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Monday, December 29, 2008

Will Harper Decline in 2009 Like Bush Did in 2008?


The world order of Pariah Minister Stephen Harper has changed dramatically in the past few months. He has moved from being disingenuous, mean spirited and misleading to mendacious and capricious not only with the truth but with the good of the country.

His political talisman has been the Bush White House. He has not emulated "W" so much as he has Rumsfeld and Cheney and deployed the Rovarian Cancer of a constant political campaign at a time when we needed governing and leadership. Will he suffer the same lame duck fate as President Bush has seen in his a precipitous decline in popularity and suitability for office?

Harper is a quick study but a slow learner as shown by his character flaws and stubbornness in resisting adaptation and refusal to assume responsibility or culpability for his monumental errors in judgment.

Lawrence Martin's thoughtful and insightful study of Pariah Minister Harper refreshes our memories of how poorly he has been at governing. Canadians are tired of elections and tired of leadership campaigns and are unsettled to say the least about their futures.

We have elected 3 consecutive minority governments. While a coalition government is foreign to our traditions it is not out of the question. It may be a necessity if the Harper Party persists in pursuing personal power over providing us with some economic and social stability in this serious recession.

Harper has one last chance with his January 27th budget to smarten up and to show he can and will attend to governing the country. Otherwise I say dump the Harper Party and lets see what a coalition government can do instead of another election right away.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Alberta's Tobacco Ban Legislation is Working

Last year I worked with a consortium of NGO health agencies in Alberta. We were successful in getting legislated smoking bans in public and work places, elimination of tobacco sale power walls and as of Jan 1, no tobacco sales in pharmacies.

Reports indicate this new legislation is working. Tobacco tax revenues are down in spite of a recent tax increase. This kind of prevention measure will save the health system money and improve the quality of life for everyone. Well maybe not for those poor souls who are freezing on the sidewalks at -30 and still puffing away. I wonder if the recession will help some more Albertans to get serious about quitting?

Alberta was one of the last provinces to get on the ball with this kind of legislated health prevention effort. With the change in Progressive Conservative Party leadership we have seen some interesting progressive policy efforts like this...and my other favourate public funding of midwifery. Again Alberta was a laggard. Better late than never.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gas Prices Are Low BUT a Crunch is Coming

For all those who think climate change is someone else's problem and far enough in the future that we don't need to get serious about it now I recommend you read Dan Gardner's column in the papers today.

Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World

Along with the rest of Alberta, I am huddle at home, caught in the grasp of a serious but blessed Pine Beetle killing cold spell. I was pleased with my surfing this morning to run across an intelligent piece of commentary on climate change in the U of A student newspaper The Gateway.

There was a recent on-campus lecture by Dr Andrew Weaver, professor and Canadian chair in climate modelling and analysis in the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences at the University of Victoria, our province hardly deserves the sole blame.

Here is what hooked me into a deeper consideration of what is happening and what needs to change about how we view climate change, including Alberta:

Most of us don’t read the peer-reviewed literature. We’re not going to go to journals and read about the latest research in a particular area. We’re going to get science knowledge—and this includes media in most areas of science—by going to the newspaper, the television, and radio,” he noted.

The problem with that, as Weaver sees it, is that the media has a tendency to be inaccurate in their depiction of the facts. His second critique was centered around the fact that most media personalities aren’t scientists.

“I’m not making fun of the media, but rather, through these extreme examples, [I want] to show how difficult it is to convey this science to an audience, and how it can be exploited by individuals who know how the media works,” he remarked.

Eventually delving into the real issue at hand—global warming—and its ability to shape the future of this world, Weaver was blunt in his assertion that at this point, there are just some realities that can’t be escaped."

Here is the link to the rest of The Gateway piece.

I guess I have another book to read over Christmas now Weaver’s recent book, Keeping Our Cool: Canada in a Warming World.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

More "Truthiness" From the Harper-Cons.

I don’t trust Stephen Harper and I don’t trust Jim Flaherty. They don’t tell the truth. They have done nothing by mislead and lie and fudge the facts about the real state and pending prospects of our economy. Now they are changing their story – yet again. They are moving from a minimalist economic growth myth in the last “FU Canada” (fiscal update for the uninitiated) to and even smaller marginal projection of a deficit and recession. Which political motivated myth is the reality? What are we to believe and who can we trust to give it to us straight?

These guys are nothing more than silver-tongued fiscal devils that are always shifting their share of the blame (with apologies to Kris Kristofferson). They have squandered all benefit of the public’s doubt in their integrity and ability, and even intention, to govern. They have given us their false promises that are just pockets full of political mumbles and vainglorious lies (with apologies to Paul Simon).

Thanks to their inconsistencies we don’t know what the true state of the Canadian economy is because these guys are constantly fudging the facts for partisan political purposes. They were playing pure politics in the recent election when they trumpeted that the Canadian economic fundamentals were strong. The clear implication was that if we voted for the “superior ability of the Conservatives to manage the economy” we would weather the storm and not be caught in the US recession (cum depression?). What a load of crap that was! Thanks to these guys we are now scrambling to get a handle on what is really coming at our economy and what it means for our future.

Only when the Harper-Cons faced the threat of losing political power did they change their story. Only then did they feigned to reform and revise their reign of truthiness. Does anyone who is thoughtful and informed on the issues we face believe Harper any more about anything? Does anyone anymore think the Harper government is working for us? Does anyone anymore feel like he is being accountable and transparent with Canadians? Does anyone anymore feel they are informed about what is actually going on in this government about anything and in particular the economy? Does anyone anymore believe the Harper government is capable of admitting its mistakes and adapting its approach to new realities and new information? Does anyone anymore believe that the Harper government is making decisions based on facts instead of political expediency?

By the way, those questions are “some of the intangibles” that Barrack Obama announced yesterday that he wanted to be judged on in the first two years of his Presidency. My God we are badly governed in this country. Wake up and stay awake Canada! It is time to make our politicians pay attention to the needs of the country and its citizens – not just their own personal purposes of preserving political power.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Reflections on a Black Swann in Alberta Politics

I am reassured that a man like David Swann can win a political party leadership in a place like Alberta. Getting 54% of the less than 5000 votes is not sign that Swann is seen as the “game changer” that many politically frustrated Albertans are looking for. I am not sure a game changer is what we need anymore. The game has already changed. We now need a pioneering leader who can help us adapt to a very different and difficult human journey.

I don’t know if David is a game changer but he may be a mapmaker who charts a new course for politics in Alberta. We are sailing into unknown territory economically, ecologically and socially all over the globe. Alberta may be more blessed and less stressed than many other places but we are not immune from the new realities of recession and restructuring. The game has changed and so must our politics.

The early mapmakers described the as yet unknown parts of the world as “There be Dragons.” It is an apt metaphor for today as we venture into this new sense of the unknown. I call it “Vueja Day.” That funny feeling nobody has ever been here before.

The new world order is going to challenge our conventional narratives and business-as-usual model of politics. We have emerging and imminent challenges that we have created by enabling greed and the centralized political power that has been abdicating its oversight roles and responsibilities in the economy, the environment and even in our social institutions.

We are at a stage where we can’t solve the complex problems coming at us by applying the old cultural norms and institutional levers. That is because they are not simple not responsive enough, applicable enough nor adaptive enough. Our conventional tools of government, our traditional definition of success and our current decision making models are actually adding to the problems, not resolving them. We see more political bungling and lost opportunities as a result. We have our “leaders” posturing to avoid accountability, transparency and responsibility. We see more squandering of our scarce resources with disingenuous politicians who are good at feigning that they care as they fail to provide adaptive leadership in the face of the new dynamics.

Alberta seems to many like a political mono-cultural and a one-party state. That may have been Alberta’s past but I don’t think that is Alberta’s future. The Alberta narrative is about to change significantly. The myth of the rugged self-reliant individual, risk-taking wealth generating entrepreneur who exploits the abundant natural resources for big bucks will not go away. But it will not be the only narrative that defines Alberta going forward. If it is the only operational narrative, then Alberta will quickly fail because we will fail to adapt to the new realities of the post hydrocarbon world that is confronting us.

If there is no post hydrocarbon world coming at us, then Alberta will still fail. We will just fail along with the rest of our species as the planet heats up and we slavishly seek to keep to our illusions and delusions that tomorrow will be a variation of yesterday…regardless of evidence to the contrary. The world will go on, perhaps without us, but the planet will not care one way or the other, if we fail to adapt and survive.

So I’m hoping David Swann is the Black Swan and the improbable exception that enables us to make new models of politics, governing and government. Our democracy is ailing and we lack political leaders who have sufficient wisdom and judgment to be life affirming. Instead we see them all to selfishly focused on preserving personal and political power. David Swann strikes me as being unselfish and life affirming. After all aren’t medical doctors all about being life affirming and in service the public good?

