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JOHNSTON: UCP grassroots at odds with teachers and their own MLAs on school choice

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy in the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but it won’t, not without a fight.

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United Conservative Party members voted Saturday in favour of adopting a school voucher system as official party policy at their convention in Calgary. Policy 15 – which passed narrowly by 307 votes in favour and 267 votes against – reads that “The United Conservative Party believes that the Government of Alberta should: a) ensure equitable per-student funding in accordance with school choice – public, separate, charter, home, or private, and b) implement an education ‘voucher system’ that will provide for equal per-student funding regardless of their school choice, free from caveats or conditions.”

Delegates at the UCP convention on Saturday Nov. 30. Photo by Derek Fildebrandt, Western Standard

Support for a school voucher system among UCP members should establish a keystone policy within the upcoming Choice in Education Act – but not if Alberta’s Education Minister gets her way. The legislation expected to be introduced by the UCP government in the spring session of the legislature is currently open to submissions as part of a public engagement process.

But in an interview with the Toronto Star, UCP Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said in response to the policy vote that her education reform plan “does not include a voucher system.” The UCP government will continue to seek public input until December 6 on the Choice in Education Act – but appears to have already firmly rejected a meaningful policy debated and adopted by its own members.

The Alberta Teachers’ Association (ATA) is opposed to the school voucher policy as well and issued its own talking points prior to the UCP convention:

• Alberta’s public education is universally available to all Albertans.
• Alberta’s public education system maintains a high level of accountability.
• The only way policy 15 could be cost-neutral is if public education is further diminished to pay for the programs aimed at the small, self-selected elite.

The ATA added that vouchers would create “boutique education.”

Parents for Choice in Education (PCE), an Alberta-based non-profit organization advocating for “an excellent, quality-oriented, choice-driven education system which recognizes parental authority”, released a research report in October in partnership with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) in support of choice in education. Highlights from the report are that:

• Taxpayer costs per student enrolled in independent schools ($5,404) and home education ($1,671) are substantially lower than in government schools ($10,801);
• The existence of government funding for independent schools and home education has saved taxpayers $1.9 billion over eight years, which is greater than the money needed for all requested capital projects by the four largest Alberta government school divisions over the next three years; and,
• Enrolment numbers between 2010/11 and 2017/18 show that growth was slowest in public-government schools when compared to all other education options analyzed, meaning families are increasingly seeking alternatives to public-government schools.

The Choice in Education Act will likely face opposition from the ATA, with or without the inclusion of a school voucher system, and increase hostility between Kenney’s UCP government and powerful public sector unions.

In a Western Standard interview on the eve of the UCP convention, Franco Terrazzano, Alberta Director for the CTF, said union protests “won’t sit well with Albertans who gave Kenney a clear mandate to balance the books.”

Opinion

SLOBODIAN: Manitoba’s Keystone Party to focus on grassroots

Now that’s a refreshing concept for Manitobans who got bitterly fed up with the iron-fisted approach of former premier Brian Pallister a.k.a. dictator.

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Interim leader Kevin Friesen understands why the Keystone Party of Manitoba is perceived as far right-of-centre.

“The parties in Manitoba have moved so far to the left that everybody’s going to see us as a rightwing party.

“We like to call ourselves centre,” Friesen told Western Standard.

He’d like to clear up a misconception promoted by left-wing professors some media tend to breathlessly run to for biased opinion. 

“We’ve been labelled as an unvaccinated, anti-mask party and that’s totally wrong.”

Another thing, Keystone is not affiliated with the federal People’s Party of Canada.

“We we’re getting confused with the PPC and we didn’t want that to happen.”

For some, the confusion stemmed from both party logos sporting the color purple.

So then, what is Keystone all about?

“This is a true grassroots party. Everyone says they want to be grassroots, but nobody’s been that yet. That’s our real focus.

“The real problem is that the accountability from our leaders isn’t being respected. We need someone who is more transparent, more accountable. We’ve always looked for honesty and that seems to be an impossible thing to find in politics nowadays. I hope that’s something that we can bring to the province.

“We need to create a stronger, united Manitoba. But most importantly, we would lead our province and not rule it.”

Now that’s a refreshing concept for Manitobans who got bitterly fed up with the iron-fisted approach of former premier Brian Pallister, a.k.a. dictator.

