Saturday, November 22, 2014

Troubled Water: Homeopathy, Ebola and the Oceans

Two incidents in the last ten days draw attention to the real problems with homeopathy.

The first is the claim by some that homeopathy can cure Ebola. Really.  It is claimed that, just as homeopathy can reverse HIV-AIDS, so it can be mobilized to find a cure for Ebola.  The Amma Resonance Healing Foundation in Ethiopia, established in the Netherlands, is run by the British homeopath Peter Chappell. He and his colleague Harry van der Zee claim their homeopathic remedy can reverse Aids and they are part of a group of homeopaths who seek to cure Ebola:

“The good news is that a small international team of experienced and heroic homeopaths have arrived in West Africa, and are currently on the ground working hard to examine patients, work out the “genus epidemicus,” and initiate clinical trials. This work is being done alongside the current conventional supportive measures and treatments already in place. “

This follows other claims about the power of homeopathy in offering cures for malaria, diphtheria, cholera and hepatitis as well as other diseases.  Homeopaths without Borders are on the ground and working – best of luck with this effort!

High-quality scientific studies show that homeopathy does not work for any particular medical condition. This position is even held by the National Center of Alternative and Complementary Medicine (NCCAM), an organization that has been given substantial criticism for being too friendly to quack treatments. Not only that, homeopathy is incompatible with core principles of chemistry and biology: the preparations are diluted to such a degree that there are, statistically speaking, no active molecule of the diluted substance whatsoever. In other words, treating Ebola virus disease with homeopathy is equivalent to treating it with water or sugar pills.

The second incident was the call to action by one of the leading homeopaths in the world to cure the ills of the oceans.  British homeopath Grace DaSilva-Hill has written to appeal to other homeopaths to drop some homeopathic remedies into the sea. She tells homeopaths that those not close to the sea can instead drop their remedies into a river. If even this is too challenging, then Grace advises homeopaths that they can flush their homeopathic remedies down the toilet. The remedy that is to be used today is called Leuticum – a homeopathic preparation of the syphilis bacterium. The aim of this exercise: to heal the oceans.


If these two examples do not demonstrate that homeopaths are not only very odd but dangerous, then I do not know what it will take to convince you that they are. There is overwhelming evidence that homeopathy is quackery. Why do we license it in Canada?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Redefining High School Success- Alberta School Trustees Get it Right

School Boards across Alberta have made it clear that they want change. Their first ask, by means of a resolution passed by the Alberta School Boards Association,  is for a change in the weighting of the High School Diploma exam so that teacher assessments count for 70% of the exam with the “standard” Provincial component being just 30%. Right now, it is 50%.

For some time, teacher assessments from Alberta schools have been used by a great many universities and colleges across Canada as the basis for offers of admission. This reflects the growing recognition that teacher assessments are far more reflective of what students know and can do than many standardized, high stakes tests. It also reflects the recognition of teachers as professionals.

Changing the weighting without changing the nature of the exam itself makes little sense. The next step in this conversation is to imagine a different way of formal assessment through the Provincial examination component. When was the last time you saw a multiple choice test truly assess knowledge, understanding, skills and abilities? Would you graduate a doctor who had completed a multiple choice test rather than being examined for their real-life skills, knowledge and understanding? Why would we do this for the equally important high school graduate?

All of this is a small, but important step, assuming that Minister Dirks agrees with the School Boards. Next we need a conversation about the assessment of the non-academic but equally important learning that students in higher schools have experienced. Their creativity, resilience, compassion, persistence, emotional intelligence are s important to their development, employability and long-term contribution to society as their academic results.

What is perhaps most interesting about this strong position from the School Boards is that they are directly engaged in the question: what should become of our schools and how do we rebuild trust in our teachers ? After the debacle of Jeff Johnson’s tenure as Minister of Education – the first Minister in the history of Alberta education to receive a vote of no confidence from the profession – the school boards seem to be reclaiming their role as stewards of their schools and shapers of educational policy.

