David Marsden: Kenney’s priorities are misplaced

Taxpayers’ dollars are deservedly flowing freely as countries around the world respond to the COVID-19 virus.

The Alberta government is just one of the jurisdictions that has opened its purse strings to save lives and keep families afloat by providing unprecedented relief.

Still, that doesn’t mean spending can’t be questioned. The money, after all, will have to be repaid. Even in a time of distress, it is essential to set priorities.

What bears examination is the Jason Kenney government’s decision to double the amount spent on road maintenance and other infrastructure improvements to $1.9 billion.

Yes, the expenditure creates easily found employment, but this is the same government that just kiboshed the jobs of 20,000 school workers two weeks ago.

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The contributions of teacher assistants were deemed to be a luxury the public could no longer afford.

The money the school employees would have earned is apparently being put toward the COVID-19 fight.

Part of the cuts involved the cancellation of school buses that are no longer needed to ferry children back and forth, but much of the reductions have come at the expense of specialists who would have helped children navigate their way through their school work online.

It’s one thing for teachers to present materials that can be tackled at home, but there has to be support in place for those who need assistance in making sense of the assignments.

Kenney has lost all sight of the value of education.

Central Albertans understand we are living in unprecedented times. We get that Kenney’s promise to balance the budget will have to wait, just like the pledges of many so-called conservative leaders before him have evaporated into thin air.

But the situation doesn’t make him immune from scrutiny. He has chosen repairing potholes over teacher assistants. He has chosen blacktop over caring for youngsters who need a bit of help with the tasks that are being put in front of them.

In Calgary, the public school board has laid off all of its psychologists because of the withdrawal of funding.

“This was a lifeline for kids and families who were struggling,” said one employee who has lost his paycheque.

Don’t worry, though. There will apparently be pothole-free roads to drive on soon, even if children are left without teacher assistants and psychologists at this tenuous time.

Kenney’s rash spending also leaves one to wonder about the fate of the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

We have been told in two United Conservative budgets there isn’t possibly enough resources to expand a facility that hasn’t been able to fully serve the needs of residents for many years.

Just be patient, they said: there simply isn’t enough money today, or yesterday, or the day before that.

Yes, expanding a hospital isn’t as easy as plugging a bit of blacktop into a cavity in the road, but it’s what central Albertans need.

The Kenney government, amid all of the challenges it faces, has chosen to put maintenance projects that weren’t a priority a week ago, ahead of an expansion of Red Deer hospital that it had said was overdue.

The government can pat itself on the back all it wants, but until our hospital is capable of meeting the needs of those who are ill, it has fallen dreadfully short of expectations.

David Marsden is managing editor of the Red Deer Advocate.

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