With Danielle Smith‘s campaign for the United Conservative Party leadership appearing to pick up momentum, and recent endorsements from Innisfail-Sylvan Lake MLA Devin Dreeshen, Strathcona-Sherwood Park MLA Nate Glubish, Edmonton-South West MLA Kaycee Madu, and Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pat Rehn suggesting the mood in the UCP caucus is shifting in her favour, some people have been sharing links of a series of articles I wrote 13 years ago about Smith’s time on the disastrous 1998-1999 Calgary Board of Education.
Reading it now, I see it’s a little awkwardly formatted, so please forgive this young blogger from 2009.
It’s also important to recognize that the Calgary Board of Education in those years wasn’t a gong show just because of Danielle Smith. It was a real group effort.
The board of trustees was so dysfunctional that it was fired by the provincial government.
Smith’s current beliefs and past record on public education became more relevant after last week’s UCP leadership candidates forum at the Alberta Teachers’ Association summer conference in Banff, which you can watch here:
As conservative partisans gather at the Westin Hotel near the Calgary International Airport tonight for the United Conservative Party annual general meeting, thousands of public sector workers are wondering whether they will have a job next year.
Despite promising during the election not to cut front-line services, it appears that today was the day that Premier Jason Kenney chose to break that promise, giving a new meaning to Black Friday for many Alberta workers.
This does not include layoffs of teachers by school boards reacting to lower than expected education funding in the provincial budget. The Calgary Board of Education announced last week that it expects to layoff 300 teachers as a results of the UCP budget. And about 90 government lawyers are expected to be laid-off by the Department of Justice, representing about 37 per cent of the lawyers working in the government’s Legal Services branch.
From hospitals to lab services to schools, these kind of layoffs will undoubtably impact frontline workers and the delivery of the excellent public services that Albertans depend upon every day.
The layoffs are expected to take place over the next three years, but this latest development comes one week after the government seized control of public sector pension funds and moved to rollback wages of public sector workers.
Unlike some previous conservative leaders in Alberta, who saw a positive role for government and public services in society, Kenney and the team of advisors surrounding him are committed to an ideological project that is bigger than just balancing the provincial budget. They want to reshape Alberta in a more free-market and individualist image that includes increased privatization of all government services and a much more combative relationship with public sector workers and the unions that represent them.
Business leaders at an exclusive Lake Louise conference today warned that ‘a declining and outdated industry, a lack of innovation and a fascination with separation’ is hurting Alberta’s image. Mary Moran, CEO of Calgary Economic Development, told the meeting that ongoing environmental criticism, delays in building oil pipelines and a surge of separatist sentiment recently led a major technology company to decide not to relocate its office to Calgary.
Kenney responded that he had not heard such criticism when he met with business owners in Houston last week. The list of people Kenney met with while he was in Texas has not been released to the public, but it is likely they are aware of the growing list of investment banks and pension funds that are divesting from the oil and gas because of that industry’s contribution to climate change.
But do not expect that to stop the UCP government, which continues to move at a breakneck speed implementing its political programme. Kenney may still have a lot of political capital to spend, but many Alberta workers will remember this Black Friday, when they discovered that his promises to them weren’t worth much more than the coroplast sign he made them on.
Alberta’s New Democratic Party has focused a lot of energy attacking Jason Kenney and honing in on United Conservative Partynominationcandidatebozo-eruptions in hopes of building a narrative that casts the UCP as having a big problem with its social conservative elements. But while Kenney and the UCP were frequently mentioned at the NDP convention at the Westin Hotel in downtown Edmonton today, the governing party put a lot more focus on what might become the positive narrative of their campaign for re-election.
With “Fighting for You,” “Fighting for Jobs,” “Fighting for Healthcare,” “Fighting for Public Education,” and “Fighting for Public Services” projected on the large bright screen at the front of the convention hall, NDP officials and cabinet ministers took to the microphones to test talking points and remind delegates about the changes the party has implemented on childcare, climate change, education, health care, and workplace safety since the 2015 election.
