Dr. Swann Debates Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading) – 17 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Bill 14 – An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and speak to Bill 14 in its second reading, An Act to Support Orphan Well Rehabilitation. Something that we see recurrently in the history of Alberta is this ongoing challenge of meeting those environmental concerns that have been left from bankrupt or otherwise dissolved organizations.

The attempt by the previous government to provide through the Orphan Well Association fairly modest annual payments based on the licensing liability association regulations clearly has not met the need. It points again to other major liabilities that we and our children are facing around the oil sands and the tailings ponds, which are many more billions of dollars of potential liability because we haven’t required appropriate bonding or set asides in the event of stranded assets or bankruptcies or abandonments by companies of these operations.

Cleary, this is going to take us into a more positive position in relation to these wells, and I’m pleased to see that the polluter pays principle will be front and centre in this. These will be loans. In fact, it appears – and this is my first reading of it, Madam Speaker – that there will be borrowing costs and interest associated with the loans. Very good news. I think we have to be consistent in our approach to the responsibilities of industry to meet their obligations under the act, and it would set a very dangerous precedent if it were anything but a loan.

The double benefit, of course, is that we have servicing compan-ies that are going to be employed, in some cases after some period of time of being unemployed. So this is a win-win for the economy, for sustaining some of the jobs in the province, and for getting some appropriate cleanup. A long way to go; $30 million isn’t going to go very far in the long list of potential abandonments as is needed.

While I fully support it, I guess there are lots of questions still to be considered. One of them would be whether or not the Alberta government is planning to make loans through other sources to this fund or if the federal fund is the sole fund that is going to be provided for these companies to do the reclamation and rehabil-itation work. If we are borrowing more money or putting more public liability at risk through loans, I think we would have to have a very serious discussion since there’s already quite a lot being put aside in terms of borrowing by this government, and I would be very concerned if it was going beyond that. But there may be some other opportunities for providing loans to companies which I haven’t considered but perhaps the government has.

So my only caveat is that we not put any more public dollars in Alberta in jeopardy through further loans and that unless we have some other means of – and I hope perhaps at some time in this next year we’ll see some real amendments to the orphan well fund, that we’ll look at issues around reclamation of the oil sands and the tailings ponds because we’ll be dealing with the same issues over the next 10 years at a much higher level with respect to abandon-ment or reclamation and remediation in the oil sands and the tailings ponds.

But this is a good start. I mean, to give the government credit, we are moving forward on some of the most thorny issues that this province has faced for the last 20 or 25 years. I can congratulate both the federal government and the provincial government on taking what are quite necessary steps in particular at this time.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 12 – New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole) – 17 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 17, 2017.

Bill 12 – New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have an amendment to suggest and will circulate that and await your approval.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A3. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thanks, Madam Chair. This is an excellent bill that I think all Albertans will welcome. My amendment seeks to simply add a little more transparency around the background of specific builders and suggests that the public has a right to know a little more than is currently required of builders and their past history.

The New Home Buyer Protection Amendment Act, 2017, would be amended by striking out section 12 and substituting the following:

12 Section 9 is repealed, and the following is substituted:

Registry

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(b) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(c) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act,

(d) claims that have been made under a home warranty insurance contract or under Part 1 of this Act,

(e) legal proceedings against a residential builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home,

(f) new homes built or under construction by residential builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes,

(g) new homes built or under construction by owner builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes, if applicable,

(h) persons in respect of whom administrative penalties have been imposed or compliance orders have been issued under this Act,

(i) persons convicted of an offence under this Act, and

(j) any other prescribed information.

(2) A warranty provider, residential builder or owner builder must notify the Registrar when a claim is made under a home warranty insurance contract or Part 1 of this Act within 30 days after the claim is made.

(3) The Registrar shall establish and maintain an online registry accessible to the public that consists of the information in the registry, and may publicly disclose that information.

Madam Chair, it is clear that we want more public access to information. This is simply going to add to the access the public has to information about a particular builder, their history, any concerns that have been found to be warranted relating to improper or inadequate building standards, any previous actions to withhold approval to this particular builder. It will simply give public access to the information that now is not included on the current website, to allow the public themselves to make their own judgments about whether the past history of this builder is acceptable or not. I think it will simply add to the confidence that people will have in this important new legislation and give them access to more information that relates to specific builders and their past history.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

The Chair: The hon. Member for Banff-Cochrane.

Mr. Westhead: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I’d like to thank the member for putting forward a thoughtful amendment. You know, we’ve just received this, so it might take some time for us to consider this. I would strongly encourage the member that if it’s available to him in the future, if we can have a little more notice so that we have a bit of time to understand the ramifications of the proposed amendment. I know that the member certainly brought this forward in good faith and is attempting to improve the bill.

I guess, as we’re considering this, I have some questions on whether or not the information that is being requested here could potentially be obtained elsewhere in the bill. I just want to make sure that this information isn’t redundant and hasn’t been captured elsewhere. You know, I’m just wondering. Reading through the section that is relevant here, it currently reads:

Section 9(1)(a) is repealed and the following is substituted:

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(a.1) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(a.2) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act.

The amendment contemplates adding quite a bit of additional information. You know, my question to the member is: does he feel that what’s currently in there is not accurately captured? What specifically is the reason for these additional items?

Dr. Swann: Well, indeed, this gives more information to the public. This may be knowledge that the ministry might have, but in the current bill legal proceedings that have been raised against a builder in the past aren’t necessarily included, past convictions. I think consumers have a right to know what’s gone on in the past, not just what’s happening in the current state of affairs. This would add more information, more data, more accountability to this particular bill. It’s a question, I guess, of just how much transparency is reasonable. For the homebuyer, I think, the more the better, and looking at a builder’s past history and previous convictions, to me, should be part and parcel of what is available to the consumer.

Thanks, Madam Chair.

Mr. Westhead: Thank you for the additional information. I suppose a question that came up for me in the explanation was: would this information be retroactive, or do you contemplate this being once the bill comes into force, that this would be information that’s kept moving forward from that point in time? Or would this be retrospectively looking at future convictions, future exemptions? The information you’re seeking: would it be retroactive, or would it be forward looking?

Dr. Swann: I think that, as indicated in the details of the amendment, this should include past convictions and should be part of the record indeed if there has been a violation and a conviction around inadequate building standards or misrepresentation of building quality.

Thanks, Madam Chair.

The Chair: Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills.

Mr. Cooper: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just have a couple of quick questions for my colleague from the Liberal caucus with respect to the registry and if he feels that some of the additional requirements in the registry will have any significant impact on costs. We’ve seen in the past other Liberal organizations with respect to registries and ballooning costs, and I’m just wondering if that is a possibility with the additional requirements in this registry.

