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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Can We Start to Deal With Our Serious Issues in This Election?

I read the Calgary Herald story today 11 issues that will dominate the election campaign. I know Calgary is different but is it that different? Every issue item is framed as if it were a negative but the story constantly references the good stuff that is happening. Is this because Calgarians want to be grumpy and they don’t want to hear any good news? Is it all happening because a Calgarian didn't win the PC leadership? I don’t think so.
Here is my take on these issues that are said to "dominate the election campaign." First off - I don't think they will, but here goes.

Sure affordable housing is an issue but it is the beloved free market at work, right? Lots of successful folks will tell you that free market principles can solve any problem. Crime has seen $470M added for more police who are going hard after drug houses and there is new money for dealing with root causes like mental health. Good stuff. Gangs are a problem but solutions are to be found in dealing with poverty, better education, reducing family stresses and breakdowns and an enhanced sense of community and better social cohesion. Not just more and bigger jails.

The Alberta economy is terrific on all counts and is thankfully slowing down a bit so we can catch our breath. Any energy industry activity issues are about so much more than a squabble over royalty rates. The royalties continue to remain ridiculously low to my mind and that is robbing future generations of their birthright more than our debt and deficit ever did.

Education isn’t short of schools, just short of schools in the right places, and soon it will be short teachers too due to lots of pending retirements. Teachers’ Pension issues are solved and we have 5 years of labour peace. That gives us time to really focus on how we want our education system to adapt to a changing world and better prepare our students for their brave new world.

Healthcare access is a big issue and the elimination of the premiums is a done deal…the only question is how quickly should they go and do we need to replace the $1B lost revenue or do we cut back spending? There are bigger and more chronic health care problems than the elimination of premiums…but it is a good thing that they are definitely going.

With $11.3B invested by Stelmach into municipal infrastructure, that guarantees communities capacity to planning with longer timeframes and do a better job of meeting infrastructue related growth demands. Calgary is laughing all the way to the bank on the allocation of these funds. It was Edmonton that got screwed because of the carping of competing communities in the Capital Region.

Labour shortages are a concern but again – the free market is doing its magic, isn’t it? No real problem here - if we just let the free market be free. Sure some projects are going to be deferred or even shelved as uneconomic due to rising labour costs. What is wrong with that? Temp workers are not the problem and not the solution. The temp owrker problems are due to our inability to accommodate and assimilate these people so we can enable them to be permanent residents and successful citizens. The government programs are in place but the employers are not respoinding. They just seem to be focused on the immediate potholes and not keeping their eyes on the horizon in dealing with labour shortages. Short term thinking is not the way to go on resolving our labour shortages.

EUB issues are mostly about governing philosophy but it is not a life and death issue by any means. On the other hand, some rural communities have too much growth and others don’t have enough. Again that is the world changing and demanding imagination and capacity for resourcefulness and adaptability of communities to deal with the new realities. Nothing stays the same. Deal with it!

Savings are an issue but it is about intentionality, adaptability and intergenerational equity. Non-renewable resources don’t last for ever and if we screw up the planet as we exploit them, the planet will survive, but there is no guarantee that our species, and many others because of us, will continue to be a part if its future. That is the real planning for the future question. We need to move immediately to life cycle and full cost accounting and let’s also redefine progress to really tackle the serious issues we have created by our excessive consumptive lifestyles…me included.

Some of these are issues that are already resolved or in process of resolution by the Stelmach government. Other really big issues like water, GHG, landscape fragmentation and destruction habitat, climate change, preserving biodiversity, urban sprawl and geopolitical pressures on Alberta as the largest single and secure supply of energy in the world are what make me worry and wonder about our future.

How can we enhance community, enhance ecological integrity and devise more effective ways to make better decisions perplex me. We have to move beyond preserving the medieval principles and practices of adversarial power struggles contest, at the personal, family, community, state and nation state levels are amongst the significant issues I would like to see our political culture deal with – especially at election time…even this election time.