the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
the Volume XI, N˚1, Winter 2008
PUB L I C ATI O N
Roughneck, bruised head A tale of women, toughness and safety in Alberta’s gas fields TIM McSORLEY Chantal Desharnais is no stranger to the outdoors or manual labour. The 24-year-old Quebecker had previously worked in construction and once spent a summer picking fruit for income on the banks of a B.C. river. Despite this, she had reservations about going to Calgary to work in the natural gas industry for the summer. It was the moral dilemma of working in an industry she had ethical disagreements with, and not the physical labour, that concerned the university student. However, as many before her, the lucrative work would allow her to make enough money to cover her tuition and help with student loan debts.
But while she was prepared for the physical rigour of the work, Desharnais never expected the sexism she would face or the serious injuries she would sustain. After one month on the job, she would need to be transferred to an office job in Calgary after suffering a concussion, receiving five stitches to the back of her head, and severely spraining her shoulder. Despite what seems to be an ample need for workers in the Alberta oil and natural gas fields (the natural gas industry in Canada alone employed 151,327 people in 2006 and is growing), Desharnais found it difficult to get hired once she hitchhiked her way out to Calgary. Company after company refused to grant her an interview.
The truth, the hole truth T. LIGHTFOOT When it comes to loopholes, a newly passed Alberta Government Bill is allegedly rife with them, something New Democrat Raj Pannu pointed out in the Alberta Legislature House session this November. He described how the new lobbyist registry bill slated to start up in 2009 is full of logical gaps. He wants them plugged up. According to Pannu, the bill was intended to be a cornerstone of openness and integrity in government. Under this new
INSIDE THE POST
CONFERENCE RETROSPECTIVE, page 3 ALBERTA’S BOOM Hot economy, lukewarm wages, page 5 No room for the working poor in Alberta, page 5 User fees contradict purpose of Medicare, page 7
While most companies were coy about the reasons why, she says it was clear that they weren’t interested in hiring women. Eventually, however, she started asking companies outright if they had a policy of not hiring women. While she says she sensed hesitation when she first contacted Geokinetics, her eventual employer, their human resources and personnel manager claims the company never refuses to hire women. “We never refuse to hire someone if they are a woman - we’re an equal opportunity employer,” says Stephen Menchuk, who hired Desharnais and is familiar with her case. Interviewed at the end of June, Desharnais
was at work by the beginning of July, flown out to the base-camp in Grand Cache, Alberta, where the geological exploration company was checking for natural gas deposits. She was one of only two women on the crew, and says she felt it right away. Beyond what she saw as a culture of “only the tough survive,” the fact she is a woman seemed to make it all that more thrilling for others to see her fail. “As people get off the bus, you can tell they’re judging how long they’ll last. Once you’re there for a while, you start to hear the comments too. It’s especially hard for women.” T h e c h a l l e n g e s s t ar t e d a l m o s t immediately, she says. For the first two days she worked with the other rookies on the line crew, following the machines clearing brush to lay the explosive line behind it. But on the third day, she was sent out as a trouble-shooter alongside a 15year company veteran known for taking few breaks and working long hours. While line crew follow tracks already cleared by machine, trouble-shooters clear their own path, going from one trouble spot in a detonation line to another. By the end of the day she was exhausted and demoralized. Upon returning to the camp, two of the older colleagues asked how her day was. “When I told them I was out with Paddy, they burst out laughing, like it was some inside joke,” she says. None of the other new employees were sent out as troubleshooters. See Roughneck page 4
It’s said that on his deathbed, W.C. Fields read the Bible. A friend walked in, saw him and said, “W.C.! What are you doing? I’ve never seen you reading the Bible before!” The author replied, “I’m looking for loopholes, looking for loopholes.” legislation, groups and individuals who ask the government for things must be listed in a publicly accessible registry. It turns out that a lot of people have approached government in the past. We, the public, had no idea who they were and what they wanted. And, not knowing meant some of the more cynical naturally assumed it wasn’t fair, whatever it was. In response to this concern, Ed Stelmach proposed a lobbyist registry as part of his
leadership platform in November 2006. Stelmach promised to set up a lobbyist registry to ensure the public would know who is asking, and what they want. Government transparency was the goal. After a fair amount of deliberation by a multi-party committee, and I imagine, wracking of each other’s nerves, Bill 1 was finally approved to give public access to this previously undisclosed information. See Loopholes page 6
ENVIRONMENT Sensitive environmental area slated for new highway, page 8
A golden retreat, page 10
ELECTION How to prepare for an Alberta provincial election, page 9
Canadian mining companies: Unwelcomed guests, page 10
the Post •
editorial Reason for hope, this time around?
Volume XI, N˚1, Winter 2008
What is the Parkland Institute? Parkland Institute is an Alberta wide research network that examines issues of public policy. The Institute is based in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta and its research network includes members from most of Alberta’s academic institutions and other organizations involved in public policy research. It operates within the established and distinctive tradition of Canadian political economy and is nonpartisan. Parkland was founded in 1996 and its mandate is to: · Conduct research on economic, social, cultural, and political issues facing Albertans and Canadians. · Publish research and provide informed comment on current policy issues to the media and the public. · Sponsor conferences and colloquia. · Bring together the academic and non-academic communities. · Train graduate students. Opinions expressed in this newspaper reflect the views of the writer, and not necessarily those of the Parkland Institute. Readers are invited to submit letters and articles, which may be edited for style and length. Information on up coming events and conferences may also be submitted. The Parkland Post is organized and admininistered as an editorial collective. Director: Gordon Laxer Executive Director: Ricardo Acuña Research Director: Diana Gibson Program/Admin Coordinator: Cheri Harris Administrative Assistant: Katia Michel Design: Flavio Rojas Coordinating Editor: Caitlin Crawshaw
contact us Your comments are welcomed and may be submitted to: Parkland Institute, In Edmonton: Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta 11045 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E1 Phone: (780) 492-8558 Fax: (780) 492-8738 E-Mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org In Calgary: Julie Hrdlicka Southern Alberta Outreach and Promotions Coordinator, Calgary The Parkland Institute 2919 8 th Ave NW Calgary AB T2N 1C8 E-mail address: email@example.com www.ualberta.ca/parkland Canadian Publications Mail Agreement 40065264 ISSN 1206-9515
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
Changes in the province’s demographic could spice up Alberta politics Caitlin Crawshaw Since the last provincial election in 2004, Alberta has changed dramatically in a myriad of ways. Some extremists argue that the province is on a steady decline, but it might be more accurate to say that the good change we’ve seen has been accompanied by negative changes as well–often in equal measure. Most of us have cheered, for instance, the face-lift in Edmonton’s downtown core which has revitalized some under-utilized buildings in the district and brought life to the downtown. But we’ve also noticed the growing numbers of homeless people seeking refuge from the cold in the pedways of Edmonton centre, Calgary’s C-train stations, and wherever they can throughout our province. It’s also been impossible to miss the abundance of job ads on the doors of businesses of all kinds, and many of us know someone eagerly hoping from good opportunity to better opportunity. Some of us also know the small businesses that cannot thrive in an over-heated economy. Wh i l e t he re’s an abu nd anc e of employment options in select areas– namely the skilled trades, service sector and white-collar oil jobs in Calgary–in many fields, pay has failed to keep up the cost of living, as Post writer Randy Steinhauer points out in his article Hot economy, lukewarm wages (page 5).. Even those who find lucrative employment
can struggle to find permanent housing. Rents are high and places are scarce. Those wanting to own their own homes face huge mortgages for modest homes. In December 2007, the average home sold for $400,139 in Calgary and $329,705 in Edmonton, as Lee van Westerborg points out in No room for the working poor in Alberta (page 5). And, of course, all of us are familiar with the way in which the cause of this growth–our oil sands–is wreaking environmental havoc. Developments continue to challenge the province’s ecological health, as contributor Joyce Hildebrand points out in her piece about a new highway proposal to link the U.S. to Fort McMurray (page 8) Another change to the province may be the attraction of 300,000 new people since 2004. Some connect a surge of newcomers to increasing crime rates throughout the province, but a cause-and-effect relationship is dubious. However, it is accurate to say that the boom has brought its share of social ills to the province, whatever the reason. The centre of the oil industry, Fort McMurray, reports five times as many drug offences as the rest of the province–in fact, about 80 percent of traffic deaths on Highway 63 involve alcohol. But there may be an up-side to all of these recent changes, particularly the changing Alberta demographic. For decades,
Albertans have elected and re-elected the Tories, and despite valiant efforts, oppositional parties have been unable to steal a majority seat. An abundance of new people in the province–with different political experiences and values–may help us finally buck this trend. The other changes may also help kick-start political change. With the environment al damage b ecoming increasing apparent, labour issues coming into the fore and an increasingly visible population of homeless and working poor people throughout Alberta, people are asking questions. Dissemination of information on all of these topics, by alternative media and research institutes like Parkland, is helping raise eyebrows and political consciousness. This gives me hope that Albertans will be more likely to vote for a party that supports sustainability, not Big Oil. Ed Stelmach is far less arrogant than his predecessor, but his values aren’t out of line with the usual make-money-first-ask-questions-later PC approach. And if Albertans don’t vote for change –and they may not–there’s at least some possibility that the newcomers will set us straight. This alone is reason for hope. Caitlin Crawshaw is the coordinating editor of the Post.
letters to the editor Do Albertans really want change?
