Ralph Klein has gone and it is time to retire Ralph's World. Thanks to all of you who have supported this venture by contributing material and through your comments. It has been fun.

Should we get another blog underway? Let me know your thoughts by e-mailing me at johnnyslow@gmail.com.

John Slow
January 1, 2007

Saturday, February 28, 2004


This presentation was given by Brian Staples, Chair of the Seniors Action and Liaison Team (SALT) to the Government MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation at its hearing in Edmonton on Friday, February 27, 2004.

There are many things we could do to strengthen our role in Confederation, such as emphasizing the “progressive” side of our Progressive Conservative Government. This would mean we would be in the forefront of advancing, rather than resisting, such Canadian initiatives as public health care, Kyoto, the Wheat Board, and the firearms registry. There are three salient things we can and should do as a priority. Having successfully accomplished these initiatives, we would astound our fellow citizens in our country, and be a powerful role model for all other Canadian governments in advancing an equitable, just, sustainable and civil society. We would also set an example for the world.

1. Alberta as a Learning and Participatory Province. In 1970, Alberta had the lowest rate of community based learning in Canada, tied with Newfoundland at ten percent. Two initiatives were undertaken by the Province to attempt to change that. The first was the implementation of the Alberta Further Education Policy, which established eighty-two interagency Further Education Councils across Alberta. The second was the creation of the Alberta Interdepartmental Community School Programme. The result of this was the establishment of sixty-six Designated Community Schools in the province. These schools became community learning and participation centres in their communities. In some cases, community based learning rates increased ten fold in the community school catchment areas. This was accomplished even though Further Education Councils was already operating in many of the school catchment areas.

By 1984, a Statistics Canada study indicated Alberta had the highest rate of community based learning in Canada. The Canadian Association for Adult Education declared Alberta “Canada’s Learning Province.” The OECD carried out a study in 1992 to determine the best learning cities in the world. Seven were identified. They were Gothenburg, Vienna, Bologna, Pittsburgh, Adelaide, Kakagawa, and…Edmonton.

Both of these programmes had limited funding on their establishment. Each had a budget of about two million dollars annually. Even at that, they proved a success. The goal of the programmes was to get to a twenty-five percent participation rate in community based learning in Alberta. This was achieved in 1984, but that success was relative. The model country in the world for community based learning at the time we began to develop these programmes in 1970 was Sweden. They had a participation rate in community based learning of twenty-five percent. By 1984, the rate in Sweden had grown to fifty percent, while we achieved twenty-five. Since 1992, Alberta’s rate has declined by about twenty percent. The Community school programme was eliminated in 1993, and the Further Education Council Programme is a pale shadow of itself.

We need Alberta and Canada to be models of learning and participatory societies. This has economic, ecological, health and fitness, poverty, social, and many other benefits. An educated and learning population better understands the complexity of issues facing a society. Such a society can also devise more elegant resolutions of those issues.

Both of these programmes utilized existing institutions, were very economical and generated a very high rate of return on investment. They are both highly desirable and highly feasible.

2. Alberta as a Democratic Super Force. There is a growing concern in our country and province that people have given up on the political process. Voter turnouts at each level of governance are falling and approaching the 50% mark. Young people seem particularly disinterested, and their voting rate is markedly lower than for seniors. There is a serious need for action on the breakdown of meaningful democracy in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada.

There is a surprising initiative in governmental renewal in British Columbia. The Province of British Columbia has set up a Citizens’ Assembly on Election Reform. One hundred sixty citizens (half women, half men) from across BC have been selected at random to be in the Assembly. Two come from each riding, and there are two ensuring representation from native people.

Starting in January, the Assembly is studing electoral reform, i.e., different forms of voting systems. Later they will get input from BC citizens. Then they will write a report, due in December, 2004. Their findings will be put to a binding referendum in 2005, during their May election. If passed, the new arrangement will come into force in 2009. Sadly, the BC initiative does not address the critical financing of public governance.

It is very strange and highly ironic that, around the world, in nearly all democracies, government, supposedly to be for, by and of the people, is financed largely by the wealthy, and by corporate and business interests. We need to change this at all levels of government, everywhere in Canada. Provincially, Alberta must join Canada in adding to Mr. Chretien’s initiative to publicly finance Federal public governance. We can, and must make our Province a shinning example of a publicly financed, democratic super force.

3. Alberta as an Ecological Marvel. We are destroying our own nest, our planet, by pollution. The greatest threat to our survival as a species is global warming. Most of the damage is coming from the burning of hydrocarbons. Alberta has more hydrocarbons than possibly any other place on the planet. Certainly, on a per capita basis, we burn more hydrocarbons than any other place on the planet. Bear in mind there is a direct correlation between energy use and standard of living. What, then, must we do if we wish to keep some semblance of our standard of living?

We simply must stop burning hydrocarbons. Fortunately, Alberta has two of the best wind energy generation sites in the world at Pincher and Waterton. In fact, the whole southern one-third of the province is highly suited to energy production from the wind day and night, year round.

We need to have our provincial government invest every cent of our hydrocarbon wealth it can possibly find or generate into energy conservation and the new gearless wind turbines. We need to erect tens of thousands of them. We need to become a world leader in generating electricity from wind energy. We need to become a world leader in wind turbine manufacture. We need to become a world leader in storing wind generated energy. The most desirable and feasible way of doing that is through compressing air. Compressed air is portable and does not freeze at ambient temperatures. We need to become a world leader in storage, transport and utilization of compressed air as an energy source. And we need to become a world leader in developing transportation vehicles using compressed air. We need only to look to France where they have developed an auto that runs on compressed air. Interestingly enough, the engine of such a car also provides heating and air conditioning from the very process of operating. How elegant is that? If the air is compressed through wind energy, such modes of transport produce zero pollution.

Conclusion. With the huge economic advantage we would gain from being a world leader as a learning and participatory society, in democratic reform, and in non-polluting energy production and conservation, we can tackle all sorts of social, ecological and economic problems that cry out for attention.

Each of the above initiatives is essential, desirable and feasible! And, because we have been endowed with such wealth, we have an ethical responsibility to our younger generations and to the world to set an example in demonstrating that these things can be done.

Brian Staples, SALT Chair

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