Please, Sir, Can we have some Emergency Funding?

The Liberal government is trying to pass an Emergency funding bill in the House of Commons that would allow them the flexibility to provide relief funds to the Provinces more easily and quickly. Seems pretty straightforward, except that the opposition government has some concerns about the language of the bill.

Conservatives have raised issue with part 2 of the bill, which would allow the government to make financial decisions for 21 months without parliamentary approval. The Liberal Government agreed to drop that portion of the bill, saying that the government needs to get assistance to Canadians as quickly as possible.

The remaining concern from the opposition seems to be mostly about phrasing being too general and granting too much power to the finance minister, allowing him to access “all money required to do anything, including making payments to provinces and territories.”

From what I can understand of the situation, the Government wants the flexibility to respond and provide aid easily and the opposition wants to maintain parliamentary oversight. The conservatives say they aren’t opposed to the proposed financial aid measures in the bill, they are opposed to granting the cabinet powers that are not typically seen in our parliamentary system.

This proposed aid package includes:

An approximate $2 Billion boost to the CCB in extra support for families

An emergency care benefit of up to $900 bi weekly for up to 15 weeks for workers who are unable to work but don’t qualify for EI including those who are self employed or who don’t qualify for paid sick leave. That measure could see up to $10 Billion in relief dispersed to Canadians.

The emergency support benefit, which could provide up to $5 Billion in support for workers who aren’t eligible for EI.

$305 Million for new Indigenous community support fund to address immediate needs in FN, Inuit and Metis communities.

6 month stay on student loan payments and interest

Doubling the homeless care program

an extension of the tax filing deadline to June 1

A policy change that would allow taxpayers to defer their payments until after august 31 for payments due between today and December.

Today Scott Reid, MP, decided to head to the HoC to block the unanimous consent needed to pass the proposed Aid package in the House.

Mr. Reid chose to ignore requests from his party whip that all MPs stay away from the house of commons claiming “procedural concerns”, although upon reading his statement I can see nothing other than partisan posturing and a desire to misrepresent the actions of our government.

In short, Scott Reid is a Dick and political games are delaying emergency financial assistance from reaching Canadians. I’m ticked off.

Calamity out.

Trouble on the Front Lines

Hey, Hi, Hello

I’d like to talk a little bit about the government of Alberta’s response to the COVID19 pandemic, specifically the fact that in 8 days, healthcare workers will not know what their compensation for their time battling this public health crisis will be.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the “too much” that’s happening right now, in Alberta and across our country. We have a lot on our plates, a lot on our minds and a lot of new responsibilities to manage thanks to recent events. Some people may have gotten distracted from the situation faced by our healthcare staff.

Minister of Health Tyler Shandro stated that the Alberta Government would be putting their cuts on hold for the duration of the pandemic, but that offers little comfort to front line staff who fear that they may lose their jobs when all this is over. Doctors and nurses have taken to twitter to voice their frustration and concerns, pointing out that they are risking not only their health, but their lives for the people of this province in which government officials actively disobey social distancing recommendations, with Shandro himself posing for a photo op at a testing facility on March 22 without visible PPE.

I, for one, feel that their concerns are valid.

As of approximately 30 minutes ago, Minister of Health Tyler Shandro tweeted out new billing codes for virtual care, likely as a result of public pressure from doctors and patients in regard to the Telus Babylon Health app rollout this week, which garnered criticism from doctors and patients across the province.

It is important to note that this does not offer healthcare workers assurances in regards to their clinical revenues as of April, 1.

It is vital at this time that we support our front line workers.

Step up, speak out, protect each other and for goodness sake, wash your hands and follow the recommendations from AHS.

Calamity out.

Government Intimidation in the age of the Internet. Part 3

Hey, Hi, Hello

If you’ve been following this series, you know that over the last few days I’ve been receiving a lot of tips and stories from people about how the Government of Alberta representatives and ministers have been interacting with the people they are supposed to serve.

One tip in particular inspired me to test something for myself. As many of you know, I have emailed government ministers in the past, and received either no response or a canned response so, I haven’t bothered much with emails in regard to this particular series of posts. Yesterday, I decided to email a minister myself after receiving a tip about this particular minister’s behavior recently, and boy did that deliver some results.

