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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

dave hancock sends trustees to the principal's office.

PC Education Minister Dave Hancock scolded members of the Alberta School Boards Association at their annual general meeting today in Edmonton for their participation in the Stop the Cuts campaign. Here is an excerpt of Minister Hancock's speech:
...the Stop the Cuts campaign is greatly exaggerating the impact to education.

I think all of you know how disappointed I was by this campaign.

In recent months, we have had many honest, informed discussions about what we must accomplish to improve learning in the future. Stop the Cuts has not contributed a single idea to this process.

Don't get me wrong — I truly value and appreciate advocacy. I certainly appreciate Albertans engaging in a discussion about education, its value to our community and society, and our current issues and concerns.

But Stop the Cuts is not aimed at constructive discussion — it really amounts to a digital march on the Legislature, and we're well beyond that.

Public appreciation for education can never be built on fear. Fear is no way to embrace our students' optimism, passion, curiosity and talents — especially when there are so many great learning experiences taking place around our province.

We build public appreciation for education by sharing these learning experiences with Albertans.

So I look forward to the ASBA, ATA and the ASCA putting at least as many resources into a positive campaign about how we are preparing Alberta's students for their future.
The motive behind this speech was likely an attempt to drive a wedge between the traditionally timid group elected school trustees and their coalition partners in the Alberta Teachers Association and the Alberta School Councils' Association, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the effectiveness of the Stop the Cuts message in eliciting this reaction.
Recent comments from Premier Ed Stelmach and other cabinet ministers about "tough economic times" have reminded many Albertans of the devastating cuts made by the PC government in the 1990s. In August 2009, Minister Hancock announced that $80 million would be cut from the education budget, including over $50 million from school boards. He is in a tough position, Minister Hancock is the most important ally that the education sector may have inside the PC Cabinet, but it is questionable how much political clout the urban Red Tory-esq Edmonton-Whitemud MLA has in a Cabinet dominated by rural heavyweights like Lloyd Snelgrove, Luke Ouellette, and Ray Danyluk. It is not hard to imagine that many of his PC MLA colleagues are not pleased that the three education groups put aside many of their traditional differences to jointly warn Albertans about the cuts.
During the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Hancock branded himself as the education friendly candidate and reached out to educators, but his recent party solidarity-influenced defence of the controversial Bill 44 raises the question of how much political capital he still has at the Cabinet table. While Premier Ed Stelmach continues to push billions of taxpayers dollars into the unproven science behind the Carbon Capture Scheme and pro-budget cut backbenchers try to make a name for themselves, Albertans should be asking how many of the 70 PC MLAs are standing up against budget cuts for essential public sector services?

In his speech, Minister Hancock criticized the Stop the Cuts campaign for not offering solutions. This is not a completely unfair comment, but Minister Hancock has hardly given the education groups any reason to believe that another round of budget cuts are the real solution to the PC Government's fiscal problem. Minister Hancock is easily one of the brightest members of the provincial cabinet, so instead of scolding school trustees, he should step up and challenge his Cabinet colleagues to debate a critical question:

After years of record-breaking surpluses and unheard of wealth, why is Alberta still dependent on cyclically-priced natural resource commodities?


Anonymous said...

What is the point of attaching the adjective "rural" when describing MLAs Snelgrove, Ouelette and Danyluk in reference to cuts to education? Other than providing a nice example of your urbanist bigotry that is?

Anonymous said...

Great post, Dave.

Anonymous said...

He's insulting their Ukrainian heritage.

Anonymous said...

//Minister Hancock has hardly given the education groups any reason to believe that another round of budget cuts are the real solution to the PC Government's fiscal problem.//


PS: Ouellette and Snelgrove aren't Ukrainian.

Atypical Albertan said...

Thanks for the fantastic commentary.

It is critically important to consider this campaign from the point of view of public servants who learned valuable lessons in the 1990s. The cuts of the 90s occurred in an entirely different context than that of today. The government had years upon years of deficits and a large accumulated debt. It was easy to convince the public sector that spending was out of control and that they played a significant role in helping the province return to a position of strength.

Teachers, nurses and civil servants were convinced that they could save their jobs by accepting a 5 per cent reduction in pay. They were fooled. No sooner were the pay cuts realized before the job cuts began - and the reductions continued for multiple years.