The convention feels like it was designed avoid the kind of controversy that was generated at the recent UCP policy convention or the last time there was a big NDP gathering in Edmonton. And unlike previous conventions, there were no contentious debates about halting pipelines, disaffiliating from the federal NDP, or merging with other political parties. Delegates instead reaffirmed their support for Notley’s fight for oil pipelines and a range of progressive policies that included expanding broadband internet in rural Alberta, eliminating racism, expanding affordable childcare, and opposing education vouchers.
Premier Rachel Notley and Finance Minister Joe Ceci took part in a panel discussion moderated by Edmonton-Manning MLA Heather Sweet. The discussion was very friendly, allowing Notley and Ceci to highlight their familiar narrative that investment in public infrastructure and public services was a better choice for Albertans than cutting frontline public services when the price of oil dropped in 2014.
The second day of the NDP convention also featured guest speakers. Chief Billy Joe Laboucan spoke about the historic agreement signed with the Lubicon Lake Band this week. Former Calgary Board of Education chairperson Joy Bowen-Eyre spoke about the need to protect funding for public education. And University of Alberta professor Russell Cobb spoke about how austerity and tax cuts in once-oil rich Oklahoma has led that state down the road to massive public service cuts.
Overall, the second day of the convention was a very well-stage managed event.
But despite a lack of controversy on the convention floor today, the group of more than 1,200 delegates appeared upbeat, energized and ready to hit the doors to campaign in 2019.
“Rachel’s Team” coming to a billboard near you
We can expect a larger focus on Premier Rachel Notley going into Alberta’s next provincial general election. The NDP has already begun to quietly exchange its party logo in many of its public documents in favour of Rachel Notley’s name. It has been clear since 2015 that Notley is her party’s greatest asset, so it is not surprising that she will play the central role in her party’s 2019 re-election campaign.
When next spring arrives, I would not be surprised to see “Rachel’s Team” billboards popping up across the province.
Notley is scheduled to deliver her keynote speech to delegates on the second day of the convention at 11:15 a.m. on Sunday, October 28, 2018.
Ceci criticizes feds for “moving the goal posts” on Olympic funding
The news from Ottawa gave Ceci an opportunity to criticize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, something that is rarely a negative in Alberta politics. Expect NDP cabinet ministers to continue to distance themselves from their former federal allies in the coming months.
Tribute to former leader Brian Mason
The lunch break featured a tribute to Brian Mason, the retiring cabinet minister and MLA from Edmonton-Highlands-Nowood who led the NDP through the muddy trenches of Alberta politics from 2004 to 2014. Mason was introduced by Notley and joined on stage by former party leaders Raj Pannu and Ray Martin, and dozens of his fellow NDP MLAs.
Mason has been a fixture in Edmonton and Alberta politics for decades, first as a prominent activist and student leader at the University of Alberta in the 1970s, then as an transit driver turned Edmonton City Councillor in the 1980s and 1990s before jumping into provincial politics in 2000.
Respected community advocate and educator Janis Irwin has been nominated as Mason’s NDP successor in Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood.
Big difference from the last NDP convention I attended
It was September 2009, in a dim-lit windowless ballroom in a downtown Edmonton hotel, the most contentious topic of debate was a proposal from a small group of New Democrat founders of the Democratic Renewal Project.
The DRP advocated the creation of an electoral arrangement or cooperation agreement between the NDP and the Liberal Party to prevent vote splitting by progressive voters. Both opposition parties had major loses in the previous year’s election, with the NDP dropping from four to two MLAs.
The ideas put forward by the DRP sounded sensible to me at the time but were soundly rejected by conference delegates.
Nine years later, the NDP are no longer debating vote splitting or electoral coalitions. They are holding their final convention before going to the polls to ask Albertans to grant them a second-term as government.
Vegreville Ford breaks from MDA support for Jason Kenney’s PAC
“Although we are a member of the MDA, we have chosen not to contribute to the “Shaping Alberta’s Future” 3rd party marketing campaign. Our position is that we do not feel that this action supports what we feel the MDA’s or our purpose should be. Vegford is nonpartisan and it neither endorses nor supports financially any politician or political party. Our job is to take great care of our customers and our staff. We care about Albertans and we vote, but in a world that is already too divided, we feel no need to engage in controversy.”
