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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Why Are We Giving Away More Royalty Rents?

The most critical decision Premier Stelmach has had to face since winning the PC leadership will be the pending Cabinet shuffle expected around January 11.  Now we have the added opportunity to give away more royalty rents to the energy sector.

The writing on the wall, based on past reactions, is the Stelmach brain trust will make Cabinet recommendations that will move the government more to the right to respond to the rising Wildrose influence. The loss of Ron Stevens as Deputy Premier and the run of royalty retreats has not appeased the Calgary oil patch. Stelmach can't even buy love in Cowtown...using taxpayer money to boot.

Now we see even more royalty giveaways and industry subsidies be contemplated by the Stelmach government. An Energy Department lead review of natural gas royalties that is driven by anticipation of US shale gas extraction providing competition for Alberta gas supplies.

Here is a key quote for the Calgary Herald story today: "Premier Ed Stelmach has vowed his government will make further changes to energy royalties -- hinting major restructuring is coming on the natural gas side -- something battered producers and the man overseeing part of the review said is desperately needed.

"There's a whole bunch of stu will have to be addressed," said former Nexen Inc. vice-president Roger Thomas, who is heading the fiscal side of the study with former Royal Bank of Canada investment banker Chris Fong.

"You don't want to give the farm away, but you've got to be positioning yourself with like companies to remain competitive. Ultimately, you've got to be at the top of the list of competitive jurisdictions," said Thomas.


This is more political squandering of a non-renewable resource rents and perfecting the past instead of ploanning for the future.  Natural gas prices were soft in 2009 falling form a January high of $6.07 per million BTUs to $2.51 in September and averaging about $4 over the year.  Market conditions should dictate here, pure and simple.  A foregone royalty now cannot be recovered later and it is a waste of the birthright of future generations to allow our government to forego a fair rent.   Prices came off extreme peaks as the recession reduced demand, there was lots of inventory supply and service costs were  high and out of cntrol coming out of the overheated market of the prior years. 

Cost have come down about 30% off the peak but is that enough to comply with market realities?  What are costs now compared to say 2004 and 2005 before the spike in gas commodity prices?  Those were hardly hardship years for the energy sector.  My bet is they are still out of line.

Natural gas prices today are in the $6 range and that is not shabby.  Things are improving  and that again is the magic of the supply and demand interplay of the free markeplace.  Sharper industry pencils on costs and a reasonable rate of return, not windfalls, are acceptable.  Albertans already have given over $2B of royalty relief last year, and that is too  much to my mind.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Where is Reboot Alberta & How to Get Involved.


I have spent some of the holiday time thinking about the next steps for Reboot Alberta.  It is launched and getting some traction and momentum as a community of progressive-minded Albertans.  Coming out of the first gathering in late November was a request that some time and effort be spent framing the concept of what it meant to be a Progressive in the context of a 21st century Alberta.  That work is well underway. 

A number of people have shared their thoughts on the “What is a Progressive” link at www.rebootalberta.org website.  I encourage you to read and comment on the contributions so far.
The other outcome of the Reboot Alberta launch was the emergence of four identifiable theme streams for Progressives to use going forward as they press for change in Alberta politics, policy and democracy. The two themes with the most participation were to start a new political party with a different approach to politics, namely public service not just getting or retaining power as the focus.  The other strong theme, based on participation levels, was the civil society approach to pressing for change.   This theme sees using existing the power and influence of existing organizations and institutions as a means to make the major changes needed to put a progressive policy approach and political agenda forward for Alberta. 

The other two themes had a smaller numbers of Reboot Alberta participants but no less enthusiasm for the cause.  Some people who wanted to use their membership and influence in existing political parties to bring a more progressive approach to Alberta politics.   Others saw themselves as ordinary citizens who wanted to make their progressive voices heard in the policy development of the province but were not interested in typical political organizations of partisanship as the way for them to press for change.
All four theme streams are alive, well and growing within the progressive Reboot Alberta community.

There was another overarching feeling I got from listening at the launch of Reboot Alberta is that the existing political and policy development system is not working and may even be broken.  The cynicism and indifference posture of past progressive thinking in Alberta is no longer an option.  In fact it is dangerous to the wellbeing of the province given the political options we are being offered are a far-rightwing or an even farther rightwing alternative.  The general dissatisfaction with the other conventional opposition parties is almost unconscious but they are simply not seen as viable governing solutions.

One thing every politically active or reactive Albertan seems to agree on now is that Alberta’s politics are volatile and vibrant…for the first time in a long time.  For those of us who what to press for progressive political and democratic change, that is a good thing.
So what is next for Reboot Alberta and progressives in light of all of this flux?  At the base is an emerging movement for a re-engaged and reinvigorated sense of citizenship by progressives.  Now progressives are starting to find each other, starting to connect, share and collaborate about creating common causes and reaching common goals.  The website at www.rebootalberta.org is where this emerging progressive political community in Alberta is congregating.  

While the virtual community is forming, Renew Alberta is moving forward in establishing a new political party.  It is likely this new party will be influenced and informed by the efforts of the civil society theme stream within Reboot Alberta.  This input will be vital as Renew Alberta works out what it stands for, what it wants to achieve, how will it be different from the status quo parties and what issues will it see as in need of political/ policy attention and change.

From some of the reading I have been doing on Paul Ray’s work on the New Political Compass, I see a strong correlation between the Cultural Creatives and the New Progressives, as he calls them (us?).  This correlation is growing into political subculture based on values with concerns around certain central issues.  Issues like resilient and vibrant communities, the ecological health of the planet, concerns over social cohesion as the rich get richer and even the working poor get poorer.  There is a rejection of the old adversarial thinking based on “us versus them” approach particularly relating to social differences and in personal relationship. There is a grave and growing concern amongst Progressives about what kind of future are we leaving our children.  And a deepening distrust of effectiveness of conventional partisan culture conflict of Left versus Right.

If these thoughts resonate with you I encourage you to take some personal action.  Go to this link and see if you are a Cultural Creative.  If so, then explore the writings at the new website for progressive Albertan at www.rebootalberta.org. I recommend you read and follow the offerings in the blog roll posts at the Reboot website.  Spend some time reading the contributions to “What is a Progressive” as well.

