The Alberta Party is no longer my political home. This is a very disappointing revelation for me, however it's not a decision I made.
The Alberta Party did.
It did when it stopped taking a stand as a party. It did when it's prominent members stopped walking the walk and talking the talk. But most disappointingly, it did when it minimized sex crimes committed on youth.
Two former members and candidates have now been charged recently with crimes of a sexual predatory nature with youth. With Troy Millington, the Alberta Party and Leader immediately distanced themselves from him, condemned such crimes (properly, without prematurely passing judgement on Troy), and put their faith in the rule of law. With Terrence Lo, there was no distancing, no condemnation, and they barely made a statement in support of the law.
How can a party with multiple such allegations not immediately and dramatically distance themselves from it and condemn the bejeezus out of it? When it becomes a party that is not willing to stand up for itself, how can it possibly be counted on to stand up for Albertans?
EDIT: When I made my courtesy phone call to inform the party of my departure, I was told that I should trust the media managers with the party who are privy to additional sensitive information. Under no circumstances should sensitive information ever be so sensitive as to trump the condemnation of sex crimes committed on youth.
If I were the father of a child that was victimized, reading that release would have left me bewildered. Does the Alberta Party not care? Do they even believe my child was victimized? How can two people in their midst get charged, and they be so deliberately indifferent? Heck, why would they even bother sending a release if they weren't going to say anything at all?
DIG (Do It Green) sent out a release distancing themselves from him, condemning sexual crimes, and even offering support to victims. That's how you do a release following this type of heinous crime.
Now I know perfectly well that the Alberta Party could never have predicted that Troy nor Terry could have been inclined to such alleged activities. I have worked with them both, and it's not like they wore a tattoo on their foreheads indicating such proclivities; they were friendly amicable fellows like the vast majority of people I work with. I also know that the Alberta Party can't presume they're guilty, because that would not be respecting the rule of law. But their response amounts to what some of my students would say: "meh, whatever".
For me it was the last straw. I've become the squeaky wheel within the Alberta Party of late. I've sent a couple of strongly worded messages indicating how I dislike how the party has become a "party of one", how prominent members in the party have left their collaborative mindset and started using "gotcha" moments that are the main tool in the Wildrose toolbox, and how poorly organized and potentially undemocratic some of their activities behind the scenes have been. After meeting with some Board members, I had high hopes that the new Board would get their poop in a group, and I would finally start seeing some messaging coming from the party itself. I had high hopes that I would hear about a plan for presenting and adopting the proposed policies many people including myself worked on that have been collecting dust for 9 months. I had high hopes that the party would return to it's roots of "doing politics differently". I was wrong.
For the guy who has been driving across Alberta with the Alberta Party magnets on his car for the past couple of years, this is a pretty big blow. In my last blog I told you that "The Alberta Party is different. Let me prove it to you." I'm sorry I let you down.
But I can assure you I didn't waste my time.
I helped write the amendments to Bill 5 last year that protected the privacy of those who work in education and in municipal governments. I helped write countless policies that balanced fiscal with social responsibility. I blogged and wrote reams of press releases that tried to bring civility back to political discourse. I got people in Highwood thinking that perhaps there really was a better way, that balance could actually be achieved, and that common sense could make its way into the legislature. And in many cases, it worked.
But as a teacher who works with youth on a daily basis, being indifferent to sex crimes regarding youth is the last straw. I'm done. I'm politically homeless once more.
How deeply, deeply disappointing.
Hang on, isn’t that the party in power now?
Not even a year after crushing into the legislature, the Alberta NDP Government is presenting itself as the new government.
But it isn’t. They are just as pleased with the idea of pork-barrelling as the PC party was. They are just as pleased with using the government purse to advance their own self-interest as the PC party was.
It would be a different story, I’m sure, had that advertisement for the NDP Caucus been placed in a publication that distributes to one of their ridings.
But it wasn’t. It was printed in High River’s publication. Wayne Anderson, a Wildrose MLA, is our representative here.
This isn’t the first pork-barrelling experience we’ve enjoyed with this new government. It started on day 1. Premier Notley’s swearing-in was coupled with invitations to the non-partisan government-funded event asking for donations to the very partisan NDP. Later in November of 2015, access to Notley was once again sold at a Calgary fundraiser, and again a similar attempt at the Alberta Art Gallery in Edmonton in February of 2016. The NDP were cleared of wrong-doing with regards to a $10,000/ticket Ontario event featuring the Alberta Premier, although they dismissed Ethics Commissioner Marguerite Trussler’s assertion of a “perception that only a chosen few are being invited”.