So far I have sent a single email, inquiring about a matter of public concern. I made sure to keep my email professional and to make no statements or accusations. What I received in return may well be one of the most unprofessional replies I have ever seen from a business professional (outside of the UCP, anyways). As much as I would like to share the exchange in its entirety with you right now, I actually don’t feel safe doing so.

As of now, I am weighing my options and considering the consequences carefully of continuing to engage with this individual. Were this not a government official with whom I was emailing for a story, I would not continue to correspond with them.

The pattern of behavior we are seeing is troubling, as I’ve mentioned before. Attacks on citizens, dismissal of public concerns, a disregard for even the appearance of ethical concern, and the hubris of those who believe themselves to be above criticism make for a dangerous brew.

I will update this series as events unfold.

Stay safe, protect each other, keep records.

Calamity out.

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Government Intimidation in the age of the Internet. Part 2

Hey, Hi, Hello

Yesterday I wrote a piece introducing us to the pattern of Government intimidation we’ve been seeing in Alberta. I outlined a few public cases that illustrated the types of behaviors I’ve seen from government representatives in my province that I find concerning and I asked people to share their stories with me, publicly or privately, and the results have been distressing to say the least.

Over the last 24 hours, I have been inundated with personal accounts of government representatives, and even ministers, attacking private citizens who raise concerns. Government officials blocking people who speak out against their policies and even targeted threats against people via their employers demanding that tweets be deleted. Currently, I am choosing to keep everyone anonymous for safety purposes, as we have good reason to be concerned about the potential “doxxing” of more vocal critics of the government, which is something that I never thought I would write in Canada.

Our current government likes to crow about their “free speech” and how any dissent or disagreement is an attack on them, yet they are frighteningly comfortable with silencing the voices of the people they are meant to be serving, particularly women. Which brings us to another facet of the UCP ~MAP TO TOTALITARIANISM~, using women to claim dissent or disagreement is sexist. A perfect example of this is when Katy Merrifield called a private citizen a “sad, sexist, basement dwelling, mouth breather” for the crime of questioning how much the UCP comms team boosts each others social media posts. This was in response to her claiming the Former Premier Notley’s team was paying people to do the same. The citizen in question did not call her any names, attack her as a person or in any way behave inappropriately.

When Samantha Peck was called out for attacking a mother who was advocating for her children, calling her “Bitter”, Samantha’s team rallied and attempted to paint those calling out her behavior and continued attacks on a private citizen as “bullies” who were just “jealous of how pretty she is”. There’s that word again, “Bully”. The UCP loves to claim victim hood when their behavior is criticized. If the UCP were a person, this behavior would be classic abuse.

BUT WAIT! According to a well known UCP supporter who is apparently very concerned with my tweets, to call it such is “Deranged”. Yes, someone with 13 thousand followers has retweeted me and called me such, not once, but twice! Keep in mind, I am anonymous online and I am a relatively small account. I am mostly safe. Someone would have to go out of their way to find me, so I have a fair amount of wiggle room before I start to feel scared, but I can tell you, being targeted by someone like that twice made me anxious. For professionals and people who use their real names, that kind of thing can be genuinely dangerous. Which the UCP seems oddly unconcerned with considering their focus on their own online freedom and safety. It’s almost as though there’s a double standard at play.

An important factor here is that the voices being silenced are raising valid concerns, from potential conflicts of interest to the under funding of vital services. These citizens are Parents, Teachers, Doctors and Scientists. They are not internet trolls or rabid opponents of specific ministers, they’re the people the government is supposed to represent.

The topics I’ve seen raised include:

1) The Telus Babylon Health App, which doctors have been raising concerns about since it’s launch, is Saudi funded and which some are concerned is facilitating a move toward a privatized healthcare system by moving funding from out local, front line healthcare services to a private corporation and is in violation of Canadian privacy laws. Many have noted that the Government of Alberta pays physicians only $20 for telephone appointments, but that doctors who are not in Alberta receive $38 per appointment through Babylon.

