My “fireside chat” with a UCP MLA

Hey, Hi, Hello,

So today I sat down with my MLA and asked him a whole bunch of questions about the UCP budget for 2020 and how that will affect my municipality and our province overall. I apologize for the rough drafting here, I’ve never done this before and want to maintain the integrity of the interaction without adding too much or changing what was said beyond removing personal details. Yes, I misspeak a few times, I am not fixing that in the transcript. I accept my mistakes, and you have to as well. Haha.

This is how it went:

First we talked about the cuts to school boards, how that was being managed and what that would mean in regard to services.

For the first several minutes of our meeting, my recorder wasn’t picking up any voices so, to paraphrase;

Me: I am very concerned about the recent cuts to education funding, the Budget impact statement from our school district mentions “significant cuts” and that our reserve funds have been used up compensating for the shortfall from this year of $1, 450,000.00 and I would like to know how we’re supposed to compensate for the loss of the Classroom Improvement Fund, Class size funding and the grant to offset school fee reduction as well as the fact that we have no funding to address the TEBA agreement costs.

MLA: These changes, the new funding model is beneficial for rural schools.

Me: The Impact statement actually says that funding will need to be redistributed to higher enrollment, urban areas

MLA: That’s not the case, as I understand it. The school district is very happy with the changes

*Some general debate regarding responsible budgeting*

In regards to “maintained funding”

MLA: It is like a cut because it doesn’t account for growth. Of all the school boards ours gets hit hardest.

Regarding Calgary nearly losing 317 of their teachers:

MLA: Calgary board of education has a history of being shitty financial managers (his words, not mine). So what they did, is when this came out is they said “we’re firing  317 teachers” and so the minister said “ok, well I think you can find 31 million out of a 1.2 billion dollar budget in other places”, so she hired an auditor 

Me: yes I know. She paid for a second audit even though one was just done

MLA: well she hired an auditor 

Me: and didn’t they find that money in maintenance revenue that was meant for maintaining the schools?

MLA: well they allowed people to take maintenance out for all school boards to help offset the cash scenario

Me: so that’s another cost that’s going to be deferred then, to later on

MLA: Well no, it’s the…but when they put the pressure on the Calgary Board of education and said look, “we’re going to hire an auditor and we’re going to audit your governance and your finances, because we think we can help you find the 31 million somehow” a week later the CBE said “ok, we’re not going to fire any teachers”. So to me that was a political cudgel, right? We’re going to say we’re firing all these guys and it’s all your fault. Well, ok we’re going to come in and audit you and see. OK well we’re going to forget that. So, it wasn’t an honest reply form the CBE.

Me: well, I have opinions about that but…

MLA: Because they’re not fired, so

Me: well, I mean. If I need to pay a big utility bill, I can always pay it on credit, but that doesn’t mean I won’t still have to come up with that money later on. Just because they reallocated funds from maintenance or wherever else, doesn’t mean those funds no longer have to be accounted for. That’s just basic accounting

MLA: And that’s why we’re going down from 36 to…well yeah, that’s right.

Me: but anyway

On Healthcare and Doctors compensation

MLA: But the ones that are being maintained is health. Health actually got more. And education got the same. Community social services got more. And Children’s services got more.

Me: I mean, saying that “health got more” the changes to complex modifiers is a direct issue for us, here as a rural municipality. In our area we have a hard time attracting and keeping physicians and that makes sense, we’re low volume, we have a high percentage of seniors, it’s not a desirable area economically, so when you start looking at reducing the amount that doctors can bill and changing how they go about doing that billing they’re going to start closing practices and we’re seen that already  in other areas.

MLA: Well, do you understand the complex modifiers?

Me: I do-

MLA: Ok so, how much money does a doctor get for the initial part of the visit?

Me: I don’t have that in my notes

MLA: I can tell you, so the deal with a doctor is they get $38.00 + $3 overhead for the first 15 minutes once it goes past 15 minutes, they get the complex modifier which is another $21 which comes to $62 so, the doctors told me they budget for 4 appointments per hour, so 4* (15 minutes each) and then they bill the complex modifier. So they’re getting $62 a visit, every 15 minutes, which is $248 per hour. So what we’re saying is, that wasn’t meant to just get you 62$ per visit, it was meant to give you more time to deal with a complex issue.

