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Education

Check Out The Progress On Red Deer’s Newest Elementary School!

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(Centre front – Millie Campbell  Back row left to right – Julie Hansen, Jessica Hartel, TJ Hartel, Jan Ludwig, Jeff Ludwig)

Written by Sheldon Spackman / Photos and Video by Lindsay Wiebe

Construction on Red Deer’s newest elementary school is running on budget and ahead of schedule. That, according to Red Deer Public School District officials who say they will be able to take possession of the new building on May 2nd, well ahead of the first day of school in September.

It’s anticipated 350 students will be there on opening day, with initial capacity to be 500 and room to grow with the help of portables from there. The school on Irving Crescent in Inglewood will serve students from that neighbourhood and Ironstone as well, plus the Vanier/Vanier East neighbourhoods.

Jan Ludwig is the late Don Campbell’s eldest daughter and says her father would have been “Over the moon” if he were here to see the school. School Board Chair Bev Manning says Don Campbell Elementary will help alleviate crowding pressures currently being felt in other elementary schools. Principal Cam Pizzey says he known the Campbell family for decades and is honoured to be it’s first Principal.

District officials are proud of  the school’s amazing learning spaces, including 2 outdoor classrooms. A partnership with the City of Red Deer is also anticipated to provide space for community activities and events.

Agriculture

Conservatives, if elected, would work to restore ties with Saudi Arabia

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OTTAWA — A Conservative government, if elected this fall, would work to fix Canada’s relationship with Saudi Arabia by trying to build back rapport with the kingdom in areas that it considers of mutual interest.

Erin O’Toole, the Conservative critic for foreign affairs, said in an interview they would try to “win some trust” with Saudi Arabia by focusing on improving commercial ties and by offering more aid, development and refugee support in the Gulf region.

The Conservatives, O’Toole said, would try to re-engage with Riyadh even though it has earned international condemnation over last fall’s killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“Once you have a relationship, you can then work on issues related to human-rights concerns about the actions of Saudi Arabia vis-a-vis the Khashoggi incident, democratic reforms, all these sorts of things,” said O’Toole, adding a Conservative government would seek out common ground in a similar way with China, India and the Philippines.

“If you have zero relationship, we’re basically just yelling into the wind. We’re not having any impact on them.”

O’Toole acknowledged that for some Canadians, re-establishing ties with Saudi Arabia will be a tough sell following Khashoggi’s death.

One year ago Friday, the first of a series of critical tweets about Saudi Arabia’s arrest of women’s rights activists was posted on Canadian government Twitter accounts, including one belonging to Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland. The messages called for the release of the activists.

Angered by Canada’s public rebuke, Saudi Arabia retaliated within a few days by suspending diplomatic ties with Canada, expelling the Canadian ambassador and recalling its own envoy from Ottawa.

It also said it would halt new trade and investment deals and shut down lucrative scholarships for its citizens to study in Canada. The Saudi central bank and state pension funds started selling their Canadian holdings.

And since last fall, there have been few public signs of rapprochement.

Internal federal documents show that in the weeks after the start of the dispute, Freeland and her Saudi counterpart were “discussing ideas to de-escalate … including an incremental approach which could include a series of steps.” The information was in a September briefing note, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

But Khashoggi’s October 2018 death, which drew condemnation from Canada and many others in the international community, presented a new challenge.

Freeland has repeatedly called for an independent international investigation to bring Khashoggi’s killers to justice. Canada also imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis linked to the killing, freezing their assets and barring them from entering the country.

Dennis Horak, the former Canadian ambassador who was expelled from Riyadh a year ago, said it would probably be very difficult for a federal government to openly talk about re-building the relationship.

“I don’t think the dust has settled from that sufficiently that it would be easy for the government, politically, to suddenly warm up to the Saudis,” said Horak, who retired from the public service after he was ordered out of the kingdom.

Even with the obstacles, he said Canada should try to repair its strained relationship with Saudi Arabia like other countries have done in the past, including Germany and Sweden.

“It’s not perfect, it’s not a straight line by any stretch of the imagination, but there are positive steps that have been happening over the years and they’re still happening,” Horak said. “If we want this country to change, we need to engage them.”

Some Middle East experts, including Horak, say the dispute could hurt Canada’s chances of landing a coveted United Nations Security Council seat. Ahead of next year’s vote, they say Riyadh could pressure regional allies to ignore Canada on the ballot.

Business and institutions have reported feeling the impacts of the conflict in several areas — from engineering services, to agriculture, to health care.

Andrew Padmos, CEO for the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, said thanks to a successful, four-decade-old program, between 20 and 25 per cent of all Saudi physicians in the kingdom had at least some medical training in Canada.

