Home » Alberta Gov

Tag: Alberta Gov

Parties and Charities: The Tale of Two Tax Credits

“..lowering the charitable credit recognizes that people give for other reasons than tax rebates.” – Department of Finance Spokesperson, Metro News

It’s probably quite true that most donate to charity without expecting anything in return. The more sharp tongued of individuals might publicly ask if the same can be said of larger political contributions. Regardless, with Budget 2015, the tax credit for donations to political parties remains unchanged while that for charitable contributions over $200 drops to one of the lowest rates among provinces and territories. Falling from 21% to 12.5%, only Ontario (11.16% and Nunavut (11.50%) will have a lower rate.

My close-up charitable experience comes from volunteering with a food bank. To collect and distribute food across a city requires putting trucks on the road. So you can also factor in the rising gas tax as an increased price of doing business, and a driver of food bank demand as transportation costs raise the price of food. As I’ve mentioned before, food bank use is rising, in bad times and good.

How will the cut to the charitable tax credit impact food banks, and everyone who provides the services and supports that are used more and more as the economy sputters?

But D.D. Coutts, manager of communications for the Calgary Food Bank, said she believes many organizations, particularly those in the human services field, will be hurt by the move.

“We’re not concerned about people’s generosity because people were donating before there was any tax credit and are very generous to donate,” Coutts said. – Calgary Herald, Calgary charities worried about drop in donations after province cuts tax credits

The Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Calgary Chamber and Volunteer Alberta would agree, having launched their “Now is Not the Time” campaign:

Budget 2015 asks Albertans to pay more in taxes and fees at a time when many will have reduced earnings. Less disposable income means less money available to donate to charity.

When the economy slows, all forms of revenue for charities are reduced. Alberta charities are already seeing reductions in corporate donations and government funding continues to stagnate. At the same time, many charities are called upon to respond to increased community needs.

The tax credit reduction follows on the heels of the elimination of the Community Spirit Donation Matching program, which was also designed to incent charitable giving.

http://www.nowisnotthetime.ca/

A petition has also been launched at http://www.albertans4giving.ca.

This leaves Alberta’s charities and non-profits to do what they’ve always done. Maintain minimal admin costs, provide services and supports that the government does not, and do more with less as demand for services increases.

Lend them a  hand by continuing to be generous with your donations, and throw a letter to your MLA in with that as well.

Election 2015: Voting Today on next Year’s Budget

IMG_0623-small

The problem with trying to be the first out the door with a budget analysis, is that things can change significantly in 24 hours. In the time it takes to hold a spring election you can still go without a detailed look at how a budget will play out – how provincial administration implements the budget, the real funding cuts or increases when you factor in a department’s deficit or surplus from the year before. The impact on individual programs, fees, contacts, etc, takes months to become clear.

For example, the Department of Human Services accumulated a $50 million deficit last year. The likely impact is that a 6% increase in funding for Persons with Disabilities is more likely to be a 1% increase in real dollars. This is certainly not enough to provide a promised pay increase for woefully underpaid disability workers, and most likely not enough to cover uptake in the system. But it’ll be months before the disability sector has a clear look at how this will affect contracts and front-line services.

Budget 2015/16 largely holds the line on spending, and there’ll be some blood letting in most places where you’ll find growth pressure. Not a lot, but it’ll be there. It’s not the worst that could be. Certainly not in a province that’s failed to accumulate savings despite forty years of selling in large quantities, the most valuable energy resource on the planet. That stripped billions from the treasury and potential savings to implement a flat tax, voted in on ideology and high resource revenues, rather than seemingly any kind of evidence-based fiscal plan for the decades ahead.

It’s the budget Premier Prentice, along with a Ten-Year Strategic ‘Plan’, will use to justify an early election.

The Premier’s Ten-Year Plan, is 30 pages (36 if you count the index and blanks) of not much content or specifics.

That nurses, doctors, and teachers will face a hard line in bargaining in the years ahead is not new. They endured this in the 90’s and will again. But we have no specifics and can hardly judge whether the Premier’s future collective bargaining tactics are worthy of a four-year mandate until we’ve actually seen specifics come out in a contract negotiation.

The lack of any real mention of corporate tax would seem to make it fairly certain, combined with the Premier’s statements to date, that corporate Alberta won’t see any additional tax increases on profits earned. So go ahead and judge the Premier on that one.

User fees will be rising. “We’re all in this together”, except I’ll refer you to the last paragraph.

The rest of the Ten Year Plan isn’t much more than you’d find reading government news releases. We know we’re over-dependant on energy resources. We’ve known that the hard way since Getty. We know the government has committed to building new schools. When they’ll be completed and when school boards will be able to staff them isn’t quite as known. You can go ahead and read the document here, it won’t take you long.

As for the Budget, it’s not this one that you should be voting on, but the next, as his government moves to cut $8.6 billion over three years.

Is there waste and overspending in gov? No doubt. If you’ve seen the AHS wage grids for upper management and executives, they’re enough to make you rethink your career choices if you’re not on the list.

But to essentially cut out something twice the size of the Department of Human Services over three years? Probably doable. But probably not without creating another massive infrastructure deficit, driving nurses, teachers and other professionals from the province and cutting deep into front-line services.

I don’t envy the Premier’s task, he’s been handed a mess and left to climb a mountain with little gear and old ropes. But it’s those around him who put him in this situation, his party that’s proven unable to manage the good times, save for the bad, and overcome infrastructure and economic deficits of their own creation.

When times are tough, people need help more than ever. They’ll find the price of food rising with a rising gas tax, and hopefully our food banks won’t be impacted much by a cut to the charitable tax credit. The political tax credit staying the same won’t do much for Fred and Martha. They’re more likely to drop a bad of food in the bin at Safeway than to renew their PC memberships.

The knife is coming to Alberta’s budget and public services. We’ll lose more blood than we pump in. Is this the surgical team that you want to trust for the next four years?  I’d like to ask Rachel Notley, Laurie Blakeman and Greg Clark for a second opinion.