Me: yeah, but they’re not all doing that all the time and an appointment often lasts more than 15 minutes, I mean, I’ve been to the doctor

MLA: But that’s what the complex modifier is for, so what they were doing is going “ok, we’re at 15 minutes, now we can bill the complex modifier and bill that 62$ for that visit”. And there’s 100 doctors doing that and 100% of their billings were complex modifiers

Me: 100% of their billings?

MLA: 100 doctors in Alberta, yes

Me: oh, out of 100 doctors in all of Alberta

MLA: Yes, of the doctors I met, the majority of the Doctors in Wainwright are billing that way

Me: that’s interesting

MLA: Now, there’s doctors there that have been operating under the 6 patients per hour model, because that first $41 ($38+$3) whether you take 5 minutes or 15 you get that 41 bucks so they plan on doing 6. 6*40 is $240 (6*$41=$246) so what I asked them is, do you need 250 an hour to run your practice?

I don’t begrudge people their money, right? But the payer has to have the capacity to pay (A principle I wish I had pointed out should apply to the rest of as well).

Me: Ok, but how are we going to make up for that here? If we start losing doctors, what are we going to do?

MLA: Well, there’s the option is what’s called an alternative relationship plan, so my question to the doctors is why don’t we just pay you  $250 bucks an hour? If that’s what you need to run your practice. And so there’s that, and that’s coming out this summer, the AARP is what it’s called, I don’t know all the details of it but that’s coming.

Because in the end, like everyone wants, like, I don’t want to have doctors leave. Our government doesn’t want to have doctors leave. And the doctors here are the highest paid in the country, like most provincial employees, public employees in Alberta.

Me: well, everybody in Alberta is the highest paid in the country, pretty much

MLA: Well, yeah, whatever, and I don’t begrudge that either but in the end, like teachers haven’t had a raise. They’ve had one raise in the last 8 years I think, right? So it’s not, like I’m part of the public accounts committee and when the treasury came in I asked, in all these years where teachers and public employees have gotten zero, is the gap narrowing between us and the rest of Canada and then the lady listed off a bunch of the different professions and how much more they were than the next closest one and so on. So it’s, uh, it’s uh, and again, I don’t begrudge that. 

Me: So, ok, in your position where you’re saying you don’t begrudge them their income and you understand why it is the way it is, what do you think about the messaging we’re seeing from the UCP where they’re like, “oh teachers are just greedy and they just want more money and they’re the highest paid in Canada and doctors are just trying to rip people off”, like, that’s…*makes yuck face*

MLA: Well, that’s not. That’s the message that’s being perceived out there, that’s not, like we don’t hate teachers.

On education again

Me: Well, it comes across that way

MLA: Well, it comes across from the union and I have a frustration with the union. Ah, because the stuff that was, like, we got emails, right? And they’re form letters that the ATA produced and that came to us, right? And here were all these questions, so I went around and people sent in the form letter and a personal question and we sent back a reply, like let’s get together and have a chat, right? So I went and talked to a lot of teachers and every one to start, everyone I talked to there was a question they asked that I couldn’t answer so I said I’ll go figure that out. And I went to a Staff meeting in Vermilion with a group of teachers and there was a whole bunch of these things that just weren’t right. So what the ATA was saying was wrong, and that was to try to stop bull 22 from being passed and now we’re getting ones to repeal bill 22 and all the exact same reasons that have all been answered over and over. And so to me that’s frustrating so it’s not a let’s get the answers to what’s going on here, it’s how do we fight these guys

Me: I think people feel like they’re getting a lot of canned responses from their ministers, part of what’s been frustrating especially for me because I’ve been following all this as a parent, and as a taxpayer and as a homeowner here is that a lot of the time the numbers just don’t make sense, they don’t add up. So when we have somebody saying oh no we increased funding for that and then you look and it’s coming from own sourced revenue, you’ve got to wonder, did YOU increase funding for that or am I just paying more?

MLA: Did we increase funding for which?