Although his replacement, Premier Heather Stefanson, promised a change in management style and a more “collaborative approach,” she has yet to convince Manitobans — who call her as ‘Pallister in a dress’ or ‘Pallister in pantyhose’ — that their voices will be heard.

Reeves, mayors, business people, union leaders, indigenous leaders, and Manitobans from diverse backgrounds disenchanted with the Progressive Conservatives fiscal and COVID-19 policies are paying attention to and signing on with Keystone which got started in early 2021.

“I’m the only farmer on the board,” says Friesen from south-central Manitou. 

“We’re finding there are a lot of people from the extreme left, from the NDP and Liberal community, that are interested in what we’re doing and are signing our petition and are saying ‘We’ll support you.’

“It’s not only one area of Manitoba. We’re pretty spread out from Winnipeg to Brandon, north of Dauphin to Southern Manitoba.”

Several Keystone supporters started out backing Manitoba First, formerly the Manitoba Party, and “learned early on it was on a mission to be a top-down party.”

They explored trying to “fix the PC party from within,” but doubted that would work considering “what goes on behind closed doors,” said Friesen.

Keystone is gearing up to field candidates in the 2023 provincial election. But first, it must gather the 2,500 signatures required to register as a political party.

“It would be an awesome Christmas gift to be registered. We’d like to go to Elections Manitoba, not with 2,500 signatures, but 10,000 would be our goal.” 

Keystone’s website promotes fiscal conservative policies and a reduction in the size of government.

In an October 30 video address, Friesen took aim at the PC’s destructive COVID-19 measures. He stipulated Keystone was not formed because of these policies, rather because of the way they were developed and enforced.

“This government has promised to deliver, but it has only mandated. It has stopped businesses from paying their bills to the point of bankruptcy.

“It has divided marriages to the point of divorce and broken relationships of every friend, neighbour, and business partner to the point of tattle-taling and ultimately suicide.”

The immediate goal is to get registered. 

“Then we’ll need to hold a leadership race. I’m not sure Kevin Friesen will be part of that race. The last step would be to have a convention and make sure we do exactly what the members want. We’re gathering a lot of information on what we think Manitobans want.

“This party’s going to lead and not rule and we’re going to do that with integrity.”

One thing that sets Keystone apart from other parties now is the recall clause in its constitution.

“The steering committee made a recall clause in the constitution to hold a leader in check. That creates a prolific new attitude in leadership. It changes the whole way a leader of a party leads his or her team.

“I don’t know of any other party in Manitoba that has a recall clause on their leader. That makes us 100% grassroots and different.”

Friesen knows new provincial parties start up all the time and get nowhere fast because they forget the grassroots.

But he’s convinced, based on the growing and diverse support Keystone is gaining, that the PCs, NDP, and Liberals have something to be very concerned about.

It’s possible. There is no question Manitoba voters are an increasingly disenchanted lot.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard
lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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Opinion

KAY: Suzuki exposed as a fraud who pays lip service to his causes

The wonder is it’s taken so long for the halo to slip. On the evidence, Suzuki was never anything more than a shameless self-promoting huckster, a step-right-up-folks barker in the carnival of climate-change alarmism.

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Reader’s Digest used to do annual polls to discover which prominent Canadians were deemed most trustworthy by the public.

In first place in 2010 for the second year in a row: “eco-champion” David Suzuki, was described on the Reader’s Digest website as “honest, compassionate, and communicating a clear message.”

How could so many Canadians have been so gullible? Long before 2010, it was clear to engaged conservatives one would have to be drinking Suzuki’s own special brand of Kool-Aid to write such a description in good faith.

It may be the Kool-Aid finally lost its magical power. Denunciations of Suzuki poured forth over his recent mischief-making in a supportive address to radical, law-breaking environmental group Extinction Rebellion at the site of a pipeline protest in B.C. Suzuki told the group there “are going to be pipelines blown up if our leaders don’t pay attention to what’s going on.” Quickly realizing from the blowback he had gone too far, Suzuki attempted to walk the threat back with an apology. But unlike in the old days when he could get away with such nonsense, Suzuki’s apology was perceived as too little too late, and didn’t play well with responsible media.

