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)