The educated person quickly comes to realize the more we learn the more ignorant we actually are. The wisdom of that truth has to be brought to bear on our politics and become foundational to the new operating narrative for the next Alberta. I’m thinking David Swan may be the new mapmaker that is willing to explore new ways of seeing and doing politics. He may be able to help us realize our current ignorance and actually encourage and enable us to write a new citizen-based narrative for the next Alberta.

Will he be able to lead us in ways so we start to really reengage in responsible, caring, resourceful citizenship? Will Albertans be wise and skillful enough to take on the adaptive change challenges that the new world realities demand of us?

Will David Swann be allowed to become the kind of unconventional pioneering political leader that can help us find and refine the next Alberta? Or will he just become another prophet? A prophet’s lot in life is to be stoned by the masses. Time will tell but one thing is obvious to me, we need new maps to be drawn by new mapmakers as we move forward as strangers in a strange land that is the uncertain, chaotic and complex future of the planet.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Blackett Sets the Record Straight

I was really disturbed by the CBC story last week suggesting Alberta's Minister of Culture Lindsay Blackett was considering withholding provincial government funding for certain film projects. The story was spurred by the Oscar short-listed documentary “Downstream” by Leslie Iwerks. I have not seen the documentary but understand it is critical of oil sands development and focuses on the controversy over allegations of high cancer rates in the Fort Chipewyan area.

Full disclosure, I am working with the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Fort Chipewyan on legal/policy issues around the timing of Alberta's duty to consult on oil sands leases. I also work with Lions Gate Television on arranging the provincial and city funding of the NBC primetime television series "Fear Itself" that was shot in Edmonton last year.

I was relieved to read the Todd Babiak’s typically thorough and thoughtful Edmonton Journal column on Saturday that clarified the situation considerably. I have spoken and met with Lindsay Blackett on several occasions and cannot imagine that censorship is anywhere in his DNA and it ought not to be in any of our elected representatives.

Blackett has effecitvly diffused the “story” by saying “Nobody is complaining about it. Not in my office, not in caucus, not in cabinet.” He goes on to state “We’re not so thin-skinned that we can’t take a little criticism. I believe in freedom of speech. We love to encourage artistic freedom and we don’t believe in censorship.” That is the Lindsay Blackett I know and that is the right place of government in free speech and artistic freedom too.

I think we need more appreciation for the controversial and criticism that artists uncover and convey in and to our society. I recently wrote an essay entitled “Profiting From the Artist as Prophet” for the City of Edmonton Culture Policy in support of that theme. I argued that “The core genius of the artist is the ability to express unreserved truth.” I believe “That artistic ability is enough to alter our entire culture by changing our orienting stories and our binding societal myths.”

Art and artists can be merely entertainment in what Ralph Waldo Emerson called the “frolic and juggle” level of the artist. Emerson goes on to say when we experience art and artists at the “genius level” they help us to “realize and add” as they make invaluable contributions to our insight and self-awareness.

As a student of politics and leadership I have observed that political leaders are often limited in their ability to see the truths that an artist can envisage. This is because politicians are inevitably placed in the compromise zone between such truths and societies receptivity to accept them.

Reading the Babiak column one sees that Lindsay Blackett gets this healthy tension about the reality about the nexus of art, culture and politics. Our governments have become the major patrons and benefactors of art and artists. Governments are under increasing pressure for accountability and transparency in the use of taxpayer dollars at the same time. This tends to measure the value of art in terms of quantitative, management and programmatic terms and diminishes and depreciates the benefits artists provide to a vital and vibrant society.

Blackett acknowledges that Alberta’s film funding,”… like democracy is a work in progress.” Alberta has historically been a national leader is making progress of this good work but that all changed in the Klein years. As Alberta seeks to become a knowledge society and economy and an attractor of culture creatives, sustained and substantial public support for arts and culture industries are a lever to make that transformation.

So contrary to implications in recent media reports, censorship is not “on” for Alberta. Government making art and culture funding decisions based on esthetic or ideological considerations is not on either. Taking a more strategic role and having a progressive public policy game play for culture industries needs to be on for Alberta. We need to breathe life and energy into the new Alberta Culture Policy in ways that makes Alberta thrive.

Lindsay Blackett has the right vision and the right stuff to make this happen but he cannot do it alone. Albertans have to get behind him and demand an enlightened public policy that enables, encourages and empowers our cultural creatives.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Playing For Change: Song Around the World

This is a video tht really touched me. It makes the point that we are all in this world alone and together. We have our own troubles and those we also share with everyone and everything else on the planet.

We have to learn to stand by each other. That may not be such a bad New Years Resolution.

Busy Days on Oil Sand Development Issues.

It has been quite the time on a wide range of oil sands issues and events over the past couple of weeks.

We have the economic elements seeing capital projects being delayed, deferred and some may even die or leave the province due to high costs, low oil prices and the evaporation of capital markets.

We have the ENGO sourced news based on a science-based report on the oil sands development adverse effects on migratory birds. Then we say a study released on seepage and leakage from toxic tailing ponds. This was all being done at a time when there is a big experts conference in Edmonton on what to do with the tailing ponds where industry floated the idea that they water may have to be treated and released into the Athabasca and Mackenzie River basins.

We also have the Alberta Land Use Framework and the Alberta Energy Strategy policy releases happening too. At the same time we have the Poznan Poland meetings on climate change that is drawing uncomplimentary international attention to oil sands development.

On the social side, yesterday I helped professionally with the communication of the Judicial Review initiative of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. They are seeking a Court declaration that the Province of Alberta has to engage in meaningful consultation on the impact of oil sands projects before any leases are granted to development companies.

This is a very interesting case that challenges the current provincial policy that puts the duty to consult on industry after an oil sands lease is granted. It is not the job, nor the duty, of industry to consult with First Nations people on Treaty Rights and Traditional Use issues. It is the province’s responsibility and it is not one that can be effectively delegated to a third party.

There is nothing legally stopping Alberta from consulting in a meaningful way with First Nations on their Constitutional rights before an oil sands or any other natural resource lease is granted that impacts those rights. B.C. does it. It is just Alberta policy that creates uncertainty, additional expense and even delay in projects because of a lack of clarity and process and an ineffective policy position.

This Judicial Review application is not about money. It is about Alberta meeting its duty to consult legal obligation in advance of leasing crown lands that will have an impact Treaty Rights and Traditional uses.

With the current slowdown in the oil sands development, there is a chance to take a breath and do oil sands development right not just rapidly. Doing it right involves a comprehensive and integrated policy approach that deals effectively with the economic, environmental, societal and legal aspects of responsible oil sands development.

The advent of new provincial energy and land use policies provides a platform for a better dialogue with Albertans, including aboriginal Albertans, in the appropriate development of this crucial non-renewable resource. This ACFN legal action will likely cause the province to first say they will not discuss matters before the courts. That would be an unhelpful response towards finding a mutually beneficial resolution that would aid the province, industry and aboriginal people in finding an effective and fair resolution.

Time will tell if an enlightened policy will come forth from effective goodwill negotiations involving the province, First Nations and industry the need to consult before leases are issues. Or will there be no alternative but to have a court imposed “solution.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Participate in What is Happening in Poznan Poland on Climate Change

Important opportunity for you to view wha tis happening in Poznan Poland thanks to OneClimate.net



The Man in Charge Takes Your QuestionsPut your questions straight to Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCCLive from the UN Climate Conference in Poznan, Poland

Wednesday (Today!), 17:30 GMT (12:30 EST) - Join the Live Discussion on OneClimate.net/Poznan


Right now almost eleven thousand participants are taking part in the UN Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland - and they've created countless tonnes of carbon travelling there.The good news is that YOU can have your say in this hugely important event WITHOUT contributing to the problem. OneClimate has broken new ground in allowing people all over the planet to interact with key movers and shakers inside the UN conference hall - all from the comfort of their laptops. Be a part of it and join us in Virtual Poznan.Today is your chance to put the tough questions to the man in charge. What needs to be done to solve the climate crisis and what's actually getting done behind closed doors?



The Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Yvo de Boer, will respond to your thoughts and questions Wednesday 10th December at 17:30 GMT (12:30 pm EST).Watch the live video stream and use the interactive comments facility to inject your thoughts at http://oneclimate.net/poznan. Or join the discussion live in Second Life. Click here: http://slurl.com/secondlife/OneClimate/19/238/22 to teleport to our Virtual Poznan arena on



OneClimate Island. Get there early -- capacity is 200 avatars.And be sure to keep up with the latest from the conference and join the discussions each day this week at 17:30 GMT (12:30 pm EST).See you in Virtual Poznan!The OneClimate



Teamwww.oneclimate.net/poznanp.s. don't worry - we've got some other great speakers lined up too, just in case Yvo gets pulled into an emergency negotiating session at the last minute!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Ignatieff Wins Liberal Leadership By Attrition.

In the post-Stephane Dion reality Dominic LeBlanc and Bob Rae bow out of the Liberal Leadership race. So the next Liberal leader is the runner up from last time. The crown passes to Michael Ignatieff with a whimper not a bang.

