Chase questions cost of public–private partnerships for school construction

February 11, 2009

MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS

Alberta Initiative for School Improvement

Janice Sarich (PC—Edmonton-Decore): “This past week Albertan innovation proved second to none as educators came together to showcase new ideas for improving student learning. On February 9 and 10 teachers, school administrators, school board trustees, parents, and community members participated in the eighth annual Alberta initiative for school improvement, or AISI, conference. The conference showcased over 50 creative, locally tailored projects developed by school jurisdictions from across Alberta. These projects ranged from focusing on technology and literacy to at-risk students and high school completion.

“The 2009 AISI conference was a great success. Over 800 people attended, including government and school representatives from Alberta-accredited schools in Macau and Hong Kong, who came to experience the outstanding work of our schools. The 2009 conference marked the end of AISI cycle 3, and school jurisdictions are now in the planning process for cycle 4. AISI has become an important part of maintaining Alberta’s position as a leader in learning. It has changed the way the education system works to improve student learning and achievement.

“Mr. Speaker, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to recognize all the partners in AISI and all those involved in this year’s conference. Their commitment and dedication to AISI is the reason this initiative is such a success and has such a positive impact on student learning in our great province.”

Voter Participation

Kyle Fawcett (PC—Calgary-North Hill): “Voter apathy continues to be a big concern not only to me but to many Albertans. In fact, I have received correspondence from several constituents expressing their concern regarding voter apathy, particularly among younger Albertans, and they have suggested a number of ways to help make the electoral process more inclusive, from the creation of a citizens’ assembly on electoral reform to the introduction of proportional representation.

“It is well known that in the last election only 41 per cent of eligible Albertans cast their ballots. This is certainly a challenge that is complex yet important to the future of this province. It’s tempting to look for quick-fix solutions, but we must take a more balanced, steady, and ultimately conciliatory approach to this challenge. We must do whatever we can to encourage young people to become involved in communities and in the election of governments even if that means looking at new and innovative ideas within our current government and democratic processes.

“However, Mr. Speaker, I also challenge more young people to take the lead and be the first of their friends and peers to become involved in what I consider to be the purest and most fundamental democratic institution in our political system. The concept of political parties is a mechanism to mobilize similar-minded individuals in the form of a formal electoral coalition, and I mean formal electoral coalition, not an unelected coalition, which we were recently exposed to. I would encourage the many young people in Alberta that are frustrated to get involved in these institutions. It is this action that I believe will have the greatest impact on the future of this province. With both sides working together, more of Alberta’s young people will see the value in investing in the mechanisms of government and democracy that will help ensure future success for all Albertans.”

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

Bill 2—Lobbyists Amendment Act, 2009

Bill 2, Lobbyists Amendment Act, 2009, received first reading. Sponsored by Minister of Justice and Attorney General Alison Redford, the bill clarifies that the prohibition against lobbying government and providing paid advice to government on the same issue at the same time applies to all lobbyists, regardless of their obligation to register. The bill also clarifies that spouses of lobbyists are not considered associates and amends the definition of public office holder to include individuals appointed to committees. 
 
Bill 4—Post-secondary Learning Amendment Act, 2009

Bill 4, Post-secondary Learning Amendment Act, 2009, received first reading. Sponsored by Manmeet Bhullar (PC—Calgary-Montrose), the bill allows public postsecondary institutions that offer baccalaureate and applied studies degrees to apply to use the word university in their names.

Bill 7—Public Health Amendment Act, 2009

Bill 7, Public Health Amendment Act, 2009, received first reading. Sponsored by Minister of Health and Wellness Ron Liepert, the bill allows school boards to disclose student information and parent contact information to a medical officer of health for the purpose of informing parents about voluntary health programs, including immunization, hearing, speech and dental health programs. 

ORAL QUESTION PERIOD

Public–Private Partnerships for School Construction

Harry Chase (LIB—Calgary-Varsity):  “The first contract for P3 schools was negotiated at the height of the boom, when materials and labour were at their most expensive. The government has claimed that P3s will save over a hundred million dollars, but those figures were made assuming inflated construction costs. Trustees, taxpayers, and opposition parties have no idea what the real cost of these schools will be over the contract’s 32-year lifespan. To the Minister of Infrastructure: why won’t the minister release documents showing the price tag for the construction and proposed 32-year maintenance of the first 18 P3 schools?”

