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October 7, 2014 - No. 81

Monopoly Right No! Public Right Yes!

Oppose the Alberta Government's Neo-Liberal Agenda of
"Environmental Leadership"


Monopoly Right No! Public Right Yes!
Oppose the Alberta Government's Neo-Liberal Agenda of "Environmental Leadership" - Peggy Morton
Environmental Regulations and the United States of North American Monopolies

Education Is a Right! Increase Investments in Alberta's Public Education!
Oppose Continuing Tory Attacks on Post-Secondary Education - Dougal MacDonald 
Restructuring of Post-Secondary Education
Prentice Government Toys with the Basics - Kevan Hunter


Monopoly Right No! Public Right Yes!

Oppose the Alberta Government's Neo-Liberal Agenda of "Environmental Leadership"

"Alberta needs to be an environmental leader," said Alberta Premier Jim Prentice in a September 2014 interview in Calgary. "We got off our game there many years ago and it's going to take considerable effort and leadership to get back on." This statement echoes remarks made by Prentice when he was Environment Minister in Harper's Cabinet (2008-2010).

In 2010, Prentice stated, "I think there's been substantial progress made, but I think as events have unfolded, both in the United States on Keystone and on other issues, it highlights how important it is that Canada be not only a producer of energy, but an environmentally responsible producer of energy. That has to be the space that we occupy."

Mother Earth is the source of all material needed to survive and the source of everything human beings transform into useful products. Human beings with the power and control to take decisions consciously and to implement those decisions responsibly would certainly recognize their duty to protect Mother Earth. But working people are not in control of the decisions that affect their lives and the natural and social environment. The monopolies call the shots and have usurped decision-making power to serve their own narrow private interests. In Alberta, the mostly foreign energy monopolies control decision-making; their prime motivation is to make as much money as possible in the shortest time. Their motivation is not to look after the well-being of the people or Mother Earth. They pay lip service to those two issues with policy objectives and demand they not interfere with their capital-centred objective to make money.

Not only are governments not standing up to the monopolies, the private monopoly interests have seized direct control of governments. The Harper government, Alberta government and others may talk about being "environmentally responsible producers of energy" but in practice, they are shredding environmental legislation, regulations and research. They gag scientists, shut down important scientific research, attack the rights of First Nations to decide what development can and cannot take place on their territories, and declare whatever suits the energy monopolies as the national interest, which the people must accept without opposition.

Prentice has been installed as Premier to integrate Alberta and Canada further into the United States of North American Monopolies. This alienates Canadians from their right to decide issues that affect their lives. Even the limited participation of Canadians in regulatory hearings is considered too much of an irritant to monopoly right to be permitted. In this regard, the Alberta government has been going all-out to deny standing to opposition forces and prevent citizens from participating in regulatory hearings.

Prentice advocates "environmental leadership" to the extent that it opens markets to bitumen and finds markets for natural gas and other raw resources. Importantly, his role in politics is to make disappear or at least pacify any resistance to monopoly right. Already the monopoly media speak of Prentice as someone environmentalists can "talk to," who has credentials when it comes to the environment, and who understands First Nations' concerns. In other words, the people are to believe that he is not a Harper clone who says "my way or the highway." Everyone can be in Prentice's big tent so long as they accept the premise that the private interests who have sidelined the public authority and are exercising direct rule can and will continue to have their way.

Will this "environmental leadership" put the brakes on the frenzied expansion of the oil sands? Quite the opposite, Prentice has declared that building pipelines to ship the raw bitumen to market is a national imperative. Prentice says ripping and shipping more and more bitumen is necessary to achieve the target of doubling the level of production arrived at in the past 50 years by 2022, in just eight years.

An alternative, to upgrade and refine existing production and develop a socially responsible petrochemical industry using the feedstock is rejected in favour of making a short-sighted big score now.

In the name of high ideals of "environmental leadership," Prentice aims to divert Canadians and First Nations from setting their own agenda. In opposition, the working people and their allies by sticking to their own aims and fighting to defend the rights of all, including Mother Earth herself, and seizing control over how her bounty is distributed, can give rise to a human-centred alternative.

All decisions affecting the land, work, resources, well-being and future of Albertans are and must be public decisions based on serving the public interest. Monopoly right no! Public right yes!

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Environmental Regulations and the United States of North American Monopolies

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice was previously the Senior Vice-President of CIBC from 2010-2014. In his role as bank executive, Prentice played a very active role in speaking about the need for regulatory change. While promoting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the U.S., he also repeatedly stated that the pipeline has become a distraction from a broader agenda necessary to secure markets for Canadian oil and gas.