As he prepared to be sworn-in as the 16th Premier of Alberta at Government House today, Jim Prentice aimed to project the image of a leader who is in command and in control of the situation. And today’s tightly controlled cabinet shuffle achieved that goal. Unlike previous cabinet shuffles, the news around today’s appointments was tightly sealed, with no leaks to the media to spoil Mr. Prentice’s opening day as Premier.
But did Mr. Prentice really give Albertans the change he promised with this cabinet shuffle? There are a few new faces in top positions and two unelected cabinet ministers from outside the Legislative Assembly, but at least fifteen of the twenty cabinet ministers previously served in the cabinets of Premier Alison Redford or Dave Hancock.
Without appointing a larger group of unelected cabinet ministers, he had little choice but to draw on the current pool of PC MLAs. If Albertans really want to see change in their government, they will have to do what people in every other province do from time to time: elect a new party to form government.
Viewed as having the endorsement of Corporate Calgary’s Oil Executives, Mr. Prentice’s choices for cabinet sends a message that the construction and expansion of oil sands pipelines will remain a priority for the Progressive Conservatives.
As well as being Premier, Mr. Prentice takes on the role of Aboriginal Affairs and Intergovernmental Affairs, both important roles when dealing with the construction of Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline through northern British Columbia and the TransCanada Energy East Pipeline to New Brunswick.
The Northern Gateway Pipeline, which would pump raw bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to the port city of Kitimat, is facing stiff opposition in Alberta’s neighbouring province, especially from First Nations and environmental groups. Before entering the PC Party leadership race, Mr. Prentice worked for Enbridge as an envoy to B.C.’s First Nations communities.
Teresa Woo-Paw, the two-term MLA from north Calgary, is now the Associate Minister for Asia-Pacific Relations, an important position as the proposed pipeline would send Alberta’s raw bitumen to be refined and processed in Asia (likely in the People’s Republic of China).
How Mr. Prentice and Ms. Woo-Paw approach Alberta’s trade relations with Asian countries will also seal the fate of former cabinet minister Gary Mar, who was appointed as Alberta’s representative in Hong Kong after he was defeated in the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership contest.
Expenses related to Mr. Mar’s patronage appointment have been harshly criticized by the opposition parties.
During Ms. Redford’s time as Premier, the Government of Alberta expanded trade operations in Asia, operating offices in China, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea. A new trade office was opened last year in Singapore and another will soon open in Mumbai, India.
Third-term Peace River MLA Frank Oberle is now Alberta’s Energy minister. It is unclear how Mr. Oberle will approach the role differently than his predecessors, but his connections to northern British Columbia may play a role in the government’s focus on Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline. Mr. Oberle’s father, Frank Oberle Sr. was the Member of Parliament for Prince George-Peace River from 1972 to 1993, serving as Minister of Forestry under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.
Serving as the defacto junior energy minister, Calgary MLA Kyle Fawcett was appointed as Environment & Sustainable Resource Development. Prone to embarrassing outbursts, Mr. “Leaky” Fawcett’s appointment suggests that Mr. Prentice might not be serious about tackling climate change and environmental issues linked to natural resource development.
The Auditor General reported in July that the Alberta Government has not been monitored its climate change targets and that its expensive carbon capture program is nowhere near meeting its targets for emission reductions. I sincerely hope that Mr. Fawcett sees his role as environment minister as more than a public relations activity for the government’s oil sands and pipeline expansion agenda.
On the environment and energy file, actions will speak louder than cabinet appointments.
Unelected Cabinet Ministers
Mr. Prentice handed the helm of two very important ministries to individuals who have never been elected to the Alberta Legislature. Former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, 69, and former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks, 67, were appointed to cabinet as Minister of Health and Minister of Education.
Mr. Mandel remains popular among many Edmontonians, and is expected to run in a by-election in Edmonton-Whitemud, the southwest Edmonton constituency made vacant following Mr. Hancock’s resignation last week. His tendency to show thin-skinwhen he does not get his way may prove challenging when having to compromise with his new cabinet and caucus colleagues, or his political opponents.
