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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

 

 

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

Cheryl Stadnichuk on transforming freedom of information

Supporting the public’s right to know: how we need to reform our Freedom of Information legislation in Saskatchewan

“The overarching purpose of access to information legislation is to facilitate democracy by helping to ensure that citizens have the information required to participate meaningfully in the democratic process and that politicians and bureaucrats remain accountable to the citizenry. Rights to state-held information are designed to improve the workings of government; to make it more effective, responsive and accountable.” – Supreme Court of Canada

When the government of Saskatchewan proclaimed its access to information and protection of privacy legislation on April 1, 1992, it was the first such legislation in western Canada. Saskatchewan was seen as leader in the west for more transparent and accountable government.

Since then, our expectations have expanded faster than changes to legislation. With the age of the internet and free access to all kinds of information, it sometimes appears that anything you want to know can be found on the world-wide-web.

That is not always the case. Governments, local governments and public sector employers collect all kinds of information and make important decisions based on information that is often not publicly available. And many of those decisions are increasingly being made for political reasons without full disclosure to the public of any evidence or sound policy to back the decision.

My idea for transformational change in Saskatchewan is to completely overhaul our freedom of information legislation to make it more effective, grant enforcement power to the Information and Privacy Commissioner, and have government be more proactive in its disclosure of information so that residents do not have to rely on access to information requests to get documents or information they want.

Overhaul freedom of information legislation

There have been relatively few amendments to freedom of information legislation in this province – and across Canada – in the last decade. At a right to know conference organized in May 2015 by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, federal Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault spoke about the urgency of reforming freedom of information legislation federally and provincially. Her 2014 annual report had 85 recommendations alone to amend the federal Access to Information Act. All 14 information and privacy commissioners agreed that massive changes needed to be made to legislation.

One of the key areas for reform is to the overuse and broad application of “cabinet confidentiality” to deny access to information requests. Under access to information legislation, all public records are to be released unless they fall under certain exemptions. Cabinet confidentiality is one such exemption and is frequently used when a government simply does not want to disclose information. Legault reported that the use of this exemption increased by 48% at the federal level. Someone once joked that the government could have someone walk through the cabinet room with a document and then declare it exempt from disclosure under cabinet confidentiality.

In Saskatchewan there is one case (Review Report F-2012-004) where a resident requested copies of the background information provided to new Cabinet Ministers but was denied under the cabinet confidentiality clause. It took over five years of appeal before information was disclosed to the resident.

Unlike most other provinces, Saskatchewan has two different Acts: one that covers provincial government and Crowns; and one that covers local authorities such as school boards, municipalities, health regions, universities and colleges. This means that residents must know which legislation to follow, which form to fill out for an access to information request, and knowing that an application fee of $20 is required only for requests to local authorities.

Saskatchewan access to information legislation is not as strong as the legislation in Alberta and British Columbia. For example, Saskatchewan law does not cover the Workers’ Compensation Board, even though it is covered in Alberta and British Columbia. Both of the provinces to the west of us also have a public interest override clause that places a duty on the head of a public body to disclose information to the public if there is a significant risk of injury or harm to the public. Saskatchewan does not have this.

Both Alberta and BC have a process to regularly review their access and privacy laws by all-party committees of the legislature, but there is no requirement for a statutory review of our access and privacy laws and there have been limited revisions.[1]

Grant the Information and Privacy Commissioner power to issue binding orders

The access to information process can be complicated and lengthy. If an applicant is not satisfied with the response from a public body, or wants to challenge a decision of the government to deny access to information, that person can go to the Information and Privacy Commissioner to request a review of the decision.

After a review, the Commissioner make agree with the applicant and make a recommendation that government release the information, or reduce the fee it wants to charge.  But the Commissioner can only make recommendations. He cannot force the government body to comply with his recommendation.

Information Commissioners in some other provinces, such as B.C., can issue binding orders. The federal Information Commissioner does not have this power.

Because the Commissioner does not have the power to enforce a recommendation, the government body can delay responding or simply ignore the recommendation. We have seen this happen with the CBC requests for information related to the Global Transportation Hub land sale. The Information and Privacy Commissioner reproached the government three times on its failure to respond to access to information requests.[2]

CUPE won an important victory when the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended that 3sHealth release a copy of its ten-year contract with Alberta-based private company K-Bro Linens and that the government amend legislation to include 3sHealth under LAFOIP. 3sHealth complied and provided a copy of the contract but the government ignored the recommendation to place 3sHealth under the scope of LAFOIP.[3]

We need to give enforcement powers to the Commissioner so that we can demand more transparency and accountability from our government bodies.

 

Pro-active disclosure of information to the public

As mentioned earlier, using the access to information process can be complicated and take a lot of time. The attempts to get a copy of the K-Bro laundry contract involved numerous submissions to the Commissioner, discussions with public bodies and correspondence with lawyers over about two years.  Others have had similar experiences trying to pry public documents into the open.

In many cases, a public institution will easily comply with a request. But when a public body refuses to provide information, not every resident has the ability, tenacity or desire to go through a lengthy appeal process.

That is why many right to know activists are advocating for pro-active disclosure of public information, or open government. The view is that public bodies should be proactively disclosing data and information on public websites so that information is easily accessible. Residents would not have to file access to information requests if the information was readily available.

Right to know activists are also calling for governments to be held to a duty to create documents. In Canada, there is a new trend where governments are avoiding the disclosure of information by not producing documents. The paperwork that documented the work of government is disappearing. For example, journalist requests for emails and documents in former Ontario Premier McGuinty’s office relating to the gas plant scandal only turned up 102 emails. Staff in the Premier’s office communicated on their blackberry devices instead of government servers.

BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham found that 25% of all access to information requests turned up no records, and 45% of requests to the Premier’s office failed to produce a single document. In Saskatchewan, CUPE’s request to the Ministry of Health and to four health regions for a copy of the ten-year privatized laundry contract was denied because “no document exists.”

An overhaul of our access to information laws must include a legislated duty to document.