It looks like the transfer of the Federal leadership follows the model of the Miss Universe beauty pageant. In the political reality of beauty pageant succession it is clear that if the winner can’t perform her duties, for whatever reason, then the first runner up will take over and finish the job. Dion’s done and Iggy’s in. The politics of the Federal Liberals and Miss Universe unfold as they should.

As a newly minted Federal Liberal interloper Bob Rae’s leadership hopes depended on him being able to use a coalition approach to attract and create a different power base to win a leadership contest. That would take time and given the tentative nature of Harper’s minority, time is not on Rae’s side.

At a more fundamental level, my sense is Rae is too much yesterday’s man and LeBlanc may be tomorrow’s man but the reality of today requires as sense of urgency, and talent for adaptability and the some political nimbleness. That is where the political focus has to be for the Federal Liberal party. I see Ignatieff as a man of today. In that way he ends up being the transitional leader from the old style centralized power and top-down authority based model of politics to the new networked, internet based political culture that is coming.

A party leader being selected by attrition is not a great day for democracy in the purist’s sense. But the times are not normal, be it economically, environmentally and socially…and for sure politically. The process that results in Ignatieff as leader of the Federal Liberal party is obviously sub-optimal. It does meet the governance needs of these times in Canada…it shows the Federal Liberals to be adaptable and nimble in the face of the economic urgency facing the nation.

The coalition is not dead under Ignatieff. It is merely dormant, having done its job so far. It can be resurrected just as quickly as it was the first time. It will undoubtedly be revived if Harper chooses again to ignore the needs of the nation in favour of his self-centred power hungry political approach.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Lets Get Away From the Political Extremes and Move to the Radical Middle

I have been watching and reflecting on the policy events, media set-ups and staged political theatre of the past week in Canada. I have seen with despair the partisan theater of the media staged photo-op phoniness at the heart of the partisan demonstrations for the Conservatives or the Coalition, as if we only had to choose between them. Even their adlib lines seemed well rehearsed (hat tip to Paul Simon) in the strained spontaneity of the small recruited and artificially earnest crowds.


There are, however, some reassuring signs of a different consciousness that may be forming in the Canadian head and heart. It is not a perspective that is sees the world as left versus right, “we” versus “them”, or even “us” as better that the “other.” These inclusive, caring and nurturing impulses are going to be key and necessary character qualities for survival and progress in the globalized inter-related economic, ecological and cultural world we have now created.


The power politics of the times are still stuck in that medieval adversarial mindset. Win-win is for sissies. We are stuck in stale debates and see policies sponsored by too many of the same old-style politicians, of all partisan persuasions. We see all too clearly that they are merely offering self-serving non-solutions aimed at either avoidance or deferral of accountability.


The cautious Canadian operating principle of constant compromise into the traditional muddled and mushy middle does not work anymore. This is because the power players have become cleverer. They have changed their tactics. They have caught on that if you are extremist or reactionary enough you can generate superficial “he said, she said” media coverage. That conflict energizes the party troops and helps convince your base of the worthiness of your cause. The goal is a compromise middle ground that skews to your side. In the ground game of mean-spirited muddling politics a skewed compromise, however marginal the utility of the "win," it is still a major political victory in the partisan land of the trivial and the trifling.


I am seeing from the public reaction to events this week, a new enlightenment and a new sense of hope. Perchance even some Audacity of Hope (a book worth reading if you are a Progressive) emerging in the citizenry. This is from its collective articulation of a growing disdain for the devious ways of old-style politics and pandering partisans. Citizen’s cynicism and skepticism has become anger and activism.


Citizens have been ignoring elections but they are starting to pay attention to politics again. They are becoming individually intentional and many are engaging to actively overthrow the status quo system. That status quo system is the destructive political model of the self-serving political classes that we lobbyists too often sustain as the "experts" in the old ways and means of the darker arts of politics.


Mark Satin’s book Radical Middle, the Politics We Need Now calls for a new politics that can deal with the disappearing borders inherent from the highly mediated and connected world. He calls for everyone to embrace a radicalism in “fresh and principled way” that is “bold and yet savvy enough to want idealism without illusions.” He calls for a new kind of radicalism that addresses the “fundamental public policy issues in ways that are honest and imaginative and creative.” His middle is not about over throwing corporate capitalism of representative democracy but “…committed to finding practical, humane…answers to the very real problems of (our) institutions and corporate capitalism.”


I for one, am up for a new radicalism that is realistic and practical and focused on real solutions to the real problems of our times. I am not up for any effort that merely does what Satin calls “twiddling the dials on the status quo.” I sense some kindred spirits out there. I hope we find each other and that we get together and become a force to be reckoned with and effective agents of change.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Rick's Rant - Dec. 2, 2008

This is not just a Mercer Rant - it is an expose of Emperor Harper and just how dangerous he is. I can't imagine what Harper would do with the absolute power of a majority.

Stay awake Canada.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Maddow: Oh Canada...

Boy does American Commentator Rachel Maddow ever get it.

I can't believe our own tradition touting Conservatives can't see the damage that was done to Canadian democracy yesterday by the selfish and self-serving Stephen Harper.

Power away form the people and pull the plug on Parliament just for doing exactly what it is supposed to do...serve the interests of Canada - not those of the Prime Minister.

Hat tip to Davberta for the link.

Harper Gets a Reprieve. Now What?

So now what? Have we merely staved off the inevitable non-confidence vote? Will Harper learn to love Canada as much as himself? Will Dion be gone at an accelerated pace? Will we find some adults to supervise Question Period? Will Canadians keep caring about their country enough to continue to engage at a meaningful level and not just be reactionary? Here are some observations and prognostications:

Dion: He has to go sooner than May 2009. His work here is done. The country is too volatile and split for the Liberals to wait for the next Godot to show up. Dion has considerable talents but political leadership and retail politics are not his strong suits. He has brought Harper to heel but he lacks the skill set and the mind set to make him sit shake-paw and beg. Those are the critical training objectives for Harper to master if he wants to extend this reign.

Harper: He is a man of many faces. It is as if being two-faced is not enough for him. He is not well intended in the service of the country and pathologically insincere in word and deed. As a result of such serious character flaws he suffers from a syndrome of serious integrity lapses. But he can be trained. Like all good puppies, he will learn because he responds to rewards and fears punishment. Harper is not yet House broken but he has finagled his way out of the House and into the dog house. He has pissed off most of the country with his snarling and aggressive behaviours. He is on a choker leash now and if he does not behave, he will be muzzled. If he continues to behave like a brighter but smart-ass George Bush he will be “put down” - politically at least.

Liberal Leadership: Let’s get the Liberal leadership over by the end of February – at the latest! The candidates are decided and known. This sequel promises to be less engaging that the first season and with fewer survivors left in “the Great Race.” The political climate is so fragile and the country is so uncertain that one lingering political uncertainty is unwise and unnecessary. Dion is done and the Liberals will be too if the dither.

The Coalition: This edition of a united opposition is likely over. It has done its job. It has humbled and humiliated Harper and for that we owe the leaders a debt of gratitude. If there is a new Liberal leader decided on a fast-track the second edition of an on-going opposition coalition ought to be part of the plan going forward. We need to look carefully at the concept of coalitions given we are on our third minority government in a row – and who know how many more will be coming.

Old Canada Redux: Canadians are still split on partisan lines and Harper has revived the regional animosities again. I would like to see a coalition government for a short term, like a year or so. It would serve as a potential test run of what governing would be like as a result of Proportional Representation. It would not be as a result of PR but it would be a consequence of PR.

The Next Canada: We are about to be tested as a nation and as a society. Our old orienting mythologies of being an inclusive, fair, caring and careful and cautious society are going to be put challenged due to this economic crisis. Our character as a nation will be highlighted as we work our way through the coming calamities. How we deal with big issues urbanization, climate change, immigration, aboriginal relationships and our place in the world and our roles and responsibilities as citizens are going to be highlighted.

The Next Election: Are we going to come through this as a new progressive society, stay as a consumptive at all cost “growth” society, or will be retreat to a traditionalist model? The next election will set that course. If Harper wins a majority we will retreat into a conservative ideological mode of thought noted for a moral discipline with an expectation of obedience to authority. Harper will be portrayed as the strategic manager and experienced economist will be the strict father figure to get us through the economic mess but based on fears and insecurities. More George Bush?

If there is some other election outcome we may see a different more progressive Canada emerge that is a more caring and nurturant society. We may see a new political culture that has government and leadership that is attuned to empathy, responsibility and hope where we protect, empower and care for each other in a more vibrant sense of community and common cause that includes the individual but is larger than the individual. More Barrack Obama?

One thing that seems certain, given the causes and courses of the economic meltdown, the status quo is not on. We are not longer able to afford and presuming we can continue to abuse the planet for personal gain at the expense of the “others.” We are embedded in a globally interdependent and vulnerable world that is facing an ecological peril that is more dire than the ensuing recession/depression.

As George Lakeoff says in The Political Mind “A new understanding is emerging about what is means to be human. Our political institutions and practices reflect our collective self-understanding. When that changes dramatically, so should our politics.”