Booming business for Alberta’s food banks

Canada food bank usage

(Food bank use in Canada – 2014 Hunger Count)

An economy perpetually tied to the price of oil is stumbling, the government knows of at least 4,544 layoff notices being handed out, and business at Alberta’s food banks is booming.

One of the barometers for poverty and the health of our society is food bank usage. In Alberta, since 2008, demand for assistance from food banks has increase by 48%.

In September, the Edmonton Food Bank distributed 14,000 hampers to those in need. This January, demand rose to 16,000. Picture a capacity crowd in Rexall Place calling on the Food Bank for help each month.

As winter began, the Calgary Food Bank reported a 10% increase in demand from 2013. Within 2014, Calgary was distributing 200 more hampers per month in the fall, than they were at the beginning of summer.

Food Bank demand spikes as oil prices fall and Alberta’s economy stumbles. But in good times or bad, it still increases.

If Alberta’s soon to be past and future MLAs are looking for a volunteer opportunity in the next little while, donating some time to answer calls from, or packing food hampers for individuals and families who need help, might not be a bad idea.

It would certainly put them in the room with those who would like to ask the question; what’s next for social policy in Alberta? A topic that wasn’t the recipient of much discussion or debate  during the race for the Premiership, or during the byelection campaigns.

What of a soon to be upon us general election? Alberta’s Social Policy Framework, “the future direction social policy in Alberta”, seems to have stalled. Or perhaps exited the political scene with the departure of former Human Services Minister Dave Hancock. Working in the non-profit community sector, we seem to be a world away from the Premier’s office. Alberta’s child poverty rate is pretty much unchanged since 1989. 18% of children in Edmonton live in poverty according to the latest numbers from the Edmonton Social Planning Council. And food banks in Alberta are being flooded with demand.

In recent weeks we’ve talked about $800 dollar chairs and condominium priced tables in Government meeting rooms. The funding that the Auditor General and Child and Youth Advocate need to fulfill their extensive mandates, and the speed at which government-dominated committees give and take from their budgets. But the other issues out there..

To quote  from the Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson:

Kill 500 ducks in an Alberta tailings pond and you hear outrage from around the world.

Yet, turn away 27,000 women and children from Alberta emergency shelters and you hear barely a whisper. Close six group homes for troubled children and there isn’t a peep. Shut down 12 foster homes and there’s only silence.

Non-profit agencies across Alberta are facing a crisis and odds are you had no idea — not unless you were an abused woman, a troubled teen or a neglected child.

Crisis is easy. It’s easily manufactured through apathy by voters and government. The latter enabled by the former. The next four years are too important to treat this election like a spectator sport, to keep your vote at home or to let it be decided by narrow and vague campaign messaging. People are hurting, people are in crisis and it’s happening regardless of the price of oil and where we are on the energy-dependance roller coaster.

Where does the candidate at your door stand on Alberta’s social issues? Do you know, do they know? Take the time to find out, to know the person who wants to represent you on the floor of the legislature. A lot of people in need are counting on you.

__

Fort McMurray food bank sees dramatic increase in demand

Edmonton Food Bank experiencing record calls in time of need

Food bank use soars in Alberta as cost of living increases

Calgary Food Bank demand on the rise

Hey Hey Hey Goodbye…

Katz Group puts pressure on potential Edmonton Northlands contractor

Downtown arena may be dead if Oilers owner Katz doesn’t step up

An election is approaching – an unpopular arena funding model seems to become more so by the day – A provincial budget came and went without $100 million in arena funding, leaving the Mayor’s “the money is coming, the money is coming” reality distortion field, bleeding on the side of the potholed road – And a couple more City Councillors have toyed with the idea of possibly, maybe, sort of, voting against the Arena framework as it heads back to Council without the Provincial funding we knew it wasn’t going to get.

Did I mention an election is coming?

Anyway, as it all heads to either a tear-filled finale or a ramming through from throat to rectum, I’d like to offer Council and Council hopefuls a solution, free of charge.

Cut Katz loose.

Aside from a 30+ year lease for the use of the facility for 41 days per year + the playoffs (if any), let’s do it without him. Let’s do it without the Katz drama, the Katz ego, the $20 million marketing deal and the forfeiture of facility revenues. Let’s do it without his meagre investment to be spread out over decades.

I don’t begrudge Daryl Katz for making fantastically one-sided business deals, I just wish my city could do the same. Here’s Edmonton’s chance – cut Daryl out. If we’re going to build it, if we’re going to own it, if the city is going to stretch its borrowing capacity by a half-billion dollars to do this; then let’s run our rink, fill its seats, and profit fully from it.

If we need partners going forward, who have the expertise and the ability to bring shows through the door; Then starting with a trip to LiveNation, City Council can send Simon Farbrother on the road with instructions to fill the barn, not give away the farm.

Failing the Frail – Homecare reductions in Alberta

 Alberta Health Services cuts homecare services

____________________
“…assessed by START (Short Term Assessment and Rehabilitation Treatment) to develop a treatment plan to improve her quality of life and allow her to continue living out in the community.”

Glenrose program keeps seniors active

________

My headline for this blog post is, of course, recycled from when I wrote last year about the closure of the START program at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital. The program, highlighted so well in the above quoted article from 2006, was shuttered last year. My father, thanks in no small part to the advocacy of some diligent and committed home-care staff, was one the last patients to benefit from the impressive rehabilitative care offered by the program, and the efforts of staff, a number of whom had been with the program since its very beginnings.

Alas, with little consultation, and wave of approved soundbites in the face of criticism (namely from former patients contacting any local media who would listen), START was quietly closed. Assurances followed that opportunities would be there to treat patients in the community, and that the level of care would not suffer.

Over the past two years, over 5000 additional patients, being treated in their homes, in their communities, have been added to rosters of the Edmonton area’s various home-care providers.

No one asks to suffer from, to endure, and fight to overcome the effects of age, illness, injury, etc. And it’s hard enough finding obstacles and barriers everywhere, and everyday, where healthy individuals may see little more than some steps to climb, a distance to walk, or a curb to step upon. What’s desired is a level of care that enables them to maintain some quality of life, to avoid complications that can lead to setbacks, and hospitalization, and some help for families that struggle to provide and care for a loved one in need.

