Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 12, 2003
Tiger's roar drowns out children
The Alberta government got a little advice last month from one of its friends - The TD Bank Financial Group issued a report April 22 entitled The Calgary-Edmonton Corridor: Take Action Now to Ensure the Tiger's Roar Doesn't Fade.
The report was upbeat about Alberta's short-term economic prospects, but wary about what the middle-term future holds in stock for Canada's fourth largest urban economic region. The Calgary-Edmonton region has enormous potential to become "the most prosperous and best place to live in all of North America." But will it?
The economists saw six challenges to Alberta living up to its great economic potential. One challenge is that the province has one of the world's most highly-skilled workforces, but it is based, to a large degree, on importing highly educated people. Alberta has the lowest rate in Canada of high school students attending post-secondary education - only 43 per cent. The rest of Canada is subsidizing our workforce. As well, our rate of high school dropouts is above the national average.
Part of this is no doubt due to the abundance of jobs awaiting high school students in Alberta when they graduate. They can have their cake now without having to spend four more years in school and ending up, on average, $18,000 in debt. The problem is partly opportunities open to 18-year-olds and partly the result of a government that has so little interest in post-secondary education tuition fees have roughly doubled in the last 10 years while class sizes mushroomed.
But as Alberta parents know well, the problem is not just with post-secondary education - it is also with government underfunding of education from Headstart programs to Grade 12. About 10 years ago, the province set up school councils, supposedly so parents could be more involved in decisions involving the education of their children. Instead, school councils have become the fundraising arm of the school, running everything from nickel-and-dime fundraisers to casinos to equip the schools with allegedly non-essential items.
Another challenge pointed out in the TD Financial Group's report was that not all boats have been lifted equally on the rising tide of prosperity in the Calgary-Edmonton corridor. The rich are getting richer much faster than the poor are being lifted up. The resulting skyrocketing housing costs are leaving some out in the cold and homelessness has become an increasing problem.
Remember, it is the Tory government's friends who are making this analysis, not some suspect group of malcontents like political opposition parties or the WCR. Will this make any difference to whether the government takes the analysis seriously and takes action to create what the TD Financial Group said was possible - to make the Calgary-Edmonton corridor "the most prosperous and best place to live in all of North America?" Wait and see.
It surely points out the need for people to speak out and challenge government underfunding of education and the lack of affordable housing. It also points out the need to challenge such results of government policy as the Edmonton Catholic School Board's decision to close St. Patrick's School in the inner core of the city.
The hole in the middle of the doughnut of Edmonton Catholic Schools continues to get larger, a fact which is not undercut by the board's efforts to combine Sacred Heart and St. Michael elementary schools into the new Archbishop Romero School.
One could feel some sympathy for the plight of Edmonton Catholic trustees if they would publicly object to provincial policies which are forcing them to close inner-city schools - the area which most needs Catholic education.
But when the chair of the board says the decision to close St. Patrick's "sends a clear message to our government that we are prepared to work with them to get dollars to help upgrade our facilities," one can only conclude that the board is in agreement with the province's policies. The "clear message" we get from such statements is that the board sees the provincial government as its first constituency and the needs of inner-city students as secondary.
It is fine for the TD Bank Financial Group to make proposals to prevent "the tiger's roar" from fading. But unless we get a government that thinks more about the long-term future than about the next election, the tiger's roar will become a whimper.
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