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public un-accounts committee.

According to its mandate, Alberta’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts is an all-party committee consisting of 17 Members of the Legislative Assembly that reviews the annual report of the Auditor General of Alberta and the public accounts of the province. It is tradition across Canada that an opposition MLA occupy the Chairmanship of this committee.

Via to Capital Notebook, Edmonton-Gold Bar Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald is crying foul after his powers as Chairman were severely limited by a recent motion by Wetaskiwin-Camrose PC MLA Verlyn Olsen to require that “all future correspondence on behalf of the public accounts committee (must) be signed by both the chair and deputy chair.” The Deputy Chair is currently Calgary-Lougheed PC MLA Dave Rodney.

More from Capital Notebook:

…before MacDonald can send out e-mails, make plans for future meetings, and demand government bodies make an appearance before the all-party committee, Calgary-Lougheed Tory Dave Rodney (the deputy chair) must give him the nod.

It’s an unusual practice, since it doesn’t happen in any other legislative committee, all of which are dominated by government Conservatives. Olson’s motion this morning was backed by all present government members and opposed by NDP Leader Brian Mason and Calgary-Varsity Liberal Harry Chase. (MacDonald, as the chairman, can’t actually vote.)

This is not the first time that the already limited power Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee has been harshly criticized. Here is an exert from MLA Kevin Taft‘s 2007 book Democracy Derailed which describes how much that committee’s oversight power had been limited:

Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee can meet once a week only when the legislature is sitting, which is all of three months per year. During approximately a dozen 90-minute meetings, the committee must review the spending of 24 provincial government departments with a combined budget of $24 billion.

That’s not all. Unlike the federal Public Accounts Committee, Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee cannot submit a report to the legislature. Legislators outside of Alberta find this restriction hard to fathom. Conservative Member of Parliament John Williams said “It’s shocking. I cannot believe a government majority would use their capacity to set the rules like that.”

It is unclear what prompted Mr. Olson to introduce this motion or why the PC MLAs on the committee supported it. I have contacted Mr. Olson’s office for an explanation and if I receive a response, I will post it here. I try to stay away from conspiracy theories, but with MLAs expected to start their summer break tomorrow (yes, in April) and the introduction of the distracted driver legislation taking the headlines, it feels like this motion was designed to be lost in the shuffle.

UPDATE: Alex Muir from the Roundhouse blog has offered some thoughts on Mr. Olson’s motion.

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edmonton public school closures.

Parents and students protest the closures of inner city schools.

Last night, I attended the Edmonton Public School Board meeting where Trustees voted to close five Edmonton schools (Parkdale, McCauley, Eastwood, Capilano, and Fulton Place schools will close at the end of June 2010).

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald speaks at the demonstration before the meeting.

The meeting was preceded with a demonstration where over 200 parents and students rallied against the closures and welcomed community leaders, including MLAs Hugh MacDonald and Brian Mason, to speak to the crowd. After the demonstration, the crowd poured into the meeting hall (and thanks to the Edmonton Journal the meeting was live-streamed online so that people across the City could watch).

As the meeting began, it was clear that it would be a very tense evening. At one point during the meeting, as Trustee Sue Huff called out fellow Trustee Ken Shipka for not speaking to the motion to close one of the schools (Mr. Shipka would only say that he was voting for the closure), Board Chair Don Fleming snapped at Huff “RELAX!” It was an out of line comment from Trustee Fleming and only increased the thick intensity in the room.

Trustee Sue Huff defended the importance of schools in inner city communities.

I shared some thoughts on the inner city school closures a couple of weeks ago and I continue to believe that many of the challenges facing inner city schools have been caused by the lack of smart urban planning in Edmonton. As Edmonton continues to sprawl and spawn new neighborhoods in each direction, it has become increasingly difficult for the school board to plan the future of its schools. This is an issue of urban planning and coordination between City Councillors and School Board Trustees that needs to be addressed. Both Councillors and Trustees are doing Edmontonians a disservice when they do not work together.