Prentice said last January, "The United States needs to reflect on the purpose and the importance of the Canada-U.S. Free Trade relationship, and recognize all it has achieved -- and can continue to achieve -- for both countries. Canada, meanwhile, needs to provide the United States with a clearer picture of where it is headed on issues related to the environment and climate change."[1]

Prentice suggests that U.S. President Barack Obama is playing the protectionist card, the other side of the free trade coin when it comes to Keystone XL. The environmental impact of Keystone XL is only a convenient cover for Obama. So Canada must be seen to be taking action to curb pollution caused by the oil sands because such posturing is necessary to expand the U.S. market for bitumen.

The FTA and subsequent free trade agreements have tightened the stranglehold of monopoly capital over Canada's political and economic life. Both monopoly-controlled free trade and protectionism serve the most powerful private interests. Trade is conducted by and for monopolies to serve their narrow private interests in competition with other monopolies. Free trade and protectionism are both under the control of the monopolies and stand in opposition to sovereign state to state trade for mutual benefit and development under the control of a public authority.

Regulatory Continentalism in the Service of the Monopolies

Prentice is an agent of the drive to step up the nation-wrecking agenda and to forge ahead with complete North American regulatory integration. He said, "Using [common passenger car and truck fuel consumption standards] as a foundation, we need to continue to pursue a full continental harmonization of the transportation grid and bring continental standards to the heavy truck, rail and aviation industries."

All "sub-national standards" -- i.e. state, provincial and municipal standards -- are to be eliminated, as are national standards. All are to be replaced with continent wide regulations and standards. Prentice does not rule out some form of "price on carbon" (i.e., a way for industry to commodify and trade in carbon dioxide emissions, ostensibly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions) so long as it is harmonized across North America. He also advocates a low carbon fuel standard to be applied to every barrel of oil produced in North America.

These proposals are part of the agenda of the annexation of Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies. Canadians are to be deprived of all sovereign decision-making power when it comes to regulating energy extraction, production and distribution or any other aspect of the sector.

The annexation of Canada into the United States of North American Monopolies means that Canadians are denied their sovereign right to control the direction of the socialized economy, including international trade, and deprived of their right to exercise authority over their political institutions. Any remaining ability to regulate the monopolies through local, provincial or federal regulations and laws would be smashed. The people are right to demand where this is heading. Will it mean banning the right of any public authority in Canada including provincial governments from saying No! to fracking? Will it entail taking away the right to enforce safety on the railways and prevent another tragedy like Lac-Mégantic? What Harper and Prentice call nation-building is nation-wrecking. It must not pass!

Nation-building stands in opposition to monopoly right and the dictatorship of the owners of capital and their governments. It means saving the basic sectors of the economy from monopoly wrecking and providing a new human-centred direction, which restricts the monopolies and serves the working people and the public interest, and humanizes the social and natural environment.

Given our shared border, the U.S. will always be a major trading partner of Canada, but harmonization of regulations cannot be done on the basis of subservience to U.S. imperial interests and those of the biggest private monopolies. Harmonization of regulations can only be acceptable as part of trade for mutual benefit that affirms the sovereignty of all countries and ensures the people's well-being.

Nation-building requires a socially responsible self-reliant economy with manufacturing as its base and publicly-controlled trade for mutual benefit and development of the state to state trading partners. Nation-building upholds the nation-to-nation relationship with First nations and the right of the Canadian people and First Nations to ownership and control of their natural resources and their responsible development. Nation-building recognizes the right of the Canadian people to set a new human-centred direction for the socialized economy and to be a factor for peace in the world by demanding that international problems be sorted out without violence. A sovereign Canadian nation would immediately remove the country from NATO and end all military agreements with the U.S. war machine and its constant predatory wars.

Note

1. Jim Prentice, Senior Executive Vice-President and Vice Chairman, CIBC, speaking to the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, January 9, 2014.

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Education Is a Right! Increase Investments in Alberta's Public Education!

Oppose Continuing Tory Attacks on
Post-Secondary Education

On September 17, Don Scott, Alberta's new Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education (post-secondary education), reiterated Premier Jim Prentice's previous promise to restore the funding for post-secondary education that was slashed in the March 2013 budget. The savage cuts were fraudulently justified on the basis that the province had to request $4 billion less in revenue from the energy companies due to their supposed difficulties in making profits.

Prentice made his education funding promise at an August 20 Alberta Tory leadership race forum in Edmonton. He did not identify a target amount nor did he address that the universities, colleges and technical institutes have been underfunded for decades. Aside from keeping in mind the long Tory history of routinely breaking their promises to the people, what should people make of these latest promises? The question is especially pertinent in light of Prentice's September 15 "mandate letter" to Advanced Education Minister Scott, which demands adherence to "sound conservative fiscal principles" and alignment with corporate needs.