If after all that, if you think you too might want to dust off your citizenship and start to revive those rights and responsibilities you have, then become part this progressive movement.  You can make a contribution to help change Alberta’s politics and reform our democracy to become a more progressive political culture.  You can register on the Reboot Alberta site and send me an email (ken@cambridgestrategies.com) and ask to be put on the “In-the-Loop” email list.  Plan to attend the next face-to-face gathering of the progressive Alberta community, Reboot Alberta 2.0.  It is happening at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis Feb 26-28.  More details on that event will be coming out next week here and on the Reboot Alberta website.

Dissatisfaction and disillusionment do not generate hope or change.  However, reviving your sense of responsible citizenship and re-engaging in the political culture of Alberta can create hope and change.  It is vital that Alberta’s progressives start showing up and making their voices heard about our aspirations for the future of this province.  The world is run by those who show up.  In a democracy we always get the government we deserve. That is especially true now when we are at a threshold of enormous political change in our Alberta.  

Anti-Smoking laws Cited as a "Great Stride in Medicine"

Interesting feature in the Edmonton Journal this morning on "Great Strides in Medicine."  It quotes Axel Meisen of the Alberta Research Council and includes the ban of smoking in public and work places as one of the "Great Strides" accomplishments.

"Anti-smoking laws and campaigns reduce public smoking""A clear understanding and acceptance of the link between smoking and health led to the banning of smoking in most public spaces. It's a global phenomenon, Meisen says.
'In the past, smoking was seen as a personal right, but knowing it endangers the lives of others has made most smokers more careful.'"

I helped make this happen in Alberta.  I was assisting a coalition of public health advocacy and professional groups in the lobbying effort.  The Libertarians hate this law but the common good has to trump individual sovereignty on occasion. This was one of them. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alberta Developmental Disability Sector Takes a Stand

Most people start gearing down and shift into holiday mode for Christmas.  The people working and cared for in the developmental disability sector of our social safety net are suiting up and shifing into a higher gear.  They are organizing to protect themselves from more shortsighted, meanspirited and frankly unnecessary budget cuts by the government of Alberta.  I am advising these people now on a pro bono and volunteer basis.

I have done a lot of professional work with this sector recently, including help negotiate new contract templates so the GOA could meet their goal of a "more business-like relationship" with the sector.  Well that was accomplished and contracts, not grants are the way the sector is not funded.  But the government seems to think they can merely intimidate community-based volunteer agencies into funding cuts now and going forward regardless of the "business-like" relationship. 

Service providers are facing intimidation, innuendos and pressures to comply with this so-called  "voluntary" request for "in-year adjustments." The Regional PDD Boards knew they were going ot be short of funds last April 1 based on the government funding.  Why have they ignored that reality until now and why are they squeezing the service providers and caregivers as a "solution?"

Well the Minister in charge can do exactly that.  She can unilaterally cut budgets and change the contracts.  It is a term the government insisted stay in the agreements called Ministerial Directives.  If the Minister wants to claw back more money and put vulnerable people at risk then that is her prerogative under the contracts.  But that is a political decision not a management decision.  Such matters of budget cuts are always political and not management, as the government is trying to finesse the facts these days.

The Alberta Council of Disability Services, a provincial body representing most PDD sector service providers in the province sent a letter to the Premier and the Minister on Monday.  There has been some media references to it but I thought the readers of this blog would like to read the letter in its entirety. It will show you what the high road looks like.  I have been advised there is a error in the letter on page 3.  The  Edmonton PDD asked for changesby December 31, the 18th.



Honourable Ed Stelmach
Premier of Alberta

Office of the Premier

Room 307, Legislature Building

10800 - 97 Avenue

Edmonton, Alberta T5K 2B6

Dear Premier Stelmach:

Re: PDD 2009-10 Third Quarter Budget Announcements

Subject: Proposal for a Joint Solution

A collaborative partnership is essential to enable improved outcomes and sustainable solutions for individuals and families that we are contracted to support on the Ministry’s behalf. We support a partnership that honours mutual unique strengths and contributions while respecting each other’s autonomy. We support a business relationship that also has inherent rights, responsibilities and commitments. We have a common vision and goals to ensure that individuals supported through the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) Program are able to live with dignity and safety in their communities.

Principles of a Partnership

Accountability – Recognizing that while the Ministry Seniors and Community Support, PDD Division and the Community Disability Service Providers each have separate accountabilities, collectively, they are accountable for maintaining the trust and confidence of individuals with developmental disabilities, guardians, families and all Albertans by ensuring transparency, high standards of conduct, and sound management in their work together, and by monitoring and reporting the results of this work. Independence – Respect the autonomy of the Ministry and Service Providers, recognizing that each has unique strengths, expertise and separate accountabilities. This is not an employee–employer relationship. Our mutual independence supports and promotes many different solutions and policy actions. Interdependence – The actions by either the Ministry or Service Provider directly or indirectly affect the other; a collaborative relationship is important with us and with individuals, families and community. Co-ordination and collaboration

- Page 2 of 5-

are required with all Government of Alberta Ministries that impact individuals and their families. Dialogue – We believe that the sharing of ideas, perspectives, expertise and experiences contributes to better understanding, improved identification of priorities and sound public policy. Communication, cooperation, transparency, respect and collaboration are essential to addressing areas of mutual concern and to achieve our common vision.

A Collaborative Partner

Government is facing difficult choices now – how those choices are implemented in the community, both in the short- and long-term is critical for the health of communities and vulnerable Albertans. Community Disability Service Providers are part of a valuable and essential Non-profit/Voluntary Sector in Alberta and have a long history of partnership with the Government of Alberta delivering PDD mandated services. We have made long-term commitments in our communities to support individuals with developmental disabilities and have delivered services to them for over 50 years. Many of our Service Providers were founded by families who wanted to ensure that supports were in place to meet long-term needs, many are faith based organizations committed to supporting this common mission. Our volunteer boards are connected and committed to their communities. A collaborative framework provides the opportunity for government to participate and invest in a long-term inclusive engagement with the sector on funding discussions. The far-reaching implications of the current fiscal challenge make it imperative that we work together to minimize the impact and ensure sustainable services to vulnerable Albertans.

Principals Guiding Funding:

1. To ensure sustainability and effective services support for strong and resilient communities, allocation of funding should be transparent, evidence-based, and reflect local stakeholder expertise and community knowledge and context.