Mr. Dirks’ affiliations with a socially conservative evangelical church have raised the ire of his critics, who worry these views may impact his support of secular public education in Alberta. The appointment of the former Calgary Board of Education trustee and 1980s Saskatchewan politician was unexpected, to say the least.
It is suspected that Mr. Dirks will run for the PC Party nomination in the impending Calgary-Elbow by-election, triggered by Ms. Redford’s departure from political life. The nomination is also being contested by long-time PC Party activist Pat Walsh.
Who’s not welcome in Prentice’s cabinet?
Thomas Lukaszuk, Fred Horne, Doug Griffiths, Ken Hughes, Sandra Jansen are all names that many Albertans have become familiar with over the past few years. These former senior cabinet ministers will now occupy seats in the backbenches (and have their offices relocated from prime real estate in the Legislature Building to the aging and stuffy Legislature Annex).
Also demoted were former Finance minister Doug Horner, who will take on the role of “trade advisor” for the Premier and former International Affairs minister Cal Dallas, who will now serve as a “Legislative Secretary” for intergovernmental relations.
The resignation of Mr. Hancock last week took many political watchers by surprise. I am told by sources in the PC Party that Premier Hancock was informed by his party’s new leader that he would not be appointed to cabinet if he chose to remain as an MLA.
Smith and Anderson have called for Tilston’s resignation after it was learned that Tilston had leaked letters dealing with a different issue that resulted in a complaint to the privacy commissioner. Tilston had initially denied leaking the letters which resulted in a taxpayer-financed probe into the matter. The privacy commissioner said Tilston leaked the letters.
Commissioner Bob Clark is investigating a complaint by Lovink who had a $120,000 contract with the CBE for an 18-month period ending after last October’s municipal election.
Calling Lovink a “$500-a-day spin doctor”, Smith, a rookie trustee, earlier this year released Lovink’s invoices and criticized veteran trustees for spending money to boost their image. Lovink said he provided “strategic communications” when the board was trying to get more money from the provincial government.
In Saturday’s story Pollock denied encouraging Lovink to complain to the privacy commissioner but did say she had friends who asked her to encourage him but wouldn’t identify the friends. LoVecchio and Tilston denied they had anything to do with Lovink’s complaint. “I accept their word on that,” said Anderson.
August 16, 1999: After being advised by Chair Teresa Woo-Paw that the CBE had become “completely dysfunctional” due to internal bickering, Learning Minister Lyle Oberg dismissed the CBE Trustees. Woo-Paw said in a statement that the decision represented “a failure of adults to act in an adult manner.” Following the decision, LoVecchio told the Herald that “the atmosphere is so poisoned that I don’t believe this board could work together.” The CBE, which was responsible for 100,000 students, had accumulated a deficit of $55 million in 1999.
George Cornish, Calgary’s chief commissioner under Mayor Ralph Klein, was appointed as interim trustee until the results of by-elections scheduled for November 29, 1999. Angus-Reid reported that 7 in 10 Calgarians agreed with the decision to dissolve the board.
August 22, 1999: Anderson and Smith declared their intentions to seek re-election in the by-elections.
August 24, 1999: From an Edmonton Journal column by Lorne Gunter:
Within minutes of Oberg announcing his intention to dismiss the seven elected trustees and replace them with one government- appointed trustee until byelections can held, a senior staffer in his office was on the telephone to Danielle Smith and Peggy Anderson, the board’s two right-wingers, encouraging them to run again.
Oberg, the staffer explained, did not want to get rid of the pair, but his hands were tied. The School Act permits him only to fire all or none of the trustees. Oberg, it seems, wanted to purge the board’s three avowed Liberals and weak chairwoman, and in order to discard the bath water had to dispose of the baby, too.
August 30, 1999: Declining to seek re-election, Smith accepted an editorial writer position with the Calgary Herald. Nishimura told the media that she “respected the way in which she [Smith] was able to tackle the tough issues.”
September 14, 1999: Nishimura declared her intentions to seek re-election.
September 24, 1999: Herald columnist Don Martin wrote that Premier Klein’s former Chief of Staff Rod Love was exploring the possibility of running against Tilston. Love’s previous forays as a candidate included running unsuccessfully against Lee Richardson for the Calgary-Southeast Progressive Conservative nomination in 1988 and as the PC candidate in the Calgary-Buffalo by-election in 1992.