Me: well, like education for example. We have these documents coming out that are saying this is coming from own sourced revenue, from the school, so they’re increasing fees, they’ll have to do more fundraisers and for a school like ours we already spent 3 years fundraising to build our playground. We constantly are fundraising because we’re a small town, right? And then you have somebody who looks at you and says, no we increased funding for schools

MLA: Well, we didn’t increase funding, we kept it the same

Me: but the ministers keep saying we increased funding or we’ve maintained funding

MLA: Maintained

Me: well, I’ve actually seen minister Lagrange say we’ve increased funding

MLA: Well, this year..

Me: which

MLA: Yeah

Me: yeah

MLA: Well, per. The school boards are all getting more money in 2020-21 than they got in 19-20

Me: so there’s inconsistent messaging and inconsistent math and that freaks people out.  You know, I have seen a lot of people saying “your MLA isn’t going to give you any answers, because my MLA didn’t even show up to my meeting, my MLA kicked me out of his office”. And these are people that are supposed to be representing their communities, you know

MLA: yeah well, I don’t

Me: And you know it’s frustrating for people. So you

General Budget/Ralph Klein/Oil by rail (I was unprepared for this portion)

MLA: Yeah, well, from my perspective like, all I can tell you is what I know to be the truth, right?  And I know that last, previous year it was 20.4 billion spent on healthcare, this year it’s 20.6. What we’re doing with the doctors, because if everything stays at the same level and continues to run the same way it has been, that’s going to accumulate $2b more over the next 3 years that’ll go to physician compensation, health funding is going to be flat so where do we take that from? That’s the challenge.

Me: And it seems to be a consistent challenge throughout the entire budget, where are we going to find this money? And a lot of it seems to be from US, people who really don’t have opportunities for employment, people who are already paying higher utility bills, taxes, insurance and all these burdens that we’re already struggling to deal with. People are being laid off.

MLA: Well, it’s not easy

Me: well, it’s not really about it not being easy, it’s more about it being kind of impossible. And my biggest question is, if things go awry, which I feel like they’re probably going to because we’re not going to see 58$ oil anytime soon, what are you going to do in the legislature to advocate for us out here? Because I don’t know how high they’re going to get our property taxes to cover these shortfalls, this is very concerning for me.

MLA: It’s concerning for us as well, I tell you, the cost of government is a big deal, no matter what level you’re at. The challenge we’re at is maintaining our overall budget

Me: well, they’re trying to balance the budget. In 3 years. During an economic downturn

MLA: To give you an example, there’s, what we’re not going to have is a 3% cut over 4 years in total spending. What Klein did in 2 years was —

Me: Klein was awful. Klein was awful and everybody knows it. Why is Kenney trying to pretend to be Ralph Klein?

MLA: Why was he awful? (I was unprepared)

Me: Do you not recall him shipping people out of the province because he didn’t want to pay for healthcare (I should have said social services) for people? It was a mess. Economically, it was a mess. It wasn’t good budgeting, across the board. How was Klein good?

MLA: Well, we wound up debt free

Me: not really though, because we had to cover all those shortfalls after the fact

MLA: What shortfalls?

Me: infrastructure was a mess- (Should have mentioned all the job losses)

MLA: You know, during his time he spent more on infrastructure that any other province on a per capita basis? (Klein actually left a huge infrastructure deficit that had to be addressed by the subsequent government)

Me: (with no available data to rebut this statement) it was still a mess.

MLA: So that’s the, in the end, what’s your solution? Take on more debt?

Me: well, we’re in more debt that we would have been with the NDP

MLA: No we aren’t

Me: The numbers say otherwise

MLA: No (*cough, yes, cough*)

Me: especially if we’re relying on $60 oil. This budget does not follow the conservative model at all.

MLA: Yeah, it does

Me: no it doesn’t

MLA: Because it

Me: this is an overestimate of revenue and an underestimate of cost, that’s the opposite

MLA: The NDP was basing on $71 so, we’re less than that. We’re more conservative. (Statement from Joe Ceci in 2017 stated a forecast of $55, not $71)

Me: we might have actually been able to maintain our economic growth if we hadn’t cancelled oil by rail and paid that out

MLA: Ok, so tell me how many barrels of oil were going out by rail last year at this time

*I didn’t have those numbers, obviously*

MLA: It was 120,000 barrels per day last spring it’s almost 500,000 today

Me: I guess it would have to be, since it’s only like, $15 a barrel.

