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Beehives and goat farms: Lacombe school shortlisted in global environmental contest

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Taylor Perez says she learned more about her passions while tending beehives, goats and fruit trees at her central Alberta high school than sitting through lessons in a classroom.

“These are all skills we don’t learn in regular classes,” says the 18-year-old student at Lacombe Composite High School.

“You’re not going to learn how to collaborate with community members by sitting in a classroom learning about E = mc2.”

Perez and her classmates are buzzing with excitement after their school’s student-led beekeeping program, goat farm, fruit orchard, tropical greenhouse and other environmental projects were recognized in a global sustainability contest among 10 other schools.

It’s the only North American school to be shortlisted by T4 Education, a global advocacy group, in its World’s Best School Prize for Environmental Action contest.

“The projects are coming from the students’ own hearts and passion for taking care of the environment,” says Steven Schultz, an agriculture and environmental science teacher who has been teaching in Lacombe since 1996.

“They are going to be our community leaders — maybe even our politicians — and for them to know what the heartbeat of their generation is (is) extremely important.”

Schultz says the projects are pitched and designed by students in the school’s Ecovision Club, to which Perez belongs, and he then bases a curriculum around those ideas.

The school of about 900 students began reducing its environmental footprint in 2006 when a former student heard Schultz say during a lesson on renewable energy that “words were meaningless or worthless without action,” the 56-year-old teacher recalls.

“She took that to heart and a year later she came back and told me that she wanted to take the school off the grid.”

Schultz and students watched a fire burn down solar panels on the school’s roof in 2010, an event that further transformed his approach to teaching.

“As their school was burning, my students gathered in tears. That day I realized that students really care about the environment and they really care about the projects that they were involved in.”

Since then, 32 new solar panels have been installed, and they produce up to four per cent of the school’s electricity. After the fire, students also wanted to clean the air in their classrooms so they filled some with spider plants, including one in the teachers’ lounge.

More recently, students replaced an old portable classroom on school property with a greenhouse that operates solely with renewable energy. It’s growing tropical fruits, such as bananas, pineapples, and lemons, and also houses some tilapia fish.

Two acres of the school are also covered by a food forest made up of almost 200 fruit trees and 50 raised beds where organic food is grown.

The school also works with a local farm and raises baby goats inside a solar-powered barn that was built with recycled material.

“They breed and milk them at the farm because there are really tight regulations,” says Schultz.

“We take the excrement from the goats and the hay and use it as mulch and fertilizers for our garden. The goats also chew up the grass and allow us not to have to use lawn mowers and tractors”

Perez said her favourite class is the beekeeping program with 12 hives that produce more than 300 kilograms of honey every year.

“I love that they have different roles in their own little societies,” Perez says of the bees.

She says while working with local businesses and groups as a part of her curriculum, she learned she’s passionate about the environment and wants to become a pharmacist so she can continue giving back to her community.

James Finley, a formerly shy Grade 10 student, says the Ecovision Club and environment classes have helped get him out of his comfort zone.

“I made friends, which was a hard thing for me in the beginning. But now I have, like, hundreds,” says the 16-year-old, who enjoyed the lessons he took on harvesting.

“Taylor and Mr. Schultz were the main people that made me stay.”

Schultz says the winners of the contest are to be announced in the fall.

A prize of about $322,000 will be equally shared among five winners.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sunday, July 3, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

AUDITOR GENERAL MUST INVESTIGATE CASH BONUS SCHEME: NDP

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From the Alberta NDP

Alberta’s NDP is requesting the Auditor General investigate the UCP government’s process for pandemic management bonuses as new bonus pay policies were only recently approved in March.

According to CBC News, the Government of Alberta paid out $2.4 million in extra compensation to Government of Alberta managers in 2021 for work related to the pandemic.

An updated “Extra or special services compensation directive” was approved by the Alberta Public Service Commission in March 2022, reporting to then-finance minister Travis Toews. The directive includes two processes for lump-sum payouts, one that requires Treasury Board approval and one that does not.

The directive   on the website in February. The creation of a more recent compensation directive suggests considerable effort went into reviewing the policy, raising questions as to how Toews could possibly have no knowledge of the management bonus structure prior to media reports.

“For many Albertans, including members of our caucus who have served as ministers and on Treasury Board, MLA Toews’ claims defy belief,” wrote Alberta NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips in a letter to Auditor General Doug Wylie.

“Not only did he have ministerial authority over the policy, but such significant payments, on such a widespread scale, would — as a standard operating procedure — be brought to the attention of the Minister or be considered by the Treasury Board Committee as whole for their appropriateness.”

The Alberta NDP is asking the Auditor General to investigate the following questions:

  1. Was then Minister of Finance Travis Toews ever briefed on COVID bonus pay? And likewise, did the then Minister verbally approve of these payments? Was the Treasury Board Committee of Cabinet ever informed of these payments, either as an item For Decision or For Information?
  2. Was the policy on management bonus pay followed appropriately, during the fiscal year in question?
  3. As the directive on “Extra or special services compensation directive” was reviewed and updated under former Minister Toews, what role did he play in its development and approval? Likewise, what was the timeline on updating this directive?
  4. Did any members of the political staff, in either the Premier’s Office or a Minister’s Office receive bonus payments for COVID19 related actions, which were not in alignment with their employment contract?
  5. In addition to the extraordinary bonus payments paid in 2021, how many bonus payments were made thus far in 2022?