October 7, 1999: Pollock declared her intentions to not seek re-election.
November 1, 1999: At the nomination deadline, only three incumbent trustees filed papers to seek re-election: Woo-Paw, Nishimura, and Anderson. Love did not file papers to run in the by-election. 50 candidates filed nomination papers, a leap from 17 in 1998 and 27 in 1995.
November 29, 1999: Nishimura was the only incumbent Trustee re-elected. Woo-Paw was defeated by David Pickersgill and Anderson placed third in the race that saw Sharon Hester elected. Current CBE Trustees Gordon Dirks, a former Saskatchewan MLA and Cabinet Minister, and Pat Cochranewere first elected in these by-elections. Total voter turnout was 9.3%.
June 22, 1999: After being forced to leave a meeting due to conflict of interest, it was decided that Liz LoVecchio, Jennifer Pollock and Judy Tilston needed to submit their legal bills to an arbitrator before they could have them paid by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE). The motion was passed unanimously by the four remaining trustees. The question for the arbitrator was whether the trustees acted as members of the board or as individuals when controversial letters written by a school board candidate were given to a reporter during last year’s election campaign. If they acted as a board, their legal fees would be covered by the CBE, but if they acted as individuals, the CBE would not cover the cost.
While leaving the meeting, Pollock declared it to be a “travesty of fairness” because “the administration and CBE Chair [Teresa Woo-Paw] would not provide legal support on an action that was taken on behalf of this board and known by the chief superintendent.” Smith said the CBE had already received a $12,300 legal bill from its own lawyer for the inquiry and wouldn’t name a trustee who also submitted an $18,000 legal bill.
July 15, 1999: Despite calls for her resignation, Tilston declared that “couldn’t care less” about the demands for her resignation by Danielle Smith and Peggy Anderson. Tilston told the Calgary Herald that she had been wrongly blamed for breaching provincial privacy laws by ordering former CBE trustee candidate Andrew Koeppen letters released to the media.
The matter was then investigated by Alberta’s Privacy Commissioner. A hearing was scheduled for later that year to determine if the letters contained personal information. If so, Tilston and other trustees could have been liable for a fine up to $10,000, and a lawsuit.
July 29, 1999: After being told by CBE administrators that it would be too expensive to host on the CBE’s official site, Anderson and Smith launched their own website to publish board reports, discussion papers and agendas. The two trustees drew the ire of their colleagues after not informing them of their decision to launch the website.
August 8, 1999: A collection of notes are discovered in a CBE trash bin and are published by the Alberta Report, the Herald, and the National Post:
– One of the notes is addressed to “Lizard,” and another writes Ms. Tilston’s name five times, as if someone was practising writing it.
– One note refers to Ms. Woo-Paw as a despot, and a second one says “TWP absolutely nauseates me.”
– Another note accuses “DS”– an apparent reference to Ms. Smith — of having “crappy hair,” while a fourth note has the authors conspiring to recruit people to oppose Ms. Smith politically. “I have to find a constituent to write a formal letter of complaint,” the short missive says. “Any ideas?”
– A note in response includes the names of two potential complainants, each of whom “lives in DS’s ward.” But the note says the pair may be too high-profile, and so it may be better to recruit “someone more obscure.”
– Saying “I’ve decided to apply for aides for DS and PA, as they appear to be slow learners.”
– Questioning whether Ms. Anderson is wearing a “mood ring,” and is “more distant and pissed-off than usual.”
– Describing Ms. Pollock as looking like she has “stitches or a scar” on her face.
– Asking where “the FCD (an apparent reference to Ms. Woo-Paw) got her suit — it sure is ugly!”
– Saying “the FCD is being decidedly pissy this evening, as is her sidekick.”
– Asking “what’s trustee-half-a- brain is doing?”
Woo-Paw reminded trustees to abide by their code of conduct, which prohibited malicious behaviour. Smith told the Herald that she had seen the notes and believed the hand-writing was Tilston’s and LoVecchio’s. “Judy and Liz pass notes back and forth all the time” at board meetings. It’s a shame people are so petty when there is such important work to be done on the school board.”