2. Community programs are most effectively delivered through sustained, predictable and coordinated funding. Contractual funding arrangements should reflect and support the long-term service we provide to individuals with permanent and often complex needs. We have a record of service to this government and measured standards of service and accountability. We require the flexibility to respond and be innovative. We require predictability of funding and honouring of funding commitments to plan effectively and efficiently.

3. Government should make a priority of open communication and meaningful consultation with individuals, guardians and families. Research, impact analysis

- Page 3 of 5-

and coordinated planning with these resources and the broader community are particularly significant when changes to policies, programs or services are being considered.

4. Outcomes for people and communities can be improved through better alignment of planning, program design and service delivery within and across both government and the Community Disability Services sector.

2009-10 Third Quarter Contract Budget Adjustments

Recent third quarter budget announcements by Regional PDD Community Boards of projected Regional Board deficits and Ministry budget reduction targets have placed Service Providers and family managed contracts in an untenable position.

Northeast Regional PDD Board announced on October 23, 2009 retroactive funding reductions of 4.34% of total Service Provider and family managed contract budgets. Calgary Regional PDD Board provided formal confirmation of in-year contracted and retroactive funding reductions of approximately 2.1 %.of annual agency contract budgets to address their Regional Board deficit and the provincial deficit. The notice was issued on December 9 and December 11, 2009 with expectation that agency plans for reductions be submitted by December 18, 2009. Edmonton Regional PDD Board confirmed retroactive budget adjustments of approximately 2.3% on December 16, 2009. Agencies have been asked to submit plans and revised change forms by December 18, 2009.

Key Messages

The impact of these reductions over the remaining few months of the contract term will have a significant impact on direct services to clients and the ability of agencies to operate under the new contracting model which pays for services after they have already been provided. Inadequate notice and time has been given to allow agencies to properly inform their Boards, give required notice to staff, and support families, guardians and clients to develop coordinated plans to ensure the safety and well-being of the individuals. This is not sound business practice, it is not good fiscal management, and does not live up to the principles, rights and obligations of a contractual business arrangement that should be expected from government. The Ministry (PDD) has ongoing responsibility to ensure and oversee the provision of statutory programs, resources and services to adults with developmental disabilities; and has the mandate to provide services to individuals through determination of eligibility and approval of units of service

- Page 4 of 5-

that they will provide and fund. The Service Provider contracts with the Ministry to deliver these services on behalf of the Government. Communication and direction about changes and or reductions in services should most appropriately be directly between government and the client. Individuals receiving or applying for services have the right to be consulted prior to any significant decisions affecting them; and are to be informed of decisions made by the Community Board that affect them and of their right to independently appeal such decisions. The individual may then access their right to appeal decisions of PDD Program Community Boards that impact them. Program supports, or applying to receive supports, can be appealed to the Minister through the PDD Appeal Panel. Decisions of a PDD Program Community Board to enter into, amend or terminate a contract with a Service Provider on the other hand cannot be appealed. The ACDS Board appreciates the difficulties that Regional PDD Community Boards face with unanticipated cost pressures and the complex and changing needs inherent in delivering mandated human services. Our members also face these same pressures, adjust accordingly within our yearly budget and contract, and are held accountable for a balanced budget. We also appreciate the challenges of the uncertain economic climate. Many agencies already reduced their budgets by up to 5% at the beginning of the contract year in response to Ministry anticipated budget pressures, and staff received only one half of the committed wage increase as a one-time bonus. As we have done each year, for many years, we have already demonstrated our willingness to collaborate and work toward a solution. The ACDS Board understands that under the current contract with Service Providers, any amendments or changes must be mutually agreed upon by both parties and further that Service Providers should consider carefully and ensure that they take the time and steps necessary to be fully informed before agreeing to voluntarily amend the contract by agreeing to reduce services or units of service. We understand and have been advised, that even a request to voluntarily agree to an in-year adjustment may be considered an Anticipatory Breach of the contract. We would expect PDD to honour the current contracts over the next quarter. The Ministry commitment to allocate $24 million in the 2009-2010 budget to address recruitment and retention of a skilled workforce is still outstanding. The delivery of quality services to individuals with often complex needs is dependent upon sustaining a qualified workforce. While government programs and staff received wage and benefit increases, and contracted programs and staff funded by other Ministries received their 5% wage increase on April 1, 2009, PDD funded contracts received only a partial allocation of $14 million this fall to be distributed as a one-time bonus. Some Service Providers have not had the April 1, 2009 minimum wage increase addressed in their funding.

- Page 5 of 5-

Service Providers value our relationship with this Ministry. A strong collaborative relationship must be based on honouring commitments, integrity and mutual respect grounded in the fundamental principles and values that place the well-being of the individuals we support first.

Recommendation for a Joint Solution

That the Premier and Minister intervene and rescind the PDD Community Board requests for in-year budget adjustments and ensure that formal correspondence is issued clearly communicating to Service Providers and family managed contractors, that PDD fully intends to honour their contracts and that this is a voluntary request for budget reductions. That full contractual payment to Service Providers will continue and there will be no repercussions if Service Providers and family managed contractors do not voluntarily agree, or did not meet the deadline for submission of action plans and change forms for reductions in services. That Service Providers and family managed support contractors who have already submitted action plans or implemented changes be offered the opportunity to review and reconsider given this new and clear communication from the Ministry. That the Premier support the Minister to implement a full external program review and audit of the PDD Division Programs and Services. Stakeholders and families would be willing to participate in the development of the terms of reference and support this review. That PDD Community Boards be requested to communicate their intent to fully honour their contracts with families and Service Providers That PDD Community Boards be required to communicate directly to individuals and their guardians and families, any decisions that may impact services to ensure that they retain their right to appeal, and further that the timeline for filing the notice of appeal starts on the date of this communication from the PDD Boards.

Respectfully submitted,

Bob Greig

President

ACDS BOARD

cc. Honourable Mary Anne Jablonski

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

What is a Progressive in a 21st Century Alberta

Part of the Reboot Alberta -The Launch was a request from participants that we start to put some content and context about what it means to be a Progressive in Alberta in the 21st century.  A number of citizens who participated in Reboot Alberta - The Launch have taken some time to write a blog post on their personal perspective on the question.

