Tag Archives: alberta

New proposed federal boundaries released

A while ago I wrote a piece on the proposed federal boundaries, from the federal riding commission, for VUE weekly. The commission has released their most recent recommendations based on the town halls and public complaint period that was open in fall of 2012. These proposed boundaries will now go to parliamentary committee, and there are some significant changes from the original boundaries drawn that were presented to the public prior to open houses held across the country.

Noticeably, the Southern Alberta riding boundaries have shifted – keeping the proposed Lethbridge boundary to the city and the county, but grouping much of southern Alberta into the re-distributed Medicine Hat riding. This could be considered a win for the team of politically interested citizens and the Member of Parliament currently representing the Lethbridge riding who advocated for keeping Cardston and the Country of Warner in one riding to protect the cultural interets of that area, or “communities of interest”.

This scenario divides the region south of Lethbridge into separate ridings which I believe is not in our best interest.  It places both counties into remote, isolated corners of vast ridings, with which we have little in common and very few community ties. It also ignores the commission’s mandate to avoid splitting ‘communities of interest’ to the extent possible.

From Jim Hillyer’s website.

It certainly will make the nominations for the Conservative candidate in both the Medicine Hat and the now much geographically smaller Lethbridge ridings rather interesting, perhaps leading to some hotly contested candidate contests.

The rest of Alberta also sees some changes with the new boundaries, and as Daveberta points out in his analysis of the proposed boundaries:

Also interesting to watch will be Calgary-Centre, where last year’s hotly-contested federal by-election drew national attention. Was the close race in Calgary-Centre the beginning of a new trend for that city or was it simply a mid-term anomaly?

These proposed boundaries have already been filed with the Speaker, and will now go to a Parliamentary Committee. Once in committee MPs may file written objections within 30 days of the report’s submission to committee – objections must be signed by a minimum of 10 MPs. Once the 30 day objection period has passed, the committee issues a report to the commission and in June of this year the final report will be submitted to the Speaker of the House. Public consultation for the proposed boundaries are now over, though MPs continue to be able to request changes/file complaints.

For an excellent analysis of the ridings and the proposed changes when it comes to party wins in those ridings check out Daveberta’s recent post, Alberta’s new federal ridings released.

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The Sounds of Unification

Sled Island has developed into a full fledged cultural hot spot, drawing people from the farthest reaches of Alberta, across Canada and around the world. Acts such as Calgary/Toronto’s Feist and Japan’s the Boredoms on the same bill as Lethbridge’s Fist City, Vancouver’s Korean Gut and Edmonton’s Travis Bretzer shows the diversity of the program. This year, Sled Island is also featuring a full film lineup in the week leading up to the music festival and several visual art exhibitions that will run for the entirety of the festival.

Drew Marshall, the Marketing and Communications Director of the Sled Island administration, is also rather excited about the “green island” initiative that will see multiple bike racks placed at venue sites and a bike rental program.

Marshall initially become involved in 2007, Sled Island’s inaugural year. “Part of the reason I was attracted to it, it definitely was something that didn’t exist prior to Sled Island, ” he recalls. “There has always been a lot of great music out of Calgary and Alberta and overall in the region, but there wasn’t any big event that was bringing that whole community together.”

While Sled Island was initially the brain child of Zak Pashak who was inspired by the Pop Montreal festival and is still involved as the Creative Director; the festival now is organized with the help of over 400 volunteers and, in Marshall’s experience, “has always been a real collaborative effort to make this whole thing happen.”

“There is a community that exists in Calgary and surrounding the festival,” he explains. “It might be something where not everyone is connected, or not always represented. During Sled Island you have this flourish of activity with all these great bands, performing at all these venues—small, intimate unconventional venues, large outdoor ones—and it really becomes obvious that there is this incredibly vibrant music scene going on in Calgary, in Canada, in North America.”

In Marshall’s view, Sled Island changed things. “For the first time there were these big international acts that for the most part would never come to Calgary,” he says. “The first year we had the Boredoms from Japan play, and it was one of the most mind blowing shows for anyone that was in attendance. We had Cat Power in the first show she had played at in a church in Calgary—that was just a beautiful show. Sled Island represented all these things coming together.”