Stelmach fails to stand up to Big Oil
Ricardo Acuna’s excellent editorial of Fall 2007 reports that great majority of submissions to the Multi-Stakeholder Committee on Oil Sands called for a slowdown or moratorium on development and concludes that, “Albertans have identified the need for change, and have expressed a keen interest in building just and sustainable communities.”
When Ed Stelmach became the premier of Alberta and commissioned the royalty review panel, I was cautiously optimistic that Albertans finally had a leader who was a man of the people, and who was not prepared to continue giving away our resources at fire sale prices. My optimism was short lived. It soon became clear that Stelmach had no intention of following either the Auditor General’s advice to recapture billions of dollars of uncollected resource revenue, or to follow the recommendations of his royalty review panel.
Perhaps one should be hesitant about interpreting the weight of submissions to the committee as expressing the overall opinions and desires of Alberta residents as a whole. For one kind of reality check, just look at the motor vehicles on Edmonton’s streets and parking lots. Sure, one can see some small and tiny cars, but for every one of those, there seem to be several new trucks, vans and SUVs, and the dimensions of those gas-guzzlers seems to be growing year by year. Similar observations could be made about the size of houses. If the majority of Albertans feel a need for change, it doesn’t seem to show in their major purchasing choices. Nor has it appeared to influence their voting habits until now, although that may well change. So, one might pose the question: how can the views of an aware minority be translated into attitudinal and behavioral changes by a complacent majority (many of them recent newcomers to the province) who consider that they are rightly benefiting from the oil-sands boom and that their personal choices are of no public concern? Charles R. Neill Edmonton, Alta.
Stelmach expressed concern that being too hard on Big Oil would result in reduced economic activity in the province. Big Oil conveniently reinforced his argument by putting out news releases claiming higher royalties would compel them to reduce investment in Alberta and/or move elsewhere, and yet they haven’t moved out of Alaska or Norway, where they pay considerably higher royalties. It takes intestinal fortitude to stand up to big corporations. Appeasement is much easier. Besides, the potential for eventual opportunities by way of corporate directorships, consulting fees, or lobbying compensation can be very attractive. In the final analysis, on the question of oil royalties, Stelmach gave ordinary Albertans nothing (until 2009), successfully created the illusion that he gave them something, and Big Oil is crying crocodile tears while claiming it is too much! William Dascavich Edmonton, Alta.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
conference retrospective Conference opens door for action Reflections on the Parkland Institute’s 2007 fall conference
The leaders of Alberta are not confined to government offices and corporate boardrooms. They are found throughout our community–from lecture halls to farmer’s markets. And this November, leaders of all kinds were in attendance at the Parkland Institute’s Eleventh Annual Conference, “From Crisis to Hope: Building Just and Sustainable Communities.” Held Nov.16-18, activists determined to move our society forward toward equitable and long-term goals shared their ideas with members of the community. The event afforded the opportunity to step out of daily routine and contribute to the direction of our society through thought-provoking discussions on everything from the agrifood business to just governance. Post Carbon Toronto’s Jeff Berg reminded conference goers that we’re all complicit in the current state of the environment. “Here in North America, we are all part of the Lamborghini class,” he said, adding that we all have a responsibility to change things. Further, with huge oil reserves, millions of dollars being lost to unpaid royalties, and growing corporate dominance, Albertans can not afford to be passive. Planning for the transition
away from fossil fuels, demanding a representative government and increasing environmental protection are just some of the challenges that captured the attention of conference attendees. Moving to a post-carbon society was at the basis of every discussion, from transportation, to governance, to food. We are part of a “fossil fuel era,” author Richard Heinberg argued. The current carbon crisis, and the recognition that we are upon the global peak of crude oil, is evidence of needed change. Beyond Nuclear’s Paul Gunter described Canada as an “energy colony” of the U.S. Bound under international legislation to free trade in the global economic market, resource management is linked to balland-chain policies. Patrick Bond, Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, launched the conference as keynote speaker. He discussed the increase of uneven development and inequality as proof of instability and needed change. His personal experiences illustrated the consequences of the “resource curse” faced by both South Africa and Canada and the courage of South Africans to wage largescale protests against global governance. Bond also discussed carbon trading as “privatization of the air,” an inefficient
“market solution” to the carbon crisis, which allows big corporations to buy the right to pollute the air. The struggle against commodification consumes us all. Organic farmer and ethics professor Nettie Wiebe’s self-proclamation rang out in the lecture hall: “I’m not a consumer.” The distancing of people from the food they eat, and the rising costs of food, is cause for alarm. “Food is social,” she said, and the ability for change comes from the coordination of urban and rural efforts. “We are part of a bigger organic whole.” The current food system, driven by fossil fuels as energy resources, has an expiry date. She advised conference goers to “Find out something about what you’re eating.” Mary Beckie provided in-depth analysis of the food industry. “Food is big business,” said the agri-food systems consultant. The 1,500 food miles accumulated in the average North American dinner attests to the complexity of the problem. But more than concentrating on food miles, Beckie pointed to increasing our food sovereignty, by decreasing imports and increasing local resources, to improve Canada’s food industry. This includes redesigning our cities and agricultural systems, and changing our habits and behaviours. It means questioning “solutions” such as biodiesel,
which is unable to provide for the 200 million cars in North America without driving up the cost of basic food supplies such as corn and wheat. We need more than conscious shopping; we need to recreate our agricultural relationships, she explained. “The Canadian Prairie is one of the most altered ecosystems of the world.” Fortunately, the millions of dollars exchanged at Edmonton’s 10 farmers’ offer some hope. The development of a just and sustainable society will not be handed down easily from international organizations or as part of a corporate promotional package; it will be created by demand. So, in the struggle for development, I echo Patrick Bond, and invite you to “join us, from the bottom up.” The next Parkland Institute conference will be Nov. 14-16, 2008. Stephanie David is a writer currently living in Edmonton. She holds a BA in Geography and Development Studies from Queen’s University and is a regular contributor to the Edmonton Journal. Her forthcoming book studies Canada in the global economy.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
alberta’s boom ROUGHNECK/ continued from page 1
Despite the tough day, Desharnais stuck with it and was eventually transferred to work with someone a little more easygoing. Then, towards the end of the month, she was transferred back to line crew. While the work atmosphere was still far from comfortable, she felt the worst had passed. But after only three more days on line crew, she was once again unexpectedly reassigned, this time as a shooter’s helper. But according to Menchuk, there was another reason for her constant reassignment. “I didn’t want to tell Chantal this to her face, but I’ve been told that she just couldn’t handle the work out in the field. She isn’t very big and it’s tough work carrying 30 pounds of equipment through the field and up mountains. I was told she just couldn’t keep up. Transferring her to shooter’s helper was to give her a chance; she would just need to follow behind and clean up after him.” But Desharnais says she was constantly at the head of her group and was told, along with one other colleague, to slow down so the others could keep pace. And while working as a troubleshooter or a shooter’s helper meant carrying less equipment, it wasn’t easier in terms of cardiovascular demands or the safety issues involved. “It was clear that they wanted to put me in a difficult position,” she said. The job of a shooter is to detonate underground explosives sending out seismic waves to see if there are gas or oil deposits; a shooter’s helper is a kind of a sidekick, helping to set up the area, and clear away the wires after the explosion. Desharnais was assigned as a shooter’s helper in the morning, and, according to her, was not given proper training except for one colleague who offered her some advice on what equipment to bring. According to Menchuk, all employees receive internationally recognized training at the beginning of their employment and are updated in the field. While he wasn’t on the ground in Grand Cache, he says he couldn’t imagine someone being sent out without proper training. Attempts were made to contact Desharnais’ on-site supervisor, but Menchuk said he is currently out of the country and not available for comment. Upon arriving on site her partner, the shooter, had no time to show her the ropes, says Desharnais. After being dropped off by helicopter, they walked half-anhour into the bush to the site where they would be detonating explosives. When one of their two walkie-talkies died, the functioning one was given to her partner. She stayed back while he went to lay and detonate the explosives. All along, however, she assumed she would receive some kind of warning that the detonation was about to go. “All of a sudden the explosion went off, with debris in the air. All I remember was being hit in the head and the shoulder,” she says. While Menchuk says he was informed
she was 30 metres from the explosion (the required distance) and behind a tree, Desharnais says she can’t really be sure how far she was because she was never signaled where the explosion was coming from. Upon returning to find her, her colleague radioed in that she had been injured. “But he would only say I had hurt my shoulder, and not that I thought I was hit in the head. He told me the blood on my neck was just from scratching it on branches when I fell,” she says. “Even I didn’t really know the extent of my injuries until I got into the helicopter, but I knew I had hurt my head,” she continues. “It was only once I saw the look of the pilot when I took off my helmet in the helicopter and the blood started going everywhere.” The impact of the collision with the rock had cracked part of her helmet and cut her head badly enough that she would need five stitches once back at the base-camp, and would eventually be diagnosed with a severe concussion. Menchuk says this type of injury is rare and a first for a shooter’s helper (Desharnais disputes this and says she had been told of others being hurt in the field). “We do everything we can to ensure our employees’ safety,” he said. “But as I tell everyone, in the end you need to be aware of your surroundings. No one wanted Chantal to get hurt, and we’re sorry that she did.” Desharnais sees something more troubling. She feels that if she was a man perhaps her co-worker would have paid more attention when she said she had injured her head and not just her shoulder. “They just seem to think you complain for nothing.” Menchuk agrees that it is not always easy for women in the oil industry. “It’s both the work and the atmosphere,” he says. “You’re sending out a woman with a crew of 50 other guys. Issues come up, things like separate bathrooms and you need to share with the cooking crew because there are only three toilets on site.” Diagnosed with a sprained shoulder and receiving five stiches to the back of her head, it was unclear for three days, before she was able to return to Calgary, whether she had a concussion. While she was X-rayed in Grand Cache, there wasn’t a head trauma expert at the hospital who could tell her the extent of her injuries. Desharnais’ troubles didn’t end with the injuries. According to Menchuk, Desharnais “declined” to go back out to the site when safety personnel went with her partner to examine the area in order to file an incident report. Desharnais remembers it differently. “They asked if I wanted to go with them, and I said, ‘Yes.’ I wasn’t feeling well [from her injuries] and went to lie down. I found out later that they had gone without me.” The ensuing reports, except for the one she wrote herself, were based mostly on the shooter’s account of the incident and downplayed the lack
The impact of the collision with the rock had cracked part of her helmet and cut her head badly enough that she would need five stitches once back at the base-camp, and would eventually be diagnosed with a severe concussion.
