Earlier this week, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s handpicked adviser on the province’s economy concluded the province needed to take “bold action" to tackle a deficit expected to reach nearly $8-billion this year.
Janice MacKinnon, a former finance minister in Saskatchewan, indicated what the on-the-ground impact of that bold action would look like: it would inevitably involve lower wages for public servants, fewer doctors and the closing of hospitals and universities. Alberta’s finance minister said he’d be looking toward the report as he crafts his party’s first budget, to be delivered next month.
But as Justin Giovannetti writes this weekend, schools across Alberta are already feeling cuts that haven’t actually been made yet. That’s because rather than cut their budgets, the government simply hasn’t given them one yet. That has forced school boards to make pre-emptive cuts, guessing how much money they will receive and which programs will be financed.
The new government didn’t allocate full education funding in its stop-gap spending bill this summer, but Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has assured parents that the government will provide more funding to schools that have seen enrolment growth.
That’s good – if vague – news for Edmonton’s public school board, which added 3,000 students, and for the Calgary Board of Education, which added 1,800.
Still, in Calgary, despite the higher enrolment, the board has implemented a budget that calls for cuts and larger classrooms.
Bob Cocking, the head of the association representing Calgary’s public school teachers, said the Calgary board took $22-million out of school budgets. As a result, principals spent part of the first week of school calling parents to tell them their children are in classrooms with more than 30 students, sometimes more than 40, Mr. Cocking told Justin.
Unquestionably, Premier Kenney’s government will be paring back on government spending and that will inevitably mean unrest in sectors where workers’ wages are paid by taxpayers, including teachers.
Ms. MacKinnon’s suggestion of tying funding to schools to scholastic outcomes – rather than enrolment numbers – is especially radical.
So is the suggestion that in some cases, wage levels be set through legislation rather than negotiations with unions, an idea that the Supreme Court of Canada took a dim view of in litigation over a similar move by the B.C. Liberal government in 2002.
As Gary Mason reminds, British Columbia is still dealing with the fallout of that 14-year fight after the high court ruling in 2016 forced the province to hire hundreds of teachers and spend hundreds of millions of dollars more each year on education.
Gary writes Alberta’s expenditures on kindergarten to Grade 12 education over the past 10 years have grown by 3.5 per cent, while the school population has only increased by 1.5 per cent.
Mr. Kenney was elected with an overwhelming mandate for change. At some point, his government will reveal what that looks like for Albertans.
In the meantime, the school boards’ best guess is that it will hurt.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here. This is a new project and we’ll be experimenting as we go, so let us know what you think.
Around the West:
Manhunt: The father of one of the two young men suspected of killing three people in northern B.C. this summer has viewed a short video clip of his son detailing his last will and testament, filmed before he and his friend killed themselves in the wilds of northern Manitoba. On Thursday morning, an RCMP investigator showed Al Schmegelsky and his lawyer the 30-second clip, which is one of a handful of videos The Globe and Mail has learned Bryer Schmegelsky and Kam McLeod recorded while on the run at the end of July and start of August.
Two sources familiar with the investigation confirmed these other videos existed but could not corroborate the contents of the clips shot by the pair from Port Alberni, B.C. The Globe granted the sources confidentiality because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation.
Trans Mountain: The federal Court of Appeal has allowed a legal challenge to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project to proceed, just as construction – delayed by earlier court battles – is resuming both in British Columbia and Alberta. A judicial review will determine whether Ottawa has adequately consulted with Indigenous communities about the project. The court, in a ruling released Wednesday, denied applications for a review on environmental matters, but ecology groups say they are now considering an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Energy board changes: The Alberta government has announced a review of the province’s energy regulator. Energy Minister Sonya Savage says the review will look at overall changes to the Alberta Energy Regulator’s mandate, operations and governance. She says its current board of directors is also being replaced with interim members.
Church development: The archdiocese that owns the 120-year-old Catholic cathedral in the heart of Vancouver is pondering a very 21st-century move: selling land around the church to a private developer to help pay a massive repair bill. It’s the latest in what has become a wave of local churches leveraging their land holdings to help with financial challenges posed by maintaining old buildings, as well as to provide their congregations with housing or new community facilities.
Vancouver real estate: Housing sales in the Vancouver region are rising while prices decline to their lowest level in 27 months. Sales of detached homes, condos and townhouses totalled 2,231 in August, up 15.7 per cent compared with the same month in 2018, but 9.2 per cent beneath the 10-year average for August, the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver said on Wednesday. The residential benchmark price decreased last month to $993,300, down 8.3 per cent from a year earlier.
Biosimilars: The British Columbia government is expanding its promotion of cheaper medications called biosimilars, announcing Thursday that patients with inflammatory-bowel diseases have until March to switch to less-expensive versions of the drug Remicade. B.C.'s biosimilar policy, which is expected to save nearly $100-million over three years, has provoked some strong opposition. Crohn’s and Colitis Canada, a national charity and patient-advocacy group, released an updated position statement Thursday arguing that forcing people to switch without a medical rationale “is not in the best interest of patients."
Humboldt: The Saskatchewan city of Humboldt is looking to revamp its image as a way of helping people move past the Broncos bus crash. Spokeswoman Penny Lee says Humboldt became known to many as “the grieving city” after the April 6, 2018, collision. “Possibly everybody’s felt that, okay, Humboldt is just about the Broncos,” Lee said Friday. “We’re so much more than that.”
Suicide crisis: A northern Manitoba First Nation is raising the alarm about a spate of suicides in the community this summer. Leaders from God’s Lake First Nation say four young people have taken their lives and there have been 22 suicide attempts. In a news release from a group representing northern Manitoba First Nations, God’s Lake Chief Gilbert Andrews calls the situation a crisis and says the reserve needs help.
The Globe on Alberta’s finances: “The province does have a spending problem, there is no doubt. Alberta for decades has splurged its oil windfalls, creating a fiscal freak show: low taxes and high spending. From 2000 through 2015, under a succession of Progressive Conservative premiers starting with [Ralph] Klein, program spending rose 7 per cent a year on average. It was the NDP, Mr. Kenney’s favourite target, that reined in the increases to about 3 per cent annually.”
Duane Bratt on Alberta’s finances: “While cuts to spending on health, education, advanced education and the public sector are expected, the government is also expecting the fallout: labour strife the likes of which have not been seen in Alberta since 1994, when Ralph Klein’s revolution resulted in spending cuts of more than 20 per cent and thousands of protesters descending upon the legislature.”
Melissa Salfi on Canada’s fertility law: “Canada is considered an international surrogacy destination, with progressive laws that have attracted couples internationally. But, in just over nine months, a new Canadian fertility landscape will be born, bringing new regulations for reimbursing surrogates and donors. In fertility circles – both in Canada and beyond – there is fear that these new regulations will discourage people from becoming surrogates and donors.”