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Real Renewal on Transforming Schools and Education

Re-imagining the future together  

RealRenewal’s some 200 members include parents, teachers, school staff, students, education experts and community members province-wide who share common cause in defending and supporting public education in Saskatchewan. We conduct research on education issues and gather ideas the public through forums, workshops, online surveys, and requests for written input.

In preparation for SaskForward, we invited our members to provide written comments to RealRenewal on their visions for the future of education, in areas such as student support, teacher and staff support, curriculum, governance, and Indigenous education. We received thoughtful and detailed contributions to this submission from teachers (12); parents/guardians (5); education workers/worker representatives (3); education administrators and trustees (2), and community members (2).  The participants represented a breadth of experiences and perspectives, from young parents experiencing the education with new eyes, to teachers with many years of classroom experience.

There was diversity of opinion around details of education funding, curriculum focus and governance. For the most part, however, a shared future vision emerged around key concepts, including support for:

 

  1. Enhanced local governance and democratic engagement
  2. Schools as community hubs
  3. Holistic, enriched learning
  4. Smaller class sizes and improved student-teacher ratios
  5. Support for diverse needs of students
  6. Professional autonomy, respect and support for teachers and staff
  7. Indigenous-led education
  8. A more creative, humanistic approach to education

 

RealRenewal has an additional body of research and policy positions developed over the past 10 years.  For the most part, these documents line up well with what we heard from the public regarding transformational change; they can be viewed at www.realrenewal.org.

The purpose of our submission is not to rehash RealRenewal’s past policy positions, however, or to critique the current system, though there are many points worth critiquing.  Rather, the intention is to draw out some broad visions for the future contained in the public input we received, honouring the time and thought people put into their responses.  From these hopeful responses, we can imagine a fundamental transformation of public education for Saskatchewan children and their communities.

What follows are some of the characteristics of this re-imagined future.

In the future, education is a core social undertaking

In a transformed future, education will no longer be framed primarily in terms of economic returns and revenue generation.  As one respondent put it: “I would like to see us put a strong education system at the core of who we are and where we are going in this province. It is the right thing to do. It is a sound investment in our future. And despite its shortcomings, education has the potential (more than any other “system”) to reduce the deep divisions in our province/society (ie. class/race/base ability). When we are able to decrease divisions, and increase cohesion, we all benefit.”

This vision requires more than a standard call for increased education funding – it requires a sustained, sincere commitment to building a world that will support the next generation, through quality education, a greener planet, civic engagement, and political leadership that is ethical and forward-looking, to name some of the characteristics suggested in the written responses.  Such thinking demands revolutionary attitudinal change, not only within our education system, but within our social system as a whole.

Education planning is no longer defined by austerity

It is time to put children’s needs first, and time to invest in education, were sentiments frequently expressed.  To achieve this turn-around, several respondents pointed to breaking long-established patterns of enforced austerity and lean management. “I would like to see ‘transformational change’ NOT used as a catch phrase to mean cutbacks,” wrote one participant.

Many respondents spoke up for improved funding.  Basic supplies, staffing levels and extracurricular activities should be protected from cost-cutting, and further investment should be made in staffing levels and technological infrastructure.  While some efficiencies can be reached within current budgets, “there are virtually no resources wasted in public education.” Meanwhile, constant scrimping has become a dead weight on our province’s future.  “Education is the best investment we can make,” wrote one respondent.

Decision-makers seek simple efficiencies instead of drastic cuts

Some felt funding levels are currently sufficient but could be better allocated to frontline education needs.  From this viewpoint, upending or drastically cutting the education sector was seen as overkill, as long as simpler efficiencies can be implemented.  For example, some savings “could accrue with more co-operation between the Public and Catholic School systems; e.g., busing students, bulk purchasing of materials.”  There were also suggestions to reduce administrative spending: “Fewer superintendents and other positions at the division office. The divisions are too top heavy,” wrote one respondent.  Less money should be spent on administration and report generation. Other suggestions were:

  • Put Adult Basic Education into one Ministry
  • Have a discretionary fund for experimentation into new & innovative plans.
  • Created a costed and funded 10-year plan
  • Develop a value-for-money tracing system
  • Reallocate resources from top-heavy administration to classroom supports
  • Replace the current funding formula with a needs-based formula “ex. learning challenges, number of students per class, English as an Additional Language, etc, and the needs of a particular division”

 

Failed ‘audit culture’ is put to rest

Several responses specifically suggested curtailing standardized tests as an ‘efficiency’ measure.  Some expressed concern about the current standardizing testing leading to school-to-school comparisons and linking teacher wages to test results, conditions that would place schools serving disadvantaged communities at risk.  There are many methods teachers use to assess and measure their pupils’ progress on a daily basis, and that are directly connected to classroom learning.  This stands in contrast to standardized testing regimes whose primary purpose is to generate statistical data for government administrators.  A major concern is that externally imposed standardized testing soaks up time and resources that could be put toward enriching the curriculum and improving student supports.

“The amount of standardized testing being enforced places intense pressures on classroom teachers and takes away from class time used for lessons and learning,” noted one respondent.  It was pointed out that, despite the increased emphasis on measuring and testing in the past several years, Saskatchewan’s PISA standing has not improved, suggesting the strategy is not working and it is time for new ideas.  One contributor wrote, “Quiet honestly, I am not sure what we have to gain by increasing our score on standardized tests at the community level. I want the current government to please tell me how higher scores on standardized exams lead to better outcomes in: – civic engagement – health and wellness (physical and mental) – gains in meaningful, long-term employment.”  Concern was also expressed that constant auditing of test scores ‘unbalances’ the curriculum by placing too much emphasis on subjects that are the easiest to quantitatively measure, i.e. math and reading.

The possibilities for a standardized testing-free future include a less pressured school day, with more space for learning, teaching, play, and community engagement.  As one respondent put it, “Stop chasing test scores based on two narrow skills [numeracy and literacy], and take a holistic, creative approach so that our children are well-rounded, enriched thinkers on every level.”

 

Learning is enriched and holistic

In a classroom free of the pressures of audit culture, there is room to grow and enrich the learning spectrum offered to students.  There was some support voiced for current curriculum and for time spent on ‘the basics’ of reading and writing. There were many additional suggestions for enrichment, including:

  • Universal, broad-based anti-racism education
  • Land-based education
  • Indigenous language revitalization
  • Community issues
  • More Indigenous and Treaty education
  • Information about educational pathways
  • Multicultural understanding
  • Overhaul of math curriculum; replace Math Makes Sense
  • Environmental education
  • Financial planning
  • Social skills
  • Support for extracurricular activities
  • Experiential programs like Trek School
  • Enrichment for students with special needs and students who are high functioning
  • Educational outings and guest speakers often introduce children to areas of life they have had no previous exposure to.
  • More arts programs

This holistic approach would extend beyond to all aspects of community life. “I would like to see education transformed into a holistic, community-supported endeavour that welcomes governance at the community level and teaches the whole child,” stated one respondent.  The future should be based on “education that is student-focused, instills creativity, critical thinking and empowerment of students,” said another.

 

Education is community-based  

By far the most frequent comments had to do with establishing (or re-establishing) community-based education.  In total, 19 respondents raised the idea of schools as community hubs guided by community voices.  Ideas included:

  • Schools buildings are open from early morning until night.
  • Before and after-school programs.
  • Space for toddlers.
  • Space for seniors.
  • Community-building/social interaction is encouraged.
  • Home economics and shop classes as a place to learn and serve others through nutritious meals and repairs.
  • Parent orientation
  • Community, parent and student involvement in setting school goals
  • Free preschool and early learning
  • An end to ‘revolving door’ teachers and weakened student-teacher ties

The respondents did not stop at this list of services.  They spoke also of the wider concepts of active, democratic community engagement.  Comments included:

Community-based schooling in its full meaning. Full anti-racism education. Option for land-based education. Democratic schooling, including student voice.”

 “Given the recent recommendations from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, that the numbers of youth who feel sustained in and through schooling is continuing to grow smaller, and that the one-size fits all nature of current schools and schooling is not working, inviting insights and ongoing inquiry with children, youth, families, and communities will be vital.”

“A holistic approach – education the whole child, involve the whole community. School as community centre from early morning and into the evening, providing support to parents, after school activities for students, and a place for families to come together.”

“Teach younger students about the “greater good” and have them participate in community work.”

“View education as part of an overall effort to support and enrich the whole child. Understand that housing, nutrition, early childhood experiences, trauma, racism, historical context, etc. all impact learning. We should improve support for education and children across the province, from birth through grade 12 and ensure that children have the base/skills they need for future success.”

 

Indigenous education is led by Indigenous people

Many of the comments regarding the school experiences of Indigenous children related to the calls for smaller class sizes, holistic teaching and learning and genuine local governance.  “First Nation and Metis Children, youth, families, communities, and Elders need to have sustained voice in all aspects and issues in relation with their experiences in relation with schools and schooling, and more broadly in society,” said one respondent.  The community hub concept received strong support, including looking beyond the concept of ‘school’ as the space and locus where this must happen. “Listen to and involve community leaders, ensure comparable funding, consider alternative space configurations for learning places. Consider multipurpose buildings with multi-generations interacting,” said one respondent.

 

It was also pointed out that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a succession of federal commissions and tribunals had provided recommendations based on input from Indigenous people, and that there should be focussed attention on implementation.

 

Other suggestions were:

  • Introduce an Indigenous school division
  • More resources devoted to Indigenous students
  • Hire more Metis and First Nations people with concentration in community schools
  • Ensure teachers have training on Indigenous issues and suitable teaching materials
  • Support community school coordinators and Elders in schools with First Nations and Metis children
  • Fund Indigenous organizations to put on workshops for teachers
  • Work with the Federal Government to ensure proper funding of on-reserve schools
  • Education on Indigenous issues for non-Indigenous people and new Canadians
  • Reinstate NORTEP funding
  • More positive interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students
  • Involvement of Elders and activities focused on intercultural communications
  • Schools as a place to revive Indigenous languages
  • Addressing social barriers to learning, such as inadequate housing
  • Ideas for change that come from the students

 

Local school boards are retained and improved  

Several respondents commented on the provincial government’s intention to look at school board amalgamation.  One respondent suggested no less than six school boards, while another suggested 12 school boards.  All other respondents spoke in favour of keeping or expanding the current number of boards.  None supported entirely eliminating school boards and moving toward more centralized planning. “Time and effort spent consolidating school boards could be much better spent simply concentrating on delivering education services, by supporting our school boards, teachers, students and communities,” stated one.

“Expand school divisions, esp. into one – dictatorship,” was one comment.

Several respondents argued that eliminating school boards is a false economy, as greater distances between decision-makers and local communities, and the need to spread services over large areas, will ultimately result in greater costs.  (These responses are reported in more detail in RealRenewal’s submission to the provincial Advisory Panel on Education Governance, available at www.realrenewal.org).

This is not to say people are entirely satisfied with school board operations.  The policy governance model, which constrains trustees from speaking their opinions, has deeply shaken public confidence in the elected system.  In the words of one respondent, future reforms should ensure that Boards/trustees understand that their role includes advocacy/representation of local concerns. Ensure that Boards have a role other than rubber stamping.”  As well, there should be proactive measures to ensure board member diversity that is more reflective of the communities represented.  Suggested reforms were:

 

  • Resources for mobilizing citizens to participate in school board elections
  • Improved avenues for direct community input
  • Small but diverse school board membership
  • A review of trustee compensation
  • Fewer division administrators
  • Shorter travel distances and video conferencing
  • Trustee term limits (2 terms / 8 years max.)
  • Require all superintendents to spend one week a year in some supportive capacity on the ground. Allocate that time to a different school each year.

Many respondents spoke of the need for future school boards to set their own mill rates, as was done in the past, and to regain control over school building decisions, which was lost during the P3 process.  There was strong support for local taxation to support local needs.