After initially ordering them to return home, Riyadh allowed medical trainees, or residents, already in Canada to complete their work. It has not permitted new students to go to Canada.

Padmos said the program has seen many Saudi families spend up to a decade in Canada, have several Canadian-born children and return to the country with a new perspective.

“We’ll do more in this fashion for human rights in the world by this kind of diplomatic and educational exchange than any number of speeches or tweets would ever do,” he said.

“That’s the sad part of this — is that this one communication, which was handled in an unusual way, triggered a landslide that landed on top of us. And we haven’t dug out of it yet.”

On Wednesday, Rocky Mountain Dealerships Inc., Canada’s largest agriculture equipment dealer, said farmer pessimism over ongoing trade disputes with countries like China, India and Saudi Arabia was part of its decision to abandon its aggressive growth strategy and to trim staff.

Scott Jolliffe, chair of the Canada Arab Business Council, said Canadian businesses and institutions remain on a “blacklist” in the kingdom.

“My sources tell me that from the Saudi perspective, until the Canadian political climate changes, there’s not going to be any progress, which is most unfortunate,” Jolliffe said.

One recent sign that conditions in Saudi Arabia have improved came from Export Development Canada, which acts as a credit agency for firms looking to do business abroad.

A few weeks ago, EDC resumed offering its services on a restricted basis for Canadian companies in Saudi Arabia. It had stopped providing Saudi-related support last September after the dispute began, but re-opened them after initial concerns subsided, EDC spokeswoman Amy Minsky wrote in an email.

Between July 2 and July 27, EDC made 31 separate insurance credit approvals totalling US$7.3 million for existing policyholders that wanted to add Saudi Arabia back into their coverage, Minsky said.

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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Education

Risk of student loan defaults rising, say documents warning ‘system is broken’

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OTTAWA — The risk of student loan defaults and delays has been on the rise, and the “system is broken,” officials warned the federal government in a presentation earlier this year.

Federal student debt alone is approximately $17 billion and the Liberal government has to regularly write off millions of dollars in loans it will never collect, say the documents, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

The presentation, dated five days before the Liberals tabled their 2019 budget, said the costs for post-secondary education have increased at rates “above wage growth and inflation” over the last decade, while the cost of living has also jumped, creating an affordability crunch for new and graduating students.

Nonetheless, post-secondary education remains a must for many entering the job market, the documents acknowledge.

As a result, there are “rising perceptions of student loans as ‘anchors’ on the economic mobility, risk tolerance and aversion, and quality of life for the first decade of students after graduation.”

The presentation makes recommendations for how to address the problem, but they were blacked out in the documents. Student groups say they have ideas of their own, including more non-repayable grants and waiving interest payments on student loans.

The Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations are each readying to launch get-out-the-vote campaigns on campuses to get students to cast ballots in the Oct. 21 federal election.

They hope to replicate the high turnout of voters aged 18 to 25 during the 2015 election, forcing federal parties to think about student debt as one of several issues to address in their platforms if they hope to woo young voters.

About half of graduating students leave school with some degree of debt, with the average sum being about $26,000, the groups say.

Borrowers typically take between nine and 15 years to fully pay off their federal loans. The documents noted that debt payments can eat up as much as 13 per cent of a recent graduate’s income.

The documents echo the affordability message federal party leaders have started to lay out as a fixture of the fall campaign.

The presentation said a “boomerang generation of millennials” has felt the financial pain from loans they took out to go back to school when the recession hit a decade ago, limiting “their ability to afford housing and other essentials in a highly precarious youth job market.”

Since coming to office, the Liberals have expanded the amount of non-repayable grants to low-income students, and student groups hope to see more of the same after this fall’s vote to ease the strain on up-front costs.

“The amount of non-repayable aid that the Canada Student Loan program is offering — it has ballooned … and that wouldn’t have been a thing over a decade ago,” said John Rix, executive director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations.

“We’re trending in the right direction, and we’re hoping that after the election, there could potentially be further movement towards more grants.”

An expansion of grants would also help with costs post-graduation, students say. So too would waiving interest payments on federal loans, said Sofia Descalzi, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students.

The Liberals’ pre-election budget this March announced a six-month, post-graduation grace period where interest charges would be waived. Eliminating interest entirely on loans wouldn’t be too much of a leap for the next federal government, said Descalzi, pointing to provinces like Prince Edward Island, Manitoba and British Columbia that have already made the decision.

“We’re talking about the government profiting off of students’ backs to access an education they need to enter the job market. That is ridiculous in our view,” she said.

The CFS plans to launch its get-out-the-vote campaign on Aug. 21 — one month out from election day — and Descalzi said the group plans to make sure students think about their debts and the parties with policy to fix the issue when they go to the ballot box.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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august, 2019

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