None of this can truly be appreciated unless it’s been seen or experienced up-close. Unless you’ve witnessed and/or cared for a loved one with medical difficulties, unless you’ve been a nurse, or a therapist, or one of the many talented individuals in the medical field or provide these supports to individuals in their homes, it can be so incredibly easy to under appreciate the issues at hand.

And it would seem that our decision-makers, elected or otherwise, exist detached from the everyday struggles of many Albertans. Perhaps it can be seen in a government that allows a compassionate care bill to die on the order paper. Or maybe in the statement of an AHS official who seems to believe that there’s little connection between a level of care, and the time health-care providers have available to spend with a patient.

“”We are not reducing the level of care for any of our clients. We will be reducing the amount of time spent with them in some instances,” Williamson said.”

 

“I’m sorry Mrs. Johnson, we’re reducing your daily exercise program by 15 minutes, the program that allows you to stay mobile and active”.

“I’m sorry Mr. Jones, we don’t have time to treat all your diabetic sores today, we’ll do the rest tomorrow, or Monday”.

 

The day-to-day life of a homecare worker isn’t just time spent with the patient. Time seems much shorter when a worker new to a patient and unfamiliar with them and their care must deal with the situation. Time which is well used to do more than run through a prescriptive routine, but which can be used to fully assess a patient’s state and condition. Time which is also consumed by travel and the transportation of supplies and equipment.

AHS is once-again acting upon a decision made behind closed doors, without any consultation whatsoever with those affected the most, failing those whose care they have been tasked with.

I challenge AHS to do better. I challenge everyone from senior management to the Minister of Health to set foot in our communities, in our neighbourhoods – to book our community halls and events centres and discuss this issue and many more, face-to-face with everyday Albertans. Listen to those who receive home care, those who provide it to the highest of standards, those who strive to provide the highest level of care to their patients, and those who support and care-for a relative or a spouse in need. It’s called public consultation, it’s called stakeholder involvement, and it shouldn’t take digging by a political party or the media to break an issue out into the open. Transparency, consultation, and open decision should, as a principle, be the standard of this government, and in particular the department with which we entrust our health, our lives, and that of those we care about.

Show Your Work – On the Alberta Legislature, open legislation and debate

As you may have gathered..and as I may have mentioned one or two times, I’m a fan of municipal government. I respect greatly, its importance in our day-to-day lives. I value its accessibility to residents, whether it’s an interested citizen or a community group looking to be engaged in policy, and in operation of their city, town, hamlet, summer village, etc. And I appreciate the ability of my councillor, and the small group of decision-makers next to them, to engage in debate and discussion in an intimate setting that allows my representative, and everyone’s representatives to ask numerous questions, to engage one-on-one and have an indepth say. An advantage of a smaller group that also isn’t encumbered by party lines.

Being a good politico I do of course closely follow provincial politics. Their federal cousins however, I tend to consider far out of reach of the average citizen; operating from a place where the concept of “all politics is local” tends to take a back-seat, not so much to national discussion, but party ambition and the ability to fall back upon party name rather than a personal connection with constituents come election time. Yes of course, provincial politics could well be accused of having the same flaws. But 80+ MLAs doesn’t quite match the bustle of 300+ MPs or the sound volume of national campaigns.

Anyways, where am I going with this? Debate, the development of legislation, the consideration of amendments, and consultation with the public throughout.

It’s budget time for municipalities. Aside from a few in camera sessions, the process is open for all to drop into Council chambers and view the proceedings. You can/could attend a public hearing, watch civic departments and agencies make their budget requests, see the Mayor lay into the province and feds over municipal funding and next week, see Councillors debate various motions before arriving at a final product. It’s a far cry from the traditionally behind the scenes provincial budget process with an often rhetorical public discussion.

Not that budgets or even municipal funding were a prime topic for MLA’s yesterday. This past evening I tuned into the proceedings in the Leg, and kept the live stream going mostly out of curiosity as to whether any opposition amendments to the topic at hand, the elections accountability act, would actually pass. I believe the final tally was 2 accepted amendments out of 100+ proposed.

I suppose if you swing heavily to the government side, the process doesn’t particularly bother you. But to this observer, there’s something aggravating about watching, what seemed to be some quality proposals, falling under the wheels of a party bus. Isn’t it supposed to be province first, not party first? Opposition MLA’s are generally strong when it comes to articulating their proposals (I say this regardless of whether or not I agree with their politics). But it’s from the chorus of “NOs” which shot down so many of these amendments, that I’d like to hear some articulation of their viewpoint. The reason for their vote.

Perhaps I’m missing something here and have just spent too much time listening to Councillors speak to their reasons for voting yay or nay, one by one, prior to a vote. Maybe I’m just irked by the differences in accessibility by the general public to the policy development process between provincial and municipal politics. Or maybe I’m just plain annoyed that my elected provincial representative can propose an amendment – good, bad, or in between – and see it shot down by dozens of members on the other side, seemingly along party lines with limited explanation justifying their votes.

With the tools of the 21st century, and with a laptop, a smartphone, and/or an iPad sitting in front of almost every MLA and member of the public, there’s a better way to do this; it’s in the development of legislation and amendments using the open source model. A model that inherently creates public consultation and transparency by starting with a blank page and drafting public policy with many eyes upon it.

 

OpenLegislation – It’s a tool developed for the New York State Senate and Assembly

OpenLegislation is a web service that delivers legislative information from the New York State Senate and Assembly to the public in near-real time.

The platform allows bills and their various versions to be published as they’re drafted and as the legislative process moves on. It shows, in an easily accessible manner, how various members voted and even provides the public with the ability to comment and engage in discussion along the way.

The size and bustle of the Legislature may not allow for that intimate debate that can take place in municipal Council chambers. This is however the era of Twitter, of Facebook, of blogs and online forums. There is absolutely no shortage of tools for provincial politicians to post their thoughts on policy, to elaborate on how they vote and make decisions – or for the government to only reveal a bill when it’s reached what they consider to be a final, or near final product. The only hindrance is laziness, a lack of desire for transparency and the failure of the public to provide any political hit for being aloof and disconnected.