MLA: I’m just answering your question. We’ve got more barrels going by rail and it’s all private

Me: ok, that’s fair

MLA: Now, our budget is higher because that rail deal was a disaster and it was going to lose1.8 billion dollars (NDP predicted it would actually net $2.2B in revenue)

Me: how?

MLA: The way they did it was they said we’re going to ship oil by rail, this is what it cost us, this is how much we’ll get for it at the coast and the difference is our profit. Know what they didn’t allow for? Freight. So that’s how bad of a deal it was, and it was rushed in, just before the election the actually did it in february right before the election period and it cost us 1.3 billion to get rid of.

Me: yeah, I’ve heard that number

MLA: You know so, it was a bad deal that would have cost us a lot of money over years and years so, we had to get rid of it and just pull the band aid off.

On education again

MLA: And so, I dunno, I spent a lot of time talking to the school boards and trying to find ways to help. I did all I could for this district, I even went in there and said, why can’t we find a way to take that shortfall and spread it over 12 months instead of all at once,because it was a cash flow problem that they had and then I have no excuse for the reduction, that’s a factor. We got rid of those 3 things and the one time transition payment was not the same so, it didn’t help them  from a budget perspective but hey came up with a new plan, how from a cash flow perspective it was going to work. But there might be tight times during the year. The other thing was that the reserve that the district had was way lower than the other school boards and there’s a reason for that. But what they told me is that it’s today’s dollars for today’s students. So, I can’t tell you how much it’ll be but, they’re getting more for 20-21 than they got for 19-20, and it won’t be as much as the original budget, it’ll be less than that. And their insurance has gone up so they’ve given notice to get out of that and I went to the government and I asked, why can’t we self insure, because this district has never had a claim and yet their insurance has gone up, so I did bring it up. I think the new model is better for them overall, because there was a lot of consultation and like, I haven’t heard them say that they don’t like it.

On Financial Management

MLA: And you know, I’d love to have enough money for everybody, but we’ve got to find a way to spend a little less. Because Alberta’s just the most debt ridden (we’re not), my brother told me, he’s retired now but he used to work for the BC government, he told me Alberta was always known as a really inefficient government

Me: I believe that

MLA: All through the PC years and like, I’m not criticizing the NDP but we’ve historically been a very inefficient, poorly financially operated province. 

Me: which is frustrating because we’ve had some good times and we really didn’t capitalize on that like we should have

MLA: And here we are, I agree with you

On COVID-19

Me: I have a couple of questions about how our municipality is going to go about addressing concerns about COVID-19 and what the UCP has to say about that-

MLA: To be honest with you, I can’t answer that question, I just don’t know, I haven’t heard. But I know I can’t go into my office in the federal building. I don’t know all the changes that are coming. It’s all coming pretty fast, I’m sure there’s something coming, I just haven’t heard it.

Me: I’m worried, specifically about our region, because we have a pretty high volume of seniors here-

MLA: Well, you know they’re cancelling events so, things are happening. There’s just nothing yet that I know of.

On Children’s services

Me: I was also concerned about the cuts to children’s services and family supports, parent link and supports for youth in crisis etc. There’s a cut overall to the programming-

MLA: I don’t

Me: The paperwork showed a 12% cut, I think

MLA: To be honest with you, the parent link part and family network, I’m aware of that, there’s a good answer but I don’t know what it is so, like I’m trying to get a handle on that

Me: I’m very concerned about that

MLA: I’m not sure how that funding is going to work, it’s like the PUF funding in the schools

On PUF

Me: that’s a concern as well

MLA: That one is, what’s happened is that’s meant for 2 years 8 months  and it was included in kindergarten 

Me: and now it isn’t

MLA: But we’ve increased the funding for that thing for instead of being from 1-12 now it’s from k-12 so it’s been replaced is what I’ve been told

Me: it’s sort of been moved and then replaced with a different grant, so the different grant actually offers a reduced funding for the kindergarten program, which is frustrating for some people because previously it was 15,000 I think, or 20-15,000 and now it’s 15-10 at the top end of the grant funding or something

MLA: You know what, I’m going to get a proper explanation for you

Me: that would be great

MLA: Because I know that, people that I know now MLAs that I’ve talked to they were quite content with it and it just changed because where kindergarten wound up

Me: well, now the codings that are included have been changed slightly or something, so children with a speech delay who need Speech-language therapy are no longer being included in that in some instances, I’ve seen several other parents share

MLA: That are in PUF?