Local governance runs deeper than school boards

Additional governance comments were largely based on a future vision of local governance in its fullest sense of direct community involvement and genuine citizen power in decision-making. “Children, youth, families, and communities need to have sustained voice in all aspects and issues in relation with the area of curriculum and student services,” wrote one.  In the future education system, citizen power is locally based, on a per-school basis, and includes student representation.

Beyond mere one-off consultation, there should be, “a complete flattening of the hierarchy that exists in schools in which children, youth, families, and communities are often positioned as not knowing and as in need of fixing; and therefore, MUCH more listening and learning from the ministry of education, school board leaders, principals, and teachers.”

 

This approach accepts that local governance is not just a matter of decentralized service delivery, but rather acts as a means to ensure citizens hold a genuine place in decision-making and have the ability to hold their local trustees and school administrators to account.  At the grassroots level, one obvious opportunity to answer this call would be to expand and strengthen the mandate of School Community Councils and Student Activity/Representative Councils, and to proactively take steps to welcome broad-based participation from the school and its surrounding community.

 

Education returns to its public roots 

Privatization has manifested itself in many ways in our education system.  It was noted that tremendous resources are now spent on outsourced curriculum, testing and classroom materials that used to be created in Saskatchewan by government employees and local writers and researchers.  Much of these materials are tied into products purchased from multinationals such as Pearson Education, which has moved beyond text-book publishing into student information systems such as PowerSchool, standardized testing regimes, and, in the U.S. and China, private teacher education and accreditation.

 

Participants envision a world where public education means ‘public.’  This includes ending or curtailing the trend toward public funds for private schools, and the handover of public facilities to the private sector.  Comments included:

  • Do not enter into P-3 funding models
  • Take responsibility for the maintenance and upkeep of school properties, instead of building and abandoning or, worse, handing maintenance to corporations over which we the public have no real control.
  • Eliminate funding to private “independent” schools and reduce funding to associate schools to 60% from 80%.
  • Cancel P3 school contracts and have school board maintenance staff care for schools.
  • Cancel the Mosaic social impact bond with Mother Theresa school.
  • Return curriculum development to public hands.
  • Greater use of locally sourced, affordable classroom texts and resources.

Facilities are well maintained

Future planning will end the cycle of ‘build, neglect, destroy, build again.’   This could include establishing fix-it-first policies that require decision-makers to responsibly maintain public properties and to calculate the carbon cost of demolition and new construction.

 

Direction comes from front-line voices

Many respondents spoke of the need for improved listening to teachers, students and community stakeholders when it comes to planning.  While consultation may take time, it pays off with reduced policy errors, one person noted.  “Teachers know how to educate children. They should be asked what is needed to make their work more effective,” wrote a respondent.  Another added that decision makers should be “listening to teachers and making decisions based on research and experience rather than ideology.”

Several others echoed this thought, including, “Let administrators make decisions about administration and let educators/academics make decisions about education. Someone who’s taught for many years, with lots of seniority/experience is not necessarily trained in administration. Those in administration cannot always make informed decisions about curriculum and other educational requirements.”

Students have the learning support they need

A common statement was that supports for students are declining or inadequate at a time when diversity of needs is increasing.  Resources should be directed toward the student, including enhanced support for such things as:

  • Language learning
  • Mental health care
  • Trauma care
  • Access to nutrition
  • ‘Gifted’ programming
  • Anti-bullying support
  • Family support
  • School supplies
  • Adult Basic Education
  • Support for refugee students

Approaches should be flexible according to student need.  There should be adequate staff support to guide inclusive classrooms, and recognition that structured learning is needed in some cases.  One unique idea was to have schools on wheels to serve rural students, busing teachers to students instead of students to teachers.

One of the most frequent statements offered was that there should be more education assistants and other support workers in the classroom.  This idea came from parents, teachers and education workers alike. “Ensure every classroom has the support of education assistants, teacher assistants and community coordinators,” wrote one.  Clearly, cuts to classroom support workers are unpopular and seen as an unsuccessful plan that should be reversed.

Classes are smaller, with improved teacher-pupil ratios

Administrators have advanced cost-cutting arguments that class size no longer matters in today’s schools, because of team-teaching efficiencies and open concept school architecture in the new P3 schools.  Yet voices on the front lines – parents and teachers alike – are consistently clear that class size does matter a great deal to their children.  Smaller sizes ranked second, after community schooling, as the most desired outcome of transformational change.  In addition to smaller classes – a suggested cap was 15 for elementary, 20 for high school – there should be education assistants in all classrooms that have students needing additional support.

Teachers and staff are respected and supported

“Stop babysitting teachers and tracking every minute of their days – our teachers are very well educated and need freedom to use their knowledge,” wrote a respondent.   Another noted that if true community-based education is to transform our schools, then teachers need support and training to implement it.  Training, in-service days, and professional development were high on the list of needed supports.  One respondent looked for increased emphasis on keeping up teacher standards for both secondary and post-secondary educators.

By far the most frequently identified teaching and staff support needs boiled down to simple respect and inclusion in decision-making, and a sense of autonomy to use one’s knowledge to the fullest.  Comments included:

“Teachers and support staff need to have adequate PD and the ability to share lesson plans/resources. Could update data base for curriculum linked plans/resources. Time to remove stop/pause on curriculum renewal, but must ensure that resources are in place to update curriculum. Recent budget pressures have cut many student services positions and supports.  Must ensure that classroom teachers have supports that they need to deal with the intensity and variability of need in classrooms. Increase use and scope of EA/TAs with corresponding PD.” 

“Fewer students and learning levels per class. – the government needs to stop making teachers look like villains, and show some appreciation.”

“Teachers and school staff need to be allowed, by the government, school boards, and principals to enact the knowledge they carry. It is far past time to undo the hierarchical oppression that continues to silence so many teachers and school staff members, especially those who question the status quo in schools and society. Instead of silence and silencing, invite conversation, listen to ideas…acknowledge that the work of teaching is very complex and support teachers and school staff to live well in this midst.”

Teachers and staff enjoy decent wages and job security

One respondent echoed the government’s call for a wage freeze.  Others spoke against a wage freeze, and in favour of ensuring adequate compensation for the hours put into teaching and working in schools.  One respondent pointed out that job security has been an issue for both teaching and support staff positions, and wages for 10-month employees remain below a living wage, at just $20,000 to $26,000/year.

Non-monetary supports are also part of fair compensation. “Protect preparation time, a plan to relieve teachers from doing lunch supervision, they need the break funding required to employ best people, give cost of living increase guarantee, so they can focus teaching and learning,” wrote a respondent.

Larger classes with multiple learning levels and students with complex needs are creating workplace stress, according to several accounts. “Recent budget pressures have cut many student services positions and supports,” wrote one. “(We) must ensure that classroom teachers have supports that they need to deal with the intensity and variability of need in classrooms.”  Teachers and parents alike identified Education Assistants and Teaching Assistants as vital supports.

Teachers and staff become valued voices

Desired workplace improvements in many cases boiled down to simple respect and inclusion in decision-making, along with a sense of autonomy to use one’s knowledge to the fullest.  “The government needs to stop making teachers look like villains, and show some appreciation,” wrote one respondent.

“Stop babysitting teachers and tracking every minute of their days – our teachers are very well educated and need freedom to use their knowledge,” wrote a school parent.  Lack of frontline input jeopardizes the success of new initiatives and stifles needed improvements.

“Teachers and school staff need to be allowed, by the government, school boards, and principals to enact the knowledge they carry. It is far past time to undo the hierarchical oppression that continues to silence so many teachers and school staff members, especially those who question the status quo in schools and society,” one contributor remarked, adding, “Instead of silence and silencing, invite conversation, listen to ideas…acknowledge that the work of teaching is very complex, and support teachers and school staff to live well in this midst.”

Conclusion: From Vision to Action

 The future visions contributed to this submission are in many ways reflective of basic Saskatchewan values: love of community; hope for the next generation to flourish; respect for the contributions of teachers, school staff and Elders; a belief in the careful stewardship of essential public services; and desire for democratic participation.

The ideas offered are not just ideas, but can also form a basis for action.  Looking over the public input received by RealRenewal, it is possible to organize a draft timeline of action items for SaskForward participants to consider and build onto.

Financial resources identified

  • Restoration of local mill rate-setting powers.
  • Reclamation of public funds that are currently draining toward private interests through corporatized curriculum and testing; greatly expanded financing of private schools; P3 agreements; social impact bonds; and over-reliance on private consultants.
  • Reallocation of funds set aside for an unproven provincial standardized testing plan
  • Reduced investment in costly administrative-driven audits and reporting regimes.
  • Trim top-heavy, high-salary management in Ministry and division offices.
  • Long-term savings realized through adequate, timely facilities maintenance.
  • Improved coordination of public, Catholic and francophone resources.
  • Savings realized through reduced social costs (example: “Reducing elementary school class sizes from 25 to 15 students creates net benefits to society exceeding the cost of the program by nearly $66,000 per student over 20 years.” – PERI Institute, 2011).
  • In the longer term, budget planning that puts people first and understands that delivering quality taxpayer-funded public services is a prime directive of responsible government.

Short-term actions

  • Restore NORTEP funding.
  • Target a cap on class sizes and devote resources toward achieving it.
  • Work with Indigenous leaders and all levels of government to immediately undertake implementation of the TRC Calls to Action.
  • No further expansion of private school funding
  • Bargain with teachers and staff in good faith, not under political dictates.
  • Retain and reform school boards to make them more inclusive, responsive and democratic.
  • Immediate emergency investment in hiring education assistants, with a stated commitment to restore lost positions among EAs, community coordinators, teacher librarians and other frontline workers.
  • Remove the Ministry’s ‘stop-pause’ on curriculum. Begin curriculum renewal, starting with consulting teachers, classroom assistants, parents, community members and students.
  • Move Adult Education under a single ministry.
  • Seek out resource-sharing opportunities among public, Catholic and francophone school divisions.
  • Redirect the budgetary allocation for standardized testing software toward frontline classroom needs and student supports.
  • Place a freeze on private consultancy contracts.
  • No further public-private partnerships in education; commit to a fully public model.
  • Strengthen the role of electors, School Community Councils and Student Representative Councils under the Education Act and Regulations.
  • Bring teachers, staff, students and community members directly into decision-making about ‘transformational change,’ in forums facilitated by community members, not by administrators and government officials.
  • Immediately end administrative and legal constraints on the rights of students, teachers, front-line staff, School Community Councils, and trustees to freely speak their minds without fear or legal threats. Our children need these voices to protect and promote their interests.

Mid-term actions

  • Create/restore a community-based education model in support of students, families, communities and the environment.
  • Pilot community hub schools that are not just a place for service delivery, but are truly rooted in community stewardship.
  • Replace the current funding formula with needs-based funding.
  • Create and implement holistic curriculum to enhance student experiences in the creative arts, critical thinking, land-based education, life skills, Indigenous language revival, ant-racism education, Indigenous culture, and other forms of experiential, community-embedded learning.
  • Set aside funding to support local innovation.
  • Develop a long-term plan to reduce and phase out public funding of private schools.
  • Develop a responsible ‘fix-it-first’ policy, based on successful examples in other jurisdictions, to ensure proper upkeep of school facilities.
  • Restore maintenance staffing and improve maintenance budgets, to ensure all students enjoy healthy, safe learning environments.
  • Restore curriculum development as a public, not corporate, enterprise. Re-invest in the Ministry of Education’s curriculum development branch.
  • Expand workplace supports for teachers and staff, in areas such as access to training opportunities and class preparation time.
  • Work with the public to create a long-term, funded, secure path forward for education.

