause high water events.
When development occurs, it packs down the ground, making it so that water doesn't seep, spread out and slow down. Rather it gathers in gutters, ditches, and eventually rivers, and causes high water events.
But don't you dare suggest undevelopment when it comes to a golf course. High River homeowners can be shunted to ... well, wherever, but PCs need to make sure Albertans get their 36 holes in.
How many of those golfers at this golf course were High Riverites, I wonder.
Please don't fall into the trap of thinking High River is on the road to recovery. It's not. It's not even on a paved secondary highway getting there yet. There are too many golf courses in the way.
The Alberta Party has a plan for the following things that would be of interest particularly to flood victims still dealing with DRP;
This is just a smattering of how the Alberta Party views proper management of the disaster recovery, and all of these measures can still be put into place after the PC government is gone.