He closes the book with the chilling observation “But we better hurry up. The ice caps are melting.” Amen!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Harper's Blind Ambition Jeopardizes the Unity of the Country

Harper escapes accountability to Parliament and lives to fight one more day. Thanks to Harper’s reckless rhetoric and personal ambition, Canada is more unstable and its citizens are more uncertain and at a greater risk than at any time since World War II.


If the Governor General did not place limits on this autocratic politician we will see even more abuse of his office. He can’t abuse Parliament anymore than he has today because he shut it down.

Harper has consciously divided us one again on regional and linguistic lines again. He is an opportunistic political chameleon with little commitment to any personal principles that will serve the nation. He will say anything that is convenient to shift his share of the blame or to divert attention from the serious issues Canadians are facing. He always defaults towards the petty partisan posturing to pander to his radical right-wing base.


It is not time for a pause. It is time for decisive action based on collaboration and good governing. All of us are wise and smarter than any of us…but Harper has no sense of that reality. He is convinced what is good for Harper is good for the country. His blind ambition for gaining and keeping power is something he sees as his personal entitlement as Prime Minister.


Now without the accountability of Parliament, which he connived to close rather than respect, Harper has garnered all the power he has ever lusted after. Will he use the power wisely? Or will he spend his party war chest and start the propaganda was for the next election campaign with the bullying, misleading and outright lies of the last 3 years? I’m pretty sure it will be the latter.


This is not a time out for a government to regroup. It running away from Parliament is a cop-out by a coward. Canada just lost its last vestige of political innocence today. This political diversion and abject decline to govern is the most egregious example of just how far Harper will go to avoid accountability to perform his duty to the country.


The ugly side of Harper has prevailed. He is jeopardizing the unity, stability, diminishing the respect for the rule of law and undermining the confidence of the country in our political institutions. Did any one vote for that on October 14? Say a prayer for Canada this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Harper's Hidden Agenda Will Happen If House Prorogues Just for Him to Keep Power.

If the Governor General grants a prorogue tomorrow that suspends Parliament, that puts the total power of government in Harper alone, given the anemic performance of his mute minions in Cabinet.

The GG better put some serous limits on Harper or he will find more excuses not to return in late January with a budget. He will inevitably face the loss of power in a defeat from a confidence vote. He is terminally tactical. He is not buying time. He is just getting more rope to hang himself.

Watch the prorogue period turn ugly as the Harper Party propaganda machine goes into overdrive. It will for sure spoil an already uncertain Christmas for many Canadians as he bombards the airwaves with expensive and tacky attack ads. Remember the multimillion dollar hatchet job he did on Dion for 2 years? Expect the mother-of-all attack ads this time around because now Harper has painted himself in a corner.

He will be spending big bucks – taxpayer subsidized bucks at that. There will be expensive television, radio and newspaper ads. He will be messaging with mistruths and lies in a big-time bullshit mode. Facts are interferences to fear mongering. It will be a Republican inspired campaign replete with lies as a big as Bush's lies about WMD in Iraqi done to "justify" a war on terror when the real terrorists are in Afghanistan.

Remember Harper lied about the absence of “flags” behind the Coalition signing ceremony? The television coverage proves he lied. He lies to induce fear by claiming the Bloc has veto over the coalition when they are not even a part of it. They have agreed only not to introduce any constitutional issues and confidence issues for the coalition for 18 months. There are more Harper lies as he promotes division in the country and fans the flames of regional differences, including encouraging Alberta Separatists. He is showing that he does not care about Canada or Canadians. This is all about Harper keeping in power despite the law or the Constitution or democracy.

If Harper was not running political ads but business ads, he would be brought up on charges by all the advertising standards watchdogs for the misleading falsehoods in his ads based on the last raft and rancor he released. Pity we tolerate that politicians can lie and mislead with impunity in the name of “informing citizens in a free and democratic society. “

In the real world we have business trying to honestly compete in the marketplace but they have to tell the truth and be careful NOT to mislead. Politicians like Harper are expected toile and mislead in their advertising – all in the name of democracy. The irony is pathetic and dangerous…just like Harper.

I think the propaganda blitz from the Harper Party that is only being done to save his job will offend Canadian values and confirm his character flaws. It will prove to us that he is unfit to lead, never mind govern. His bombast and carpet bombing media blitz will prove to be as effective as Nixon's Watergate protestations, or of McCain's panic attempts at sustain baseness by calling Obama names like socialist for espousing the benefits of income redistribution.

This is all going to energize the previously passive, indifferent and cynical voter into action and to the dramatic decline of popular or sleepwalking support for Harper as a politician, never mind as a party leader or Prime Minister. We are already seeing that – not on the windbags of talk radio, but on the web and in the blogs and the more intelligent comments being made to mainstream media websites.

It may take a bit of time for Harper to leave or to be hoisted on his own petard once and for all. But one thing is obvious to fair minded Canadians. Harper is way past his best before date. It is time for him to go.

Alberta Venture Column on Business Ethics

Alberta Venture has published this month's column on business ethics. I share this work with Fil Fraser, Janet Keeping and another monthly guest. Here is the link to Marketing Masquerades as Charity.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Unloaded copper CwoB 2008

Here is a video of my friend Graham Fletcher, the "Father of the Alberta Internet." He is the fellow who is spearheading the push at the CRTC to get access to telephone copper wire so virtualy all rural Albertans can get access to the SuperNet at optical fibre quality at cheaper costs that radio.

Harper Has a Minority - Not a God Given Right to Govern

Canadians decided last that they didn’t trust any of the political parties nor their leaders to govern the country. Choosing the third minority government in a row sent a strong message that they wanted the political parties to cooperate and govern differently.

Coalitions are the natural consequences of minority governments and that is exactly what is happening. Canadians in their collective wisdom wanted the best ideas to be considered from all parties. Harper's hubris is inimical to those ends.

Mr. Harper was aware of this attitude shift in the hearts and minds of Canadians. He campaigned in warming sweaters in sepia toned television commercials. He promised to govern in a more collaborative way compared to the pit bull and bullying approach he used in the last Parliament.


Harper got a larger majority based on the pending recession/depression and the obviously mistaken belief that Conservatives were better at prudent management of the economy. The much anticipated Fiscal Update was Harper, the economist and shrewd strategist, first chance to show he was focused on the needs of the country more than petty and pugnacious political posturing.

He prefers to pick on people rather than govern with wisdom and caring. The people he picked on this time were public servants who had just signed a 3 year contract below inflation rates. But Harper decided they should be denied the right to strike and that was a centerpiece of his pathetic Fiscal Update. There would be no threat of a public service strike for at least three year so it was pure political bullying of vulnerable people.


Next Harper moved to take away legal rights of women to seek pay equity which is so contrary to Canadian core values and our shared sense of fairness. He offered retired seniors a crumb saying they could defer 25% of the requirement they sell retirement stocks now that had dropped 60% of value in a month. Nickel and diming seniors will not deal with the fear from the devastation to the retirement savings of seniors.

Harper has failed to win a majority when he held all the trump cards and played them. He has failed to realize the anxiety of Canadians who face a financial crisis of Biblical proportions. He has been tone deaf or indifferent to the expectations and values of Canadians to make the minority government work.


He has shown he has no respect for the law or democracy. He is terminally tactical and strategically incapable of collaboration, even within his own Cabinet and Caucus. He has no respect for Parliament as will be proven as he tries to prorogue the House to try and avoid the inevitable non-confidence vote.

Harper is clever and conniving but he has shown that he is neither wise nor willing to learn and adapt. In a modern democracy especially with a minority government, those are fatal character flaws that make Mr. Harper unfit for the highest office in the land.

Mr. Harper, it is over. The fat lady is singing and she is well into her second verse. It is not too late to show some dignity and integrity for a change for the good of the country, Canadians and even your own party and your place in history.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Harper the Bully Overplays His Political Hand

The pettiness of the Harper political machine has finally pushed the opposition parties to push back – and really, really hard. Harper’s ill-conceived, idiotic and ideologically focused “Fiscal Update” (Harper’s FU Canada Statement) was lacking in service of the common good and was oblivious to the rapidly deteriorating fiscal reality of the country.

Harper is now running away from his FU Canada Statement so fast and farcically that he could be accused of rehearsing for a Monty Python sketch. He has already ditched all but one of his FU Canada Statement pronouncements, namely his suspension of the rights for women to use Human Rights processes to achieve pay equity. That is likely to be withdrawn soon.

He has withdrawn his draconian idea of legislating away the right to strike for public servants. He has retreated on his goal of bankrupting the opposition political parties through withdrawing the vote subsidy provisions. Now he says he will push up the budget speech up to the end of January from late March. That hardly shows a renewed sense of urgency.

Harper’s retreat has not been motivated by any commitment to principles of good governance. He is merely trying and stop momentum behind the Liberal-NDP coalition planning. His retreat and political messaging is having the exact opposite effect and only seems to invigorate the coalition parties.

