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Alberta announces ‘near-normal’ school return in September

“I’m proud of our comprehensive plan that supports the safe return to daily in-school learning,” said Premier Jason Kenney

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The province says Alberta schools may be able to reopen in September with “near-normal” daily operations with the proper health measures in place.

Alberta’s government has developed a re-entry tool kit to prepare parents and students for what to expect in the new school year. The tool kit includes videos for students explaining some of the health measures, a guide for parents, frequently asked questions, school posters, a self-screening questionnaire in multiple languages, and links to health guidelines.

“I’m proud of our comprehensive plan that supports the safe return to daily in-school learning. The return of more than 750,000 students to near-normal learning in the new school year is indicative of Alberta’s continued recovery as we work to relaunch our economy and return to our regular everyday lives,” said Premier Jason Kenney.

In the best case scenario, schools will implement a number of public health measures, which include frequent cleaning of surfaces, placing hand sanitizers at school entrances and classrooms, grouping students in cohorts, and planning the school day to allow for physical distancing, which could include staggering start times for classes, recesses and lunches.

Field trips will not be allowed to happened and band students will be encouraged to play string instruments instead of wind ones.

Students and staff will be able to wear masks if they want.

If a student or staff tests positive for COVID-19, a public health team will investigate to determine when symptoms developed and support the school to minimize transmission.

While each case will be addressed based on its unique circumstances, it is anticipated that in most cases only the group of students and staff who came in close contact will likely be required to stay home for 14 days, and not the entire school population.

Parents will be notified if a case of COVID-19 is confirmed at school and public health officials will contact those who were in close contact with that person.

If there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in a community or school, health officials will work with Alberta Education and impacted school authorities to make any decision to potentially transition to partial in-class learning or at-home learning. Decisions will be based on multiple factors including the number of cases in a community or school and the risk of ongoing transmission.

In addition, students, staff, parents and school visitors will be expected to use a self-screening questionnaire daily to determine whether they can enter the school.

“We are determined to do everything that we can to safely return our students, teachers and staff to school. We are providing clear and detailed guidelines and a re-entry tool kit so everyone can do their part and prepare for a safe return to school,” said Education minister Adriana LaGrange.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said: “We are committed to doing everything possible to protect the health and safety of students, staff and families during the upcoming school year. There is no risk-free approach to COVID-19 but there are also risks to children’s overall health from school closures. We are continually refining our public health advice for schools based on best available evidence. “

The province said school authorities have returned to full funding levels as of July 1, and every school authority in Alberta is receiving a funding increase for the 2020-21 school year – roughly $120 million across the province. A list of funding for every school authority is available here.

In addition, the Minister of Education has approved the use of school board reserves, if needed, to help cover local COVID-19-related costs. The total amount of money sitting in school board reserves is $363 million.

The Alberta School Boards Association is pleased that this plan was released earlier than expected as it provides more time for finalizing school board plans. ASBA and all school boards will work diligently to implement this plan, ” said Lorrie Jess, president of the Alberta School Boards Association.

The province has also provided school boards an additional $250 million to support accelerated capital maintenance and renewal projects, as part of the more than $10 billion infrastructure spending announced in the Alberta Recovery Plan. 

A new Student Learning Hub on new.learnalberta.ca is available for parents, students, and teachers to more easily access educational materials to support development of student literacy and numeracy, and provide health and wellness information.

The province shut down schools on March 15 for 750,000 children across the province.

NDP leader Rachel Notley said the UCP plan would put students and teachers at risk by failing to cap class sizes or provide schools with sufficient resources to meet safety standards.

“It’s not about stay open versus stay closed, it’s about open versus open safely,” said Notley.

“Jason Kenney has chosen just ‘open’.

“Calgary Catholic capped their summer school classes at 14 students. Denmark capped theirs at 12, and the Netherlands installed plexiglass around students’ desks. Kenney and LaGrange have not capped class sizes or provided new resources for additional staffing or physical separation.”