Long-term actions

  • Build a public culture based on values other than economic austerity.
  • Build an administrative culture that encourages and respects front-line input from students, staff and community.
  • Build an educational culture that give teachers freedom to teach and students freedom to learn. End the rule of top-heavy, standardized dictates.
  • Transition to a single, fully public education system. Within the public system, allow and support school communities to pursue diverse, flexible, locally-responsive, innovative learning environments and approaches.

 

Resources for action planning

Community Hubs

Exploring Schools as Community Hubs: Investigating application of the community hub model in the context of closure of Athabasca School, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada and other small schools. Dianna Graves. University of Regina, Community Research Unit, August 2011.

Schools as Community Hubs: Beyond Education’s Iron Cage. Edited by David Clandfield and George Martell, Our Schools, Our Selves, Summer 2010.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/community-schools

Class Size

Does class size matter? by Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach. Northwestern University: National Education Policy Center. February 2014

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/class-size

Indigenous Education

Truth and Reconciliation Commission, June 2015.  Summary Report and Calls to Action

Reclaiming the learning spirit: learning from our experience, by Verna St. Denis et.al. Saskatoon, Sask: Aboriginal Education Research Centre, University of Saskatatchewan, 2008 (online link unavailable).

Presentation to the Joint Task Force on First Nations and Métis Education and Employment. RealRenewal, 2012.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/indigenous-education

 Holistic Learning Alternatives

List of experiential/place-based learning programs in Saskatchewan compiled by Outdoor Sask.

Sustainability in Canadian K-12 Education by the Sustainability and Education Policy Network.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/environment-urban-planning

Governance

Input that counts: Integrating community input into decision-making. RealRenewal, 2014.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/governance

School Facilities

Fixing It First. NGA Center for Best Practices, Washington.

Private profit, public loss: The community impact of Alberta P3 schools. CUPE Research, 2013.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/facilities

Privatization and Corporate Influence

Pearson learning and the ongoing corporatization of public education. Journal of Thought, 2016.

Privatization of Schools. CCPA, 2014.

Pearson’s plan to control education. Report to the BC Teachers’ Federation, 2012.

Alternatives to standardized testing 

Assessing student ways of knowing by Rick Sawa, CCPA 2009.

Redefining how success is measured. Canadian Council on Learning, 2007.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/standardized-testing

Student Supports

Education assistants facing mass layoffs. CUPE, 2016.

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/student-support

Teachers and Staff

Seeking Wellness: Descriptive findings from the survey of work life and health of teachers in Regina and Saskatoon. University of Regina, 2012.

Where is our education system heading? CUPE Research.

Freedom to learn requires freedom to teach. Our Schools/Our Selves, 2009

More resources: www.realrenewal.org/issues/teachers-staff

 

APPENDIX: INPUT SUMMARY

 

Questions provided by RealRenewal:

  1. What new measures should be taken to improve our education system?
  2. What measures shouldn’t we take?
  3. What changes are needed in the area of education funding?
  4. What changes are needed in the area of education governance?
  5. What changes are needed in the area of curriculum and student services?
  6. What changes are needed to improve the educational experiences of First Nations and Métis children?
  7. What changes are need to improve the work environment for teachers and school staff?
  8. Overall, what transformational change would you like to see in education, and how can we do it?
  9. Tell us a little about yourself and why you care about education issues.
  10. Any other thoughts or comments?

 

ISSUE CATEGORIES FREQUENCY MENTIONED
Staffing levels, conditions and standards 40
Curriculum 27
School boards / governance 24
Democratization / staff and community input 23
Austerity 22
Hub schools/community-based education 19
Student support 16
Class size 16
Indigenous leadership and staffing 9
Planning / resource allocation 9
Privatization 8
Standardized testing 6
Community problems 3
Technology 2

 

Don Kossick on Corporate Tax Evasion

Make Cameco Pay Up

Saskatchewan citizens are conducting an ongoing campaign to have Cameco – one of the largest uranium companies in the world – pay the $2.2 billion bill that it has accumulated in unpaid taxes.

Cameco has dodged every attempt to have them pay the people of Canada and Saskatchewan what they have stolen. In a story on April 25th, 2016, The National Observer asked if Cameco has “engineer[ed] the largest tax dodge in Canadian History.”

Through donations to hospitals, sponsorship of charitable causes, and bringing in performers like Sarah McLachlin, Cameco has perfected its “Cameco Cares” image of social responsibility. The flip side is much darker. Despite enormous profits over many years – with the help of a tax avoidance scheme, Cameco has caused disruption in the lives of many communities of northern Saskatchewan. Last year the Rabbit Lake mine was closed down, resulting in the loss of 500 jobs. More recently, another 120 jobs have been lost in Cameco operations at the Cigar Lake, McArthur River, and Key Lake mines. Half of people working for Cameco in the North are First Nations or Metis.

Cameco argues they are not making enough money.

The Moteley Fool, a financial advisory web page, describes how Cameco works its finances: “During a six-year period ending in 2012 Cameco’s Canadian operations racked up a cumulative $1.3 billion in losses. Meanwhile, over the same period, the company’s Swiss subsidiary recorded $4.3 billion in profits.” What exactly is going on?

It all dates back to 1999. Cameco set up a subsidiary in Luxembourg, eventually moving it to a low-tax jurisdiction in Switzerland. It then entered into a 17-year contract with that subsidiary, one that would see Cameco’s Canadian operations sell its uranium to its Swiss subsidiary. The price per pound would be fixed for the entire time and “reflected market conditions,” as put by CFO Grant Isaac in 2013.

As the Motley Fool explains, “When the uranium price was severely depressed in 1999, the company’s executives thought this price would rise. They were absolutely right. As a result, Cameco’s Canadian operations began selling uranium for below-market value, resulting in losses. Meanwhile, the Swiss subsidiary was able to buy at below-market prices, ensuring big profits. These big profits faced minimal taxes.”

Cameco is before a CRA court right now to ascertain their guilt in this method of tax avoidance. CRA started looking at Cameco in 2006 – taking ten years and many delays to get to this point. A petition campaign supported by Canadians for Tax Fairness, Sum of Us, and Saskatchewan Citizens for Tax Fairness received over 36,000 signatures. It called on the Federal and Provincial governments to have Cameco pay up.

Cameco’s tentacles go wide and deep in controlling any sort of opposition in Saskatchewan. During a recent Cameco lockout of workers a short video was done on the line interviewing Cameco workers. For one day it circulated on the internet and contained a comment about health and safety conditions in the mines. A worker asked that it be taken down out of deep concern about Cameco’s reaction.

Even though Saskatchewan is in the midst of an economic crisis Premier Wall refuses to pursue the monies owed by Cameco to the Province of Saskatchewan. An estimated 800 million or more could come back if Cameco paid what they owe. That would certainly take the pressure off all the cutbacks and other destructions happening to Saskatchewan’s social and other infrastructures, and particularly communities in northern Saskatchewan. When one sees the closure of the Nortep program in northern Saskatchewan, the community of La Loche still waiting for crisis support services and people who can find housing to live in their community, the freeze and cut backs on 64,000 government workers, the ending of the affordable housing program, cutbacks on healthy baby/healthy mother programs etc – one sees the trail of destruction of Cameco not paying up the millions upon millions they owe to the Saskatchewan people.

The Premier of Saskatchewan has lauded Cameco as the driver of development in the northern Saskatchewan. In 2013 he described Cameco as the best program for First Nations and Metis people. But, seeing Cameco leading them through a boom and bust economy, communities in northern Saskatchewan are asking for much more.

In response to the most recent Cameco cutbacks, Bucky Belanger, NDP MLA in northern Saskatchewan, underscored “the need to expand tourism, forestry, oil and gas development and other industries in the north”.

The problem with areas of “development” such as oil, gas, and forestry is that they still are a part of a boom and bust economy and extract resources from a community without giving much back.

In the late 1900’s there were some real efforts to bring communities of the North together to look at how they would build their own Indigenous economy that would support jobs and resource wealth staying in the north. There is a real need to revive and build on those discussions. A northern economic and social plan done by and with communities of the North would go a long way in reducing the dependency on multi-national corporations that extract but do not give back.

The Cameco situation raises important concerns and questions for Saskatchewan citizens about tax evasion, and Cameco’s sales of uranium internationally also raise serous moral questions that Saskatchewan citizens need to address. The uranium sale a year ago to India – and lauded by Premier Wall- was to a country that has refused to sign the nuclear non proliferation treaty.

Cameco should be answerable and accountable on many fronts including tax dodging, the instability of communities that rely on Cameco as a single source of employment, the health and safety of uranium miners and their communities, the impact on the environment of uranium extraction, and the potential dangers of selling uranium on international markets.

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Summit Panel: Dr. Sally Mahood

Family Physician Dr. Sally Mahood suggests how evidence-based policy-making can improve the fairness and equity of our public health system in Saskatchewan.

 

Social Determinants of Health

  • Canada is one of the top four per capita healthcare spenders among 17 peer nations but among the bottom four for key measures of health status
  • The top 1% of income earners (this includes physicians) own 43% of all financial wealth and the bottom 50% own less than 1%
  • In 2014 Canada spent 11% of GDP on healthcare (up from 7% in 1970’s) and health budgets average about 40% of government expenditures.( This is a combination of increased spending but also decreased revenue generation/tax cuts)
  • Dollars are skewed heavily towards acute or illness care (29.5% to hospitals, 15.7% to drugs, and 15.5% to physician services)
  • 50% of health outcomes can be attributed to social determinants of health (15% due to biology, 25% to healthcare access), and the top social determinants are income, food security, and housing
  • In Saskatoon  the poorest neighborhoods have 13 times higher incidence of Diabetes, 16 times higher suicide rates and 4 times higher  infant mortality (and a similar income gradient exists for most health indices)
  • 50% of $200 billion spent on healthcare annually is associated with the 20% of Canadians with the lowest income
  • Higher income bracket Canadians live on average 20 years longer than lowest income bracket Canadians
  • Household food insecurity is a robust predictor of health care utilization and health costs (independent of other social determinants of health)
  • $1 spent on Housing is estimated to save $11 in healthcare costs
  • Canada has the weakest public funding for early childhood development among wealthy countries yet early childhood interventions net a $6 return for every dollar invested
  • By age 80,  30% of seniors are institutionalized and by age 90 almost 50%, yet most people want to stay at home
  • One third to one half of a person’s healthcare expenditures will happen during the final year of their life

 Healthcare Utilization

  • Rising health care costs are due to many factors (7% due to population growth, 14% to an aging population, 19% to inflation, and 59% to increased utilization)
  • 4.2 million Canadians have no family doctor
  • In Canada, 70% of healthcare is publically funded and 30% is privately funded. Overall costs in privatized health care facilities are 19% higher, and outcomes  generally poorer
  • Contrary to the Canada Health Act,  a 2012 audit found $450,000 illegal extra billing in just one month in British Columbia
  • A healthy person subjected to 10 unnecessary tests has a 40% chance of a ‘false positive’ (meaning a diagnosis of something being wrong when in fact it isn’t)
  • Canadian Association of Radiologists says 30% of CT scans are inappropriate and contribute no useful information
  • 3600 therapeutic knee arthroscopies are performed in Canada/year and yet a sham procedure (pretending to the patient the procedure was done) was just as effective
  • MRI’s of the knee show abnormalities in 91% of people with knee pain and 88% of people with no knee pain,  and the majority of adults over 50 years of age will show knee damage on MRI
  • 50% of people over 50 years of age will show disc herniations on MRI and 90% of healthy people over 60 years of age with no symptoms show degenerative abnormalities on MRI’s of their back
  • Drugs are the fastest growing component of healthcare costs and Canada has amongst the highest drug prices (30% higher than the OECD average)
  • 1 in 10 Canadians can’t afford their drugs (1 in 4 if they have no private drug insurance).
  • 85-90% of new pharmaceutical products offer few new benefits and promotion of them accounts for 80% of increased drug costs
  • Competitive bulk purchasing of essential drugs could produce estimated savings of $10.7 billion/year or 43% of Canada’s $25.1 million drug bill

 

 

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Summit Panel: Leah Arcand

My name is Leah Arcand and I’m from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.