For people like Paul Lawton, a central member of the Lethbridge garage-rock scene and co-owner and founder of Mammoth Cave Records, Sled Island offers something different than SXSW or NXNE, which are “very industry centred.” Lawton believes Sled Island has created a new kind of multi-venue festival, that is very artist focused. The industry presence has been very small for the most part. It has engendered a very DIY spirit and community.”

For Lawton, Sled Island not only provides the opportunity to expose hundreds of people to the bands hosted on Mammoth Cave, the label he co-owns, but, as with many regional musicians, the impact of getting to meet promoters and booking agents and to play a showcase every night—especially being from a smaller city in Alberta—is worth a great deal.

“There was a long time where it was hard for Alberta bands to book outside of Alberta,” he explains. “It took a lot of time and work to get people from the bigger centres to care about music happening in other parts of the country. Sled Island I think is the key player in that.”

Aaron Levin, founder of Weird/Wyrd Canada and a former music director for Edmonton’s campus-community radio station CJSR, believes Sled Island’s success has everything to do with the way the festival was initially set up.

“Sled Island is a very interesting case of a festival with a very large mandate and goal,” says Levin. “It has both embraced the fringe DIY while managing to attract a huge massive audience. This is what separates from some of the festivals, say, I do, and some of the festivals where this doesn’t happen—like the Edmonton Folk Festival, for example.”

For Levin, what is truly special about Sled Island is how it embraced the DIY culture of the local music scenes in Alberta right away. “SXSW (a festival Sled Island is oft compared to), for example, has definitely embraced that, but they didn’t start embracing that. When all the showcases started there was actually a negative reaction from the leadership of SXSW. Being bold, and embracing the indie local music scene was very important for their success.”

Levin, like Lawton, recognizes the avenues Sled Island has created to connect bands to promoters to booking agents to bands. “The opportunity for having a large part of the west coast music community under one roof and talking to each other is something that doesn’t happen,” Levin points out. “Sled Island has really provided for that by embracing all this fringe DIY music.”

Levin’s own music site, Weird Canada—named by CBC Radio 3 as the “Best Indie Music Website in Canada” and his travelling Wyrd festival benefited from Sled Island simply because “they were so open armed when it came to working together. (They were) incredibly encouraging for any sort of creative idea I had. That helped Weird Canada get a larger voice out of the city I was working in.”

Lawton and Levin, as festival attendees and programmers, clearly see Sled Island’s biggest strength in its commitment to the local and regional acts. One thing they do very right in Lawton’s eyes is that “every year after they do Sled Island, they send out a questionnaire to all the bands and it is very clear they have listened to the local and regional musicians who have given input. Every year gets a little better.”

For Marshall, that community building is what Sled Island is all about: “Bring together all these people for these four days and really create all this momentum and placing spotlights on the incredible music community that exists here. Really, in Calgary and Edmonton we are removed from so many parts of the world or even North America that sometimes we are off the radar when it comes to live music and touring bands and that kind of thing.

“The resource of talent in Alberta is so vast and there is so much potential that Sled Island is essentially a small group of people that work in this office doing our best to connect these communities that already exist.”

Originally published in VUE Weekly, June 14th 2012, issue #869.

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University of Lethbridge and the Wildrose Party

Earlier today, the Wildrose Party released information that accused the University of Lethbridge of illegally donating money to the Progressive Conservative party through golf tournaments and Premier Dinners.

This is following the recent allegations that different public organizations, such as municipalities and other academic institutions, have illegally donated through political fundraisers; as well as accusations that MLA’s are soliciting donations from sources that are illegal under the Election Finances and Contributions Act.

A serious issue to be sure, and one that many have noted is sadly unsurprising due to the way politics is in Alberta and the dominance a massive party 40 years in power has over the entire province.

The University of Lethbridge has responded to the allegations made by the Wildrose Alliance Party:

The University of Lethbridge responds to today’s allegations by the Wildrose Party as follows:

1.    In the fall 2005, the University of Lethbridge was notified of changes to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

2.    As soon as the University of Lethbridge was notified of changes to the Act, University Administration, the Board of Governors and the Board Finance and Audit Committee took immediate steps to ensure the University was in compliance with the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act.