This is a start of a longer, deeper conversation about public assurance and assessment. We have a choice to make between what might be thought of as a spider or a starfish approach to this issue. The spider approach sees schools trapped in a web of accountability set by a government agency (often in partnership with private interests, as is the case with Alberta’s decision to make extensive use of a student engagement instrument) so that schools report up and are eaten up by the reporting of their work. In contrast, the starfish approach sees schools and school districts as responsible for their own forms of public assurance, which best reflects local conditions, local resources and school development plans. Rather than reporting up, assurance becomes a focal point for innovation, improvement and change. Spiders webs are what we have, starfish is what we need to become.

The Government should pay attention – decisions made nearer to the student and by those with the responsibility for the schools in their jurisdictions are likely to better reflect reality than decisions made by one of the 650+ people working in the Ministry. Decisions about public assurance, assessment and accountability need to reflect not just the outputs of a school, but the social circumstances in which the school operates, its own adaptive processes and capacities and its outcomes. Rich assurance versus standardized accounting is what we need to ensure that Alberta’s education system remains one of the best in the world.

A teacher asked me recently why it was that teachers were being encouraged to individualize learning, to be responsive and imaginative teachers with highly engaged learners but were subject to standardized testing? It is as if the government is saying “lets be flexible, creative and responsive, but not so much!”


The Alberta School Boards are suggesting we recognize the professionalism and responsibility of teachers. So we should. We should also encourage innovation, imagination and creativity not just in how we teach and how students learn, but how we account for that learning. The changing of the weighting of the Diploma examination is a small step towards a more engaged school system.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

School Accountability in Alberta - Fit for Purpose or in Need of Change

When Premier Redford committed to ending Provincial Achievement Testing and moving instead to a system of assessments for learning – assessments aimed at helping students, parents and teachers better understand where students were in their learning journey – no one other than the Fraser Institute appeared concerned. There were issues about how student learning assessments (SLA’s) would be undertaken, but these were seen as logistical and tactical rather than strategic. Later some, notably David Staples of the Edmonton Journal, suggested that the SLA’s were just another example of “fuzzy” education-think and not in the interests of the system – but this was after he had drummed up anxiety about Alberta’s maths education and the performance of our students on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

Jeff Johnson, sometime Minister of Education, managed to find a way of converting SLA’s into something they were never intended to be: a key part of the accountability system for Alberta. Rather than focusing on assessments for learning,  Alberta Education will use data from these assessments to develop assessments of learning as part of the emerging “new” accountability regime. Think carefully: something intended to primarily help teachers better understand where each child is in their learning journey has been hijacked to become something it was not intended to be: part of the accountability pillar.

Accountability is a contested space – just look at the issue in the United States or England. Governments seem to think that testing students often improves accountability, yet the compelling evidence suggests that all this does is weaken the focus on learning and drive education more and more to a focus on getting students to jump through hurdles which have no real subsequent value or meaning to them in terms of social wellbeing, career or a life-long commitment to learning.

Perhaps the strongest example of what testing does to “screw up” education and learning can be seen in China. Yong Zhao provides a compelling and masterful account of education in China in his book Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the Worldhttp://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=thneyoreofbo-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1118487133. He describes how China manipulates assessment activities and how such activities are embedded in the system of rote learning that dominates the elite education system, which is all that PISA assessed.  He also notes that China has “a well-designed and continuously perfected machine that effectively and efficiently transmits a narrow band of predetermined content and cultivates prescribed skills…. and, because it is the only path to social mobility, people follow it eagerly”. Diane Ravitch reviews this book extensively in the New York Review of Books and compares developments in China to those in the US – developments that should worry is all.

Trying to rethink accountability is a tough challenge. Marc Tucker of the US National Centre for Education and the Economy has outlined an approach to accountability which he thinks is new, at least for the US. He is seeking fewer, better quality testing moments in a student career (down from 12 to 3) and better use of big data and analytics to look at these data; a stronger focus on professional development and support for teachers with less time spent on administration and more on collaboration; and finally, a stronger focus on peer to peer accountability than top-down accountability.

In the UK, the role of OFSTED (school inspectors) is now being challenged by head teachers and others. Indeed, there is a recent call to scrap the “Spanish inquisition-like” inspections. Others have suggested that the focus for such inspections needs to change. In the UK such inspections together with assessments of learning form the basis of the accountability regime. So called “failing schools” – schools which do not meet inspection standards and where test results show persistently poor outcomes – can  be subject to “special measures” which can include the replacement of the management team, scrutiny of teaching, restructuring of the teaching team, change of status of the school and the replacement of governors.  