So, with the sniff of potential cuts, teachers had no choice but to take immediate action to prevent them - and trustees and parents were well aware of the urgency. The best way to achieve the objective is to get out in front of the decision making, raise awareness of the threat and engage support for the importance of investment in education. That is what the campaign endeavoured to accomplish and I suspect that that is what it has done. All the ATA has done has raised the issue and provided the public with a forum to express their views to their representatives.

Let's all remember that the context today is different than the 90s. Alberta is still in a very strong economic position, with $44 billion in assets and no debt. We need to use this economic downturn as an opportunity to analyze our values and determine what our spending priorities should be. If education is a priority then it should be funded sustainably and should not depend on fluctuations in the price of oil and natural gas.

Minister Hancock may enjoy the warm-hearted fluffy conversations about passions, optimism and talents. But those conversations have little value when their is no money available to affect the required changes. He also needs to realize that ordinary Albertans have a right to be involved in the harder conversations around priorities and funding, whether he likes what they have to say or not!

Thanks for the discussion.

Curmudgeon-at-Large said...

Has anyone compared the average years of education of the PC caucus to the NDP and Liberal caucuses? It is hard to expect those who have "succeeded" without much formal education to value formal education.

Anonymous said...

As with everything else, it comes down to this. Albertans pay too little tax. No one likes taxes but the Tories have consistently used oil revenues to offset an insufficient tax base, whilst bragging about our position as some kind of low tax haven. Of course everytime the oil money dries up, we suddenly cannot even afford the basics.

Rase the flat tax rate to 12% and introduce a 5% PST (via an HST) and the province would have more than enough money to keep all of our public services running just the way they are.

Of course that would violate 2 right winger rules. #1 being taxes are evil and #2 being the slow and methodical destruction of quality public anything (health, education, etc).

So in closing, f*ck these guys. Quit pretending someone like Dave Hancock will ever move the PC's an inch closer to progressive policies. It's time Albertans wised up to some harsh facts about their own natural governing party.

Anonymous said...

The reality is that education is seriously overfunded. We're spending too much and need deep cuts like in the early 1990's. Hancock is a very red tory and at least he's taking this on.

Dave Hancock said...

Why is Alberta still dependant on cyclically priced natural resource commodities? Because people invariably stick with what they know and are comfortable with and so every time there is a spike in oil and/or gas prices investment moves to what it knows and loves rather than high risk unknown technology. If we want to move towards a better balance and less reliance on carbon energy we have to continue with the efforts recognized in the 20 year strategic plan when published and moved on much more significantly under Premier Stelmach's leadership to "unleash innovation and lead in learning". This is in fact the best opportunity we have had in years to move firmly in the direction of knowledge based commodities and services.

I have no problem with the concept that most Albertans want us to continue to ensure that we have an education system that is among the best in the world and that many may therefore be motivated to write in response to a "stop the cuts" campaign. I also believe advocacy and robust discussion of public policy issues is important for good decision making. My concern is not with the participants but rather with the organizations - the ATA and the ASBA - who were invited to participate in a data driven value based discussion about how we can do better with the resources we have in a difficult fiscal time in the most robust pre-budget discussion we have ever had and responded with movement to an extreme version of the future rather than stepping up to the challenge. Quality is not about the amount of money and it is certainly not always about more money. Real leadership is in using the resources you have in the most effective way possible to achieve the desired results. Leadership must come not just from the Minister of Education but from all leaders in the system.

Anonymous said...

There are 2 issues "dave" 1. The robust value discussion on the value received for dollars and what should and shouldn't be done in education and 2. the economic reality, pre budget discussion this year. Trustees, parents and the classroom teacher are always having the discussion on number one and do so annnually when they get too few dollars for too many stakeholder requests or expectations. Just because the Ministry has finally agreed to enter the conversation does not mean leadership has not been shown by school systems. What a slap in the face of trustees and the ongoing work throughout a system. The Minister is meeting with boards tomorrow and to prejudge that the majority are not going to engage in a discussion or have not provided board suggestions is shameful. The leadership of ASBA, ATA and ASCA have never refused to have a respectful discussion.On number two; The fear tactics started in the summer when senior admin and boards were told get ready and numbers were thrown out by ministry employees. Reality is the kind of figures used then "$200- 300 million" cannot be obtained in pre budget tinkering but only when there is the political guts to dramatically change the system. And the kind of systematic change needed is not going to be done in this budget cycle. Would an " education is an investment" campaign really have caused discussion and hence attention by the Minister and his colleagues? The "stop the cuts" campaign has been the door opener to conversations Stemach's "unleash innovation and lead in learning" sounds like " education equals economy" to me.

