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JOHNSTON: UCP grassroots at odds with teachers and their own MLAs on school choice

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy in the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but it won’t, not without a fight.

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United Conservative Party members voted Saturday in favour of adopting a school voucher system as official party policy at their convention in Calgary. Policy 15 – which passed narrowly by 307 votes in favour and 267 votes against – reads that “The United Conservative Party believes that the Government of Alberta should: a) ensure equitable per-student funding in accordance with school choice – public, separate, charter, home, or private, and b) implement an education ‘voucher system’ that will provide for equal per-student funding regardless of their school choice, free from caveats or conditions.”

Delegates at the UCP convention on Saturday Nov. 30. Photo by Derek Fildebrandt, Western Standard

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy within the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but not if Alberta’s Education Minister gets her way. The legislation expected to be introduced by the UCP government in the spring session of the legislature is currently open to submissions as part of a public engagement process.

But in an interview with the Toronto Star, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in response to the policy vote that her education reform plan “does not include a voucher system.” The UCP government will continue to seek public input until December 6 on the Choice in Education Act – but appears to have already firmly rejected a meaningful policy debated and adopted by its own members.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is opposed to the school voucher policy as well and issued its own talking points prior to the UCP convention:

• Alberta’s public education is universally available to all Albertans.
• Alberta’s public education system maintains a high level of accountability.
• The only way policy 15 could be cost-neutral is if public education is further diminished to pay for the programs aimed at the small, self-selected elite.

The ATA added that vouchers would create “boutique education.”

Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), an Alberta-based non-profit organization advocating for “an excellent, quality-oriented, choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority”, released a research report in October in partnership with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) in support of choice in education. Highlights from the report are that:

• Taxpayer costs per student enrolled in independent schools ($5,404) and home education ($1,671) are substantially lower than in government schools ($10,801);
• The existence of government funding for independent schools and home education has saved taxpayers $1.9 billion over eight years, which is greater than the money needed for all requested capital projects by the four largest Alberta government school divisions over the next three years; and,
• Enrolment numbers between 2010/11 and 2017/18 show that growth was slowest in public-government schools when compared to all other education options analyzed, meaning families are increasingly seeking alternatives to public-government schools.

The Choice in Education Act will likely face opposition from the ATA, with or without the inclusion of a school voucher system, and increase hostility between Kenney’s UCP government and powerful public sector unions.

In a Western Standard interview on the eve of the UCP convention, Franco Terrazzano, Alberta Director for the CTF, said union protests “won’t sit well with Albertans who gave Kenney a clear mandate to balance the books.”

Opinion

LETTER: Stop repatriating ISIS fighters to Canada

A reader says that Canada must shut the door on returning ISIS fighters.

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RE: Calgary man charged with terror crimes after allegedly training with ISIS in Syria

The arrest of a Calgary man by the RCMP on terror-related charges linked to his time with the Islamic State should be a stern reminder to Canadians that the old foe of Islamic extremism hides beneath current tensions. The RCMP say there are 190 Canadians linked to Islamic terror groups. Sixty have returned to Canada. The most notorious organization, Islamic State, butchered its way across nations and conquered sizable territory and resources.

We should never forget that these groups intend us harm. ISIS, more than any other, seduced many individuals into committing crimes for them – many of these persons were never officially linked to Islamic State. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is right to counsel Ottawa to never allow the repatriation of ISIS fighters back into this country. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Canada of abandoning some of these people inside prison camps variously controlled by the Kurds and the Turks.

The problem of terrorist repatriation is a global one. The Kurds and the Turks, by turns, have demanded their return and an end to their unwanted global responsibility. Britain’s appellate court has been lambasted by critics for allowing its former citizen, dubbed the Jihadi Bride, an ISIS member, to return home. Shamima Begum left Britain for Syria and stayed with the terror group for three years. Now sitting inside a refugee camp, she apparently begged to be repatriated. Britain’s Conservative MPs argue her return sets a dangerous precedent. They are correct in saying so.

Global, indeed Middle Eastern, security has always depended on a powerful alliance between the U.S, Israel, and a few Arab nations. States like Egypt and Jordan share military and economic partnerships with Israel. The American withdrawal from parts of the Middle East like Syria was a mistake. They enabled the Taliban to rebound and Hezbollah to resume attacking Israel. The China-Iran alliance could enable the tracking of Western forces. 