3.    There is a Board of Governors Policy in place, which reflects the Act’s guidelines and prohibits the University from purchasing tickets to political party fundraising functions where the cost per ticket exceeds $25.

4.    This policy was implemented upon notification of changes to the Act and was discussed at the first opportunity with the Board of Governors.

5.    The University has strictly adhered to this Policy.  Individuals who attend functions hosted by any political party are not reimbursed by the University.

6.    The October 2007 expense referenced in the Wildrose release complies with the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act in that it was not a contribution to a political party.  It was an event organized by a student group.

7.    There have been no expenses that violate the University of Lethbridge Board Policy or the Province of Alberta Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act since the policy and Act were implemented six years ago.

At this time, this statement is the University’s immediate response.

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Redford open to looking at Bill 44

I currently work in Art Education. Bill 44 has limited my ability to have open and honest conversations about contemporary art with students in my city. I also see the impact it has had on student’s maturity about contemporary art and about human sexuality in general. The ability to look at a piece of art that has tones of sexuality suddenly disables many students (esp. those in Junior High and High School) from taking it seriously and having a discussion about it’s merits as a piece of art work. They are diminished to giggles, embarrassed glances and in some a feeling of intense discomfort.

We are not supposed to talk about sexuality in polite society, in schools or in any professional atmosphere. We are creating a disadvantage for students by sheltering them many parts of life – literature, art, spirituality and of course science.

I cannot help but be heartened to hear Redford is open to discussing the section of Bill 44 that limits topics of human sexuality from Alberta’s education system. I am even more happy to hear her recognition that this section is a policy decision that does NOT support education or healthy development. It is a policy decision that harms Alberta’s youth and future generation.

Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald:
Nancy writes:

In 2010, Bill 44 introduced a new section to the Human Rights Act that says teachers must get permission from parents to teach any subject matter that “deals primarily and explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation ” This section will make it more difficult to address issues of “sexual orientation” to all children in the classroom.
Teachers now feel like they have to avoid answering direct questions and are unable to properly support their students during classroom discussions. They are afraid of facing complaints and the consequences of them.
Given the high rates of gay teen suicide and our recognition for the need to tell them “It Gets Better” through a social media campaign, would you support scrapping that section of the Human Rights Act.


Alison Redford:
This is troublesome – and I know that there was real concern on this issue at the time – we will be taking a look at where we are – on this and on Section 3 – I wont preclude a discussion on this in the future

Jason Markusoff, Calgary Herald:
What do you mean by “troublesome”?

Alison Redford:
Sorry – wrong word – it concerns me that we could have kids in school who are not gettting the info and support that they need to have to live healthy lives – we can have policies that harm kids

Regardless of the outcome of the election – whenever that may be, I hope Bill 44 will come under a microscope and our leaders will not bow to outdated ideas based on archaic and damaging values.

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Wikileaks, NAFTA, and oil: here we go again.

Recent Wikileaks cables have come out showing Alberta Government’s plans to provide the U.S. with a greater and stronger route for energy supplies.

An excerpt from the Calgary Herald article on this:

WikiLeaks cables released over the past few weeks show the Alberta government promised senior U.S. government officials as far back as 2003 that there would be abundant electricity exports available from Alberta, but that limited power line transmission was the major impediment to the juice flowing south.

A 2003 cable from Paul Cellucci, U.S. ambassador to Canada at the time, says then-Alberta energy minister Murray Smith -who went on to serve as Alberta’s representative in Washington -promised the U.S. government that additional electricity generation from oilsands projects would provide abundant supply to ship stateside in future years.

The electricity exports were dependent, however, on new power line transmission capacity coming online, the cables note.

“Smith and others also want to make sure that the (United States government) is aware that over time there will be tremendous electricity cogeneration available as a result of the huge thermal needs of the oilsands refining process,” says the 2003 cable.

“This could over time make significant new electricity exports available to the United States, but at least for now there is limited capacity to move this west and then south through British Columbia and on to our Pacific Northwest.”