Dr. Swann: Well, Madam Chair, reliable information does cost a little more. There’s no question that if you want more information and you want more reliable information and you want more disclosure, more accountability of inadequate builders, it’s going to cost a little more. It takes more time, more searching, more uploading of information. Presumably, we would better protect consumers.

Mr. Cooper: In all seriousness, though, have you given any consideration to what those costs might be with respect to the additional information? I know I was joking around about the gun registry there, but have you considered what the additional costs might be? Perhaps the government can provide some comment around whether or not they think that the additional associated costs to the builder would be able to cover the additional pieces of information that you are also trying to include in the registration.

I do agree that having more information available to those that would like to seek it when making such an important decision is, obviously, an important goal to try to achieve. The legislation, hopefully, balances the amount of red tape associated with the bill, allowing industry to also act in a way that is helpful to industry, helpful to the consumer and to finding that balance. I don’t know if the government could respond with respect to the total costs and how this may affect that, or perhaps you’ve considered it. In addition to adding regulations to builders already, does it tilt the balance, or do you think the balance has been struck appropriately?

Dr. Swann: Well, fair question. I guess that what I would say is that this new bill is going to add costs to builders. It’s going to require them to upload more information about their past, especially about inadequacies in their past and violations in their past building practices. Once that is done, there would be no additional expense because the foundation has been set and they simply add each year any concerns that have been raised or found inadequate in their building.

I don’t see it being a significant increase – some increase but not a significant increase – in the initial requirements based on this new bill. The bill itself is going to require significant new information, a new website, new reporting practices and standards. Yes, it’s going to cost more but not significantly more than is currently being asked for.

The Chair: Edmonton-McClung.

Mr. Dach: Thank you, Madam Chair. I just want to rise as well and make a comment, a couple of questions to the hon. member who’s proposing the amendment because it does give me some concern. I’m just wondering if he has given consideration to the consequences of some of the measures that he’s proposing, particularly in terms of gathering some of the information that he’s proposing be registered. Some of that is readily available and could be verified quite easily. What I believe the hon. member is asking builders to do is self-report certain information that might incriminate them and that they would rather not see reported.

I don’t think we can leave it up to the legislation to force builders to self-report. I think there would have to be a means of actually verifying this information; therefore, there would have to be some kind of oversight watchdog that would collect information on legal proceedings that were under way or had taken place. I’m not sure how this information would be gathered. There is certainly a huge cost to that, to raking in all this information about new-home builders. To rely upon them to self-report I think would be naive at best.

I’m concerned that this amendment doesn’t really consider the ramifications of how difficult it will be to actually gather the information that the amendment proposes be registered. Therefore, I have these significant concerns about it. Perhaps the hon. member might comment on this aspect of requiring self-reporting to self-incriminate oneself and also the difficulty of gathering the information that would come from disparate sources and would require oversight, which would need a significant amount of staff, in my view, and be quite logistically difficult.

Dr. Swann: Well, thanks for those comments. No question that there are going to be additional costs to confirm reporting. That’s also the case with the present bill. You’re relying on builders to self-report into this registry as it is. The question is: do we have a reasonable and robust oversight body within the ministry to ensure that what’s being reported is accurate? That goes without question. Will it involve additional searches through the law courts, perhaps, and the registered convictions? I think that’s the price of accountability and transparency, and it’s what consumers expect of a government, that they not only provide information to the public but verify that the information that’s being put up there from whatever source is reliable and reasonable.

The Chair: The hon. Member for Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill.

Ms McPherson: Thank you, Madam Chair. This proposed amendment refers to section 9. Now, currently this section reads in part:

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) authorizations and exemptions issued or applied for under this Act.

What’s proposed in Bill 12 is that section 9(1)(a) be repealed and the following substituted:

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(a.1) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(a.2) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act.

Now, as I understand the amendment, we have quite a number of changes. This amendment proposes:

9(1) The Registrar shall establish and maintain a registry that must include information on

(a) licences applied for, issued, renewed, suspended, cancelled or reinstated under this Act,

(b) authorizations applied for, issued, suspended or cancelled under this Act,

(c) exemptions applied for or issued under this Act,

(d) claims that have been made under a home warranty insurance contract or under Part 1 of this Act,

(e) legal proceedings against a residential builder for structural defects, defects in materials or labour or any deficiency related to the construction of a new home,

(f) new homes built or under construction by residential builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes,

(g) new homes built or under construction by owner builders, including details of the home warranty insurance contracts covering the new homes, if applicable,

(h) persons in respect of whom administrative penalties have been imposed or compliance orders have been issued under this Act,

(i) persons convicted of an offence under this Act, and

(j) any other prescribed information.

So with that particular part it seems to me that the idea is to create, essentially, a Carfax for houses. I’m wondering if the member who introduced the amendment can explain how much consultation has gone into the development of this list with the stakeholders.

Dr. Swann: Well, thank you very much for the question. I’ve had no consultation on this. This is based on, I guess, common-sense requirements that seem applicable to all consumers who would want to know, ideally, how much has gone on in the background of a particular builder and as comprehensive a list as is possible to gather so that buyers can be aware, buyers can know as much as possible about the background of a builder and ensure that they’re getting what they think they’re buying.

….

The Chair: Any further speakers to amendment A3? Seeing none, are you ready for the question?

[Motion on amendment A3 lost]


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole) – 16 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 16, 2017.

Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have a suggested amend-ment for Bill 11, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017, which I’ll circulate.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A2. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. My amendment is that Bill 11, the Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017, be amended in section 39 by striking out the proposed section 52 and substituting the following:

Proceedings of Commissioner subject to review

52(1) Subject to subsection (2), no decision, report or proceeding of the Commissioner is invalid for want of form.

(2) A decision of the Commissioner may be questioned or reviewed by way of an application for judicial review seeking an order in the nature of certiorari or mandamus if the application is filed with the Court of Queen’s Bench and served on the Commissioner no later than 30 days after the date of the decision, report, proceeding or reasons, whichever is latest.

(3) The Court may, in respect of an application under subsection (2),

(a) determine the issues to be resolved on the application,

(b) limit the contents of the return from the Commissioner to those materials necessary for the disposition of those issues, and

(c) give directions to protect the confidentiality of the matters referred to in Part 4.1.

The intent of this amendment, Madam Chair, should be clear. Under the current writing of the bill there’s no appeals process. This, I think, would give all of us some sense that no one is inviolate. There should be access to some kind of an appeals process based on circumstances, contingencies, specific facts of the con-cerns, and that any officer of the government should be subject to a second review. Currently there’s no ability to appeal in the bill as it’s written.