Me: that are supposed to be in PUF for kindergarten and these parents were assured that it wasn’t going to affect their children because they have this coding and now they’ve received letters saying that their child is no longer eligible and won’t be receiving that therapy and it’s very upsetting for them, so-

MLA: I just need to talk to more people. This PUF funding in kindergarten, I’ll get some more information. This all deserves informed answers which is the challenge, there are some answers I just don’t have so, I follow up.

On mandatory standardized testing for Grade 3 Students

Me: I think we’ve covered almost everything, I did have a teacher who wanted to know about the mandated testing for grade 3 students, do you know what’s going on with that?

MLA: That’ll happen but it, what I don’t know is if it counts for anything. What it might be more a thing to get a, like, if a kid’s having a problem can we find that out sooner so we can address it

Me: so more about individual learning outcomes?

MLA: That’s my understanding of it, yeah. Which I agree with that because it’s a way to measure how you’re doing relative to other systems and how else do you measure yourself, right? And I’ve asked teachers, is it PISA? (He was referring to the Programme for International Student Assessment for 15 year olds)

Me: Well, there’s SLAs and PATs-

MLA: Yeah, the PATs is what this is and we want to do it at the grade 3 level and the way I understand it is that it doesn’t count for a mark. It’s more to measure how they’re doing.

Me: some parents are concerned that this will be stressful for their kids

AUMA Advocacy for my municipality

Me: The AUMA was talking about advocating for a revision to the planned reduction to the Municipal Sustainability Initiative, are you involved with that at all?

MLA: Well, I’m aware of it, that’s the grant they get all the time. It’s a negotiated thing that happens, I don’t know if it’s gone down recently or…The police one was an interesting one, because if you’re a town of 5000 or less, you didn’t have to pay for your police and so we’re changing that and what they’ve done, the municipalities want more boots on the ground and better results, but it is going to cost them more, so.

Me: also our fire services too, our fire training

MLA: Yeah there’s a half a million dollars province wide that we’ve taken out of it, so really on a per municipality it’s not much and it’s a municipal responsibility so we’ve just removed ourselves from it. And we didn’t receive any push back on that from municipalities because it was relatively small. That is something that happened.

**At this point my 4yo was finished being at the diner so I suggested that we end our meeting and we agreed to continue our discussion via email. My MLA requested that I email him some bullet points of what we had discussed and further questions I had and that I inform my village council that he would be happy to attend a meeting and speak with them about their concerns. He also said he would be willing to attend the board meeting for our Kindergarten and discuss PUF allocations and any concerns there were around that.

Overall, I felt that he was open to most topics, but next time I will have my figures about the NDP fiscal record and Ralph Klein at the ready. Haha.

Most of you follow me on twitter, so if you have any follow up questions (and I know you will) tweet them at me or send me a DM. Sorry that I couldn’t cover everything in more detail, I found him to be a bit rambly and it was at times, challenging to keep him on topic. I will be following up with him via email on Monday and hopefully will get some more concise answers then.

Calamity out.

5 thoughts on “My “fireside chat” with a UCP MLA

  1. This was a great read! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this. I have (had) some very similar questions to the things you were asking. Very helpful

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem, I’ll be posting the information I find through following up next week and some new info that we didn’t get a chance to discuss. If you have anything you want me to ask about, feel free to comment your questions here or on twitter and I’ll do my best to get some answers 🙂

      Like

  2. I would love to know when he went to a teacher staff meeting in Vermilion as I highly doubt that it actually occured. Also…he talks as if there is only one school division in his riding, when in fact there are 5 – BTPS, ECCS, LSCD, LPSD, Conseil Scolaire Centre Nord (Ecole sans Frontiers in Lloyd) as well as the School of Hope in Vermilion. I can attest that he never once replied to any e-mail I had ever sent. I have a very hard time believing anything that he is saying right now, as everything he says seems to be talking points he was directed to say.

    Liked by 1 person

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