of training she received and the lack of communication on site. She still has copies of the reports she refused to sign because of her disagreement on the facts.
It is clear that many may think that Desharnais’s complaints are simply sour grapes because she was hurt on the job. Menchuk claims he isn’t sure why she is still pursuing the matter. “We treated her the way we would treat any employee. She decided to quit her modified work load [an office job in Calgary given to her at full pay after her injury] and go back to Grand Cache to try and convince her supervisors to change their reports. We’re sorry for what happened, but there isn’t much we can do now.” But in an industry that is continuing to grow, Desharnais feels stories like hers need to get out. It isn’t about the fact that the work is hard, she says, or even that she got hurt. It’s about the fact she wasn’t properly trained and her safety wasn’t ensured in the field, something she believes is largely because she is a woman. “I may keep looking into this and talk to lawyers. But really I just don’t want to see this happening to anyone else.” Tim Sorley is a Montreal-based freelance journalist and former funding co-editor of Siafu Magazine. This article first appeared in the Dominion newspaper, on Nov. 27, 2007 (www. dominionpaper.ca).
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
alberta’s boom Hot economy, lukewarm wages True to Alberta’s labour history, workers continue to be undervalued in spite of the boom
RANDY STEINHAUER Well folks, the Apocalypse may finally be upon us. Alberta, we are told, is suffering from a labour shortage. If this keeps up employers face a truly terrifying prospect: paying their workers a decent living wage! But not to worry: Alberta’s Conservative government will help bosses keep those pesky employees in line. Their policy of creating panic over the alleged worker shortage disguises the underlying lack of employee power in the province. A recent Parkland Institute study The Spoils of the Boom: Incomes, profits and pover ty in Alber ta described how plummeting vacancy rates and skyrocketing housing prices have led to growing homelessness and people at risk due to incomes not keeping up with rents. Alberta’s $8 minimum wage, has not been keeping up with inflation. Neither have social assistance payments for single parent families, or the pay rates for most middle-income Albertans. Most the province’s wealth goes to the top-income
bracket and corporations (read: foreign shareholders). What’s worse, all of this is occurring despite a noticeable increase in working hours for most Albertans. Those with memories of the 1970s boom years may find it mystifying that most wages haven’t risen with demand for labour. It is easier to understand this phenomenon by examining it in the light of overall recent labour history. Productivity doesn’t pay During the last two decades of the 20th century, worker productivity doubled. Meanwhile people have seen their real wages stagnate or decline in real terms since the mid-70s. A Canada-wide study, The Rich and the Rest of Us: The Changing Face of Canada’s Growing Gap by Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, examined Canadian incomes over the past three decades. It found that everyone except the upper 10 per cent of the population has been working longer hours while most of the economic gains have gone to this top group. The lowest half of the population showed a drop in their share of total income. Part of the reason for this may be the increased worker insecurity that has worked to the benefit of employers. The deficit hysteria of the ‘70s was used by the Chrétien government as a pretext to slash
social programs, including Unemployment Insurance. Oddly enough, finance minister Paul Martin somehow managed to find sufficient wiggle room shortly thereafter for huge tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations. During the ‘90s, R alph Klein’s evisceration of Alberta’s social programs helped to fuel desperation among workers and the poor in this province. Meanwhile, a number of Canada’s higher-paying manufacturing jobs were outsourced to developing world sweatshops, leaving McJobs for many (or Wal-Mart jobs for the lucky ones), temp jobs, and increased insecurity for working Canadians a situation employers were happy to exploit. High interest rates also led to high unemployment and those who still had jobs learned their place if they knew what was good for them. A subservient workforce had been properly disciplined. Corporate media and right wing “think tanks” happily cheered this new worker flexibility. All of this helped contribute to the fact that the proportion of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) wealth going to labour, as opposed to the investors, reached its lowest rate in 50 years. The benefits of increased worker productivity went to the owners, not the employees. The boom seems to have benefited American oil companies more than anyone
else. Workers in the oil and construction industries may be better off but many others are not. With the skyrocketing rent and housing prices many of Alberta’s working poor find themselves holding several jobs just to have a place to live and are worse off than they were before the boom. Many have no choice but to keep working past retirement just to make a few extra bucks. Must be that ‘Alberta Advantage’ in action. Get a haircut and get a real job? Right about this point any right-winger in the vicinity can be counted on to pipe up with the following dull, time-worn gem: “Well if someone can’t survive at a lowwage job, why don’t they just get more training for a better paying career?” While this may work for a given individual with the right aptitude (assuming they can afford the tuition) it hardly makes sense for the working population as a whole. Are we all to become doctors or lawyers, pipe-fitters or electricians? Are the other jobs to simply go unfilled? How about this for a radical idea: anyone working at a full-time job should be entitled to a living wage. Certainly a family with both parents working full time should be able to raise their children with some degree of security, or is that too lefty a concept? continued on next page
No room for the working poor in Alberta Many Albertans continue to struggle with low wages, pricey housing LEE VAN WESTERBORG Alberta is fast becoming known for its skyhigh rent increases and apartments flipped into condominiums. The price of the average house is quickly growing beyond the average person’s reach. In December 2007, the average home sold for and $400,139 in Calgary and $329,705 in Edmonton, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. The prosperity of Alberta seems like a myth for those who earn $14 or even $18 an hour–these days it barely covers the rent. People migrate to our province because they hear tales of the oil prosperity. When they arrive here, they discover they can’t find an affordable residence. It seems we have room for everybody in Alberta except those in need of low-cost housing. Remember, the “new prosperity” isn’t for every one: the Oilmen’s private club doesn’t care about those stuck in low paying service industry jobs. Those on fixed incomes, students and workers stuck in the
non-unionized service industry where the wages are kept low are being forced out of their apartments in Edmonton - and many other cities in Alberta - because they are being renovated into condos priced at well over $200,000 each. Some university and college students are forced to work almost 40 hours per week to pay their rents while taking fulltime classes because spreading out their education costs them much more in rent. As a society, allowing this situation to get worse is cutting our own throats. Service industry workers keep the city functioning and shouldn’t be rewarded for suffering through thankless jobs each day by being forced into homelessness. The number of homeless people in Alberta is increasing by the thousands, yet a proposal for one building with room for maybe two or three hundred people is seen as the end all solution. We have vastly increasing numbers of homeless and working poor in our social Darwinist province. The government’s lack
of concern over this growing problem is yet another example of ‘blame-the-victim’ politics of right-wing Alberta. As the middle class is shrinking, so is the number of affordable rental properties. The Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation tells us that it’s not cost effective to build new apartments until monthly rents reach $2,000. But apartment rents are now close to $1,000 a month with new increases coming very soon, if not already. But I wonder how this will affect the growth of our economy and how lowincome people will find affordable places to live. As the number of working poor increases rapidly, what will happen to the well-being of this province? Lee van Westerborg is a Medicine Hat freelance writer, whose articles have appeared in Adbusters magazine and poetry anthology Sounds of Silence. Check out his blog at http://judohobo.wordpress. com/.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
alberta’s boom continued from previous page
LOOPHOLES/ continued from page 1
The erosion of workers’ rights and the work-life balance Employees are expected to be loyal to their jobs and sacrifice for the company, but the moment they are no longer needed they may expect to be immediately laid off or downsized. More and more of our lives revolve around our jobs, with lengthy overtime virtually taken for granted. Many find extra, longer hours the only way to get by without a decent base pay rate. Work to live, and live to work. Time not spent on the job is to be devoted to upgrading skills or polishing resumes and job hunting techniques. What else would workers do with the extra time, waste it with their families or pursuing personal interests? Even school children find themselves buried under additional homework. They may not wind up learning any more but at least it prepares them for ever longer work hours. One reason for the persistence of lower wages in Alberta is the active hostility of the provincial government to collective bargaining. Alberta’s labour laws allow employers to stall indefinitely on first contract negotiations. The province also limits many union’s right-to-strike, as illustrated by the construction industry. Management-friendly “dummy” unions divert workers from joining real unions that might produce actual job results. Employers have gone to great lengths to keep workers from organizing by using a divide and conquer strategy. Historically racism, sexism, and linguistic barriers were used to prevent workers from conspiring together and to give some employees the belief that they had more in common with the bosses than with each other. The corporate media has helped sell the idea over the last few decades that workers and the wealthy owners have common interests and that any statement to the contrary is divisive class warfare rhetoric. In reality, a class war has been waged for the past several decades but it has been extraordinarily one-sided. Corporate media faithfully report labour strife while ignoring past union accomplishments such as our rapidly vanishing eight-hour workday. Many unionized workers can’t find jobs in Alberta’s booming economy since employers would rather import easily exploitable, lower paid temporary
foreign workers to labour under unsafe conditions. The response of some to the mention of a union may be summed up as, “I don’t need one since I’m such a valuable worker that I can dictate my own terms to the company and they’ll be forced to pay me what I’m worth and I’ll do it without any help.” My, how macho. Let’s all be impressed. The absurdity of their viewpoint in light of the massive power imbalance involved doesn’t seem to occur to these people. Another reason some workers oppose union membership is their expectation that management can be trusted to deal fairly with them without union solidarity.