 

Recommendations:

Here are but a few ideas of how our access to information legislation should be reformed in Saskatchewan:

  • Review the exemptions in the legislation and limit the mandatory exemptions, such as cabinet confidentiality, so that the Information and Privacy Commissioner has more power to review information requests that have been denied.
  • Merge the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) and the Local Authorities Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (LAFOIP) into one piece of legislation.
  • Eliminate the $20 application fee for access requests under LA FOIP.
  • Give the Information and Privacy Commissioner the power to issue binding orders on public bodies.
  • Amend the legislation to include a public interest override clause that places a duty on the head of a public body to disclose information to the public if there is a significant risk of injury or harm to the public
  • Create a legislated duty to document the decisions and policy development of government bodies
  • Create an Open Government culture that proactively disclose public data and information so that it is readily accessible to the public

 

NOTES

[1] Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, 2012-13 Annual Report, p.6-7.

[2] Geoff Leo,”3 strikes: Sask government chastised again for handling of GTH document requests,” CBC News, January 17, 2017.

[3] Office of the Saskatchewan Information and Privacy Commissioner, Review Report 068-2015.

SGEU on investing in Saskatchewan workers

Introduction

The “transformational change” promised by the Saskatchewan government in early 2016 has not materialized. Instead, Saskatchewan has primarily witnessed a series of knee-jerk service cuts and austerity measures, driven by desperation to reduce costs by any means possible in the face of a massive budgetary deficit.

An important first step in achieving true transformational change is to recognize that the provincial government’s adversarial attitude towards its public services and public workers, and its increasingly privatized approach to public service delivery, are not benefitting Saskatchewan people. A change in attitude and approach is needed. The Saskatchewan government needs to dispense with the myth that the private sector is inherently more efficient and cost-effective; it needs to recognize that reactionary short-term budget cutbacks do more harm than good; and it needs to emphasize the economic well-being of the province as a whole over the gains of a few businesses.

To that end, following are recommendations for three policy decisions that the Saskatchewan government can make in the immediate term, in order to mitigate the dire economic circumstances facing Saskatchewan and begin reshaping its approach to public service delivery. Each of the points below could be elaborated on considerably (a discussion of the quality of privatized public services, or of the human impacts of layoffs and service cuts, could easily triple the size of this brief), but for the sake of brevity these points are limited to economic considerations.

1.) Keep needed workers on the government payroll, instead of depending on expensive consulting firms.

Over the past several years, the amount spent on consultants’ fees by the government of Saskatchewan has grown at a tremendous and unreasonable rate. From $31 million in 2008, spending on consultants by all government ministries reached $117 million in 2014 – a 276% increase.[1]

That rate of increase has far outstripped the growth of provincial expenditures as a whole. From 2008 to 2014, total government spending rose from $8.04 billion to $12.01 billion, a 49% increase – meaning that consultant spending grew 5.6 times faster than the budget overall.

The great majority of this spending – $101 million of the government-wide $117 million total – was spent by three ministries: Health, Central Services, and Highways and Infrastructure. Spending on consultants soared in these ministries between 2008 and 2014, rising 582% in Health and an astounding 780% in Highways. (Central Services increased its spending by “only” 69%, but as it was by far the biggest user of consultants at the outset, this still accounted for an increase of over $10 million.)

The hiring of consultants by government ministries is not, in and of itself, a problem. Consultants can and do serve a useful purpose. They provide temporary access to individuals with specialized knowledge and skills, in cases where it would be uneconomical to keep those individuals on government’s payroll.

The use of consultants on the scale practiced by the Saskatchewan government in recent years, however, is very problematic. Consultants come at a premium price compared to in-house government staff, so using them instead of hiring government workers is not cost-effective. In two of the most consultant-heavy ministries, however, replacing internal staff with consultants is exactly what happened.

In the Ministry of Highways, consulting costs are primarily directed towards private engineering firms, while the Ministry of Central Services makes extremely heavy use of information technology consultants. These are not occupations where demand is limited or unpredictable – even with the end of Saskatchewan’s nearly decade-long boom, there is no shortage of highway construction and repair projects in need of engineers, or of government computer systems to be maintained and upgraded.

Despite this, a deliberate choice was made to replace existing government engineers and IT professionals with private consultants, according to policies adopted and announced by the government. [2]

This was a costly move for the province. Highway engineering firms, for instance, typically charge between 1.9 and 4.3 times as much as it would cost to have an in- scope ministry employee do the same work, and all indications are that this cost imbalance exists for out-of-scope engineering staff as well. [3] IT consultants are similarly expensive: in a review of contracts that SGEU obtained via a freedom of information request, two major consulting firms billed the province between $100 and $310 per hour per employee.

Unlike in Highways and Central Services, it’s not clear in the Ministry of Health that consultants are taking work directly from in-house staff. It’s not readily apparent what Health receives in exchange for its hefty annual expenditure on consultants (which was nearly $20 million in both 2013 and 2014) – though its four-year, $33 million Lean contract with U.S.-based consultants likely accounts for much of it.

The Lean project raises the prospect that Saskatchewan’s runaway consulting budget isn’t just used to overpay for needed services – it may also be paying for work that Saskatchewan could simply do without. According to a study by the University of Saskatchewan’s School of Public Health, Saskatchewan spent $1,511 for every dollar saved through Lean.[4] The $33 million spent on the Lean consulting contract could clearly have returned better results for Saskatchewan people if it had been used to hire more frontline health workers.

For a government desperate to reduce a billion dollar deficit, cutting back on consultant use is an ideal move. Focusing government expenditure on in-house employees will save money, help avoid expensive mistakes such as Lean, and ensure that public spending ends up in the hands of local workers who will spend it locally – instead of going to the owners and shareholders of consulting firms.

The provincial government has already acknowledged the value in cutting back on consultants. In the provincial government’s 2016-17 mid-year financial update, the Ministry of Highways announced that it would save $700,000 through the “reduced use of consultants” – and notably, the Ministry included this reduction in a list of “initiatives with minimal impact.”

This is an excellent first step – but government can take it much further.

 

2.) Direct public expenditures towards Saskatchewan workers, not out-of- province corporations

The current Saskatchewan government has worked steadily to redistribute public spending away from local workers, and towards the profits of businesses that are often based outside Saskatchewan and even Canada. This has been accomplished by the contracting out of public services, and in at least one notable case, the partial shutdown of a highly profitable government business operation.

When publicly-run businesses and services are transferred to private-sector control, the first casualty is almost always compensation rates for workers. Especially in jobs requiring lower levels of education and expertise, government employment tends to offer wages and benefits significantly higher than private employers are willing to offer. Accordingly, the first step in the privatization of a government service or agency is usually the dismissal of the existing government workforce, to be replaced by a complement of private employees earning significantly lower wages and receiving greatly reduced benefits.

