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Thursday, 27 March 2014

What is the state of sex work in Canada?

by Amee Barber

Three things everyone should know about sex work in Canada:

  1. Until recently, the sale of sex was not actually illegal under the Canadian criminal code, but everything surrounding it was: living off the avails, procuring, soliciting and maintaining a bawdy house. As a result, many sex workers argue that they feel there are forced to operate ‘underground’ and are afraid to openly disclose their profession to those who can help them. Sex workers cannot legally hire bodyguards or drivers or work in public, and, in some instances, even have trouble securing child care. Moreover, despite the fact that Edmonton, like many other cities, sells licenses so a sex worker can sell her services, sex workers are considered independent contractors and therefore are not entitled to employment benefits or protections.

  2. On December 21, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that current Canadian legislation against solicitation was unconstitutional after finding that they negatively impacted the security and safety of sex workers.  It was argued that if sex workers were able to establish a regular place of business and hire body guards, then they would be able to more safely practice their business. The Court has given Parliament one year to come up with a new legislative scheme before the old laws became unenforceable.

  3. The sex industry is highly stratified, just like any other industry. Different occupational profiles are associated with different levels of risk and earnings. Independent escort workers are typically the highest earners, while sex workers working for an agency typically have to follow house rules and pay a percentage to their operators. Meanwhile, the lowest earners, and the most at-risk to violence and addiction, are generally street workers.

Three myths about sex work in Canada:

Myth #1: All sex workers are coerced into sex work by men and are dominated by them.

The Reality: We must understand that there are a variety of reasons that women enter into sex. It is undeniable that some of the women within the escort industry were particularly vulnerable before their entry into sex work, and physical or emotional coercion must be taken very seriously and those responsible must be punished; however, many of these women enter sex work to make their own money, to gain flexibility and autonomy, and/or to live an exotic life style. 

Myth #2: We must protect the sex worker who is incapable of giving informed or real consent.

The Reality: This view argues that the sex worker is either coerced or so psychologically damaged, or socialized by patriarchy, to the point that she is no longer responsible for her actions and is rendered incapable of providing any type of real consent; yet sex workers, like all women, are capable of informed consent. They do not want their choices invalidated by people who claim to "know better."

Myth #3: Sex work is violence against women, it is degrading and objectifying and reinforces their own oppression.

The Reality: Some view the sex worker as a victim who must be "saved" because they believe the very act of sex work is morally wrong. This view purports that men reduce women to sexual objects, which means that women are used only for their body parts. However, this view tends to equate sexuality with a sense of self, which is not a legitimate comparison. If the sale of labour is not seen as degrading and objectifying, why is the sale of sex any different? 

Amee works as a senior strategic engagement specialist for the Department of Energy, Government of Alberta. She also teaches at the University of Alberta, where is currently finishing her PhD in comparative and gender politics. She welcomes discussion on the topic and can be contacted at You can also find a unique take on the issues around sex work at a recent Pecha Kucha presentation she did, here:  (her presentations starts at 1:56). 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Is vaccination a civic duty?

by Dr. James Talbot

Photo: Is it a civic duty for health care workers with direct patient contact to get immunized? Dr. James Talbot explores this issue and states that health care workers have a duty to the patient, as well as their co-workers and the health-care system and public in general. These individuals have the potential to be leaders and serve as positive examples for their family and friends demonstrating the importance of immunizations. To learn more about civic duty and immunizations, or to join the conversation, visit the IPAC Impact Blog at:

Three things everyone should know about the civic duty of health care workers with direct patient contact to be immunized against influenza:

  1. Health care workers have a duty to the patient. That duty is to protect those who cannot protect themselves, to do no harm and to put the interests of the patient first.

  2. Health care workers have a duty to patients and co-workers to protect themselves from influenza. Doing so decreases the preventable absenteeism that decreases the capacity of the health care system at the very time influenza predictably increases the demand on staffing and the health care system.

  3. Health care workers have a duty to the public. They need to be leaders in demonstrating the importance of immunization so that the public understands the need to protect themselves, their friends, neighbors and relatives, especially those at higher risk for serious complications.

Three myths about influenza immunization:

Myth #1:  I don’t need to get immunized, I’m healthy.

The Reality: Immunizationdecreases illness and absenteeism for healthy adults and provides protection to those they come in contact with who are or who have contact with children under the age of 5, (especially under 2), people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, COPD and heart disease are at higher risk of serious complications from influenza, including death.