2) Cuts to healthcare and the ongoing attack on Doctors and Nurses within our province. This topic has been especially concerning in the face of the COVID19 pandemic, with doctors finding themselves unable to cover the costs of running their clinics and our healthcare system facing a real cut during a global health crisis even with an emergency infusion of $500 million. The UCP has refused to back down on their rhetoric calling doctors and nurses “overpaid” during this time of crisis and have offered no assurances (to my knowledge) in regards to their compensation.

3) Cuts to education, which the UCP chooses to frame as a funding freeze, but which actually amounts to a notable cut when inflation is factored in . Changes to the funding model are likely to be harmful to school boards that serve more rural communities as well as children with special needs.

4) Which brings us to PUF or Program Unit Funding, which has been a major concern for parents of children in the province entering Kindergarten who require educational and social supports. These supports include Occupational, Speech and Physical therapy among other services to support children’s learning and help them be successful in school. Thanks to the UCP budgetary changes, the model has changed and PUF is no longer provided to Kindergarten students in Public schools. The funding to replace PUF stems from grants which offer, you guessed it, a significant cut. To get a feel for how a UCP MLA feels about these issues, check out https://prolificprogressive.com/2020/03/14/my-fireside-chat-with-a-ucp-mla/

5) The potential conflict of interest in regard to the spouse of our Minister of Health being Founder and Principal of a company that offers health insurance to people and businesses while he actively engaged in behaviors that people see as intentional acts to undermine our public health system.

The most common concern that I see repeated is under funding as a means of implementing a private option, for the personal gain of those in power or those connected to people in power, which is a valid concern. Citizens should be free to raise their concerns with their government without fear of retaliation.

When a government starts to silence the voices of the public, and to engage in retaliatory acts against their opponents, that’s troubling. It’s happening, not just around us, we’re in it.

Don’t allow it. Step up, speak out, protect each other. Keep records.

Calamity out.

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Time for something a little lighter

Hey, Hi, Hello!

Are you self isolating, engaging in social distancing or in full lock down with kids? Is this a whole new works of insanity for you? Well, never fear! I’m going to share some of my best survival tips and tricks with you.

First, on a serious note: Self Isolation can be hard, I know. Even for introverts, there are limits to how isolated a person can reasonably be before it starts to affect their mental and physical health. If you start to feel overwhelmed by your isolation, reach out, skype a friend, go for a walk or speak to your doctor. Don’t wait until your feelings become unmanageable to get support. Your feelings are valid, you deserve care and you are worthy of attention.

Now, onto the tips.

Tip 1: Do stuff during your bursts of energy

When I first became a full time mom to 2 children under 2 years old, I was coming out of a routine of 18 hour work days. I never expected to become so exhausted so quickly. Don’t be hard on yourself if you find that you have long stretches of zero motivation and a seemingly endless desire to nap. That feeling is, in my experience, pretty normal. Your routine has changed, you are under stress and everything is new and outside of your control. It’s ok to feel a little off kilter. The important thing is that when you have your “Up” moments, you use them in ways that improve your overall health and well being. Work isn’t going to bend to your mental health needs for the most part, but other things can.

Use your uptime to cook yourself a big batch of unseasoned meat to set aside to make cooking dinners throughout the week faster and easier when you just can’t find the fucks to give. I did a big batch of chicken thighs yesterday that will be used for soup, stir fry, chicken pot pie and casserole. Next time I feel like doing stuff I’m going to cook up a bunch of hamburger and portion it out for Shepherd’s pie and spaghetti. Maybe make some breads and baked goods so we can just pull stuff out of the freezer when I don’t feel like thinking up something these assholes will eat.

Organizing your kids educational stuff is helpful too, making up a routine to follow if you haven’t got one yet. Catching up on things you wanted to do for yourself is a great use of uptime, or even just going for a walk or stretching. Anything that makes you feel good and takes some worry off your mind is a good thing to do.

Tip 2: Allow yourself to have your “down” times

It might seem simple enough to be kind to yourself while you transition into this new phase you’ve been thrown into, but a lot of people struggle with being gentle with themselves. You may feel like you’re not accomplishing anything and your downtime is outweighing your uptime, and that may be the case right now but it won’t always. Once you settle into a daily routine that is comfortable for you, your downtimes will get further apart and you’ll find that you accomplish more without even noticing. All of a sudden you’ll realize that you went through a whole week without feeling like you suddenly couldn’t keep your eyes open at 10am, you got all your housework done and you’re not behind on any work. It’ll sneak up on you. The important part is to try to be consistent with your routine when you’re not struggling to stay awake and to use your time to prepare for the times when you just can’t cope.