Harper has been allowed to bully, belittle and browbeat opposition politicians, especially Stephane Dion, for over two years. Harper got away with it because the Liberals were not ready to fight another election after changing leaders and polls showed Canadians did not want another election.

Canadians wanted Harper to use his 2006 minority victory as a chance to show that he could govern and use his first minority parliament for the common good. Instead Harper used his offices to serve his own lust for personal political power. What we got was trite tax cuts like the GST and debased childcare subsidies. He mastered the dark arts of misleading messaging and political trickery.

Harper has proven that he has no respect for Parliament and he has even less respect for the rule of law. Harper’s own law for fixed election dates passed unanimously in Parliament. It was immediately ignored by Harper’s quick election call. He “justified” the early election by ironically claiming that Parliament was dysfunctional – even at a time when it wasn’t even sitting. Well Parliament is sitting now and it is very dysfunctional now, all thanks to Stephen Harper.

It is obvious that the opposition parties have had enough of Stephen Harper. The country is entering into the worst economic crisis in our history. Harper is not only dithering about his duty to govern, he continues to be politically diabolical and ideological - as his recent FU Canada statement proves, yet again.

So there is going to be a coalition formed between the Liberals and the NDP with some passive but sufficient support from the Bloc. They intend to form a government by defeating Harper on a non-confidence motion and offering the Governor General a viable alternative, without the need for an election.

Harper has tactically delayed the timing of the Liberal’s non-confidence motion from December 1st to the 8th. That has not bought Harper any useful time to try and retain power. It has just given the coalition parties more time to design the coalition partnership, plan for the next Parliament and to develop new policies that are for the good of the country.

Harper has outlived his usefulness to the country and he has overplayed his political hand. He is all tactics and strategy. He has shown that he has no substance and no intention of acting decisively or with alacrity to manage the growing and accelerating economic crisis facing the country.

I hope and expect we will have a new coalition government to replace the hapless and feckless Harper Party by midmonth. It will be neither left nor right but will be progressive and forward looking. It will be focused on how to best respond to the current economic crisis, to deal with climate change and do what needs to be done to support the growing number of vulnerable citizens who are going to bear the brunt of this recession.

As for soon-to-be “former Prime Minister Harper,” I hope to be able to say very soon, and with great zeal, “So long Steve. Your 35 months of fame are over.”

Friday, November 28, 2008

Harper Folds on FU for Party Funding

So Harper's game of political chicken is over and he lost. The Canadian Press is reporting that Harper has backed down on cutting the subsidy to political parties a confidence issue in his so-called Fiscal Update ("FU" for short").


I think a coalition government with Ralph Goodale as the interim Prime Minister is a possibility - not optimal but a possibility. And Harper can't risk it. His bullying and bluster better be over. Harper is only good at political tactics when the country is desperate for good government and sound policy. Harper's FU yesterday shows that he is still only intertested in political gamesmanship.


The times have change and the Harper political and head games are no longer appropriate. It is time to lead or get out of the way Steve.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stephen Hawking Comes to Canada - Why Not Alberta?

This appointment of Stephen Hawking to Waterloo University Perimeter Institute is a perfect example of what Alberta ought to be doing. We have the resources and facilities to actively attract and engage the best and brightest minds in the world today to come to our universities and research institutes.

We are doing this in medicine and nanotech and some other areas but not nearly enough and definitely not aggressively enough. With the economic down turn there will be a lot of great scientists and researchers who will no longer have access to the kind of funding they need to do their work. They will be looking for new sources and new relationships. Those folks ought to be found and recruited to our province to pursue their work in this tough time.

Alberta’s hydrocarbon economy, no debt, capital investment that is in place and still being pursued, safe communities, and stable government provides us with the best prospects going forward in all of North America – at least for the foreseeable future – but not forever. We can’t presume that our growth and sustainability will be assured by continuing to try to perfect yesterday's hydrocarbon economy.

Carbon is not king anymore. There will be significant efforts to replace it and to neutralize its impacts on the planet. Albertans support those efforts because we are the highest CO2 emitters on the planet on a per capita basis and know something has to change. Alberta has a serious transition and transformation in its future that will be more dramatic and demanding than the advent of the oil sands. Are we ready for that? Are we designing our economy, ecology and society for that destiny? Are we adaptive, engaged and nimble enough to make the changes we need and to show the leadership necessary to make a difference? I think so but it is not a given…it takes an attitude adjustment. That it never easy but it will be necessary.

We now have a slowdown in Alberta, not a recession, and that is good in so many ways. The Alberta slowdown is due to the market responding to untenable high costs, lower oil price, uncertainty and turmoil in financial markets and increasing environmental regulatory requirements.

We needed a slowdown happen so we could catch our breath and to bring some cost control and sanity back into our economy and our society. We have to take advantage of this breather to reflect and rethink about what we are doing, where we are going and how we are going to get there as a province.

We still have a secure energy based economy that will serve us well for a good while longer….but not forever. So I urge the Alberta government to not only actively pursue people to come to our province to help meet the skills shortages in so many sectors of the economy. I also urge them to add a focused effort to seek out and recruit the best innovation and science minds in green industries and ecological technologies. We have the right mix of elements to entice them to come and set up shop in our universities and research institutions. We need them to also engage with our private sector corporations who are increasingly focused on profiting from sound corporate social responsibility practices.

There are going to be effective alternatives for fossil fuels in the future. Alberta better be actively creating that new future and not be passively indifferent to change. Otherwise we will be overwhelmed by it when it happens. We ought to be bring the most promising of these people from all over the globe to Alberta.

We need to prepare and position ourselves to be at the leading edge with thought leaders and leading researchers who a re crating that new world orders. We can supporting and sustain their work with our wealth and potential. That is the smartest way for us to go forward to get through these difficult economic times. We have something significant to offer them…funds and facilities through our publicly funded endowment programs.

What do you say Mr. Premier?

Monday, November 24, 2008

CRTC-SuperNet-Telus and the Plight of Rural Alberta Connectivity

I am working on a project to get rural Albertans access to the SuperNet using the copper telephone wire that comes into our homes. It requires the cooperation of the owner of that wire who is Telus in Alberta. Telus has balked at consenting voluntarily. So there is an application being undertaken by the Internet Centre to the CRTC with a decision pending for private Internet Service Providers to secure this access to the Telus “unloaded copper wire.” Here is the link to the application documents if you are an insomniac.

I ran across an interesting interview with Simon Aspinal, the Managing Director, Internet Business Solutions Group for Cisco. He explains very clearly the reluctance of the Telcos to help and facilitate this change in communications culture of the new and emerging dominance of the internet espeically relating to video applications. Aspinal outlines the reasons why it makes good business sense for Telcos to adapt to the new internet video reality instead of still trying to fight off its inevitable and upsetting all their customers along the way.

The interview is a bit esoteric but it is very relevant given the powerful fibreoptics tool Albertans have built and paid for called the SuperNet. It brings great leverage and competitive capacity that cam make for an enticing business case for enterprises to set up in rural communities. The keys to thie innovation are high definition easy access simple to use cost competitive videoconferencing and very high speed internet. All this become a reality with the access to the SuperNet through unloaded copper telephone wire that is everywhere in Alberta.

It is not only Telus that is reluctant and resistant to adjust to the new reality of the internet Web 2.0 world. We see Bell and Rogers also using inappropriate business practices to try and control bandwidth for everyone just because a few bad apples are inappropriately using services. Net neutrality is the underlying issue here and the CRTC has said there will be a public hearing on the issues in July 2009. I expect to participate in those hearings to ensure private enterprise is not granted the power to interfere with my Charter Rights “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communications; freedom of peaceful assembly: and freedom of association.” These rights have to trump the business purposes of Telcos that are trying to create a monopoly and unwarranted control over internet access.

Is Harper the New Mr. Dithers?

I am hearing mixed messages from our Prime Minister. He says the land is strong and our fundamentals are fine at election time. He says he will never run a deficit so long as he leads the country and his government is in surplus so don’t worry – vote for his sound economic management abilities.

Now he says private economic analysts say we are going to be in a “technical recession” as if his own government people didn’t know this, or he does not want to tell us he was advised of this reality by his administration. All of this is more Harper misleading machinations and mumblings and more of his patented politically misleading way of saying we are in recession. Who cares if it is technical or not?

He is reported to say he is “ready to open the government’s wallet t respond but not until February when the budget is due. He is now sending mixed messages concurrently in real time rather than saying one thing in an election and changing his tune later when the political gamesmanship is passed. This is because his ideological zeal can no longer manipulate the media by misleading advertising that diverts attention off the real issues and ignores the facts. That is because everyone knows he does that and we are all genuinely worried about what is happening. There is no map for this new economic territory that the Bush government has pushed on the world.