The wonder is it’s taken so long for the halo to slip. On the evidence, Suzuki was never anything more than a shameless self-promoting huckster, a step-right-up-folks barker in the carnival of climate-change alarmism. He always talked like a selfless eco-warrior, but he has never walked the walk. On the contrary. Suzuki’s hypocrisy in all matters he engages with knows no bounds.

He urges us to cut our carbon footprint to near zero, while he enjoys the use of his multiple lavish homes, including one in Australia, which he visits regularly. He wants us to take personal responsibility in our reproductive choices for reducing the global population, while he permits himself the pleasure of five children. (In 2011, Suzuki took them on a visit to French Polynesia, a 25,000 km round trip from Vancouver, paid for by a climate change award’s prize money in 2011.)

He claims the David Suzuki Foundation is a charity, but what kind of charity has a dozen registered lobbyists in Ottawa and another eight in B.C.? He claims his foundation is funded by individual Canadians, but it takes funding from such fossil fuel companies as the Alberta natural gas company ATCO and the pension fund of Ontario Power Generation, which has operated both coal-and-gas-fired plants.

Suzuki wants politicians jailed for “denying the science,” but denounces police when they apply actual laws to eco-extremist blockaders. His family is of Asian provenance, but he complains of immigration from Asian and African countries. He spouts “scientific” nonsense — he once claimed “up to 90% of cancer is caused by environmental factors,” when in fact it is more like between four and 19%, according to the National Cancer Institute — and then admits to the CBC (2013), “I have a lot of personal opinions, but that’s not backed up by anything I know.”

His coarse language and open contempt for media are legendary. Suzuki’s narcissism is so comprehensive that he withdrew scholarship funding at Carleton University because a professor there wrote a tepid review of his books.

He’s the ultimate con man, whose rigid control over communications with audiences or media usually prevents people from learning how ignorant he actually is about issues he claims expertise in.

In September 2013, however, Suzuki was publicly humiliated when he participated as a panel member for the ABC TV program Q & A, in which exchanges were spontaneous and recorded. The audience was largely composed of scientific researchers in the field, one of whom politely, but insistently, rebutted his denial of the then 15-year hiatus in global warning since 1998, as well as falsehoods Suzuki had stated as factual regarding the Great Barrier Reef.

Suzuki was clearly flummoxed by his interlocutor’s question: “Yeah, well, I don’t know why you’re saying that…in fact, the warming continues…Where are you getting your information?” The questioner cited impeccable sources by their acronyms, inside jargon to a layperson that should have been instantly recognizable to anyone self-presenting, like Suzuki, as an expert. Suzuki’s complete bewilderment in the face of the data rebutting his own confidently stated but erroneous statements exposed him in all his inglorious quackademic nakedness.

Since this episode occurred in Australia, the Youtube of the event might never have reached more than a handful of Canadians. It was only because Rebel News made unmasking Suzuki’s charlatanism a priority that interest surged and the episode went viral. Thanks to their relentless, but often entertaining public pursuit of Suzuki, people came to understand that the man they had once deemed “honest, compassionate and communicating a clear message” was in fact dishonest, misanthropic and untruthful. Not to mention more than a little creepy in his open, overtly sexist fascination with young women on college campuses.

I’ve only scratched the surface of Suzuki’s self-serving fecklessness. For a full picture of this mountebank’s abuse of Canadians’ goodwill, from which several of my examples above have been taken, read Sheila Gunn Reid’s meticulously annotated 2018 book, The Case Against David Suzuki: An Unauthorized Biography.

Reid’s book was published by Rebel Media (full disclosure: Rebel Media also recently published a book I co-authored with Linda Blade.) I promise the indignation aroused by Reid’s continually amplified proof of Suzuki’s cynical disregard for truth or honour, conveyed in crisp, cheeky and wit-filled prose — she describes Suzuki as “the Bernie Madoff of the anti-oil crusade” — will hold you riveted for the few hours required to read from the first page to the last.

Read it, consider the unnecessary fear and self-loathing this feckless shaman has instilled in so many vulnerable Canadian children’s minds, and weep for the naiveté of those Canadians in their millions who have, through their adulation and material contributions to Suzuki’s snake-oil empire, helped build and sustain this hollow man’s ill-gotten fortune and prestige

Barbara Kay is a senior columnist for the Western Standard.
kbarb@westernstandardonline.com
Twitter: @BarbaraRKay

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Opinion

WAGNER: Alberta’s social conservatives should be afraid of an NDP return to power

When it comes to education policy in Alberta, the NDP is adamant that only one view of sexuality will be represented – and it’s not the traditional Christian view – even in schools that were founded with a specifically Christian purpose.

