Monday, 30 March 2015

the road

My daughter's friend Krista recently emailed me for some information about travelling in Cuba. I have been there twice over Christmas-I'm hardly an expert. But I loved digging out information about homestays and restaurants and places to go in Cuba, one of my favourite countries in the world. As I shared email addresses and Tripadvisor reviews, I went on a journey in my own mind back to those family adventures in Havana, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, Vinales and Santa Clara. 

In my mind I revisited crumbling colonial mansions and jungle walks and pristine beaches. I thought about the true "Havana gentlemen" who helped us find accommodation and deal with the police. 

I tasted enormous fresh lobster and ropa viejo and mojitos, still mystified by reports of how terrible the food in Cuba is. I smiled to recall the little goats who pull children around the square in Santa Clara and the funny old baseball star who insisted my daughter dance with him one evening. I laughed when I thought about the bad horse who took my daughter on his own adventure in the hills of Vinales. I think of the wide empty highways we travelled in our rental car. I recall the pride of the Cuban people who stood alone against the United States after decades of embargoes. The incredible art and music in every place we visited. The burning of the effigies to the year past on New Year's Eve.  I know Krista won't love Cuba like I love Cuba, but I envy her journey. 

Tallinn, Estonia
My husband and I met at the Vancouver International Airport on Canada Day 1984. Clearly auspicious. After seven weeks in Shanghai (before people went to Shanghai) we got engaged and shortly thereafter, married. 

As my friends and relatives build up their investments, buy new vehicles every year and renovate their houses, my husband and I travel -dragging whichever of our children we can still convince to come with us. 

I don't know what it is about the road but I love it. The new experiences and foods and scenery and historic sites and art and music. The people-so different and yet so much the same wherever you go. Adventure. Wildlife. Better weather. I'm bored with routine, I know that. 

Mostly there is the feeling that I've never really belonged anywhere. I've always felt like an outsider and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, if I just travel far enough and look hard enough, I will find a place where I fit in. 

If not, the road will always beckon with its promise of something new around the bend.
Gregg Lake Alberta

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Inherent Vice of the Alberta Advantage

Churchill once said "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries."

Well...we understand capitalism in Alberta. Our economy, fine-tuned after 44 years of "progressive" conservative rule, has led to a greatly unequal sharing of blessings.
Jim Prentice's $71,000 T-Bird
For the wealthy, our booming economy has provided riches far beyond the dreams of most people in the world. Second and third homes that are far more elegant than most people's houses, luxury vacations, club memberships, sky-boxes at hockey games, designer clothes, garages full of vehicles, including "classic cars" that are just owned for show...truly, "the best of everything" as Premier Prentice says. A pervasive "winner take all" attitude with its subliminal message - if you don't have "the best of everything" somehow you didn't work hard enough to get it. You with your median income of $68,000- you don't deserve it. But because we want to be winners, we want to be those people with the T-birds and the clothes from Haven and Holts and the condo in the Grand Caymans, we need to think like those winners do. All Albertans should vote the way they vote.

In a capitalist economy, it's expected that blessings will be unequally shared, and inequality in Alberta is the highest in Canada. In fact, it's higher than it is in the United States. According to Statistics Canada, the top 10% of Alberta's taxfilers make 50% of all the money. Statistics further show that the oil boom in Alberta has really only served to benefit the rich. Wealth has not trickled down to the average Albertan. 1 in 10 Albertan children live in poverty, and half of those have working parents. Food bank use rising, spectacularly. Minimum wage is still the lowest of any Canadian province.

We understand capitalism in this province. Socialism? Not so much. Our brand of socialism is unlike that described by Churchill, in which all share in the "miseries" by contributing equitably to public services that benefit all. Our political leaders do not quite grasp the idea that universal social programmes were set up so that some people can get further ahead by acting in their own self-interest, but no one will be left too far behind. A social safety net  established through our desire for the collective good. Here in Alberta somehow we agreed to a kind of socialism that benefits the rich at the expense of the poor, rather than the other way around. 
Hope Mission, Edmonton 
So not only do we celebrate the unequal sharing of wealth, we also enjoy the unequal sharing of miseries. While all Albertans theoretically benefit from public services, they are not equally delivered. Urban Albertans, with with more doctors and greater access to timely services, receive better healthcare than those in rural Alberta. Southern Albertans have a higher life expectancy than northerners. The wealthy live longer than the poor. Wealthy Albertans, unprepared to wait for surgery or stand in line for 70 plus hours with everyone else in the emergency room, flee to the U.S. for care. Students of the wealthy fare better in school, or their parents pull them out to exclusive private schools. And then these parents send their children to increasingly expensive post-secondaries and the cycle continues. In reality, all Albertans do not receive equal public services.

