It was a strange coincidence that in my Science class yesterday I was teaching my Grade 7 students about the agriculture industry in the Dirty Thirties the same day U.S. President Obama nixed a major oil export project.
I was describing to these students how the agriculture industry killed the agriculture industry. Farmers sought to turn more soil to produce more food, and in doing so loosened up too much, leaving soil very susceptible to erosion. This eventually caused the agriculture industry to collapse, and the entire economy that was dependent on that single industry collapsed with it, hence the name “Dirty Thirties”. With no backup industry to help it recover until the arrival of another war, recovery was a painfully long road.
Of course this is an oversimplification, but the lesson was supposed to be direct and to a point. It occurred to me that we were seeing that exact same issue today, but the industry isn’t agriculture. It’s oil.
Keystone XL is a pipeline project that was intended to pump oil from the Alberta oilsands to the U.S. for processing. This oil is currently being transported by rail, an obviously dangerous prospect. Today, U.S. President Obama not only rejected the project, he rebuked what he called “dirty oil”.
Immediately pundits from around North America belaboured that “dirty oil” phrase, including Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. They are certainly right that Alberta’s oilsands are not, as characterized by many U.S. officials and celebrities, the “dirtiest oil on the planet”. Certainly the pipeline would be environmentally safer, and exceptionally so, than rail transport. But that is now entirely beside the point.
The true point is that in one very public announcement, President Obama has set the stage for a shift in major industries. The oil industry is not the way of the future anymore. This has been suggested for a while now, but Obama’s announcement was basically the same as ordering the oil industry’s coffin.
If Alberta isn’t careful, it’s headed for another Dirty Thirties. Any region whose economy depends on oil as its main industry with no other independent industry capable of carrying it through the oil industry’s collapse is in for a major coma. It is not a case of “if”. It is a case of “when”. And with Obama’s announcement, “when” just got a whole lot closer.
Meanwhile conservatives both North and South of the 49th parallel are indignantly crying over whose fault it is. They defiantly defend their economic baby. The fight is not over, cry Republicans, calling Democrats tone-deaf on the issue. It’s Canada’s new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s fault for pulling out of Syria, cries top Canadian Conservatives. TransCanada (the company behind Keystone XL) is considering reapplying. Notley talks about engaging in other projects that will get oil exported elsewhere, and distracts by talking about climate change (an important consideration, but still misses the point). Few are actually talking about the elephant in the room.
That elephant is that oil is dying. In Alberta, there is no new generational industry to take up its mantle. We’re risking “dirty oil” becoming Alberta’s reprise of the Dirty Thirties.
Suddenly the introduction of the new Economic Diversification Ministry in Alberta is not only important, it is necessary to ensure our economy does not end up on life support. I'm curious to see what that next industry is. Clean energy? Agriculture?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m exceptionally disappointed with Obama’s announcement. Oil is already on its way to the U.S., Keystone XL would have made that journey far safer. And our world is based on oil right now. We can’t buy the future at the expense of the present.
However, it would be worse to ignore the future altogether.
It's official. The world is changing. Is Alberta ready to change with it?
If we aren't, when will we wake up from the coma?
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.
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.
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