Following well-established Tory policy, Prentice's selection of Minister Scott on September 5, to replace the resigning Dave Hancock ignores appointing anyone to represent post-secondary education who has actual experience in teaching, research, and serving the public re higher education. Scott, a lawyer, was elected in 2012 as the MLA for the newly-created far northeast riding of Fort McMurray-Conklin, winning by only 470 votes. Scott also serves as Deputy Government House Leader and previously served as Associate Minister of Accountability, Transparency and Transformation, an area of governance highly criticized during the previous Redford regime. During his graduate studies at Cambridge University, England, in the late 1990s, Scott served as an assistant solicitor with the Bloody Sunday Inquiry into the 1972 killing of 13 civilians by British soldiers in Derry, Ireland. The inquiry report followed traditional lines: blame those at the bottom, protect those at the top of the hierarchy, prosecute no one, and leave policy and practice unchanged.

Prior to the March 2013 budget cuts, the Alberta Tories promised a two per cent increase to post-secondary funding even though the post-secondary education institutions (PSEs) required a four per cent minimum increase. Instead, the government announced a seven per cent decrease in the form of a $147 million cut to the operating budgets of Alberta's 26 universities, colleges, and technical institutes, a de facto cut of 11 per cent.

Also heavily cut, although less publicized, were PSE maintenance budgets, even though every PSE in Alberta has a major backlog of incomplete maintenance projects. Then on November 6, 2013, the Tories "returned" $50 million in funding to the PSEs, stating that this token gesture heralded a new era of collaboration between the government and the PSEs. The broad opposition of students, staff, and their allies to the original March cuts obviously played an important role in forcing the government to reduce the cut. In the March 2014 budget, the Tories restored a mere $32.5 million to the PSEs, still leaving them more than $100 million short of what the Tories promised them in 2013.

Since March 2013, the Tory budget cuts, following as they did on previous chronic underfunding, have greatly damaged the educational programs provided by the universities, colleges, and technical institutes. A number of PSE administrations have laid off staff, bullied older experienced staff into accepting severance packages, cut staff wages, pressured academic and non-academic workers to reopen their collective agreements for concessions to be introduced, eliminated important programs and courses, and reduced student access by raising entry requirements and offering fewer classes.

One group hard hit by the internal cuts was contract academic teaching staff, commonly known as sessionals. Sessionals teach a high percentage of courses at many PSEs, however, the vast majority of them are part-time, have no job security, must sign new contracts every term and are seldom considered for full-time positions. When "fiscal austerity" is arbitrarily declared, sessionals are one of the first and most vulnerable groups to be attacked under the hoax of "saving money."

For all Scott and Prentice's recent promises, no reason exists to believe that the Prentice regime will make major changes to the retrogressive direction of post-secondary education in Alberta, which has been entrenched by previous Tory governments. Rather than guaranteeing the right to education, the Prentice regime will continue to guarantee monopoly right and to turn the PSEs more and more into the direct handservants of the private monopolies, especially the energy monopolies that rule Alberta.

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Restructuring of Post-Secondary Education

Alberta's post-secondary education system is being more and more restructured to serve the monopolies, for example, by expanding business programs that promote nation-wrecking and incoherence, by promoting ideologues of imperialist doctrines such as "responsibility to protect," and by directing research towards areas demanded by the monopolies, such as oil sands technology at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary.

Rather than increasing investments in public education to serve the public good, the Tory government and its neo-liberal counterparts across Canada have declared that the monopolies, which are the main benefactors of post-secondary education in terms of a constant supply of well-trained workers and access to publicly-funded research, should be released from any responsibility to pay for the education value they consume. The code for this in Premier Prentice's recent mandate letter to Minister of Innovation and Advanced Industry Don Scott is the call for "long-term stable and predictable funding." The Alberta post-secondary educational institutions (PSEs) should expect less and less payment in return for the educational value they produce, in particular from the "unstable" non-renewable resource industry. This "unstable" budget category for education revenue in plain language means less money coming from the value the monopolies routinely plunder from Alberta's resources, less money from them in exchange for the educational value they consume. The monopolies want the state to provide them with educated youth and research for far less than their price of production.

Instead of exchange-value for what they produce, the PSEs are commanded to generate other more "stable" revenue. They are denied revenue in direct exchange with the monopolies for educational value. Other dubious means of "stable" revenue are suggested, which more or less are attacks on public education, such as commercialization of publicly-funded research, ever-rising student fees, private donations (usually with strings attached), alliances with private business interests, leasing of university-owned lands to private developers, as the University of Alberta Board of Governors recently did with "the establishment of a land trust" etc. It has even been suggested that every individual faculty and department should become a profit-making enterprise to prove its worth but with no right to charge directly those monopolies that consume the education value the PSEs produce.

Education Is a Right!