*Note, consistent doesn’t mean perfect, do not expect perfection from yourself, that’s not fair.

Tip 3: The other 80% of your time

Right now, you might find that you feel like there’s waves of realization happening *to* you. You’ll be going through your day and all of a sudden something will snap you into the reality of things. Something like seeing an empty mall parking lot that is usually busy on a Saturday or remembering that an event you were planning to go to is postponed. Those moments might be upsetting, or feel surreal, and that’s ok too! Things are upsetting and surreal, it’s ok to admit it. It’s ok to be scared, or even angry. What matters is how you manage those feelings.

While it’s true that this situation is scary, there are still a lot of really lovely things happening in the world. People are supporting each other, from the act of social distancing itself to dropping off supplies for immune compromised people in their neighborhoods and to friends who are quarantined. It’s really great to see people coming together even when they have to maintain a minimum 6ft distance from each other.

The environment in areas that are in full quarantine is beginning to improve already, with dolphins swimming in the canals in Italy to the smog over parts of china clearing. It’s truly amazing to see how fast things can change if given time and the videos are very neat to watch.

People are realizing the importance of people they took for granted, from people stocking grocery store shelves to the medical professionals we rely on, this crisis has shown how much we depend on each other in our daily lives without realizing it.

It can be hard, when you’re struggling, to see the positive things happening around you but I hope you will try.

I also hope that when you just can’t, when you’ve tried to be positive but you can’t help but feel overwhelmed and sad and angry, that you know that it’s ok to feel that way and it will pass.

Calamity out.

Government Intimidation in the Age of the Internet

Hey, Hi, Hello

I want to talk about government intimidation of private citizens on the internet, particularity in Alberta, because that’s where I live and where I’m seeing it.

Recently one of my Twitter friends was singled out by one of our Conservative ministers, he tagged her multiple times while claiming that she had attacked his wife and that his wife was, as a result, being harassed and getting death threats.

Of course, what he’s claimed isn’t true, no part of her statement was provocative or inappropriate, she simply pointed out that the Minister of Health for the Government of Alberta, someone who has been blatantly working to dismantle our public healthcare system and vilify our doctors and nurses, is married to a woman who owns a company that facilitates the supply of private health insurance and that may be considered a conflict of interest.

For more information about the Conservative record of privatization in Alberta and Canada see my previous post https://prolificprogressive.com/2020/03/20/conservative-mismanagement/ and you will see why this concern about the privatization of healthcare is a valid concern.

Now, it would be easy to look at this situation as a one time thing, if it weren’t happening pretty much constantly. Citizens who speak out against our government are dismissed as “NDP staffers” or told that their concerns are invalid because they choose to be anonymous for their safety, (which is an important point that we will come back to) or are simply directly attacked by members of their government.

One trend in particular is troubling, but unsurprising, the majority of those singled out for harassment and intimidation are women. A doctor in Calgary was not only singled out, but she had her ethics and mental stability questioned, publicly by government representatives because she had the nerve to be angry about the attacks on her profession and her patients. They implied that she would provide sub-par care to conservative patients (as if doctors ask people about their political affiliations) and that she would grade conservative students differently. Questioning her ethics, while they themselves engaged in unethical behavior.

There was the political scientist who was singled out for attack by the premier on the floor of the legislature. He attempted to attack and question her credibility because she had, more than a decade prior, participated in our democracy.

A good friend of mine was personally attacked by UCP ministers and “Communications Professionals” for having the audacity to advocate for her young children, who will be seriously affected by cuts to Program Unit Funding and the overall cuts to our education system. They called her a political prop, bitter and implied that she was dishonest regardless of the mountains of evidence that supported her concerns.

Of course there was also a prominent Financial expert and outspoken twitter personality who has received threats of violence as well as the vitriol of online conservatives, to such a degree that she had to involve police.