While the Saskatchewan government has always framed this change exclusively as a savings for the province, it is better understood as a three-party transfer of wealth: money that formerly flowed to workers instead accrues partly to government – in the form of reduced payroll costs – and partly to the new private operator of the service or business, in the form of fees it collects to deliver the service or profits it generates by running the business. The result is that, while government budgets may show some benefit, the province as a whole is left poorer as workers see their spending power drop.

Small-scale examples of this sort of wealth transfer have routinely occurred in Saskatchewan for at least the past decade. Over the past four years, however, the scale of privatization and contracting out – in terms of the dollar value involved and the number of employees affected – has increased greatly. This is evidenced by three major instances of contracting-out, and one major privatization, which have occurred since late 2013.

In December 2013, the provincial government announced that it was closing Saskatchewan’s five publicly-owned hospital laundry facilities, and contracting with Alberta-based K-Bro Linen Services to process the linens at a new private laundry facility in Regina. Shortly before receiving the contract, K-Bro approached a Saskatchewan union to offer a 10-year contract for local workers that would pay between $10.75 and $13.50, compared to the hourly rates of between $15.61and $19.99 then earned by public laundry workers.[5]

When the K-Bro deal was studied by University of Winnipeg economists, they concluded the privatization would result in “a redistribution of income from workers and other residents of the province in favour of a private corporation whose shareholders reside outside of the province,” and that the decision would “decrease income of the residents of Saskatchewan between $14 and $42 million over the next 10 years when compared to public options.”[6]

The privatization of laundry services was followed, in August 2015, by the announcement that a contract to provide food services in correctional facilities had been awarded to the U.K.-owned multinational corporation Compass Group. 62 correctional cooks were laid off, and replaced by a newly-hired group of Compass workers. While government-employed corrections cooks generally earned wages in the $20-$30 range dependent on experience, Compass posted ads for replacement jobs with wages starting at $13.03 or $14.25.

The Saskatchewan government’s next major privatization initiative was to shut down a large segment of the Crown corporation responsible for retail liquor sales, while inviting select private businesses to take the place of publicly-owned liquor stores (as well as allowing them to open 11 new greenfield private stores.) 39 public liquor stores are now slated to be shut down as soon as private replacements are up and running, a move that will cost 116 full-time equivalent jobs as store and head office staff are laid off.[7]

By far the largest beneficiary of liquor privatization has been Nova Scotia-based Sobeys Inc., which was given licences to open nine stores in Saskatchewan’s most profitable locations. Alberta-based Liquor Stores NA and B.C.-based Metro Liquor were also awarded highly-profitable locations in Regina and Saskatoon. While Sobeys, Metro, and Liquor Stores NA do not advertise their pay rates, it is a safe assumption to conclude that their Saskatchewan retail employees will earn far below the $18.99 per hour offered at the bottom of the public liquor retailer’s pay scale.

Less than two months after handing out the licenses for new private liquor stores, the Saskatchewan government announced a contracting-out plan that would cost even more public jobs. On January 12, the province posted a tender to provide janitorial services in 98 government buildings, a move that would put 251 government-employed cleaners out of work. While almost all of those workers occupy the lowest position on the public service pay scale, there is still plenty of room for their wages to fall in an industry that frequently pays minimum wage or just above.[8] Such a cut to pay for cleaning staff would, of course, be necessary in order to allow a private firm to turn a profit off of its contract with government.

There is a clear pattern in the examples above. When government decides to privatize or contract out, the immediate effect is always a sharp drop in the earnings of the workers providing the service, with a significant portion of the former wage costs absorbed as profits by the business now in control. What makes this especially regrettable is that, as shown in the examples above, often these profits do not even accrue to Saskatchewan companies. Money that formerly went to local workers instead leaves the province entirely – it flows to K-Bro and Liquor Stores NA in Alberta, to Metro Liquor in BC, to Sobeys in Nova Scotia, and to the Compass Group head offices in the U.K.

Throwing public employees out of decent-paying jobs, and replacing them with private- sector workers earning the lowest wages possible while businesses pocket the difference is not a sound plan for economic recovery. Local workers spend money locally; the decent wages paid by Saskatchewan’s public sector go towards supporting local business, and are partially returned to government through income and sales tax. When privatization forces workers to accept poverty-level wages, their economic loss is felt through reduced sales for business, reduced tax receipts for government, and increased costs for public support services such as social assistance payments.

Privatizing and contracting out the work of government employees will do nothing to improve Saskatchewan’s economy. Public sector employment is a bulwark of stable, decent-paying work that can offset the downturn in the resource sector by providing a continued revenue stream for local businesses and local governments. The best course of action for the province’s economy is to maintain or even increase public sector employment levels – a move that would benefit Saskatchewan as a whole, rather than a select few out-of-province corporations.

3.) Increase social investment, and realize greater savings in other areas of government.

As the extent of Saskatchewan’s financial trouble became apparent, some of the first government services targeted for cutbacks were those that support the vulnerable and disadvantaged.

In the 2016-17 budget, funding was cut for the Buffalo Narrows Community Correctional Centre, a low-security facility that helped offenders find work and reintegrate into the community. Soon after the budget came more funding cuts: to the Northern Teacher Education Program, which supports and educates northerners seeking to become teachers in local communities; to the SAID program, which provides funding to support disabled citizens; and to the Lighthouse, a Saskatoon homeless shelter, among others.

These cuts come on top of longstanding resource shortages in other government- funded agencies that support the disadvantaged. Understaffing in the Ministry of Social Services has created enormous difficulty in effectively delivering income support and child protection services. Community-based organizations (CBOs) that support people living with disabilities and other vulnerable groups are perpetually short of funding. A chronic shortage of space in correctional facilities has meant rehabilitation programs are cancelled, as classrooms and gymnasiums are turned into makeshift dormitories.

While each service cutback reduces government expenditure by a small amount, they are unlikely to deliver savings in anything but the extremely short term. The same applies to chronic under-resourcing of support agencies like the CBOs and the Ministry of Social Services – while it may help keep individual Ministry budgets low, the service gaps it creates cause problems that government will ultimately be on the hook to address by other means.