My input is typically tooooo loooong but if I had more time I could have made it shorter.  Here is my take.  I strongly recommend you read the others as well.  If you are moved to write your own contribution - email it to me ken@cambridgestrategies.com and we will get it posted.

In the meantime if you are a Progressive or think you are, mark your calendar for February 26-28.  Reboot Alberta 2.0 is happening at the Delta at Kananaskis.  More details tomorrow to those signed into the Reboot Alberta community.  If you want to be in that loop too, let me know your name and contact information so we can add you to the list.  Go to http://www.rebootalberta.org/ and join the movement. 

Tomorrow I will be posting the letter the developmental disability sector sent to the Premier yesterday.  It pretty much speaks for itself.  I am advising the sector on a pro bono basis becuase they don't have any money to hire me and I have already gather lots of information from the two years I did professional work for them.

Merry Christmas to one and all.   

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Don Braid on Decline of the PCs - He Gets It! Reboot Alberta Gathers Steam

In case you missed it, Don Braid's column in yesterday's Calgary Herald captures the essence of the erosion happening in and around the PC government in Alberta.  I appreciate his comments on my blog post about why I am leaving the Alberta PC Party

If the Wildrose is the viable option, we are in more trouble than we have already imagined.  We need a much different option to ensure we preserve, protect and progress in our Alberta.

Citizens are reclaiming responsiblity for how they are governed.  The growing interest in Reboot Alberta is proof of this re-emergence of informed and engaged citizenship.  I am working on my Reboot Alberta discussion paper on What is a Progressive in a 21st Century Alberta.  My theme is Citizenship=Stewardship.  I will post it here as well as on http://www.rebootalberta.org/

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why I Am Leaving the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta

I am almost joining the ranks of 97% of Canadians who do not belong to political parties. I will still hold a Federal Liberal membership but I will not renew my Alberta PC membership when it expires at year end. I have been involved in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party from the mid-70s.' and even took an unsuccessful run at a nomination as a PC Candidate for the 1997 election. I can no longer aid, abet and accept the PCs as my political home in Alberta. There are many reasons but last straws are what people notice. My last straw has arrived.

I take my philosophical political positioning as a social progressive and a fiscal conservative. To many that is an oxymoron but to me it was a balanced and comprehensive approach to governing. That is why I was so comfortable for so many years in the PCs even through the extremes and mistakes of all Premiers since and including Lougheed.

Well the Alberta PCs who are elected to government are no longer progressive, hardly fiscally prudent and as for having a conservation consciousness – forget it. They are no longer aligned enough with my values to continue to be my political home. I know from personal discussions, emails and meetings that I share that realization with many other disillusioned PC party members. They also see the other conventional political parties as merely variation of a tired, inadequate, exclusive and clubby political culture. The Wildrose Alliance is offering an even greater and deeper sense of the tired old conventional politics of a (thankfully) by-gone time.

I see no vision or enthusiasm from the PC government. I see no capacity to respond effectively to the complex changing times in Alberta. They are merely hoping to return to the Alberta of yesterday. They are waiting for commodity prices to return so things and be “normal” again and we Albertans will get to print yet another bumper sticker asking God for yet another boom.

Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance Party has deep roots in social conservativism and religious fundamentalism. Stuff they don't want to talk about - until they are elected. There is an unnerving sense that they are thinking that they can win an election with one narrative and once elected, govern the future of the province with another. It is as if they want to take Alberta back to repeat a time that is even farther back into our history. They want to take us back to the conservative times of Ernest Manning and Harry Strom with the added benefits of the moral metrics of Bible Bill Aberhart himself .They want an Alberta where the old TV sitcom series “Father Knows Best” would be considered a modern-day documentary.

So, after about 35 years, I am currently politically homeless, but I have hope. Reboot Alberta is the wellspring of my hope. I see is a way to find a more just, fair, inclusive, prosperous and progressive province. Reboot Alberta is becoming a political movement that is about a new kind of citizen-based pioneering leadership, citizenship and stewardship. It is not about gaining political power. It aspires to greater goals.

I sense from the growing Reboot Alberta community that we are at the trailhead of a new journey. It is a new personally accountable path where citizens take responsibility for the new situational dynamics of being Albertans. We are discovering that the new Alberta venture is about undertaking to actively pursue how we can adapt. That adaptation includes becoming an ecological enhancing economy and an inclusive, cohesive caring society with high levels of innovation, achievement and accomplishment.

I want my Alberta to be about a proud people, with organizations, institutions, industries and communities where our living and learning go hand in hand throughout our entire lives. I want a striving society that honours and encourages different ways of thinking, that is caring, curious, inclusive and diverse. I hope for a society that honours the gifts we all have as individuals and encourages us to strive for personal accomplishment for our own benefit as well as to the greater good.

We must be aware of and honour the past. We must be realistic about the present (think oilsands). And we must once again become engaged in accepting responsibility for the future and the consequences of our actions on future generations.

Reboot Alberta is going to be about citizens coming together in this spirit. Progressives will show an active intent of finding ways to empower, enhance and expand our capacity to design and deliver on a vision for better Alberta based on a more integrated, more inclusive and more accomplished society. We need to be sure our society is served by our economic endeavours and not the other way around. We must seek a better definition of responsible and sustainable growth. Growth and prosperity must accept that there are constraints of nature. We have to change how we measure success and progress. We must take a longer term view based on values, not just a quarterly accounting statement.

Integrating our economic and social growth has to be done in ways that promotes and produces adaptive self-reliant capable and confident citizens in a cohesive, creative, dynamic society. We have to constantly anticipate and adapt to find new ways to thrive within and respecting the capacity of the planet. This is to my sense the fundamental stuff of what we need for progressive politics, policy, governance and government in our Alberta.

We can’t continue to celebrate and expand our capacity to exploit as a species while continuing to ignore or try to engineer our way around realities of the natural ecological constraints of our place and the planet. Success can’t be about being a bigger “Have” place when others are destitute and dying – all too often due to our ignorance or indifference. I don’t what to merely strive for Alberta to be the best place in the world. I want it to be the best place for the world

I can't seem to find these topics of conversation happening much, if at all, in the dominant political cultures of the province these days. But I have been able to find a significant number of Albertans in the Reboot Alberta movement who are longing and yearning for those kinds of conversations. At the Reboot Alberta Launch at the end of November one of the participants called conversations "game changers." I pray that he is right. I am seeing that those conversations have started within the Reboot Alberta community. With some encouragement, tending and nurturing, they will gain traction and momentum. Then I would not have to find a new political home, I, along with others, will be building it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do You Really Want a Wildrose Alliance Government for Alberta?