Here in Alberta a loose coalition is working on this same challenge – how can we shift our understanding of “accountability” away from testing so that the focus is more on improving student learning, school and professional development and community engagement? How can we develop a stronger sense of “assurance” for those who have students in school or are concerned about school performance that their schools are world-class and that students have strong skills in maths, literacy, science as well as a strong base in 21st century skills? How can we ensure that teachers are able to assess students in such a way as to ensure that their teaching and learning strategies meet the learning needs of all students, not just some ? How can we develop a collaborative, reflective and strong professional commitment within each school so that all students attend a great school? These are the questions being explored. This loose network is known as the Forum for Public Assurance.


To help with this work, Dr Sam Sellar from the University of Queensland, will speak in Calgary and Edmonton on the 12th and 13th of November (Faculty Club at 5.30pm) about how we can make visible the work that schools do. Given our context and our challenges, this is both timely and opportune. Sam is an excellent speaker – he was here earlier in 2014 sharing his critique of PISA – and will raise challenging issues for us all to grapple with. You can register here for the Calgary event and here for the Edmonton event. Be there – it will be worth it.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

An Open Letter to Premier (To Be) Prentice

Dear Premier (To Be) Prentice

Congratulations on securing such a convincing victory in the race to become leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Now it is time for you to show leadership, courage and focus.

This letter focusing your attention on what you need to do to repair the relationship between your Government and all who care passionately about the future of our school system. You will hear that former Minister Jeff Johnson was “trying to do the right things” but “perhaps went about it the wrong way”. You will hear that your predecessor Alison Redford, “cut a deal with the ATA which came back to haunt her”. I suggest you put all this nonsense to one side and focus on what you need to do rather than what others did, should have done or could have done.

First, you need not have an agenda for education other than to sustain and develop Alberta’s leading education system. Do not get sucked in to issues about assessment, accountability, teacher unions and professionalism, class size and all of the items on everyone’s list. Focus on the big outcome: Alberta continuing to be amongst the best systems in the world. Avoid, at least for now, issuing a Government strategy, position paper or policy paper.

Second, your most critical task is to restore trust between all who work to make such a system possible. Two Ministers in a row eroded and then broke that trust. Teachers do not trust Government; many School Boards do not trust government; parents are suspicious of government (especially in relation to curriculum reform); there is mistrust within the Department; there is certainly a lack of trust between the profession and government. It doesn’t matter why these situations exist – they do.

To remedy this I suggest:

First: You need to appoint a senior, competent and trusted Minister to this portfolio with a mandate letter which says: (a) restore trust; (b) secure alignment between teachers, school boards, superintendents and parent representatives about the 2-3 key things that need to happen in the next 24 months to get everyone back on track; (c) deal with the special needs file and the poor system of support for such students; (d) deal with the conditions of practice which teachers find themselves in so that there is a real chance we can deliver on the promise of Inspiring Education and a Great School for All.

Second, hold a summit of the key leaders of the PSBA, ATA, CASS and Parents with you in the Chair and the President of the ATA as the co-chair with 25-30 invited individuals to help the new Minister focus on the 2-3 key issues for the next 24 months. This would be a demonstration of trust, would signal a recognition of the importance of the profession and would be a watershed moment for education in Alberta.

Third, ask an expert advisory team to take a cold hard look at Alberta’s K-12 system and ask them in particular to look at pedagogy, curriculum, inclusion, assessment and accountability. My recommendation would be that you ask Harvard Professor and world-class educator Pasi Sahlberg and Professor Andy Hargreaves of Boston College to select a team of three others to work with them to undertake this work. Sahlberg and Hargreaves know Alberta well, know schools, Superintendents and teachers well and have their trust.

Fourth, halt work on curriculum prototyping and refocus this work on the need to strengthen knowledge, skills and understanding at the elementary school level. Trying to change the K-12 curriculum in a short period of time with little or no real involvement of teachers is and was always a mistake. While some really valuable work has been done (and is not lost), there is no urgency about the changes and no appetite for such a massive change to be imposed on the system. Once the system review has been done, then we can see what (if anything) needs to be done.