Sounds awfully close to an “aura of power” assertion that happened a mere 18 months ago.
We haven’t even discussed the partisan appointments the NDP have given their friends. An NDP Government should be expected to hire NDP party faithful to help them implement their policy and ideals. This has happened on numerous occasions, with Brian Topp, Anne McGrath and John Heaney as examples. However, Albertans are right to wonder if these really are the best people for the job, especially when these individuals would top a sunshine list with significant 6-figure salaries and potential severances when they are done. The NDP should not be surprised when the eyebrows of many Albertans rise with the hiring of a Kevin Davediuk, a top union official, to negotiate with the union he is leaving. A pro-union political party making pro-union hiring choices? We should not be shocked.
Except that the NDP said they wouldn’t do that.
The NDP have also had far too much leeway with not understanding parliamentary rules. One such rule is that Caucus funds are government funds from the taxpayer. They are not to be used for partisan purposes. And yet here we see a purely partisan NDP Caucus advertisement in a non-NDP riding.
See the similarity? Advertisements for partisan purposes should rightly annoy Albertans, we just voted the PCs out for the exact same thing. What’s worse, no more are the NDP “fighting for mortgage-paying jobs” than the PCs were building schools as their signs suggested. Over 100,000 jobs are gone, and the only news that Economic Diversification Minister Deron Bilous has produced on the economic file is a bill that, as Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark suggests, does little more than “create committees”.
As a member of the Alberta Party, this pisses me off. Albertans were right to be upset at the PCs. But now a new breed of politician in the NDP is doing the exact same thing. Albertans should not be faulted for thinking “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me”.
What that means, though, is that no politician is trustworthy. And no matter how hard I try to say the Alberta Party is different, because we are, I cannot prove it to you unless you give us a chance.
If Mr. Anderson were to place such an ad, I would not be opposed to it as his form of connecting with his constituents. Although, I would never support Mr. Anderson making such a blanket claim as “fighting for mortgage-paying jobs”. His party’s jobs-creation recommendations were either borrowed from the Alberta Party, or has nebulous goals that can never be reached.
As an example, Wildrose Recommendation 2 is to reduce red tape by 20%. By what metric does one measure red tape? Inches?
If the Wildrose is going to do nothing but parrot the Alberta Party’s plans, they should at least be honest about it and just put up a link to the Alberta Party website.
A jobs plan encourages businesses to create jobs. An Investor Tax Credit will do much more than a jobs-creation tax credit. A small business tax decrease will do much the same, as will investment in post-secondary education and research and development, or as the Wildrose calls it, “Knowledge Infrastructure”. This is how the Alberta Party has been fighting constructively for mortgage-paying jobs.
The false advertisements come at a price. The price is Albertans’ trust in politicians.
Check out the Alberta Party’s events for a chance to meet Alberta Party people near you. In Highwood, the next event is March 21 at 7:30 PM at the 1906 Restaurant in High River.
The Alberta Party is different. Let me prove it to you.
On Thursday, March 3, 2016, Paige MacPherson, Alberta Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) proposed that the government seek a 10% rollback on Teachers salaries. And you know what? She is perfectly right to ask that question.
In our economic reality where government revenue is heavily tied to the price of a barrel of oil, currently cheaper than a schooner of Big Rock Honey Brown, there is no money in the bank account. Asking teachers to take such a rollback would amount to approximately $340,000,000 in the provincial coffers that would be used to ...
Okay, so what does a 10% cut to teachers' salaries mean? It means teachers are in effect taking $6,000 to $10,000 out of their paycheck and giving it back to the government. Or, alternatively, it means approximately 4000 teacher positions will be removed across the province, which follows as a more likely outcome based on what happened in 2003. The amount being asked of teachers is equivalent to more than the entirety of the education budget cuts in 1994 (not including the taxation powers that were removed from school boards).
Alberta Teachers are among the best paid in the country. However, contrary to what the CTF says, taking a pay cut of 10% would not keep them as the top-paid teachers in the country, it would actually drop them from the current position of 4th behind the territories to 5th behind Ontario, almost on par with Manitoba. Nonetheless, we're still easily in the top five, even after such a pay cut.
