"We're going to live up to that agreement" with teachers-Stelmach

March 18, 2009

MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS

Calgary-Montrose Scholarship Recipients

Manmeet Bhullar (PC—Calgary-Montrose): “Fostering a culture of innovation in our province requires us to support our young people so that they are the brightest, most innovative young minds in the world. I am proud to say that many young minds reside in my wonderful constituency. I am proud that 197 of my constituents have received the Alexander Rutherford scholarship for high school achievement, the Louise McKinney postsecondary scholarship, or the Jason Lang scholarship. That is a remarkable $286,000 in scholarship dollars distributed in Calgary-Montrose alone. They are some of the 41,000 students in the province that will receive $77 million in government scholarships this year. These are investments in the future of students that have worked hard to succeed.

“I continually advocate the importance of education, and I’m pleased to see my constituents recognized for their academic achievements. My constituents never fail to fill me with pride, and these students are certainly an example of this. I hope I am able to encourage more young students to pursue postsecondary education, and I wish the recipients and all other students in my constituency success in their postsecondary studies.”

ORAL QUESTION PERIOD

Achievement Bonuses

Liberal Leader David Swann: “Last July cabinet approved significant pay increases for this April to deputy ministers to a basic rate of $265,000 per year. That’s before bonuses. This salary was set in the midst of a boom, when the government was expecting huge surpluses. Now we’re facing a deficit. Again to the Premier: will these pay hikes be continuing?”

Premier Ed Stelmach: “Well, I can tell you that for the next year there won’t be any pay hikes, not for elected officials and not for any of the senior officials. But, again, there’s the discussion: then what do we do with other public-sector people? I’ve said that we want to keep our nurses, doctors, teachers working. We do have an agreement with teachers, and we’re going to live up to that agreement. It’s based on average weekly earnings. We just signed it last year, so we’re committed to that. We’ll hold discussions with union leaders, if necessary, to see how we can bring our budget into line. Can we balance the budget based on the backs of the public sector for next year? No, we can’t. It’s impossible because the revenue drop is substantial. But we’ll look over the next couple of years. If the economy does recover, then we won’t have to go through the pain, but if it doesn’t, we will have to sit down and have discussions with our public sector.”

Gang-Related Crime

Naresh Bhardwaj (PC—Edmonton-Ellerslie): “The lure of the gang lifestyle can be very attractive for some young people. What is being done to reduce recruitment into gangs?”

Minister of Justice and Attorney General Alison Redford: “This is a very important part of what we have to talk about for safe communities. It’s very clear that all of the work that is done through Health and Wellness, Children and Youth Services, Education, Culture and Community Spirit, and the work that policing agencies are doing across this province has to speak to young people about the risks of criminal activity and a gang lifestyle.

“It’s very clear, Mr. Speaker, that we also have to make sure that we’re addressing the root causes of crime, that we’re dealing with vulnerable people who may very well end up in situations where they develop addictions that could lead to lives of crime. We’re going to stop that.”

Rural School Bus Travel Time

Harry Chase (LIB—Calgary-Varsity): “Rural schools close because school boards face the impossible job of funding schools with insufficient resources. Increased busing costs coupled with decreased funding, a backlog of aging infrastructure, and a loss of teachers have made many schools unsustainable. Rural schools need better funding to sustainably meet these challenges. To the Minister of Education: does the minister acknowledge that requiring some children to spend upwards of three to four hours a day on school buses is unacceptable?”

Minister of Education Dave Hancock: “Well, Mr. Speaker, I know that it was a difficult thing to do when I did it, and it’s not the most attractive way to ensure that our children get a good education. In fact, I think most school boards try to keep bus rides to less than an hour one way. But we do have challenges with respect to the provision of education services in rural areas where people choose to live. The wonders of technology, however, and the SuperNet, that the province of Alberta has put in place, are making it a lot easier to make sure that children in all parts of this province have access to a very high-quality public education. That’s why people come from all around the world to look at what we’re doing.”

Mr Chase: “Will the minister commit to setting limits to the amount of time a child can spend on a school bus each day and work with school boards to help solve their transportation issues, actions that could help stave off the epidemic of rural school closures?”

Mr Hancock: “This hon. member would be one of the first to yell and scream if we dissolved all the school boards in the province and made one superboard so that we could run it from here. That’s not what we’re doing. We have elected school boards across the province. They determine what their local issues are and how best to provide the services in their areas, and I would not substitute my judgment for their judgment of their local communities.”

Mr Chase: “They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The only way school boards can collect the money is through what the province provides. Considering that the closure of the Manyberries school as well as numerous grades within the Golden Hills school division will result in students spending an additional hour on the bus each day, will the minister review the rules surrounding rural school closures?”

Mr Hancock: “Mr. Speaker, I’ll have to take his word for the issue about the road to hell because I’ve never been on it.

“I would have to say, again, that issues of schools in local communities is a very, very important one, a very close issue for people. I grew up in a rural area. I know how important a school is to the community as a centre of the community. Those aren’t decisions that anybody takes lightly when you close schools. Obviously, transportation of children is a very, very important aspect. It requires someone in the local area who has knowledge of the local circumstances to be able to sit down with parents in their communities and make those very tough decisions, and that’s what school boards do.”

INTRODUCTION OF BILLS

Bill 32Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act

Bill 32, Alberta Public Agencies Governance Act, received first reading. Sponsored by Fred Horne (PC—Edmonton-Rutherford), the bill promotes transparency, accountability and good governance for nearly 250 agencies, boards and commissions for which government holds the primary power of appointment.

TABLING RETURNS AND REPORTS

New Democrat Leader Brian Mason tabled a copy of a 233-name petition urging the Edmonton Public School Board to establish a special needs task force Minister of Children and Youth Services Janis Tarchuk tabled a January 13, 1999, letter from then premier Ralph Klein to then prime minister Jean Chrétien, expressing support for the objectives and principles contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and an undated document entitled “Convention on the Rights of the Child, Adopted and opened for signature, ratification and accession by General Assembly resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989, entry into force 2 September 1990, in accordance with article 49."

GOVERNMENT BILLS AND ORDERS

Bill 18Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Statutes Amendment Act, 2009

Bill 18, Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Statutes Amendment Act, 2009, was debated in Committee of the Whole. Sponsored by Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations Ron Stevens, the bill amends 11 acts to ensure government statutes are consistent with the British Columbia–Alberta Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement, which comes into full effect April 1, 2009.

Bill 21 Appropriation (Supplementary Supply) Act, 2009

Bill 21, Appropriation (Supplementary Supply) Act, 2009, received third reading. Sponsored by President of the Treasury Board Lloyd Snelgrove, the bill authorizes supplementary payments from the General Revenue Fund in 2008/09, including $750,000 for the Office of the Auditor General for a variety of special systems audits.

Bill 22Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act, 2009

Bill 22, Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act, 2009, received third reading. Sponsored by President of the Treasury Board Lloyd Snelgrove, the bill authorizes interim payments from the General Revenue Fund in 2009/10, including $1.1 billion for Alberta Education, until the budget estimates are approved.

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