I was made aware of this Youtube set of interviews of fans of Sarah Palin done at a recent book signing somewhere in the United States.  The tip came via Chris LaBossiere on Twitter and I want to thank him for the link.

The irrational exuberanceof the folks in this clip as the supports of Sarah Palin is unnerving.  They are people who have no idea about how she would govern if she won an election and that is truly scary.  These people are mouthing speaking notes and rhetoric without any understanding or reasoning behind what they are saying.

But don't get too smug Alberta.  I expect the same kind of interview responses would happen in Alberta today if such direct questions were asked of Albertans as to why we are supporting what the Wildrose Alliance Party really stands for.  The recend Angus Reid poll says the Wildrose Alliance Party now enjoys the support of 39% of all Albertans and 44% of rural Albertans.  Based on what?  Does anyone in Alberta really know the policy platform and capacity of this new party to govern? 

The Angus Reid poll puts the Wildrose Alliance in majority government territory in Alberta but without much serious expression, information or understanding of what the Wildrose Alliance party policies are or might become once they were elected.  Dannielle Smith is no Sarah Palin.  She is much more intelligent and enormously more capable than Sarah Palin.  But that is little comfort.  In fact that may be even more discomforting for Albertans once they start to think about it.  Thank heavens there is no immediate threat of an election in Alberta.

When thoughtful and capable citizen disengage from the politics of their times, they delegate the power to choose the direction and desitination of their lives to people like those in this Sarah Palin video clip.  These people do in fact show up to vote.  Political cynicism is a luxury that progressive Albertans can no longer afford.  The world is run by those who show up.

It is time for progressive Albertans to wake up and show up - or suffer the consequences.  That waking up and showing up is already starting to happen.  Reboot Alberta is the start of that shift towards a more conscious expression of citizenship. It is the start of a revitalization and a reinstatement of a more inclusive democracy in Alberta too.

If you, as a conscientious citizen, are ready to take back some control over your provincial politics, join the Reboot Alberta movement.  If you are ready to create and support some alternatives to the old-style politics of the past, join the Reboot Alberta movement.  If you believe that we need to delete some of the outdated and harmful approaches to politics and governance in Alberta, join the Reboot Alberta movement. 

If reinvigorating your rights and responsibility as a citizen of Alberta is not something you are concerned about, then get ready to be governed by the kind of values found in this Sarah Palin video clip. These people are not disengaged.  They are joining social/political movements.  They are exercising their influence.  And they are showing up to vote and support people like Sarah Palin.

The world is run by those who show up.  Govern yourselves according Albertan

Friday, December 11, 2009

This is the Winter of Stelmach’s Disconnect

The latest Angus Reid poll putting the Alberta PCs in a second-place tie with the Liberals (25% each – ouch) will shake the confidence of the caucus and stir the cauldron of discontent that has been on a slow boil within the Stelmach government for some time now.

I have not seen the poll questions or actual results myself. I am commenting off newspaper reports. Jason Fekete wrote the front page blockbuster story and is a very good and reliable reporter. I have no reason to mistrust the facts he presents. There is always more intrigue in polling results when you take some time to dig a bit deeper. When I see the actual results I will do another post and put some political context around the numbers.

With apologies to Buffalo Springfield;” Something’s happening here? What it is ain’t exactly clear.” PC supporters must feel a bit like the day after the 1995 Referendum. The Quebec separatists lost with the thinnest of margins and Canada was “saved.” It was shocking and unnerving to many of us in the rest of Canada who realized, for the first time, how much public sentiment had shifted in Quebec.

That same unease and uncertainty is how I feel today as a progressive Albertan in the face of the Wildrose Alliance.  How can it be that they are being seen as the only potentially “viable” political option in Alberta? The question of is what is happening here is quite frankly very clear.

Here is part of what I see happening politically in Alberta these days. The PCs are clearly past their best before date. They have been around too long. They are now well beyond being tired, stale and bland. They have proven to be inept and ineffective in too many instances and appear to be chronically maladaptive. Everyone in Alberta paying attention to politics knows, or at least, senses this.

The political and policy shifts by the Stelmach government have been disconcerting to many. It started with the vacillating responses to the Royalty Review, all through the last election and the humiliating third place showing in the Glenmore by-election and the fiasco that was Bill 44 and Bill 50.  They all reinforce the growing sense of disdain by citizens towards their government.  It is a government who is not listening and showing abject indifference to legitimate concerns and objections. The PC government’s disconnect with Albertans sees them now responding defensively, using threats, intimidation and belligerence as priority “governing principles” - just to keep people in line.

The Liberals and NDP are seen as insipid and uninspiring alternatives to the comatose Conservative regime. They are not perceived as a potential primetime government in waiting. The Greens have implode and disappeared in the most bizarre of circumstances. And that leaves the Wildrose as the only possible alternative to consider – at this time? Spare us please.

The ascendance of Danielle Smith on the political scene as been covered by the traditional media with an E-Talk! level of celebrity-centric perspicacity. So much more needs to be known and understood about the Wildrose Alliance and in particular their social and environmental policies, principles and values. We don’t even know if they have people who would be the kind of candidates with character and qualities worthy of our consent to be governed.

This Angus Reid poll shows a dramatic spike in Wildrose Alliance “popularity.”  It says little, if anything, about them however. It is not very relevant to the fortunes of the Wildrose Alliance in the larger political scheme of things. At least not now given that we are so far away from any chance of a general election, currently expected in March 2012. It does, however, speak volumes about the shortcomings and disenchantment Albertans have for the other provincial political parties.

Bottom line – the Angus Reid outcome is an opinion poll. It is not a statement about a deeper judgment that citizens have to make about who will govern us when an election is actually looming. My sense is most of the Wildrose Alliance support in this poll is about sending a message to the other parties.  The message is that they are not doing the job rather than a positive choice in support of the WAP. If you added an option in this poll for “None of the Above” I’m betting they would end up being be the most popular party in Alberta today.

