We take the good with the bad this week June 14-20, 2021

This post originally appeared in my weekly newsletter, “The Missive” on Aug.15, 2021. Subscribe for free at: https://jodymacpherson.substack.com/ or access background info and special content with a paid subscription.

There was some good news this week, but there was also some bad news. Also, I have some personal news to share which is happy, but also makes me worried for the future. Let’s start with the good news.

On Thursday, June 17, a joint federal-provincial review denied Benga Mining’s application for an open-pit mine in the Rocky Mountains. The Mayor of the Crowsnest Pass, Blair Painter,  expressed shock over the decision. Or was it that he feigned shock? He must not have been paying attention if he was actually shocked.

Maybe he is surprised that having tens of thousands of Albertans opposed to something, thousands of dollars raised in opposition to it and dozens of high-profile scientists/experts arguing against it – might actually result in a project’s absolutely inadequate application being denied?

Who knows what Painter was thinking when he was interviewed in a lopsided story by CTV News. His response to the decision was that coal would have both been a return to the area’s “glory days” and also a chance to “diversify” its tax base. It can’t be both, Mr. Mayor. You’re either leaning in on an old way of doing things or you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. This project wouldn’t have been diversification by any stretch.

Meanwhile, High River’s Mayor, Craig Snodgrass, was interviewed for Okotoks Online and had this to say:

“It’s extremely good news and the reason is the way the report is written by the joint panel. They pretty much tear Benga’s application to shreds and they’ve exposed what I’ve always been calling snake oil, the snake oil that these guys have been selling, this panel exposes it all, on a much more detailed level, but it’s nice to see this joint panel has seen the reality of what these companies are trying to do and what the lasting effects of these projects could be.”

One long run-on sentence but true, nonetheless.

My favourite piece of writing on this was an article in The Tyee by Andrew Nikiforuk. Nikiforuk is a writer I’ve admired for a long time. I met him in the mid-2000’s when he came to the Okotoks Public Library to give a talk for a small group of environmental activists (myself included) opposed to the dismantling of the town’s sustainable Okotoks policy (sadly, we were not successful in that endeavour). He was kind and encouraging, with a great sense of humour. He inspired us to continue our fight, which was also about water, or the lack thereof, in the small town.

“The system only worked because it was dragged, kicking and screaming, into the real world by the people of Alberta. Unlike the Jason Kenney government, Albertans understand in a visceral way that water is the only true treasure in an arid land, and that mountain brooks quickly lose their song if we dig up all the rocks for coking coal to fuel steel mills.”

Our elected representatives are rarely the leaders, everyday Albertans are the ones who often know best. And it’s Albertans who will have to continue to lead them (at every level) to the proper conclusion because they’ve long ago lost their way. Subjected to all manner of lobbying and incentives from industry to do what’s best for corporations, they repeatedly make bad decisions that are not in the best interests of citizens.

Speaking of leadership, the many individuals and groups who worked very hard to fight coal approvals only took a brief pause to celebrate the Grassy Mountain decision. After that, they got back to work on the campaign against coal mining in the Rocky Mountains. There are still seven coal projects to oppose, including two in the popular Bighorn area, near Rocky Mountain House.

Residents in that area are known for being protective of their recreational pursuits. The NDP had to close consultations on conservation plans when tempers flared with the locals, and safety became a concern. Closing down or negatively impacting tourism and recreation in that area due to open-pit coal mines is not likely to be welcomed by the community.

“The county has been trying to develop the sustainable tourism industry for many years. The recent coal leases that were granted in December of 2020 are directly in some of the area’s most popular areas,” Marla Zapach, of Skadi Wilderness Adventures, told The Narwhal in February.

So, although the anti-coal organizers got at least a small boost this week, parents and a group of Albertans opposed to the UCP government’s planned new K-6 curriculum felt like they’d been kicked in the teeth.

The Alberta Teachers Association reported they had received a letter from Education Minister Adriana LaGrange doubling down on plans to proceed with the pilot of her dreadful draft curriculum this fall. This news came on the heels of her claims of being bullied by the teachers union.

“I am confident that once teachers begin engaging with the new curriculum, they will find exciting ways to convey this rich content to their students and to inspire in them a love of learning about our province and our world,” she wrote with an extra large dose of hubris.

To add insult to injury this week, the Edmonton Journal reported on Friday that LaGrange is putting the finishing touches on changes to the standards for special education in Alberta without consultation with parents.

The Minister is using a ministerial order to update the standards so they will not be subject to discussion or debate in the legislature. Parents of children with disabilities say they have lost faith in the government after seeing the way they handled changes to early learning programs and the draft curriculum.

“It affects our children and we had no way to know it was happening. We had no way to contribute and we will not have any way to stop it once it’s gone through,” said Sarah Doll, who has two children with disabilities.

Cam Tait, legendary journalist and author (who also happens to have cerebral palsy), wrote an editorial in the Edmonton Sun this weekend talking in glowing terms about his father for Father’s Day. However, he didn’t mince words about the Education Minister.

“The parents of disabled kids are some of the most mentally tough, most loving, most visionary and most unselfish people on the planet. The sacrifices they make for their children are most noble. For any group, especially government, to deny that experience and wisdom is fundamentally wrong.”

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The Facebook group Albertans Reject Curriculum Draft has now grown to more than 40,000 members and is finding the frustration amongst members difficult to manage. The group has been switched to private as moderators try to get a handle on the discussion. With accusations of racism and sexism running rampant throughout the curriculum, is it any wonder the conversation is challenging to moderate?

Meanwhile, Twitter dug up some old tweets from Jason Kenney and he could have benefitted from a good moderator. Kenney was praising the Dorchester Review, an openly racist publication run by Chris Champion, residential school genocide-denier and infamous author of the K-6 Social Studies Curriculum.

“An impt new voice that’ll ruffle some feathers, in a good way,” Kenney tweeted coyly in 2011.”

Champion is a man who, even after the remains of 215 children were found in Kamloops, disputes the devastating harm done by the Government of Canada when it created the residential school system. This week, the Dorchester Review ran a photo of Indigenous children on a play structure smiling and commented on how much fun they were having. The response on social media was swift and angry.

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So, on a personal note, I’m now extra concerned about the draft curriculum, both because my daughter-in-law is an elementary school teacher and now, because she gave birth to my first grandchild June 18 – a beautiful little boy! I don’t think I’ve ever seen my son happier (except maybe when he got married!).

And I am overjoyed at the arrival of my grandson, which the wise Judy Hehr told me is “life beginning again,” an apt way to think about becoming a grandparent.

What a momentous time it is for education in Alberta when you consider what is at stake. We can try to give this next generation of children the best possible post-pandemic chance at success if we listen to teachers, parents and experts in curriculum development. Or we can go forward with this absolute garbage curriculum created by unscrupulous operatives in secret and in haste. We all know what the right thing to do is.

To wrap up, here’s a video about children and grandchildren…and as I watched this, I couldn’t help but picture all of the Indigenous children torn from the arms of their parents and grandparents, only to never be heard of or seen again. This happened mostly due to the Chris Champions of the world – the casual racists and cold-hearted ideologues – as smug in their white supremacy then, as he is now. He’s tainted the entire curriculum with his involvement and it must be tossed out.

What a massive error in judgement by Jason Kenney and the UCP government. One of many, I’m afraid.

Jody MacPherson is a professional communicator, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and recently became a grandparent for the first time!

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