This is simply an attempt to ensure that if an error has been made or there are extenuating circumstances, an individual may be able to have recourse to an appeal.

Thank you, Madam Chair.

….

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I don’t actually remember discussing this at the committee, but I, too, have lost time and memory around the details of the discussions. What I can say is that the appellant could be the individual who has blown the whistle and feels not appropriately addressed by the commissioner, or it could be a lawyer on behalf of that individual, or indeed, I suppose, it could be the employer who for whatever reason decides that the decision was not appropriate. It’s trying to create a fair playing field for both sides to resolve where there is still dispute.

….

The Chair: Any other speakers to amendment A2? Seeing none, are you ready for the question?

[Motion on amendment A2 lost]


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 205 – Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 (Second Reading) – 15 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, May 15, 2017.

Bill 205 – Advocate for Persons with Disabilities Act, 2017 (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m very pleased to stand and speak in support of this important new role, that’s obviously been much needed for many years given the history of some of the complaints and concerns not only with respect to PDD but AISH as well. With PDD, in particular, there’s been lots of demand for change, access to supports, recognition of the role of family and community, and this would certainly give greater voice, greater attention, greater influence and understanding of what’s working and what’s not working in the system by someone so directly involved with these most vulnerable folks. It obviously gives the advocate the power to represent the interests and rights of people with disabilities and to advocate for change where it’s needed, not least in individual cases where people are not getting their needs met, where families are not feeling properly listened to and responded to.

Programs and policies, obviously, in some cases need to be changed, but certainly their basic rights and their well-being have to be at the forefront and need strong advocacy. There’s no question that the measure of a civilization, the measure of a society is how well we take care of those folks. We have advocates for health, for seniors, for mental health. We have an advocate for children in care. This is another vulnerable population that clearly needs to have some independent leadership and advocacy.

To be sure, I need to comment on not only the role but the resources given to this person. If it’s anything like the resources given to the mental health advocate, it’s a shame because the mental health advocate has been able to do almost nothing in the last few years because of receiving the same resources they have for the last 25 years. In name we have a mental health advocate, but the mental health advocate has been hamstrung by a lack of resources and ability to formally investigate complaints about the mental health system and in some cases the abuse of people’s rights as persons. Whatever we do, let this not be a token, as I feel the mental health advocate has become in this province.

The Health Advocate: also very limited resources except to refer these people to different bodies, including the college of physicians, the college of nursing, various colleges that are supposed to oversee the quality of care, the quality of response to health issues. The Seniors Advocate: similarly. If we’re going to provide these advocates’ offices, let them be properly resourced, evaluated, and properly increased as the population increases. It’s a travesty that in 25 years we see the mental health advocate, for example, still dealing with two staff when the population has increased phenomenally and the number of mental health issues has increased exponentially in the last 25 years. Let’s ensure that we get value for money and ensure that the people who are in this position have the resources to do their job.

I also, I guess, have to wonder how much this is an effort to address the Auditor General’s stinging criticism of AISH in the past, and rightly so. It looks like an important initiative that is going to address the criticisms of the Auditor General, and I sincerely hope it will be. Again, it depends on finding the right person and staffing appropriately and finding the resources to do this. I think it’s an important initiative. It sends the right message to people with a disability and their families. Let’s just make sure that it’s done with the generosity and the research and the capacity that is needed for this large population.

Thank you.

 


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Second Reading) – 09 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Tuesday, May 9, 2017.

Bill 11 – Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017 (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker and to the member for ceding the floor.

Bill 11, Public Interest Disclosure (Whistleblower Protection) Amendment Act, 2017: progress, real progress. I was part of the committee and applaud the chair and the work that was done on this. A pity that we couldn’t get on to do some of the other important work with respect to the Election Act and conflicts of interest, but this is truly a step forward from the earlier version of the whistle-blower protection act. It authorizes the Public Interest Commis-sioner, for example, to investigate allegations of wrongdoing submitted anonymously or by people that are not considered employees under the act; private citizens, for example. That’s progress.

Whistle-blowers can report wrongdoings directly to the Public Interest Commissioner, which they couldn’t do before, always a weakness of the previous bill under the PC government. Whistle-blowers are protected from reprisals from the moment they tell their supervisor about an issue.

Workers who are fired, have their duties changed, or experience reprisals as a result of whistle-blowing have access to restitution through the Labour Relations Board. The Labour Relations Board decides on restitution for workers who experience reprisals, with an enforceable decision in the same manner as a court order. Prescribed service providers such as care in seniors’ homes that have a business relationship with the government are now covered under this act, as are physicians, who have an alternate reimburse-ment program, which was not the case in the past.

The term “gross mismanagement” now includes a wider variety of wrongdoings, including bullying and abuse in the workplace as well as mismanagement. So progress.

The Public Interest Commissioner’s office will be required to report more information each year, telling what types of wrongdoings and summarizing the findings, penalties, and specific recommendations to public entities. Section 19 adds a section, 18.1, which grants the Public Interest Commissioner greater access to information than in the past, much like the powers of the Auditor General. More progress.

The Public Interest Commissioner determines whether a public interest outweighs potential harm to an individual, and the Public Interest Commissioner and his or her staff are not compelled to give evidence during judicial proceedings.

Finally, the Public Interest Commissioner is now allowed 20 days to determine whether to investigate a complaint, giving the Public Interest Commissioner more capacity and time and resources to make appropriate decisions and not short-circuit anything that’s needed.

The Liberal caucus position is, of course, that the most glaring deficiency is that the PCs wrote the legislation in such a way that it only applies to wrongdoings that occurred after the act came into force. Clearly, that allowed a get-out-of-jail-free card for any potential wrongdoings that occurred prior to June 2013, when the act was first brought in. Certainly, it went against the spirit of the legislation, and we’re pleased to see that this is now going to be much more vigorous and timely.

Section 19(2) authorizes, again, the Public Interest Commissioner to either not investigate a disclosure or discontinue an investigation if more than two years have passed since the date the wrongdoing was discovered. Again, this is arbitrary and could lead to legitimate investigations of wrongdoing being abandoned or not even getting off the ground. So that’s a shortcoming of this particular bill, limiting it to two years.

Pursuant to section 38(1) the Public Interest Commissioner is appointed by “the Lieutenant Governor in Council, on the recommendation of the Legislative Assembly.” As always, there is a risk that government could unduly influence the choice, and that continues to be a concern.