I would like to acknowledge Treaty 4 territory that we’re on today.

And I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to speak and you all for being here and showing an interest in transformational change.

Before I begin, I would like to share with you a little bit about my background.

I’ve been a teacher for 3 years. I know that sounds like I’m a baby when it comes to education but I’ve been in this field professionally for 10 years. I started out as an Educational Assistant and now I lead an activist and nehiyaw land based program called Miyo Pimatsowin which means “good, healthy living.”

It took me awhile to get where I am today and I owe it all to the youth I’ve worked with and the experiences I have had since I started my career in Education..

By all means, I don’t feel like I’m an expert on education but my front line experience has shaped the way I view our education system.

I’m passionate about creating safer spaces in our schools. Creating safer spaces means changing the systems and ideas that play out these microaggressions that reinforce the power structure.

As I was prepping for what I wanted to say today, I was thinking a lot about a program initiative in Saskatchewan that borrows a New Zealand model called, Following Their Voices.  In Canada Following Their Voices focuses on improving First Nations and Métis student attendance. The goal of Following Their Voices is to improve teacher-student relationships, improve the learning environment and to encourage broad interactions between teacher and learner.

It sounds good right?

It’s primarily funded by the provincial government, which has invested $3.1 million since it began, including $1.55 million this year. The federal government has also backed the project with $250,000. That’s a lot of money to train teachers to know how to talk to Indigenous youth.

Maybe the program is working in certain schools – and I don’t want to take anything away from the students who are experiencing success – but I wonder if it’s truly qualitative. And I’m only speaking about the school I saw this program being implemented at.  It did not sit well with me. For example, seeing settler teachers who are FTV school based facilitators suddenly act like experts on indigenous issues is hard to navigate, especially when they don’t know what the Truth and Reconciliation commission is. Also, being the only First Nations staff member and sitting in on student based meetings, witnessing settler teachers have a free-for-all complaining circles about Indigenous youth, was hard to digest.

I feel like we could save a lot of time if we just used that money to hire staff that reflected the student body. If we implemented policy that made it ok for us to do that the youth would see more transformational change through meaningful mentorship from people who have similar lived experiences. I started out in my career as a mentor. I could relate to the youth and they could relate to me.  These youth need Miyo Pimatsowin. They need inclusion and a sense of self/identity.

Miyo Pimatsowin a big change from the more conventional approach to teaching and learning.

We aren’t experiencing parents who have a problem with their children learning about social and cultural subjects. It’s crazy to say, but I know there is at least one place in SK where that isn’t the case. We are able to introduce a decolonial education without any of the dis-ease and worry of having the students parents come to the school in outrage or concern.

The main challenges I faced before Miyo Pimatsowin were those little microaggressions that play out in the school/workplace. Being the right mentor that these FNMI youth need also means disrupting those microaggressions and having to deal with the backlash from the settler community that doesn’t see value in our social and cultural beliefs. I’ve experienced this firsthand and it destroyed my mental health. I was very close to quitting teaching.  Some of my fellow indigenous teacher friends have also experienced backlash when we teach the settler society the things we need to teach the minorities, in order for those minorities to thrive and have pride in their identity.

It’s hard. There’s little to no support for us.  It’s a major turn off and many quit the profession.

Structural/pedagogical changes like this are needed for students to be successful in all/FN schools because we can’t expect them to succeed if they don’t have a safe space to learn and focus on their personal development. It’s a no brainer for me. Building relationships, having fun, leaning into the land, and having meaning conversations are the most valuable when it comes to lifelong learning.

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Summit Panel: Simon Enoch

Re-thinking Deficits and Austerity

I want to discuss the elephant in the room that haunts any of the subsequent policy discussions we will have the rest of the day and that is obviously the current economic health of the province and the government’s financial situation. How we view the current economic situation will determine whether we believe we have choices going forward or whether we have to accept the government’s narrative of deep and immediate cuts as inevitable. So I’d like to use my time this morning to challenge some of the economic assumptions that limit the horizon of what is possible – even in the current economic situation.

I certainly think we can see some of these economic assumptions at work when we look at the scope of the transformational change undertaken by the government so far.

It’s pretty clear that the Saskatchewan government’s “transformational change” agenda is really a clever euphemism for austerity.  Everything that the government has done under the banner of transformational change has been to cut, down-size, roll-back or eliminate. More often than not, these cuts have been directly at the expense of the province’s most vulnerable – such as the cuts to Seniors and Children’s Drug Plans, reduced funding for the Alternative Measures sentencing program and Aboriginal Courtworker Program, and claw-backs to some social assistance programs. Most recently the government has eliminated the 251 custodial jobs – the lowest paid of most government employees and is threatening to eliminate more.

So the government has been entirely focused on the cost-side of the ledger to the neglect of any revenue-generating ideas. Although I suspect we will see some tax increases – most likely a regressive sales tax increase – by the next budget. The government appears to view transformational change as an exercise in cost-cutting, to the detriment of any alternatives.

Now obviously the justification for these cuts is the size of the provincial deficit and the government’s insistence that we have to return to balance as quickly as possible (Surplus by 2018 if we are to believe the Finance Minister).

But If we believe that these are the wrong choices to make, and that there are alternatives that do not disproportionately burden those most vulnerable in our province, then we need to stop buying into the deficit hysteria that allows the government to justify cuts as the only means forward.

Every time we decry the size of the deficit or liken it to the Devine-era, we are, intentionally or not, playing into the government’s frame – that it is the deficit that matters – not unemployment or preserving social programs or the environment or ensuring the most vulnerable in our province are taken care of.

That’s not to say that we can’t criticize why we are in a deficit position, particularly after nearly a decade of booming commodity prices, but if we act as if the mere existence of the deficit is akin to the sky falling, then we are just painting ourselves into a corner when it comes to possible remedies.

So I think we need to put the deficit in perspective in relation to our current debt levels so we can better see what choices are available to us.  Saskatchewan’s economy is much larger than what is was in the 1980s and 1990s. So while a billion dollar deficit in 1991 was cause for grave concern, I don’t think it warrants the same alarm as it did thirty years ago. So let’s look at comparisons.  While Devine-era debt reached over 40 percent as a percentage of GDP (closer to 60 percent if we include Crown debt), Saskatchewan’s current debt as a percentage of GDP is only 19.9 percent, that’s the second lowest in the country after Alberta. Compare this to Manitoba’s 30.9 percent, British Columbia’s 26.6 percent, or Ontario’s 39.6 percent and Saskatchewan’s debt burden is relatively low, leaving the option open for maintaining current spending levels and even enhancing them.

Indeed, as the National Bank concludes in their analysis of Saskatchewan’s 2016 budget:

“Overall then, the debt burden can be deemed low (second only to Alberta), with the interest bite very manageable, contingent liabilities fairly limited, liquidity very healthy and budget flexibility/taxing room available (should it ultimately be required).”

So we have room to manoeuvre, which means we don’t have to try and balance the budget immediately as the government insists. Which means we don’t have to accept massive cuts to public services and the public sector as an inevitability.

Does that mean we don’t have to deal with the deficit? Of course not, but we can choose how and when to deal with the deficit and on grounds that are more favourable.

Let me give you an example, many of you probably remember Paul Martin’s “Hell or High-water” budget in 1995. That’s when Martin as Finance Minister in the Chretien government vowed to defeat the federal deficit “come hell or high-water.”

So Martin made probably the most dramatic cuts to health and social transfers in Canada’s history in his effort to tackle the deficit. That budget is a large part of how the federal government managed to extract itself as a full partner for funding provincial health and other social programs. So these cuts still reverberate with us today.

And like Saskatchewan today, Martin conducted his cuts during a recession – and the cuts had the effect of actually contracting the Canadian economy for a short period of time. But by 1997 Ottawa was back to surplus. So this is a success story right? Well, not if you compare it to other industrialized countries that were also fighting deficits during that period. In fact 18 other countries balanced their budgets during that same period – slightly later than Canada, but balanced them nevertheless. And they did this by either maintaining or expanding spending. How did they achieve this?

Well the economic conditions changed, the world economy recovered and in a positive growth environment its a lot easier to balance budgets – more people are working, increasing tax receipts and less are relying on social supports. So governments are bringing in more revenue while spending less. That makes fighting deficits a lot easier than in a recession when tax receipts are low and you are spending more on social supports. Indeed, as Economist Jim Stanford demonstrates, had the Chretien government merely held the line on spending and merely waited for positive growth to return, the deficit could have been balanced by 1999, only two years later, and without any of the massive dislocations caused by such traumatic spending cuts. And it’s important to note that for the most part, those cuts were never restored, even during the period of year-after-year surpluses that the federal government enjoyed.

But this is what I mean by tackling the deficit on grounds that are more favourable. It is much easier and far less painful to tackle deficits when you are in a positive growth environment.

But the second important thing to keep in mind is that implementing austerity during an economic downturn can actually hinder the return to positive growth. As I mentioned, the Martin cuts actually had the effect of briefly contracting the economy. The fact that austerity measures implemented during a downturn actually contract the economy is pretty much the received wisdom now.

Even the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – once a champion of fiscal austerity – has been forced to admit this. Assessing 30 years of evidence, the IMF unequivocally concludes: “In economists’ jargon, fiscal consolidations [austerity] are contractionary, not expansionary. This conclusion reverses earlier suggestions in the literature that cutting the budget deficit can spur growth in the short term.”

Moreover, the IMF demonstrates that adoption of austerity measures during an economic downturn is “likely to lower incomes—hitting wage-earners more than others—and raise unemployment, particularly long-term unemployment.” Such effects will have the consequence of exacerbating deficits as falling incomes diminish government tax receipts while growing unemployment puts fiscal pressure on social supports like employment insurance, social assistance, re-training allowances, etc.

Thus, attempts to cut spending to tame deficits may have the perverse effect of increasing existing deficits, as prolonged economic stagnation taxes both government revenues and social spending. In light of this, the IMF advises governments to consider delaying deficit-fighting measures until a more robust economic recovery is evident. Conversely, the IMF demonstrates that public investments – particularly in economies experiencing low economic growth – can significantly increase output, lower unemployment and actually bring about a reduction in the public-debt-to-GDP ratio because of the much bigger boost in output. In fact, the IMF concludes that government projects financed through debt issuance have stronger expansionary effects than budget-neutral projects that are financed by raising taxes or cutting other spending.

If we want a good example of how austerity can backfire and produce the very thing you are trying to avoid, we need only take a look at the United Kingdom over the past few years. In response to the deficit racked up bailing out banks during the financial crisis the Cameron government initiated an unprecedented series of austerity measures, cutting government spending across the board by ten percent, including the elimination of 300,000 public sector jobs.

What was the result, well the British economy contracted three times and debt levels went up – not down. When the Cameron government took power debt in the U.K was about 70% of GDP, today it stands at 85%. The cuts did not work – they did the exact opposite, they contracted the economy and increased the debt burden.

I know this seems counterintuitive to many, how can cutting spending increase debt?

The problem is that many governments want us to think about government finances the same way we think about our household finances.

So if I’m in debt, as long as my income stays constant, and I cut my spending, I can pay down my debt.

The problem is that the government is not a household. Cuts in one area – say public sector jobs – increases costs in other areas – say social assistance or re-training. Indeed we have already seen this here in Saskatchewan. The government just announced that because there are more people accessing social assistance programs than expected, the government needs to spend an extra $55 million.

