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EDITORIAL: Seeing us through


Now is not the time to play Monday morning quarterback with governments’ response to COVID-19 and the economic fallout from it. In these trying times, it's important to keep in mind everyone is aligned toward the singular goal of seeing us all through this crisis.

Here in Alberta, our provincial government has made some tough decisions lately, such as its weekend decision to reduce education funding. It has been criticized for directing massive layoffs of education support workers and breaking a promise to school divisions to maintain funding levels – a promise many divisions relied on when building their e-learning programs. But the decision itself is a pragmatic, if painful, one, given our current fiscal situation.

Certainly, the failure to properly communicate the change in plans to school divisions tasked with delivering e-learning to Alberta's many K-12 students is justifiable criticism, given the pressure our school boards find themselves under.

The decision will see a temporary funding reduction for services that are less pressing in an e-learning environment. The logic holds that without the need for kids to be in physical classrooms, there's less need for buses to transport kids to and from school; likewise, without a group of children all learning together in the same space, there's less need for educational assistants to help teachers.

Staff who are impacted by the funding cut will qualify for the federal government’s enhanced employment insurance program and other support programs for Canadian workers.

The money saved through these measures, an estimated $128 million, will go toward shoring up the province's response to COVID-19. It's also temporary, meaning the province intends to restore funding once we're through the other side of this pandemic.

Our local school divisions in St. Albert weren't happy with the decision. Their reaction is understandable as we all wade through the unprecedented changes COVID-19 has brought – surprises of this nature are likely more unwelcome than ever. The cut means schools will have less resources to work with and students will have less supports.

But the pressure COVID-19 has put on Alberta's economy means we all need to be doing more with less. And we may be doing more with less for a long time to come, given how badly the collapse of the oil market is hurting Alberta's finances.

The $7-billion-plus package the government has put together to support Albertans through this crisis isn't materializing out of thin air, either – it has to come from somewhere.

Thankfully, not all the cuts are painful ones. On Monday, the Canadian Energy Centre (better known as Alberta's "war room") announced it would be cutting back its budget for the next three months at least. For an organization that has brought dubious value for its $30-million budget, that money will undoubtedly be put to better use elsewhere.

We will likely see more cuts in other departments in the days ahead, as the province tries to stay ahead of a floundering economy, and we should all prepare for those as best as possible. These aren't all popular decisions and many of them will probably engender as much outrage as the latest education cut did. They are, however, necessary decisions as we all try to figure out what the future will bring.

In times of crisis, we need to have leaders stepping up to make these decisions, however unpopular they may be.