Finally, section 52 is problematic in stating:

No proceeding of the Commissioner is invalid for want of form and, except on the ground of lack of jurisdiction, no proceeding or decision of the Commissioner [can] be challenged, reviewed, quashed or called into question [by a] court.

In other words, the Public Interest Commissioner has the absolute final word, and that’s a concern with respect to accountability of the Public Interest Commissioner.

Having said that, I think the progress made on this bill and the improvements in protecting whistle-blowers are significant, and I’m very much supportive of what we finally came to. In my view, our existing whistle-blower legislation was deficient in not allowing proceedings or decisions of the Public Interest Commissioner to be challenged, reviewed, or quashed and with the commissioner being given the absolute final word, with no accountability. I would reiterate that if there was any amendment, that would be an area that we would be considering.

Bill 11 does address the deficiency in part by very specifically allowing a decision of the commissioner concerning a reprisal to be reviewed by the courts. This is a welcome improvement. But why are we stopping there? If we’re going to allow the courts to decide whether addressing a reprisal against a whistle-blower can be reviewed, why wouldn’t we allow the courts to review the commissioner’s decision? It doesn’t seem to be consistent.

Apart from those concerns, caveats, I very much support this important bill. It’s bringing us into line with much of the rest of the country, Madam Speaker. I believe we will be supporting it as is.

Thanks, Madam Speaker.

 


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 1 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Committee of the Whole) – 6 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, April 6, 2017.

Bill 2 – An Act to Reduce School Fees (Committee of the Whole)

The Deputy Chair: Are there any comments, questions, or amendments to be offered with respect to this bill? The hon. Member for Calgary-Mountain View.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I have an amendment that I’ll circulate, and I will proceed when I hear from you.

The Deputy Chair: I just need the original, Member, and then you can go ahead.

Dr. Swann: My amendment reads as follows. I move that Bill 1, An Act to Reduce School Fees, be amended by striking out section 4.

Let me start by saying that I support the intent of the bill and what the bill does to make life more affordable for parents, guardians, and students in school. In fact, the Alberta Liberals believe the government should go even further by eliminating school fees altogether. However, I recognize that the government has chosen to take a step in that direction by reducing school fees.

I’d like also to point out that the government needs to find a more sustainable way to continue to reduce school fees other than, quote, finding efficiencies. There needs to be a funding plan that will continue to reduce fees over the long term, especially as our population grows and our education system becomes more costly. I expect the government may have an idea about where it wants to find these funds, and I will speak more about that in a moment.

When Bill 1 was announced, a government news release indicated: “If the bill is passed, Alberta parents will no longer have to pay school fees for instructional supplies or materials or for eligible students taking the bus to their designated schools.” This was great news and well received by many if not all Albertans. But when people started to take a closer look, it turned out that the term “Alberta parents” did not mean that all parents will no longer have to pay school fees. In particular, those who have students in charter schools can expect to get a different treatment altogether. Why is that?

Well, let’s take a look at what a charter school is. According to the government of Alberta’s Charter Schools Handbook:

A charter school is a public school that provides a basic education in a different or enhanced way to improve student learning.

. . . In general, charter schools complement the educational services provided in the local public system. They represent an opportunity for successful educational practices to be recognized and adopted by other public schools for the benefit of more Albertans. Although types of charter schools vary . . . they do have the following common characteristics.

Access – Charter schools cannot deny access [to any particular individual or group] . . .

Choice – A charter school will provide enhanced or innovative delivery of public education to students. This means that parents and students have increased opportunity to choose an education that best serves [their child’s] needs.

Curriculum – The curriculum delivered by charter schools will be structured around a basic education as defined by Alberta Education and described in the Programs of Study. Generally, education programs must meet the conditions outlined in section 39 of the School Act. This allows students to transfer to or from any public school with a minimum of disruption and to obtain a high school diploma . . .

Funding – Charter schools are eligible for the same provincial funding per student as any other public school . . .

Tuition Fees – Charter schools shall not charge tuition fees. However, they may charge parents for fees for instructional supplies or materials, as may all schools in the public education system.

It seems pretty clear to me, Madam Chair, from the government’s own description that charter schools are, in fact, public schools. Again I ask: why the special treatment? Why are they not receiving a reduction in school fees?

I received a letter from the Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools in which they write:

As full-fledged members of the public school community, we find the decision to exclude us from Bill 1 An Act to Reduce School Fees quite concerning.

. . . This is an excerpt from this letter:

“In publications and the Minister’s letter to parents . . .

And this is from the government side.

. . . we read, ‘Our government understands that times are tough for Alberta families and is working to make education more affordable. We believe that all students deserve access to a quality education in an Alberta school, and we are committed to reducing financial barriers such as school fees.’

Given this laudable and strong statement of support for Alberta families during tough times, we [in the charter school community] believe it may have been an oversight not to include those families who choose a public charter school for their child(ren)’s learning environment.”

Now, here is where I would disagree. I don’t believe this is an oversight at all. The association is likely being diplomatic in their language to the minister. It’s quite clear to me that the government is intentionally singling out charter schools for different treatment. My question is: why? Why is it not being transparent about its intentions? It appears to me the government wants to draw a line in the sand with regard to funding. On one side are the public schools; on the other are private schools. Clearly, in this bill the government is lumping charter schools together with private schools.

Now, if anyone was curious about the motivations, they would need look no further than Public Interest Alberta’s media release of February 23, 2017, in which they with 13 other organizations said, “[We] urge the provincial government to phase out the public funding of private schools . . . over three years and reallocate the money to fulfill its education-related campaign promises.” I think this is exactly the scenario the government is setting up with this bill, and if it is, they should be honest about it and not do it covertly through regulations. They should come right out with it and tell charter schools, their students, and parents that the government is going to reduce fees for everyone else, gradually raise fees for charter schools so that parents can get accustomed to paying more, and then slowly defund charter schools.

To be clear, Alberta Liberals believe public funds should go to support public education. Furthermore, we believe accredited private schools either need to be incorporated into the public system and be subject to all the same requirements or not receive public funding.

But charter schools are not private schools; they are public schools. In fact, many of these charter schools serve marginalized, low-income, and less abled students. They’re providing an essential support for some of the most vulnerable people in the province. For example, Almadina School Society serves the lowest income families in Calgary. The Boyle Street Education Centre in Edmonton is the same. The Centre for Academic and Personal Excellence Institute serves special needs in Medicine Hat. These charter schools and others like them play a valuable role in society and Alberta education. They are not cherry-picking students. They are filling a need, a need that has been recognized and accepted by the government.