August 9, 1999: Reported in the Herald:
The Calgary Board of Education voted Monday to punish two members who’ve been writing nasty notes about their colleagues at public meetings.
But only one of the two has admitted responsibility, and neither has apologized to her colleagues, board chairwoman Teresa Woo-Paw said after the board met privately.
Woo-Paw said her colleagues voted to have her write letters of reprimand later this week to the trustees, telling them their behaviour breached the board’s code of ethics.
Although Woo-Paw refused to name the two trustees, one acknowledged her role last week.
“The only way somebody could’ve got hold of these (notes) was either they ruffled through garbage and pieced them back together, or they stole them from me,” Liz LoVecchio said.
All the notes are in two handwriting styles that some board members have said match LoVecchio’s and trustee Judy Tilston’s. Tilston has refused to comment.
December 22, 1998: Peggy Anderson and Danielle Smith publicly called on the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to drop its legal challenge to regain the right to tax collection. “I’m not sure that the power to tax should rest with the local boards,” Anderson said. “I’m not very excited about spending my time trying to bully the province into giving us more money.” The two trustees opposed the CBE decision to spend up to $100,000 arguing the board’s right to collect taxes before the Supreme Court. Liz LoVecchio defended the legal challenge and compared the 1994 government amendments to the School Act to “constitutional change by stealth.”
January 8, 1999: Smith introduced a motion to achieve 100% utilization in CBE schools by June, 2002. Officials had estimated that moving to an 85% utilization rate would require closing up to 30 schools. Smith told the Herald: “I am not doing this to be alarming, I want clarity, and communities deserve clarity.” The motion was rejected in a 5-2 vote on January 12.
January 10, 1999: CBE superintendent of finances Don Dart informed trustees that “the chances are not good the board can have a balanced budget and meet contract demands” of employees without an increase in provincial funding. The public board has run a $34.6-million deficit in the previous fiscal year due largely to an early retirement deal that encouraged 465 senior teachers to leave. Smith objected to the board spending $6,000 to pay for newspaper ads advertising the meetings. Teresa Woo-Paw disagreed, saying newspaper ads are the best way to get the word out.
January 12, 1999: CBE trustees unanimously passed a motion introduced by LoVecchio that expressed alarm at the number of elementary schools who had stopped French instruction. LoVecchio and several other trustees argued the CBE had a duty to offer French language instruction. Smith said she was not sure parents want French forced on them at the exclusion of other options, such as music and art. Smith told the Herald:
“This is a cost issue. Feasibly, French can’t be offered at every school and I don’t think that parents want that, either.”
January 26, 1999: Reported by the Herald:
Trustee Jennifer Pollock accused trustee Danielle Smith of deliberately leaving the boardroom before a vote, saying it was the second time such a thing had happened.
Pollock even briefly blocked Smith’s path out and whispered a warning to her not to leave.
“I said `don’t be unaccountable and leave the boardroom,’ ” Pollock said afterward.
Smith said she simply saw someone in the hallway she wanted to talk to.
“I got back in for the vote and that’s the bottom line, isn’t it?” she said later.
During Smith’s absence of about five to 10 minutes, Pollock was livid.
“I personally find offence with trustees who choose to leave the room” before a vote, she said.
January 28, 1999: Following the January 26 confrontation between Pollock and Smith, CBE Chair Woo-Paw suggested that trustees “need to review how we work together from time to time.”
March 10, 1999: Nominated by Smith, Lynn Nishimura was elected vice-chairwoman over Pollock in a 4-3 vote. LoVecchio had resigned as vice-chair after claiming that Woo-Paw had shut her out of important decisions.
April 13, 1999: Smith publicly states that the CBE needs to take action to plug leaks to the media.
May 9, 1999: In a letter to Premier Ralph Klein, Calgary businessman and Liberal organizer Donn Lovett accused Anderson and Smith of skipping three school board meetings in a row. Lovett’s letter argued that the School Act provided for removal of anyone who misses three consecutive regular meetings. Anderson and Smith sought legal advice and Smith fired back:
“The allegation is that I’m breaking the law. I’m not breaking the law.”