Lou Arab said...

At what point do we stop giving Hancock the benefit of the doubt?

Almost all commentary about the guy focuses on his supposed progressive credentials and assumes that he fights hard in cabinet for things like education. This post continues that myth by assuming the problem is that Hancock doesn't have the influence he needs.

But all I ever see from Hancock is patronizing, lecturing, and even bullying toward anyone who opposes his government. The examples in this post and his defense of Bill 44 come to mind. I don't think he deserves the slightest benefit of the doubt given his record.

I will say this though - whatever the reason, the end result is the same. Dave Hancock has not produced anything progressive in his time as Education minister.

Anonymous said...

Deluded centrists who propogate this post-partisan nonsense love to ignore the fundamentals, and prefer to focus instead on their centrist-heros, who, if only they could free their hands and use their super-powers, all will be solved.

I read a post in the "moment of the decade" section below that dreamed of a Dinning-Dave Taylor matchup...why, so the only real difference would be their haircut?

Anonymous said...

More like Albertans should be asking how many of the PC MLA's are standing up for deeper budget cuts to get us out od deficit immediately.

Anonymous said...

Oh and to Lou Arab, Bill 44 was a progressive step forward for our children.

Jeff J. said...

Dave, on a day when Al Gore calls the Oilsands a threatens the survival of humanity, and when this NIMBY group hosts an event at Rexall Place and expects 7000 people, but only gets 2400 (despite the media inflating it to 3100) this is the story you decide to write on?

I'm curious to know your response to Mr. Gore...for if he gets what he is after then it won't just be education getting erased in this province, it'll be our entire economy.

Berry Farmer said...

The word 'heroes' in "centrist-heros" should have an 'e' unless one is writing in Latin or Ancient Greek. Oh, nor should it have a hyphen... but let's not quibble about spelling and punctuation.

I know that's a wee bit infantile, but I can't resist... not when people who call for less support for education make their arguments with simplistic mistakes in expression...

... and this from a FARMER.

Anonymous said...

Has anything actually been cut yet?

Anonymous said...

There have been no cuts. We need them NOW!

Anonymous said...

Berry Farmer,
The poster who talked about centrist heros [sic] didn't say anything about cuts to education. What are you talking about?

But you are certainly right that mentioning spelling mistakes in a forum like this is petty. Well done. Excellent use of Wikipedia. And it certainly is conceivable that a hyphen is proper.

Anonymous said...

They should have mentioned that we need more cuts to education.

Anonymous said...

I need to copyright the phrase "tough economic times."

Anonymous said...

What the PCs fail to understand is that the cuts need to happen inside their ministries. The funding delivered out to the production units (hospitals, schools, etc) hasn't grown nearly as much as the bloated ministries themselves have.

Mr Hancock has a ridiculous number of staff throughout Edmonton, many of whom add little to no value to the end users of the system, and this is true across all other ministries.

Does every Minister need a Parliamentary Secretary in a time of penny pinching? Does every Deputy Minister need 3+ Assistant Deputy Ministers beneath them? All of these roles add a tremendous cost, as each of these folks is entitled to a large office with a cadre of staff to support them.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to what some people here are saying I don't believe in any cuts to anything. This government has dropped the ball on fiscal management and needs to be held accountable for that. How much money have they squandered since the end of King Ralph (and before that...)? I am entirely disgusted.

Denny said...

Making cuts to education, and healthcare, which this government does every time there's any sort of economic downturn is at best, short-sighted.

After cuts made in the 90s, it took years to rebuild these systems. In healthcare in particular, the province ended up short on front line staff, including nurses, and had to spend a great deal of money trying to lure nurses to Alberta to fill in the gaps. Now they've announced a hiring freeze and cuts to staffing, and many qualified healthcare professionals are going to end up leaving the province, including new graduates. In a few years is the government going to have to go through the same thing again and spend money on luring healthcare professionals back to Alberta through bonuses and other incentives?

It's easy to see the same thing can end up happening in the education system. Cuts are going to ultimately lead to cuts to staffing, including teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom. So what's going to happen to new graduates from teaching programs and new teachers who will ultimately be the ones who can't find work? They will either go into other industries, or they'll take available positions in other provinces or internationally. Then in a few years when it's estimated that a large number of current teachers will be retiring, the province may not have enough people to fill the positions.