Fifth, refocus on what (if anything) needs to happen to the early period of pre-school and kindergarten schooling to strengthen the base knowledge, understanding and skills students have as a foundation for all subsequent learning. This may require some new investment and thinking in pre-school and early childhood education.

Finally, rethink the approach your Government has taken and continues to take on public assurance and accountability. In particular, encourage your Minister and your caucus to stop relying on simplistic and relatively poor evaluative instruments (PAT’s and PISA, for example), and start to move towards a strategy for engaging communities (especially parents) in a focused approach to assurance based on school development plans.

Your really tough task is to make clear that schools are about more than serving the short to medium term economic needs of Alberta. They are also about our democracy, the character of our society, the nature of our public institutions and about how we interact and engage with each other in a fast growing and increasingly diverse society. If you give undue emphasis to competencies and skills needed by the Alberta economy – not unimportant but also not the raison d’aitre for schools – you will be sending the signal that many of the things schools are intended to do around creativity, the arts, citizenship, nurturing civil society and democracy, encouraging and enabling innovation and imaginative entrepreneurship are not important to you or to our communities.

You also need to stop using schools as a backcloth for politics. Minister Johnson and Premier Redford liked to use schools as the canvas for political announcements. If you or your Ministers visit schools it should be to encouraging reading, science, discourse, entrepreneurship, imagination, music, art, laughter and fun. Help kids read, do not use them to make political points.

I know that, in your family, education is important. Make it the key to your legacy as Premier, however much time you have in this role. You can make a real difference, but only if you begin by rebuilding trust and seeking focused alignment from those who actually make things happen.

Good luck in making your party progressive again. Alberta needs to be and be seen to be progressive.


Stephen Murgatroyd, PhD FBsS FRSA

Educator, entrepreneur, writer and imaginer and a friend of learners everywhere.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Future of Schooling in Canada

When we look at the future of schooling in Canada what do we see?

First we see a willingness to challenge teacher professionalism, in part on the basis of outcome data which is questionable. While PISA provides benchmark “snapshots” on a limited range of measures for school systems (Alberta vs Ontario, Canada versus Finland, for example) these data points do not reflect the broad purpose of schooling. Schooling is about much more than maths, science and language arts (though these are important) – schools are also about learning to learn, social skills and civic responsibility. They are also are about arts, laughter, music, creativity and imagination. While PISA may expand to measure soft skills and other features of learning, as it plans to do, it will never capture what schools are actually all about.

The challenge to the professionalism of teachers is in part about whether or not they are achieving the outcomes their students are capable of, but it is also directly related to a bigger question about the role of professionals in our globalized economy. Should professions like doctors, teachers, lawyers determine what should happen in key institutions (like hospitals, schools and courts) or should others (politicians, consultants, corporations) make these determinations on behalf of society? While some acknowledge the expertise of teachers as teachers, they do not feel they have the monopoly of understanding about schooling, learning and education.  The democratic control of schools is said to be the key here – but in fact few are engaged in the genuine debate about the future of schools, which is increasingly controlled by corporate interests and a select group of influencers.

Collaborative professional autonomy is essential if schools are not to be “lost” to the forces of capitalism and corporatism, already demanding that technologies for learning and standardized curriculum together with seeing schools as “business” (which they are not) should provide the operational basis for educational reform and development. Teachers need to “take back” their schools, supported by mindful school leaders, if they are not to become the new laboratories for corporate greed.

Second, we see attempts to shift curriculum (what, how and when students learn) from a broad based, socially oriented and conceptual understanding focused curriculum to one more directly related to the needs of the global economy. Shifting from “learning outcomes” to “skills” and “competencies”, from broad objectives to narrow skills signals a departure from a world in which the economy served society to one in which society now serves the economy.  It is a positive thing that the curriculum does not stay still – society changes all the time – it is unfortunate that current changes (so called 21st century skills) are actually leading to the atomisation of learning and the reduction of breadth and choice. As someone has observed, capitalism has defeated communism and is now well on the way to defeating democracy – in this case, through making it less likely that critical understanding, analysis and thinking will occur – there are just too many atomised “buts of pieces” of competency to master to permit creative time for such work.  Humpty Dumpty seems to be in charge of curriculum development in many parts of the world.