So take a Valium Alberta.  And in the meantime you better dust off your citizenship and park your political indifference and cynicism. They are luxuries you can no longer afford. If you don't re-engage as informed and involved citizens and WAP forms the next government you will be delegating decisions to fundamenalist, traditionalist and social conservative values throw-backs of a bygone era.  Indifference means those people will get elected and they will be making all the political and value choices for and about you, your life and your liberties.
 
Govern yourselves Accordingly Alberta!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Peter the Pathetic as Minister of Defensiveness

How much more obfuscation, evasion and denial does the Canadian public have to suffer from Peter the Pathetic? Peter MacKay has been tap dancing backwards faster and faster. He is now in retreat from is hollow assertions that Afghan detainees, under Canadian care, were never abused or tortured for about two weeks now.


The manipulation of the political process, the stifling and suppression of information and the positioning of Conservative politicians for plausible denial of facts is abhorrent to Canadian values of peace, order and good government.

As new evidence continues to come forward we see the Minister of Defensiveness moving from absolute denial to plausible denial to admission of mistakes being made but not by him. This is now so much more to all of this than an apparent "non-smoking gun" as the Harper Cons have tried to allege. We are seeing the absolute meltdown of the integrity and trustworthiness of the Harper government.  They are perpetuating the continued unfounded abuse of the public service and the manipulation of the governnance system to suppress evidence and an absolute full court press avoidance of anything close to doing the right thing.

The Harper government has and continues to be a Mini Me mirror of the former Bush-Cheney face political manipulation and machinations that only serves to destroys democracies. This detainee debacle is the Harper government self-inflicting wounds on its own integrity and veracity. It is destined to the defining drama that should be the tippping point for Canadians to realize these are not the kind of people who are worthy of our consent to govern us.

I am most impressed with the continuing quality coverage by the Globe and Mail on these issues and event. I am grateful to the 50 or so former Canadian Ambassadors who are reproaching the Harper government for the unfounded personal attacks on Richard Colvin for merely doing his job. This is starting to look like a Canadian Watergate where the rot in the political culture seems to have spread to the highest offices in the land.

Harper’s political free ride is over. His “success” is a function of an ineffectual opposition, a public disinterest in another election anytime soon and a low public expectation of Harper and his party. Anyone in Canada who values Peace Order and Good Government has to now realize that Mr. Harper and his partisans are not good for Canada in any way.

We need a public inquiry to get to the bottom of this and to restore Canadians faith in its government.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Alberta Oil Magazine Article on "Green Oil"

Here is a link to an article by Patrycja Romanowska in this months edition of Alberta Oil magazine on the book Green Oil by Satya Das.  Most every regular reader of this blog knows Satya is my business partner and the book is a project of our company Cambridge Strategies Inc. but full disclosure is a constant duty.

You can read more about the concept behind the book at http://www.greenoilbook.com/ and join in the growing conversation amongst Albertans who are coming to the realization that we need to start acting like owners of the oilsands.  That means taking responsibility for the stewardship duty around how the oil sands are exploited.  We also have to ensure we get a good return on these non-renewable resource for now and to also protect the birthright and benefits of this massive resource for future generations.

Our government is nowhere near being even adequate on either of these two fundamental issues for protecting and adding value for Albertans as owners of the resource.  Citizens of Alberta are coming to the conclusion that have to re-engage in the politics of the times if they are to ensure this happens.  That does not mean coming back to politics as usual either.  There is ample evidence that the status quo is not working at so many levels.

There is a response happening to politics as ususal.  It is in the form of a new and emerging movement to reestablish the rights and responsibilities of  citizenship amongst progressive Albertans.  It is called Reboot Alberta.  Check it out here and here

Join in if you are inclined.  If you need to know more, visit these sites and follow the folks and bloggers who are engaged in this progressive political movement.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I Have Been Busy

I have been really busy with Reboot Alberta and the Reboot Alberta Blog for the past while and not keeping up with the many issues I would like to write about on the blog.

The Right Call column I do for Alberta Venture magazine with Fil Fraser, Janert Keeping and others is up in the new issue.

As well I did a book review for Alberta Views magazine on Rich Vivone's book on the Klein era "Ralph Could Have Been a Superstar." It is a timely read as we once again have a government in Alberta telling us the economic sky is falling and the only solution is program cuts.  Can we learn from the excesses of "brutal" government cuts without concern for the consequences other than getting the budget math right?  I hope the Stelmach government reads Rich's book and learns from past mistakes in developing Budget 2010-11.  Not much evidence of any such learning so far.

Then I have been working on promoting our own book at Cambridge Strategies "Green Oil" and encouraging Albertans to see themselves as owners of the energy reserves of the province - and begining to act accordingly.

I have been asked to be interviewed by the panel reviewing issues in Alberta Children's Services next week and that will take of preparation and should be interesting.

Another big concern will be the planning of the next stage of Reboot Alberta and get a handle on the principles, values and issues that animate and delineate what is means to be a progressive Albertan in the 21st century.  If you are interested in finding out more about progressive Albertans go to http://www.rebootalberta.org/ and become part of the movement.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Daveberta Reflects on Reboot Alberta

Dave Cournoyer, (a.k.a. Daveberta) is the gold standard of political bloggers to my mind. I am not alone in those sentiments. In the 2007 Canadian Blog Awards he was voted First in "Best Political Blog," Best Progressive Blog," and "Best Blogosphere Citizen." Since then he has grown both in experience and astuteness.

I have learned a great deal from knowing and reading Dave over the past 3 year.  As one of the "elder statesmen" of social media in Alberta I like to say most of my mentors are under 30.  It is true and Dave Cournoyer is one of them. 

Dave was at the Reboot Alberta launch this past weekend and by all accounts, he valued the experience. He was also not alone in that sentiment if you have been checking out the posts of the other Bloggers who were at the Reboot Alberta launch.  You can find links to these Bloggers through the blog poll at  http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/.

His blog post on Reboot Alberta is a typical example of his thoughtful and reflective commentary on politics, democracy and public policy in Alberta.   This guy gets it when it comes to expressing the frustration and feelings of so many Albertans about poltics in our province.  Here is the link to his blog post on Reboot Alberta.