Limited resources. If the government has acknowledged that – and they have – then limited resources should surely be directed to the lowest socioeconomic status schools, whether charter or other public. If we’re going to cherry-pick, let’s cherry-pick those who are most vulnerable financially. This is a move to help families with affordability and access to education. Do not discriminate against those who are most vulnerable. It’s against your principles. Do they not deserve the same treatment, especially given their vulnerability, many of them? Do the parents of their students not deserve the same reduction? When people see noncharter public schools not getting breaks, what does that do to enrolment?

The minister appears to be establishing one set of rules for those with school boards and a completely different set of rules for the charter schools. The Association of Alberta Public Charter Schools doesn’t think this is right, and I don’t believe that the government is being transparent on this matter. If the government wants to eliminate funding for charter schools, say so. Otherwise, the government should treat them like all other public schools and include them in the reduction of school fees.

This is why I’m proposing an amendment to strike out that section of Bill 1 and leave the original wording in the School Act. This would keep charter schools together with public schools, and any changes to the fees they can charge would be applied consistently across all public schools and to all parents, as was promised when the bill was announced.

Thank you, Madam Chair.


Dr. Swann Debates Motions Other than Government Motions: Electricity Rates – 3 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 3, 2017

Motions Other than Government Motions: Electricity Rates

Dr. Swann: 502. Dr. Swann moved:

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to amend the regulated rate option regulation, Alta. reg. 262/2005, by replacing the regulated rate option with a new default rate for electricity that is to be calculated using a weighted average of the wholesale price of electricity.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I’m pleased to rise and move Motion 502. Since becoming an MLA, one of my most frequent concerns, as raised by my constituents, is the high cost and volatility of electricity bills. The system did not seem to be delivering on the promise of low energy costs and reduced price volatility that was made when the market was deregulated. This NDP government is planning a series of measures in an attempt to deal with this. However, like other policies, I find they are ideologically based and are failing to take into consideration some of the price and volatility issues that Albertans are concerned about.

Albertans need a practical solution based on evidence, so I’ve decided to research this issue in depth. Motion 502 is the culmination of substantial consultation over two years with stakeholders in Alberta’s electricity energy market. In particular, I’d like to thank Nick Jansen, an academic researcher, and Rob Spragins, who previously served as Alberta’s Utilities Consumer Advocate. Both were instrumental in researching, drafting, and encouraging me to bring this motion forward today. I’d also like to thank my constituents and other Albertans who over the years took the time to write to me about these concerns.

Before going further into the rationale for the motion, perhaps it would be helpful to review the history of the deregulated energy market and the regulated rate option, the RRO. Since 2001 Albertans have been able to choose to receive their electricity either from a retailer that is regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission, the AUC, or from a competitive retailer, in which case they would sign a contract for a set price for electricity such as a fixed price for a defined time period.

The regulated rate option was established to provide a default option for consumers who decide not to choose a competitive retail product. The regulated rate option does not ensure a single low rate. Rather, rates change from month to month, depending on the price of power. In 2006 the regulated rate option was changed to encourage customers to switch from the regulated rate option to a competitive retail product and to foster the development of the competitive retail energy market. Section 11 of the regulated rate option regulation determines this rate based on the weighted average of forward contracts to a 120-day period prior to the month of consumption. This is called forward pricing.

The problem with using this method, as experience has clearly shown, is that it actually leads to higher electricity costs for consumers. In addition, now that the competitive market has been in operation for 11 years, it’s time to revise this policy to something more in line with current market conditions. Something needs to be done in order to ensure that the default option for electricity is affordable, protects consumers, encourages industry participation, and reinforces proper market functioning.

My motion to change the regulated rate option calculation to use the weighted average monthly pool prices instead of the forward market for four months is aimed at doing just that. Motion 502 reads as follows:

Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly urge the government to amend the regulated rate option regulation, Alta. reg. 262/2005, by replacing the regulated rate option with a new default rate for electricity that is to be calculated using a weighted average of the wholesale price of electricity.

Not unlike the electricity market itself, I understand how this motion may seem complicated at first glance. It was to me. But what it essentially seeks to do is to replace the current formula for calculating the regulated rate option with a new one that is based on the actual price of power.

There are numerous benefits to using the weighted average pool price. First of all, it’s consistent with the original intent of the deregulated electricity market. Our electricity market was founded on the notion that markets provide consumers with choice and that truly competitive markets will result in lower prices than the regulated markets.

Under my proposed changes consumers would continue to have choice through competitive markets. Unlike attempts to reregulate the market, it preserves the integrity of the competitive retail market and may even make it more competitive. It also allows the equitable allocation of risk and reward to the stakeholders: the investors, the retailers, and the consumers. All can win. Furthermore, it achieves a significant reduction in the complexity and the cost associated with the regulatory approval of regulated rate option rates by the Alberta Utilities Commission.

Customers would also receive savings by receiving the flow-through weighted average wholesale rate. These savings will help to offset the increases in the cost of electricity distribution and transmission service, the power purchase agreement liability, and the high cost of living in Alberta. They could potentially be used for expenditures on energy efficiency upgrades, energy services, and helping to grow future-ready industries, clean tech.

Strategically it is also a good time to implement a change in the regulated rate option due to the current low level of pool prices relative to historic levels. These low pricing levels are expected to continue for the next three to four years, primarily because of the overcapacity of our generating supply. Any of the negative impacts of this proposal on vulnerable consumers could be readily offset through subsidies and rebates, as we’ve heard the government is prepared to do.

In addition to providing choice, strengthening the retail market, and passing on savings to consumers, the weighted average of monthly pool prices offers the most effective price signal possible. This means that the price paid by consumers will be the actual cost of power. Consumers may not understand that there is a significant cost premium built into the current regulated rate option which advances the price over four months. This new method of regulated rate option calculation will establish a price reference point by standardizing the default cost across Alberta. It would also facilitate comparability of nonenergy costs such as the distribution, administration, and return margins amongst different regulated retailers throughout Alberta. Consumers could then use this information to conduct a proper cost-benefit analysis of competitive retail options.

While I support the government’s efforts to create a market for renewables and diversify our province’s electricity generation very much, simply putting a price cap on the regulated rate option is not the answer. In fact, it could potentially cause serious problems down the line and discourage new investment. Consumers should always have a price reference based on the actual cost of electricity in order to make the most efficient and effective energy consumption and investment choices. If energy costs are deemed to be too high, the government has the option to utilize rebates and subsidies for those that need it, not across the board to all Albertans. It should never mask the price signal that would encourage people to do the right thing as far as finding energy efficiency and using less. Otherwise, we may end up in a situation like Ontario.