Nor do we pay for these services equally. A provincial flat tax of 10% hits the working poor and middle class much harder than the extremely wealthy. Jim Prentice's announced "healthcare levy" will hurt the poor much more than it will the wealthy, and as Sandra Azocar of Friends of Medicare says, "Albertans do not need to be taxed, fined or punished for years of PC mismanagement." Low corporate taxes and low oil royalties mean that Albertans are essentially giving away their resources to multinational corporations, both foreign and Canadian owned.

The inherent vice of our political and economic system in Alberta today is that neither miseries nor blessings are equally shared.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

I am a teacher and I vote NDP

Public schools are messy places. They have to be messy. How else can we take thousands of children from all backgrounds and provide them with opportunities to succeed? In our public schools, boys like the sons of my millionaire friends work alongside the children of minimum wage temporary foreign workers. In our public schools, girls like my northern daughters obtain the foundational knowledge to lead to a PhD from Cambridge or a degree and  a job in geophysics. Schools are complicated. They are far from utopian. But they are full of promise. They are a microcosm of the Alberta I believe in. 

I am a teacher and I vote NDP because I believe in equality. The children in Alberta’s public schools come from all income brackets and from every walk of life. The children of the rich and the children of the poor. Those born with every advantage and those born into the vicious inter-generational cycle of poverty. Children raised by siblings, foster parents, stay home moms, nannies, kookums and moosums. Children with a myriad of skills and talents and needs. These kids do not walk into our classrooms “equal” but when they enter our schools, the rich kids don't get exclusive rights to play with the good toys. All kids are welcomed equally. All kids are treated equally. They learn to recognize value in each other. And I believe that if that kind of equality can exist in a school, it can exist in society.

I am a teacher and I vote NDP because I know there is strength in diversity. Our schools are filled with children of many colours, religions, environmental views, ideological beliefs, cultures and languages. Children of refugees. Children of pioneers. Children of immigrants. Children of Canada’s First Peoples. Children who are co-creators of knowledge and will one day be co-creators of their own society. They should not be put into separate buildings where they only see others like themselves. Our schools and our society will move forward when we hear each others' voices. And I believe that if we can celebrate diversity in a school, we can do so in society.

I am a teacher and I vote NDP because I believe human potential is not something that should be squandered. Society cannot continue to ignore the social capital inherent in our next generation. Students succeed when they are given the right tools and someone who believes in them. When they work hard and are rewarded, they learn what they are capable of and in turn they give back. If we can recognize the potential of each human in a school, we can do so as a province. We can build social capital in our province and that will benefit each and every Albertan.

I am a teacher and I vote NDP because I believe in progress. An excellent fully funded public education is the way out of poverty. Our ancestors knew it and so do we. Many of my students will never be able to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” but they will pull themselves up with assistance. That assistance should be the birthright of every child born in this province. It should not be based on the ability to pay, the price of oil, the whims of a charitable donor or the misguided notion that all Albertans, including children, must pay for corporate welfare. There is such a thing as progress. I see it in my school every day.

I am a teacher and I vote NDP because I know that if we value equality, diversity and human potential in our schools, children can raise themselves up. They can make their own lives better while contributing to their communities. Henry Marshall Tory described the purpose of the University of Alberta as "the uplifting of the whole people." But that is not just an educational goal. It is the goal of society. 