If you are a progressive Albertan and want to reinvigorate your citizenship, personally re-engage and take back some responsibility for politics and public policy in alberta come to http://www.rebootalberta.org/ to learn more and get involved.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Reboot Alberta Launch and What's Next for the Progressive Movement in Alberta .

I have done a blog post on some of my thoughts out of the weekend launch of Reboot Alberta on that blog.
There is a way for you to join the Reboot Alberta movement too by going to http://www.rebootalberta.org/

I will be doing a post on as many blog posts on the Reboot Alberta that I can gather.  One interesting place to start getting aware of the reaction going into and coming out of Reboot Alberta is though the imaginate post of Mastermaq.  He has already collected a number of blog posts links and has done a Wordle cloud on the Tweets and some blogs about Reboot Alberta.  Here is the link to his post.  More blog posts are coming and will be linked from http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/ as they emerge.

There are lots of Reboot Alberta related links in Mack's post so if you are courious about Reboot Alberta, get a coffee first and take the time to read and reflect on the buzz.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Reboot Alberta About to Kick Off & How to Connect to It!.

This weekend is promising to be significant for the 90 progressive Albertans who are attending.  What will come out of it is anybody's guess but the energy and enthusiasm going in is impressive and encouraging.

The Twitter hashtag to follow Tweets about Reboot Alberta is #rebootab.  The bloggers who will be there will be posting to their own sites.  Most of them can be found in the blog roll links on http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/.  They will also be putting links to blog posts on Twitter with the #rebootab hashtag.  Twitter users can connect that way too and find the blog posts about the event.

If you are not on Twitter but want to keep current on the conversations - and even participate by submitting your own comments - you can keep track by going to http://www.rebootalbertalive.com/  That will have all the #rebootab tagged content on a real time basis.  This site is live now.

Saturday 9-12 and afternoon plus Sunday morning from 9-11 am will be prime time. 

If you a progressive thinking Alberta who is disillusioned, despairing and despondent about Alberta politics, Reboot Alberta may be the place to help you revive your interest in citizenship and the need to change from politics as usual.  Check it out and let us know what you think.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Guest Post on Reboot Alberta Worth a Read

I have not asked for guest posts on the blog but I am happy to publish this one.  The author wishes to remain anonymnous but I know who they are.  Some people attending Reboot Alberta have been hesitant to give permisson to release their contact information electronicaly for reasons of their own. 

I believe that must be respected but they will be obviously known to other attendees who we anticipate will repsect their perceived need for some privacy.   At the Reboot Alberta blog we decided there would be no anonymous posts or comments.  As a result this post will not appear at Reboot Alberta.  However, I thought the post itself ought to be given an audience.  So I have posted it here. 

Regular readers of this blog know a rail against anonymous commenters, expecially the trite and unsubstantiated kind.  This is not really an anonynmous post, at least not to me. but I will respect the request for privacy.  Here is the guest post and I hope you agree this voice is worth hearing even if it must be from a private source for practical reasons.

Ken,

I certainly appreciate all the interesting ideas and themes that participants are bringing up regarding social media, voter apathy, citizen engagement, new politics, youth engagement, etc., but I strongly believe that before we get into any of these topics, if the crux of this conference is to discuss how we can reengage progressives so that we are again an influential force in political and public policy discussions, then, respectfully, we need to start way higher level and plan strategically. I think a large part of the failure of progressives to connect with people and to form an influential movement is because we’re too dispersed and haven’t been strategic enough.

We can blame the party in power, and criticize the process and the system – and we do so not without cause – but doing so really doesn’t move us along. We’re not organized and calculated enough. If we want to have a real impact on public discourse, in political parties, as non-partisan advocates, and in government, then we need to think, act, and speak strategically. And we don’t. Progressives in this province (and this includes me as I, too, often make this error) often assume a position of moral and intellectual superiority. And I think this makes sense to a certain extent. I think we are smart people and our principles and values are just. But starting the conversation from a position of presumed superiority (even if it is legitimate) isn’t helpful.

Moreover, we really do get bogged down with the issues and we don’t focus nearly often enough on the global outcomes we want to achieve. I think part of this is because people who are socially and politically active on the progressive side of the equation are social and political activists. I’m not trying to be tautological here. I’m serious. We get involved because there’s an issue or a cause that we’re passionate about. We get our hands dirty and work on the frontlines, and this is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. But issues-driven activism does not translate to good strategic planning, good policy development, or ultimately, to forward-thinking governance. Another reason why we find it so hard to conceptualize and plan the big picture is because we’re not a single, unified movement.

And again, this isn’t a bad thing at all. But we do need to leverage our diversity and use it to our advantage. How do we do this? I don’t know, but I it’s a damn good question for discussion. I do think though, that because we are such a diverse group, hammering out a synthesis of common ideas and principles would be a helpful focusing exercise.

We need to talk about the common beliefs that unite us as progressives and the things that divide us (or, to put it in a more nuanced manner, the things that illustrate our diversity). I don’t see progressive thought as a monolithic movement, but surely we share common fundamental beliefs and values. At the start of the conference, I think we should work out principles and/or a framework to guide the weekend’s conversations. Certainly, I would hope that all discussions are authentic and organic, but well facilitated and thoughtfully guided conversation is much more valuable than scattered, ‘schizophrenic’ discussion. We’re way too often shrill, negative, and defensive in our approach and language. I can understand this too. The progressive voice has been marginalized and ostracized for a long time now in Alberta, so I get that people are frustrated.

My point is that the topics that have been suggested are good and important tactical conversations that we should have. But before we even get to tactics, we need to have a strategic, and very candid ‘come to Jesus’ discussion about the state of progressive politics in Alberta right now, what we’re doing right, what we can improve, what we believe in, what we want to accomplish in the near-, medium, and long-terms, and how we intend to accomplish our goals. Surely, a group of thoughtful, intelligent, and engaged citizens can come together to develop a strategy that encapsulates our commonality and defines our values but also celebrates our diversity. We need to start high level; develop a framework for progressive politics; set goals, timelines, and expectations; figure out what we want to do; and then we can drill down and talk tactically.