Trustees George Rice, Gerry Gibeault, and Ken Shipka listen to citizens speak against the school closures.

I also feel that the Public School Trustees could be more creative with how they use the space available in these undercapacity schools. Could renting out unused space to non-profit, community, or public health groups help cover the costs of keeping these schools operating at such low capacities? Maybe this would not save every school from closure, but it might allow consolidation of two into one. I got the district feeling at last night’s meeting that most Trustees may had not considered these kind of ideas. It is my observation that there are only three Trustees who have been willing to look out of the box since the last election (Trustees Huff, Dave Colburn, and Catherine Ripley have caught my attention).

Over 200 concerned parents and students packed the School Board meeting.

Last night the meeting room was packed with over 200 engaged and irritated citizens. Hopefully they will continue to stay engaged and challenge incumbent Trustees who continue to think inside the box when it comes to options for under-capacity schools. A growing number of these citizens have helped form groups like ARTES and understand that the election is only six months away.

Check out Flickr for more photos.
Read the Tweets from last night’s meeting at #EPSB

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Brian Mason Hugh MacDonald

closing inner city schools in edmonton.

The threat of proposed school closures in inner city Edmonton has once again riled opposition MLAs into a frenzy on the floor of the Legislative Assembly. Declining student enrollment has led to Edmonton Public School Board to propose the closure of 11 inner city schools in January 2010 (Delton, Eastwood, John A. McDougall, McCauley, Norwood, Parkdale, Spruce Avenue, Capilano, Fulton Place, Gold Bar and Hardisty). It is difficult not to sympathize with the pleas of these MLAs’ constituents, but each time that an opposition MLA rises to demand an answer from the Minister of Education about these closures the issue gets more muddied.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to ignore the politically charged and conspiracy driven accusations of opposition MLAs and focus on specific comments from two Edmonton MLAs:

Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Brian Mason:

“many schools in the inner city are in danger of being forced to close as the number of schools in Edmonton’s suburbs expand.”

The proposed school closures have very little to do with the provincial government or the Department of Education and more to do with how our cities have grown over the past forty years. Edmonton’s Public School Trustees are ultimately responsible for the fate of these schools and the reality is that young families are not moving into the inner city in the numbers needed to keep these schools operating. They are moving to the suburbs and to the outlying municipalities in the Capital region, which have experienced unbridled urban sprawl in recent decades. The reality is that there is a market demand for single-dwelling residential properties (contributed to by both cost and the desire to have a detached home with a yard).

Having grown up in one of Edmonton’s outlying communities, I can testify that it was a great environment to be raised. As someone who has lived in the urban core since moving to Edmonton, I know that there are some areas that I would not want to raise my children. This said, continued urban sprawl is not a solution to Edmonton’s growth challenges. The further our city sprawls, the more expensive it will be to provide the kind of services that are idealized. Urban sprawl is unsustainable.

Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald:

“If the city of Edmonton increases population density in the central neighbourhoods as planned, we will need the student spaces now being considered for closure.”

Inner city communities, like Alberta Avenue, have taken exceptional steps to challenge stereotypes and create more family friendly environment in their neighbourhoods. New residential and commercial development in downtown Edmonton as well as the development of the City Centre Airport lands over the next 20 to 30 years could create an inner city renaissance that could breath new life into Edmonton’s inner city schools.

If Edmonton’s urban core does witness a population density increase that attracts more young families, it is very likely that these school buildings, could be available to be reopened. As far as I am aware, it is undetermined what would be done with these proposed closed schools. Kevin Kuchinski has written a blog post on the potential usages for these schools if closed.

Well-funded special interests like the Katz Group have been focusing their energies on convincing Edmontonians that the urban core would be revitalized through the public funding of a new arena. A new arena could have some economic benefits to the downtown core, but it does not address the larges societal issues facing the core or how our cities are growing. If urban sprawl is unsustainable, what are our municipal leaders doing to create an inner city that is friendly and welcoming to young families? Urban sprawl is the root cause of the school closures decision facing our elected School Board Trustees.