Smith and Anderson told the Herald that they suspected Pollock, LoVecchio and former chair Judy Tilston convinced Lovett to send the letter.
May 22, 1999: The CBE unveiled a plan to close 565 classrooms as part of its budget trimming. With the lights switched off and heat turned down, $1.5 million would be trimmed from the maintenance budget. The total maintenance budget was cut by $2.5 million.
June 14, 1999: A National Post editorial:
Political irregularities may be acceptable — that is for the voter to decide. But financial irregularities are less easily excused. And the inquiries by Ms. [Peggy Anderson] and Ms. [Danielle Smith] revealed excesses that would make Livent blush. They found dozens of questionable expenses; one trustee had racked up $4,500 in cell- phone bills in one school year. That’s tough to do — being a trustee is a part-time job with an office and phone included. More than $25,000 was spent on travel — on top of trustees’ car allowances. Office expenses for the seven were grossly over budget. A $104,000 legal opinion on the “rights of parents” had been commissioned.
Since the selection of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, a number of readers have suggested that I take a closer look at her time as a Trustee with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) from 1998 to 1999. Not completely knowing what I would discover as I dug through the ProQuest archives, I uncovered what I consider to be a collection some of the most bizarre shenanigans that I have ever seen from Canadian elected officials. My sources largely included articles published by the Calgary Herald and the National Post.
In the first of a multi-part series that will be posted over the next week, here is a summary of what I found:
October 19, 1998: The face of the long-time Liberal-dominated CBE was changed with the election of two new conservative trustees. Elected on the joint platform “Campaign to Make Public Education Work,” Peggy Anderson and Danielle Smith advocated for fiscal prudence and more parent choice, including Charter schools. Both had strong ties to the Reform Party as Anderson was a constituency assistant to Calgary-Southeast Reform MP Jason Kenney and Preston Manning; and Smith, then 27-years old, had interned with the Fraser Institute and was the Executive Director of the Canadian Property Rights Institute (pdf).
Other trustees elected that year included liberals Jennifer Pollock, Judy Tilston, and Liz LoVecchio, and moderates Teresa Woo-Paw, and Lynn Nishimura. In their previous terms, incumbents Tilston and Pollock had publicly clashed with provincial government over school board autonomy and funding.
October 20, 1998: Following the election, a Herald editorial described the CBE as:
‘…a board coping with financial woes, ongoing feuding with the province, the allocation and utilization of scarce resources, the pressure from parents to provide more alternatives under the umbrella of the public system and the need to raise standards and improve the quality of education.
The Calgary public school board’s new roster of trustees has a wonderful opportunity before it to set an example for the community at large by demonstrating an open-mindedness to look for alternative solutions while fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and collegiality.’
October 27, 1998: Woo-Paw was selected as chair and LoVecchio as vice-chair. Former chair Tilston declined re-nomination. Smith told the Calgary Herald that:
“I look forward to a year of thorough debate . . . within a diversity of opinion.”
December 4, 1998: Due to budget and resource pressures, Tilston suggested sharing space with Calgary’s Catholic Schools. Smith supported the idea of sharing space with community groups, but told the Herald that she though that “the Catholic board has some legitimate concerns,” about “moral decisions” made by the public CBE.
December 6, 1998: Smith proposed the closure of up to 30 schools due to excess space in older, inner-city classrooms. Smith suggested that the money earned from selling or leasing older schools could be used to build new schools and stem the exodus of public school students to Catholic, private, charter and home schooling. Contradicting Smith, LoVecchio told the Herald that she didn’t “know where she’s getting her numbers,” explaining that when a CBE facility is leased to a non-profit group or private school, the Department of Education excludes those students from the board’s utilization rate.
December 7, 1998: Calgary Herald editorial:
‘Trustee Danielle Smith’s contention that the CBE will close schools and then lease the buildings is also fatally flawed. Even if such buildings are rented to day cares, private schools or other users, Alberta Education still applies the space against the CBE balance sheet, but not the students. Previous decisions to lease old schools instead of sell them has simply exacerbated the CBE’s poor utilization rate.
No matter how hard trustees try to wiggle around it, there’s only one solution — some schools must close.’