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Welcome to Alberta, where, baby, these are the days of miracles and wonders…

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Gordon Dirks

It is no longer a metaphor when we say Alberta's conservative politicians are performing miracles and wonders.

Leastways, yesterday, Premier Jim Prentice announced his intention to perform an actual, literal miracle -- to create 230 new schools in five years, which is a rate of very close to one new school every week!

That's a miracle if you ask me, even with a price tag of $2 billion, which is what Prentice's Progressive Conservative government says it's going to spend on making this happen.

There is bound to be some dispute about who actually performed the miracle, as well as how it will be performed, since the Wildrose Party led by Opposition Leader Danielle Smith made essentially the same announcement a week earlier, promising to spent $2 billion on an unspecified number of schools.

Let's assume the Wildrosers plan to create the same number of schools, though. That would be more than one new school every week! That's really miraculous!

Both these similar miracles were promised by the party leaders in the company of candidates with education credentials in a couple of the four by-elections slated for Oct. 27 -- former Calgary public school trustee Sheila Taylor with Smith in Calgary-West and former Calgary School Board chair Gordon Dirks with Prentice in Calgary-Elbow.

Dirks, somewhat controversially, is already Prentice's education minister, but then Prentice hasn't been elected either. The premier himself will be running in the Calgary-Foothills riding.

Still, actual miracles have got to be something new in Canadian political life, unless you count that time Justin Trudeau walked across Lake Ontario. But that's federal. And, as we all know out here in Alberta, those eastern bastards get all the breaks. (Link to citation? – Ed.)

The Oct. 2 Wildrose announcement -- like reports of miracles that happened a long, long time ago -- was short on details. The Opposition party's news release referenced a "commitment to tackle Alberta's classroom shortage by investing $2 billion over four years into new schools, modernization and maintenance."

The government announcement yesterday was a little more detailed -- and perhaps could be accused of containing some fuzzy math. Leastways, 31 of the schools they’re talking about have already been built, and were already announced by former Premier Ed Stelmach back in 2011.

In addition, 50 of them -- plus 70 "modernizations," whatever that means -- were announced in 2013. You know, by Premier She-Who-Cannot-Be-Named. (Any Progressive Conservative who utters the name of Alison Redford in the Legislature must immediately leave the building, turn around three times, curse, spit into the wind and knock three times on the door before they can be readmitted.)

So, maybe, when we know all that, this plan isn't quite as miraculous as it was being portrayed in the media yesterday. Still, it was another good day for Premier Prentice, announcement-wise, especially since he was getting all the credit for what the Opposition party said it would do a week before.

How all this is going to be paid for while budgets are balanced, taxes not raised and the decks cleared for an election fight was not made entirely clear in either miraculous announcement.

Maybe the government is quietly getting ready to put Alberta's high-priced tradespeople and temporary foreign workers to work following a downturn in Athabasca Tarpatch activity.

More likely, though, it's the opposite, and they're expecting revenues from the province's Bitumen Sands to pay for all this school building. After all, Prentice's former boss, Prime Minister Stephen "Ready, Aye, Ready!" Harper, has already said he won't take no for an answer from the Americans on the Keystone XL Pipeline and he's now backed that up with an initial payment to President Barack Obama's Iraq War III.

Meanwhile, if the Alberta New Democrats or Liberals had promised to spend a similar amount on schools, they would have been laughed out of the room, which just goes to show that constantly repeating the mantra "fiscal responsibility" can carry you a long way in this world.

Perhaps that why the two mildly progressive parties are focusing their promising on new hospitals this week.

Also unanswered is the question of what will be taught in all those new schools.

Alberta's nutty 2009 law allowing parents to pull their kids out of class if they're going to be taught anything about sex, sexual orientation or religion remains on the books, and it's unlikely either of the two parties promising all these new buildings will change that.

And be warned, if you suggest it might be reasonable to ask candidate Dirks what he thinks about all this -- seeing as he's education minister and he used to work as a pastor at a Calgary evangelical church that is less than enthusiastic about the idea of performing same sex marriages -- you could be accused of practicing "identity politics" and other nefarious activities by well-known market fundamentalist educators who used to be Tory ministers of the Crown.

So we'd best leave the creation political science to the professionals.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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