When School Trustee and City Council candidates start knocking on doors before the October 18, 2010 elections, Edmontonians who care about the future of our inner city neighbourhoods should remember that the school closures are not the result of a nefarious political agenda, but a result of how we have let our city to grow.

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Brian Mason Dave Taylor David Swann Don Iveson Ed Stelmach Gary Mar Gene Zwozdesky Hugh MacDonald Kent Hehr Luke Ouellette Naheed Nenshi Ric McIver Stephen Duckett

alberta politics notes 3/09/2010

– Jokes about politicians ducking responsibility usually aren’t literal. Premier Ed Stelmach first denied seeing the widely covered photos of the now infamous oil-covered Syncrude ducks. His communications armada then changed the story, claiming that the Premier misunderstood the question and has seen the photos. Next question: How do you feel?
– Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson shot back at Minister Luke Ouellette over the neutered Green Trip Fund. Premier Stelmach originally promised $2 billion for the fund in 2008, but it was later cut back to $520 million over three years. Since 2007, the City of Edmonton has made major investments into improving and expanding the capital city’s transportation infrastructure.
– The United Nurses of Alberta have opened negotiations with Alberta Health Services. UNA entered negotiations with a reasonable short list of proposals addressing key issues for nursing in Alberta. Alberta Health Services responded with a full proposal document that included an unprecedented number and scale of rollbacks (Transparency Alert! I am employed by UNA).
– AHS CEO Stephen Duckett versus Minister Gene Zwozdesky and Premier Stelmach on “pay for performance” and the Tom Baker Cancer Centre? Is Dr. Duckett trying to get fired? Who is steering the ship? It has certainly put Don Braid in a tizzy.
– With Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier on his way out of the Mayor’s Office, can Calgarians expect a Ric McIverNaheed Nenshi showdown? Will former Calgary-Nose Creek MLA Gary Mar return from Washington DC to take a run for the job?
 – Liberal MLA Kent Hehr running for Mayor might be an inside joke, but how about his counterpart Dave Taylor? Word on the street is that the Calgary-Currie MLA and former radio star is growing tired of playing second fiddle to Liberal leader David Swann. Taylor was thrown a bone when he was tapped to launch the new Liberal energy policy in January, but rumor has it that Taylor’s organization has been constantly challenging Swann and that the situations is tense inside the Liberal caucus. Confrontation may come to a head at the May 2010 Liberal Party convention.
– A battle is shaping up for the federal Conservative Party nomination in Lethbridge. Nomination candidates include Jim Hillyer and Mark Switzer are seeking their party’s nod. Conservative MP Rick Casson has represented the riding since 1997 and was re-elected in 2008 with 67% of the vote.
 – Former Edmonton-Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer
pleaded guilty to careless driving in an Ontario court, but charges of cocaine possession magically disappeared. Mr. Jaffer was sentenced to a $500 fine.
 – I was interviewed by Edmonton Journal editor
Sheila Pratt for a feature article that was published this part weekend on Reboot Alberta. The article also features comments from Ken Chapman, Shannon Sortland, David Maclean, NDP MLA Brian Mason, and Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald – who accused to the group’s participants of being “elitist.” Andrew McIntyre rebutted Archie McLean‘s suggestions that Reboot Alberta could become a debate society. I ask: would a real debate society be a bad thing?

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Doug Griffiths Ed Stelmach Fred Horne Hugh MacDonald Ken Kowalski Kevin Taft Kyle Fawcett Rachel Notley Ron Liepert Stephen Duckett

year in review 2009: alberta mla edition.