Myth #2:  I don’t need to get immunized to protect other people.  If I feel sick I stay at home.

The Reality: Infected individuals are highlyinfectious for 24 hours before they develop symptoms.

Myth #3: The immunization caused me to get influenza.

The Reality: The influenza vaccine contains either inactivated virus or only parts of the virus. It cannot multiply in the body and cause influenza.

As Chief Medical Officer of Health for the Government of Alberta, Dr. James Talbot provides public health expertise to support and promote health surveillance, population health and disease control initiatives, and makes recommendations to the Minister of Health on issues of public health importance.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Is civic duty an antediluvian concept?

by David M. Brock

Photo: What does it mean to exercise one’s civic duty? Did you know that actions such as voting and paying taxes are also examples of performing one’s civic duty? But it is about more than just voting – it is about participation in society. These include things such as volunteering for an election campaign, donating money to a political party of candidate, serving as an impartial election officer, or even protesting peacefully. To learn about some of the myths surrounding contemporary civic duty, or to join the conversation, visit the IPAC Impact Blog at:

Three things we need to know about civic duty:

  1. Civic duty is the ethical obligation one feels to participate in society, and the belief that it is morally wrong not to participate. Voting and paying taxes are examples of exercising one’s civic duty.

  2. Feelings of civic duty can be so strong that sufficient gratification may result from simply fulfilling one’s duty. For example, the positive feeling that one gets from casting a ballot can be gratifying regardless of the outcome of the election.

  3. Civic duty is about more than voting – it is about participation. In an electoral democracy, civic duty can be exercised by volunteering for an election campaign, donating money to a political party or candidate, serving as an impartial election officer, protesting peacefully, and casting a ballot.

Three myths about civic duty:

Myth #1: Civic duty is old fashioned.

The Reality: Although the overall strength of civic duty does appear to be in decline, civic duty remains a strong motivating factor for why people vote, wouldn’t sell their ballot, and consider it wrong not to vote.

Myth #2: Civic duty is down because consumer choice is up.  

The Reality: Correlation is not causation. An increase in choice for music, clothing, and books, has not been shown to be the cause of any decline in civic duty. Civic duty and freedom of choice are compatible social goods.

Myth #3: People no longer believe in civic duty.

The Reality: Students on the streets of Quebec, spectators at last year’s Boston Marathon, and citizens in the Maidan or Tahrir appear to believe strongly in civic duty. Civic duty has motivated people to protest government policy, rush into chaos to save lives, and risk death for democracy.

David M. Brock is Chief Electoral Officer of the Northwest Territories, and Chair of the IPAC NWT Regional Group. He is a Member of the Banff Forum and Fellow of Action Canada. He studied political science at Dalhousie University, the University of Saskatchewan, and the University of Western Ontario. His writing has appeared in Policy Options, the Literary Review of Canada, and Northern Public Affairs.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

What do we do about Canada's aging population?

by Bede Eke

Join Dr. Bede Eke for a discussion of “The State of Pracademia in Edmonton”, 5:00pm, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.  Click here for more information and to register.

Three things everyone should know about population aging in Canada:

  1. As the baby boomer generation grows older, Canada does have a much older population today than it has in the past.

  2. Research has shown that growing heath care costs have little or nothing to do with older people’s utilization of the health care system; these costs have been growing due to a number of factors, including increased usage by everybody, not just seniors.

  3. Canada is not the only country in the world facing an aging population; most of the Western world is dealing with this same issue.

Three myths about population aging in Canada:

Myth #1: Population aging will cause economic crisis for Canada.

Reality:  This is an over-exaggeration and misrepresentation of facts. The reality is that the older population as a group is not an economic burden. A majority of them are economically secure: have no mortgage to pay, have investments, and are relatively healthy. Many of them engage in volunteer services after retirement, which is a great support to the economy. If these services are quantified in dollar terms, they amount to billions of dollars annually.

Myth #2: Retirement makes people feel lonely and dejected, and subsequently they get sick and die not long after retirement.

Reality: In the 21st Century Canada and the US, average life expectancy has increased significantly to about 83 years for females and 78 years for males. Even though a lot of people retire from formal employment between ages 60 and 65, many of them live 10-25 years after retirement. Their retirement period is marked by social and economic activities such as volunteering, consultancy services, mentoring, traveling, and other forms of leisure. Very few seniors feel isolated, sick, and die shortly (3-5 years) after retirement

Myth #3: The majority of old people live in institutions.