This, along with the announcement made in 2003 by Smith that all development of the power grid would be payed for by the owner of the grid: Alberta, has some people in the province upset. Which is curious to me.
Ron Leipert, Alberta’s Energy Minister, has continued to say to this day that, “anybody who thinks we’re going to be exporting power is living in a different world. I don’t know where this bogeyman stuff is coming from.” Yet, Alberta does export a great deal of energy. Billions of gallons of oil goes south every week. If you read carefully above, you would also see that the power grid built to supply the U.S. with energy is to be used to refine the very oil Alberta’s oil sands produces to sell to America.
America’s big to-do about decreasing reliance on foreign oil doesn’t really apply to Alberta, or anywhere else in Canada for that matter. NAFTA made sure of that.
A great read on NAFTA’s energy policy is Chapter 7 in Hufbauer and Schott’s NAFTA revisited: achievements and challenges. The book itself provides a fairly good breakdown of NAFTA and what the impacts are and the chapter on energy is fairly detailed in both history and current impacts.
A shorter and more digestible analysis is available through Gordon Laxer of the Parkland Institute. His article, “Canada’s energy needs come first”,  gives a great overview of some of the most pressing issue facing Canadian/Albertan energy security, but for me the key piece is this:
Western Canada can’t supply all of Eastern Canadian needs, because NAFTA reserves Canadian oil for Americans’ security of supply. Canada now exports 63 per cent of our oil and 56 per cent of our natural gas production. Those export shares are currently locked in place by NAFTA’s proportionality clause which requires us not to reduce recent export proportions. Mexico refused proportionality. It applies only to Canada.
The end of all of this back story is that we should hardly be surprised that in 2003 the Alberta government engaged in quiet talks to secure a stronger and more reliable source of energy (fracking to get “clean coal”) to the states for a very very low price.
 I am glad to see this information coming out and I hope that more Canadians and Albertans take greater notice of where the resources they pay a dear price to exploit are going and who they are serving. It is a key issue, and increasingly will change lifestyles worldwide. Already, consumers see gasoline become increasingly more expensive. Soon, the questions of why gasoline in Canada is so expensive when the government has consistently told us we are sitting on vast quantities of it will yield answers – answers that will unfortunately not be able to reverse the decisions already made.
We cannot undo NAFTA’s proportionality clause – regardless of prices here at home or even shortages – we must continue to provide the U.S. with the same quantity as we have in peak times. I think the past just caught up to us.
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Playing footsy, or just being sensible?

The Alberta Liberal Party put forward, an albeit desperate but still clear-headed, open letter to the NDP (and assuming, the Alberta Party) to join forces as a progressive coalition.

While their intention comes off as a second chance prom date, the Liberal party is doing what progressives have been calling for over the past five years: reaching out to be bigger, stronger, and better representatives.

The NDP response was a much less welcoming and firmly planted them in the “we don’t want to share our toys” category.

The fact of the matter is that the Wildrose Alliance will be picking up seats come election season. The Progressive Conservatives are unlikely to be ousted quite yet, as they still have the star hitters running for re-election and Albertan’s still support the party. The Alberta Party may get some votes in, but not having any members south of Calgary and focusing in urban centers, where votes go to die, certainly won’t guarantee them any party status.

The Liberals, the NDP, and the WAP have strong and well liked members. While, the NDP’s two makes up for a good number of inactive and ineffective PCs, however, they number is still two. Two very hard-working, very intelligent people, but again, still two.

Two against eighty-one, and clearly it is against.

We have seen these dog fights time and time again. Electoral academics must be shaking their heads as they see the numbers dance before them, as they see potentially progressive ridings go nowhere, and keep on keepin’ on.

I am not a partisan hack, and I am a little too jaded to have believed anything positive would come out of Swann’s open letter, but somewhere, deep down inside, I cared.

The NDP may say the Lib’s stand for nothing, and have no party guidance but at least they recognize that Alberta is in trouble democratically and they reached out. For themselves, but also for Alberta.

Swallow your pride progressives, and do something that isn’t for your party brand or your personal political ideology but for the good of democracy and Alberta.

p.s. – I have to say, I took some exception to the NDP’s claim of responsibility for ridding the Alberta Legislature of the ‘third way’ discussion. I’d like to think Albertans and the many non-partisan advocacy groups involved in health care campaigns  had something to do with it too.