The price cap will not reduce the cost of electricity for consumers; it merely defers payment to a later date and to our future generations. If we don’t pay our way now, somebody is going to have to pay it later. Also, it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on the viability of a competitive retail market by eliminating the incentive for consumers to sign the fixed-price contracts. It also has the potential to distort the price signal, which may cause consumers to make poor decisions regarding their energy purchases and investment.

More importantly, a price cap will actually increase the cost of power to regulated rate option customers. If the market price of energy exceeds 6.8 cents a kilowatt hour, the cap, retailers will be purchasing supply at a higher price and selling it at a lower price. The difference will still need to be paid by consumers. This difference would likely be put in a deferral account and repaid over a period of time. Regulated rate option retailers will incur a financing charge, which will result in an increase to the cost of the regulated rate option. Consumers will be under the false illusion that total energy costs are lower as a result of the price cap when, in fact, they will be higher due to the cost of financing the deferral account, another extra expense in electricity.

Another possible issue associated with a price cap is the possibility of unintended consequences. The regulated rate option price is extremely complicated and is probably only understood by a handful of people in Alberta. Because of the variability of pool prices and forward prices, there is a risk that the deferral account could run out of control, which could significantly increase the cost of the regulated rate option to consumers. If the government plans on using a price cap, it would make sense for it to adopt my proposal to change the regulated rate calculation as this would significantly reduce the deferral account risk and would help to achieve the government’s ultimate goal, which is to protect consumers.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I will take my seat and listen intently to what will undoubtedly be a shockingly current debate which will electrify the Assembly with positive and negative charges.

….

The Speaker: Are there any other members who wish to speak to Motion 502? Seeing and hearing none, I will allow the Member for Calgary-Mountain View to close debate.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Well, thank you to all members for giving their views on this, a complex issue, to be sure. While I disagree fundamentally with the government on this and their unwillingness to allow some market mechanisms, some clear price signals – by all means, rebate and support people who can’t afford particular price spikes. I think they’re in fact undermining the very basis by which this is trying to provide not more stability – there will be some volatility – but lower prices overall. That’s what the graph showed over the last 10 years. Albertans actually spent up to a billion dollars more over 10 years than they would have if they were on this altered regulated rate option.

There’s been quite a bit of reaction since I proposed this back in January. There are concerns that this change will do little to protect consumers from volatility. This is where the motion works well with the other potential solutions. It ensures that consumers are paying the actual price of power, which is what new investors want to see. Consumers will still have the option to choose other retail products that can better manage price volatility. However, the Retail Market Review Committee report of 2012 which surveyed Alberta consumers found that the majority of Albertans were comfortable with price volatility as long as they got the lowest price. This regulated rate option would provide them with the lowest price by about $10 to $15 a month. That’s why the main objective in my motion is to reduce the overall cost to consumers.

Using the weighted average wholesale price of electricity will result in lower overall prices and significant savings over the long term. Any of the negative impacts on energy producers, retailers, or vulnerable consumers can be offset through subsidies or rebates to those who need them. We don’t need to be giving everybody in Alberta a free ride on electricity, only those who really need it, which I thought would have appealed to this government.

Others have said that the amount of savings would be insignificant. That’s unfair to consumers. The implication is that savings of between $600 and $800 over the next four to five years is trivial. I’m sorry; the evidence speaks otherwise. The motion proposes a simple change that would be implemented over four to six months and would immediately start to generate savings for consumers.

Some have also called into question the potential for future price savings. Historic evidence indicates that there is a strong likelihood that there will be a positive differential between forward and pool prices. The Alberta Market Surveillance Administrator examined the historic relationship between the last forward price for a given month and the average price for that month between 2008 and 2016 and concluded, quote, forward prices still remain above pool prices in most months.

It’s also been mentioned that customers already have an option by choosing a flow-through contract. This is true. However, these contracts constitute a relatively small portion of competitive retail contracts, which are primarily fixed-price contracts. The Market Surveillance Administrator retail statistics indicate that as of September 2016 46 per cent of residential customers had switched to competitive contracts, but most, 54 per cent, remained on the default, regulated rate option. So despite the availability of a flow-through product from competitive retailers, consumers have not chosen it. In fact, the majority of Albertans still are on the regulated rate option default product. My proposal would eliminate the flow-through contract option. However, it could potentially increase the demand for fixed-price contracts, and competitive retailers could see an increase in fixed-price contracts that would offset lost revenue and profits from the flow-through regulated rate option.

One of the key issues will be the impact of my proposal on the forward market. The forward market is used by some sellers of energy to hedge the price of electricity. A significant volume of forward contracts is related to the regulated rate option. Changing the regulated rate option calculation to the weighted average pool price might jeopardize the integrity of the forward market, causing it to lose its effectiveness as a mechanism for price hedging. However, energy buyers and sellers don’t require the forward market for hedging, which can still be accomplished through negotiation.

Finally, the current regulated rate option regulation forces retailers to purchase contracts in the forward market. A long-standing concern has been that sellers can game the market and arbitrarily push up prices. My proposal would eliminate that.

In conclusion, Motion 502 is an evidence-based solution that strikes the right balance between protecting consumers and improving the functioning of our electricity market. For these reasons and many more, I will be voting in favour of this motion.


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 203 – Alberta Standard Time Act (Second Reading) – 3 April 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Monday, April 3, 2017.

Bill 203 – Alberta Standard Time Act (Second Reading)

Dr. Swann: Well, thank you very much, Madam Speaker, and thank you to the member for raising this issue, that seems to have captured a lot of attention in Alberta, though not in my constituency. Calgary-Mountain View seems to be fairly quiet about this issue. I assume that, like many, they are enjoying the long evenings that come with daylight saving time and time with children and time with family activities afterwards.

The bill proposes to shift and be consistent with Saskatchewan Central Time year-round, ending the practice of putting clocks forward by one hour in the spring and turning them back an hour in the fall. This would preserve the province’s long summer evenings but would result in much later sunrises and darker mornings in the winter and would put us out of sync with the west coast by two hours instead of one hour. It stipulates that Alberta standard time will be the only time used or observed in Alberta.

We actually had a resolution before our spring policy convention with the Alberta Liberal Party, and it was narrowly defeated, to say in brief. What I may say is that because of the mixed response and the, really, lack of interest in my constituency about changing the daylight saving time, we will probably oppose the bill and suggest that we push this to committee for a full discussion there and more consultation with Albertans.