In any modern society, the right to education should be provided with a guarantee. "Education is a right" resonates with everyone except the monopolies and their agents. Since people have rights by virtue of being human, then "fiscal austerity" or whatever excuse the ruling circles dream up can never be a reason to deprive people of their rights. Rights, including the right to education, must be guaranteed under all circumstances.

Albertans should unite in action to defend the right to education and to demand that the Prentice regime provide the right to education with a guarantee and greatly increase funding to public education at all levels. At this time, this requires that the monopolies, which consume a huge proportion of public education value, must pay directly for that value. The monopolies must directly exchange the value their workers produce for the education value they consume. This exchange-value should go directly to the Ministry of Education for distribution amongst the PSEs and other public education institutions.

A basic requirement of any modern society is to guarantee the right to education. The right to education needs to be enshrined in provincial legislation and the Canadian Constitution. Legislation guaranteeing education as a right with constantly increased investments in public education is a key demand of the people of Alberta.

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Prentice Government Toys with the Basics

As part of Premier Jim Prentice's fraudulent "reset," a new Minister of Education has been appointed. The previous Minister, Jeff Johnson, lost all credibility after consistently attacking the rights of teachers and education workers in the K-12 education system. Under Johnson, the Ministry violated the privacy rights of teachers by using their emails to communicate a message from the Education Minister directly to teachers, in an attempt to sideline their organization, the Alberta Teachers' Association. The Minister manufactured a so-called "crisis" by constantly interfering in collective bargaining, and then used that "crisis" to legislate teachers' wages and working conditions. Finally, Johnson's phony Task Force on Teaching Excellence was hand-picked to ensure that it would advocate for further attacks on teachers' collective organization.

The new Minister of Education, Gordon Dirks, is a former teacher, school principal, and was chair of the Calgary Board of Education Board of Trustees. He is an evangelical pastor and has held positions at private religious colleges. He was Assistant Deputy Minister of Family and Social Services under Stockwell Day in the 1990s. He was unelected at the time of appointment and is seeking election in Calgary-Elbow, which was previously held by Alison Redford.

The new Premier of Alberta, Jim Prentice, issued mandate letters on September 15, the day that he was sworn in and cabinet was reshuffled.

The mandate letter Dirks was issued states that the Minister must, "Develop a strategy for higher student achievement in a world class education system that includes: coherent grading acceptable to Albertans, the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic), and incorporates 21st century competencies such as innovation, communication and critical thinking that are applied in all subjects;" and repeating this as a religious doctrine, "Revisit curriculum changes to ensure that the Alberta school curriculum includes coherent grading acceptable to Albertans, the basics (reading, writing, arithmetic) and incorporates the 21st century competencies."

For the past nine months, the Wildrose Party has been organizing opposition to inquiry-based learning methods, which both Alberta Education and the Alberta Teachers' Association support.[1] Much of the Wildrose opposition to inquiry-based learning is based on disinformation and absurd and wild accusations, for example, that teachers are not allowed to teach children the multiplication table. In ordering the Education Minister to implement a "back to basics" approach, Prentice is simply pandering to the Wildrose in an attempt to disarm it.

Many in education would agree that curriculum changes have been and are presently taking place without sufficient consultation. In all of this, the voice of parents and the entire society is necessary. The polity needs solid information on which to have a discussion. Teachers, students, parents and society need an informed inquiry as to what is needed to improve education, which relies on the profound knowledge, skills and experience of educators to guide the discussion. Instead, silly catch-phrases are introduced in a game of political football between two parties of the oil monopolies contending for power. The football, in this case is students, their parents, teachers, education workers, the broader society and Canada's economy, which needs a strong public education system. How outrageous that the Conservatives and Wildrose would toy with children's lives for partisan gain!

Meanwhile, private and charter schools will continue to teach as they see fit, be it through inquiry-based learning, rote learning and drills or whatever they decide in private.

The use of publicly issued mandate letters claims to be in the service of accountability. In reality, the aim of this game of political football is to divert people from their own agenda of strengthening public education.

The irony of Prentice speaking of going back to the basics is however not lost on teachers, students, parents and society. When did having a proper school, owned and controlled by a public authority cease to be part of the basics? If the government is so keen on basics, then it can begin with building proper schools, owned and controlled by the public authority. It can put an end to overcrowded classrooms, make sure that no child goes to school hungry, and provide teachers with the resources they need to teach. It can make sure that changes in curriculum are introduced with wide consultation and the resources required for successful implementation. It can stop wrecking the public education system on which society depends.

Note

1. The website of Alberta Education states that, "Inquiry-based learning is a complex process where students formulate questions, investigate to find answers, build new understandings, meanings and knowledge, and then communicate their learnings to others.  In classrooms where teachers emphasize inquiry-based learning, students are actively involved in solving authentic (real-life) problems within the context of the curriculum and/or community."

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