More and more of our lives revolve around our jobs, with lengthy overtime virtually taken for granted. Many find extra, longer hours the only way to get by without a decent base pay rate. Don’t forget to leave the hot chocolate and cookies out for Santa. Perhaps if they run on the company’s treadmill fast enough and long enough, they’ll finally get ahead. Someone should tell these people the corporate rat race is over. The rats won. Misdistribution of wealth and anger The existence of a low paid reserve force of workers is an absolutely essential component of our economic system, not an accidental by-product. The only way to maintain the current misdistribution of wealth is with an underclass of desperate workers one or two paychecks away from living on the street. These people are kept in line with the looming threat of joining the even more impoverished homeless. Corporate media functions to help divert the understandable anger of many workers in the direction of foreign enemies
THANK YOU! The Parkland Post is supported by the proceeds of a generous endowment by the Woodsworth-Irvine Socialist Fellowship
or criminals roaming the streets, anything other than their exploitive employment environment. The alienation and sense of hopelessness that our unfair distribution of wealth and power produces may well lead to maladaptive responses such as alcohol or drug abuse. It is therefore hardly a major shock that many Albertans’ real wages haven’t risen, that the economists’ favourite fetish, supply and demand, hasn’t boosted their paychecks. As long as the economy is dominated by transnational corporate interests and driven by the businessfriendly, neoliberal policies of right-wing politicians, there is little danger of most workers getting a fair deal. CEOs can sleep easy in Alberta. Fundamentally, the issue of workers’ pay and benefits comes down to a question of the purpose of an economy. Shouldn’t it be the sustainable production of useful goods and services for the vast majority of the population, especially those who produce them, rather the creation of ever more wealth for plutocrats? Is our economic policy to be held hostage to the dictates of greedy global investors? Does the economy exist to serve the people or vice versa? Well, that’s it. Break’s over. I think I hear your supervisor coming. You’d best be getting back to work. And remember, work harder - your boss isn’t rich enough yet. For more information, check out: www.ualberta.ca/parkland www.policyalternatives.ca activistresources.raisemyvoice.com www.afl.org Lies the Media Tell Us, by James Winter Randy Steinhauer (a.k.a. “Radical Randy”) is an Edmonton activist and writer concerned with globalization, economic, peace, and social justice issues. also written the Edmonton Social Justice/ Activist Contact & Resource Handbook.
volunteers! The Parkland Institute needs volunteers from communities around Alberta. We are looking for: distribution, web page design, media list, event organizing, promotions, fundraising and more! To get involved call Cheri at (780) 492-8558 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
However, Pannu expressed his concerns during the last readings that some people he thinks shouldn’t have to register, must register and, some who should be registering, won’t be. Liberal MLA Mo Elsalhy, who was part of the committee, said much the same thing but added another loophole discovery into the mix. The bill will record who comes in to meet with MLAs, but it doesn’t cover who the MLAs meet with on the outside. For example, if a Minister goes out to a meetand-greet at a business club, could those members be seen as having undue access to that Minister? Some might argue that the difference here is that the minister chooses to go out to see them. But remember, Bill 1 is not trying to create freedom of choice and movement for our elected officials–the idea is to create fairness for the public.
It seems hard to miss a giant, white loophole standing in the middle of the room, with a bright red ‘exit’ sign on it, no less. At the same house session, Minister Dave Hancock asked Elsalhy, why, if he was on the committee, did he wait until the last reading of the bill to bring up these loopholes? But why hadn’t Dave Hancock seen it either? It seems hard to miss a giant, white loophole standing in the middle of the room, with a bright red ‘exit’ sign on it, no less. By now it’s starting to look like Bill 1 has the same main features as the Olympic logo. But it is a start, and it certainly provided a valiant exercise for all of the multi-party committee in–to coin a phrase–‘Loophole Logistics.’ Theresa Lightfoot is a freelance writer, published in the Edmonton Journal, Sun Media, the Business Edge, and City Magazine Edmonton, among others. Her earlier career was in the human service field. She moved to the publishing realm in 2000, and is learning and writing about Alberta politics and innovations.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
User fees contradict purpose of Medicare
environment Environmentalism in Alberta?
In Alberta and BC, monthly health-care fees create barriers for low-income people JOSHUA NEWMAN Like Albertans, but unlike most Canadians, British Columbians pay premiums for health care. Since health care is something that everyone uses, let’s call premiums what they really are: user fees on Medicare. There is a tantalizing logic behind user fees on Medicare. Since everyone requires health care at some point, everyone should have to chip in to help pay for it. And what could be more egalitarian than asking everyone to pay the same amount (in BC, $54 a month or $648 a year)? After all, in the doctor’s office we are all equal. There are no barriers of race, education or class that sickness cannot cross. If we all use health care equally, why shouldn’t we have to pay for it equally? This kind of logic, tempting as it is, is dangerous for society. The whole point of a community is for people to get together to help each other out, and the socialization of medical care should follow this principle. The idea here is that those who can afford to pay for health care should pay for those who can’t, because that’s how we build a healthy society. When we impose user fees on Medicare, individuals become responsible for their own health, rather than society bearing the responsibility for them. And some individuals are less able to pay for their own health than others. Under B.C.’s current user fee system, a family of five with a net income of $28,001 pays $1,296 a year - or 5 per cent of their net income - on health-care premiums. While the B.C. Ministry of Health does provide exemptions for lower-income individuals and families, these exemptions only cover the lowest income levels and are only effective for a small portion of society. $28,001 is by no means an extravagant income for a family of five in this province. According to Statistics Canada, the national median family income for Canada is around $67,000 a year. In other words, the B.C. Ministry of Health requires a family in the lower quarter of all income earners to pay full premiums for access to health care. This is money they would likely rather spend on food or clothing. Even for a family at the national median income of $67,000, $1,296 is still a lot of money. It could mean maintenance on a car that a parent depends on to get to work. It could mean after school programming (like hockey equipment, piano lessons, or math tutoring) for children. It could mean air fare to visit family in Toronto
for the holidays. Why should any family be forced to choose between the things that can provide a fulfilling and nurturing household, and a necessity of life like health care coverage? A quarter of all of the income earned in Canada goes to the top 5 per cent of income earners. A family in this income bracket will earn at least $154,000 a year. For this wealthy family, $1,296 a year will mean the cost of gas for an expensive and fuel-inefficient SUV. For this family, $1,296 is the price of a resort vacation (for each family member) in the Dominican Republic. Health-care premiums are hardly a financial burden.