Christopher Mansour
Barrie, ON

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Opinion

LETTER: There won’t be any accountability for WE in this Canada

A reader says that Canadians shouldn’t hold their breath that any accountability will come in the wake of the growing WE Scandal.

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The Kielburger brothers are like the prime minister; they think most people would believe the WE charity along with the founders wouldn’t benefit from administering a near $1 billion dollar program. The Conservative’s have called for a RCMP investigation of WE and Trudeau’s involvement. I can’t see that happening.

Brenda Lucki, the RCMP Commissioner in the SNC-L affair, could have applied to the courts for release of cabinet documents, but she chose to hide behind the PM’s cabinets privilege. The Ethics Commissioner has no teeth to impose any real penalty on these ministers who again, abuse Canadian finances. This is a failed federation, lead by a corrupt PM and finance minister along with the PMO that has its head in the sand.

On another point.

WEXIT is sounding better, every day, for Albertans, but I don’t think Premier Kenney had any intention of taking the next step to give Albertans a say. Premier Kenney changed his tune after he was elected to the Premiership. I am not impressed with him as he was all fire and brimstone prior to the election, but now I feel he is just another politician who pulled a bait and switch on his real intensions. To bad I didn’t hear him tell Albertans that he was a committed Federalist prior to saying he was fighting for Alberta. I would have changed my vote for sure. 

Steven Ruthven
Calgary, AB 

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Opinion

BARNES: Time to replace the RCMP with an Alberta force

Drew Barnes writes that Alberta should immediately begin the process of creating its own police force.

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Guest opinion column from Drew Barnes, MLA

In the Fair Deal Panel report, it was recommended that Alberta create its own police force. It is what we heard loud and clear from Albertans across the province. It is imperative, now more than ever with the overreaching policies of Ottawa, that we have control over policing in our own land. Premier Kenney – in the government’s response – has committed to conducting a further analysis of the panel recommendation to move to an Alberta Provincial Police. This analysis will support why we should have our own police force that is overseen by a directly elected Alberta Chief of Police. An Alberta Provincial Police force is a constitutional right that we have, and it should be exercised. 

Historically, Alberta had its own police force from 1917 to 1932. During that period, Alberta saw an increase in arrest rate and conviction, and a decrease in movement into Alberta by those with criminal intent. The reason for this increase has been attributed to the institutional difference in focus and priorities of a national vs an Alberta entity. 

This history serves to underscore why we need a police force that is familiar with the Alberta experience. One of the issues the RCMP have that makes it difficult for them to effectively police the province is the constant in-and-out of its members in communities, which nullifies the benefits that come with being familiar with an area and its particular challenges. An officer raised in Jasper, Ontario will be less familiar with the issues and concerns of Jasper, Alberta, than an Albertan. While some RCMP recruits may be from Alberta and may land a position in Alberta, that is too often not how it works. The lack of familiarity with community, and short-term posting protocol of the RCMP is an ongoing, acknowledged hinderance, for both the officers and the community.

The costs to operate the RCMP increase at a higher rate than provincially run police forces. A study comparing these costs found that over the span of eight years, the cost of operating RCMP detachments rose an average of $44.50 per capita. The costs for the Ontario Provincial Police force rose only $37.10 per capita on average during the same period.

We can cancel the contract with the federal government and the RCMP with two years notice. Providing notice that we will cancel the contract can take place as early as March 31, 2021. This would allow us to terminate the contract as of March 31, 2023 at no cost. Within that two-year gap, we can work out the details, such as settling accounts over buildings and equipment, which the current contract provides a road map for.

As a province, we even have a basic template in place that make this easier. The Alberta Sheriffs already perform many police duties in our province with 950 sworn members and 16 stations. We would simply need to look at expanding them into the areas that presently utilize RCMP service. 

The RCMP is a proud and iconic symbol of Canada, made up of proud, hardworking members from across Canada, however, it is time for Alberta to consider taking back it’s policing, to create local ownership, accountability, and to hire Albertans to police Alberta. Albertans should determine their own policing priorities based on their particular needs. It is time to bring back the Alberta Provincial Police.

Drew Barnes is the UCP MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

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