So let's talk about this cut in terms of return on investment. In 1994 teachers took a 5% rollback under the then Klein-Administration with not much more than platitudes of "we'll make it better". In my mind, sustainability doesn't last 22 years, it lasts much longer, yet here we are, with the consideration of asking teachers to give it up again. This time, when we seriously consider the cuts, let's make sure we do it with a keener eye to not allowing the government to bring us here again in 22 years.
So teachers, as you seriously consider a 10% rollback, you must ask "if we give you this money, what are you going to do with it?"
Is the $340,000,000 going to be earmarked for fixing the economy, which is the cause of this issue in the first place? Does the Alberta Government have a plan to diversify the economy, and get off our dependence on oil? Investment in green energy doesn't count, that's already being funded by the carbon tax. Neither does the eventual increase in income and corporate taxes, although they will definitely result in additional revenue for the government that is not based on oil. However, income and corporate taxes are heavily based on, wait for it, income, so with so few Albertans earning one of those, we can't count on that revenue either.
So the answer is no to those questions? Okay then, let's consider something else that money could be used for.
Is the $340,000,000 earmarked for a plan to reduce class complexity, including special needs, English Language Learning, impoverished or at-risk students? Will it be used to provide professional development to help us learn how to better manage the increasing class sizes and class complexities? If history is any indicator, the more likely result will be the loss of teacher positions, which will not ameliorate class complexity issues. Further, with fewer Albertans earning an income, and at-risk behaviour and educational success being tied to poverty, those class complexities are only about to get even more complex.
So again, the answer is no to those questions? Then what would this money be used for? Convince the teachers it would be used for something!
It would be used to help the government provide services. Services like teachers.
So hang on, if teachers concede a rollback of 10%, that 10% might just go fund ... teachers? So what that is saying is that a teacher that makes $80,000, the CTF is suggesting the government can only afford $72,000 of their current contract if the teachers concede that rollback. If the teachers don't concede that rollback, the government would then only be able to afford $64,000.
So take the 10%, or see 20% of your salary's worth cut from the classroom.
What that means is the CTF's proposal is not in fact a proposal, but a veiled threat. And it's not threatening teachers most. It's threatening students.
From a business perspective, what we see here is absolutely no return on the investment the CTF is asking teachers to make in Alberta.
Instead, the CTF is asking teachers to manage an increase in class complexity and size, continue to deliver world-class education that other countries look to for examples of educational leadership and research (don't give me the math debate garbage, I've already debunked that), deal with a decrease in income to manage their home day-to-day expenses which often include classroom supplies, and to carry the entire weight of a faltering economy, with no plan to fix it.
What is left to convince teachers to take this rollback? "Be considerate of your neighbours who have had paycuts and job losses, too". A sort of "misery loves company" rationale.
Teachers help our future learn how to question, criticize, reflect, show their work, stand up for what's right, write for a purpose, read for understanding, shoot hoops, make a tower out of dry spaghetti and marshmallows, make a cooler out of cardboard and sawdust, make their parents cry as they play Shenandoah with 63 of their peers, apologize and mean it, refuse to be sorry and instead be better, and make a difference.
Which of those things would you cut to provide the misery of Albertans with more company?
Teachers are already being considerate of their fellow Albertans, as what happens to those Albertans happens to their kids. That means that teachers are already dealing with the increased at-risk behaviour, the kids who come to school hungry because there's no food in the pantry, and the elevated expectations of parents who just don't want their kids to have to go through what they are.
Teachers are already taking a 10% rollback. They cry every time they see another kid disadvantaged. Its just costing teachers their souls and sanity instead of their salary. In response to MacPherson's "won't somebody please think about the chidren" cry, teachers would not be faulted for saying "we do, every damn day."
So teachers, as you seriously consider the 10% rollback, consider these things as well; there is no plan to solve the economic issues, there is no plan to deal with classroom conditions, and you are indeed the best teachers in the world defending our future.
Make your decision with that in mind.
For those involved in the many disciplines of the Arts, we all love the arts in its various forms; visual, theatrical, literary, dance and musical arts. We form a community that exists with a hope for mutual support. And why wouldn’t we, we all see the importance of the arts. We all know that the ability to perceive the arts as more than simply objects is innately human. There are neurological and philosophical studies that have proven this beyond a doubt, and even UNESCO has articulated that the Arts are an expression of cultural freedom, which is a universal human right, so we even have both science and politics on our side when we say “the Arts are essential to our humanness”.
