Highlights from the Legislature

June 12, 2012
Shelley Svidal, ATA News Staff

Johnson reports on Asian trip

A new session of the legislature got under way May 23 with the election of Gene Zwozdesky (PC—Edmonton-Mill Creek) as Speaker, and oral question period resumed May 28. Featured here are highlights of some of the education-related exchanges that took place between May 28 and May 31, when the legislature adjourned its spring sitting.

APEC Education Ministerial Meeting

May 31—Genia Leskiw (PC—Bonnyville–Cold Lake) asked Minister of Education Jeff Johnson to enlighten the legislative assembly about his recent trip to Korea. Johnson replied that he had travelled to Korea to represent Canada at the quadrennial Education Ministerial Meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). “It was a very worthwhile trip, and it profiled Alberta on the global stage,” he said. Leskiw asked Johnson to identify some of the highlights of his trip. Johnson replied that, in addition to Korea, he had travelled to Hong Kong, Macau and mainland China, where he visited schools accredited with Alberta curriculum. “There is an incredible amount of opportunity down there in terms of exchanges for our teachers, exchanges for our students, and to be able to create even more market for our postsecondaries as the students from those Asian countries are looking for places to go,” he said. Leskiw asked Johnson what he had learned “to make our education system even stronger.” Johnson replied that Alberta had been profiled at the APEC conference as a jurisdiction whose education system is “doing well on the global stage.” He added that Alberta would work with APEC countries on APEC research related to teacher quality and 21st-century skills and learning.

Special-Needs Education Funding

May 30—David Eggen (NDP—Edmonton-Calder), reporting that Edmonton School District had been forced to increase special-needs funding by $21.8 million, or 31 per cent, asked Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk why the government is forcing school boards to carry the funding shortfall. Lukaszuk replied that inclusive education funding had risen by $68 million, or 22 per cent, including an additional $16 million for Edmonton School District bringing the total to $52 million. Describing inclusive education funding as “flat,” Eggen indicated that Edmonton School District had spent $44 million to $60 million on inclusive education in each of the last four years. Lukaszuk responded that a 22 per cent increase “is hardly flat.” Suggesting that Edmonton School District receives only one-third of the funding it requires for inclusive education, Eggen asked Lukaszuk to ­commit to ensuring that ­students with special needs receive the support they require without jeopardizing the quality of education of all students. Lukaszuk replied that education funding would increase from $6.8 billion to $7.1 billion over the next three years. “Alberta students are getting one of the best education systems in the world, and that particular school board is getting a significant increase as well,” he said.

Child Poverty

May 28—New Democrat Leader Brian Mason asked Premier Alison Redford why her promised plan to end child poverty had not been mentioned in the speech from the throne. Identifying the elimination of child poverty as a government priority, Redford replied that Minister of Human Services Dave Hancock’s social policy framework would be an important component of the plan to end child poverty. She added that the plan would be similar to government’s 10-year plan to end homelessness. Mason asked Redford to admit that the elimination of child poverty is no more than a “hollow election promise.” Hancock replied that the commitment to eliminate child poverty over five years and to reduce poverty over 10 years had been part of his ministry’s mandate for some time and that a considerable amount of work had been done. “This is a plan which will result from a community discussion. It won’t be a government plan; it will be a plan that’s owned and operated by Albertans and for Albertans,” he said. Noting that 400,000 Albertans, including 78,000 children, live in poverty, Mason asked Redford whether government would act. Hancock replied that government would “take on” poverty and child poverty.

Fiscal Accountability

May 31— Darshan Kang (LIB—Calgary-McCall), reporting that Alberta’s energy revenues would total $11 billion this year, asked President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Doug Horner why teachers are hired and fired on the basis of oil prices and why government does not seem to know how to pay for new and renovated schools. Taking exception to Kang’s comments, Horner replied that government has introduced three-year funding for education and health care and departments are expected to work within their budgets.