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Wide streets hold small hints

Building hopping. Raymond’s favourite past time. To move from one very old building, to a slightly less old, but still old building – very old being measured in relative terms as Southern Alberta is hardly known for its historical architecture and preservation techniques.

“This building was the first bank, a Bank of Montreal, and was erected when Raymond boomed in population, down the street stood a roller rink.”

I’m not sure why the last part of that sentence is relevant to the casual observer but it is there, commemorating Raymond’s roller rink on the plaque affixed to what is now Raymond’s only apartment building.

The town is small, the streets are wide and the closest thing to vegetarian is the mushroom Egg Fu Yung at Diamond Luks. Still, I feel strangely comfortable. I am aesthetically out-of-place here yet it feels hardly notices, or novelly accepted. Maybe it is because no one walks the streets of Raymond.

They are always quiet, save a few cars and trucks spouting diesel fumes. Across the street from the apartment building is the town hall/library/theatre and the only time I see the people of Raymond is when they’re streaming in or pouring out.

I wonder who they are, what they do, and how they live? What are the people like who live in this quiet, almost picturesque town?

The closest I have been to the elusive Raymond-ite was in September. The Raymond Comets were playing the Lethbridge Rams at the new University of Lethbridge stadium. The season opener for the two school’s football teams, and I have never seen anything like it.

Two thousand people were there, screaming and cheering as teenagers ran around smashing each other to the ground. I’m simplifying the game I admit, but what stood out to me was the sheer volume of energy. The intensity of parents hopes and dreams riding on the shoulders of their son, of girls strutting past wearing the jackets of the player they are going with, and the enthusiasm exhibited by the mega fans, the football player wannabes.

It was too much for me to handle that night. The sheer out pouring of emotion brought on by catharsis on the football field.

Those teams played for a crowd of the like I had seen rarely.

So here I am, at a loss of what Raymond is. Hundreds of people drove to Lethbridge to see young people live out the roles chosen for them as a very early age. Fans wore body paint, and the symbology of culture was prominent through visual displays.

Yet, there is no reconciling the Raymond of that night with the Raymond I walk in now. The streets are quiet and the storefronts are unobtrusive. The sight of a car full of teen’s coming back from Rugby practice is rare, and understated.

The movie store is quiet, and closes at 9pm. This town is sleepy, slow-moving, exhibiting none of the energy I saw before. There are cars lining main street, but I see no one in or around them. A surveillance society, and I don’t know who is watching.

Many store fronts and front lawns carry both American and Canadian flags. A divided identity between two nations superficially similar.

I’ll take this as a clue.

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The more things change, the more they stay the same

Canada’s pre-eminent public intellectual John Ralston Saul famously wrote, “The rising power of specialist groups increasingly ties this train to what is called utility. In order to attract money from and for these groups, universities are now reorganizing themselves to serve directly a variety of very specific interests. The thousand year struggle to create independent centers of learning and free thought is rarely mentioned.”

Much like the society Saul talks about, Alberta has began to reorganize its post-secondary education to serve specific interests.

Furthermore, Alberta has consistently proven in its budgets and in its actions that education is not much of a priority at all. One out of every three students in Alberta go on to attend post-secondary education out of high school, and overwhelmingly, the cited reason for not attending is affordability. This should come as no surprise as Albertans have consistently paid tuition that is among the highest in Canada. Last year, Alberta was rated third, behind New Brunswick and Ontario and in 2008 we were fifth.

While the Alberta government has complained about transfer payments and taxation, post-secondary education has consistently been de-prioritized and commercialized. Long gone are the days of glorified liberal education institutions. Learning for its own sake has been sacrificed to Rexall, Shell, and prominent banks. Instead of students lust after Stein, Meade, and Keohane, we see students entering university to get degrees to obtain jobs. Our government has consistently told students that debt is a four-letter word. That is unless it is in the form of student loans.

The mid nineties brought drastic cuts to all aspects of post-secondary education, as it did elsewhere. Universities were cut at the knees, and institutions responded in this new consumer-driven market by raising tuition, and hoping students could beg, borrow or steal enough to attend their institutions.