Yes, the government does have some public surveys and consultation processes. And sure, many members of the Provincial Assembly and many politicians in fact do utilize social media. But a public meeting with no follow-up, a survey whose results are only revealed through an MLA/minister and social media broadcasts – “Proud to be…”, “Great day at…” “Thrilled to be…” – aren’t engagement. They add little or nothing to the public debate, and as a citizen, I’m not particularly interested in giving up an evening to attend a public meeting, the feedback from which I’ll never have any insights into how it’s actually considered. Nor am I interested in a politician’s events schedule and how productive and great their day was. Although, if they wanted to announce what interest groups they’ve met with and who’s set up meetings to lobby them, that wouldn’t be a bad thing ;).

Yes, we live in a representative democracy. We elect people to make decisions on our behalf. But it shouldn’t mean that we aren’t provided a window into the process, from the drafting of policy to its passing, or the ability to open that window and engage in discussion. It shouldn’t mean that we don’t closely follow the progress of our representatives through the term – asking to see why they’ve voted as they have – what their thoughts are on proposals and ideas from all corners of the assembly. When the process is dominated by party politics, much of which takes place outside the view of the general public or with media at a party AGM crammed into a little room – in failing to do so, we probably deserve what poor policy and debate comes down the pipe as a result.

On info, data & access to

I was thinking today about a Freedom of Information request I filed a couple weeks back. Dropped $5 bucks in an envelope along with the form and sent it off to Ottawa. I’ve filed a handful of these requests in my time, but never at the Federal level.

It’s a request that could have been avoided entirely, saving me the price of five small coffees at McDonalds this week, had my MP and/or the crown corporation in question, engaged my community in a public consultation process prior to making an impactful decision- or even if response letters had been returned. Better yet, the info I’m seeking could have been made available through an embrace of the open data movement. Falling within the vein of financial and operating data that could routinely be released to public, both for informative purposes, and as a open & public performance measure.

But with less public data, and more unanswered correspondence than I’d like – I’m out five bucks and left sitting here tapping out a blog entry and wondering if a reply from the government is going to come before Christmas.

In thinking about this blog post, my train of thought went east, then veered north, so we’re going to cover two different paths to the public disclosure of government info.

First, OpenData:

 

– Provide a single-source for information and data catalogs. Don’t bury and scatter this information across government departments and obscure websites. Edmonton’s opendata catalog is great example. A single well-maintained and well-publicized entry point for individuals, businesses, organizations, etc.

– Make the process for requesting data easy and within view of the public. Take an application like IdeaScale, which allows anyone to submit and rank thoughts/ideas, and put it to use for this. Let folks openly submit requests for government datasets, let us see what others have requested, and throw our support behind them. And like the data catalog itself, do it through a central, and easy to find portal.

– If it’s FOIPed as a matter of public interest, make it public. A few years back my Community League successfully got our hands on internal documentation and process info from the selection of a route for the West LRT expansion. The entire request was a few thousand pages, some of it good for mild curiosity if nothing more. But the documentation and internal analysis from the project team was interesting and highly informative. We can and did post some of it to our website, but its reach and availability to an increased audience would have benefited greatly from the city itself, placing the documents online.

 

Government is of course steered by politics, and in politics there’s always going to be those to whom the public disclosure of information, will either be a non-priority, an annoyance, or a curse. Politicians aren’t going to be lining up to put their briefing notes online. There’s always going to be a need to actually drop a cheque in an envelope along with a form asking for the disclosure of X, Y, and Z (oh, how it would be nice to be able to do this online as well).

There are also, always going to be nuisance requests. And there are ways that those who choose to file these, can be left to their own devices in what I’m going to propose. The value of freedom of information is shown constantly in those requests which bring valuable information to light – that which informs, and that which holds those in power, responsible for their actions and decisions. These requests are not always made by a media organization with the funds to pursue information, paying those extra fees that are often charged for xeroxing and a staffer’s time, (my Community League was quoted several thousand for our request), or the platform to widely release what’s revealed.

You’ve probably heard of Kickstarter, the “funding platform for creative projects”. I’d like to suggest something similar targeted towards government prosperity. Maybe it’s put together by media groups, the child of like-minded organizations, or some form of social enterprise.

I’m not going draft any potential non-profit or corporate bylaws for it here, but here is the Coles Notes version of how I’d envision its operation. Anyone – Individual, biz, etc lays out the information they’re seeking. For low-income individuals, this is the chance to have the cost of initial filing fees covered. For others, if they’ve filed a request and have been quoted additional fees to have it fulfilled, this is where our funding platform kicks in. With interested donors covering the fee request with the agreement that the information received will be published online, through the platform.

So if there are folks out there in the media or in the non-profit sector looking for a long-term transparency project, please consider this idea open to all.

______

Study ranks Canada’s freedom-of-information laws dead last

Alberta gets a ‘D’ in freedom of information audit

State of Democracy

EDMONTON—In findings that should disturb every politician across the country, a series of new national surveys suggest record numbers of Canadians are fed up with the state of our democracy.

Worse for elected leaders, more and more Canadians believe that politicians, regardless of their party affiliation, don’t listen to them, don’t care about the issues that really concern them and aren’t willing to act to preserve and improve our democratic institutions and traditions.

Only 17 per cent of Canadians trust Parliament and only 10 per cent trust political parties.

Read the rest @ TheStar.ca

______________________

I can’t find myself disagreeing with the results of any of the referenced studies. Anyway, I’ve hacked out some thoughts..bit of a rant on the subject of engagement, good governance and political involvement.

 

“Neuman told the delegates that growing numbers of Canadians are disillusioned with elected officials and have now turned to supporting grassroots citizen actions, such as the last fall’s Occupy Movement, the B.C. referendum on the HST and this summer’s Quebec student protests, as a way to make their voices heard.”

 

It’s pretty simple at the end of the day:

No un-returned phone calls.

No unanswered letters.

No letters advising you “to be cautious as to how you approach future communications as your comments could be upsetting to some individuals. This could delay the decision on a new school”.