Harper is going to have to be more honest, forthright and frank with Canadians, even though it is so contrary to his political instincts. He is going to be politically hobbled and has to face the challenge of telling the truth this Thursday with his economic update. This is because Kevin Page, the Parliamentary Budget Officer saw to it last week with an announcement about the facts of the pending deficits to be sure they are known. Kevin Page, bless his heart, has pegged the good news next year at a $4B deficit; something Harper has said would not happen on his watch. The bad news, at least bad news for Harper’s ideological certitude, is that Page says the deficit could reach $14B. Ouch! Only question I have about the November 27th political melodrama is will Flaherty’s economic update be inconsequential or will it be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for fiction?

Now we have our decisive and determined Prime Minister being vague about if there will be an economic stimulus and if it is to happen the timing gets dodgy too. Flaherty says last Friday that he will not deal with the economic issues of an economic stimulus until the February Budget. What gives? Obama is not even President yet and yet he is already announcing economic stimulus activities… already. Is this new dithering and indecisiveness of the Harper government the reason why we had an unnecessary inconclusive, expensive and rushed election? Say it ain’t so Mr. Harper.

Mr. Harper, we all know that you knew this economic crisis was coming, hence the early election notwithstanding your law to the contrary. The crisis started during the campaign but that was not why you lost a majority government. In fact the economic uncertainty was the reason why you did as well as you did. It was not anything you said or did during the campaign that is for sure. You and your party were perceived to be the better choice to manage during the coming uncertain times. You are not only letting us down and disappointing us again, you continue to mislead and play politics with our economic, social and environmental security as individuals and as a nation.

Don’t dither Mr. Prime Minister. It didn’t serve Paul Martin particularly well. We in Canada are in better shape than most but we can quickly decline into despair with your demonstrative indecisiveness. By th eway, our consumer and corporate confidence is at the lowest it has been since 1982. Enough said?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Alberta's Royalty Breaks Should Be Conditional on Reclamation Clean Ups

Here is a link to my recent interview on CBC Radio 1 Wildrose Country on Premier Stelmach's royalty relief for conventional oil and gas drilling effective January 1, 2009

UPDATE: NOV 24/08 The Stelmach government announces TODAY that the royalty break announced Nov 19 for new drilling for wells after Jan 1, 2009 has been revised. It now applies to oil and gas wells that have started prep work as of Nov 19.

The delay in the program implementation in the original announcement would have done more short term harm than long term good because all current work on drilling plans would have stopped until January 1. Duh!

They say this royalty break "is not anticipated to affect the estimated royalty impact of the five-year program announced November 19, 2008." OK. I still want to ensure Albertans as owners get the straight goods on just how much it will exactly impact these non-renewable resource revenues going forward. Will our government tell us that exactly - along with all other production based royalty revenue calculations as well? They have indicated with pending legislation changes that we will not be able to FOIP that information. Not accountable. Not transparent and not good stewardship.

Now lets make it clear that only companies that are currently active in meeting their obligations to reclaim abandoned oil and gas plays are eligible for the royalty assistance. We need those oil and gas companies to clean up behind themselves just as much as we need to keep drilling folks.

Harper is Sounding Progressive Again - But Can We Trust Him?

It is reassuring to hear Stephen Harper aligning and reaffirming the APEC leaders’ decision NOT to resort to raising protectionist barriers to world trade. He is quoted as saying “Now is the time for opening doors, not erecting walls.”

Reports from CanWest reporter David Akin noted that Harper commented that “…the Great Depression was caused by countries letting banks fail, allowing deflation to run rampant and trying to balance their books at all costs, even if it meant raising taxes and slashing public spending.” Harper is reported to all of a sudden favour “unprecedented fiscal actions…to stimulate economic growth and ease tightening credit conditions.” As if he wasn’t already spending taxpayers money at an alarming rate leading up to the election.

So the economist in Harper is stimulus Keynesian after all, notwithstanding his rhetoric about no deficits and smaller government in the election just a few weeks ago. Gotta love it when politics turns to pragmatism and order and good government becomes a goal of the Reform/Alliance leadership.

It is an open question as to what Harper is really doing and if we can ever believe him at face value. He often says one thing for political purposes, including pandering to his base or to Quebec for personal power plays. And then he does another, often the exact opposite when it suits him…and it happens all the time. Canadians need a truthful and transparent Prime Minister who says what he means – the first time – and for the purposes of sound public policy – not just personal power and message positioning.

He said that he would control Alberta’s bitumen exports to foreign countries based on a countries environmental standards and record. It was a clear shot at pandering to the Bush White House and an attempt to marginalize China in the process. It was all tied to the Bush excuses to delay or not institute climate change policies in North America because of attitudes towards China on environment. Not good public policy in the context of Harper’s resent statements of not being protectionist or raising trade barriers in the face of the growing economic crisis that is enveloping the entire planet.

It is important to note that APEC is a group of 21 Pacific Rim countries whose economic leaders have been meeting since its inception in 1989 in response to growing interdependence among Asia-Pacific economies; APEC has become the premier regional forum for promoting open trade and practical economic and technical cooperation among Asia-Pacific economies.

Over the years, it has grown to a membership spanning four continents, and represents the most economically dynamic region in the world, accounting for approximately 40 percent of the world's population, 56 percent of world GDP and nearly half of world trade.

It is a very vital forum for Canada and Alberta and B.C. in particular given our orientation to the Pacific Rim. We need the Pacific Rim countries to succeed for them to produce more trade and investments in our provinces, as well as providing continental energy supply and security.

I hope I can trust Harper at his word for a change, especially when he makes such practical and positive statements about governments taking initiatives to encourage trade. It is not his personal default position and it means he has to revise his attitude about the best government is no government and the marketplace should prevail to solve the problems of the world. That acceptance of an activist role and responsibility for government is a tectonic shift for Harper. I hope he means it and it is not just another piece of his continuing political positioning and posturing that he will once again either ignore or reverse on a whim.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Masters of the Universe Icons of Commerce Prove to be Just Greedy Bastards at the End of the Day

There are so many things wrong with the world today. The comfortable lightness of being Canadian, and especially being Albertan, is not making us immune from the harsh realities that are about to befall from the world-wide market meltdown.

Canadians should never forget that Harper lied to us about the pending recession during the last election with his promises of never allowing a deficit and now he is accepting one. He also lied when he said we would escape the economic impact of the American induced financial crisis based on our best of breed amongst a bad lot in the global banking system.

Thank to Kevin Page's honest and professional assessment of the Canadian economic reality, it will be more difficult for the Harper government to continue to lie and mislead use about the fiscal facts facing Canada in the economic update expected later this week.


I am astonished that the corporatist Masters of the Universe types, Detroit's "big three" Chapter would be so self-absorbed and unaware. How they handled their recent bailout bumbling in Washington this past week shows just how indifferent and unaware they are of the real world of the rest of us. I can see no reason to justify a bailout of the automotive sector under the current circumstances. If the free market system is to be free, it has to be free to fail. Lets not see governments try to pick winners with public investments that interfere in the marketplace realities. Where will it stop? We in Alberta know first hand it will not work based on past experiences.

I have some stomach for the taxpayer buyouts of some of the banking business bozos. I can even accept the planning shift of TARP away from buying the bogus paper these bastards pushed out the doors for bloated fees and foolishness. Still, letting some financial institutions fail like Bears Stearns and Lehman Brothers is a good thing.

Trying to restore confidence in financial sectors by buying equity positions that essentially nationalized the American financial sector is a necessity to ensure some semblance of a working market place for everyone. That said, it has yet to be proven effective. For example, Citigroup got $25B of bailout money and promptly dropped 23% of stock market value - in one day. This once enormous bank is cutting 52,000 jobs and now has a market capitalization smaller than Home Depot.

So much also for asinine assurances and the mistaken mythological around sound conservative economic management capabilities that inappropriately inure to the Republican Party. They have methodically removed the role of good government and the capacity and flexibility of any government to be reasonably responsive to the worldwide financial crises the Bush White House has aided and abetted.

They have removed required regulatory oversight, instituted low taxes for the rich, were the biggest of tax spenders and have proven to be accomplished deficit builders and incredibly inept fiscal managers. Canadians must never forget that our own Artless Dodger, “Steve” Harper is a disciple of the new-Republican economic strategy - and there is no evidence he has changed.

We have all these indifference greedy and gouging corporate executives pocketing huge personal fortunes all under the guise of socially, environmentally sustainble wealth creation and myths of increased shareholder value in “free” enterprise model. They are now proven to be just plain greedy and reckless at best…profoundly irresponsible and perhaps criminal at worst.

As the recession sets in next year we will see more children remain or be reduced to poverty as their families fail to be able to provide the necessities of life for them to escape the rut of economic want and the social and personal tragedies that are inevitable to at risk kids. Child poverty ha s not improved in a generation where economic growth has been the highest and longest sustained period in history. Child mental health is also a national disgrace and bound to get worse. This is thanks in large part to the personal and institutional greed of these fat cats who are proven to be reckless, feckless and check less, thanks AGAIN to bad politicians with a penchant for irresponsible deregulation coupled with shortsighted and short term policy perspectives.