Reality: Only about 7-8 percent of seniors live in institutions.  For those aged 65-74 years, only 2.2% live institutions; for those 74-85, only 8.2% live in an institution; while for those 86 and over, 31.6% lived in an institution according to Statistics Canada (2007). Actually, the percentage of seniors living in institutions is in decline today when compared to some decades ago. For example, 8.8% of seniors lived in an institution in 1981, compared to 7.4% that did so in 2001.

Join Dr. Bede Eke for a discussion of “The State of Pracademia in Edmonton”, 5:00pm, Wednesday, March 26, 2014.  Click here for more information and to register.

Dr. Bede Eke is an educator, a broad-chest social scientist, and multi-disciplinary scholar. He holds the Bachelor of Science degree in Education and Political Science, two Master’s degrees in Social Gerontology and Political Science respectively and a Doctorate degree in Political Science. He has more than three years’ management experience in student affairs, and more than eight years’ teaching experience at the college/university level. He is also experienced in curriculum development and online teaching. He is a social policy researcher and commentator, and has written peer-reviewed social policy journal articles. He currently teaches in the Departments of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Alberta, and in Political Science Department at MacEwan University. Over the years Dr. Eke has taught several courses in Political Science and Sociology including sociology of aging.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Alberta Budget 2014 - Who won, and who lost?

by Dr. Bob Ascah

Photo: The Alberta Budget: do you know who won and who lost? In October 2013, the President of the Treasury Board and Finance initiated an online poll asking Alberta citizens to provide input on provincial budget priorities. A disappointing 2,173 citizens responded (previous initiatives have garnered up to 125,000 respondents). Many different priorities were identified in through this survey. To read more about the Alberta Budget, and how this could effect YOU, visit the IPAC Impact Blog and join the conversation!

In October 2013, the President of the Treasury Board and Finance initiated an online poll asking Alberta citizens to provide input on provincial budget priorities.   A disappointing 2,173 citizens responded. (Earlier consultations and surveys conducted under the Klein government received on similar topics received tens of thousands of responses.  For example, in the spring of 1996, the government received 61,000 responses in a survey entitled “Straight Talk, Clear Choices.” In the fall of 1998, “Talk it Up- Talk it Out”- garnered over 80,000. In 2000, the government survey entitled “It’s Your Money,” garnered 125,000 respondents.)

In this consultation the top priority for spending was “core services” including health, education, etc. at 52%.  Only 6.7% supported maintaining low taxes as a first priority and saving for the future was ranked a top priority by only 3.9%. The survey instrument also requested respondents to indicate their preferences for spending more, the same or less in 13 lines of business.  Consistent with the first question, education, advanced education and health were identified as areas for more spending achieving scores over 50%. Interestingly spending more on the environment was favoured by 47% while more spending on energy and resource development was favoured by only 14% of respondents.

Regarding the capital plan the survey showed that individuals were comfortable using “alternative” methods such as P-3 to fund infrastructure. Over 75% of respondents felt capital spending should remain the same or increase. Spending on schools and health care facilities were identified as top priorities for capital dollars. As far as the savings plan is concerned respondents were given a menu of 15 choices for the use of savings.  Choices ranged from a pension plan for Alberta, post-secondary education bursaries, economic diversification, support for business innovation or to support culture. The clear winners were operational spending and capital investment. For write-in comments  “a large majority were concerned about a reliance on non-renewable resource revenues, interest in a progressive personal tax rate and a sales tax, increases to corporate taxes, changes to royalty rates, and reinstating health care premiums.”

Political and Economic Context
The 2014 budget is the Redford Government’s second budget since the 2012 election. With the next election about two and a half years away, the Government faces the choice of continuing to restrain spending or to open the purse to address the reductions in funding contained in last year’s budget (e.g. post-secondary education).  The Government has slowed the pace of spending and promises to keep spending to below population growth and inflation. The Government has faced and is still facing labour relations challenges with AUPE and forthcoming talks with the United Nurses of Alberta. The Alberta government is committed to bringing in agreements similar to agreements reached with physicians and teachers.