Imposing user fees on Medicare undermines the benefits of socialized health care, because we are asking low- and medium-income families to pay the same costly sums for Medicare as wealthy families do. What’s more, federal and provincial tax rates have become more lenient for the highest income earners over the past 15 years. This means that the wealthiest families now have more disposable income than they used to, while low- and mediumincome families must make do with the same amount as before. It also means that higher-income earners are now paying a smaller portion of the government’s tax revenue than they used to. If the government continues to cut taxes for the wealthy, it will have no choice but to charge user fees in order to finance public services like the health-care system. Health care is something that we will all need at some point in our lives. In Canada, we have a socialized Medicare system in which no one is denied access because of ability to pay, and we are by and large proud of this system and what it means for our society. Imposing user fees on Medicare undermines the benefits of socialized health care, because we are asking low- and medium-income families to pay the same costly sums for Medicare as wealthy families do. This, if I may be so bold to say so, is anti-Canadian. Instead of user fees, we should pay for Medicare out of a progressive income tax system, in which wealthier Canadians pay a higher rate than poorer Canadians. It should be provided by those who can afford it for those who can’t. Joshua Newman is a PhD Student in political science at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C.
Activists say communities are beginning to stand up to tar sands SAMANTHA POWER In Alberta it’s easy to forget what political change looks like. Still, in a province coated with deep blue Tory promises of a stable economic future, the paint is beginning to wear thin. In three consecutive consultations Albertans have clearly stated that they desire government intervention, whether it’s to create housing, to slow the pace of growth or to increase the royalties collected from tar sands extraction. Following his 1992 election victory, Premier Ralph Klein declared the province ‘open for business,’ and Albertans, fearful of growing debt, accepted a vision of stable growth after years of economic depression. As natural resources were opened up to massive exploitation, however, the result has been an overheated economy, and a crumbling infrastructure unable to handle the influx of workers and families. Today, Albertans are beginning to stir. Leila Darwish, Associate Prairie Chapter Director of the Sierra Club, sees change afoot. “In Alberta, for the first time in a long time we’ve been hearing more and more from impacted communities that the government they’ve supported no longer supports their interests. As an environmental movement we have to be ready to act on that, she says. Bill Moore-Kilgannon, Executive Director of Public Interest Alberta, points out that the concerns of environmental activists and scientists have been completely ignored for many years. “The community has lost a lot of that sense of success about moving that environmental agenda forward,” he says. But as a long-time Alberta activist, he believes the environmental message is finally getting through. “We’re now hearing sentiments saying, ‘Yes we produce oil here, but ultimately we are living here and we want to have clean water.’ “ After 10 years in the environmental movement, Darwish says it’s about mobilizing communities. “There has been a lot of negotiating with government. It’s one thing to sit at the table if you have power and a big stick, but if you don’t have any power you can’t negotiate.”
With recent threats of nuclear power stations in the communities of Whitecourt and Peace River, local activist movements are growing. The Tipping Point project in Whitecourt is composed of parents and concerned community members - exactly the composition growing movements need to see. They’re not alone. The Sierra Club is actively providing training and information on political action in these communities. Holding workshops for activists and public forums for the larger community, Darwish says the Sierra Club is attempting to put power back in the people’s hands. “We need to be mobilizing communities and people as a movement, not just reaching out to join us on our big campaign, but to help people in a local fight and empower them to step it up in their own communities.” Valerie Langer, a campaigner with BC ForestEthics’ Great Bear Rainforest campaign, thinks Albertans are on the right path. “The population of Alberta is in the right place, they’re getting angry and getting wise in how their land is given away to corporate interests,” she says. Working to save the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, a campaign that was ultimately won, Langer credits Greenpeace’s success to boycotts against buyers of paper products. “The market is a very powerful tool and if you can shift the buying habits you question whether it’s worthwhile for the company to invest.” The marketplace is just one pressure point. Great Bear Rainforest campaigners used many tactics. In addition to international attention from Greenpeace, local activists, students and Haida elders stood together in defense of Clayquot Sound, blocking logging and defending the last 13 intact watersheds - an action that ultimately resulted in over 900 arrests. Clayquot Sound and the Great Bear Rainforest campaign were about aboriginal land rights and resource management. These issues are familiar to anti-tar sands campaigners. With years of environmental negotiating falling on deaf government ears and recent continued on next page
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
environment continued from previous page public consultations falling by the wayside, civil disobedience might be Alberta’s last resort in ending a devastating project. “Direct action has always had a role in social change because it’s had the role of shocking and bringing to light oppression ideas that haven’t been named,” says Jorge Sousa, an educational policy professor with the University of Alberta and a specialist in community governance models. He believes all tactics need to be engaged to create public debate. And new tactics are finally showing up.
“There has been a lot of negotiating with government. It’s one thing to sit at the table if you have power and a big stick, but if you don’t have any power you can’t negotiate.” With the tar sands defeating Canada’s ability to meet its Kyoto targets and carbon emissions estimated to increase to 80 million tonnes, the world is finally taking notice. Alberta’s traditionally conservative political environment might be shocked into action by tactics of organizations
like Greenpeace, an environmental group known for its radical or militant direct action, which has recently opened a new office in Alberta. Darwish’s hopes remain with the people. “We have a government that thinks people are pretty complacent and can get away with doing whatever they need to do. And we need to show that people are willing to fight, and to fight hard.”
Alberta student radio station CJSR. Her previous experience includes lobbying and campaign creation as the President of the U of A Students’ Union. She has also worked and volunteered for Public Interest Alberta as their communications assistant. This article first appeared in the Dominion on Oct.30, 2007 (www. dominionpaper.ca).
Samantha Power currently works as the News Director for University of
Sensitive environmental area slated for new highway environmental impacts, with the local communities receiving minimal or zero economic benefit.” About 80 per cent of Alberta’s species at risk are located in the southeast corner of the province, making it one of the largest concentrations of species at risk in Canada. Potential effects on wildlife
New U.S.-Fort McMurray highway proposal bad news for native prairie JOYCE HILDEBRAND A proposal to open the Wild Horse border crossing for 24-hour service and expand a north-south transportation corridor along Alberta’s eastern border would have dramatic environmental impacts. The proposal includes expanding Highway 41, which extends from the U.S. border to just south of Lac La Biche, into a major corridor that would link the U.S. and Fort McMurray. The goal is to transport heavy equipment to the tar sands via a route other than the existing corridor through the Coutts border crossing. “The Cypress Hills-Sage Creek area is internationally significant as one of the largest and least disturbed blocks of mixed grassland on the northern glaciated plains of North America,” says AWA VicePresident Cliff Wallis. “If the proposal is approved, this landscape will suffer
The swift fox is of the many species at risk in southeastern Alberta that would not welcome increased 24-hour. Extirpated from Canada by 1938, this species was successfully reintroduced in the 1980s, but the population remains small and the species is listed as “endangered” in Canada. The area around Highway 41 South is prime swift fox habitat, and according to the Word Conservation Union (IUCN) status survey and conservation action plan, “Collisions with automobiles are a significant mortality factor for young animals [swift foxes] in some landscapes.” The swift foxes forage mainly at night, and with the Wild Horse crossing currently closed during the hours of darkness and night traffic on Highway 41 sparse, they are relatively safe at the moment. However, heavy truck traffic would greatly impact the fox, as well as the many other local species, including the mountain plover, sage grouse, and burrowing owl. “Many of these species are sensitive to human activity, and increased traffic will result in increased mortality of species at risk as well as alienation of habitat for many wildlife species,” says Wallis. In fact, the swift fox isn’t the only animal that often meets its end under the wheels of a truck. The prairie rattlesnake is listed in Alberta as “may be at risk,” due to accumulated anecdotal evidence that the species is declining in the province. A number of reports on rattlesnakes have listed mortality associated with roads as a current threat to the provincial population (i.e. Alberta Species at Risk Report #76; Alberta Wildlife Status Report #6).