That is why I am a teacher and I vote NDP.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Mirror Mirror

"In terms of who is responsible, we all need only look in the mirror." 
What do you see when you look in the mirror, Mr. Prentice? Do you see a wealthy middle aged white man, who by a lucky combination of nature, nurture, social standing and hard work has become rich? Do you see a handsome frat boy, former lawyer, MP and corporate director- a politician who enjoys private club membership and the odd purchase of a classic automobile? Do you see a man who left corporate banking and a reported 7 figure salary to become Premier of Alberta for a mere $207,000? And who do you imagine standing with you as you look in your mirror? Who do you think of when you think of "all Albertans"?  Other white men like yourself who have indeed had the best of everything? 

“Collectively we got into this as Albertans and collectively we’re going to get out of it and everybody is going to have to shoulder some share of the responsibility.”

When I look I look in the mirror, I see a working mom who has helped put three kids through university as their tuition increased by over 50%. I see a teacher whose salary has not increased for three years in a row, while Alberta's politicians voted to give themselves a 30% wage hike. I see a community advocate and volunteer. And when I think of "all Albertans," I think of the legion of public sector employees who have been collectively serving the the young, the sick, the elderly, and the poor of this province. When I think of "all Albertans" I see rural remote residents whose access to health services has steadily deteriorated. When I think of "all Albertans" I see countless volunteers who support women's shelters and homeless programmes. 
"...all of us have had the best of everything and have not had to pay for what it costs." 
We haven't all had the "best of everything," Mr. Prentice. 26,000 Albertans live on minimum wage which until recently was the very lowest in Canada. 1 in 10 children live in poverty. The average earnings of an Alberta woman is 58% of what a man earns-the worst gender gap in Canada. Our province contains the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Our burdens are not equally shared.

Ironically, those who have had "the best of everything and have not had to pay what it costs" are those you have said are off the hook when it comes to paying their share-Alberta's corporations- while those who have never had the best of everything will be hit the hardest when public services are slashed.

The problem with looking in a mirror is that you only see yourself. Stop looking in the mirror, Mr. Prentice. Look outside your window. See that Alberta is not just made up of people like you. See the Albertans you have chosen to serve. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Erotic Numbers

I recently got a call from a guy from the town. "I'm seeing some erotic numbers coming off your water meter," he says. To be fair, he was a Newfoundlander.
But that got me thinking about numbers. I'm not great with numbers. If I was a Barbie, I would have been the one that said "Math is hard." If I looked anything like Barbie that is.

I'm not great at math. But I LOVE numbers. Erotic, erratic or whatever. 

Here's a sexy number:
The premier's salary. It's increased 54% in the past 10 years. Even after he forfeit 5% because we all have to "share the pain." Even though he gave up a reported 7 figure salary to serve as Alberta's saviour.

Here's another number. 
That's the increase in teacher's salaries over the past 10 years. In 2014, a first year teacher in my school division made $58,512 which is less than the average salary in Alberta - $60,476. The NDP says that teachers have experienced a 7% decrease in salary after inflation is factored in.

Or how about this lovely little number?


That's the increase in undergraduate engineering tuition fees since 2006. Thank you "market modifiers."  U of A tuition 2014 is $8163.36

Alberta 's flat tax. We're the only province with a flat tax. Does that mean we are all equal since we all pay the same percent of our income in provincial taxes? Unlike every other province where the rich pay more and the poor pay less?  Even Premier Prentice admits the flat tax "bites the working poor pretty hard."

In fact, the CBC says Albertans do NOT have the lowest taxes in Canada. We're strictly middle of the pack-unless you make over $130,000- and even then, residents of the NWT and Nunavut pay less and BC residents pay almost the same.

And wait...since 1982, the bottom half of earners in Alberta have only seen their incomes improve by 3.4%. For those in the top 1% that increase is 60%

That's how many Albertans live on minimum wage of $10.20 an hour, a number that has risen by 1 cent in real terms in the past 40 years.

Increase in school fees in Alberta have tripled in the past five years, as school boards try to balance their books in light of decreased government funding.

That's the percent of Alberta's children who live in poverty. Half of those are children of parents who work full time. 
That's how many people used a food bank in Alberta in 2014. Up 48% in the past 7 years.

With a progressive tax where the rich pay more, the province could generate 

And here's another number for you.

...chance I will be voting PC in the next provincial election.