Those four examples are of women who used their real names, which is incredibly brave of them given what we know to be true of this government and their supporters. Personally, I don’t use my real name anywhere online, because I have been targeted and threatened by conservatives myself and the thing that gives me even the tiniest sense of security is that they don’t know who I am.

Attempts to silence of control the people of Alberta range from all out attacks, like we saw with the women I mentioned previously, to smaller acts like attempting to discredit the experiences of people who once supported the UCP and are stating publicly that they will not support them in the future, or simply blocking people with opinions they dislike. Many of my followers on Twitter are blocked from following or interacting with Conservative politicians, Michelle Rempel being a notable fan of the Block function. I’ve even heard that both the CPC and UCP have engaged in deleting negative facebook comments, silencing people asking questions or voicing their concerns. Personally, I am blocked online by the Conservative Party of Canada for the crime of questioning the man who at the time was leading their party calling our Prime Minister a “Drama teacher” when he, himself has never held a job outside of politics long enough to attain any type of accreditation and why he and his supporters believe that “Teacher” is an insult. I am also blocked by Samantha J. Peck, a “communications professional” in the service of the government of my province because I suggested that it was not a great idea for her grandfather to be driving a golf cart on the sidewalk after having his license revoked. What can I say? I’m a radical.

Now, the intimidation and targeting of certain groups in Canada isn’t new. Historically, and sadly even recently, we’ve seen the LGBTQ+ community subjected to dismissive treatment in regards to their safety and security by officials who are tasked with protecting the public, including some members of government. Of course environmental groups have been under attack since the Harper years of murky governance but to see individuals dragged into the mud by the people who are supposed to represent them, officials who are supposed to work FOR Albertans, makes me very uncomfortable.

When taken individually, all these actions by our Ministers and their representatives seem minor. A block here, a tag here, a dog pile over in the corner, it happens, right? It’s the internet. But when you look at this pattern as a whole, it reveals a blueprint to authoritarian governance that we should all be wary of.

  1. Silencing dissent
  2. Targeting the opposition for attacks
  3. Demanding that people share their personal information in order to be taken seriously
  4. Singling out private citizens and misrepresenting their actions
  5. Harassment of private citizens

Some will say that I’m over reacting, and that “it can’t happen here” but if you pay attention you’ll see that it already is happening. Don’t allow it. Step up, speak out, protect each other.

Calamity out.

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Conservative Mismanagement

As we, here in Alberta, watch our current government work to dismantle public services in an effort to push privatization. I would like to take a quick look at the conservative legacy of privatization, both provincially and federally. 

Today, after seeing the reaction of healthcare professionals online to the advertisements for Telus’  Babylon health app, I tweeted out a reminder that Telus Communications was once the Alberta Government Telephones Commission. A crown corporation that provided telephone service to Albertans located outside of Edmonton. 

For reference, between 1975 -1996 the Government of Alberta (Which happened to be PC) sold their shares in a total of 6 corporations to the tune of  $3,439,000,000.00.

The AGT, Alberta Energy Company, Syncrude Canada, Edmonton Communications, Vencap Equities Alberta and CTV2.

  1. The initial public offering of shares in AGT in 1990 raised 896 million and in 1991 the GoA sold its remaining shares for 839 million. The AGT was renamed Telus Corporation after it was privatized. 
  2. Telus Corporation bought Edmonton Telephones in 1995. 
  3. The Alberta Energy Company was privatized in stages, originally a crown corporation the AEC offered a sale of public shares in 1975 (which reduced the Alberta government’s stake to 50 per cent). The Alberta government received $104 million in 1985 for shares sold to AEC and $456 million in 1993 through a secondary offering of the provincial government’s remaining shares. Of that revenue from the sale in 1993, $273 million was transferred to the province’s General Revenue Fund, and the remaining $183 million was used to repay loans made by the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund to AEC.
  4. The GoA sold their 16.7% ownership in Syncrude Canada in 1993 
  5. The GoA sold their shares in Vencap Equities for $174 million and “Special Loans to Vencap”.
  6. CTV2 also known as Access or the Alberta Educational Communications Corporation was privatized in 1995 and is now owned by Bell media.