Moreover, if people lose jobs or see their wages rolled-back, the government’s income doesn’t stay constant as tax revenue decreases as people are less likely to spend thereby reducing the government’s take on sales taxes, and if their incomes are reduced or eliminated they are obviously not going to be paying much in the way of income taxes.  Once again, the government has seen a decrease of $400 million in expected tax receipts during the downturn.

Same thing with other programs, so if you cut alternative sentencing programs, more people end up in prison. Low and behold, Saskatchewan has more people in correctional facilities than the government expected, creating the need for an extra $10.3 million.

This creates a vicious cycle where you are trying to make cuts on one side to try and outdo the increased expenses you experience on the other side.

So the government’s finances are not at all like a household. Cuts in one area can increase expenses in another, while draining revenues. We should be wary of anyone who want to simplistically equate the government’s finances with a household.

The fact is that austerity doesn’t just not work – it produces the exact opposite of what austerity is supposed to achieve. Instead of reducing deficits and restoring positive growth – it induces contraction and increases debt.

So the question must be asked, if austerity has proven to be so unsuccessful, why do governments pursue it?

As Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman observes, the “primary purpose” of austerity,“is to shrink the size of government spending – to make the state leaner … not just now, but permanently.”

And as I mentioned before with the Paul Martin austerity budget in 1995, those cuts were never fully restored. Even as the federal government posted surplus after surplus in the years following.

So I think we need to be wary about the whole exercise of austerity because its effects are not temporary, they may very well limit the size and scope of what government can accomplish in the future.

So as we talk today about possibilities for the future here in Saskatchewan, I would ask you all to consider whether pursuing austerity right now helps or hinders real transformational change.

Simon Enoch is Director of the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian centre for Policy Alternatives. See here for more on the failure of austerity economics.

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Summit Panel: Hayley Carlson

Transformation in an Era of Climate Change

Across Canada people hear “Saskatchewan” and we are often dismissed as flat and boring. But Saskatchewan is so much more than this. We are home to the beautiful Athabasca Lake, surrounded by the most northerly active sand dune formation on earth and home to several species of plants that are found no where else in the world. Saskatchewan too, is home to the Cumberland Delta, the largest inland freshwater Delta in North America at 10,000 km and nationally significant wildlife area. And Saskatchewan is also home to many rare species, such as the Swift Fox, a species that thrives on our native prairie.

However, Saskatchewan’s historical approach to the environment has threatened all of these things. The abandoned Gunnar uranium mine on the north shore of Lake Athabasca has been leaching toxic chemicals into the lake for the past 50 years. Dams along the Saskatchewan River and other human impacts are causing the Cumberland Delta to dry up and wildlife populations to decline. Land conversion and habitat fragmentation has made native prairie the most endangered ecosystem in the world. Less than 21 per cent of Saskatchewan’s original native prairie remains.

Environmental issues like these don’t exist in isolation, they are closely linked to those of health, of economy, of indigenous-settler relations and of social justice.

In Saskatchewan, our economy has been traditionally dependent on extractive resource industries that are now struggling and taking us from boom to bust. We’re currently experiencing wide-spread concern about loss of government revenue, cuts to public services, about jobs, and we are feeling a sense of fear and despair.

Unfortunately, environmental health is widely viewed as incompatible with economic security. The latter is seen as the priority, leading to an assumption that environmental risks must be accepted. There is a reluctance to regulate, and a failure to take the concept of “sustainable development” seriously.

Our economy is also very emissions-intensive. In many ways, climate change is an issue that dwarfs all others, and certainly exacerbates them. It really is an existential threat that has the power to fundamentally change our way of life. To me, it seems impossible to truly transform our province without considering transformation in the context of climate change, especially considering the next few decades are critical windows of opportunity for climate action. We are the highest greenhouse gas emitter per capita, and per unit of GDP in Canada, and we have no effective plan in place that either will reduce our emissions or prepare our province for an era of climate change.

We’re also very vulnerable to climate change. Although, in the short term Saskatchewan might experience benefits such as a longer growing season, our province is facing increasing risks from severe weather, crop failure, floods and drought, invasive species, forest fires, and threats to human health and to our infrastructure. These changes will affect the most vulnerable among us the most, those who are on the front lines directly depending on the land for a way of life, and the land itself.

We are all a part of this picture; our personal lives are very dependent on fossil fuels. It is hard to do anything in Saskatchewan without relying on them – turning on a light, heating our homes or even driving to the SaskFoward Policy Summit. We also have families who depend on fossil fuels and resource extraction for their livelihoods, and we all rely on resource revenues to fund important public services. These are real concerns we need to address in any sort of transformation.

Overall, Saskatchewan seems to be experiencing a sense of paralysis when it comes to this challenge, and a lack of inspiring and innovative leadership in government, commerce, education. But how can we transform this picture? I don’t have all the answers, but I hope to suggest a few.

A robust climate change strategy is the most important and the most urgent of the many environmental issues facing Saskatchewan – and because of what we need to do to address it, a proper climate strategy will have implications for all of the other issues we are talking about today. First we need to reduce emissions from our largest emitting sectors of Oil and Gas Mining, Electricity, Transportation and Agriculture, which collectively produce 92% of our provincial GHG emissions. From a policy perspective, it is easier to tackle emissions in some of these sectors relative to others.

Until now, carbon capture and storage technology has been the preferred strategy to address climate change in our province. However, our investment into this technology fundamentally reinforces the status quo, and is proving increasingly risky. It cannot be the way forward if we want to truly transform our province.

Instead it would be wise to target the electricity sector as an opportunity for major emission reductions. This would include planning for a complete coal phase-out by 2030 at the latest, and aggressively pursuing low carbon energy production paired with energy efficiency.

Saskatchewan has world-class solar and wind potential that many independent businesses and entrepreneurs are waiting for additional opportunities to develop. SaskPower should plan to significantly increase planned capacity for renewables by 2030 rather than relying on natural gas for additional energy capacity.

Saskatchewan should also look to other sources of energy production, such as co-generation in potash mines, installing micro-turbines at productive wellheads to capture natural gas or importing additional hydro-power from Manitoba. In fact, the federal government has recently indicated federal funding would be available for green energy projects such as inter-provincial transmission lines.

We should not forget demand-side management. Energy efficiency has been shown to be a great job creator – for tradespeople, for technologists, for energy auditors, for suppliers of materials, and for transit system workers. Low-cost programs that provide incentives for energy efficiency could include building code changes, investing into the education or retraining of building tradespeople and architects, and the upfronting of costs of energy retrofits by utilities, costs that would be gradually repaid by building owners on their monthly power bills.

It is within our reach to transform our electricity grid if we choose to do so, and there are a variety of policy mechanisms our government can employ to encourage this transformation. One such policy is a feed-in-tariff under which customers who install renewable power generators receive a price for the electricity they produce that reflects that actual installation costs plus a modest profit. Alternatively, Saskatchewan could also incentivize this electricity transformation through carbon pricing and revenue recycling, or a flexible regulations such as requiring Saskpower to generate 90% of electricity from near-zero or zero-emission sources by 2030.

In our oil and gas sector, a great opportunity for emission-reduction is the adoption of venting and flaring regulations in the oilfield, such as the proposed federal regulations that would target a 45 per cent reduction in methane emissions by 2025. Fugitive methane emissions from the oil and gas sector alone contribute 17 per cent (13 Million tonnes) to Saskatchewan’s annual greenhouse gas emissions – regulations like these could lower our emission by nearly 6 million tonnes annually (5 million tonnes more than the $1.5 billion unit equipped with carbon capture and storage at Boundary Dam).

Transportation and agriculture are two sectors where it is more difficult to design public policies but we could employ a variety of strategies to reduce emissions from Saskatchewan’s transportation sector, including things like encouraging a shift to rail transport, working with municipalities to develop convenient and reliable public transit services, and providing incentives for the purchase and use of highly energy efficient vehicles. Additional efforts need to be directed into working with our rural residents to identify how they can be a part of climate strategy while strengthening our rural and urban communities against climate change impacts. In the event of a carbon price, some revenue could be recycled into these efforts.

At the same time, we must enact policies that will build the resilience of our ecosystems against the challenges posed by climate change. Our loss of biodiversity needs to be addressed at two levels. First, it requires that we increase the number and size of ecologically significant landscapes that have protected status. It also requires that in those areas where development is allowed, we strengthen our environmental assessment and regulatory processes so that damage to nature is minimized. Environmental assessment needs to be undertaken both at a regional, cumulative level that looks at all of the impacts on a geographical region and on a project-specific level that considers the impacts associated with a particular development proposal. While the long term vision is to transition to a post-fossil fuel society, in the short-term Saskatchewan will need stronger regulations around pipeline construction and operation in order to avoid more episodes like the recent pipeline spills in the North Saskatchewan River, or on Ocean Man First Nation lands. Among other things, pipelines should be monitored by the Ministry of Environment and subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment, constructed with heavier walls and with the latest spill-detection technology, and monitored regularly with improved emergency response and transparency in spill reporting.

The health of Saskatchewan’s water resources is also closely tied to climate change. Our water is currently adequate, but vulnerable. Most of the province’s residents rely on the South Saskatchewan River in the semi-arid south to meet their personal and economics needs. Climate change will alter the processes of precipitation accumulation and melt, change the timing of flow and lead to a general decrease in water availability. Saskatchewan has attempted to address some of these challenges with creation of Water Security Agency, but more needs to be done including a development of a drought contingency plan and planning for water allocations during times of drought. Water infrastructure such as dams should also be upgraded to higher safety standards in anticipation of climate variability.

Doing all of these things is not just about reducing emissions or our impact on the environment, it is about preparing our province to succeed in a post-fossil fuel world, where I imagine we might live with less, but live better. If I am lucky enough to live to be 100 years old, it will be 2091, so I would be very much alive to see the consequences of our choices in the next few years. Fortunately, I think we have both the way and the will to make the changes we need to make.

I also firmly believe that if we want different public policies, we have to change the way we create them. Top-down, expert-driven and specialized approaches are characteristic of traditional methods of governance, but are not engaging people in the way they need to be. When we create policy this way, we are making choices that are consistent with only one way of seeing the world and not truly serving our diverse population. Moving beyond traditional ways of making decisions will not mean determining the most likely future for Saskatchewan, but rather involves deciding what kind of future we collectively desire. We need to ask where our province is ultimately heading, who is gaining and losing from our choices, what mechanisms of power are behind our decisions, and is growth desirable. This will involve frank discussion around values and power, but we cannot shy away from having the hard conversations we undoubtedly need to have to transform this province.

I believe this process is a good step in the right direction.

 

Hayley Carlson, Policy Coordinator and Ann Coxworth, Researcher | Saskatchewan Environmental Society

Transforming Migrant Work Conditions by Migrant Worker Justice for Saskatchewan

Introduction

They are cooks, cleaners, wait staff. They are welders, electricians, and construction workers. They are nurses, physicians, and live-in caregivers. They are manual labourers in greenhouses and throughout the agricultural sector. Residents of Saskatchewan have direct and indirect encounters with them on a daily basis, whether it is each time they order a double-double, access health care, or purchase some locally grown produce.

They are migrant workers: thousands of foreign workers who are in this province on temporary work permits. They are legally allowed to work here, but there are no guarantees that they will be allowed to stay.

The number of Temporary Foreign Workers in Saskatchewan has increased by 310 percent since 2005, yet there is little systematic understanding of their actual experience of work and residency in Saskatchewan. In 2014, there was an estimated 11,000 TFWs in the province (Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2014). If we include permanent residents and workers employed in the province through company transfers or the International Labour Mobility program, the number of newcomers and foreign workers is at least double.

Why are workers from all corners of the globe coming here to Saskatchewan to work jobs that are often low-wage and lack security?