The effects of this refusal to invest in the disadvantaged and vulnerable are apparent throughout Saskatchewan. Homeless individuals – who are denied access to shelters that no longer have the funding to accommodate them – instead spend their nights in police holding cells or end up in emergency rooms suffering from the effects of exposure to harsh weather. Lacking access to any meaningful rehabilitation programs, inmates who have completed their sentences quickly re-offend and return to the correctional system. In the North, poverty and a sense of hopelessness are exacerbated by a shortage of local teachers to serve as role models in elementary and secondary schools, and by a lack of higher education opportunities for those who do graduate.

The bottom line is that there is no financial logic in cutting funding for services that support those most in need of support. Disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals will eventually present a cost to government in some fashion – the only questions are what the extent of that cost is, and what form it comes in. If government wants to limit the costs of medical treatments, legal proceedings, and incarceration, then it needs to commit to funding supports that help people avoid contact with the medical, legal, and correctional systems – such as education, inmate rehabilitation, support payments subsidized housing, or assistance finding employment.

Taken as a whole, the costs of preventing harm are inevitably lower than attempting to address harm after the fact. The Saskatchewan government needs to accept this fact, and adjust its budgetary decisions accordingly – by increasing, rather than cutting, funding for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our province, and realizing savings in other, costlier, areas of government.

NOTES

[1] Calculated from the government’s answers to Written Question 585 from the 4th Session, 27th Legislature. The increase in consultants spending has been calculated multiple times, with some variation in the results. The Provincial Auditor, using data from the government’s MIDAS database, calculated an increase of 228% between 2008-09 and 2013-14. The Saskatchewan NDP, also using figures from Written Question 585, arrived at an increase of 303% from 2007-08 to 2014-15. The consensus seems to be that expenditure on consultants has doubled or tripled under the Saskatchewan Party government’s term in office.

[2] Joe Couture, “Highways work goes private; Will lead to Regina, Saskatoon lab closures.” Regina Leader-Post, p. A1, April 11 2012; “Simon Enoch, “The Wrong Track: A Decade of Privatization in Saskatchewan.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, March 2015, p. 16.
[3] These comparisons use the “fully-burdened” cost public employees, which factors in benefit and pension costs, etc., as well as wage costs. See: Taylor Bendig, “Road to Ruin: Use of costly highways consultants has skyrocketed.” Behind the Numbers, March 17, 2015.

[4] “New report ‘final straw’ for Lean, Sask. NDP says.” CBC News, Feb. 1, 2016.

[5] “Backgrounder on K-Bro Linen Systems: The new provider of hospital linens in Saskatchewan.” Canadian Union of Public Employees, Dec. 17, 2013, pp. 3-4.
[6] Hugh Grant, Manish Pandey and James Townsend. Long-term Gain, Long-term Pain: The Privatization of Hospital Laundry Services in Saskatchewan. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, December 2014, p.5.

[7] Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan Hansard for Nov. 22, 2016, p. 1442

[8] The federal government’s Job Bank, which uses Statistics Canada data to provide wage information by community, lists “low” wages for janitors at $11.00 per hour in Regina and Saskatoon, and at the minimum wage of $10.72 in smaller centres such as Prince Albert and Melfort.

Tanya Andrusieczko on gender equality in policy-making

 

Women disproportionately fare worse than men under conditions of austerity.

Of course, women aren’t a unified group with internally coherent identities, and women don’t experience inequalities in the same ways. Indigenous women, women of colour, new immigrant and refugee women, settler women, queer women, trans women and non-binary folks, women with disabilities, working class women face various forms of inequality and have different priorities, challenges, and ambitions.

Broadly speaking, gender-based social and economic inequalities are exacerbated by austerity. When the government makes cuts to education, affordable housing, health care, social service, and legal aid, care is re-privatized, women’s unpaid labour is entrenched as a normal course of action, and conditions of poverty and precarious labour are intensified. The unpaid work required to make up for these services puts women in a position of having to pick up the pieces, often at a huge cost.

In Saskatchewan, the gendered implications of austerity are substantial. This province has some of the highest child poverty rates in the country, at 24.6%. On reserves, they’re a staggering 69%. This ongoing colonial legacy means that cuts to health, education, affordable housing, social services, and legal aid only intensify the demands on family networks, and women in particular.

We cannot accept gender inequality in this province.

We need an intersectional governance approach that builds social infrastructure, rather than undermines it. We need a progressive childcare strategy and equitable parental leave structures; a poverty reduction plan and a housing strategy; uninhibited access to health care – including reproductive and sexual health – in the North and rural communities; equal funding for on-reserve education and child and family services; provincial transportation networks that improve access to services; universal access to higher education; flexible job training programs; compassionate and responsive elder care and long-term care; and a $15 minimum wage.

But how can we ensure such goals are consistently pursued at the highest decision-making levels?

One transformative possibility is to create a permanent, independent office of gender mainstreaming that ensures that principles of intersectional gender equality are present in all legislation, regulations, and policies. Gender mainstreaming, an approach to building in gender equality lenses into government offices, units, and agencies, would ensure that all governmental decisions (on policy, budgets, taxation, and so on) promote gender equality.

Sweden serves as a great example of a jurisdiction where gender mainstreaming has been supported and implemented in all aspects of governmental work. In the 1990s, the government of Sweden passed a bill that “clarified the responsibility of the government agencies to implement the Government’s gender equality policy in their activities.” Gender policy expert groups and committees work with all government agencies to shape the ways that policy and regulations respond to the overall goal of ensuring “that women and men have the same power to shape society and their own lives.” (Check out Sweden’s gender mainstreaming manual and this video of the ways that gender mainstreaming has affected services like snow ploughing.)

An intersectional, outcome-oriented approach to gender mainstreaming would demand interventions in those policies and laws that perpetuate this province’s colonial past and present, and class-, race-, sexuality-based inequalities. These discussions need to happen at each step of the policy- and regulation-creation process. If every governmental agency and office were accountable to a mandate of gender equality alongside its other work, maybe we would see an end to austerity logic as a default approach to deficit reduction.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan on a Transformative Approach to Poverty Elimination

The Government of Saskatchewan’s announcement following the budget of 2016 to launch a “transformational” agenda in response to a massive deficit was a puzzling and confusing political move. What exactly did Premier Wall have in mind? What magnitude of change was the government considering? Transform has two different meanings, “to change the outward form or appearance” or “to change in character or condition/potential”. (Webster’s) Within a few months and after several government announcements it has become clear that the government is intent on changing the character of governance in the province.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan (PFS) has been advocating for a systematic approach to poverty elimination since 2009, identifying six pillars for addressing poverty: housing access and affordability; income security for vulnerable groups; education, training and early childhood learning and development; enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities; improving access to and quality of services for low income people; and, promoting health and preventing illness. PFS has also been advocating for a provincial legislative Act on poverty elimination.