There are values, I gather, that daylight saving time actually consumes more energy in Alberta, more electricity, more fossil fuels, and that, to me, should suggest that we may want to change it. But on the other hand, there is more daylight time, and people are more active, so they’re healthier and doing more things outdoors, and there’s good family time and stress relief time. So I’m kind of torn myself. I think I could probably live with either. I’ve lived with daylight saving time for many years, and I could probably live without it, but it’s not a big enough issue in my constituency to get too concerned about.

There is some evidence that heart attacks and strokes and car accidents in some ways go along with daylight saving time, and there are these pros and cons. But if we switched, I guess, the other reflection we’ve had in our caucus is that we would want it synchronized, as it is today, with many of the northwest United States, which are also on this, even the southwest United States: Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Idaho, and Colorado.

It’s a mixed bag. I guess what I would say from this side is that without a referral or a hoist, I don’t think we could support it as it is. Thank you, Madam Speaker.

 


Dr. Swann Debates Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence (Committee of the Whole) – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017.

Bill 2 – An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Madam Chair. I look forward to tabling an amendment that I’ve raised privately with the minister and I hope will be favourable to just adding the scope to the bill and clarity to the bill.

The Chair: This will be known as amendment A1. Go ahead, hon. member.

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Chair. I very much support the intent of this bill. I am slightly concerned that its protections may not be afforded to all survivors due to a technicality. Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, currently covers survivors who are either a minor, in an intimate relationship with or dependent on the perpetrator at the time that the sexual misconduct or nonsexual assault occurred. It is the term “dependency” that concerns me.

A relationship with dependency might not be an accurate description of incidents where the survivor and the perpetrators are co-workers with the same level of seniority such as the recent high-profile case of female police officers who were affected in the Calgary Police Service after enduring years of harassment from colleagues. It’s not clear if dependency applies to harassment or exploitation of an adult student by a university professor or a postsecondary instructor. It’s unfortunate that the specific mention of co-workers was left out as it would give confidence, I think, and encourage people to come forward. Even though it may be implied, it’s not explicit.

The bill cannot be amended at this time to include references to co-workers since that would involve altering the legislation, which is not under current consideration.

Consequently, I would like to propose an amendment aimed at reducing the bill’s ambiguity by inserting an additional category of protection. I have the appropriate number of copies as circulated, and my amendment reads as follows. I move that Bill 2, An Act to Remove Barriers for Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence, be amended in section 3 in the proposed section 3.1(1) as follows: in clause (b) by striking out “or” at the end of subclause (ii), by adding “or” at the end of subclause (iii), and by adding the follow-ing after subclause (iii):

(iv) the person who committed the misconduct was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim.

The second part, (b), in clause (c) by striking out “or” at the end of subclause (ii), by adding “or” at the end of subclause (iii), and by adding the following subclause (iv):

(iv) the person who committed the assault or battery was in a position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim.

Essentially, the amendment seeks to amend Bill 2 to ensure that its protections apply to a broader category of survivors; namely, that the person who committed the misconduct was in the position of trust or authority in relation to the person with the claim. A “position of trust or authority” is admittedly a general term, and that’s exactly the point. My amendment seeks to ensure these limitations apply to a broader category of survivors.

Unfortunately, short of rewriting the entire proposed section 3.1, which I’m sure the government members would not support, my amendment cannot capture everything in terms of eliminating the limitation period for sexual harassment claims. Instead, it builds on the bill’s original wording but doesn’t radically alter it. Since the sexual misconduct section deals primarily with power differentials, this proposed bill is in line with the government’s intent. Regrettably, it will not include situations where workplace sexual harassment occurs among relative equals, such as the situation in Calgary that I mentioned.

Again, I hope the government would consider bringing forward further legislation that would deal explicitly with workplace sexual harassment, but for now the government may wish to argue that what my amendment seeks to accomplish is already covered by subclause (iii), which deals with situations of dependency, as in financial, emotional, physical, or otherwise. However, this is far from certain in cases of workplace dynamics or adult educational settings, and I think we owe it to survivors to be as inclusive as possible.

I call on my colleagues to support the amendment to ensure that more survivors feel included under these important protections and will more readily come forward.

Thank you, Madam Chair.


Dr. Swann Debates Government Motions: Provincial Fiscal Policies – 22 March 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Government Motions: Provincial Fiscal Policies

Dr. Swann: Thank you, Madam Speaker. I’m pleased to speak to the 2017-18 budget. I think a lot of what we are expressing in this House is degrees of comfort with debt and degrees of comfort with borrowing and degrees of comfort with protecting public services and infrastructure. What we have seen in the past at least 20 years, since I started paying attention, is a PC government that has not kept up with either infrastructure or human services needs. In fact, it has allowed those things to slip on the basis of balancing a bottom line that doesn’t recognize environmental deficits, human deficits in access to services, care, housing and health care, and doesn’t recognize that liabilities related to infrastructure don’t go away if you don’t spend the money.

During good times and bad we faced the same challenge in the previous 20 years at least, where we were not keeping up with some of those key elements of a civil society. We’re now facing a true challenge for all of us, and I think a lot of what we’re debating here is how quickly we should be moving on some of these deficits and how much we should be borrowing and indeed how we should be paying for it. The latter I’ll leave to the end, but I think that’s a crucial one that we still haven’t come to grips with in a lot of respects.

If we have a difference of opinion on this side in the Liberal caucus, it’s primarily around the pacing of change in this province and the lack of connection to what’s happening on the ground and a recognition that small business is continuing to suffer. There’s a recognition also that some of these new, dramatic changes, all of which I think had to be brought into place, including the carbon levy – how we can balance those things out in a thoughtful way and try to reduce the impact on everything from small business to nonprofit organizations and various services and generally low-income earners that are going to be adversely impacted by the knock-on effect of all the changes at once that are increasing the cost of living? Obviously, we can’t wait for oil prices, and this is the perfect time for borrowing for infrastructure. This is a stimulus for our economy, and it’s going to keep people employed. The question is how much and how we’re going to pay it off.

Clearly, if we’re looking at trying to both minimize our impact on future generations and budget appropriately, health care has to be a primary focus for our attention. It is by far the biggest expenditure of government, and it has grown by up to 8 per cent per year for the last decade, again leaving us in a position where the expectations are there, public expectations and professional expectations, that it’s going to continue and that they’re always going to have exactly what they need. The Minister of Health is in a very difficult position trying to balance the needs of people and the professional demands and the infrastructure demands, the technology demands, the growth of all these new technologies.

[The Deputy Speaker in the chair]

But she has to make tough decisions, and I think some of the positive decisions that she’s made are around the amending agreement with physicians, some of the drug cost issues that we’ve managed over the last few years to bring under some control. But there are a number of areas – and I’m a constant thorn in her side about prevention and early intervention and health promotion – which continue to get less and less relative to the population and cost-of-living increases.