*It is important to note that the privatization of Crown corporations can have a negative fiscal impact as their remittances to the government as private entities could be offset by the loss of dividends and investment revenue.  From an accounting perspective, the sale of an asset such as a corporation has an impact on the government’s fiscal position depending on the gain or loss from the sale. Selling corporate holdings impacts budgetary deficits and net debt based on the difference between the sale proceeds and net book value.  If the government has invested huge amounts into a crown corporation the sale of that corporation may not be enough to recover the amount of the original investment. Of course the opposite can also be true, but it’s difficult to determine which is which externally as allowances for valuation aren’t generally available to the public from what I can tell.**

When we look at trends of privatization Federally, we find that much of the privatization of federal services was at the hands of Conservative governments as well (*cough, all of it *cough*), which, in my opinion, shines a light on the lie of the “Fiscally Responsible Conservative Government”. If a government is effective in their financial management, there should be no need to sell off crown assets. 

For reference;

  1. Air Canada was privatized in 1988 (PC), 
  2. Cadadair was privatized in 1986 (PC), 
  3. CNR was privatized in 1995 (PC)(Bill Gates holds majority shares in the Canadian National Railway).
  4. Petro-Canada was privatized in 1991 (PC) and operated as a private, independent corporation until it merged with Suncor Energy in 2009 (PC). 
  5. Polymer Corporation was a successful crown corporation that operated from 1942 until it was privatized through its sale to NOVA corp in 1988 and its subsequent sale to Bayer AG of Germany in 1990. Polymer Corporation was featured on the back of the 1971 ten dollar bill and has been cited as an example of how a crown corporation can be profitable and contribute to the economy over a sustained period of time.

Conservative governments like to play act at being sound financial managers, yet history shows us they are, in fact, incapable of maintaining any kind of financial balance whether provincially or federally. Since 1957 they’re been transforming balanced or even surplus budgets into deficits like shitty magicians, right before our eyes and lying about it to our faces.

Even when conservatives inherit a deficit, like Mulroney did ($40B), they somehow manage to make things about $474 billion times worse. Mulroney started selling Crown assets to bring down his deficit and introduced the GST. He also sold the refinement and lucrative parts of Canada’s once profitable medical isotope industry to MDS health Group and kept the refinement (the expensive part for us) at the ACEL reactor at chalk river which eventually broke down after Harper fired the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

Harper then bailed on the medical isotope business altogether, abandoning the 2 reactors that were supposed to be taking over from Chalk River. This resulted in Canada being in breach of contract with MDS health and being sued for $1.6 B. Thanks Steve. 

Evidence of poor conservative management is illustrated in the handling of Nortel and the technology that was put up for auction as well, but hey, maybe  conservatives just aren’t great at managing tech businesses, right? At least they cut corporate taxes, that’ll create growth and protect jobs, right?

Well, no actually. A recent study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that reducing federal and provincial corporate taxes has not created jobs. What it has done is help to increase the profits of Canada’s 198 largest companies by 50% since 2000 and this report from the Globe and Mail shows that, instead of investing profits back into their business companies are now hoarding cash – and that includes anything that comes their way in the form of tax cuts. 

What people seem to misunderstand is that tax cuts can create jobs, just not corporate tax cuts. The tax cuts that create jobs are actually income tax cuts, because they stimulate the economy through increasing the purchasing power of citizens, which increases demand, which forces businesses to keep up to that demand through increased production, which creates jobs. Consumer spending drives 68% of economic growth. Targeted income tax reduction for low and middle income families are more effective than across the board tax cuts (sounds a lot like what the Liberal government is trying to do), particularly during a recession as low and middle income families spend every dollar they get to keep in the local economy. 

Corporate tax cuts don’t seem to do much at all, according to a 2018 study by the Institute of Policy Studies in the US. The study compared 92 publicly-held corporations who paid less than 35% in corporate taxes. What it found was that between 2008 and 2015, these corporations lost jobs while the overall economy increased jobs by 6%. Instead of creating jobs or contributing to the economy through taxes, these companies bought back their own stocks and increased CEO pay.

So, what does all this tell us?