Aboriginal children experience poverty at much high rates than others in the province. Of the 55,000 children living in poverty in 2010 31,000 were First Nations and Métis. How will the province ever transform their lives unless Indigenous people are fully included in anti-poverty planning and response?

PFS proposes that the government missed a huge opportunity to undertake positive transformational change when it failed to move forward on the anti-poverty file. The government ignored some important recommendations of the Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction and has not come forward with a real poverty reduction plan, instead implementing cutbacks contrary to poverty reduction. Yet the provincial government says it is committed to implementing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action. PFS is calling on government to transform its approach to poverty and include more initiatives that address Indigenous child poverty. If the government were to construct a well thought out anti-poverty plan and included the TRC Calls to Action then it would be finally on its way to reaching its poverty reduction target. If it just gives lip service to TRC, anti- poverty gains will not be made.

Saskatchewan Government Poverty Reduction Strategy
In December 2014, the government of Saskatchewan initiated the development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy and appointed an Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction (AGPR) to guide the process. The AGPR was mandated “to review past and ongoing initiatives that address poverty, identify key gaps and opportunities to reduce the incidence of poverty in Saskatchewan, and make recommendations to government to inform the future development of a Poverty Reduction Strategy.” (1) From the outset, it was clear that the AGPR was not empowered to produce a poverty reduction plan, instead it was to merely inform the government about identifying ways forward. Most importantly though, the AGPR report did recommend that the government utilize a comprehensive, integrated approach, and create an implementation plan with targets, timelines and a budget aimed at reducing poverty. This is an important and necessary structural approach to attacking poverty; moreover, this template has been put forward many times in the past by various community groups and academics, including Poverty Free Saskatchewan.

The AGPR report also acknowledged the recommendations of the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The AGPR report stated, “Respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.” Recognition of the TRC’s Final Report was an important step forward by AGPR and identifies ways in which the provincial government could support the TRC report’s recommendations.

The government reviewed the recommendations of the AGPR report and in February 2016 released the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy (SPRS).

The Minister of Social Services at that time, Donna Harpauer, in the introduction to the SPRS report, set forth the long-term poverty outcome of the government. She stated, “We have set an ambitious goal to reduce the number of people who experience poverty for two years or more by 50 per cent by the end of 2025.” (2) The report, however, failed to provide a working definition of “people who experience poverty for two years or more”; nor did it identify any methodology for establishing this metric and calculating it on an ongoing basis. Thus, one of the key measurements of progress toward poverty reduction is just a vague political promise.

Under housing and homelessness, the SPRS recommends no specific targets for the increase of social housing that would be needed by 2020.

The early childhood development and childcare section does not provide any actual numbers of child care spaces required or how to develop a high quality affordable child care system.

The education section puts much emphasis on increasing the number of students attaining a grade 12. This has been a government target for many years. Increasing investment in public, Catholic and band schools to help attain this target is long overdue. Also, there is little emphasis on a job creation strategy, or how education and employment targets for First Nations could be improved.

The health and food security recommendations lack targets and justification for the limited measures identified.
Although the SPRS report identifies six key components of a poverty plan, it does not identify any changes to government structures to carry out the policy and program changes necessary to affect the lives of those most affected by poverty. The report suggests an independent review body but does not indicate whether this work could be accomplished by a task force, a special poverty office or a new government department. Without a pathway to move the recommendations forward they can easily by lost in the complex relations among ministries.

Unfortunately to date an actual plan, which is needed to implement this Strategy, has yet to see the light of day. Instead of an expansion of social and economic benefits and protections we are seeing announcements of broad-based funding cuts to social, health and education programs that support our most vulnerable citizens.

Addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action
In December 2015 after six years of study and deliberation of the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tabled its report along with 94 Calls to Action. The report estimated that 3200 (5%-7%) of enrolled students enrolled in the residential school system died from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other diseases resulting from poor conditions. Separation of Indigenous children from their parents resulted in lifelong negative impacts on both children and parents and destabilized indigenous culture for generations. While its recommendations are comprehensive, the Commission was set up to address the damages related to residential schools. First Nations people were provided some compensation for those harms. The TRC could not recommend any damages for other impacts of colonialism such as loss of land, loss of control over resources or any other losses at odds with Canadian sovereignty. (3)

The TRC urges all levels of government, federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal to work together to change policies and programs in a concerted effort to repair the harm caused by residential schools. Call to Action 53 recommended establishment of an independent national oversight body to monitor, evaluate and report to Parliament on implementation progress to ensure government accountability. To date no such body has been created thus it is difficult to ascertain what implementation progress is being made by the federal or provincial governments, despite all the verbal commitments. The Assembly of First Nations promised to develop an action toolkit and a progress report to present at the 2016 annual general gathering. Prime Minister Trudeau announced a five-point plan in response to the TRC including: setting up a public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, lifting of the two per cent cap on funding First Nations programs, making significant investments in education, implementing all 94 recommendations including the United Nations Declaration on Rights of Indigenous Peoples and finally, agreeing to meet with the four First Nations leaders after the final report was tabled. The public inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women is underway but progress on other Calls to Action is unclear.

The TRC Calls to Action related to the justice system require wide ranging responses from the provincial government that are closely correlated with poverty elimination. These include “eliminating the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in custody, provide sufficient and stable funding to implement and evaluate community sanctions that will provide realistic alternatives to imprisonment”, address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, “ work with Aboriginal communities to provide culturally relevant services to inmates on issues such as substance abuse, family and domestic violence, overcome the experience of having been sexually abused” and finally, commit to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal youth in custody over the next decade. (4)

Call to Action 55 requests all levels of government to provide annual reports on such indicators as number of Aboriginal children in care, compared with non-Aboriginal, reasons for apprehension and total spending on preventative and child care services, comparative funding for education of First Nations children on and off reserves, educational income and outcome attainments of Aboriginal people, and progress on closing the gaps between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities with respect to a number of health indicators such as: infant mortality, maternal health, suicide, mental health, addictions, life expectancy, birth rates, infant and child health issues, chronic diseases, illness and injury incidence and the availability of appropriate health services. (5)

There is much overlap between the TRC funding, monitoring and reporting demands and what would be automatically evaluated and rolled up into a high quality, well integrated anti-poverty plan.