We are gradually getting into the position where we are faced with a sickness care system. This is not a health care system anymore; it’s a sickness care system. We spend virtually all of our money on managing people after they get sick and break down when there are tremendous studies showing evidence of reducing the incidence of mental illness, addictions, injuries, reducing the incidence of lifestyle diseases, heart disease, and cancer by working with families, especially high-risk families, those that often consume most of the health care system. In fact, as some of you may know, it’s about 5 per cent of the population that consumes 50 per cent of our health resources because of their chronic, long-term, complicated illnesses. Many of those are seniors, but many of them simply are born with poor-functioning bodies and they need a lot of medical care in and out of hospital. If we focused more attention on some of those folks and managed them better, we would also reduce substantially some of the costs that we’re dealing with.

It’s disappointing not to see more significant changes in the health care system where we could substantially reduce, not tomorrow but in the years to come, the impacts on emergency departments, on EMS services, certainly on hospitalizations. Alternate level of care beds is one that we’ve often talked about, spending somewhat over $75 million a year on people that shouldn’t be in hospital at all and that could be saved by getting them into long-term care. To their credit, they’re building some new long-term care beds, but we’re way behind the curve on that and wasting a tremendous amount of money and increasing the suffering of people because they’re not where they want to be and they’re not in the best place, in a hospital where they can get other infections and are often neglected at the preference of other people who are sicker.

The lack of an integrated plan for mental health. I’ve harangued the government on this for some time, and it’s been brought to maybe a peak with the opiate crisis. We see so many different organizations doing their own thing without an integration across them all to serve people with the social services they need, the housing, understanding and communications between police and health services and social services and even the education depart-ments and First Nations, that need to have much more thoughtful and open communication. These people come in and out and in and out and in and out, and we know what they need, but we’re simply not providing them with the integrated, co-ordinated care that they need.

I’ve raised this week the office of the mental health advocate, who is there to deal with people who feel that they’ve been harmed by the health system, harmed by the mental health treatment they’ve received, and need an advocate for them, just as the children’s advocate speaks out on issues of children in care who have not been adequately treated. With a staff of 40 he is addressing the serious issues of children in care and trying to address some of the deficits in their care. Well, the mental health advocate has two staff and has had the same number of staff since 1990.

How is it possible that we have left this advocate to wither and those patients who have just given up on the mental health system because they’ve never been able to get accountability from either doctors who have not properly managed them or institutions that have not recognized their rights or other services within the mental health system that have violated them in one way or another? With only a single formal review last year and no formal review of a mental health complaint in 2015, you have to know that there’s a serious problem there. That is not about budget saving. That’s about violating basic rights of human beings.

While I’m talking about kind of the relationship between and a more integrated approach, some of you may know about the drug courts. Drug courts keep people with mental illness, addictions out of jail.

An Hon. Member: Right place.

Dr. Swann: Yeah. Right place, right time, right people.

Calgary can manage 25 people in the drug courts. There are hundreds of people that would benefit from being diverted from jail into the community for appropriate services, rehabilitation, treatment and get them on track to lead a productive life. Instead, they’re being sent to jail, which is the very worst place for people with mental illness and addiction. So the drug court needs to be substantially strengthened with finances, and that would reduce the cost on the policing system, EMS, emergency. Again, a tremendous cost savings if we can move on with that.

We have taken a position on this side that the ideal in terms of plasma for this country would be to have our own sustainable supply of blood. So far in the 50-odd years – maybe it’s longer – that we’ve had a blood service here, we have not been able to get to the point where we can manage more than 20 per cent of our own supply of plasma, so we’re having to import it, recognizing that much of the imported blood has been from paid donors. My position is that the ideal would be to have all voluntary donors, all Canadian-made plasma and plasma products. It doesn’t look like that’s possible in the near term, maybe not at all, when you think about the fact that only 5 to 7 per cent of Canadians donate blood, and we need four times that much to sustain blood plus plasma products.

I’ve come to the position and our caucus has come to the position that, while it would be ideal, we have to start to recognize the health care system itself, the public funding for health cannot cover every possible service and product and support. In this case I’m willing to say, especially since we’re importing paid plasma to the tune of 80 per cent today, that it’s time for us to recognize that we will not get that in my lifetime. We need to start moving towards alternatives, ensuring that we have the best testing, the best, safest system possible and make sure that the people that we’re working with have been properly screened before they’re providing their donation.

The vaccination programs are still much below what they should be. We’ve heard from a number of the public health divisions that they’re struggling with children getting only up to 60 or 70 per cent of their childhood vaccinations. We need to make those easier to get and more accessible for people. That also would reduce costs on the heath care system, obviously.

I very much support the lowering of school fees and the recog-nition that in some cases families are not able to feed their kids appropriately because they are spending money on school fees. That’s not an effective and appropriate issue. We can again find both savings and improved outcomes, but it’s not clear to me whether we’re borrowing for these savings. I think the challenge for us in this lowering of school fees is to recognize that there are all kinds of things that we should do, that we could do, and that we must do at some time, but piling this on top of so much other borrowing would not be, in my view, sustainable until we see a plan to repay.

I think that’s part of what all of us are asking for on this side. Everything is possible with a credit card. The question is: how much are we going to start paying for ourselves? How much are we going to pass on to future generations? Will we have a heritage fund in the future? We’re already down to what has been there for the last 30 years, about $15 billion to $16 billion. Thirty years. This is really a sad state to be in. Recognizing that oil prices have been low in the last few years, when are we going to get back to saving some of our nonrenewable resource revenue?

We do support the carbon levy, but we’re not supportive of the way it’s being implemented. It hasn’t been clear how it’s going to be disbursed. It hasn’t been clear on what the limits are. There have been all kinds of promises for this carbon levy that would appear to exceed by far the $3 billion that we’re expecting to bring in. Again, it’s going to stimulate different lifestyles. I think consumers and producers need to pay for our carbon emissions. There’s no ques-tion that all of us are responsible for the carbon and the climate change problem. The question, I guess, is how we manage it. Preferably, in our view, the carbon levy should be revenue neutral for Albertans so they can continue to stimulate the economy with their own revenue.

Now, to be fair, the government is giving rebates to 66 per cent of Albertans. In some cases it’s a little bit hard to know where that’s going, especially given that it’s all based on last year’s tax, and people may not be here following last year. But with all due respect, it’s a reasonable – in fact, I think it’s too generous.

Thank you, Madam Speaker.