In short, it shows that Conservative Governance as it has existed in Canada thus far is ineffective and even detrimental to our economic health. The behavior we’re seeing from our Conservative government in Alberta is not, in fact, new. Jason Kenney and his team are just really bad at the act that their predecessors tried to teach them and they keep accidentally showing us their cards.  

Calamity out.

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Pondering during a pandemic

Today our province declared a public health emergency due to COVID 19.

For people like myself, things will carry on much the same as they were before. I live a life of mostly isolation with my children in a small town, I only go into “the city” when I need to or when the cabin fever becomes too much. There has been limited opportunity on my area for employment for quite some time now and despite applying for jobs constantly for the last 9 months, I’ve only been interviewed for 3. Self isolation is just my life.

For others, this will be significantly more challenging. People who are accustomed to having daily adult interactions are already speaking out about how this is impacting their mental health and we’re only within the first week of social distancing. People are beginning to see the affects of reduced business activities including layoffs and all of this is happening during a major economic downturn. Some people are clearly panicking already, hoarding household goods.

But what does all this mean in the long term? To be frank, we don’t know. This situation is unprecedented, our governments are working to address the biggest concerns first (or so we hope) and to try to keep the population calm, but they are unable to give us a road map for what comes next.

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Hinshaw mentioned the potential for a “second wave” of infection in the fall, like we saw with SARS in 2008. We don’t know though, so we have to all do our best to be cautious and make the best decisions we can with the information we have.

What I can say, from what I’ve read is that if we follow the recommendations from our health authorities, most of us will be fine. Our children appear to be mostly safe from my understanding, with 15 total cases in children between 1-19 in AB today and 0 in children under 1 year old so, that’s something to be grateful for.

We have measures in place for those experiencing symptoms, including an online symptom checker, which you can find here https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19/Pages/COVID-Self-Assessment.aspx?utm_source=google&utm_medium=sem&utm_campaign=Covid19&utm_term=self-assessment&utm_content=GoA-sitelink-v1&gclid=Cj0KCQjw6sHzBRCbARIsAF8FMpVfpoQ_W8Jk68OISKF6LditLpw0XblhCYmMkEMq5YA4B-HWn-rm1CgaArctEALw_wcB and health link 811.

Vehicle registrations (surnames beginning with B,D,G and Y, driver’s licenses, permits and other certificates are being extended to may 15 so people don’t have to worry about that, which is nice.

Per the Alberta government website: If you have symptoms

1)Fever

2) dry cough

3) fatigue

4) difficulty breathing

Stay home, do not go to the ER or doctor’s office. Use the self assessment tool to determine if testing is necessary.

Please stay safe, stay informed and be excellent to each other.

P.S. Wash your damn hands.

Calamity out.

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.

Women at Work Pt. 1

The Mckinsey institute estimates that allowing women to participate fully in the workforce could add approximately 150 Billion to Canada’s GDP by 2026 with Alberta alone seeing a potential GDP increase of 21.3 Billion. But what does it mean to “allow women to participate fully in the workforce”?

For starters it means removing barriers to employment, like the exorbitant cost of childcare across much of the country. Childcare represents the second highest household expense after rent or mortgage payments for many families, a price often paid by the mother, whether through her earnings or through loss of employment because it just wasn’t worth it to keep working.

It also means removing barriers to women obtaining high-productivity positions. Currently women represent only 35% of managerial positions, 23% of STEM positions and 20% of small business owners. This is not because women pursue these positions at a lower frequency than men or are less reliable, in fact, women are 21% more likely to achieve “top performer” status than their male counterparts.

The difference is parenting responsibility and inaccessible childcare.

So, what can be done?

First and foremost we need to examine the current, male-centric system and correct patterns that are exclusionary to women. Investing in affordable childcare and flexible work options to increase the available hours of paid work for women would be a great start, but there’s more to it.

Gender norms damage women’s career prospects, it is expected that if the school or daycare calls or needs something, that the mother will automatically fill that role. This expectation needs to change, in order for women to benefit from equality of opportunity, men need to take on more of the responsibilities of raising their children, which means employers of men need to understand that sometimes Steve is going to have to go to a parent teacher conference instead of his wife.

It’ll take time, and likely won’t be the easiest transition for some, but these changes are necessary for the growth of our country and the people in it.

“You can’t stop progress”-clutch