These workers are just part of an estimated 232 million migrants worldwide crossing international borders in order to find work pushed by the rapid pace of economic globalization that has resulted in high unemployment and increasing poverty in their home countries (International Labour Organization, 2016).  These conditions have resulted in a demand for foreign workers in low and high-skilled occupations here in developed economies, like Saskatchewan. The end result as Choudry and Smith (2016) describe it: “with Economic restructuring, labour market deregulation and the erosion of union power, increasing numbers of workers – and especially immigrant and temporary migrant workers – have suffered disproportionality from low-wage employment and welfare state retrenchment.”

Our two, linked research teams are attempting to better understand this population’s health needs, employment conditions, and housing situations. We are studying the issues migrant workers encounter on the job, whether it is about workplace safety or the complex relationship they have with unions. It is critical that researchers, service providers, policy makers and, most importantly, the general public learn more about migrant workers who are making positive contributions to our communities and our workplaces.

Throughout North America, migrant workers are recognized as especially vulnerable to factors affecting health such as poor housing conditions, workplace safety, and access to health services (Preibisch & Hennebry, 2011; Preibisch & Otero, 2014) – all which can be considered modifiable determinants of health, and all of which are affected by various forms of legislation and regulation. It’s also been well-documented that the legal status of migrant workers makes them particularly vulnerable to workplace exploitation and abuse (Faraday 2014; Faraday 2012; Auditor General of Canada 2009). We are comparing the migrant worker realities in Saskatchewan to experiences in other provinces.

This research also seeks to understand the relationship between migrant workers and their respective unions. Although a substantial number of TFWs are employed in industries, like food services and accommodations, with low union density rates, many work in occupations like healthcare and construction where labour organizations have a significant presence (Stevens 2014a). This component of the project also investigates the interaction between migrant workers and employment standards, and how they navigate the existing complaints-based system governing hours of work, minimum wages, and other basic workplace rights.

 

Method

In order to get a clearer picture of migrant worker life and health-affecting circumstances in Saskatchewan, the first phase of our study reached out to a variety of community partners who work directly with migrant workers. Our Community Advisory Panel (CAP) draws on a wealth of experience and knowledge amongst professionals and community leaders who interact with migrant workers and migrant worker issues. The purpose of the CAP is to help identify stakeholders we could interview and recruit participants for our study. In total 15 key informants were identified and interviewed in 2016. Collectively our interviewees represent a broad spectrum consisting of faith groups, settlement agencies, employers, government regulators, and workplace safety organizations.

 

Findings

Our preliminary findings shed light on the various ways provincial legislation and regulations affect the well-being of migrant workers. Through the interviews we identified gaps in the established systems (provincial and federal) that are designed to protect the health of these foreign workers. Drawing on and reflecting on our research, questions surface about the design and effectiveness of the provincial mechanisms, particularly related to enforcement provisions, that are supposed to protect migrant workers in Saskatchewan in the areas of employment standards, housing, occupational safety, and accessing health care services.

 Accessing Health Care

Our interviews reveal that even if migrant workers are entitled to health care, they have difficulty accessing healthcare services due to language barriers or because they might lack the knowledge of how to navigate the provincial health care system.  What is also apparent is that migrant workers are hesitant to report illness and or seek medical attention because they are fearful doing so may compromise their employment and result, ultimately, in deportation. Unfortunately, this fear is not unfounded. The service providers and migrant worker advocates we spoke to provided accounts of this actually occurring:

I know one guy who had his appendix removed, after he was released from the hospital shortly he was sent back home because his recuperation would take longer. So the employer don’t want to risk it because the reality is it’s money that they are investing and they need to get some return so they don’t want to have workers that aren’t healthy or they don’t work. (migrant worker advocate)

These health care realities have even changed the human resource practices in companies that came to rely on the Temporary Foreign Work Program.

We actually partnered with a doctor’s office. And in the doctor’s office there’s like a doctor, a chiropractor, a massage therapist – you know there’s whole bunch of different practices all practicing in one practice. And so for a lot of our people they don’t have a doctor, right? Like they don’t have somebody that they’ve seen ever since they were born. Like a lot of them, when you’re new to the country, you haven’t had that exposure to somebody that may not have just been a walk-in clinic. You know like if you weren’t feeling good. So we never force anybody to go to our doctor, it is always up to them. And the doctors that we work with are very familiar with our processes and that – we want to accommodate. (human resource manager)

Housing

Housing surfaced as an issue among migrant workers according to settlement workers and migrant worker advocates in the community. This includes migrant workers who are free to secure their own housing as well as those who live in accommodation provided by their employers. Access to affordable and safe housing in close proximity to services and sources of employment is limited, especially in Saskatchewan’s two main urban centres. Many interview participants mentioned that affordable housing was often restricted to what they perceive as unsafe neighbourhoods or in poorly maintained properties. It is important to recognize that this is a problem facing many low-income residents in Saskatchewan, and sheds light on the limitations of existing municipal and provincial housing strategies.

Many critical questions surface when examining the effectiveness of the regulatory bodies that are tasked with conducting housing inspections for employers who hire and house migrant workers.  Interview participants frequently summoned examples of over-crowding, housing supplied with insufficient number of appliances, and infrastructure that is in poor to inoperable condition. Employers often approached Regional Health Authorities for housing inspection documentation, which they can later submit as part of their application to hire foreign temporary workers:

We would report only on the conditions that we would see the time and the day of the inspection. Which means if they ask for the inspection in the middle of December, and everything is frozen and boarded up because they aren’t going to have [the workers] until summer, all we would say is, this is the time we were here and this is what we saw.

Often time the inspection is before the migrant worker actually shows up because it is part of the approval process to actually get them on site. So often times they are not even there when I am inspecting. (housing inspector)

This reflection is problematic because it does not assure the housing adequately meet the needs of the migrant workers, and sheds light on the limitations of the inspection regime as applied to housing for TFWs. It is also not an accurate assessment of the actual living conditions of the migrant workers once they actually arrive, and fails to prevent the examples of over-crowding summoned during interviews.

 

Occupational Health

                Occupational health encompasses the physical and psychological well-being of workers.  Saskatchewan has one of the highest work-related injury rates and the highest workplace injury-related fatality rate among Canadian provinces (AWCBC, 2016). Common occupational health issues cited by our interviewees include migrant workers being over-worked, not being trained properly in workplace safety, lack of proper safety equipment, and/or unsafe working conditions. As one interviewee noted:

Vulnerable workers will often overlook safety, just to keep their job. They’ll often overlook any safety concerns, and that’s the same with migrant workers, or with new Canadians is [that] safety isn’t important. They’ll do whatever they have to do or are told to do and that’ll be it.  (union representative)

The consensus among interviewees was that there are significant obstacles to migrant workers reporting workplace injuries, and materials related to OHS rights and responsibilities and OHS training need to be translated into different languages. A key informant had this to say:

Their own situation isn’t stable yet in Canada. They worry that if they complain, there’ll be retribution. And in some cases they come from a country where there was retribution if they were injured at work. Not in all cases but in some cases. So that is the number one thing; the tendency is to not report at all; they’re too scared to report.  (member of provincial safety association)

These gaps result in unreported injuries, and migrant workers not getting the support they are entitled to from the Saskatchewan Workers’ Compensation Board. Furthermore, because of injury under reporting, safety associations, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, and other injury prevention partners, may not have an accurate picture of the types and frequency of injuries experienced by migrant workers.

Labour Rights

                Employment standards and labour relations legislation in Saskatchewan has always been a politically charged issue. In the last decade, major legislative overhauls resulted in the introduction of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, which, by some accounts, has tilted the balance of power in the favour of employers and businesses in the province (Stevens 2014b). However, some improvements to the basic floor of employment rights have been established, not least of which is legislation focused on protecting migrant and immigrant worker rights. Some of these legislative changes surfaced in response to hundreds of reported cases of abuse and exploitation.

Interviewees discussed at length the ways in which the precariousness of status makes migrant workers more vulnerable than their Canadian counterparts. The combination of possible workplace exploitation, mistreatment and abuse combined with a lack of understanding about rights in general is identified as a major issue:

The stories I’ve heard from my clients they’re – they were treated very, very badly. They were called even slaves. You came to Canada because I give you these option. I wanted you to come to – and you have to do whatever I tell you otherwise I just kick you as from this place.  (settlement worker)

                Proclaimed in 2013, Saskatchewan’s Foreign Worker Immigration Rights and Services Act (FWRISA) is designed to police recruiters, immigration consultants and employers, and offer migrant workers legal avenues through which to address instances of harassment and exploitation in the workplace. The province describes this legislation as the most comprehensive of its kind in Canada. In fact, our province’s legislated protections for migrant workers have been given a B+ by the Canadian Council for Refugees in that organization’s 2015 national Report Card (CCR 2015). However, there is room for improvement. Our findings suggest that the legislation does not go far enough in auditing employers, or providing migrant workers with adequate assurances that they will not lose employment or be deported should they choose to file a complaint.

Although FWRISA can conduct investigations regarding abuse or mistreatment of workers, there are only three Integrity Officers plus an Executive Director who are responsible for the entire province of Saskatchewan. This shortfall is reflected in the federal management and enforcement of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. With over a thousand organizations accessing the TFWP, the sheer number of employers who hire migrant workers makes it difficult if not impossible for even a quarter of employers in Saskatchewan to be audited. The question raised here is whether this creates a scenario whereby abuses may routinely occur, go unreported or are underreported.  Since FWRISA also operates as a complaint-based system, it means migrant workers themselves who have a workplace issue, or their allies in the community, must contact the FWRISA hotline. Problems with this complaint-based system have long been documented in Saskatchewan and across Canada (Faraday 2014; Leo 2014). As our evidence shows, it is apparent that the fear of dismissal or deportation is a very real one for many of these workers, and therefore, there is great reluctance to report to authorities and instead continue to tolerate a situation with no reprieve or resolution.

There have also been unintended consequences stemming from FWRISA, which have hindered the capacity of public servants to offer assistants to migrant workers. This also ties into the lack of English language competencies amongst some of these newcomers and the lack of multi-lingual information about services.

 

One of the big limitations is …you know, there’s so many forms. And everybody says “can you help me do this form? Can you help me do this form?” and actually with the provincial legislation, we cannot help them do the form. We can give them the same information that there would be on the website about the form, and about the categories but we can’t say “if I was you I would put this here. Or I would put it like this”. We cannot interpret their information for them. According to the new provincial legislation that came in February of 2014, where you cannot act as if you are an Immigration Consultant. (settlement worker)

Future Directions for Research and Policy

While this paper represents a short summary of our preliminary research findings, and while there are still many unknowns about the experiences of migrant workers in Saskatchewan, our data raises the questions about the self-regulatory and complaints-driven regulatory model of migrant worker rights. The evidence suggests there is a need for greater resources for migrant workers than what already exists, and that there are not sufficient supports exclusively tailored to the unique needs of migrant workers. It also suggests the protective mechanisms in place ought to be strengthened. Going forward, our research team has highlighted the following issues:

  • In recognizing that many migrant workers originate in non-English speaking countries, all three levels of government need to consider the translation of documents related to accessing public service, employment rights, and occupational health and safety into languages commonly spoken by these newcomers (e.g., Spanish, Hindi, Tagalog, Arabic).

 

  • Consideration needs to be given to making publicly accessible the number of cases investigated by the Ministry of the Economy’s Program Integrity Unit, which oversees the FWRISA, as well as the outcome of these investigations and parties involved. Immigration recruiters and agencies that have been banned from practicing in Saskatchewan need to be included on a government-maintained list.

 

  • With legislation already in place for housing, employments standards and occupational health/safety, but gaps in enforcement revealed in this research, Saskatchewan needs implementation of a more robust inspection mandate in these areas. Relatedly, this requires an examination of the existing self-regulation and complaints-based models in these respective areas. Proactive approaches (e.g., random audits and inspections) may help identify those employers that regularly flaunt OHS and employment law. Here, cooperation will be required between Ministries and with municipal levels of government.