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The increasing possibility of a NDP electoral victory in 2023 should keep conservatives in Alberta awake at night. Much will be at stake if the ‘progressives’ come back to power.

Social conservatives in particular have a lot to lose, especially with regards to education policy. One of the most acrimonious issues during the NDP’s term in government concerned gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools. Most noteworthy, a number of private religious schools were on the verge of losing their government funding and accreditation for failing to explicitly embrace GSAs within their school policies. Only the election of Jason Kenney’s UCP saved these schools. On this file, the NDP is likely to pick up where it left off once back in office.

Discussions of this issue have been fraught with misinformation. The NDP and its supporters have portrayed their GSA policies as the one and only way to keep vulnerable students safe in schools. Thus, they imply, anyone with a different view is malevolent, is homophobic, and obviously wants to hurt kids. There’s a strict binary choice at work in the messaging: endorse the NDP’s solution or be labelled a very nasty person. There’s no other possibility. Most of the mainstream media has followed this NDP talking point to the letter.

The fact is, though, private Christian schools are formed and maintained only at great sacrifice by those involved. The parents pay extra fees to have their children attend these schools, and school employees often take lower salaries in order to serve in a religious educational mission. These are people who are making extra sacrifices — often at great personal cost — because they believe a particularly religious environment is what’s best for their children. The idea that they do all this and yet want to hurt kids is absurd.

But according to NDP propagandists, private schools with openly Christian statements on the nature of marriage and sexuality are harmful to vulnerable children. This was the basis of their demand to remove Christian doctrinal statements from school policies. Naturally, such doctrinal positions did not align with many of the social-justice identity politics of the NDP’s ideological makeup. Thus, they had to be forcibly removed.

When it comes to education policy in Alberta, the NDP is adamant that only one view of sexuality will be represented — and it’s not the traditional Christian view — even in schools that were founded with a specifically Christian purpose. The message was explicit: conform to the NDP’s ideology, or close. No diversity of opinion allowed.

As Donna Trimble put it so well at the time: “These schools have two choices. One is they strip their schools of any faith-based perspectives in their safe and caring policies in order to satisfy the government’s demands, and then they are giving up the very foundation and reason for their existence, or, two, they are shut down for their refusal to do so.”

And as Calgary Herald columnist Licia Corbella added, “Perhaps that’s the NDP’s ultimate goal? No choice, no diversity. Just NDP beliefs taught in Alberta.”

Of course, Jason Kenney put an end to the imposition of NDP ideology onto private Christian schools once he took power by passing Bill 8 — the Education Amendment Act — which rolled back the most authoritarian aspects of the NDP’s GSA program.

However, there were other facets to the GSA issue that he left in place, contrary to the wishes of many UCP members. At the UCP convention in Red Deer in May 2018, 57% of delegates voted in favour of parents being notified if their children joined a GSA. But Kenney opposed the resolution and said, “Guess what, I’m the leader. I get to interpret the resolution and its relevance to party policy…I hold the pen.” It did not become policy.

Some parental rights activists have not given up on this issue, however. One group, Bill 10 Court Challenge Organization, has continued to lobby UCP MLAs to strengthen parental notification provisions. It also promotes a petition encouraging the government to amend legislation so that children under 16 must obtain parental permission to join a GSA.

If and when the NDP comes back into power, the GSA issue will once again become front-page news. The acrimony of the NDP’s previous term will return with a vengeance — not because kids are being harmed — but because the NDP cannot tolerate any private Christian schools upholding a traditional perspective on sexuality. Ideological conformity is a central principle of “progressive” thought. This time, the non-government schools will not escape defunding and loss of accreditation.

With most of the mainstream media cheerleading the NDP on this issue as before, social conservatives will again be widely portrayed as sinister throwbacks of the Dark Ages, and their influence in Alberta society will decline even further. The election of an NDP government will not be pleasant for any segments of the province’s conservative/libertarian coalition, but the social conservatives have the most to lose.

Looking towards 2023, it seems like darkness is approaching.

Michael Wagner is a columnist for the Western Standard

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