No party whips, and party leaders, and party agendas to wade through.

And no bureaucratic and political hills to climb and barriers to entry, that have been built up to the point of inaccessibility for the average person.

 

These are things that don’t exist in any successful and inclusive grassroots & community movement. And for the average person who wants to be an engaged citizen, who wants to be involved and have say – these require the strength in numbers of grassroots organization to overcome.

It’s why I joined a community league. To advocate on behalf of my community with like-minded individuals, in way we could never, ever, do on our own. It’s the reason Edmonton’s community league movement was built, to provide citizens with the ability to positively affect the growth of a city in which the voice of the individual was increasingly being drowned out.

As for other levels of government….

In the provincial legislature, my community is represented by an MLA who was thrown out of government caucus for bluntly laying out the state and management of health care in Alberta. Party came first, and a decision was made behind closed doors. against our constituency, our MLA, without any consultation. And yet their smiles were warm and friendly when they came to ask for our support in 2012.

Federally, my riding is represented by an MP who is chronically disengaged, and often unreachable. What accessibility to government and policy can there be for an individual or small-group when even a simple discussion can’t be had, or an inquiry answered?

Of course Canadians feel disengaged, unheard and detached from government. Time during the day is short, our lives are hectic, and we have little tolerance for spending precious free time talking to a wall or wading through rhetoric.

But if we want something more than a depressingly low voter turnout, policy developed in a vacuum, and partisan sniping, then folks need to find the time and fortitude to go out and demand it. It’s the only way we’re going to cultivate future leaders with the will and desire to make their time in government as demanding one them and their colleagues as possible, by initiating engagement, transparency and citizen participation from the top-down.

Opportunity, right in the centre of Jasper Place

Update – The purchase has been approved by Council!

 

Second only in impact to the approval of a statutory Area Redevelopment Plan next year, in a single-effort tomorrow, City Council could be in the position of granting a substantial opportunity to the west-end and in particular, the communities of the Jasper Place area in Ward 1.

The orange building at the corner of 100th avenue and 156th street, the site of a former school in the Town of Jasper Place, has long-been a distinctive mark. It’s also centered between four communities undergoing a dedicated revitalization, across the street from the Jasper Place transit terminal, and adjacent to a future LRT stop, within an active business revitalization zone, and within an area of Stony Plain Road envisioned to be a walkable pedestrian coordinator and vibrant urban market.

A decision by MacEwan University’s board of governors in 2009, to consolidate operations around it’s downtown campus means an open opportunity for the future of the building and site.

Slated to begin construction in 2013, with a opening targeted for 2015;

The new facility will house operations for the Centre for the Arts & Communications (CFAC), which will relocate from the west end campus.


Students will remain in the west end until the new facility is complete.

Yesterday evening several interested community league’s gathered to learn more about MacEwan’s plans and possible future options and processes for repurposing the site. Officials see a likely future for the facility in serving the public in some way, and any sale will need the approval of the provincial government through an order in council.

City staff have been discussing a possible purchase of the facility for some time now. With a possible future use an “arts incubator”.

With the surrounding communities looking for an investment in local amenities, and an adjacent business revitalization zone looking to create an attractive urban market, there is opportunity here. And with a decision today, Council can move the purchase forward. An arts incubator perhaps, space for community meetings, activities and programs, or more – right next to a future LRT transit station.

The loss of an educational facility in the community need not be a loss at all, just a new direction for an accessible, centrally located facility, at the four corners of neighbourhoods with a combined population of over 15,000. Officially sponsored revitalization efforts will have ended by the time MacEwan University has moved downtown, a decision to purchase this orange icon tomorrow, could be the best way for the city to end those efforts and send the communities of West Jasper Place, Glenwood, Canora, Britannia-Youngstown as well Sherwood, Jasper Park and more, off into their future.

 

 


 

Park It

Going to the hospital sucks.  Being in the hospital sucks.  No, I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here, but having been to and around hospitals many times over the past decade for family members, and having gone through the UofA ER myself this past fall, I just wanted to say it.  Getting in to see family, to see a doctor, to deliver something from home, to ask questions, and/or to make some attempt to calm nerves, these are the priorities upon arriving, and once you get in the building of course.Once you’re on hospital grounds you should be in a place where care and compassion come first – where site design and operating procedures maximize to the extent possible the conveniences and minimize the distractions on patients, doctors, families and caregivers.This week, Rajendra Kale MD, Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, published an editor slamming parking costs and policies in Canadian hospitals:

Parking fees are a barrier to health care and add avoidable
stress to patients who have enough to deal with. They can and
sometimes do interfere with a clinical consultation, reducing
the quality of the interaction and therefore of care.

Dr. Kale also quotes from a 2008 press release from the Government of Scotland, announcing the termination of parking fees by their National Health Service:

“It’s simply not fair to expect patients or visitors to have to pay when they come to hospital, when they may be suffering personal anxiety, stress or grief. Put bluntly, a car parking charge is often the last thing people need.

The editorial can be downloaded in-full here: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/early/2011/11/28/cmaj.111846

The Edmonton Journal, quotes Health Minister Fred Horne in response:

“I can certainly sympathize with the plight of people, and when you’re looking after someone who is ill, perhaps a family member, it can be just one more thing that you have to deal with,”
Hospital parking fees here to stay, province says – @EdmontonJournal.com
http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Hospital+parking+fees+here+stay+province+says/5785543/story.html

The larger issue here is, I believe a need for an independent Patient Advocate who can provide an ego and personal agenda free objective outside look at the system, with the resources to lobby and press for adequate changes to address patient needs, concerns and access limitations.