Species like mule deer and pronghorn would also be impacted if this proposal were approved. Recent research has revealed that pronghorn migrations are much more extensive than previously thought. Migrations are getting more difficult every year due to land development that is putting obstacles like major roadways in the path of migration corridors. In winter, pronghorns migrate into southeastern Alberta in huge numbers, practically emptying out of the rest of the province. Some of the possible routes being considered for the new Highway 41 corridor go through critical wintering pronghorn habitat, with great potential for disturbance, including road mortality. Provincial and state support Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Len Mitzel has spent considerable energy pushing the crossing/corridor proposal forward over the last few years. His Motion 506 - passed unanimously in the Alberta legislature in April 2006 - proposed to “promote the use of Highway 41, up to and including Highway 63, from Wildhorse to Fort McMurray, as an alternate north-south transportation corridor from the United States.” The bi-national 14-member Wild Horse Border Committee was struck in November 2006 with the mandate to promote the 24-hour Wild Horse crossing. Co-chaired by former Mayor of Medicine Hat Garth Vallely and Havre Mayor Bob Rice, the Committee includes Mitzel, several southeastern Alberta mayors, and representatives from the Alberta Chamber of Commerce and the Palliser Economic Partnership. Harold Wilson, who is with the Economic Development Alliance of Southeastern Alberta and is also a member, calls this “a good mix.” On Jan. 10, 2007, Mitzel led an Alberta delegation to Montana to attend a hearing of the state House Transportation Committee and voice support for the 24-hour crossing bill that was before the House of Representatives. The delegation included Canada’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Monte Solberg. A month
later, the bill was approved by the Montana Senate. A year later, on Jan. 17, 2008, officials from Texas arrived in Medicine Hat to promote the crossing/corridor proposal: “MLA Len Mitzel tells us the meeting was to get the local community up to speed on new developments,” reported Medicine Hat’s CHAT 94.5. Border crossings are a federal issue, however, and according to the Havre Daily News, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection division of the Department of Homeland Security has reportedly said “that the number of vehicles using the port doesn’t justify any changes in the hours.” But the Wild Horse Border Committee is pushing forward: Medicine Hat Mayor Boucher informed AWA that the Committee will be meeting with Homeland Security later this spring. The Committee is also lobbying Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, whose department is responsible for border crossings. According to the Alberta Chamber of Commerce website, “The minister’s first response noted a lack of resources to address the issue, but a subsequent letter opened the door to working with the regional director towards the goal.” Mayor B oucher told AWA t hat Minister Day has conveyed in a letter to the Committee that his department is considering a review of the proposal. Another oil sands highway When AWA spoke with Mitzel, he insisted that “there would be no need to upgrade at all” because semis already use the highway. He admitted there would be “more traffic, yes, but not different kinds.” The current highway, however, was not built to accommodate the amount of truck traffic that is expected to use this corridor should the proposal be approved, and more truck traffic is exactly what the proposal is about. On the same day AWA interviewed Mitzel he was presenting the proposal’s merits to truckers: he spoke at the Jan. continued on next page
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
continued from previous page
17, 2008, monthly meeting of the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) to provide “further insight into the business case to support a second NorthSouth Corridor 24-hour Border Crossing within Alberta” (according to the AMTA agenda). AMTA represents all sectors of the highway transportation industry, including truckers. Furthermore, when Mitzel presented his Motion to the legislature in 2006, he stated: “Highway 41 has relatively low traffic volumes and can therefore support an increase in traffic by these heavy, wide, and slow-moving vehicles.” According to the Havre Daily News, “The [Wild Horse Border] committee also wants to change the port, now open to commercial traffic only by permit, to commercial status, which would allow trucks to cross at the port without needing a special permit.” When he introduced the new crossing legislation in Montana, Senator Jon Tester emphasized “the need for a second 24-hour port as Alberta develops its Oil Sands region. The project requires heavy machinery to cross the border” (Helena Independent Record, November 6, 2007). Obviously the primary intent of the proposal is to accommodate a large increase in heavy truck traffic. The idea that no upgrades would be needed is not shared by others in favour of the proposal. Discussion with the Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation has, in fact, already taken place. Jerry Lau, an Alberta Infrastructure planning engineer, told AWA that the ministry supports the concept and that feasibility studies for upgrading and realigning Highway 41 are in process. “If the port becomes 24 hour, we would look to see what kinds of upgrades are necessary,” he says. L au sp e c u l ate d t h at for m aj or realignments, public engagement would be necessary, but for upgrades, the public may or may not be consulted. There has been talk of a variety of possible routes for the new north-south corridor, using Highway 41 in conjunction with other less major roads in the area, including Highway 501 and the Black
and White Trail. This would avoid trucks having to go over the Cypress Hills. A December 2006 Medicine Hat Chamber of Commerce article waxed enthusiastic about the corridor/crossing proposal, but smaller rural communities in the area may have a very different perspective. Does the prospect of 24hour heavy truck traffic through their previously quiet communities fill them with enthusiasm for the project? Even if only half of the 2,000 trucks per day that go through the existing 24-hour crossing at Coutts decided to use the new route, the social and ecological impacts in this peaceful corner of the province would be immense. Quality of life for both human and non-human communities would be seriously eroded. Upgrading the roadways in this corner of the province to accommodate 24-hour heavy truck traffic would be phenomenally expensive. Albertans need to consider whether they want their taxes to pay for a massive outlay on infrastructure that may benefit a small minority and will have large, irreversible environmental and social costs. If nothing else, we must demand a full economic analysis, including the costs to prairie ecosystems and wildlife, the local communities, and average Albertans. “Logical north-south transportation routes already exist via the Coutts/ Sweetgrass border crossing within less sensitive landscapes,” argues Cliff Wallis. “These should be emphasized rather than increasing traffic and disturbance within environmentally significant areas.” AWA encourages you to express your views on the crossing/corridor proposal. Write to Alberta’s Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation; your MLA and MP; MLA Harry Chase, Shadow Minister for Infrastructure and Transportation; and federal Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day. Joyce Hildebrand is a conservation specialist with the Alberta Wilderness Association. This article was reprinted from the Wild Lands Advocate, February 2008
Public Interest Alberta’s second annual advocacy conference Featuring Keynote speakers
Avi Lewis Separate tickets available for Avi Lewis Calgary April 3, Edmonton April 4 Allyson Pollock (UK) Debra Bennan (Australia) Heather-jane Robertson (Canada) Maude Barlow (Canada) For more information and to register call Public Interest Alberta (780) 420-0471 or go to www.pialberta.org Sponsored in part by the Parkland Institute, the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Friends of Medicare, Health Sciences Association of Alberta, United Nurses of Alberta, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and Council of Canadians.
election How to prepare for an Alberta provincial election Environmentalist
Al Gore would Tips for political pundits and junkies T. LIGHTFOOT For some Albertans, election readiness means looking at the ballot box and saying, ‘Who are all of these people anyway?’ And someone in the next booth might answer back, ‘Who cares? It’s just another boring Provincial election.’ My advice to you? Grin and bear it. It will all be over soon enough But here are some tips for the hardcore flacks. First of all, expect to endure a six-month period of utter limbo. Expect maximum suspense. By the time an election is finally called, anticipation will be stretched like spandex pants on an elephant. Be prepared for the odd ‘false call’ jolt of adrenaline. Next, the week before the election call, if you can figure out when that is, jet off to a warm, sunny place. You don’t want to stand out like a pale thumb among all those deeply tanned MLA’s fresh from their tropical luaus. Wash your car. The day of the call, hundreds of people will mill the legislature grounds. Do you want your vehicle to look like a dust heap among the limos? No. Not with your license plate number stored on security videos for all eternity. Politicians are all dipping their toes into the water now, trying to find where it’s frozen enough to take a stand. When the official opposition gives its throne speech, like Liberal leader Kevin Taft did the last week of January, you’ll want to commit it to memory to learn where the ice is soft. Read and listen to the radio. You must know every issue so you can tell instantly the second something new and astounding crops up. Cynics should try to believe something new and astounding could actually crop up. Learn to believe in miracles. Your political life won’t improve, but at least you won’t lose hope. Whether you believe things will change or stay the same is irrelevant. Hope is the antidote for that jaded je ne sais quoi feeling. Prime the gossip pump. The more false information out there, the more exciting the election. It keeps politicians on their toes and their minds off having to address real issues. Fighting a nasty rumour can be great, free, therapy for them. Shine your shoes. Buff your laptop bag and lint roller your suit. It’s almost three months since the house was last in session. Check through all your totes and files and trash any lingering litter from the past. The future could be different.
make a great presi-
Sharpen your mental pencil. Whenever anyone says something to you, question its veracity. Or, find the twist and pull gently. Or yank if that feels better. Practice to nab that one pure moment when a politician accidentally steps out from under their speechwriter. Pay all bills in advance. Don’t lunge for the phone expecting a hot tip, only to hear a gentle reminder from Reader’s Digest. Pick up your suit from the dry cleaners and ditch all the recyclables. Move anything in the way you might trip over. Pluck your eyebrows and file your nails. Get a facial, if you’re into that, or scrub your entire body with Dead Sea Salt. Iron your scrolls. Take your calves to auction. Knacker that bull. Pay your taxes. Whatever gives you that sharp-pressed edge–get to it!
Learn to believe in miracles. Your political life won’t improve, but at least you won’t lose hope. Whether you believe things will change or stay the same is irrelevant. Hope is the antidote for that jaded je ne sais quoi feeling. Call or email all your friends and relatives, especially those with a tendency to drop in unexpectedly, and warn them away. Nothing is worse than having to jerk your head out of a tough election fight to open the door to a bunch of cheery faced drop-ins. Finally, check all your gear to make sure the right cords are in the right pockets of your camera bag. You’ll need mini DVDs for the video camera and spare batteries for your digital recorder. Clean out all your old stored data from last election. Out with the old, in with the new! Then it’s on to three or four years of relative peace and quiet, perhaps. Or else chaos and calamity. No matter: it’s all good news for junkies and pundits. For MLA candidates? Give your head a shake, hold your breath, pinch your nose and dive in. And hope you’ve found a spot where the water isn’t frozen solid. Theresa Lightfoot is a freelance writer, published in the Edmonton Journal, Sun Media, the Business Edge, and City Magazine Edmonton, among others. Her earlier career was in the human service field. She moved to the publishing realm in 2000, and is learning and writing about Alberta politics and innovations.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
A golden retreat Located within the first range of the Rocky Mountains, nestled among towering pines above Lake Goldeye, sits Goldeye Centre, a secluded education and retreat centre. This August, myself and colleagues from the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta, Calgary Chapter, camped at the picturesque Nordegg facility. We were joined by other chapters of the society as well, including: Edmonton, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Lethbridge. I was thrilled to see some familiar faces whom I had already met in September 2006 at this beautiful retreat. It was a splendid reunion. We talked about the wonderful things that have been taking place in our lives since we last met. What was inspiring was our sharing of the positive steps we have taken in managing our schizophrenia. The camp, which receives funding from the Alberta Mental Health Board, has been connecting people with schizophrenia since 1996. I first attended the retreat 10 years after its creation, in September 2006.