——

Letter sent by NDP Finance Critic Shannon Phillips to Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie

Dear Mr. Wylie,

I am writing to request a performance audit of the Government of Alberta’s bonus payment structure and process related to the COVID-19 pandemic response, and in particular, the actions of the President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance.

As you are likely aware, and as originally reported by the CBC, the Chief Medical Officer of Health received $227,911 in cash benefits in calendar year 2021 on top of her regular salary of $363,634. While this bonus amounted to 63 per cent of her base pay – or roughly $19,000 per month – media has also reported an additional 106 government employees received supplemental bonus pay.

By all indications, the scale and scope of these bonus payments are unique in Alberta’s history, and are out of line with other provinces who faced similar pandemic demands and challenges.

According to responses provided to media by the government, the Public Service Commission overseen by then-Minister of Finance Travis Toews was responsible for the bonus payment policy, and the payments made to these employees..

Subsequent to these bonus payments becoming public and entering the public conversation, former Minister Toews stated on Aug. 2 through a campaign spokesperson, that he did not authorize or have knowledge of these payments.

On Aug. 3, Mr. Toews promised that, as Premier, no bonuses would be paid “without a ministerial signature.” The implication of this commitment was that the Minister responsible for the bonus payments was, at the time, entirely in the dark.

For many Albertans, including members of our caucus who have served as ministers and on Treasury Board, MLA Toews’ claims defy belief. Not only did he have ministerial authority over the policy, but such significant payments, on such a widespread scale, would – as a standard operating procedure – be brought to the attention of the Minister or be considered by the Treasury Board Committee as whole for their appropriateness.

I am mindful that the Government of Alberta’s “Extra or special services compensation directive” (henceforth referred to as the “directive”) under which these officials were compensated was last reviewed and updated in March 2022. As such, it does not appear reasonable that the Minister responsible would not be aware and actively involved in the directives’ development and approval, and I should note that the directive does not require a ministers’ signature for the paying of bonuses. I also note with interest that the directive was not on the government’s website as of February 2022, suggesting that considerable thought went into policy for the provision of extraordinary bonus payments after 2021, and that the new directive would allow for similar payments in 2022.

Perhaps more importantly, the directive “provides the criteria and approach to the application of lump sum payments.” While there appears to be two types of lump sum payments under this directive, at least one requires Treasury Board approval. Given the threshold of Treasury Board approval under this directive, is it not reasonable to conclude that any lump sum payments to such a large group of officials would not be brought to the attention of the minister responsible.
Furthermore, I am mindful that former Minister Toews, during calendar year 2021, was actively involved in public sector bargaining and compensation, and brought forward to cabinet changes to management compensation in the core public service (see for example, Order in Council 338/2021). The record indicates that the former Minister was deeply involved in compensation issues, including for specific employees, and therefore Albertans are rightly skeptical of his
current claims of ignorance on the COVID bonus payment issue.

In June 2022, you released a report into the activities of then Minister Toews, and Treasury Board and Finance, into the lack of accountability for $4 billion in COVID19 spending during fiscal year 2020-21.

As bonuses are generally paid at the end of the year, and as part of your further performance audit work into COVID19 spending for fiscal year 2021-2022, we are requesting that you investigate and report on the following issues:

1. Was then Minister of Finance Travis Toews ever briefed on COVID bonus pay? And likewise, did the then Minister verbally approve of these payments? Was the Treasury Board Committee of Cabinet ever informed of these payments, either as an item For Decision or For Information?

2. Was the policy on management bonus pay followed appropriately, during the fiscal year in question?

3. As the directive on “Extra or special services compensation directive” was reviewed and updated under former Minister Toews, what role did he play in its development and approval? Likewise, what was the timeline on updating this directive?

4. Did any members of the political staff, in either the Premier’s Office or a Minister’s Office receive bonus payments for COVID19 related actions, which were not in alignment with their employment contract?

5. In addition to the extraordinary bonus payments paid in 2021, how many bonus payments were made thus far in 2022?

The issue of the appropriateness of bonus pay for selected officials during the COVID19 response has generated significant discussion amongst Albertans. More importantly, the role of ministerial oversight and competency has also been called into question on this matter. Given the opaqueness of the Government of Alberta’s responses to legitimate public inquiries, we are asking for your assistance.

At present, only your office has the authority to investigate and answer the public’s questions. We strongly believe that the aforementioned issues warrant your immediate attention, and we look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Shannon Phillips
NDP Official Opposition Finance Critic
MLA for Lethbridge-West

 

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Alberta

Cenovus Energy to buy remaining stake in Toledo refinery from BP for $300 million

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CALGARY — Cenovus Energy Inc. has reached a deal with British energy giant BP to buy the remaining 50 per cent stake in the BP-Husky Toledo Refinery for $300 million.

The Calgary-based oil producer has owned the other 50 per cent of the Ohio-based refinery since its combination with Husky Energy in 2021.

Cenovus says its U.S. operating business will take over operations when the transaction closes, expected before the end of the year.

The company says the Toledo refinery recently completed a major, once in five years turnaround to improve operational reliability.

It says the transaction will give Cenovus an additional 80,000 barrels per day of downstream throughput capacity, including 45,000 barrels per day of heavy oil refining capacity.

The deal brings Cenovus’ total refining capacity to 740,000 barrels per day.

Alex Pourbaix, Cenovus president and CEO, says fully owning the Toledo refinery provides an opportunity to further integrate the company’s heavy oil production and refining capabilities, including with the nearby Lima Refinery.

“This transaction solidifies our refining footprint in the U.S. Midwest and increases our ability to capture margin throughout the value chain,” he said in a statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CVE)

The Canadian Press

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