November 14th, 2019

Teachers grill Barnes on UCP plans

By MO CRANKER on November 8, 2019.

NEWS PHOTO MO CRANKER
Local teacher Heather McCaig speaks directly to Drew Barnes Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 during a Town Hall event. McCaig says local teachers want a say in what is going on with their pensions and aimed to set up time to sit down and talk with Barnes during office hours.

mcranker@medicinehatnews.com@MHNmocranker

A large part of being an educator is answering the questions of students – Thursday evening, it was the teachers doing the asking.

Seven months after being re-elected as MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat, Drew Barnes held a town hall event to hear the voices of Hatters. Barnes heard from a number of people, but the most discussion came from teachers.

“I’m here because I’m worried about the current state of education in Alberta,” St. Patrick’s School teacher Dawn Forbes said before the meeting. “The possible cutbacks worry me – there’s no other way to put it.

“I’ve been teaching for over 30 years and the job is getting harder and harder – if we have more cutbacks to education we will have larger classes, not as much assistance in the classroom and our needs keep growing.”

Forbes says teachers across the province are also fearful of a rollback on salaries.

“We have had a zero per cent raise for over eight years,” she said. “If we take a rollback, we’ll be making a wage similar to what we made in 1993.”

When Crescent Heights High School teacher Heather McCaig took the mic, she was greeted with a large applause from the audience. She says teachers are upset by the UCP potentially taking away their ability to control their pension plan.

“In the last seven-and-a-half years, Drew, while you’ve been in opposition and here, we have had a working relationship – you can imagine how upset all of my people are, including me, when that budget came out without consultation,” she said. “We have issues with pensions going on and we are not anti-oil – we care about Albertans and Albertan children.

“Our pension is actually getting cheaper because we’re investing properly – this is an important issue for us.”

McCaig got teachers, who made up about half of the room, to stand during the meeting to show how many attended.

Barnes and McCaig agreed to meet next week

Barnes says he wanted to make it clear that he would be taking issues from the meeting to Premier Jason Kenney.

“These are great concerns,” Barnes told the teachers. “I’m going to take this back to the cabinet – I appreciate your input.”

Another teacher asked Barnes about UCP members wearing earplugs during a sitting at the legislature. The teacher crafted an email to Barnes asking how they could trust that the government was listening to people. She did not hear back from Barnes at the time.

“How can I tell those kids that the government is listening to us?” she said.

Barnes apologized for not responding and said he did not wear ear plugs during the sitting.

The other major topic was about the energy sector and how it connected to the economy.

One speaker said there was a number of issues impacting both.

“The first is (Justin) Trudeau – we all know that,” the speaker said. “Another is that the United States is spending millions funding demonstrators to shut down pipelines in Canada – we know that yet not a damn thing is being done about it.

“The other elephant is that, if we are in such a bind, how in the hell can Kenney justify $4.7 billion as gifts to his elite corporate buddies?”

Barnes responded by encouraging the audience to look into the work Vivian Krause is doing. He added that the corporate tax cut was a long-term move by the UCP to “bring investment back.”

Barnes told listeners that liquefying natural gas and shipping it to other countries is something he feels could be profitable for the country.

“There’s a market there,” he said. “If we can help those countries produce electricity with our natural gas, why not?”

Barnes says meetings like this are important for members of government.Â

“We need to hear what people have to say,” he said. “Now that the federal election is over I can travel around Cypress-Medicine Hat to hear people, their ideas and their concerns.”

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