Hello Chestermere! I would like to take a moment to thank the organizers of this years Remembrance Day Ceremonies. I would particularly like to thank John Kittler from the Landing for bringing over his event trailer and supplying excellent sound so everyone could hear the many inspirational words. I followed the ceremony by meeting many of you at the Whitecappers where I was able to see a beautiful display of memorabilia belonging to Ray Hessler, a veteran and the driving force behind the Chestermere Cenotaph. We were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day as we remembered our veterans, our heroes and our fallen, and the freedom their sacrifice bought us. Please thank and support our veterans.
I would like to talk about freedoms specifically in this article on several accounts, but to start I would like to tell you about a specific event that illustrates how callous the NDP Government can be. One of our constituents had reported to our office that her brother’s AISH (Assured Income For The Severely Handicapped) would be reduced as a result of cost of living increases (“COLA”) to his CPP Disability pension. When people get a cost of living increase in CPP-D to account for inflation the NDP Government reduces their AISH benefits dollar for dollar, thus effectively reducing their income. After all, if you get a 5 cent increase and the price of a loaf of bread goes up 5 cents you have no more money in your pocket. Even more disturbing, since they had neglected to reduce his benefits for COLA increases in the last 3 years (their mistake) they also wanted that money back! This man barely survives, he has no savings and is unable to work. He is surviving on what he gets from the Federal government, and the AISH he receives from the Alberta Government due to his severe disability. Now our Alberta Government in its wisdom feels that it should be able to claw back his AISH because he is receiving COLA increases in CPP benefits he earned while he was able to work. With our assistance she wrote the Minister and received a patronizing reply informing her she could always appeal. Did you know that the Government with one swipe of a pen could fix this? The Minister of Human Services could simply remove COLA increases from the determination of income, and fix this for the many people in this situation. She appealed on behalf of her brother (a very stressful process) and the Government “generously” said he didn’t have to pay back the so-called “overpayment”. However, his benefits going forward are still reduced. The present situation is ridiculous and needs to be fixed immediately. Many AISH recipients receive CPP-D from the Federal Government. Every COLA increase in CPP-D effectively reduces their income due to the heartless and cruel policy of this Government. You may see my questions to the Government about this on my Facebook page and I am going to keep pressing the Government to do the right thing and fix this. Please write me if this has affected you or someone you know.
Did you know that we will be heading towards 16.1 billion dollars in borrowing in our next provincial budget? In Don Braid’s November 10th article in the Herald he gives us some concerning numbers. We now pay 1.4 billion in debt servicing, and did you know that over 600 million of that pays for borrowing for operating costs, money to keep the lights on. This is exactly the same as if you were borrowing for food. The NDP Government seems to think that Albertans are not concerned with debt and deficits. I would have to disagree. With oil prices increasing, and some great potential growth, it is difficult to understand how this Government can justify continuing to spend at the level they are. We do not have a revenue problem, even now during this downturn, we have a spending problem.
Speaking of taxes, how do you feel about the offshore holdings of the Prime Minister and his wealthy cronies used to avoid paying Canadian taxes? These are the same people that are calling hard working small business people, farmers, and other self-employed people “tax cheats” for trying to save for retirement, survive a downturn, or pass on their farm or business to their children. Now they have decided to target more “tax cheats”: diabetics and other people who receive the Disability Tax Credit. By denying them these credits they also deny them access to a Registered Disability Savings Plan for their retirement. We must give them credit though. The (ultra-wealthy) Finance Minister was recently fined a whopping $200 for forgetting to declare the offshore French holding company where he put his villa (you know, to avoid paying taxes). Our leaders need to lead by example, and this is not a good reflection of government. In fact the mirror is quite distorted. As usual, the Premier is silent on these egregious attacks on hard working Albertans. After all, they get to scoop up cost of living increases.
On a final note, I would like to speak about the rhetoric around Bill 24. I have spoken to many constituents, teachers, principals, students and parents, and the one thing we can all agree on is that kids need safe and caring spaces at their schools. Here is the issue around Bill 24. Section 50 of the School Act deals with the rights of parents to be informed and opt their children out of instruction dealing specifically with human sexuality or religion. Section 9 of Bill 24 adds:
“Section 50.1 is amended by adding the following after
(4) For greater certainty, this section does not apply with
respect to the establishment or operation of a voluntary student
organization referred to in section 16.1 or the organizing or
holding of an activity referred to in section 16.1.”
The “voluntary student organizations” referred to here are GSAs. This could allow any government, this one or future ones, to do an end run around the School Act and seek to influence a student lead organization like a GSA. GSAs are student lead, and the whole point of them is to have a space where kids can become friends and allies. They are already outside of the scope and sequence of the School Act. These groups give a child that may be questioning their sexuality a chance to understand who they are and then have the confidence to move forward in their lives. They also allow other students to gain a better appreciation of problems facing their peers. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ youth, homeless because they have been turned out by their parents. These numbers are disturbing to be sure. More importantly we already have laws that allow for these groups to meet if organized and asked for by a student. I do not understand why the Government is choosing to make changes in the School Act by trying to alter it in a way that could allow outside influences to permeate a group that is supposed to be run by students. This is an anti-bullying group. I would like to state for the record, that most of the bill seemed logical to me, and I felt that I could support it. However, as I dug deeper in to this section on the School Act, I felt it was necessary to amend the bill and strike the section that brings potential instruction into the GSA, so that no government could ever influence our children, especially those that may be vulnerable. Unfortunately this amendment was defeated. I would like to propose that the government separate this section and create a new bill should they choose to amend the School Act. They need to be transparent and do all the research and outreach possible to change the School Act in such a dramatic way. If there is content around human sexuality and religion, all parents MUST be contacted if it is instructional time. GSAs are not instructional, they are a club. The government is overstepping its authority with this change. I have asked for clarity on these issues and everything that has been stated from the government has been vague and unpersuasive. Calling United Conservative MLA’s homophobic, and fear mongering that we are the enemy is not an answer to logical questions. I will be abstaining from voting for this legislation as I feel that some of the changes made in the legislation were valid, but I will never be able to vote for legislation that could see government intervening in a student lead organization. To be clear, abstaining is a valid form of voting, and unfortunately cannot be done while in the assembly. One must leave and abstain from outside the chamber. This is one of many contentious pieces of legislation that are coming down from our government. As always, we love to hear from you.