Third, we see a demand that technology find a stronger place in the daily lives of teachers and students. If there was ever an example of how corporations are influencing education it is in the pressure students, teachers, school leaders, Superintendents and educational policy makers are under to buy and use technology, whether it is iPads (or tablets), internet based learning resources, analytics, reporting systems or some other device or solution. Technology companies have encouraged the adoption of the phrase “learning anytime, anywhere” – a phrase which turns out to have no meaning or substance for most school aged learners. They have also encouraged the adoption of “bring your own device” (BYOD) so that they can compete for the $$ students and their parents are willing to spend on such pieces of kit. They are encouraging “technology for everything and anywhere” in the school – despite the compelling evidence that this actually hinders learning and genuine understanding and interaction.

A long time ago I used to say “if technology is the answer, we are obviously asking the wrong question!”. Now I say “technology is part of the problem as well as part of the solution – the trouble is, its getting to be a bigger part of the problem and is less likely to be a solution to anything”.  Education is about finding the talents, interests and passions of a person and then enabling them to flourish. This demands creative and imaginative inquiry by teachers and their students (technology can be a valuable tool here), but not standardization and compartmentalization, not rigid assessments and analytics but genuine evaluations and assessments for learning. Technology is currently too primitive to support many of the things we are trying to do in K-12 school systems (though is getting better).

The reality for many teachers is that no real and meaningful investment has been made in equipping them to leverage technologies for learning, creativity and explorative education. They have simply been given a minimal exposure to some low level capabilities of devices, systems and services and have then been expected “in their own time” to become Masters of technology. It would be rather like giving a medical team an MRI system with an instruction book and120 minutes of training and expecting them to accurately and reliable use the MRI for medical diagnosis. Sound silly? Not all teachers have had the luxiry of 120 minutes of effective training.

Technology has considerable promise, but it is no where near as transformative in schools as technofanatics suggest. I am a strong supporter of open schools, open education resources, online learning but I am also a realist. Most teachers can pass through initial training as a teacher with little or no substantial exposure to the utility and value of technology. Without investment in professional development it will continue to be a distraction rather than a substantial opportunity.

Fourth, we can see the bureaucratization of schools. In the UK the Health and Safety executive have made such things as school trips and excursions a nightmare – risk assessments, consents, security and background checks all make going somewhere interesting close to impossible. Reports, reviews, assessments, accountability statements, plans, and documented student reviews are all massively time-consuming and often add little value to the work of teachers, students and schools. They do keep central administration and school staff busy- often in distracted ways.

Some of this work is helpful – tracking attendance, reviewing student progress, case work teams for learners with special needs. But a lot of this work is CYA (cover your ass) work or done in the name of the accountability regime (about which more in a moment).  Any conversations with imaginative and mindful school leaders (of which they are many), usually involves a review of the “silly things I have had to do this week”.

Which leads us to a confusion about public accountability and assurance.  I have the good fortune to live and work in Alberta – one of the best educational jurisdictions in the English speaking world. Whether we look at PISA or TIMMS data, Alberta does very well. While we acknowledge we have a great many challenges, we are responding to these challenges from a position of strength. One challenge we have is to find a meaningful, imaginative and productive way of holding our schools accountable for the work that they do.

Misguidingly, this has been interpreted to be about testing. If we test students at key stages in their progress through school then we can see “how well students are doing”, especially when we can compare one school against another. Indeed, the Fraser Institute thinks this is marvellous, and they produce an analysis each year on the best and worst schools in Alberta – all of which disregards a whole range of challenges and issues. For example, the nature of the student population, the extent to which parents are involved in the education of their sons and daughters, the level of poverty, the nature of employment, the degree of social cohesion in the community and so on. Further, we measure so few things that we send a signal that what matters most is the few things the Province measures as opposed to what matters most is the educational agenda and learning agenda for each child. We distort the system so as it can be accountable in the simplest possible measure. We do this because others do, because its easy and because it sells to “politicians” and a select few constituents who show an interest in schools.