On this issue, the response of the Alberta Government is that $55 million of $60 million in collected parking fees is used to maintain AHS’s parking structures, and cover maintenance and staffing costs..  Perhaps something for the Auditor General to look at in the near future.  I can’t argue the government’s $ amounts with the information available, or the validity and value of parking lot construction, maintenance agreements and so forth, and I’m not really sure if I want to spend several months fighting through with FOIP request on this.  So instead I’ll talk about the 21st century, and how while we may not have flying cars and cities on the moon, we can surely do better than a parking system that leaves patients alone in the car while the friend or family member bringing them to the ER runs off to pay for parking, or where time better spent concentrating on treatment or asking questions of physicians, or anything that focuses on the patient and their care, takes a backseat to staring at the clock and wondering how much time is left on the metre.  Even while typing this I can already hear the sounds of someone, somewhere in downtown Edmonton, typing up a memo featuring some depressing cost estimates for a smart parking system.  So how about this, I’ll park, go see my relative who’s undergoing treatment, you grab my plate # when I drive in, and when I drive out, and bill me later when I’m not sick with worry, and far from being in a mood to watch the clock.

I’ll hold the ball, and you come running up and kick it.

*First impressions on the news that the new Royal Alberta Museum had joined the Edmonton Expo as a grass stain on Edmonton’s arse after being yanked away at the kick-off (or thereabouts).  At the very least, the analogy of children playing ‘government’ seems pretty accurate*

Wednesday, Edmonton –  City Council approves a downtown arena deal which includes a funding request to the higher powers for $100 million plus a little extra for a ‘community rink’ if they’d be so kind.

Wednesday, Edmonton/Ottawa – The Royal Alberta ‘off again, on again’ Museum is off again after the higher powers break out into an incomprehensible ‘he did it’ ‘no he did it’ shouting match following the announcement of the project’s cancellation/postponement/not gonna happen at least anytime soon…ness.

 

 The 2005 Announcement

2005 Alberta’s centennial federal funding announcement 

The April, 2011, revival announcement

Some April coverage of the announcement from the Edmonton Journal (The Edmonton Commons)

“That’s what we get from Ottawa to commemorate our history and our role in Confederation. A plaque.”

“One envelope has $30 million in it. The other envelope has had $92 million in it.”

“They could fund the project on their own. Fair enough. Carry on,” he said.”

” Fingers were pointed, blame was levelled”

Rona Ambrose Talks about RAM Money

They didn’t think that maybe they should get that in writing?

A night at the museum

“There is a good deal of finger pointing going on…”

 

The Mayor blames Rona Ambrose (for the 2nd time in this calendar year), Rona blames the Province, the Province blames the Feds, Laurie Hawn blames the province, meanwhile science and history in downtown Edmonton are set back seemingly further than hockey and the true story, like with the Expo, is far more likely to come from the pages of a Freedom of Information request than from the mouth of anyone in the triangle of blame.

 

 

 

 

FOIP’ed Ya!

The FOIP Act adds to all the other rights of individuals and organizations with respect to the access to information and protection of personal information within local public bodies.

Good business practices are the best way to operate in a FOIP environment. When you are making notes, or sending an e-mail, write it as though it could appear on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow. The Act doesn’t allow severing to avoid embarrassment. If events are recorded in an accurate, descriptive fashion, there is no cause for alarm in releasing records.

I mentioned e-mail: as e-mails are records, if we received a FOIP request, e-mails would be considered for release. It is worth mentioning them specifically as sometimes people are more casual in how they write e-mails, or mix business and pleasure in one note as if it were a phone call.

From:

The FOIP Act. Presentation for Elected Officials

www.servicealberta.ca/foip/documents/newly-elected-officials-foip-speaking-notes.rtf

________________________________________

The FOIP act does make it possible for individuals and organizations to acquire the correspondence of individual politicians relating to government business.  In my experience, it’s neither easy nor possible without several months of exchanging correspondence and occasionally barbs with FOIP coordinators.  I’ve done it twice in the course of my volunteer activities, in relation to a specific decision and a government program.  Both requests took nearly six-months, with one ending successfully with delivery of the requested records, and the other ending in a dispute which the Privacy Commissioner ultimately refused to move on to an adjudicator.

The FOIP act does work to protect the personal lives of politicians and the right to individual privacy.  No need to worry about a FOIP coordinator copying letters to your mother and the notes on your fridge.

So when the business of government starts taking place away from formal channels, the communication resources paid for by our taxes and access to Freedom of Information requests, is there an issue?

Morton accused of evading public scrutiny with secondary email address, shredded documents

Campaign spokesman insists both practices common in government

http://www.edmontonjournal.com/news/Morton+accused+evading+public+scrutiny+with+secondary+email/5371349/story.html

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prairies/alberta-investigating-tory-leadership-candidate/article2159129/

“I think I’ve done nothing out of the ordinary,” Morton said

Premier Ed Stelmach confirmed that he, too, maintains a secondary email address and uses it to conduct government business. Former deputy premier and leadership candidate Doug Horner also used a separate government email to do ministerial work.

Do provincial FOIP coordinators have access to all secondary communication channels, outside the control of the Government of Alberta, used to conduct formal government business?  Are these email addresses subject to the same data retention policies and practices in use on officially provided communication tools?  Has official government business conducted on secondary addresses been excluded from Freedom of Information Requests; ie, considered personal, not government correspondence?

Until questions are answered, I’d call this a wee bit of a problem, definitely one worthy of further investigation, both at the provincial and municipal levels.  As for it being “out of the ordinary”, well, if everyone is potentially dodging the FOIP act, intentionally or not, then I guess it isn’t.

Failing the Frail: The Shuttering of the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital’s START Program

Short Term Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment

The START Medical Day Hospital provides a comprehensive geriatric assessment and group-delivered rehabilitation within the framework of an eight-week program to seniors.  The START Medicine Day Program (Short Term Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment) was established to meet the needs of the frail elderly experiencing increased functional loss due to acute changes as a result of multiple and complex medical conditions.

This summer the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital’s Short Term Assessment, Rehabilitation and Treatment program will complete treatment on the last group of Edmonton seniors to have benefited from this now 30 year-old program.  Since being relocated to the Glenrose, cutbacks have reduced the number of patients who have been able to seek treatment.

The program, however, has never stopped providing hope to the individuals and families living with and coping with chronic medical conditions and disabilities.  I’ve seen first hand, treatment at the Glenrose free a loved one in my immediate family, from the confinement of a lift-chair and a state of near immobility.