Canadian Premiers voiced their support for the Call to Action, including Premier Wall. The Government of Saskatchewan’s media release and web page stated “the government committed to meeting this task (TRC Calls to Action) through the adoption of practical solutions. We will create a multi-ministry team to carefully examine this report and the full report once released. We will look to build on successes, such as teaching Treaty and First Nations and Métis histories in the classroom and the Joint Task Force on improving education and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people. The recommendations and the stories conveyed throughout the Commission’s work will be critical to informing Saskatchewan’s future efforts toward reconciliation.” (6)
The Saskatchewan government’s web page sets out the inter-ministry strategies to implement the TRC and highlights the following achievements:

Joint Task Force (JTF) on Improving Education and Employment Outcomes for First Nations and Métis People

  • The government has made good progress in addressing the JTF’s recommendations; many of those recommendations are echoed in the work of the TRC.

What does good progress mean? To what extent has the gap closed between Aboriginal education an employment outcomes and non-Aboriginal employment and education outcomes?
How has the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy addressed the poverty of Indigenous people?

  •  The Advisory Group on Poverty Reduction heard from a wide range of community stakeholders, including persons from First Nations and Métis organizations.
  • The advisory group’s recommendations include the principle of respecting the dignity of First Nations and Métis people, which also includes addressing the consequences of colonialism, residential schools and ongoing racism.
  • The recommendations also include enhancing early childhood services and educational and employment outcomes for First Nations and Métis people.
  • Although, the government has produced the Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy, but a real implementation plan has not been released.
  • Unfortunately, the recommendations of the AGPR have not been fully recognized. The government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy did not accept AGPR’s more stringent poverty reduction target; it has not established a basic income pilot project; it has not supported living wage initiatives, nor has it advanced new policies and programs to overcome structural causes of poverty such as assessing health outcomes in all new anti-poverty policy development.

 

Saskatchewan Disability Strategy

  •  A key recommendation in the Disability Strategy is to ensure that First Nations, Métis and Inuit people experiencing disability are well-supported regardless of their home communities.
  • Responding to this recommendation will require discussion with the federal government and First Nations.

In 2016, unfortunately we have seen funding cutbacks to benefits programs. While some people who previously received benefits will continue on, others who are new to programs, or change housing locations, will not receive the same level of benefits. These include cuts to: the Saskatchewan Assistance Plan, Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability, the Seniors Income Plan, and the Saskatchewan Employment Supplement. In addition, the Saskatchewan government is now counting the federal Guaranteed Income Supplement as income after the age of 65

Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan

  • The Ministry of Health is leading the development of cross-ministry implementation of the 10-year Mental Health and Addictions Action Plan.
  • One of the plan’s key recommendations is to partner with First Nations and Métis people in the planning and delivery of mental health and addictions services, to better meet community needs.
  • This is one of 10 recommendations that have been prioritized to take place over the next four years.

Has the government provided any monitoring, funding, reporting of mental health outcomes? Are there any government reports on TRC Calls to Action 33-38?

Child Welfare Transformation Strategy

  • The Child Welfare Transformation Strategy has three themes:
    1) Work differently with First Nations and Métis people
    2) Increase prevention and support for families; and
    3) Renew the child welfare system.
  • The Ministry of Social Services is committed to working differently with First Nations and Métis people to provide the best possible child welfare services and outcomes for children and families.
  • First Nations and Métis people have been engaged in the strategy and will continue to be engaged as the child welfare system is transformed and continually improved.
  • The focus of Saskatchewan’s current practice is to strengthen the family home to support children to remain safely at home and/or to safely return home from being “in care” with the ministry.
  • A review of child welfare legislation has taken place with new legislation anticipated in 2017.

The Child Advocate and others have documented many issues related to the child care system in Saskatchewan as it relates to First Nations children.
A recent study by the University of Regina, Department of Social Work revealed for the first time the extent of child poverty among Indigenous and other Saskatchewan children. (7)

  •  For children in First Nations families, the poverty rate in 2010 was 59.0 per cent. Among those families indicating they were Métis, 25.9 per cent were in low-income households. In 2010, of the 55,000 poor children in Saskatchewan, 31,000 were in First Nations or Métis families.
  •  The child poverty rate for children in immigrant families in 2010 was 27.1 per cent and for those in non-immigrant visible minority families was 19.3 per cent.
  •  Depth of poverty was greater in the Prairie provinces than in other Canadian provinces. In Saskatchewan in 2014, the income for one-half of families in poverty was at least $12,000 to $13,000 below the poverty lines.

Transformational Opportunity
It is abundantly clear that if the province wishes to create a positive future for all we must greatly reduce the numbers of children in poverty and particularly indigenous children. The TRC Calls to Action demonstrate that redressing the legacy of residential schools and advancing reconciliation will only occur if the root causes of poverty are addressed. The AGPR report suggested some ways forward; however, the government continues to ignore the report’s most important recommendations.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan’s publication Budget 2016: Transformation or Austerity? documents the negative effects of the government’s diminishing social expenditures, which inevitably create increased social exclusion and inequality and higher longer term costs to government. Most recently the government has decided to centralize all the regional health authorities and has recommended amalgamation of Saskatchewan’s school boards creating confusion and disruption and an unknown number of job losses. Governance is about how power is distributed and shared at the provincial and local levels and how accountability is rendered. Therefore, a redistribution of more power to the provincial government at the expense of the regions and local communities will produce minuscule savings and merely create more disaffection toward the current provincial government system.