As is tradition here at daveberta.ca, I have created an annual list of Alberta MLAs who have caught my eye over the past year (see the 2008 MLA review). Due to a large grouping of MLAs who through sheer numbers appear almost indistinguishable as they sit in the backbenches of the 72  70 MLA Progressive Conservative caucus, this list focuses on the handful of MLAs who caught my attention for various reasons:


Kyle Fawcett: (PC Calgary-North Hill) I am really puzzled by this one. In February 2009, backbench MLA Fawcett was one of Premier Ed Stelmach‘s proudest cheerleaders, evangelizing the Premier on the floor of the Legislature as:

…a man of extraordinary vision, someone who fails to fall into the trap of regressive thinking during challenging times. He is a steady hand at the wheel of the ship in turbulent times. When others retreat, he has the optimism to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, the beacon of hope that all Albertans aspire to. He has the dogged determination to push forward to establish this province’s place in the new world paradigm when the negativity of others is enough to stop progress dead in its tracks.

Eight months later, Fawcett took a complete 180 degree turn and criticized Premier Stelmach for doing “very little, I believe, to instil confidence in at least people in Calgary that he has the leadership capabilities to lead this province.” He soon after apologized and was quietly punished for his outspoken behaviour. It appears that Fawcett wants to be the class rebel and the teachers pet at the same time, but has ended up wearing the dunce cap instead.

Doug Griffiths: (PC Battle River-Wainwright) A year of lateral moves from being shuffled from parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to parliamentary assistant to the Solicitor General makes me wonder if the PCs are blind to talent. Griffiths knows how to use social media effectively by actually providing value and allowing citizens outside the Legislature to get a peek at what personal beliefs and driving motivations have led him to seek office. With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock) As Speaker Kowalski celebrated 30 years as an MLA, he also demonstrated his political vintage by outright banning MLAs from using social media such as Twitter and Facebook during Question Period. While I agree that MLAs should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, rather than outright banning the medium, Kowalski had the opportunity to explore how new technologies could be used to reconnect citizens to their democratic institutions. I offered to help Speaker Kowalski better understand the uses of social media, but I did not receive a response.

 #fail

Ron Liepert (PC Calgary-West) Minister Liepert is a blunt instrument. He and Premier Stelmach have continued to defer much of their public responsibility for health care restructuring to the unelected CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, but it has not stopped the Minister from planting his foot firmly in his mouth. PC MLAs are growing weary of this political arrangement and the Calgary Herald called for Minister Liepert’s resignation after he blamed Albertans for the administrative mishandling of the H1N1 vaccinations. Odds are favouring Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne to replace Minister Liepert early in the new year.



Hugh MacDonald (Liberal Edmonton-Gold Bar) Last year, I characterized MacDonald as “obsessed with discovering scandal,” and this year I say the same, but with a slightly more endearing tone. While he does come off as a little nuts, MacDonald is easily one of the hardest working MLAs in the Legislature – spending countless hours digging through files in the Legislature Library and as Chair of the Public Account CommitteeAIMco, AHS, and PC MLA extra pay and bonuses have been among MacDonald’s targets in 2009, but I am still not sure if he would know what to do if he uncovered a scandal that stuck.

Len Mitzel (PC Cypress-Medicine Hat) Haven’t heard of Len Mitzel? Not surprising. The backbench MLA has found his niche as the PC caucus’ designated American conference attendee. Over the past year, Mitzel has attended conferences on behalf of the Government of Alberta in Montana (again and again), San AngeloLaredo, Denver, and Boise, meaning that he likely understands more than most MLAs the important economic relationship that our province has with the western United States.

Rachel Notley: (NDP Edmonton-Strathcona) Notley has proven to be a consistently good parliamentarian. She is intelligent, articulate, and has worked hard to provide a clear voice for her constituents on the floor of the Legislature (on a wide range of issues). Lord only knows why NDP members have not demanded that she become the leader of her party.

Kevin Taft (Liberal Edmonton-Riverview) Freed from the burden of leading Alberta’s Liberal Party, Taft has returned to a more familiar role as Official Opposition Health Critic. Having written and researched extensively about public health care in Alberta in his pre-political life, Taft has proven to be a formidable opponent to Premier Stelmach and Minister Liepert over the past year.