Students responded by increasing their student loans, by getting part time jobs while they committed less time to their full time studies, and by simply dropping out when times got too hard. The University of Lethbridge, like much of Alberta has a 30% first-year dropout rate, and once again the primary reason cited is affordability. When the average student is graduating with $25,000 in student loans, loans held by our federal and provincial governments, they are easily deterred.

Much like in the early nineties, students who cannot afford to continue their education due to impending tuition increases are looking at minimum wage jobs, if they can get a job at all. Alberta’s unemployment rates are increasing steadily, and now is the time to pursue education if you’re fortunate enough to be able to afford it. On top of this, unemployment affects young people disproportionately.

Sadly, this last round of clear deprioritization and detrimental budget cuts is only shocking because of its herd-like behaviour; following the leader off a cliff. Duncan Wojtaszek, Executive Director of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and a former student executive at the University of Calgary Students Union from earlier this decade commented “The province is passing its financial hardship to students in the form of new debt. The government was saying no area was sacred, but a $54 million dollar cut to scholarships and bursaries, not including the loan forgiveness plan was not communicated to students in any way.”

Wojtaszek’s experience with Alberta politics and post-secondary education funding is diverse and lengthy. Yet, this budget was an unexpected hardship, with Wojtaszek saying that this budget “disproportionately affects students.”

“Last time around the cuts were to the entire system, this time it appears that the government is passing off all their cuts to students in the form of student debt,” Wojtaszek continues. “Institutions are making it up through increased tuition and increased fees. All sacrifices are being aimed at students, whereas last time they were at the community as a whole.”

The precedent-setting cuts made in the early nineties when then-premier Ralph Klein was crowned king of this oil bearing land rippled out, and it put post secondary education institutions behind in ways they are still struggling to make up for. Crumbling classrooms, unmaintained buildings, and poorly conceived residence buildings are a result of slashed stable and renewable maintenance funding. Low-grade technology is the result of having to prioritize one thing over another, and, as the operating grants shrink our class sizes will balloon. Wojtazsek notes that “It is certainly evident that it will put us further behind, but what remains to be seen is if it is a one time blip or if they will be systemic and permanent.”

Anand Sharma, former Chair of the CAUS in 2002/2003 spent much of his time fighting the same issues that current PSE advocacy organizations are still fighting today in Alberta. He remembers “Institutions facing tough decisions, raising tuition consistently.”

“Already we have an issue with whose getting a PSE in this province. Those who want to go can’t go, and have to join the workforce to be able to afford it,” Sharma says. “People are entering PSE later and later. Government continually underfunds PSE, and our institutions are not working with students to really tell the government that what is happening.”

The priorities from the late nineties and early 00’s are the same ones student advocates hold today: maintain the tuition cap. This is so universities cannot raise tuition to pay their Presidents multi-million dollar retirement packages, and fight differential tuition so that universities cannot raise tuition in fields like law, medicine, and pharmaceutical science by over 40%, as proposed by the U of C and U of A. Sharma comments that, “ten years from now, the people who are going to attend are going to be the wealthiest whose parents can pay their tuition. Programs like medicine and dentistry will be even more expensive.”

The truth is that Alberta does a disgraceful job of ensuring their citizens are the best educated and that our economy is diverse and sustainable. This budget round, $54 million was cut from scholarships, bursaries, and grants. The Alberta Loan Relief program was scrapped altogether, a program that used to give students who couldn’t find high-income careers immediately the ability to defer their loan payments or have them forgiven if their financial situation was dire enough. Yet, as low-income students suffer, the government of Alberta can afford to fund another $100 million to Carbon Capture and Storage. Sharma’s statement that, “It doesn’t matter if you’re on the left or right, prioritizing education is a no brainer. It is a win-win for the economy or the province. It was very short sighted” rings true when we see this hegemonic and out of touch government remain in place.

The history of continual de-funding is embarrassing, and yet we seem to have learned little from it. Alberta has experienced a brain drain during even tougher economic times than this. Incredibly promising future researchers and intellectuals have gone to provinces that regulate tuition and ensure that accessibility and affordability are more than pretty words next to a slogan that rings hollow.