Nonetheless, the importance of the Arts in Community is often understated. I’ve heard on a number of occasions the argument that “the Arts create community, and community develops because of the Arts”, and this argument does us a disservice. It places an unrealistic expectation on the Arts to magically create a community simply by existing. Society is not an accident of the Arts. If we were to put a mural up on the side of the Royal Bank depicting a Nazi internment camp, we are not going develop into a community of oppressors of human rights. As a friend of mine said in his article about what the Arts are, the success of a society of a bygone era is usually judged by the diversity of their Arts, but that is because every society is consciously created. They are planned, and the Arts are an integral part of that plan.
James Graves, in his book "Cultural Democracy", explains to us exactly what Community is. “Any group of individuals who share something, anything, in common, and consider themselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result, forms a community.” The Arts are a Community in High River, as you no doubt agree. What about High River on the whole? What does every person who lives in High River have in common, and consider ourselves to have some allegiance to each other as a result?
The flood is no longer an appropriate answer, although it is still our best answer. “We are a community of flood survivors”. But not everyone in High River is. As people move in, move out, have kids, grow up, die, visit and depart, what will be their lasting impression of High River? After a while, it won’t be the flood nor will it be our resilient recovery, and then what will our community be?
I said earlier that the Arts are part of a plan to building a community. That’s because the Arts in a societal view serves a public purpose, and is the only discipline/industry that consistently does so. The Arts build social capital, the “stuff” of culture. Allow me to explain with musicking, because that is my chosen artistic discipline.
At one point in time we had an elitist view of what music was. It was an object, an artifact of historical or musical import. It was something to be enjoyed upon its own merits. It was even used as a tempering tool for society; one person in Saskatchewan explained that the purpose of boys bugle bands a century ago was to cure the boys of “slovenliness of speech”. To a certain extent, some of those views purvey. But music as an object doesn’t build social capital.
How we music builds social capital. Music is in fact an action, be it the creation of that artifact, the listening to it, the dancing to it, or the understanding of some intended message. Even more, some people music by distributing it, selling tickets at the door, or designing posters for events. What that actually means is that music is a verb, not a noun. It is not an object, but an action. We don’t make music. We music.
You can say the same of art. We don’t make art. We paint. We sculpt. We display. We art. You can say the same of theatre and dance. We don’t produce plays. We act. We design. We show. We move. We theate. We dance.
In each of these artistic verbs, we commune. We interact with one another as artists, with audiences, with the larger community. We share. We message. We politic and we express. We don’t always do it the same as one another, and that is good because it allows for communication between differing thoughts. It is through this communion with one another that culture lives, breathes, develops and thrives. This growth occurs through the Arts, so an area that has consistent support for artistic diversity can build social capital and become not just a place where people live, but become a community.
Consider that economically speaking, diversity and competition is good for a community. Consider that a community is also strong with people of different talents contributing to it. A community with the capacity for accumulating financial capital and human resources will be strong both in economy and talent. So too it is for social capital. As Graves says, “a society with a low capacity for accumulating social capital, one that stresses zero-sum games offering some members advantages at the expense of others, will be unstable and probably dangerous. Dynamic, progressive societies develop mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital.”
Communities are planned. The Arts are an integral part of that plan. If we are to consciously create communities, it must be about developing those mechanisms to enhance the web of social capital in High River. It cannot be simply about planning events. It must be about creating or enhancing systems and mechanisms that increase our capacity for accumulating social capital. It’s going to take more than artists to do that; business leaders, politicians, educators and other community leaders need to be in the conversation. They need to engage the entire community in it. That’s what the Our High River Community Café is going to be about on February 10, 2016.
If you want to be a part of it, come join us at the Wise Owl Café for Our High River’s Arts in Community event. Drop in sometime between 5 and 8 PM. Let’s find the sum of our specialties and come up with not just ideas, but solutions that we didn’t have before we walked in.
Let’s consciously create community through, with, and in the Arts.
I have a difficult time bringing up the future of music education in Alberta in a public venue such as a blog. The reason is rather simple; when I bring up issues affecting music education, I am almost always given a cold shoulder or, even worse, vehemently and violently opposed.