Returning to the area this year reconnected me with the wonders of nature. During my four day stay, I enjoyed an excellent break from my urban lifestyle and acquired a newfound sense of tranquility and harmony. In an atmosphere of prevailing silence, the effect on my mental health proved to be very positive, leaving me relaxed and peaceful. Others who attended reported that they felt much the same way. After all, the urban jungle, with its buildings, busy streets and traffic, has poor effects on anyone’s mental functioning over time. And for those with schizophrenia, the pace of a rapidly growing city can trigger the illness, leading to racing thoughts. For me, Goldeye proved to be an excellent mental health break, an essential ingredient of one’s mental wellness. This is not to say that I cannot have mental health breaks in the city. It depends on where I am. Aside from Potential Place Clubhouse (a social facility for people with schizophrenia) and the local Schizophrenia Society in Calgary, I do find my mental
Finding solace at Nordegg’s Goldeye Centre
health breaks in such areas as Stanley Park, the Inglewood bird sanctuary, Nose Hill and Fish Creek Park. But there’s something to be said for stepping outside of one’s routine. At Goldeye, I had the chance to partake in activities like crafts (including pillowmaking and painting on wood), and even canoed on the lake for the first time, as the loons looked on. They say that variety is the spice of life –it’s also a way to heal and grow. At this golden retreat, we sang songs (everything from Que sera, sera to Fernando), drank in the beauty of Crescent Falls and Abraham Lake, and enjoyed each other’s laughter. Jamal Ali is a writer, researcher and mental health advocate residing in Calgary since 1967.
Canadian mining companies: Unwelcome guests Binding legislation still needed to curb human rights, environmental violations CECILY MILLS On Nov. 2, 2007, gold hit $807.70 an ounce, a 28-year high. Millions of Latin Americans, Africans and Asians, exposed to the environmental and social damages of Canadian mines operating in their community, had no reason to rejoice. Neither did the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA) whose members participated in the Government of Canada’s National Roundtables on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the Canadian Extractive Industry in Developing Countries from June to November 2006. The roundtables fulfilled a recommendation of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade in its 2005 report on Mining in Developing Countries and Corporate Social Responsibility (SCFAIT). This report called for major policy and law reform to ensure that Canadian companies comply with international human rights and environmental standards. On March 29, 2007, the roundtable advisor y group - composed of representatives from industry, civil society, academia, labour and the socially responsible investment community -
released its report to the government. The report establishes standards and reporting obligations for Canadian companies, calls for the creation of an independent ombudsperson’s office to investigate complaints regarding the operations of Canadian companies in the developing world and to assess corporate compliance, and provides for withholding of government services from companies in cases of serious non-compliance. If implemented, these recommendations would establish Canada as a global leader in corporate social responsibility. Canada is uniquely positioned to take this leadership role in regulating mining activities internationally since almost 60 per cent of the world’s exploration and mining companies are listed in Canada and these companies account for over 40 per cent of global exploration budgets and have interests in almost 3,200 mineral properties located in more than 100 countries. While the report addresses the negative environmental and social impacts so often associated with Canadian extractive operations, it does not include binding legislation so that compliance is mandatory, as recommended in the 2005-SCFAIT report. Further, it doesn’t go far enough in
ensuring the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples including the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent, and to all internationallyguaranteed human rights standards and corresponding obligations of states and non-state actors to respect the human rights of individual and communities. Eight months later, the long-awaited report of the roundtables still has not been adopted. CNCA members continue to petition the Government of Canada to adopt and implement the consensusbased recommendations of the National Roundtables. Stephen Harper found out for himself that Canadian mining companies are often unwelcome guests when Chilean protesters confronted him in Santiago, Chile, in July 2007. While Harper claimed to be satisfied that Barrick Gold was behaving responsibly and “following the rules” in Chile, opponents of the mine, both in Canada and Chile, criticized Barrick for failing to listen to the communities around the mine. It’s hard to think of anyone other than a mining company CEO who would be happy with a mine at an altitude of 4,500 metres, with potential impacts on several Andean glaciers, water supplies and
agricultural and wine production. Once in a while, a poor agricultural community succeeds, after a long struggle of protests, referendums and mass resistance, in ousting a mining company before their land, homes and water are destroyed. This occurred in Tambogrande in northern Peru where the residents’ five-year struggle ended in the ouster of a Vancouver-based gold mine. Usually, the mine wins; the people lose. With the rising price of gold, more Canadian mining companies will take advantage of corrupt governments to set up open pit mines and the Government of Canada will continue to give these mining companies carte blanche to do as they please. Cecily Mills holds a PhD in microbiology from the University of Alberta. She spent seven years as a volunteer in Central America and presently volunteers with Change for Children, an Edmonton organization that sponsors development programs in Latin America and participates in the Development and Peace and Kairos campaigns on mines.
the Post •
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
about the Parkland Want to know more about Parkland Institute’s latest research?
Parkland Institute Publications Available Democracy The Return of the Trojan Horse - Alberta and the New World (Dis)Order By: Trevor Harrison, 2005
From Rhetoric to Reality - Protecting Whistleblowers in Alberta By:Keith Archer, 2005*+
Trouble in Paradise? - Citizen’s Views on Democracy in Alberta By:Trevor Harrison, Johnston and Harvey Krahn, 2003*+
Shredding the Public Interest - Ralph Klein and 25 Years of One-Party Government By: Kevin Taft, 1997
Trojan Horse - Alberta and the Future of Canada By:Gordon Laxer and Trevor Harrison, 1995
In addition to reports and books, Parkland’s staff, speakers and research associates write numerous op-eds, articles and presentations. Here is the list of what has been posted on our website www.ualberta.ca/parkland since the last Post. These items can be downloaded for free. Many have been emailed to our list-serve. If you do not have access to these electronic resources, please contact the Edmonton office for copies of articles you are interested in.
