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November 20, 2017
October 23, 2017

Edmonton Headlines: Monday, October 23, 2017

Taxation without representation

Written by Jeff Samsonow

image: Michael Janz

With the municipal elections behind us, the work of city council and school boards will start up again. But before we even get to the first agendas, the push against Catholic schools begins too. 

While there was quite a bit of news last year on the campaign to stop using public education dollars to fund private schools, there were growing questions around Alberta’s two public school systems too. (And the private school debate will continue too.)

This returns just days after the elections, centred on who we get to vote for. If you voted last week you know that you only got to vote for a trustee for either the Public or Catholic school board, even though you have a local representative in both and your education tax dollars pay for both

It was weird that the people at the polling station made you choose, right? You pay for both school boards, your kids can go to schools in either of them, but you only get to vote for one. 

While there are also issues around the cost of building new schools, sharing school buildings and resources (and whether there’s drain on public money created by duplication of services) I really like framing this issue around the vote.

It doesn’t make this about which school board is better, or if we need both, or if we’re actually spending more than we could with just one public school system. It’s about making sure that people represented by local politicians get to elect those politicians. 

It used to be that deciding which school board you voted for meant it would get some of your tax dollars along with your vote. That hasn’t been the case for a generation. All of the education dollars are pooled together and handed out according to the number of students attending a school. It’s got nothing to do with who you get to vote for or any perceived support for a separate school system. (If it did, Edmonton Catholic schools would see their budgets drop dramatically because most people support the Edmonton Public School Board.)

Everyone will surely agree we should get to vote for our local representatives, right?

I doubt it. 

One thing that might hang this up is a Saskatchewan court case which challenges whether the government can fund non-Catholic students attending Catholic schools. It has major ramifications for Alberta, since our school systems are pretty similar to those of our neighbour to the east. Some people are going to want to see how that plays out before pushing for change here (and sparking more court battles).

The other reason I think it’s a more difficult fight than it seems is that the Catholic school system will face tremendous pressure to run itself in more secular ways if its trustees are elected by the wider population (which may not always be secular, but is likely not always majority Catholic). Catholic schools have struggled with LGBTQ policies, for example and would face more scrutiny if its electorate was not solely faith-based.

A former Edmonton Catholic School District trustee has recently been questioning the role of the Archdiocese in school board administration. If this kind of interference is accurate, it would make for even more clashes with a voting base demanding secular decision-making and policies. This kind of change would diminish the role of the church in schools and is not likely one to be accepted with a fight. 

If you do want to vote for both of your school boards, however, Edmonton Public School Board trustee Michael Janz is asking people to let him know they want the vote.


Me Too in Edmonton

As we’re seeing in other cities, Edmonton’s movie and arts scenes are not exempt from sexual harassment and sexism (and likely sexual assault). 

Our arts community’s dark corners are starting to be exposed as part of the reaction to a major Hollywood film producer’s sexual assaults. This case also sparked the “me too” posts you have probably seen across your social media channels. Along with women laying bare some of their most painful moments, this campaign is naming names publicly. That’s something we obviously need.

Edmonton is a big arts and theatre town, so we will not be immune to the kinds of conversations – and the naming of names – we’re seeing in a lot of places right now. Of course, the arts world is just one industry where harassment and assaults are still too prevalent. 


Business news

Edmonton is one of the many, many cities pitching Amazon to be home to HQ2, a second headquarters for the tech giant. We don’t know much about Edmonton’s pitch, except that it includes government, business, non-profit and post-secondary efforts (and potentially inducements). 

If Edmonton doesn’t win the bid, we deserve to see what was part of the pitch. I suspect many local businesses and entrepreneurs would probably want to as well. Amazon could bring major investment to a city, but there are some drawbacks to such a major employer sucking up so much air, and it would be important to see if anything being offered could be of value to businesses we have here now.

Oh, hey, we don’t need Amazon anymore, our downtown office vacancy rate moved down 0.2% for the first drop in five years.

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Edmonton’s got its first medical marijuana facility. This is, of course, an industry set to boom alongside recreational marijuana. 

Not only are Edmonton’s new bike lanes helping people get around by their preferred mode of transportation, it’s helping at least one new business


Around the city

One of the major decisions for our new city council will be the redevelopment of Northlands. The arena is closing, the horse racing is leaving and other than a convention centre and K-Days in the summer, there’s not really any idea what’s going on with the site. What happens has big implications for people who live in the neighbourhoods around the site

Edmonton Police will have emergency access to people’s MedicAlert patient information if they disappear. This is particularly for people who have autism, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, a cognitive brain injury or other diseases or injuries that may lead to wandering or the need to be found quickly. 

The Kay family has one of the country’s rare father-son duos with Order of Canada recognition. This is a science family!

Deadmonton Haunted House is not only a terrifying Halloween event in downtown Edmonton, it’s also part of a spooky sound study.

Edmontonians stepped up and have helped fundraise a headstone for the grave of artist Sterling Gauthier. (After this story ran on CBC the gofundme passed its goal to pay for the headstone.)  

You will be forgiven for forgetting that there’s another election today, to replace Sturgeon River-Parkland MP Rona Ambrose. If you live west of the city in that riding, you can obviously vote today. 


Public engagement

Edmonton City Hall. photo: Dean Smith (Creative Commons)

All of our newly-elected politicians will be sworn into office before starting their brief orientation schedules and jumping into regular duties. City council will have a swearing-in ceremony on Tuesday, 1:30 – 3 p.m., followed by a quick council meeting where they handle a few administrative items like committee appointments and a meeting calendar. 

The Edmonton Public School Board’s trustees are sworn-in on Tuesday as well and follow that up with an actual board meeting. A couple of the items the new board will discuss are beginning the work on how to re-name schools (which has become an issue when considering some of Edmonton’s past heroes in a modern light) and protecting LGBTQ students and those taking part in gay-straight alliances (GSAs), which is a returning motion that became a big election issue. 

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