Yes, it’s true, some music teachers don’t want me around. In Alberta music education, particularly instrumental music education, you don’t talk about things that can be spun to suggest that we take away from concert bands.
I’m spurred onward by a reminder of what it means to demand the best of your profession. That reminder came in the form of a friend, Joe Bower, who worked tirelessly for a better education system in Alberta. He passed away at the beginning of this year, and left many inspired individuals wanting to carry on his torch. I can only hope to carry on his torch with the same efficacy he had, but I’d rather not do it alone. I know a great many teachers who will continue to advocate as he had in their fields of expertise. Mine is music education.
So give me a cold shoulder if you must. But know that music education in Alberta is not yet complete, and with three decades of status quo, perhaps it’s time to address it.
It has been proven time and time again that musical activity and understanding is a uniquely human attribute. Daniel Levitin in his book “This is your Brain on Music” discusses in one chapter the direct links neurologically between music and emotion, a uniquely human attribute. Sociologically, Carljohnson Anacin has discussed how each society has created for itself an artistic rhythm, a specific pulse developed in every human based on their cultural upbringing. Philosophers point out rightly that only humans can truly experience music’s purpose (although they don’t always agree what that purpose is), and that as a result music is essential to our humanness.
Here’s the deal; politics has decided what subjects are core and what are not. Music is not a core subject in Alberta. Only recently (as in during the last 4 weeks) did the United States finally agree that music should be considered a core subject. But these are political entities that decide what is most valid in the development of human beings, regardless of what attributes actually constitute humanity.
It’s not dissimilar to climate change deniers in political office; they can deny it all they want, but the fact is it exists. Politicians can avoid making music core, but it doesn’t change the fact that music is a unique part of our humanness.
Just as easily as Donald Trump can offer a policy based on the idea that Muslims are bereft of humanity, policy can be implemented that suggests music is not an intrinsic part of what it means to be human. In both cases, the political entities would be dead wrong.
Humans communicate with depth and creativity, conceptualize numbers and values, develop social norms, explore and innovate, stand on two feet and have opposable thumbs, and are omnivorous as products of evolution. As a result, the political entity that is our education system places language, math, social studies, science, and physical well-being as core elements of developing our young humans.
For the political entity that is the Alberta Education system to not situate music as core to the development of our young humans is to deny them that aspect of their humanity.
The implication of course then is that if music is essential to our humanness and therefore should be core to the education of our young humans, it should be instructed to all our young humans in such a way as to develop the musical aspect of their humanity. Not only that, but it should be instructed by people trained to teach it, just as language, math, social, science and physical education is. To be clear, there is a pointed difference between a musician and a music educator; you can be both, but it is faulty logic to assume that any musician can teach it.
These assertions have major implications for music education in Alberta. First of all, only 10% of high school students participate in instrumental music programs, and even less in choral programs. What about our music education system prevents students from exploring this uniquely human attribute? Are there systemic issues that negate participation, either explicitly or accidentally? The answer of course is yes.
Another major implication is that music cannot be taught by generalists who have not been instructed on how to teach music, much less generalists who have no musical training of their own. That is a call to our post-secondary institutions to ensure generalists know how to teach music, and to our education system to ensure that every school has a music specialist on staff.
But the problem is nobody is talking about the fact that Alberta’s music education system has a race problem, a relevancy problem, a funding problem, and a professionalism problem. In fact, to suggest so is to label oneself as “against concert bands” (this is what a fellow music teacher accused me of being recently). The rationale for that label is for another blog, as is a deeper explanation of those problems.
I’m not against concert band in Alberta’s schools. I like concert bands, and I’d rather have band available at every school where concert band is considered a relevant part of the community. I’m not against music in any shape or form in our schools; rather I want more music in Alberta’s schools. I’m merely against teaching one type of music in schools, much as I’m against teaching students there is only one way to solve a math problem.
Alberta Education’s music curricula is approaching 30 years of implementation. I have no intention of idly watching music education stagnate and whither in a system that was built for a very different culture than exists in Alberta today. It is time to look at our school music programs and really question how well they help our young humans develop their ability to music. Is their in-school musical learning disconnected from what happens after the bell rings, or after they receive their diplomas?
Or are they developing into lifelong musickers?
As humans, it should be the latter.
