Serious question: How long before Alberta’s United Conservative Party Government tries to ban mask wearing in schools, period?
After all, nothing triggers an anti-vaccine snowflake like the sight of an adult wearing a COVID mask, unless it’s the sight of a child wearing one.
And surely by now we understand we’re all responsible for ensuring those who fly apart at the sight of a paper mask can feel good about themselves again!
Am I being sarcastic? Frankly, I can hardly tell any more.
Yesterday, Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange banned school mask mandates and changed the rules to ensure that no school can move Grade 1 to 12 classes completely online, no matter how many students are sick, or how sick they are.
Last month, an Alberta Court of King’s Bench judge found Ms. LaGrange overstepped her authority when she ordered school boards not to try to set their own mask mandates.
Well, this fixes that. That’ll teach parents not to go to court to try to protect their immunocompromised children!
It may not seem very sensible to ban mask mandates and online learning at a time when many classes are reported to be more than half empty with students sick with the three respiratory illnesses that are slamming Alberta at once – COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus.
But who said the UCP had to be sensible, especially now that a right-wing talk radio host with a fondness for quack COVID cures is calling the shots and the governing party is in the hands of a cadre of anti-vaccine, anti-mask militants called Take Back Alberta?
“Securing a face-to-face classroom environment means students can continue to learn successfully while allowing their parents to go to work,” Ms. LaGrange said in a news release.
“It will also help to maintain and improve student mental health while minimizing student learning loss,” she added, a questionable point on both counts.
It’s all very well for Ms. LaGrange to sign a letter to parents claiming she’s trying to protect students’ health by requiring schools to remain open without mask requirements no matter what, but what happens if the anti-maskers aren’t satisfied with that?
Up to now she and Premier Danielle Smith have indicated it’s OK to send your kids to school in masks if you wish to – or, if you’re silly enough to want to keep them safe, the Smith Government’s messaging seems to imply.
“Families are free to make their own personal health decisions, and, no matter what that decision is, it will be supported by Alberta’s education system,” Ms. Smith promised in yesterday’s press release.
But with the Occupation Convoy talking about heading back to Ottawa, you have to wonder how long it will be before our education minister is seriously considering banning masks in school altogether, because freedom!
According to Sarah Hoffman, the former minister of health and the NDP Opposition’s education critic in the Legislature, “it’s clear that Adriana LaGrange and Danielle Smith don’t have a clue about what’s happening in Alberta schools.”
“The UCP is asking school staff and families to take on more chaos and stress while the current government underspent the education budget by $1 billion over the past two years,” she added. “It is totally unrealistic to expect that school districts can staff in-person and online classes simultaneously with no additional resources. They are struggling to staff schools already given UCP cuts in the last budget.”
However, it’s unlikely the problem is that the education minister and the premier don’t understand what’s happening in the schools. More likely they just don’t care.
Alberta is being run a group of people who apparently think COVID is a fake disease, and may be starting to imagine influenza is too.
Needless to say, this is not a healthy state of affairs.
2nd-quarter fiscal update: Cue the slide whistles!
Uh oh! Cue the slide whistles!
Alberta continues to roll in enough cash to bankroll Premier Smith’s vote-buying campaign for now, but according to the province’s second-quarter fiscal update yesterday, “high inflation, rising interest rates and geopolitical unrest are slowing global economic activity,” and, always the clincher in Alberta, “oil prices have softened.”
OK, they’ve remained robust, Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news conference, and the projected windfall surplus is still $12.3 billion, down close to a billion from the first-quarter prediction.
But those of us who have been in Alberta for a long time know it doesn’t take much for Alberta Conservatives to go from telling us it’s the best of times, to telling us it’s the worst of times, the spring of spending, the winter of austerity.
As for the Kenney Government’s promise to put $1.7 billion into the Heritage Fund, that’s off already.
“This sort of ad-hoc, frantic approach is not good for the long-term fiscal sustainability of Alberta’s balance sheet,” said NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips.
But since when did Alberta do things any other way? Other than between 2015 and 2019, I suppose you could argue.
We’re a distinct society, after all, aren’t we? Ad-hoc, frantic spending and cutting is our unique cultural character. Mr. Toews is just setting us up for the same old, same old.