Hinshaw also announced the province has identified 141 new cases of COVID-19 along with 2 more deaths from the virus.

Kenney called the increases in daily cases the last week “troubling” and urged young people to “knock it off” if they aren’t social distancing properly.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard

dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com

Twitter.com/nobby7694

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard. He has served as the City Editor of the Calgary Sun and has covered Alberta news for nearly 40 years. dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com

Features

ANALYSIS: Saskatchewan Party’s strengths & weaknesses

The Western Standard breaks down the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats facing the Saskatchewan Party.

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Saskatchewan is headed to the polls October 26, 2020. In the first in a series, our Saskatchewan correspondent Lee Harding will examine the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats each party faces in this election campaign. Our first in the series looks at the Saskatchewan Party which has governed Saskatchewan for the last 13 years.

Background:

The Saskatchewan Party was formed in 1997 when four Progressive Conservative and four Liberal MLAs left their respective parties to form a new entity. Two elections by with former Reform MP Elwin Hermanson at the helm failed bring the party to government. Brad Wall won majority governments in 2007, 2011, and 2016 before handing over the reins to Scott Moe in January of 2018.

Strengths:

The Sask Party has overwhelming reasons to win. The party has enjoyed over 50 per cent support in opinion polls since July of 2018. The high rate of population growth since 2007 continued until the pandemic hit. The province of 1.18 million people has had just 1900 cases and 24 deaths from COVID-19, despite restrictions that were less onerous than most provinces. The provincial deficit of $2.1 billion is perhaps forgivable, given the circumstances, which include a government in Ottawa that remains largely hostile to the oil and gas sector. 

Scott Moe is no slouch. Although this will be his first election as Sask Party leader, the 46-year-old has more experience and savvy than his counterparts in other parties. He won his riding of Rosthern-Shelbrook quite handily in 2011 and 2016 and has held various cabinet posts. In 2018, he beat out five other competitors in a fiercely-contested party leadership battle. And, for the past year, he has chaired the Council of the Federation meeting with his fellow premiers. Polling by Angus Reid showed that 59 per cent of Saskatchewan residents approved of his performance, placing him fifth nationally.

The Sask Party team remains intact even though seven incumbent MLAs are not seeking re-election. Columnist Murray Mandryk noted the party’s “solid cabinet base” of veterans with governing experience.

Weaknesses:

“I’m not Brad,” Moe told the Leader-Post in a recent interview, to which the NDP said, “we strongly agree.” An NDP press release also noted Moe’s comment that “Boring might be just not too bad,” and that his vision for the future was “managing events that we’ve been presented with.” 

An urban female university graduate is the only demographic coin flip in the province. An August 31 EKOS Politics pollshowed the Sask Party had its smallest margins of preference over the NDP with university-aged voters (9 percent) and those in Regina (12 percent) and Saskatoon (13 percent). The margin was also smaller for women (23 points) than men (42). 

Cracks in the Sask Party armour began to appear before Wall left, and some have emerged since.

In 2017, longtime MLA Bill Boyd was flagged by the Conflict of Interest Commissioner over land dealings related to the Global Transportation Hub, Regina’s inland train terminal. The NDP actually led in two public opinion polls over the matter.

In 2019, Moe reached an agreement with the federal government to shut down most coal-fired power plants by 2030, an unpopular move in Sask Party ridings where jobs will be lost.

In May, the Moe government closed 12 rural emergency wards as a contingency measure for COVID-19 and even built field hospitals in June in what seemed a misguided effort to many.

Moe had a mini-WE scandal of his own. The premier has known the Kielbergers for years and took his wife to visit the Kenya compound last winter, all at his own expense. The province cancelled a $260,000 contract that would have put a WE Charity initiative in schools.