Some other Education Blog Posts
Why I will never be an award-winning band director
The Arts: Good for the economy ... Banks on it
Just let me teach
Parents should be freaking out right now - Tatlo
Sources used in the writing of this blog
Anacin, C. G. (2014). Syncretism in rituals and performance in a culturally pluralistic society in the Philippines. The Social Science Journal. doi:10.1016/j.soscij.2014.08.005
Blacking, J. (1973). How musical is man? Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
de Quadros, A. (2012). Music is essential to our humanness. (Y. O. Communications, Interviewer) Retrieved July 27, 2015, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7c1_LkJ0I4
Levitin, Daniel (2007). This is your brain on music: The science of a human obsession. New York, New York: Penguin Publishing Group.
Myers, D. E. (2008). Freeing music education from schooling: Toward a lifespan perspective on music learning and teaching. International Journal of Community Music, 1(1), 49-61. doi:10.1386/ijcm.1.1.49/1
National Association for Music Education. (2015, December 9). More than 140,000 music educators and music supporters celebrate the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, elevating music as a stand-alone subject. Retrieved January 7, 2016, from National Association for Music Education: http://www.nafme.org/more-than-140000-music-educators-and-music-supporters-celebrate-the-passage-of-the-every-student-succeeds-act-elevating-music-as-a-stand-alone-subject/
Paynter, J. (2002). Music in the school curriculum: Why bother? British Journal of Music Education, 19(3), 215-226.
Regelski, T. A. (2012, March). Musicianism and the ethics of school music. Action, Criticism & Theory for Music Education, 11(1), 7-42. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/articles/Regelski11_1.pdf
Wasiak, E. B. (2013). Teaching Instrumental Music in Canadian Schools. Don Mills, Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.
Some other articles on Music Education Philosophy
Alperson, P. (1991, Autumn). What should one expect from a philosophy of music education? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 25(3), 215-242.
Elliott, D. J. (2009). Praxial music education: Reflections and dialogues. New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195385076.001.0001
Goehr, L. (1989, Winter). Being true to the work. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 47(1), 55-67.
Koza, J. E. (1994, Fall). Aesthetic music education revisited: Discourses of exclusion and oppression. Philosophy of Music Education Review, 2(2), 75-91. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40327074
McCarthy, M., & Goble, J. (2002, September). Music education philosophy: Changing times. Music Educators Journal, 89(1), 19-26.
Small, C. (1998). Musicking: The meanings of performing and listening. Hanover: University Press of New England.
While Bill 6 has been the focus of many Albertans for the past week, it's not the only bill that the Alberta NDP Government has managed to fumble.
Bill 8, the Public Education Collective Bargaining Act, is the bill that is intended to address how contracts with teachers will be bargained going forward. It is an absolutely necessary bill, thanks to the fact that teachers at all 61 school boards across the province see their contracts expire almost at exactly the same time. This came about thanks to former Premier Ed Stelmach and his agreement he reached province-wide with teachers back in 2008.
But the bill has a major hole; school boards. In fact, the bill has effectively cut school boards out of the process.
According to Bill 8, there will be two tables for negotiations; one for "central matters" that are discussed on a province-wide basis, and another for "local matters" that would be discussed between school boards and their local teachers. There is the matter, therefore, of what constitutes a "central matter" and what constitutes a "local matter".
But the school boards aren't involved in that conversation. Rather, the Government will be working with the Alberta Teachers' Association alone to determine what is central and what is local.
Democratically-elected school board officials are no longer permitted to advocate for local issues.
What's worse is the criteria, as set out by Bill 8, for determining what are central matters is all-encompassing. It states that if it would "unreasonably" impact even a single school board, it becomes a "central matter". No idea what could be considered unreasonable.
By definition, a local matter is something that affects only one board. Bill 8 attempts to redefine what "local" means.
This is hugely problematic.
"So which ones are the boys, and which ones are the girls?"
That was the question I was asked 13 years ago, when a small family of city slickers came to visit my family's little cow-calf operation of 50 head. It took me half an hour to explain to this lady the difference between heifer, bull and steer. They almost learned the hard way that you don't walk between a cow and her calf, especially if you are a stranger and the calf is new.
Around 8 years before that, I remember an individual from school visiting our acreage for a party of some kind who decided he thought it wise to try out an experiment with an electric fence. So he urinated on it.
I haven't seen him since high school, so I have no idea if he has kids.