Since 2009 Poverty Free Saskatchewan has advocated for a poverty elimination plan and since 2014 for a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act which entrenches the human rights the province is committed to in the United Nations International Covenant. Such legislation is the essential ingredient of an effective anti-poverty plan and would allow us to once again play a leadership role in pioneering progressive social legislation. Most importantly it would provide needed protections for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens, especially children in poverty.
Real transformation would occur if the government would undertake the following:

  • Pass legislation to establish an Anti-Poverty Act.
  • Set up a multi-discipline anti-poverty office and develop a comprehensive and integrated anti-poverty plan that takes account of the TRC calls to action.
  • Implement a multi-year plan, with a dedicated budget, that is in full compliance with the Anti-Poverty Act, with a dedicated budget and reporting of annual progress to the legislature.

SOURCES
1. AGPR report http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
2. SPRS report Minister’s statement http://publications.gov.sk.ca/documents/17/87896-Poverty-Reduction-Strategy.pdf
3. http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
4. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls to Action http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/index.php?p=890
5. Ibid.
6. Premier’s Statement on TRC Calls to Action https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/news-and-media/2015/june/05/commission-report
7. Child and Family Poverty in Saskatchewan 2016 http://campaign2000.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/SASKReportCard2016.pdf

POVERTY FREE SASKATCHEWAN: OUR BELIEFS
PFS is a network of individuals and organizations working to eliminate poverty in the province since 2009. The province has many other individuals, businesses and community organizations working to alleviate the harmful effects of poverty and address the root causes of poverty. Working together more closely, we can eliminate poverty.
Poverty has serious consequences. The Poverty Costs campaign estimated spin off costs of poverty to be $3.8 billion, about five per cent of the province’s gross domestic product.
The guiding principles underpinning PFS’s anti-poverty strategy are:
• A focus on vulnerable groups;
• Community involvement carried out through meaningful province-wide engagement processes that hears from all vulnerable groups and includes them in planning and implementation of strategies and programs;
• Anti-poverty targets timelines for achievement and performance indicators to be met; and
• Adoption of government accountability mechanisms that are clearly set out in a Saskatchewan Anti-Poverty Act.

PFS’s strategies to eliminate poverty were developed and have been communicated to the public and government. These strategies must cut across key issue areas and be supported by investments in the following:
• Housing access and affordability;
• Income security for vulnerable groups;
• Innovation in education, training and early childhood learning programs;
• Enabling and rewarding work and participation in our communities including support for a living wage;
• Improving access to quality services for low income people; and
• Promoting health and preventing illnesses among vulnerable groups, including food security initiatives.

Poverty Free Saskatchewan, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Website: www.povertyfreesask.ca

E-mail: povertyfreesask@gmail.com

Transforming Policing by Colonialism No More and Voices for Justice and Police Accountability

 

If we are serious about decolonization in Saskatchewan, then the role of police in targeting, harassing, assaulting, incarcerating, and disrespecting Indigenous people – as well as the low-income, disabled, and marginalized – must be addressed. Too many people experience the police as a violent, racist force in our cities, yet this province lags behind when it comes to building a movement to address the impunity and inflated budgets that city police services continue to enjoy.

Carding and Street Checks

The police practice of targeting racialized people for “random” ID checks and harassment has been the subject of mass opposition and front-page reporting in eastern metropolises like New York City and Toronto, where Black Lives Matter and activists like Desmond Cole have doggedly pressed the issue and won legislative reforms. Until recently, police practices of carding and street checks have received comparatively less attention in Saskatchewan and the prairie provinces. However, a national investigation published in the Globe and Mail August 17 2015 revealed that on a per capita basis, police card five times as many people in Saskatoon as they do in Toronto (Regina Police Service, meanwhile, refused to offer any of their data for the Globe investigation). The overwhelming majority of people subjected to this unconstitutional and arbitrary authority in prairie cities are Indigenous.

We call for the abolition to the practice and policy of carding and street checks by police in Saskatchewan.

 

The “Unwanted Guest” Initiative

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative is a collaborative project of the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and the Regina Police Service that was introduced in May 2015. Based on legislation in the 2009 provincial Trespass to Property act, the policy allows business owners and police to target panhandlers, the homeless and low-income, and people with mental health or addiction issues, who are identified and placed in a police database. Once in the database there is no mechanism for appeal and individuals are subject to heavy ticketing for failing to adhere to their banishment.

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative has been used by police in place of the “Tag Day” anti-panhandling bylaw that was repealed in 2009. Business owners and the police are able to impose and enforce the ban with impunity. Those targeted have no formal recourse other than to file a complaint with the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission. Meanwhile, existing laws already prohibit shoplifting and violent behaviour.

The “Unwanted Guest” initiative reveals how the propertied business class uses the police as an institution of social cleansing and social control in violation of the Charter rights of vulnerable and oppressed peoples, many of whom are simply seeking a warm place to be or enough money to live.

We call for the “Unwanted Guest” initiative and any similar policies in other cities to be repealed and for the database of targeted individuals to be deleted from police records.

Oversight and Accountability

The fact there is no credible form of civilian oversight for police services in Saskatchewan is an affront to basic notions of democracy. Police are the only people permitted to move through our communities with open guns and other weapons and with the power to arrest, detain, and shoot people. Yet, they are subject to less scrutiny and oversight than schoolteachers or bus drivers.

Take the case of Constable Robert Power in Regina. Constable Power lied at least three times in official police records about his assault of Eddie Stonechild while on duty in 2012. It was only after a judge ordered the release of security camera footage in 2015 that we could see Constable Power kicking Eddie Stonechild –  a frail, unarmed, and homeless Indigenous man –  in the torso. The kick knocked Stonechild backwards and he smashed the back of his head on a concrete barrier. Constable Power’s lies were revealed and he was convicted of assault. However, the provincial oversight body for police in Saskatchewan, The Saskatchewan Police Commission, ruled that Constable Power should be reinstated and so he continues to serve as a police officer in Regina despite his lies and his conviction for assaulting a homeless Indigenous man while on duty. In August 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Power’s appeal of his assault conviction.

When community members raised this issue in a presentation before Regina City Council vote on the police budget in December 2015, Mayor Michael Fougere, who chairs the Board of Police Commissioners, repeatedly interrupted them and told them they were not permitted to even mention the name “Eddie Stonechild” before council. This public display of censorship in which the chair of the Board of Police Commissioners sought to silence and intimidate those calling for police accountability demonstrates how little credibility present oversight mechanisms have.