An alternative is to do what happens in the corporate world. Individual schools produce school development plans which commit each school to a strategy for continuous improvement on key measures which matter to that school. Such plans reflect the unique characteristics of that school, its students, its community and its parents. While some elements in every school could be the same, each school would focus on what it is seeking to achieve. We would then use simple indicators for each of the  accountabilities the school has chosen to focus on to hold the school account. No two schools are the same, no two schools have the same student body, the same conditions of practice or the same resource base. It is the same for companies competing in the same market in a similar product space. Yet somehow we want to reduce complex systems (hospitals and schools, for example) to crude and distorting measurement which tells us little if anything about how schools are doing. For hospitals it is wait times (a very poor and distorting measure) while in schools it is results on crude tests. Time to get serious about public assurance.

The final challenge relates to the conditions of practice which teachers and school leaders face. There is a growing distortion around the importance of class size and composition – classes of 30-35 with up to six students with special needs are seen as “manageable” (they are not) with a single teacher and little if any access to other supports. Custodial services are seen as being only required before and after school – not during the school day, leaving teachers to clean up after sick children or some accident in the chemistry lab. We are neglecting the basic conditions in the name of economy. Attempts to challenge the creeping Fordism which such class sizes force on school systems are seen as “teacher whining”, yet parents and citizens should be appalled at some of the conditions under which we are asking teachers to produce the next generation of imagineers, artists, scientists, engineers and trades persons.

There are other issues, but it is clear that we are not working in any conscious, systematic and purposeful way towards a great school for all. Instead, we are creating a competitive and bureaucratic system which gets in the way of genuine learning and equitable society.

Education is a key battleground for this century. It is the new space for the exercise of the shock doctrine, a new space for capitalism and a new space for neo-liberal ideology. If we value the future, we need to take back our schools in the name of equality, democracy and our social values.




Saturday, August 16, 2014

Alberta's Bland Leadership Race - Time for A Big Shift



Jim Prentice, Thomas Lukaszuk and Ric McIver are running to be Premier of Alberta by seeking to become leader of the Provincial Progressive (sic) Conservative Party. None of these three appear either imaginative enough or courageous enough for the position. Let me tell you why.

Alberta is in the top ten richest places on the planet as measured by GDP per capita. It is a petro-state, with oil and gas in abundance. It also has vibrant forest and agricultural sectors, its education system (K-12) is amongst the best in the world thanks to its outstanding teachers, its has excellent health care at this time and is also a significant innovator, especially in relation to Prions, nanotechnology, medical imaging and devices and energy related technologies. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that inequality is growing in Alberta. On average, 12% of Albertan’s live on or below the poverty line (see here). One in ten children in Alberta live in poverty – many from First Nations (here). For single parent female led households, the poverty rate in 33%.  Many of those in poverty are also in work. When we look at Alberta, we see the top 1% getting richer, the poor getting poorer and the middle class getting less service and support from our Government. Leadership should be focused on equity in terms of building a just society and a compassionate, resilient society.

The bad news is that trust between our Government and the people is broken. Its not only former Premier Redford’s behaviour (which was consistent with that of some others in leadership positions in the party), but they have given up engaging and listening. They are command and control focused – as we can see from the behaviour of Minister of Education Jeff Johnson. They are short term focused – as we can see from the environmental (sic) platform of Jim Prentice (here – notice this phrase “we will not damage the competitiveness of our oil and gas industry by unilaterally imposing costs and regulations” – so no leadership here then).

The bad news is that the vulnerable in our society – those with mental health, physical infirmities and disabilities – are finding Alberta more and more difficult to navigate and belong to. Support for students with disabilities (inclusion supports) are declining as the population of such students are growing; supports for the mentally ill are being reduced in real terms; even legal aid for those who find themselves on the wrong side of the law (many of whom are mentally ill, in poverty or new immigrants) is also being cut (see here).