When I think of Bill 6, I see this exact same kind of lack of understanding about farm operations. When I read that an NDP MLA advised ranchers to turn out their bulls only during the daytime to ensure daytime calving 10 months later, I wasn't shocked. They, like the city slicker asking about boy and girl cows and the teenager testing his tallywagger, just don't get it.
When I read Bill 6, it too was just too simple. It felt like someone had said "just take the farmers' exemption out of the other legislation, that'll do the trick." However, the variety of agricultural operations that exist require more effort in order to understand the problem before trying to fix it.
And make no mistake, there is a problem. With an average of over 20 farm-related deaths every year, and an average of 25 hospitalizations for every death, farms are dangerous places. I can recall multiple times a hospitalization was required for a member of my family from farm work. I also consider that my family's was largely a hobby farm; we were by no means a large cattle operation, and we didn't delve into the large-scale agricultural practice of producing crops. I can only imagine the dangers that lurk there.
If there is any agricultural operator in Alberta, family, commercial or otherwise, that opposes Bill 6 because they don't want protections for their workers, then I have a problem with those operators. That is particularly un-Albertan, so I doubt that is the case.
However simply using whiteout to previous legislation shows a complete lack of understanding. It reminds me too much of the old blonde joke "how do you know a blonde has been using your computer - there's whiteout on the screen." They simply just don't understand what they're working with.
By the way, I have nothing against blondes, they are a perfectly good breed of beef animal. Blonde d'Aquitaine.
Even politically speaking, the NDP should have known better. Like the teenager urinating on the electric fence, they should have done a tiny bit more research before introducing this bill. Had they done that tiny bit of research, they would have recalled the reaction farmers had with Bill 36 in 2009, which became the Alberta Land Stewardship Act. Farmers, rightly, boiled. They did so because they were not consulted on the bill. As a friend of mine put it, "politics was done to them, not with them."
The Alberta NDP do not have a reputation as being the voices of farmers, having only just broken into rural Alberta this past election (and perhaps for different reasons than being the voice of farmers). A party that needs to prove they are the voice of all Albertans should ensure they consult with the Albertans they are less familiar with, in an attempt to bring them onside. It should have been a perfect opportunity for the NDP to connect with farmers. Instead, the lack of consideration has driven them away.
This is particularly dangerous. It means that the important work of protecting employees of agricultural operations will be lost in the din. Farmers were being treated as too simple. Like the teenager who urinated on the fence, the NDP are being shocked, which makes me shake my head, because it would have taken little effort for them to know better.
If Bill 6 passes, farmers need to push for regulations that make sense. If the Wildrose is successful in convincing the NDP to put the bill to a committee, farmers need to push for farm workers' rights while protecting the viability of all agricultural operations.
Either way the work, quite simply, isn't finished.
Update on November 25, 2015: I have received a response to my letter from the Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee. According to her response, she is discussing these issues with Justice Minister Ganley. I am very pleased to receive such a swift response from Minister Larivee on this topic.
Early this morning I sent a letter to Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley regarding Bill 5, the Public Sector Compensation Transparency Act. The fine line between transparency and personal privacy is being blurred by this bill.
If Bill 5 is passed as is, educational bodies and municipal authorities will have to disclose the salaries of every single one of their employees, along with their names. That includes the librarian, the garbage truck operator, and the guy painting the crosswalk lines that drivers seem to be blind to. It also includes the educational assistants, the school janitor and the cafeteria staff. Teachers would be included as well, which just adds a redundancy, as their salaries and contracts are already reported completely in public.
This bill's purpose is to report the highest salaries in the public sector, with the intention of making sure we spend wisely on our human resources. So to name the lowest salaries as eligible for reporting is not only unnecessary, but it is also an attack on personal privacy. That fine line, or as it is named in the bill, "threshold" between highly- and lowly-paid is already arbitrarily set, but to ignore it for educational bodies and municipal authorities further blurs the lines between accountability and the respect for personal privacy.
What did schools and cities do to earn this segregation from other public sector bodies?
This is why I sent a letter to Ganley, and in Alberta Party fashion, offered an alternative. The alternative comes in the form of a proposed amendment to Bill 5, which would set the "threshold", or the fine line, for educational bodies and municipal authorities. This would align them with all the other public sector bodies named in the bill. It would remove the discrimination against educational bodies and municipal authorities.
It is the role of government to protect public interests. Transparency so as to protect our public dollars is one. Personal privacies are another. Right now, personal privacies are being blurred out.
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?
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.