Between the soundbytes and accusations, are the day-to-day lives of frontline staff and those in need of, or in the care of, health services in Alberta.  The most painful path an individual may take to become a prisoner isn’t to commit a crime, it’s to be inflicted with a chronic illness or disability and be unable to seek treatment.

With the closing of the START program, our seniors and those struggling with illness and disability are being separated from the treatment options which have been provided by its dedicated staff, staff who in the face of previous budget cuts have been forced to provide treatment and conduct exercises in whatever space was available to them, including busy hallways.

My family and I are providing this testimonial in the hope that the Alberta Government and Alberta Health Services will allow this program and its staff to continue to treat frail Albertan’s in need of help.

One Step Back on SPR

In May of 2009, the Government of Alberta announced $6.6 million in funding for two Capital Region Housing Corporation developments.  The development slated for the Jasper Place area, sits in the community of Britannia-Youngstown, on the Stony Plain Road commercial strip, and within the boundaries of the Jasper Place Revitalization Strategy.  When developed with input from community residents, and approved by Edmonton City Council in 2009, the JPRS called for future development of Stony Plain Road to be mixed-use, with street-oriented retail and multi-unit residential above.  The development here does include ground floor retail facing Stony Plain Road, with 20 studio/bachelor affordable housing units in the floors above.

As the development has reached completion, its first retail tenant has moved in:

In an area already well saturated with adult-oriented businesses such as cash/pay-day-loan stores, pawn shops, adult video & etc, this is the first retail tenant of a tax-payer funded affordable housing development, within an area undergoing tax-payer funded “revitalization” efforts.

I’ve had the great opportunity over the last few weeks to discuss neighborhood revitalization and mature neighborhood sustainability with some of the city’s foremost experts on the subject.  I’ve heard great disussions on the negative effects a concentration of adult-oriented businesses (pawn shops, pay-day-loans, etc) can have on a community.  How they’re often found concentrated in areas of distress, and the best description I’ve heard, “outposts of distress”, ‘a poisonous combination of taking from a community without generating any reinvestment’.

Addressing the issue was a defined component of the Jasper Place Revitalization:

Declining and relocating businesses have left a retail vacuum which has been filled with an over-concentration of pawn shows, adult bookstores, massage establishments, and cheque cashing establishments in three core, centre block

Goal 3: Building our community

Short Term Actions

Custom commercial overlay on all pawnshops and adult shops until a new zoning plan for Stony Plain Road business corridor is complete including density, design and zoning standards

 

As someone who has volunteered on the JPR steering committee, I’ve seen the situation as multi-fold;  Grandfathering protects the concentration that exists now, establishing a commercial overlay against a pay-day-loans operation is difficult as they currently fall under the broadly defined Professional, Financial and Office Support Services in Edmonton’s zoning bylaw, and no action has been taken at a legislative local level, except for the following motion from October 29th, 2008:

 

Text Amendment to the Zoning Bylaw with a Stony Plain Road Commercial Overlay

Moved K. Leibovici – L. Sloan:

That Administration prepare a text amendment to the Zoning Bylaw with a Stony Plain Road Commercial Overlay containing the following:

  • Prior to issuing a new development permit for bars, nightclubs, neighbourhood pubs, adult entertainment shops, pawn shops, cash stores, massage shops, or for an increase in occupancy load of bars, nightclubs, and neighbourhood pubs, the applicant shall:
  1. Contact affected parties including the president of the adjacent community league(s), and Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone.
  2. Outline details of application to affected parties and solicit comments.
  3. Document opinions and concerns expressed by affected parties.
  4. Submit the documentation as part of the development permit application.
  5. Apply for a DC2 provision for bars, nightclubs, adult entertainment shops, pawn shops, cash stores, massage shops, neighbourhood pubs, within the Stony Plain Road Business Revitalization Zone area.
Planning & Dev.Council Public Hearing

Due: To Be Determined

 

G. Heaton, Deputy City Manager’s Office, answered Council’s questions.

Carried

For the Motion: S. Mandel; B. Anderson, T. Caterina, E. Gibbons, R. Hayter, B. Henderson, D. Iveson, K. Krushell,
K. Leibovici, L. Sloan, D. Thiele.

Absent: J. Batty, A. Sohi.


A lot of time, sweat, and effort from business owners and volunteers has gone into local revitalization.  There are property owners along SPR, who out of concern and support for these local efforts, have taken it in the pocket, turning down offers to rent space when they felt doing so would hinder revitalization.  Obviously not all in the area are willing to do the same, but in the abscence of any legislative tools to address a concentration of predatory/adult-oriented businesses, it’s going to fall to landlords to make the right choices for the Stony Plain Road commercial strip and surrouding communities.  When the landlord and development in question is funded by millions in taxpayer dollars, I absolutely expect nothing less.  CRHC has advertised this as a development that will “help enrich the community of Britannia-Youngstown”.  For the revitalizating community surrounding it, and the future tenants in need of stable, affordable housing, this choice of retail tenant fails both.

 

Some more light reading:

Does Fringe Banking Exacerbate Neighborhood Crime Rates? Social Disorganization and the Ecology of Payday Lending

August 23rd Update – It’s been several months since I first contacted the CRHC asking for a response from them on this issue, I still have not received a reply.

Thoughts on Opportunity

I joined the Alberta Party this month, a first step in helping to establish a presence for the party in my backyard, Edm-Meadowlark.  In my search for a political home, It’s also the third provincial party I’ve held a membership in.

I’ve never voted for a PC candidate, although Raj Sherman would have been the first had he not been forced to pay a price for honesty, for laying out in detail what every patient and family member who’s suffered through the mismanaged state of our public health system already knows.  Health Care is the topic of the hour, a literal life and death concern for thousands of Albertans, patients and families, and the latest highlighted chapter in a saga which has included such things as access to information, energy royalties, land-owner rights, high-voltage/high-price transmission lines, long-term savings, enough debatable policy choices to seemingly keep a caucus of opposition MLA’s and their staff busy occupied for an entire term and in the spotlight through the next election.  Instead the opposition continues to struggle to deliver a coherent, stable public message, or impact public policy, meanwhile a single Doctor, sitting as an independent in the legislature, has seemingly done more to highlight, analyze, and explain the health care debate over the last several months, than the government and three opposition parties combined have done in the last several years.