The Spoils of the Boom - Incomes, profits and poverty in Alberta By: Diana Gibson, 2007*+
Taming the Tempest - An Alternate Development Strategy for Alberta By: Diana Gibson, 2007*+
Fiscal Surplus, Democratic Deficit - Budgeting and Government Finance in Alberta By: Parkland’s Standing Budget Committee, 2006*+ $5.00 A Time for Vision - A Sustainable & Equitable Economy By: Parkland’s Standing Budget Committee, 2005*+
A Time to Reap - Re-investing in Alberta’s Public Services By: Parkland’s Standing Budget Committee, 2004*+
Alberta’s Good Enough Approach - Alberta’s “good enough” approach to fiscal management By: Parkland’s Standing Budget Committee, 2003*+ $5.00 Making it Work: Kyoto, Trade and Politics By: Ian Urquart, 2002*+
Advantaged No More - How Low Taxes Flattened Alberta’s Future By: Parkland’s Standing Budget Committee, 2002*+
Advantage for Whom? - Declining family incomes in a growing Alberta economy By: Patricia Lawrence, 2001*+
Energy Policy Freezing in the Dark: Why Canada Needs Strategic Petroleum Reserves By: Gordon Laxer, 2008*+
New Report Freezing in the Dark: Why Canada Needs Strategic Petroleum Reserves Canada is currently the most vulnerable country in the industrial world to shortterm oil supply crises, and we need to establish strategic petroleum reserves to remedy the problem. This is the key finding of a report released today by Alberta’s Parkland Institute in conjunction with the Polaris Institute. by Gordon Laxer, released Jan. 31, 2008. Media Release, executive summary and report (hardcopy $10 pl us shipping) are available. Op-ed Strategic Petroleum Reserves: It’s Not Nice to Let Eastern Canadians Freeze in the Dark, in the Globe and Mail, Feb. 7, 2008 - Page A19 Parkland’s New Blog We have now posted the summaries of the Sunday afternoon discussion groups from our recent conference “From Crisis to Hope: Building Just and Sustainable Communities.” To facilitate an ongoing discussion and comments from both conference participants and those who were unable to attend, we have created a new Parkland Blog to host these summaries. Drop by at http://parkland-institute. blogspot.com/, check it out, and add your comments and ideas. The site includes: Interview: 2007 Parkland Fall Conference Keynote: Patrick Bond The 2007 Parkland conference, entitled “From Crisis to Hope: Building Just and Sustainable Communities” features a keynote presentation by South Africabased academic and activist Patrick Bond. In his address, Bond discusses why so-called market solutions for environmental crises do not work. Specifically, he looks at the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism and carbon trading and at the impact these programs have had on countries like South Africa. In preparation for his talk at the conference, the Parkland Institute interviewed Patrick Bond by e-mail and posted the text on our website Nov. 13, 2007
Greening the Fleet - National Trends and Opportunities for the City of Edmonton By: Allan Bolstad, 2007*+
Fuelling Fortress America By: Hugh McCullum, 2006+
Selling the Family Silver - Oil and Gas Royalties, Corporate Profits, and the Disregarded Public By: John W. Warnock, 2006*+
Back to Hewers of Wood and Drawers of Water - Energy, Trade and the Demise of Petrochemicals in Alberta By: Terisa Turner and Diana Gibson, 2005*+ $10.00 Toward an Energy Security Strategy for Canada - A Discussion Paper By: Dave Thompson, Gordon Laxer and Diana Gibson, 2005+
Energy: Free Trade & the Price We Paid By: Larry Pratt, 2001*+
Change and Opportunity - EPCOR in a De-regulated Electricity Industry By: Kevin Taft and David Cooper, 2000*+
Giving Away the Alberta Advantage - Are Albertans receiving maximum revenue from our oil and gas? By: Josee Johnston, 1999+ $10.00 Light Among the Shadows - The Re-regulation of the Electrical Industry and The Future of EPCOR By: Kevin Taft, 1999*+
The Bottom Line - The Truth Behind Private Health Insurance in Canada By: Diana Gibson and Colleen Fuller, 2006
Public Remedies, Not Private Payments - Quality Health Care in Alberta By: Tammy Horne and Susan Abels, 2004*+
Reclaiming Medicare - A response to the Mazankowski misdiagnosis By: Gillian Steward, Tammy Horne and Trevor Harrison, 2002*+
Public Bodies, Private Parts - Surgical Contracts and Conflicts of Interest at the Calgary Regional Health By: Gillian Steward, 2001*+$5.00 Clear Answers - The Economics and Politics of For-Profit Medicine By: Kevin Taft, 2000
Youth Crime and Justice in Alberta - Rhetoric and Reality By: Timothy Hartnagel, 2002*+
Writing Off The Rural West - Globalization, Governments and the Transformation of Rural Communities By: Roger Epp and Dave Whitson, 2001 $30.00 Privatization EPCOR: A Study of Ownership, Accountability and the Public Interest By: Diana Gibson, 2005*+
Sobering Result - The AB Liquor Retailing Industry Ten Years after Privatization By: Flanagan, Greg, 2003*+
Un-accountable - The Case of Highway Maintenance Privatization in AB. By: Lisa Prescott, 2003*+
* this report can be downloaded free as a pdf on our website at www.ualberta.ca/parkland + this report is free upon request for sponsoring members (who donate more than $120/year)
Publications I would like to order: _________________________________________________________________
One time contribution: ___$500 ___$120 ___$40 Other:$ ______ OR Monthly Sponsor: ____$100 ____$50____$20 Other:$ ______ (Please include a cheque marked “VOID” or a VISA / Master Card # and provide a signature below) Charitable tax receipts will be issued for all contributions
Shipping: $2 X # of publications ordered______
$ _______ = $ _______
My donation / membership:
Donors who contribute a minimum of $20/year will be mailed a board elections ballot as either an academic or general member when there are multiple candidates for a position. Are you a professor, sessional, graduate student, college instructor, or alumni at Albertan university or college. ___ Yes (Default is NO, general member) Please contact us for information on Organizational Memberships
Payment details Name
Parkland Op-Ed: Alberta should be collecting a lot more money: Royalty report recommendations are far from extreme. By Ricardo Acuña, published in Straight Goods, Oct. 2, 2007
Parkland Op-Ed: Stelmach royalty decision shows it will be business as usual for Alberta. In reality, royalties will fall by over $2 billion over the next ten years -- even with the changes announced Thursday By Ricardo Acuña and Diana Gibson, published in The Edmonton Journal, Oct. 26, 2007
Parkland Op-Ed: Read between EnCana’s lines By Ricardo Acuña, published in The Calgary Herald, Oct. 8, 2007
Health Care Policy
New Report: Freezing in the Dark? Canada needs energy security plan. PowerPoint Slides for a presentation by Gordon Laxer to the Council of Canadians AGM in Kelowna. Oct. 27, 2007
New Report: Selling Albertans Short: Alberta’s Royalty Review Panel fails the public interest By Diana Gibson Released: Oct. 17, 2007 Media Release, executive summary and report (hardcopy $5 plus shipping) are available.
BC Advantage - Lessons from AB on the De-regulation of the Electricity Industry By: Rick Wallace, 2001*+
Parkland Op-Ed: Review panel actually plans sharp drop in royalties To get its fair share, Alberta must heed Lougheed’s advice: ‘Think like an owner’ By Gordon Laxer, published in The Edmonton Journal, Oct. 22, 2007
Selling Albertans Short - Alberta’s Royalty Review Panel Fails the Public Interest By: Diana Gibson, 2007*+
Postal code Fax
E-mail Cheque or money order
Total: $ _______ Expiry: ____/____
Signature Account holder/Monthly Payment Authorization
Send to Parkland Institute - 11405 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, AB T6G 2E1 Phone (780) 492-8558 Fax (780) 492-8738 E-mail: email@example.com Web: www.ualberta.ca/parkland
the Post •
The Parkland Institute is a proud sponsor of:
The 2nd Annual Oil and Community Speaker Series: Struggles over Labour and Learning 5 Thursdays, 7:00 – 8:30 pm Place: ETLC 1-013, Maier Learning Centre, University of Alberta May 8 - Social Partnerships and Organized Labour May 15 - Migrant Labour May 22 - Aboriginal youth and work May 29 - Parkland’s latest research on the oil and gas sector and labour in Alberta June 5 - Royalty Regime and Sustainability This series is part a spring immersion course jointly organized by the Community Service-Learning Program and Educational Policy Studies and is open to the public. The class starts at 6 pm and the public is invited in at 7pm. Students are involved with introducing and thanking the speakers, and are given the first opportunity to ask questions. When available, details, including speakers, will be posted on our website at www.ualberta.ca/parkland
writers! the Post is currently recruiting writers interested in the social, political and environmental issues affecting Albertans. Enthusiasm, not experience, is the only requirement. For more information, contact the Post’s coordinating editor at firstname.lastname@example.org
A PARKLAND INSTITUTE PUBLICATION
What does it take for Parkland to make a difference in Alberta politics? It takes solid, timely, relevant research. It takes regular communication with the media. It takes educating people so they can articulate (and press for) the change they want. It takes staff and resources to do it.
What would you give for a better Alberta? Support the Parkland Institute: Become an ongoing, monthly sponsor Donate annually Put us in your will or insurance policy Distribute the Parkland Post Get the organizations you are involved with to become Parkland supporters Use our research Convince others to be involved Tell others about our research and events
Faculty of Arts, University of Alberta 11045 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E1 Phone: (780) 492-8558 Fax: (780) 492-8738 E-Mail address: email@example.com Visit our website at: www.ualberta.ca/parkland
Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning for Our Future 7:00 – 8:30 pm Place: ETLC 1-013, Maier Learning Centre, University of Alberta April 17 - David Hughes, Geological Survey of Canada
The Energy Sustainability Dilemma: Powering the Future in a Finite World
April 24 - Dr. Donald Spady MD, Department of Pediatrics, University of Alberta
Thank You. Parkland Institute has recently received notice that we will be receiving significant legacy gifts as a result of the estate and legacy planning of two long-time supporters. These types of gift play an important role in the ability of Parkland Institute to continue contributing research and programming for the public interest in Alberta well into the future. We gratefully acknowledge: , a life-long supporter of public interest research and activism across the country, and her family for a significant donation of tradeable securities to Parkland Institute as part of her estate planning process; and , a long-time member and supporter of the Parkland Institute, who died in February 2007 and bequeathed the Parkland Institute a substantial portion of her estate.
Mrs. Patricia Gordon
Mrs. Mary Polovnikoff
The funds from these two gifts will be used to fund Parkland Institute’s ongoing work and honour the legacies of these two amazing women.
Preparing the Health Care System for an Age of Scarce and Expensive Oil
May 1 - Dr. Colin Soskolne, Public Health Sciences, University of Alberta
Speaking about his book: Sustaining Life on Earth: Environmental and Human Health through Global Governance
Pencil Us In to Your Calendar... Parkland Institute’s Annual General Meeting 1:30 to 4:30 PM, May 3, 2008 Margaret Parsons Theatre, Red Deer College There will be a business meeting followed by a speaker. Details will be posted on our website and mailed to our anyone who has donated to Parkland in the last 12 months.
Parkland’s 12th Annual Fall Conference Will be November 14-16, 2008 University of Alberta Campus, in Edmonton When available, details, including speakers, will be posted on our website at www.ualberta.ca/parkland