The bad news is that our economy is driving our social and educational policies, not our social and community focus driving our economy. Unusually, we run our economy in Alberta on the back of non-renewable resource revenue – something the Premiers Economic Council made clear was a strategic mistake which now needs correcting (see here). Canada as a whole takes so little royalty revenue (the least of all Petro States) and also has the highest production costs when compared to others, yet we are willing to forgoe equitable services, community supports and the right conditions of practice for education, health, social services and other “public goods” on the grounds that we want to be a low tax economy.

The Government actually thinks that our competitive advantage is low taxes and high rates of poorly focused government spending. Our real advantage is the compassion we show for each other, ingenuity, hard work and determination – our people. Taxes and royalties need to rise to pay for the services we require for as just and equitable, vibrant society.  No one likely to hold power takes this view. This is why we will continue to drift.

What should a leader focus on? The leader needs to stop focusing on “winning an election” and start offering a vision for our future which reflects our values – tell Albertan’s a story that inspires, engages and gives hope.
We have a significant moment of truth on September 6th when the PC members will elect a new leader who will become Premier, at least for a while. None of those running have shared a vision or story which is compelling, engaging or inspiring. It’s the bland leading the bewildered party, reeling from its own lack of ethics and courage into the fray we call the future.  

 Jim Prentice is clearly in the pocket of big oil, Ric McIver has never recovered from losing the Mayors race in Calgary and has nothing to say (and, as a result of having breakfast with him, we can also affirm that he doesn’t listen). Thomas Lukaszuk is fun, fast on his feet and vacuous leadership candidate with strange shirts. It’s a joke. None have the three things we need to see in a leader: vision, courage, focus.

It’s a problem not unique to Alberta. Look around the world and ask “where are the inspiring leaders”? The crisis in Iraq or Crimea / Ukraine, eBola in Western Africa or the continued economic debacle we call European currency zone all demand courageous, visionary leaders. Where are they? The best the world can find are technocrats like Angela Merkel or David Cameron, dictators like Mugabe and Putin and mad-men like the leaders of ISIS. No Churchill or Roosevelt, no Thatcher or Reagan.

When Prentice wins we will have elected (by default) a banker who favour the rich and corporate Alberta to continue to govern with a deaf ear to poverty, equity, social justice and the need to rethink and reboot our economy. When he fails, as he will, we will then elect the Wild Rose Party who will do more or the same, but with less social justice and focus on equity.


Its time for a major rethink of this place we call Alberta. Ask these three questions: What are the values that describe the Alberta I want my grandchildren to inhabit? What is the Alberta the world needs to see? What would it take for Alberta to be a model of a progressive, resilient, innovative and equitable society?

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Desmond Tutu in Alberta

A folk singer, a vicar and a film maker decide that they understand more about the world and how it functions than anyone else. They walk into a bar and start telling everyone that they are all living their lives “for just today” but that they way they are doing it will kill the bar within a hundred years.

Paddy, the barman, points out that a Protestant, a Jew and a Catholic came into the bar just one hundred years ago and said the same thing. They are dead now, but the bar continues. Paddy points out that bars will be there no matter what people do – just in the same way that Earth, the planet will be there for thousands of years to come. The question is, what will be on sale in the bar and at what price?

The vicar looks askance, in a way that only vicars can. “You mean to tell me that my prophecies of doom and gloom mean nothing to you?” said the vicar. “Well, no they don’t. You see, you know so little about this that I can chose not to pay attention.”

“Ah,” says the vicar getting into his stride, “but I am referring to the prophecies of scientists”, as if this clinched everything.

“Listen ,” says the pub landlord, “we’ve had scientists in here telling is that they can make beer in a powder and it will do us out of business…they went bankrupt when people tasted the muck they were peddling. We’ve had scientists tell us all sorts of things, but most of it turns out to be bollocks…You wont believe this, but one bloke suggested we should all stop drinking beer and switch to de-carbonated lemonade….bloody idiot”.

“But I am talking about 97% of all scientists who know about the future of pubs and the nature of the universe”, said the vicar.

“Well, Jack over there is a scientists – works at some laboratory in Cambridge specializing in building computer models of the future of pubs – and he says its all bollocks….. But I gather you have come a long way to tell us how we should all live our lives, so here’s the deal. Here are three free drinks for you and your two friends. Once you finished them, we’d all be grateful if you would just go away and stick to what you actually know...all about God...but then…”