As a center-left Albertan, I’ve parked my vote in three elections.  Twice on one party, and most recently on the couch alongside 60% of my fellow eligible voters.  I’ve voted under the cloud of an almost predestined spot in Alberta’s opposition, I’ve done so expecting that while my values and beliefs wouldn’t be mirrored in Alberta’s governance, the members of the opposition would watch, analyze, lobby, and collaborate with their colleagues on each side of the Legislature to ensure Albertans receive the best in public policy. I expect the opposition to be the watch dog, the public/community and devils advocate, and that the resources afforded to them will be used for more than policy development, and rallying on the steps of the leg, but to tell us all the who, what, where, when and why of our governments actions in more than media sound-bites.  I’ve apparently expected too much.  The recent vote by our government against providing digital access to the members Public Disclosure Statements, in frustration, was a tipping point for me. Sound-bites are talk, useful in question period and a media but scrum, but ultimately cheap and easy.  Criticizing the government for a lack of transparency was easy, instead using the resources available to a party, collecting and self publishing Disclosure Statements which are publicly accessible, if not readily available, for all elected members of the legislature would have been leadership, transparency, and a public service all in one.

It’s time for change.  If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, the case study is an ongoing “battle” for a percent of a percent of eligible voters who cast a ballot.  It’s sound-bites, and ‘tactics’ that have continually failed to engage Albertans in the issues which directly affect them, that fail to provide either transparency or a meaningful opportunity for public involvement, meanwhile cooperation between parties seemingly lies somewhere in the space between political sniping, no-way-in-hell, and the hole in the hull of David Swann’s term as Liberal Leader.

As an Albertan, I want more.  From my party I want more than memories of past victories shielding the lessons to be learned from past defeats, the wants and whims of established donors hindering new initiatives, and fleeting political opportunism. From my province, I want my MLA, regardless of his/her party and place in the Leg to have a voice and a meaningful vote on public policy and legislation.  I want transparency that doesn’t involve a battle through FOIP legislation.  I want my representative to vote with his heart and head, not under the glare of the party whip.  I want cooperation and change to be cause of honest debate, not backstabbing dissension.

It’s easy to attack a party in it’s infancy, it’s also easy to recognize that the AP is opportunity, certainly a formational one that my generation has never had.  Regardless of where it’s future takes it, I’m thankful for the opportunity for my province and the efforts of those who have brought it this far.

I’m not a Liberal supporter in Blue & Gold clothing.  There’s no checklist of items to put my support behind a Liberal or NDP banner.  I’ve voted for the best option available to me in a broken, bickering, Alberta Government.  With a moderate, active voice for change, free to advocate, collaborate, and learn from the past without rose-colored glasses, free to reach out and be inclusive to all Albertans without a divisive past or ideology, finally at the table, I’m excited to see a future that doesn’t mirror a broken past on the horizon.

Leadership on Display

Patient welfare and LRT expansion both took a blast through the bow today in the crossfire of party politics.

One of the strongest draws to me in seeking a seat in civic government was the ability of Councillors to act and vote freely based on one’s own conscience and constituent concerns. In the same month where my family was forced to deal with the disastrous state of health care in Alberta, Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA, Dr. Raj Sherman took a stand for patients and front-line staff, speaking honestly on the problem plaguing the system.  Today he finds himself suspended from the Tory Caucus. The only physician in the Conservative Caucus, the only physician in the Legislature practicing emergency medicine, is now outside looking in.  There’s no doubt a degree of loyalty is needed for a party to function, however it should never take a front seat over the lives of Albertans.  As a constituent, a future City Council Candidate, and an active volunteer in a community which averages over 420 emergency room visits by residents each year (city average is 346 – source “CofE Quality of Life Indicators), and a witness to the problems plaguing Alberta Health Services and the stress it places on families, I have no problem saying the obvious in that party politics and internal policy is putting lives at risk.

Dr. Sherman now sits as an Independent, pending a return to the Tory Caucus or a walk across the floor.  Regardless, he will have my support in the next election.  The question however is the future of our health system.  Solutions won’t be found in Duckett’s cookies and plans which were quickly drawn up this week.  With the elected official with the closest ties to the health system now sitting alone in the Legislature, the voice for long-term solutions is going to have to grow.  Voters can obviously take that on in the next election, and I do hope health care dominates the discussion at that time.  However, it’s our municipal politicians who I feel also need to take a stand.  Crossing government boundaries is rarely advisable, however the impact of this issue on constituent’s lives is immense, and I feel warrants action, both in public, behind-the-scenes, and through the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.

Edmonton’s 2017 Expo bid was also dealt a direct hit today, sinking both it and a number of potential local infrastructure investments by the provincial and federal governments.  With both the Liberals and Conservatives jockeying for seats in the House of Commons, the solution by the Harper government to handling competing funding requests (from Quebec City’s Arena to this) was to give everyone an equal share of nothing.  As I said during the campaign, while not a fan of the event itself, I was supportive of the investment that it could have brought to our city.  Expansion of Edmonton’s LRT system is decades overdue.  For the revitalizing Stony Plain Road area, the debate and uncertainty regarding route selection was harmful to the revitalization’s efforts.  Now designated as an LRT corridor, the longer construction of the WLRT is delayed, the more local revitalization efforts will suffer.  It’s far too early to gauge what provincial funding may be forthcoming in the wake of the deceased expo, and whether local MP’s will be working to secure any federal dollars for local transit expansion and infrastructure work.  As a city, we can pick our MP’s, but we’re still pawns in a national game.  Here’s to hoping our provincial leaders pick up the ball and realize the importance of these capital projects in our capital city.

Cookies

Kudos to CTV Edmonton for putting up the full video of Steven Duckett, the man tasked with running Alberta’s health system, acting like a child waving a cookie around and in a few reporters faces.

My question is, given that he was  still working on the cookie through the full 2 minutes 14 seconds of the video, how long did it take him to finish it?

How long did it take Stephen Duckett to finish his cookie?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...