Opportunities

This is Moe’s chance to fully emerge from Brad Wall’s shadow and put his fingerprints on the direction of the party. His main opponent is Saskatoon MLA Ryan Meili, a doctor who was elected for the first time in a 2018 by-election. None of the remaining parties have a leader who has ever been elected or led their party into an election. Four NDP incumbents are retiring; three of them in Saskatoon and Warren McCall in Regina, making it a little easier for a Sask Party contender to steal a seat.

Threats

The Sask Party will face more opposition from the right than it has in any election since 1999. The Progressive Conservatives have tried to rejuvenate under new leader in Ken Grey. The Buffalo Party has also emerged to capture the post-Trudeau Wexit sentiment. These parties could play spoiler in a few ridings, or keep Moe on his toes from an angle not represented in years.

Conclusion

A majority government of at least 46 seats seems certain for Moe. Anything less than a majority government would be enough to trigger a leadership review. However, unless the premier makes a major mistake, that is unlikely to happen.

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Correspondent for the Western Standard

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Buffalo Party goes into its first Saskatchewan election

The new party will get its first baptism of fire on October 26th.

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Saskatchewan will head to the polls before on October 26, giving the province’s new Buffalo Party its first chance to test itself with the electorate, while Premier Scott Moe seeks to extend the Saskatchewan Party’s 13-year reign.

This will be Moe’s first time leading his party into an election, having gained the leadership in 2018 following Brad Wall’s retirement.

The sovereigntist Wexit Saskatchewan registered as an official political party in March but later rebranded itself as the Buffalo Party

Interim leader Wade Sira says that he wants a strong West. 

“I’m more on the independence side. I’ve always been very [pro] independence for Western Canada whether it was in Canada or out of Canada, but we do need a stronger voice and stronger say in what’s going on in this country. We’re kind of left as a colony of Eastern Canada. I’ve never liked that ever since I was in high school,” Sira told the Western Standard.

Although the second term of a Trudeau government is a fertile time for sovereigntists like the Buffalo Party to gain ground, a pandemic is not. Covid-19 restrictions have lowered legal attendance to 30 venues in some places. The economic setback from the lockdown makes it a difficult time to fundraise.

“It’d be nice to . . . have more funds because we’re taking on the juggernaut of the Sask Party. The NDP don’t have a lot, and any other party out there is in the same position we are–that some of our fundraising is going to be back to our own account for making sure we can at least get some advertising,” Sira says.

Sira says the party is picking up support, especially from disaffected Saskatchewan Party supporters.

“We always known there was no one who was going to be able to replace Brad Wall. That was just a given; but the fact [is] that he [Moe] hasn’t done much in the last two years except close down our power plants and helped to close down our oil fields. He keeps sending off letters down to Ottawa saying that he wants pipelines built or he’s not happy with the gun laws, but there’s not a lot of action coming out of him,” Sira says.

The NDP chose Saskatoon doctor Ryan Meili as their new leader in 2018. Sira says the NDP’s embrace of “identity politics” has not sat well with some old NDP voters.

“More people in Saskatchewan are traditional people, whether they are the NDP or whether they are right of the spectrum or left of the spectrum. And a lot more people believe that all people matter. Yeah, some people have been treated worse than others throughout history but we need to move past this,” Sira says.

Sira believes the Buffalo Party could snag six of Saskatchewan’s 61 seats. He expects just 12 to 16 candidates will fly his party’s banner in October, though at present only five have been confirmed.  Sira will run in Martensville-Warman just north of Saskatoon and former PPC candidate Phil Zajac will run in Estevan, where many are upset at the federal move to shut down coal-fired power plants.

“Carbon capture is there and it’s proven and it’s working. Estevan, they feel they’ve been let down by the province and let down by the feds, because they’ve got both industries down there, oil and gas and coal,” says Sira.

“I drive truck right now so I drive all over Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan…There’s a lot of people unhappy. You know as well as I do, can you turn that frustration into actual votes?”

