Raise your fist and march around

In typical ‘fuck-you-we-know-best’ fashion, the Klein government is undertaking the massive, labourious task of evaluating Alberta’s advanced education system in the hopes of making it the best in the country. And in typical ‘fuck-you-we-want-our-voicesheard’ fashion, the opposition and education stakeholders are unhappy with the process. Unfortunately, it is doubtful either side is listening to what the other has to say.

Enter Public Interest Alberta, a self-proclaimed non-partisan organization hosting its own public evaluation of the advanced ed system in the face of invitation-only consultations held earlier this month by the government committee. PIA, in association with the University of Calgary Students’ Union, recently brought its traveling road show to the U of C campus. Advanced ed critics from both the Alberta Liberal and NDP parties were present, as well as faculty representatives from the U of C, Mount Royal, Bow Valley and SAIT. Even 20 or 30 students showed up to the Mac Hall Conference room, but that may have had more to do with the free pizza than the informed dialogue.

More telling than a list of those present, however, is a note on who was absent. Not a single Conservative MLA thought to turn out. Nobody from the government’s A Learning Alberta steering committee thought to drop by. No senior U of C administrators were interested in a public discussion of the challenges facing institutions in this city. As has happened before, those in the real halls of power aren’t interested in what those on the outside think, and those outside are content to talk amongst themselves.

Although the Public Interest Alberta Road Show will be traveling to eight cities and will wrap up the event by delivering the results to every member of the government steering committee, it is doubtful the committee will look much beyond its own mountain of information. PIA, though not aligned with any political party, is hardly non-partisan. Policy-wise the group has taken a hard stance against nearly all of the Conservative agenda. The Klein government is famous for shutting out dissenters and realistically the results of the PIA public consultations will be lucky to make it into the hands of any of the committee members.

While groups like PIA should be lauded for their hands-on democratic approach and heartfelt concern for a system that needs bold changes, the approach to gaining inclusion into the real discussions should have been equally bold. Holding a public consultation after the private consultations have already happened and then asking the real decision makers to look at the results is sadly laughable. Instead of loudly and proactively campaigning before the invitation-only consultations, the PIA campaign may condemn itself to being an afterthought.

Students and other education stakeholders can cross their fingers but the real agenda is still being set by the Klein government, and unless critics can gain inclusion into the process their voices won’t be heard outside of student newspapers and half-filled conference rooms.

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