On a personal leve, I'm going to be finishing an education program in 2011. If I don't find a position in Alberta, I'm still going to have thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off. If taking a job in another province or internationally is what I need to do to pay off my loans, and to actually earn an income, then that's what I'll do, and likely what many other students that will be graduating along with me will do. If that's what happens though, that means the province has invested tens of thousands of dollars in my education, from my 12 years in primary and secondary school here, and then six years of post-secondary, and they will ultimately be getting nothing in return for it.

Brandon J said...

//Has anyone compared the average years of education of the PC caucus to the NDP and Liberal caucuses? It is hard to expect those who have "succeeded" without much formal education to value formal education.//

I've always loved the ability of many on the left to call for more policies to help the poor and yet manage to spit in their face at the same time.

"You don't have an Masters in Womens Studies or Philosophy? Well, not everyone can be perfect."

Darren said...

All you have to do is find the latest spending estimates by ministry and you'll see why anytime there's an economic downturn the government starts talking about cuts to health and education - they're two of perhaps three ministries that can weather a multi-billion cut. A five per cent cut to the health and education budget would likely wipe out seven or eight other ministries in total. You might get some leeway by gutting social services, agriculture and perhaps infrastructure but nothing substantial.

As for why we still dependent on natural resource commodities, please provide other sectors that can generate the kind of revenues oil and gas does without requiring some greater government spending input to sustain it. And perhaps the next time we're in an economic boom, we won't see the throngs of interest groups call for increased spending in their respective areas, rather they'll call for the government to save the revenues and build a reserve so we can wean ourselves off oil and gas. I'll wait to see that but I won't hold my breath.

Chuck said...

Is there a province that is not dependent on natural resource commodities? (Ontario I guess) Do you think that this is isolated to Alberta?

Anonymous said...

After years of record-breaking surpluses and unheard of wealth, why is Alberta still dependent on cyclically-priced natural resource commodities?

That's the real debate that needs to take place and it shouldn't be limited to cabinet...

Using the Inspiring Education dialogue as a jumping off point, perhaps we need to look at where we want our province to be in 20 years?

Darren said...

Our most viable option to wean ourselves off of oil and gas revenues is to build a financial reserve and then use the interest to fund the budget. The higher the reserve the greater the interest earned. Generally, interest rates don't fluctuate nearly as much as oil and gas rates so it would create a relatively stable income and therefore easier to project. A fund of between 40B to 50B would be a good start

This could be easily achieved in 20 years. The only problem is savings would have to be a priority during times when savings are rarely a priority - boom times. I don't know about you but I don't remember a lot of people demanding the government save more and spend less the last time we were booming.

Anonymous said...

The most viable option is to make deep cuts to health and education. Budget has doubled over the last ten years and we need these cuts now.

Sue Huff said...

I would love to know who "Anonymous" is... so bravely demanding cuts to education, but not brave enough to sign their name. Hmmm...

Thanks for the discussion, Dave. Yes, we were scolded. No doubt about it, but I think we feel our job is to advocate and defend education, first and foremost so we took the "time in the office" with grace. Cutting the education budget- as has been suggested will happen- while at the same time expecting continuous academic improvement and maintained services for a diverse population (including children with special needs and a growing population of students with little or no English) is "problematic", to use political speak.

We can collaborate better- no question. We can streamline. We can look for efficiences. But at the end of the day, it costs money, cold hard cash, to put teachers in front of children. Education is an investment and we undermine it at our peril. And, hey "Anonymous"---let's meet for lunch sometime! I'd love to chat.

Anonymous said...

Dave Hancock is one one of the worst moral relativists and bullies in the whole bunch. He will argue that black is white if it suits his hyper-partisan postion. Hancock is inadvertently teaching us a valuable lesson - redouble the campaign!

Alexander Muir said...

I am fascinated by the contrast between Mr. Hancock's statement:

"I truly value and appreciate advocacy. I certainly appreciate Albertans engaging in a discussion about education, its value to our community and society, and our current issues and concerns."

and his response to a group of stakeholders actually engaging in a public advocacy program. Whether or not you agree with the Stop the Cuts campaign, it is certainly a valid point of view of a central public policy issue. While I don't envy the minister his position within the Cabinet on this issue I am disappointed by his reaction.