University of Saskatchewan political science professor Joseph Garcea believes a Sask Party majority is a “foregone conclusion.” Garcea says the NDP lack an overarching vision to counter Sask Party attack ads aimed at Meili and the legacy of the Romanow-Calvert era. Garcea says a few seats in Regina or Saskatoon could be at play, but little else will change.

An EKOS poll released August 31 showed the Sask Party enjoyed 60 per cent popular support, compared to 28 percent for the NDP, and 12 percent for other parties. The SP/NDP spread was 12 and 13 points in Regina and Saskatoon respectively, and just 9 points among university grads in the province. The poll did not ask respondents about potentially voting for the Buffalo Party.

On the Buffalo Party, Garcea says, “They will get some votes, but I think it’ll be more along the lines of what the Green Party gets, where the Green Party gets a particular type of individual that believes primarily in one thing…They’re against the federal state but they’re also against the provincial state. And they’re going to get these really, if I may say so, angry and sense of marginalized, anti-statist [voters]. They will gravitate to that party, but I do not think that there are many constituencies where it is likely to garner enough support to come in second.”

Lee Harding is the Saskatchewan Affairs Columnist for the Western Standard

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UCP MLA calls Alberta CERB recipients lazy ‘Cheezie-eaters’

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The NDP is calling for an apology from Premier Jason Kenney after one of his MLAs called Albertans lazy “Cheezie-eating” people who used CERB money for drugs.

Lac Ste. Anne-Parkland MLA Shane Getson also called the federal emergency COVID-19 cash “funny money” at a recent townhall meeting.

He noted some companies are having trouble hiring workers because people make more on CERB and those Alberta recipients are “eating Cheezies watching cartoons.”

Getson said a friend in B.C. had noted drug abusers there had suddenly gone from earning $700 a month to $2,000 on CERB, a problem he has also noticed in Alberta.

“Now all of a sudden we have addiction problems going through the roof…then what, the funny money runs out.”

It’s unclear in the clip whether at the start Getson was referring to all Albertans or just those on drugs.

Getson video

“It is absolutely vile that a UCP MLA would make such a baseless and harmful statement about the hardworking people of Alberta who were forced to access emergency support during a global pandemic,” said Christina Gray, NDP Labour Critic. 

“People accessed these funds because their workplaces shut down or because they or their families were forced to isolate. The UCP defends their own use of emergency support for their debt ridden political party, while their MLA attacks struggling Albertans who needed support. Premier Kenney and Shane Getson owe all Albertans an apology for these thoughtless and hurtful comments.” 

Statistics Canada said 1,062,640 Albertans applied for the CERB.

“These comments are heartless and appalling,” said Heather Sweet, NDP Critic for Addictions and Mental Health. 

Notley tweet

“We learned just days ago about the tragic deaths of 301 Albertans to opioid overdoses. For an MLA to essentially joke about addictions at this time is beyond the pale. It speaks to the lack of compassion this government repeatedly shows when it comes to addressing mental health and addictions in this province Getson needs to immediately apologize for his ignorant and hurtful comments.”

Getson issued a statement later Tuesday.

Today, the NDP has politicized some remarks I made at a recent town hall by taking them out of context for political gain. The context was that a local business owner had raised concerns about not being able to hire workers despite being able to operate.

Clearly, the vast majority of recipients of government support truly need it. At the same time, some legitimate concerns have been raised about these programs that cannot be ignored. 

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, CERB was the number one reason cited by small business owners for their inability to recall workers. And according to Ottawa Inner City Health, CERB is fueling overdoses in Canada’s capital city.

These are important issues that deserve our attention as they are happening everywhere. I recently spoke about these issues at a town hall in my community. Unsurprisingly, the NDP is now attacking me instead of focusing on how we keep our people safe.

It is important that we look at the evidence objectively. This will help protect our families and businesses in these difficult times.

Dave Naylor is the News Editor of the Western Standard
dnaylor@westernstandardonline.com
TWITTER: Twitter.com/nobby7694

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