From now on I am only going to invest in ethical corporations with leadership that sees business as having a social, environmental and wealth creation value set…not just growth at any cost. I am going to call out anyone I see irresponsibly running a public or private enterprise contrary to the greater public good as well as producing shareholder value.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harper Dances with Deficits

What a difference a week makes. What a difference a month makes. A week ago Prime Minister Harper was convening a Seinfeld-like First Minister’s meeting on the economy and offering nothing and the discussions were about as equally energizing as to what to do. But he can say he consulted with the Provinces before he makes his anticipated unilateral decisions. Stelmach was right to stay in Europe and his offer to “phone it in” made sense when we see the results of what was a three hour exercise in political – not economic - process.

In the election Harper was skillfully man-handling the Liberals and manipulating the media with the old saw of Liberals being taxers and spenders. He was carpet bombing the messaging and describing the dire warnings that would result from a Liberal vote. To let the likes of Dion, as advised by Paul Martin, would be risking deficits...and that, we were told, was a risk that was not worth taking.

The Harper Cons campaign mantra was that the economic fundamental of the country is strong and Canada was going to be OK in the face of the market meltdown. He milked the symbolism of a small group of banking insiders ranking the Canadian banking system as the best of a bad bunch. A 60 second reflection on that “positive news” was hardly reassuring.
Since then Harper has made $75B of taxpayer’s cash available to those excellently run banks so they could have some bad loans bought up. This is to convince the banks to start lending again.

So far the banks have not taken up any of this Harper largess with our tax money. The prime lending rate has been cut and cut again and the Bank of Canada has also injected more liquidity in the Canadian banking system. Now he is poised to bail out the automotive industry in consort with the lane-duck Bush bunch. It all seems so Trudeauesque, who equally failed years ago to convince us with his election rhetoric and silly sloganeering that “The Land is Strong.”

Now Harper is backtracking on his infamous fiscal frugality and flirting with deficit spending coming out of the G20. Of course government should be spending for infrastructure and to create jobs and cash flow in such tough times. Especially when the banks and business will not, or cannot, step up to the plate to do so. But why did the Prime Minister mislead us during the election campaign over instituting such an obvious means to address such serious matters? Is it because Harper thinks that Kim Campbell was actually right? That election campaigns are not the place to discuss issues of significant concern to the country?

If you looked up mendacity in the dictionary you should not be surprised if you were to see Steven Harper’s picture. Harper has proven himself to be a shrewd and canny campaigner and a powerful political enforcer. He has a long way to go to prove himself as a good governor but the times are begging for such leadership. As for Harper becoming a statesman, one has to wonder if he is even slightly interested or capable of such status given his purpose and passion for personal political power.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Cannon Speaks About Dealing Aberta's Oil - Does Harper Know?

Is Stephen Harper turning into a progressive? He tells the CPC delegates to get pragmatic and not ideological about the economic crisis. Sounds like a prelude to government intervention into the marketplace by the Progressive Reformer leader. How unlike the free enterprise base of the Reform/Alliance base that “brung Harper to the dance” as former Prime Minister Mulroney would say.



The Cons through Foreign affairs Minister Cannon are now saying “…there is no ideological right or ideological left” as they try an distance themselves from the sycophantic relationship they had with the Bush/Cheney White House. Bush is gone. McCain lost. Harper is dancing as fast as he can to shape shift his ideological stripes. Disingenuous is the kindest characterization of this continuing political shiftiness of "Steve" Harper.

On the other hand he has his Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon making front page news in Alberta saying ever so unsubtly to the Obama administration-in-waiting that “Canada might sell it oil elsewhere” if the new American administration under Obama decides to renegotiate NAFTA. What about the fact NAFTA is due for a renegotiation under its own terms anyway? Maybe a review is a good thing - like to get a redo of the disastrous deal the Cons did to the Canadian forest industry on softwood lumber.

Hey Jack! Yah you…Jack Layton! Are you supporting Harper on this no renegotiation of NAFTA stuff? Does Maude Barlow have you r direct line? I expect she is on your case. The Liberals are not going to bolster the Conservative minority anymore. Are you going to stand for this or are you going to force another early election because your ideological position is that NAFTA is plain bad-bad-bad.

This new Harper government rhetoric is flying in the face of the election position of Harper saying he would control the sale of oil sands bitumen based on environmental standards…a shot at restricting Chinese participation and favouring the American market. Stelmach clearly told Harper to back off Alberta’s oil marketing rights during the recent federal election.

Has Cannon gone Palin rogue and is off message as well as his rocker? What is he doing talking about this to the media on anything anyway? That is exclusively Harper’s job – or his Presidential-like official spokesperson at the very least Is Cannon the Quebecer playing the regional environment card and focusing on the so-called “dirty oil” framing that is so harmful to Alberta’s interests and benefiting Quebec?

What about the niggling little legal and constitutional points that none of this is “Canada’s oil”? It belongs to Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland-Labrador. Alberta has asked to be at the table with the Feds in all such discussion around the international implications involving its resources. Harper has been busy and has not replied yet…or listing to canon – has he?

Add in the other central themes on climate change, market meltdown, government bailouts and a world- wide recession and the tendency to take the Alberta conservative support for granted and I’m betting the backrooms between Edmonton and Ottawa are going to get very interesting and very loud and extremely intense.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

On The Map with Avi Lewis: Alberta Oil Sands

Here is Avi Lewis and the Parkland Institute's take on oil sands as a source of continental energy supply.

The framing of the visuals and pull quotes are pretty onesided. That is to be expected from these sources. That said the dialogue with Diane Gibson is very factual and balanced and a good discussion on a range of important contenental energy issues.

Speaking of big issues oil snads issues. It is a big mistake for the Alberta government to be reducing openness and accountability for disclosing oil sands revenues and royalty information. The Privcy Commissioner is on it and the Auditor General has be critical of past lapses in acountability for royalty payments and collections. FOIP laws already protect industry from disclosure of proprietary information.

This is not good policy nor good governance and a bad step in the wrong direction.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama discusses net neutrality on MTV

Net Neutrality is a big deal for anyone who values free speech. Obama is on side and gets it.

Access fees and messing around with bandwidth and quality are not to be allowed in a free and democratic society.

Big service providers who want to make the Internet more like television are shaping or throttling. That is selling you a certain bandwidth service but they provide different download and upload speed. This is breach of contract and private sector infringements on my free speech rights. They have no business doing that at all.

CRTC is dealing with the shaping and throttling issues in a complaint against Bell but they are all doing it. A decision was expected in October but it is delayed "due to the complexity of the issues." What complexity? Give me the bandwidth I contracted for total and get out of the way of an open access Internet.

It is not television and it is not the telephone business regardless of how much the old-style thinking of the service providers try and convince themselves of those delusions. The Internet is about connectivity and content and freedom of speech and assembly.

Is Harper Hapless to Deal With the Economic Crisis?

Looks like most of the ideas to deal with the economic crisis will be coming from the Premier's at tomorrows First Minister's meeting. Stephen "the Fundamentals are Strong" Harper is becoming more like a deer in the market meltdown headlights. I hope he takes good notes at the G20 meetings in Washington next week. He clearly needs some ideas about what to do in response. Let's home he listens to others then George Bush for a change.

Alberta's Environment Minister Renner Visits Fort Chipewyan

UPDATE: FORT McMURRAY TODAY is reporting on November 12th that as a result of his trip to Ft Chip, Minister Renner is promising air and water studies in the area to relieve concerns about contamination.

Wow! Here is a step in the right direction. Alberta's Minister of the Environment is going up to Fort Chipewyan on Monday to listen to health concerns of the community related to oil sands development.


It is important that the Minister of the Environment engage in health issues relating from environmental issues, policy and practices. Clean water, air and land is an environmental responsibility but also a health issue for humans and the biota as a whole.


I was at the Keepers of the Water conference in Ft Chip earlier this fall as part of my work with the Canadian Boreal Initiative on biodiversity offsets for oil sands projects. I spent four days in Ft Chip and met a lot of great people and had time to talk to many of them extensively.


I learned more about the issues of health and environment linkages at the conference meetings and from those locals who picked me up as I hitch hiked from place to place. I became acutely aware of the clean water issues and concerns in the community. I saw first hand the now famous two-mouthed fish caught in the Athabasca river near the community.


Many years ago the Athabasca river was a sewage dump for the pulp mills along its shores. When ALPAC was approved in the late 80's it was the largest single line pulp mill on the planet. The water quality and related health issues became front and centre as a public policy concern. The net result was the environmental conditions on the ALPAC approval, suggested by ALPAC itself, BTW, actually enhanced the overall water quality of the Athabasca river. This is because they and all the other mills on the river also changed their corporate cultures and their ecological approaches to doing business in a more sustainable way. Full disclosure - I was advising ALPAC on issues management concerns over the mill approval process at the time


Environment and health are integrated and related concerns and the folks at Ft Chip are acutely aware of this reality. Nice to see someone taking the political lead on this public policy issue and not just shuffling it off to a report process.