On the economic front, things are looking up. Two factors in the province’s favour include current oil and gas prices which are slightly stronger than at the time of last year’s budget. Also helping the province’s revenues has been the decline in the value of the Canadian dollar.  Since energy exports are priced in U.S. dollars, a one-cent decline in the loonie means an extra $162 million (Budget 2013- in Budget 2014 the sensitivity was stated as $241 million) over the course of a full year for government coffers. Alberta continues to enjoy a very strong employment situation and with the labour force growing and wage increases this means stronger personal income tax revenue. Given stronger resource prices, this too should mean higher corporate tax revenue but this source of revenue is notoriously volatile. The recent fiscal update release on February 26th showed a very positive momentum bridging into the new fiscal year with revenue above Budget 2013 projections of  $6  billion (including $2.6 billion for flood assistance).  While spending was higher due to the flood and increasing health care spending, an “operational surplus” of $1.4 billion is forecast.

2014 Budget
Winners Innovation was a big winner with a number of initiatives in train to strengthen Alberta’s energy dependent economy. A new endowment for agriculture and innovation is being seeded with $200 million from the Heritage Fund.  A Social Innovation endowment of $1 billion is aimed at “changing the long-term upward trajectory of cost pressures on the social service system by focussing on preventative and outcomes-based approaches and increasing the capacity of Alberta’s social and cultural sectors to innovate through experimentation with new delivery models and partnerships. In addition the Heritage Fund, over a 10- year period, will invest $2 billion in a Future Fund to provide strategic investments that “provide long-term benefits to Albertans and the Alberta economy.”  Ssuch a fund will encourage entrepreneurs of all sorts to approach the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (who manages the Heritage Fund) for funding.  This innovation seems to be is a return to the days of Peter Lougheed and Don Getty where subjective criteria (“benefits to the Alberta economy”) were used to justify investments in uneconomical projects.  (Reforms brought in the late 1990s were designed to require the Fund to maximize investment returns.)

Another winner is Justice and Solicitor General Ministry that receives funding for another 211 correctional officers and sheriffs.  In Environment and Sustainable Resource Development 206 new officers will be added to the Integrated Resource Management System. Recognizing the importance of qualified tradesman, the government will also be adding $200 million to the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund for trades-focused education. Finally the construction sector will be pleased with an overall increase of the capital plan where the three year spending profile is now $19.2 billion or $2.7 billion more than targeted in 2013.

The Health ministry will operate with $18.3 billion or a 3.6 % increase. An aging population and a system being led by two Acting co-CEOs and with strong political oversight do not augur well for a system that needs reform from top to bottom. K-12 Education receives a 3.2 % lift which will challenge school board trustees who have contracts with automatic salary grid increases.  For Advanced Education the support for universities and colleges increases by 1.5%. Although there are other categories in the Ministry that receive boosts such as the access to the future fund, the financial difficulties plaguing the post-secondary institutions will remain.

Final Comment
In the pre-budget consultations respondents urged the Government to consider new approaches on the revenue side (e.g. progressive taxation, retail sales tax).   According to Budget 2014, Alberta’s Tax Advantage is at least $11.6 billion. This means that even with small tax increases the province would be capable of saving significant portions of non-renewable revenue for future generations and increase funding for government services. With a revenue wind to the Government’s back, Budget 2014 is a reasonable budget spreading dollars to different interest groups.  The real challenge comes when oil prices fall and inter-provincial migration reverses.  Stay tuned!

Dr. Bob Ascah was born in Lachine, Quebec and received degrees in Commerce and Public Administration (M.A) from Carleton University. He completed his doctorate in political science at the University of Alberta in 1984. Before his appointment as Director of the Institute for Public Economics, he worked for the Alberta public service. After a short stint in Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs, he joined Alberta Treasury where he was responsible for financial sector policy, foreign borrowing, and liaison with ratings agencies. In 1996, he joined Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB Financial) as Secretary to the Board. Subsequently, Dr. Ascah was responsible for business planning, economics and government relations. In that capacity, Ascah was a frequent speaker on economics and financial institutions policy. He retired from ATB Financial in May 2009.  Bob Ascah is Chair, Canadian Cancer Society, Alberta/NWT Division and is the academic liaison for the Edmonton Regional Group of the Institute for Public Administration of Canada. In 1999, the University of Alberta Press published Ascah's Ph.D. dissertation Politics and Public Debt- The Dominion, the Banks and Alberta's Social Credit. Since joining the Institute, he has become a frequent media commentator on financial and economic issues.