on the web at theprogressreport.ca/progress_report_231
Over the weekend–just two days before schools in Alberta were set to re-open–chief medical officer of health Dr. Hinshaw dropped an announcement that shocked many parents and teachers.
Ministerial Order 33-2020 stipulates that masks and two-meter social distancing will not be mandatory in classrooms.
There was immediate outrage from parents and teachers who had been given the impression by previous statements from the government that masks would be used in all schools. The announcement came so close to school re-opening–past the deadline for enrolling students somewhere else–that many parents online complained of a bait-and-switch.
Dr. Hinshaw responded at a press conference on Monday, arguing that the ministerial order was consistent with policies that had already been announced weeks ago, and that the lateness of the announcement was due to delays in “legal processes.”
There is of course no magical power inherent to desks that make kids virus-immune while seated. It’s hard not to see this as an admission that two-meter distancing is simply impossible when dealing with classes of 35, 40, or more students packed into one room.
David Climenhaga has a thorough write-up of the whole situation over at AlbertaPolitics.ca, and I agree with his analysis: the Kenney administration’s re-opening plan is sloppy, it wasn’t communicated clearly to the public, and we’re all at risk of a second coronavirus surge because of it.
In contrast to the provincial government’s cavalier approach to the school re-opening the federal government announced last week that it would transfer two billion dollars in funding to the provinces to help pay for COVID safety measures in schools. Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has still not announced how Alberta’s share of this funding will be used.
AB fiscal update about as bad as you’d expect
Last week the Kenney administration presented the fiscal update, the regular report on the province’s finances. The situation is about as bad as you might expect–though perhaps not as bad as the UCP government and certain voices in the media are making it out to be.
Even before coronavirus Alberta was struggling with high unemployment thanks to a global market that just wasn’t very interested in our bitumen oil. Government revenue was already quite low thanks to Alberta’s low taxes and royalty rates; the UCP had just announced a gigantic corporate tax cut ($4.7 billion on paper, though we know now that it’s amounting to much more than that); and the provincial budget was based on oil price estimates that were already unrealistic the day the document was typed up. (Finance Minister Toews actually told us with a straight face that he expected our bitumen oil to be selling for $58 a barrel this year!)
Then the virus hit, and economic activity worldwide ground to a near-halt.
The result is Alberta’s largest budget deficit in history, at $24.4 billion this year–triple what Minister Toews predicted in the budget.
The UCP government is sure to use this enormous figure as an excuse both to slash public services and to implement even more hair-brained ‘job creator’ tax cuts. But it’s worth noting that despite this bad year, Alberta’s debt situation is actually quite mild. By the end of the year Alberta’s debt, as a percentage of its GDP (a rough metric of economic activity), will be just above British Columbia’s in the low 20s–less than half that of all of the provinces east of Saskatchewan. The sky is not falling, and this deficit is not an excuse to start selling off our schools, parks, and hospitals. But it’s certainly long past time that those with wealth in Alberta started paying their fair share to keep this province running.
- The Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission announced nearly $2 billion in losses at the Northwest Refinery this year. The refinery, which was financed entirely by loans from the Progressive Conservative government back in 2013, is half owned by CNRL–who completely wrote off the value of the struggling facility back in December–and serves as a bleak example of the risks of investing in huge fossil fuel projects in the current environment.
- While the members of Jason Luan’s panel on supervised consumption sites were advocating for taking life-saving medical services away from vulnerable Albertans, they were living it up on the public dime, Alanna Smith reports for the Calgary Herald. Panel members abused their privileges by running up bills for steak dinners, travel, and ‘double-dipping’ expenses, to the tune of over $10,000.
- The Edmonton Police Service is getting a new armoured vehicle, confirmed the Edmonton Police Commission to Progress Alberta last week. EPS had been avoiding giving a clear answer to this to the media for a few weeks, but some vigorous investigation by Duncan got us the answer anyway. Why do the Edmonton police need another half-million-dollar armoured personnel carrier? And why did the Edmonton Police Commission, who are tasked with providing public oversight of EPS, help them try to hide it? Mayor Don Iveson calls the purchase “remarkably tone-deaf.”
- The Edmonton Public School Board meets this week to discuss whether or not to cancel the controversial school resource officer (SRO) program. SROs are police officers embedded in our schools. Earlier this year the EPSB held a vote on whether to review or suspend the program; the proposal to suspend it was shot down by one vote, with one of the trustees who voted against almost immediately resigning after making racist comments during the debate. Bashir Mohamed and Oumar Salifou discuss the SRO program in depth on the latest Is This For Real? podcast, which you should check out.
- A correction to our Progress Report back on August 11: in the newsletter we reported that the new, private orthopedic hospital planned for Edmonton had been announced by government. The proposed facility, which would be Alberta’s largest private hospital, has not been officially announced yet.
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