Minister of Infrastructure Jack Hayden: “On our government web page we set out the conditions for payment throughout the contract. There is proprietary information that’s contained within the agreements. The last agreement that we did saved Alberta taxpayers $118 million, to be exact, based on comparative studies that are checked by third parties. It would disadvantage Albertans, the taxpayers, the people that are paying for this, to release information that would take the people that give us the best deals in the province out of the game.”

Mr Chase: “The minister is treating taxpayers like mushrooms under a load of we all know what. The contracts have already been signed. The competition is over. There is no need to hide the details. Given the current economic downturn and the lengthy delays in construction does the Minister of Infrastructure still claim that these schools are being built faster and cheaper than they would have been through traditional methods?”

Mr Hayden: “Mr. Speaker, absolutely.”

Mr Chase: “Table the documents. So far it’s all chat, and we all know what that’s worth.

“Given that the costs of labour and materials have fallen, will the government reconsider using P3 financing for its second phase of building 14 schools?”

Mr Hayden: “Mr. Speaker, our government will take a look at every innovative way to provide infrastructure to Albertans, including P3s and everything else. Those things that work best for Albertans to deliver to Albertans in an effective, efficient, time-sensitive manner those facilities that they need: that’s what we’ll use, sir.”

TABLINGS TO THE CLERK

Clerk David McNeil tabled, on behalf of Minister of Education Dave Hancock, school jurisdictions’ 2006/07 audited financial statements.

CONSIDERATION OF HIS HONOUR THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’S SPEECH

Art Johnston (PC—Calgary-Hays): “Through new initiatives like Inspiring Education, which I am looking forward to bringing back to my constituency, we will make Alberta’s education system as accessible and inviting as possible. All students will be able to flourish and find their passion. Once young Albertans have grown through the first level of their education, they will be able to look forward to the next step. Our outstanding postsecondary institutions, honed by Campus Alberta, will specialize their skills so that they can be among the most competitive in the world. The future looks bright.”

Diana McQueen (PC—Drayton Valley–Calmar): “Our commitment to Alberta’s youth and families continues with the Department of Education and the launch of Inspiring Education, which gives Albertans the unique opportunity to shape the future of education in our province. Now is the time for Albertans of all ages to express their vision for the future of education in our province so that we can ensure that it indeed reflects their hopes and their dreams.”

Harry Chase (LIB—Calgary-Varsity): “If this government is serious about a sustainable future, then it needs to start by protecting children, reducing poverty, and increasing educational opportunities. Currently programs like Breakfast for Learning, which receives no government funding, and Meals on Wheels, which through its duck soup program provides lunches for a very few fortunate schools and receives limited funding, are trying to bridge the crevasse left by this government’s inaction. Due to the Calgary community’s generosity and credit Breakfast for Learning reaches 50,000 disadvantaged Calgary children each year.

“Despite continuing to be Canada’s wealthiest province per capita, based primarily on our nonrenewable resources rather than government economic stewardship, one-third to one-quarter of high school students drop out with very costly results. One-quarter of eligible Alberta university students who have the required grades and can afford the inflated tuition are turned away due to lack of space. The government must begin to view education as a preventative measure, as a proactive investment, rather than as a fiscal liability. The best way to start is by establishing programs which identify children with learning disabilities before they arrive at school. The government has yet to live up to its Learning Commission’s recommendations to fund optional full-day kindergarten or half-day junior kindergarten for children at risk. If the government is serious about addressing the dropout problem in high school, then it needs to take proactive preschool measures.”

Doug Elniski (PC—Edmonton-Calder): “Alberta’s schools and postsecondary institutions are amongst the best in North America, and Edmonton-Calder is home to a great many schools. Particularly, we’re proud of NAIT. NAIT is a remarkable institution that teaches people to succeed in industry and in the trades. By ensuring that postsecondary education remains affordable, we can be confident that future generations will take advantage of the opportunities. We can be assured that students will get the best education possible and will utilize this to become the future leaders of our province.”

Genia Leskiw (PC—Bonnyville–Cold Lake): “It’s imperative that we continue to improve the connection between our population and the services they need. Accessibility for all Albertans needs to be a major initiative of this government.

“As a teacher for over three decades I know that our educational system requires this very same accessibility. Creating dialogue between students and teachers and parents will help to do this. It’ll give kids the same opportunity that I had to receive a great education. The great education will help them establish a clear direction in life, inspire each student to meet their full potential. With increasing innovations in education, more doors are opening up for students to take advantage of. For this I applaud our education system. It is my hope that this province and government will continue to support students by providing this opportunity and choice to them.”

To review the status of legislation of interest to the Association, please consult Bills and Motions 2009.