 

  • Recognizing that issues surrounding access to safe affordable housing are similarly faced by thousands of migrant and non-migrants, local municipalities need to be empowered with a provincial affordable housing strategy. The principal focus should be on the two major urban centres, Saskatoon and Regina, where about half of all TFWs are located. Challenges faced by migrant workers in rural areas and smaller municipalities also need to be considered.

____________________

By “Health Wanted: Social Determinants of Health Among Migrant Workers, and “Saskatchewan in the Global Division of Migrant Labor” research teams at the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina.

Farha Akhtar, Dr. Michael Schwandt, Dr. Lori Hanson, Dr. Sean Tucker, Dr. Andrew Stevens

___________________

References

AWCBC (Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada). (2016) http://awcbc.org/?page_id=14

 

Auditor General of Canada. 2009. Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. Chapter 2: Selecting foreign workers under the Immigration Program. Fall.

 

CCR. 2015. Report card: Migrant workers in Saskatchewan. http://ccrweb.ca/sites/ccrweb.ca/files/sk_report_card.pdf

 

Choudry, Aziz & Smith, Adrian. 2016. Unfree Labour? Struggles of Migrant and Immigrant Workers in Canada. April. Oakland: PM Press.

 

Faraday, Fay. 2014. Profiting from the precarious: How recruitment practices exploit migrant workers. April. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.

 

Faraday, Fay. 2012. Made in Canada: How the law constructs migrant workers’ insecurity. Toronto: Metcalf Foundation.

 

International Labour Organization. 2016.  International Labour Standards on Migrant Workers.

http://www.ilo.org/global/standards/subjects-covered-by-international-labour-standards/migrant-workers/lang–en/index.htm?ssSourceSiteId=integration

 

Leo, Geoff. 2014. Complaint-based systems failing abused foreign workers. CBC News, May 27. http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/complaint-based-systems-failing-abused-foreign-workers-expert-1.2651413

 

Preibisch, Kerry and J. Hennebry J. 2011. Temporary migration, chronic effects: the health of international migrant workers in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 183(9), 1033–1038.

 

Preibisch, Kerry, and G. Otero. 2014. Does citizenship status matter in Canadian agriculture? Workplace health and safety for migrant and immigrant laborers. Rural sociology, 79(2), 174-199.

 

Stevens, Andrew. 2014a. Temporary foreign workers in Saskatchewan’s “booming” economy. Regina: CCPA-Saskatchewan.

 

Stevens, Andrew. 2014b. Is the Saskatchewan Employment Act ready of modern realities? Rankandfile.ca, May 13. http://rankandfile.ca/2014/05/13/is-the-saskatchewan-employment-act-ready-for-modern-realities/

Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network on pipeline safety and protection of water

 

The last seven months – July 2016 – January 2017 – has seen two major oil spills in Saskatchewan. This has prompted important reactions about the safety of pipelines both existing and in development. It has galvanized communities to take action against the pipeline dependence that is destroying environments and clean water sources for many communities.

Shortly after the disastrous Husky spill on the North Saskatchewan River, Canoe Lake Indigenous Environmental activist leader Emil Bell went on a hunger strike demanding accountability from Husky and the Saskatchewan government, and a true record of what happened with the Husky spill.

Emil Bell’s hunger strike lead to various actions against Husky. The Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network was formed linking Indigenous and non Indigenous communities in opposition to the damage to critical water sources in Saskatchewan.

Tyrone Tootoosis, spokesperson for the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network said, “water is life, people and communities want to know how to avoid these disastrous spills and who is accountable and responsible for what has happened.

We need to understand that this Husky catastrophe could happen to any body of water and we need citizen oversight on what the oil companies and the governments are doing. Water, the environment, and communities are too precious to have their interests subordinated to the interests of oil companies”, said Tyrone Tootoosis.

Indigenous communities along the Saskatchewan River System which falls within Treaty 6 territory took action.

“Due to the slow response by Husky and lack of transparency during the containment and cleanup process, the James Smith Cree Nation has decided to take its own mitigation measures and conduct its own sampling. They have expressed that their way of life has been impacted by the spill and that contaminants have been found in lake sturgeon spawning grounds. As a Sovereign Nation, we have taken it upon ourselves to take action and clean our river.” -James Smith Cree Nation (www.jamessmithcreenation.com).

Because of the lack of information or analysis coming from Husky and the Wall government an Independent Water Study was carried out in August by E Tech International Hydrologist Richardo Segovia. The study was supported by Idle No More, Public Service Alliance of Canada (Prairie Region) and the Council of Canadians.

Richardo Segovia’s team spent four days travelling the length of the spill along the North Saskatchewan River, speaking with residents, and collecting some sediment samples at strategic locations.

The study questioned the delayed response which resulted in the spilled oil going 500 kilometers downstream to Cumberland Lake contaminating drinking water for communities from North Battleford, Prince Albert, James Smith First Nation, Nipawin. (Months later Husky has given no adequate explanation for a 14 hour delay dealing with the oil spill.)

Richardo Segovia’s work pointed out, “Husky has not been open with technical information during the spill response. Despite the fact that they have taken thousands of water samples, the public still has not had access to any of the lab results. Instead, residents have had to trust Husky’s own summaries of exceedances of allowable contaminant limits and cleanup efforts. They have not taken any samples beyond Prince Albert, about 375 km downstream, even though contamination has been reported more than 500 km downstream.”

The Independent Water Study also states, “one major flaw in Husky’s sampling program is that they are only analyzing water. The separation of diluted crude into its lighter and heavier components causes some of the contaminants to end up attached to suspended river sediments and deposited on the river bottom, especially as time goes on. Husky is missing a major part of the contamination in not sampling sediments and could be leaving behind a toxic legacy for years to come.”

In a public statement E-Tech hydrogeologist Ricardo Segovia, warned that the hydrocarbons detected in sediment along the river are “very, very nasty” and could persist for years. He says, “You can’t go back to the way things were before … because there’s that chance that (contaminants) can be stirred up from the sediments, you have to be constantly monitoring those water intakes for the next several years at least.”

Although this study was conducted last summer it leaves some disturbing questions such as the long term effect of the oil in the sediment, how far the oil has travelled down the Saskatchewan River, and the release of hydro carbons from the spill affecting wild life and human communities.

On September 18th the Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network organized a Rally for Water in Saskatoon that had hundreds in attendance. Guest speakers included David Suzuki, Water for Life leader Christi Belcourt, Derek Nepinak, Grand Chief of the Manitoba Assembly of Chiefs, Ricardo Segovia.

Demands made at the Rally for Water included:

  1. Respect and adhere to rights and obligations of water use and flow on Indigenous lands and territories.
  2. Conduct a public Independent Inquiry into the Husky oil disaster.
  3. Do an Independent Audit on the real costs of the Husky Disaster – now and future costs.
  4. Establish an arms length independent watch dog to monitor and report on the safety to the public of oil pipe lines, oil wells and fracking in Saskatchewan.
  5. Demand that the government of Saskatchewan introduce the strongest environmental safety regulations and regulatory power over the extraction and movement of resources such as oil.
  6. Support and encourage the abilities and resources of communities to do their own assessments of water quality and preserving clean water sources.
  7. Build alliances for safe, clean water and water preservation community to community.
  8. Turn Saskatchewan from a petro-state to one of renewable energy use.

Subsequent to these calls for action the Saskatchewan Environmental Society (SES) in December 2016 called for an independent third party investigation that would take the form of a public inquiry. It would look at the actions of Husky and the provincial government as well as the broad environmental implications of the spill and its effects on local communities and First Nations. SES also called on the provincial government for more stringent safeguards, including environmental oversight, better inspection and emergency protocols, and more modern spill detection equipment.

In this same month the Wall government refused the request of the Privacy Commissioner for information on five years of pipeline inspections.

In January 2017 the next great oil spill took place of 200,000 litres on the Ocean Man First Nation Land. Undetected for days from a 49 year old pipe line that had never been inspected, and only discovered by a smell. The government was extremely slow in making it public – a three day delay.

With the planned announcement of moving the Enbridge Line 3 across southern Saskatchewan these spills and cover ups by oil companies and the provincial government show how threatening the pipelines will be to communities and the environment.

Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network has called for intervention from outside this province for a probe on the oil spills and most importantly how communities can be defended. An alliance – inside and outside of Saskatchewan – demanding to know what has happened and will happen in Saskatchewan will be critical in withstanding the heavy pressure for pipelines across Canada. Such an alliance would have its base water for life and link Indigenous and non Indigenous communities and would be a strong potent for resistance and change to a non fossil fuel based economy and society.

Don Kossick, member, Kisiskatchewan Water Alliance Network

Angelina and Daniel Beveridge on an upstream diabetes/obesity strategy

Upstream: Toward a Provincial Strategy on Obesity Prevention

We have heard that Saskatchewan has a financial deficit of about $1 billion.  We know that a large proportion of our Saskatchewan budget, perhaps 40 percent, is devoted to what is called “health care” although more correctly it should be called illness care and treatment. A significant portion of that cost is what the provincial government pays for treatment of diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses. We also know that prior to 1960, diabetes of type II was relatively rare in Saskatchewan whereas now it is considered an epidemic.

What is called for here is real “transformational change,” not just continuing the current treatment approach, but an upstream approach, a prevention approach, dealing with causes, and gradually reducing treatment costs over time.

In this submission we claim that obesity is preventable, and with it, many obesity-related illnesses, such of diabetes and the complications associated with diabetes. We claim that in our society we presently have the knowledge and skill to prevent obesity but we are not putting a sufficient priority on prevention. We claim that increasing the current health promotion and disease prevention budget to 3 percent from the current 1.4 percent of total health expenditures by Saskatchewan Health would have a major impact in reducing obesity and reducing overall “health care” costs. We suggest that the following claim be pondered, at least briefly, rather than dismissed as outrageous:

“…if all residents of Saskatchewan had healthy weights (BMI = 20 to 24.9) the province would save up to $260 million a year… If all Saskatchewan residents had healthy weights and did not smoke, the province could save up to $570 million a year.” (Colman 2001: 20)

Finally we claim, if we do not increase substantially the current efforts at prevention, that obesity, diabetes and related costs shall continue to climb dramatically, with major negative impacts on all Saskatchewan residents.

________________________________

“Widespread increases in physical inactivity and caloric intake have led to a global epidemic of overweight, obesity and diabetes. The reasons for these trends are multifaceted and complex. However, major drivers include the ubiquity of high-calorie, low-cost convenience foods, increased portion sizes, and a way of life that encourages sedentary behaviour, such as sitting at computers, in front of television screens, and in cars” (Booth 2015).

For the first time, in 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) referred to obesity as a “global epidemic.”  For the first time in human history, the number of overweight people in the world now equals the number of underfed people, with 1.1 billion in each group (Colman 2001).

Obesity and diabetes have reached epidemic proportions in Canada. Obesity is a major risk factor for diabetes and many other chronic diseases, all of which place major costs on the health care system and the economy as well as the individual and family involved. For example, obese Canadians are four times more likely to have diabetes than those with healthy weights. Obesity was not a problem several decades ago. Obesity is preventable. A cost-effective strategy must take an “upstream” approach, aiming at prevention of obesity, focussing primarily on adequate physical activity and a healthy diet from an early age and secondarily on the physical environment.

Obesity is a sensitive subject. Our intent here is not to cast blame, to make overweight people feel bad about themselves, or to allow healthy weight people to feel smug. “On the contrary, it is to suggest that Saskatchewan could take the lead in turning around a highly destructive global trend, and to encourage communities, schools, policy makers, health professionals and ordinary individuals to work together to improve the health and well-being of all our citizens” (Colman 2001). Pursuing healthy weights should not be viewed as simply a purely individual responsibility but a challenge calling for a “whole-of-society” approach (Obesity in Canada, Canada Senate Report, 2016:18).

