The MLA who represents the City of St. Albert said the recent debate over persons with developmental disabilities funding was front and centre on his desk.
Stephen Khan, having just completed his first year as a Progressive Conservative MLA, said the fact that an outcry against the proposed changes to PDD funding was spearheaded by St. Albert agencies was not lost on him.
“I have always been aware of the service providers in St. Albert,” said Khan in an interview at the Gazette office July 17. “I knew they did important and quality work.
“But since this issue raised its head, I’ve really gotten to know both executive directors (of LoSeCa and Transitions) and their staff.”
Both Marie Renaud and Paul Fujishige, respectively, have been leaders in the outcry around PDD funding.
“The first and foremost thought that comes to mind is … the amazing work they do,” said Khan.
Khan said, for the first time in a long time, the PDD outcry resulted in protesters at the Rainmaker Rodeo Parade.
“They don’t train you what to do when there’s people with signs on the side of the road with your name on them,” said Khan.
He said he went up to the PDD protesters and told them to come to his constituency office and tell him more about what their concerns were.
“I view my job as serving and helping,” he said.
From there, Khan said he had quite a number of people come through his constituency office to comment on the proposed changes to PDD funding, which centre around a formula intended to funnel money to those most in need.
The MLA said in the meetings he’s been in so far with both PDD service providers and government ministers, it seems both sides understand more efficiency is desired for dollars spent on programs.
Unfortunately, noted Khan, the execution of the proposed changes was confusing, seemed to be moving quite quickly and probably could have been done better.
Khan said he has spoken directly to both Dave Hancock and Frank Oberle and he said he believes both ministers have heard and understand Albertans’ concerns about the proposed PDD funding changes. For example, the July deadline for implementation has been halted.
“It’s about the families who said they didn’t like what they were hearing or seeing,” said Khan.
Who’s calling the MLA?
Khan said his first year as an MLA was quite illuminating, as a diverse cross-section of St. Albert represented itself to him by dropping by his office.
“I think one of the eye openers for me in this role is I’ve been surprised how much work comes to our office that would fall under the umbrella of social work,” said the MLA.
For example, Khan said he sees many people who come to the provincial office seeking help for a disabled family member.
“That’s been some of the most rewarding work we’ve done,” he said. “It’s small victories like that that really give you satisfaction in this new job that I have.”
He pointed out one young lady, a mother, who wanted to raise awareness of universal newborn hearing screening. Hearing issues are not as rare in newborns as many think, noted Khan, and this member of the community wanted to do something about it. Her efforts led the provincial government to change policy so that all newborns, not just those with a family history of hearing issues, are screened.
Khan said plenty of people just drop by the MLA’s office for “political hot stove” – they just want to talk about what’s going on at the legislature. Common issues brought to his attention include taxes and seniors’ issues.
“I’m happy to represent seniors in my community,” he added.
All MLAs are assigned committee work, and Khan has some very interesting ones. He’s the chair of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Committee. He quickly pointed out he’s not asked to come up with ways to spend or save the fund, his committee merely reports on how the fund is performing.
So … how is it performing?
“Exceptionally well,” said Khan. “A really, really good year.”
He said the fund sits at roughly $16.8 billion.
Khan said he commonly hears comparisons between Alberta’s “rainy day” trust fund and funds in other jurisdictions such as Alaska and Norway. He noted that such comparisons are usually not fair. For example, Alaska does not have expenses like health care that Alberta has, and Norway is a full-fledged nation, not just a province.
“So it’s not an apples to apples comparison,” he added.
Khan also serves on the Public Accounts Committee, a watchdog that ensures government is responsible and reviews other ministries.
“It’s very interesting,” he said.
The PAC is the body that recently shone a light on Alberta Health Service’s controversial “100 mile” policy for placing seniors in extended care facilities.
Enjoying the job
Khan said representing his home city is very rewarding.
“The reason I wanted to do this job is I have been blessed by St. Albert,” he said.
“I am a St. Albert kid. I wanted to serve the community.”
Khan said some of the most rewarding work he’s done over the past year has been getting to know more people in St. Albert, such as speaking at high school grad ceremonies.
He said, coming from the business world, he’s had to adapt to the way government works.
“The wheels of government turn slowly,” said Khan. “There are ways to make things move a little quicker, occasionally.”