Good for Rob Renner! I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister picks up and what resonates with him from this visit.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Obama Launches New Website on Transition

Obama has launched a new website on the transition and for the transition period. Sure there is only one President at a time and Bush is beyond a lame duck until January 20. He should become mute and emasculated until the Inauguration.


If I were to follow any developments in the US governance I'm thinking this Obama effort is the site to use.

Here is a link to the election night victory speech vidoe from the new site.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Harper Kills National Portrait Gallery & I'm OK With That

Prime Minister Harper has cancelled the relocation of the National Portrait Gallery project out of Ottawa. I always felt this institution should be in the nation's capital even though Edmonton (my home town) and Calgary spent time, cash and talent to put in a bid. I also never believed in the sincerity of the Harper Party in this project and it never had a political champion. It was always a non-starter in my mind.

Claiming no proposal was acceptable in cancelling the project is a political shifting of blame for a poor federal government policy decision in the first place. There is no need to spend that money for this purpose now as the feds flirt with recession.

The Alberta government pledged $40m to support the project. That culture funding is now freed up and ought to be reassigned by the province to support the new film and television funding program that is in the policy development process.

Alberta was the first province to support film and television production. It was so successful at developing creative and lucrative work for film industry workers that everyone else quickly got into the act. Alberta killed the program in 1996 with the focus on debt and deficit elimination and an ideological stance that government should not be in the business of being in business.

Well it is time to get back into supporting the infrastructure needed to support the cultural creatives in Alberta. Film and television industry is very viable even in these tough times. It provides huge investment multipliers for the bucks and is clean money that advances innovation as well.

There is $40m freed up now and Alberta should put that cash into the new proposed film and television fund. Full disclosure, I helped in a small way in the development the new funding deal. I also facilitated in getting some big new television series to come to Alberta. I even have a Co-Producer credit in the production of a home-grown sketch comedy series on APTN "Caution May Contain Nuts" that airs on late Saturday nights if you are interested.

Alberta Liberal Party Leadership PSA

So today is the last day for Albertans to participate in the forthcoming Alberta Liberal leadership contest. Three candidates are in the running and lots of challenges or the "winner." You can check them out at: Mo Elsalhy: www.elsalhy.com, David Swann: www.electdavidswann.ca, Dave Taylor: www.tayloralberta.ca

A strong democracy and good government demands a strong opposition. Pick up memberships on-line today before 4 pm to participate.


I have sold lots of Alberta Progressive Conservative memberships to Liberals in the last two leadership contests. Many people resist "joining" a political party because they somehow feel it restricts them from speaking there minds. That has not been my experience. In fact it it pointless to join a political party if you don't speak your mind. that is what they are for.


I encourage Albertans to pick up an Alberta Liberal membership for the sole purpose of having some say and influence on who will be the Leader of the Opposition in YOUR government. It is money well spent.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Rural Alberta Broadband Access - More Than Connectivity. It's About Equality and Equity

Now the Canadian election is over and the US election is due to be decided next week, I am going to be writing a lot more about Net Neutrality and rural broadband access.

My net neutrality take is going to be about the need for free speech protections from private sector regulation disguised as proprietary rights of providers of broadband services. The rural broadband access to the Alberta SuperNet, the so-called First/Last Mile connection, is a major and transformative public policy issue for government.

This is also an issue in the Presidential election, at least for the tech-community. It is a differentiating issue that shows the spread of the consciousness and world views of McCain and Obama. McCain is so yesterday. He does not use a computer and has not sent an email and his stance on broadband shows his ignorance of what is happening in the so-called competitive wireless world today. No wonder the entire American technology community supports Obama.

I have a concern over the vacuum in the public policy leadership role to realize the potential positive impact of the Alberta SuperNet fibre optic system that is all over the province but still out of reach of citizens.

Rural broadband access is a key public policy issue for the Alberta government. It is about access but it is also about broadband equality - or at least equity for smaller communities and remote citizens. It has serious implications for free speech protections and consumer rights protections from the big providers like Telus, Bell, Rogers and Shaw and how they want to change things to reduce competition and "shape" access to the Internet. More on that later.

A collaborative community-based effort is emerging around these issues called Communities Without Boundaries. They just staged a successful province-wide SuperNet based day-long video conference event on October 31 on the various issues of rural broadband access, equity, and services.


In addition we see the Alberta government sponsoring a new wireless First Responder integrated province-wide system for use by police, fire, ambulance, emergency measures and others. The "others" have to enable the new towers for this system to be regulated so private sector wireless ISPs can co-locate on them to meet broadband needs of remote citizens. Competition amongst ISPs is a good thing but hundreds of individual and expensive ISP towers blighting the landscape is not a good thing.

I am working with The Internet Centre,the first commercial ISP in Alberta, seeking a CRTC ruling requiring Telus to province access to their copper telephone wires to be used for SuperNet access in communities all over Alberta. The old-fashioned idea of copper wire is an inexpensive, ubiquitous, reliable and robust way for individuals, community organizations and business in small towns and cities all over Alberta to get access to the SuperNet big pipe. This connectivity is as transformative for rural communities as rural electrification and telephony was decades ago.

Telus is opposing the CRTC application but AXIA, the operator of the SuperNet for the province is in support. We expect a decision before Christmas and here is the link to the CRTC page with the details on all the application submissions.

Lots of changes are in the wireless air and even buried underground in the form of copper telephone wire. The issues are a vast array of concerns about fairness, equality, free speech, consumer rights, competition and regulation, sustainable communities, productivity, connectivity and globalization. Stay tuned to this blog for new developments and commentary.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

American Political Culture Past and Present. What is the Future?

Here is a link to an important essay by George Monbiot about American political leadership and culture. It is deifintely worth a read.


Look at the videos in the footnotes and realize that if Obama wins or not, there will be lots of work for American Cultural Creatives to do. Not the least of which is an activitist re-engagement in politics.


The backward leaning Traditionalist that elected Reagan and the Bushes are threatened by more than 911. The consumption based striving model of the Moderns is about to end in recession if not depression. The new values of Cultural Creatives will have to emerge as a political force in the States and I suggest in Canada too.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Some Positive Steps by Stelmach on the Social Infrastructure Deficit

Here is a “get tough” law and order approach that makes sense. The Alberta government announcement of taking on “…the serious problem of repeat offender” is something I applaud.

The Stelmach government has already noted that it is adding a swack of new police on the ground and focused on gang issues. Edmonton and Calgary communities are really feeling the pressure around gang violence especially but the problem is spreading to other Alberta communities too. This new repeat offender effort is a good move if the stats given are accurate, namely 15% of criminals commit 60% of the crimes. This is a focused and concentrated leverage of crucial and expensive justice system resources.

That said, not all is well in the wonderful world of law enforcement, at least judging by the Paula Simons column in today’s Edmonton Journal. There are some significant problems in processing accused people sitting in remand as the system gets them ready for trial. Simons notes 56% of all those in custody in Alberta are awaiting trial - and not convicted of any offence. The reasons (also known as the blame) for these remand delays are many and varied and very much depends on which side of the legal system you are in.

According to Paula Simons, The Justice Minister is blaming the defence lawyers who are accused of gaming the system and causing delays The defence bar is not amused saying the delays are due to a shortage of judges, courtrooms and prosecutors. The defence Bar accuse the Alberta Justice Minister of “playing politics to undermine the public confidence.” Harsh!

These "arguments" are notsurprising. The operating culture in our legal system is based on the tried, true (and sometime tired) adversarial model. So it is not a surprise this hissing would happen between the Defence Bar and the Minister.

This approach may help to fix the blame in some people’s minds but it does not fix the problem in anybody’s mind. We need to fix the problem and Premier Stelmach's showing positive signs with these safe communities announcements focusing on gangs, repeat offenders and then adding 20 more addiction treatment beds.

Justice, like so much of the public roles and responsibilities in Alberta these days, is lagging behind the demands of economic and population growth all over the province. We see this lag in spades in the community based not-for-profit agencies in social services sector who are dealing with kids, seniors and the disabled.

The social services crisis has gotten to the point where parents of developmentally disabled Albertans felt compelled to hold a rally on the Legislature steps this week. They were there to draw attention to the tragedies that result from inadequate public policy responses.

Premier Stelmach is on the right track but he needs a fast track. He needs a significant commitment of funds to fix the staffing shortfalls and resource shortcomings that have built up in the social infrastructure deficits all over Alberta. The recent moves to provide 183 new police officers, 110 new probation officers, 62 more Crown Prosecutors and more to come all represent a serious political-will commitment on the safe community and the serious crime front.

We need the most vulnerable of our citizens including kids at risk, seniors in care and the developmentally disabled in our communities to have the political-will commitment of public resources necessary to ensure they are safe, secure, cared for and can lived in dignity. The first step in solving this problem is to ensure social sector workers, who are the caregivers for these Alberta, when they work for a living can make a living. That is not the case now.

Without this effort the comment about making Alberta the best place to live, work, invests and raise a family is just a political slogan not an express of shared values and political will.