 

Extent of Obesity and Diabetes

The extent of obesity in Canada is “high and rising:” even more alarming is the recent increase among children and youth. Two-thirds of Canadian adults are overweight (BMI= 25.0 to 29.9) or obese (BMI=>30.0), (where BMI or Body Mass Index = weight in kg/height in cm squared). This has increased dramatically over the past 25 years, roughly doubling in adults. One quarter of Canadian adults and 8.6 percent of children and youth aged 6-17 are obese according to measured height and weight data from 2007-2009 (Obesity in Canada, p. 4). Another source states that in the period 1985 to 2011 obesity tripled from 6 percent to 18 percent of the Canadian population.

Other sources show similar findings: obese Canadians are 20.2 % of the population; overweight and obese men are 62 % and women 46 %. Another source shows that among non-aboriginals, age 18 and over, 2009-2010 data, the percentage who are overweight or obese is 51.9%; among First Nations on-reserve  it is 74.4%; among First Nations off-reserve it is 62.5%, 2008-2010 data (Public Health Agency of Canada, 2011).

In Saskatchewan, nearly two-thirds of residents have an unhealthy weight, second only to New Brunswick (Colman 2001). In Saskatchewan, approximately 57 percent of adults and 20 percent of youth are either overweight or obese. Regarding diabetes, it is estimated that the number of people living with diabetes in Saskatchewan will grow to 100,000 in 2017, up from 97,000 in 2016, and will increase by 35 percent in the next decade. In addition, a further 176,000 are expected to be living with pre-diabetes and another 43,000 living with undiagnosed diabetes (Canadian Diabetes Association, 2017??). Not only is the number of people with diabetes growing, but so are the serious complications they experience such as heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and limb amputation, all of which incur serious costs on the individuals, families and the province.

 

Impacts

Obesity is a risk factor in many chronic diseases. Obesity significantly increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, osteoarthritis and certain types of cancer. In turn, diabetes leads to serious complications as listed above. Estimates of the cost of obesity in Canada range from $4.6 billion to $7.1 billion annually (2006). For diabetes alone the cost in 2000 was $2.5 billion a year (Diabetes in Canada, p. 47).

In Saskatchewan obesity is the second-leading preventable cause of death after cigarette smoking. It is estimated that more than 960 Saskatchewan residents die prematurely each year due to obesity-related illness, compared to 1,200 deaths due to tobacco and about 100 road accident deaths.

Obesity-related illnesses cost the Saskatchewan health care system an estimated $120 million dollars annually, or 7.3% of total direct health care costs. When productivity losses due to obesity, including premature death, absenteeism and disability are added, the total cost of obesity to the Saskatchewan economy was estimated at between $230 million and $260 million a year, equal to 1% of the province’s Gross Domestic Product. If present trends continue, these costs could surpass the direct and indirect costs of tobacco smoking, currently about $311 million a year (Colman 2001).

A recent study indicates that diabetes alone costs Saskatchewan’s health care system $99.8 million a year in direct costs including hospitalization, doctor visits, dialysis and inpatient medications.

Although obesity represents a burden for some, it is a boon to economic growth and the GDP. The obesity epidemic is a boon for the pharmaceutical industry. New factories need to be built to produce more insulin and other anti-diabetic drugs to meet the skyrocketing demand from those with diabetes, as global incidence of diabetes is expected to double to 300 million people by the year 2015. Like war, crime and pollution, illness can make the economy grow more rapidly than peace, health and a clean environment. In the USA, liposuction is the leading form of cosmetic surgery; diet and weight loss industries contribute $33 billion to the U.S. economy annually (Colman 2001: 23).

 

Causes 

Obesity involves a wide and interactive range of behavioural, biological/genetic, and societal factors. Health behaviours or lifestyle factors, primarily eating healthy food and having adequate physical activity, are themselves influenced by deeper societal factors like stress and work patterns.

Poor eating habits (including low consumption of fruits and vegetables and high consumption of refined carbohydrates and sweetened beverages (Bray 2003), particularly high-sugar, high-salt, fast food, show a strong association with the prevalence of obesity. Eating habits, healthy and unhealthy, are learned at an early age, like developing a taste for vegetables or for foods with sugar and salt: much food marketed as baby food has considerable levels of salt and sugar. Access to healthy food also is important: low income and distance from a food store may lead to more use of closer convenience stores with poorer food choices. For those with higher incomes, sedentary lifestyles, longer work hours, rising stress levels, may all contribute to increasing unhealthy weights. In Saskatchewan residents eat out more often than they used to and one quarter experience high levels of chronic stress (Colman 2001).

The food industry contributes $30 billion in advertising to the U.S. GDP (Gross Domestic Product), more than any other industry does, and much of it promotes the very foods that cause obesity: much of it targets children and youth. In Canada, current support for education or information programs aimed at nutritional illiteracy is infinitesimal in comparison: it appears that we are simply leaving this topic to the food industry.

Physical inactivity also has a strong association with obesity for both men and women. In the USA, which does not have universal Medicare, some HMOs (Health Management Organizations), finding that people who are more active use fewer medications, encourage their clients to participate in physical activity by subsidizing gym fees,

Less than half of Saskatchewan residents exercise regularly (three or more times a week), the second lowest rate of activity in Canada, and a quarter either never exercise or exercise less than once a week. Saskatchewan residents watch an average of 3.25 hours of television each day (Colman 2001). Television watching often begins at an early age, followed by video games and smart phones.

Although lifestyle is the major risk factor for obesity, societal factors such as family history, ethnic background and socioeconomic status, as well as the physical environment also play a significant part. Obesity is correlated with low educational level, poverty and rural residence; obesity also is generally higher in Aboriginal (37.8%) than non-Aboriginal people. Climbing obesity rates are less the fault of individuals and more a consequence of changes in the food environment (e.g. a huge increase in fast food outlets) and a decrease in physical activity demands in daily living, resulting in an “obesogenic environment” making it too easy to eat poorly and remain sedentary (Obesity in Canada, Senate Report, 2016:8)

A more recent consideration regarding obesity that is gaining momentum among public health officials, at least in urban areas, is the potential to design or redesign the built environment in which we live—including buildings, parks, transportation systems and overall communities—to promote active, healthy living. Numerous studies have suggested a link between neighbourhood characteristics – including urban design, the presence of recreational spaces and “foodscapes” –and the physical activity and dietary patterns of local residents. Thus there is growing evidence from large, observational studies that neighbourhoods that provide more opportunities for walking and cycling have lower rates of obesity and diabetes. Collectively, this evidence suggests that population interventions targeting the built environment may have long-term health benefits (Booth 2015).

Suggested Interventions

Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

  1. That the Ministry increase the health promotion and disease prevention budget to 3% from the current 1.4% of total health expenditures (currently 98.6% of Saskatchewan’s “health care” budget is actually comprised of illness-treatment expenditures. Currently we spend substantial amounts to make Saskatchewan roads safer and reduce the likelihood of about 100 road accident deaths annually: a fraction of that invested in nutritional literacy and physical education programs might yield significant dividends both in lives saved and in reducing the annual quarter billion dollar drain on the Saskatchewan economy due to obesity-related illness (currently about 960 lives lost yearly).
  2. That the Ministry develop performance indicators that reflect upstream preventative measures as well as downstream treatment measures like wait times.
  3. Encourage improved training for physicians regarding diet and physical activity.
  4. Promote the use of physician counseling, including the use of prescriptions for exercise.
  5. That public funding be increased for treatment of obese adults and youth: counselling, medication and surgery.

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education: Children and Youth

  1. Mandating and funding school boards to implement the existing policy that children and youth engage in 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily at school. (Inspiring Movement 2010). This is not necessarily the same as
  2. Monitoring to what extent school boards have implemented the 2010 policy on physical activity.
  3. Limiting foods and drinks sold in schools to healthy choices: these should provide healthy meals as well as educational opportunities for children to participate in meal planning and preparation.
  4. Nutritional education.

Other Public Policy

  1. Regulation of marketing to children particularly of the energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and beverages
  2. Warning labels and taxes on unhealthy foods and beverages (akin to current anti-tobacco strategies)
  3. Community planning that promotes active commuting and recreational physical activities
  4. Financial incentives, similar to the Children’s Fitness Tax Credit, for low income adults and seniors affected with chronic conditions, to attend a fitness centre that provides supervised physical activity.
  5. Dependable funding for programs such as ParticipAction.

General

  1. In view of the correlation between stress, long work hours, poor dietary habits and gains in overweight, consider creating jobs by reducing work hours as European countries have done (Colman 2001)

 

Questions

  1. How much currently is spent by government and non-governmental organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association on prevention?
  2. What research has been done on the possible cost-effectiveness of prevention measures such as those suggested here?
  3. Why do Saskatchewan governments of all political stripes continue to spend so little on prevention?
  4. How much could we save in the cost of anti-diabetic medications with a nation-wide pharmacare plan involving bulk purchases?
  5. How much attention is given in Saskatchewan schools to (a) learning healthy eating practices, cooking, and vegetable gardening? (b) physical activity? (c) community alternatives to school bussing?
  6. What lessons have been learned from the reasonably successful anti-smoking campaign in Canada?

References

Beveridge, Angelina. Resolution by Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) at Annual General Meeting 2008

Beveridge, Angelina. Resolution by Saskatchewan Registered Nurses Association (SRNA) at Annual General Meeting 2008

Beveridge, Angelina. Toward a Provincial Strategy on Obesity Prevention and Management, SRNA Newsletter, August 2013

Booth, Gillian. Lifestyle, the built urban environment and social engineering. International Diabetes Federation Conference, Vancouver 2015.

Bray, GA. Low CHO diets and realities of weight loss, JAMA 2003, 289. pp.1853-1855.

Canadian Diabetes Association. The Cost of Diabetes in Saskatchewan: the Saskatchewan Diabetes Cost Model. (from CDA, An Economic Tsunami: the Cost of Diabetes in Canada, 2009)

Canadian Diabetes Association/Diabetes Educator Section, Saskatchewan Newsletter, Update for members, Winter 2017, “New 2017 – Saskatchewan Diabetes Rates Rising, Report indicates urgent changes needed”

Colman, R. Cost of Obesity in Saskatchewan. Glen Haven, NS: GPI Atlantic, Jan. 2001. Retrieved 2013/08/12, http://www.gpiatlantic.org/pdf/health/obesity/sask-obesity.pdf

Obesity in Canada: A Joint Report from the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2011. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/hp-ps/hl-mvs/oic-oac/assets/pdf/oic-oac-eng.pdf

Obesity in Canada: A Whole-of-Society Approach for a Healthier Canada. Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, 2016. Retrieved 2017/01/30, https://sencanada.ca/content/sen/committee/421/SOCI/Reports/2016-02-25_Revised_report_

Diabetes in Canada 2011: Facts and figures from a public health perspective. Public Health Agency of Canada, Ottawa, 2011. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/cd-mc/publications/diabetes-diabete/facts-figures-faits-chiffres-2011

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, Inspiring Movement: Towards Comprehensive School

Community Health: Guidelines for Physical Activity in Saskatchewan Schools. Feb. 2010. http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/inspiring-movement

Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, Nourishing Minds: Towards Comprehensive School Community Health: Nutrition Policy Development in Saskatchewan Schools. Oct. 2009. http://www.education.gov.sk.ca/nourishing-minds

 

Angelina Beveridge is a retired diabetes nurse educator with the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region. Daniel Beveridge is a retired University of Regina professor. 

Contact:

Daniel M. Beveridge  danmbeveridge@gmail.com

Angelina Beveridge  Angelina.Beveridge@gmail.com