Last year, the Alberta government touted the phrase “knowledge economy”, this year the new phrase is “commercialization.” Primary research, intellectual freedom, and learning for the sake of knowledge seem closer and closer to being bygones. Library lights fall, residence buildings are vacated routinely for bed bug fumigation, and our class sizes have become bigger. Students, Albertans, and university administration need to tell our elected government that we want a province that is knowledgeable, and sustainable; not a province that sends our greatest minds elsewhere, as it has the last 15 years.

“The university needs to be champions for PSE and funding for PSE, and often they are appointed by the government and they don’t feel they can be as vocal. A lot of people don’t know until there kids have to go into PSE.”

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Shuffling the deck, or: other assorted sinking ship references

January fifteenth 2010, Premier Stelmach did some light shuffling to his cabinet. The opposition has come up with many witty phrases remarking how this shuffle was little more than a last ditch attempt to appease right wing Progressive Conservatives to keep the PCs strangle hold on the Alberta Legislature, and while this might be true there is something to be said about the changes that were made.

Stelmach changed two visible and divisive portfolios, putting former Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton into the ministry of Finance and Enterprise and placing Gene Zwozdesky – MLA for Edmonton-Mill Creek – into the ministry of Health and Wellness. Other substantial changes included moving Iris Evans, the minister who bore the brunt of the fiscal downturn out of the Finance portfolio and into International and Intergovernmental relations, keeping Doug Horner in the Advanced Education and Technology portfolio, and moving Ron Liepert from Health and Wellness to Energy.

The shuffle was a clear shift to the right, placing some of the most vocal “fiscal conservatives,” including rookie MLA Jonathon Denis, who is a member of the ‘fiscal four’ into cabinet as Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. Considering the province’s pledge to end homelessness by 2019, Denis has quite the challenge in front of him. A minister from Calgary, his previous right wing affiliation has come into play when meeting with student groups, including his defense of the pro-life club in last year’s University of Calgary vs. pro-life club situation. Denis is not the only conservative minister to secure an influential spot in cabinet. Every top-level position has gone to an MLA who has supported fiscally and/or socially conservative policies within the Progressive Conservative party, not to mention exhibiting extreme party loyalty.

Truthfully, it’s a fairly boring cabinet shuffle, giving truth to the phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Fiscally, Morton in cabinet is every true progressive’s nightmare come true. Morton has been vocally in favour of privatization of services, both in his education and political life, as well as in his alliance with the University of Calgary’s “Calgary School” and the now-famous Friends of Science. All told, this does not bode well for social services and those that support them in Alberta. These moves hit especially hard in light of the recent choice to make substantial cuts to disability funding in Alberta. Moving Morton to Finance also gives what might be viewed as a public blessing from Stelmach and could denote a possible incoming PC leader, an “anointed one” to replace Stelmach when he moves on.

Moving Ron Liepert out of Health and Wellness was a politically sound decision, and will likely buy some time for the Alberta government to do some work to fix up this portfolio, damaged by the administration of the H1N1 vaccine last fall. Liepert’s charm will lend itself better to the Energy portfolio, where his efforts to schmooze will go over better with multi national oil executives than it did with out of work nurses and senior care officials.

The somewhat new faces in cabinet are also Calgary and rural centric, likely in response to the threat the Wildrose Alliance poses to taking Calgary and rural seats from the PCs. This shuffle is more in response to an upstart party with one legitimately elected member in the legislature, two floor crossers, and a newly elected leader who has yet to win a seat.

The opposition has yet to take advantage of the shift to the right in Stelmach’s cabinet, nor have they capitalized on the PCs’ rewarding of party loyalists. Instead, they have shifted their attention to criticizing the Wildrose Alliance, and speculating on the threat that they pose to the PCs. It is disappointing to see Alberta’s Official Opposition bow to a party that has yet to even achieve official party status.

This shuffle does little to spell change for Alberta’s legislature and until the next provincial election, I highly doubt too much will change in the way of Alberta’s political workings. The shift to the right is not favourable in light of tight fiscal choices and a seeming de-prioritization of public services but in reality the change is little and party loyalists are party loyalists, regardless of the seats they occupy.

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