Or take the case of Regina resident Simon Moccasin, who was racially profiled, physically assaulted, and unlawfully detained by Regina police on December 10, 2014.  Directly afterward, Mr. Moccasin was discouraged by RPS personnel from filing a formal complaint. After a year of relentless grassroots organizing on the issue that included demonstrations, a town hall event, and interventions by activists at meetings of the Board of Police Commissioners, the Public Complaints Commission finally issued a report in response to Moccasin’s formal complaint.
Commissioner Brent Cotter’s January 5, 2015 report validated and confirmed every detail of Moccasin’s account of events, including his unlawful assault and detention, but, crucially, it refused to comment on the primary issue of racial profiling. In addition to finding that Moccasin was assaulted and detained without justification, the PCC report found that:

  • the two officers involved omitted their violent use of force in their official incident report;
  • the Watch Commander with whom Moccasin attempted to file a complaint “did not take appropriate action”;
  • the officers involved were “not sufficiently familiar with the limitations of police authority… and it is suspected this knowledge deficiency is widespread.”

 

Despite the findings of the report, neither the two officers, the Watch Commander, nor any of their superiors received any discipline. When Moccasin tried to arrange a direct meeting with the mayor and chair of the police board, Michael Fougere, to discuss the findings of the PCC report, Fougere declined.

Most people who file complaints with the Public Complaints Commission never receive any response but a form letter informing them that there will be no further investigation into their complaint. For every complaint that is dismissed without investigation, there are many more police victims – the vast majority – who never file a complaint.

The current system of Boards of Police Commissioners mandated in the provincial Police Act merely provides an additional public relations service for municipal police, offering nothing in the way of accountability or credible oversight. Boards of Police Commissioners function as boosters and sycophants for police chiefs and make a mockery of civilian oversight.

And how can you have oversight and accountability without transparency? University of Regina journalism professor Patricia Elliott has written that the Regina Police Service may be the least transparent and most opaque police organization in Canada. Writing in January 2016, Elliott revealed that that the RPS came dead last among police services in Newspaper Canada’s Annual Freedom of Information Audit for 2015.

A third recent case in Regina further highlights systemic shortcomings in police responsiveness and transparency. Regina resident Nadine Machiskinic, an Indigenous woman and mother of four, died from injuries sustained from a 10-story fall down the laundry chute of the Delta Hotel in the middle of the night on January 10, 2015. The police – called 60 hours after Machiskinic was found by staff – told the family there was no surveillance footage from the hotel, Yet, more than a year later footage was released. Toxicology reports were delayed and investigators were shuffled. The family has struggled to access updates on the investigation from police. Reports that Machiskinic had pulled the fire alarm and banged on hotel doors seeking help appear to have been dismissed. In fact, police told the family they had ruled out foul play almost a year before a coroner’s report was even released. A Coroner’s Inquest has now been set for March 2017 and the family is raising money on its own in order to pay for legal representation during the inquest as they seek justice in the face of systemic barriers.

Machiskinic’s case highlights a further issue that is well known about police culture: the prevalence of misogyny and sexism. Women in Saskatchewan, and Indigenous women in particular, often fear and distrust the police because of their own experiences with police or because of the experiences of women they know. As autonomous grassroots groups, we have been approached by numerous women expressing concern and dissatisfaction about their encounters with police and with how police investigations are handled.
We call for the provincial Police Act to be amended such that the current regime of Boards of Police Commissioners be replaced with credible, independent, arms-length Civilian Oversight Committees charged with the mandate and the resources to critically monitor police practices and conduct.

Such Civilian Oversight Committees would monitor the police and consider public complaints from the standpoint of protecting the public safety of all residents, especially those most vulnerable to police abuse. We know that today, as throughout Saskatchewan’s history, the police are more likely to be a source of fear and distrust among vulnerable communities than a source of safety and support. And we know that this is not by accident.

Funding and Budgets

Despite persistently high levels of social inequality, poverty, and homelessness in our cities, gigantic annual police budgets continue to crowd out resources for public housing, mental health and wellness services, income supports, and other community priorities like public transit.

It has become standard practice for city councils to approve large budget increases for city police year after year, without any discussion of whether more policing is the best use of public dollars. In 2015, four of the top 10 City of Regina earners were on the police payroll, with then Chief of Police Troy Hagen in the top spot earning more than $256,000 a year. This was the same chief who in December 2015, just days after RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson acknowledged the presence of racists in the RCMP, denied that there any police with racist views in Regina.
As a profession and an institution, the police are not trained or equipped to address the most pressing social needs within our communities, yet they continue to consume the lion’s share of city budgets. Furthermore, in the midst of major public sector budget cuts and scores of frontline layoffs in health care and education, in November 2016 the province allocated nearly $10 million to hire 81 more police officers in Regina and Saskatoon.

A large proportion of the incidents police are called to address have their root causes in inadequate mental health supports, systemic poverty, and addiction. Constantly ramping up the number of uniformed officers on the streets does nothing to address these root issues. The social issues that are prevalent in “high crime” neighbourhood’s like Regina’s North Central are simply not addressed by placing more cruisers with new carbines on every block. It is neither fiscally prudent nor sound policy to continue pumping money into police salaries, overtime, and equipment when, by nature of the case, it does nothing to address issues at their source. It is a mark of authoritarianism to rely on the police to respond to systemic poverty and social hardship when there are more sensible, more effective, and more just ways to empower communities.

We would like to see municipalities and the province begin to direct public funds away from police services and toward the services and programs that address root causes and best meet the needs of people in our communities.

 

A Future without Police

In our vision for Saskatchewan, the boot print of the police is always shrinking rather than ever expanding. When we orient collective resources to meet genuine social needs, communities are empowered. Safety arises from the good relations that are fostered when people are able to live in dignity, with adequate housing, food, and cultural resources.

Historically, the police emerged in the nineteenth century in North America as a means to suppress working-class people and, with the formation of the North-West Mounted Police in the Prairies, to assert colonial dominion over Indigenous nations and their lands. We should not view the police as an apple cart, in which some of the apples are rotten. We should understand that from the perspective of those at the bottom of social hierarchies, the police have always been a rotten institution that plays a structural role in maintaining an unjust society dominated by colonial and capitalist relations of power.

In our vision for Saskatchewan, the institution of the police will become a relic of a colonial past. Before the police can be abolished however, we must ramp up efforts to bring civilian oversight to the police, to defund and demilitarize the police, and to redirect resources to meet genuine social needs in our communities.