Otherwise, all that’s going to happen over the course of the weekend is that a number of people will get together to have novel but trivial conversations. We will fail to seize the opportunity before us to galvanize a large body of people to go back to and galvanize their progressive networks and communities in order to start a broad-based, motivated, and ‘densely populated’ movement that can effect true socially progressive and fiscally compassionate public policy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Green Oil Author Satya Das on Al Gore and Oil Sands.

Satya Das has a Green Oil blog post on Al Gore comments on the oilsands from Toronto the other day. Definitely worth a read. http://greenoilbook.com/the-blog/1-green-oil-blog/24-we-can-meet-mr-gores-challenge

I see Leo de Bever the CEO of AIMCo is talking  in the Edmonton Journal today about the lack of producitvity and high costs in the Alberta energy sector. I wonder if the energy sector is still holding out for return of ridiculously high commodity prices to justify high costs. If our sector can't compete on costs, perhaps we need to get the Alberta energy look at sharpening their pencils.

We also need to sharpen our literacy skills too. Cambridge Strategies just co-sponsored a series of meetings with Literacy Alberta. New research shows that Alberta can't continue to compete with the same old approach. In some professions we have over skilled people under-utilized. What a waste of the education dollars we spent on them. Other sectors have under skilled people who have literacy challenges that hinder their ability to do the jobs. Think productivity, competitiveness and also safety.

Once I have been through Reboot Alberta (http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/) this weekend I will be very active on this blog on the literacy needs of Albertans.

The work I was doing a while back to support community based agencies serving persons with developmental disabilities is heating up too. I expect a major expose to be coming out on how the provincial policy and funding systems is jeopardizing our collective social duty to these vulnerable citizens too. More on that soon as well.

Friday, November 20, 2009

"When Was the Last Time You De-Learned?"

Thinking about leadership and how different the challenges of the 21st century are from the 20th. Here is a piece I ran across from the Harvard Business Review that made me think even more. We have a vacuum in wise political leadership for sure in so many ways and at so many levels.


We also have a vacuum in business leadership too as elites become more distant and disconnected from the daily reality of ordinary people.

We need a renewed sense of citizenship and leaders with skills to deal with a more integrated consciousness so our institutions, society and culture can begin to cope with the complexity and growing urgency of the human and ecological condition.

Our institutions are anemic and we are dragged into diversions like the circuses of celebrity culture and the stylized rituals of reality show silliness. This is what our culture is offering us as a substitute and distraction so we can avoid facing up to the serious challenges of being human.

I am haunted by Chris Hedges words in his enormously provocative book "Empire of Illusion" when he says: "A culture that does not grasp the vital interplay between morality and power, which mistakes management techniques for wisdom, which fails to understand the measure of a civilization is its compassion, not its speed or ability to consume, condemns itself to death."

How much will we have to de-learn about the modernist and traditionalist mindset of our conventional culture before we can begin to grasp these progressive imperative for survival not merely sustainability?

Jared Diamond in his book “Collapse” list many contributing factors to social decay but what resonated with me was the dislocation between the short term interests of elites and the longer term concerns and needs of a society. Albertans are seeing a general rise in casual corruption, mismanagement and political inertia in the business and political elites in the province. Be it resource royalties or reclamation resistance by the energy sector or the indifference and ineptness of government to have the political will to enact and enforce laws for the greater good with a long-view politically.

Hedges notes these conditions, that are prevalent in Alberta today, “…almost always result in widespread cynicism, disengagement, apathy and finally rage. Those who suffer the consequences of this mismanagement lose any loyalty to the nation (province?) and increasingly nurse fantasies of violent revenge.”

One has to wonder just how far the average American is from this latter stage when you read headlines in the Globe and Mail Report on Business today “U.S. Housing Crises Hits New Levels.” Almost 1 of every 7 home owners in the States faces foreclosure, including many with good credit ratings.

This is happening while the Wall Street elites are back on the bonus track, gorging themselves using borrowed taxpayer money to pay the bonuses. Labour is still shedding jobs on Main Street. Politicians act like they are immune for a few years, until the next election. And companies like Goldman Sachs are on “image-repair missions.” They cancelled their Christmas Party this year to show their sincerity.

Such futile superficial gestures will do nothing to stop the criticism of Wall Street or to mitigate against the image of pure greed that still seems to be the primary motivation for the elites of the US financial sector.

According to Hedges this “…collapse is more than an economic and political collapse. It is a crisis of faith.” I wonder how this reality will play out in Canada and in Alberta in particular.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Reboot Alberta is Building Momentum-Will it Press for Change?

The "sister site" to this Blog at http://www.rebootalberta.wordpress.com/ is getting attention and attracting readers. Reboot Alberta is part of a movement amongst progressive Albertans who are concerned about the direction and destination of Alberta.


There are some interesting and thought-provoking blog posts at Reboot Alberta that I recommend you read and reflect upon. There is a growing sense amongst progressive thought leaders that Alberta is not living up to its potential economically, its responsibilities environmentally and it duty socially.

Don Schurman's Reboot Alberta post today talks about accepting personal responsibility for change and you can't press for change if you only "empower someone else to change it for you." He calls for a more informed and active sense of citizenship to come from individual Albertans.

Michael Brechtel's Reboot Alberta post sees change coming but believes in Alberta "The Glass is Definitely Half Full." He also points out that many Albertans "... disengaged from their citizenship." He takes the view that "...the current political climate is the chance we've been waiting for." He calls upon Albertans to re-engage and actually create "a culture of engagement" in the politics of the times.

Dave King's Reboot Alberta post poses the question of "What's the Way Forward for Alberta's Politics." Dave is darker in his POV. He believes Albertans are "living on exhausted and toxic political soil." He calls for a rejection of "the politics of fear, confrontation and intimidation."

Alberta, like the rest of the world, is coping with turbulent economic times. But our future promises that we will continue to grow. The question is will Albertans emerge from this recession with the capacity and goal to adapt to the new economic, environmental and societal realities and responsibilities? Or will we simply fall back into the same-old unsustainable and irresponsible behaviours that brought us to these debacles?

Some Albertans what to change course. They see the danger in the current trajectory of the province. Where to go, what to do and how to redefine and redesign progress for a more responsible, equitable and sustainable future are big questions. They will be part the discussions happening at Reboot Alberta as 88 thought-leaders from across the province gather together in Red Deer for Reboot Alberta.

I am optimistic that at by the end of November there will be the energy and desire by a small group of individuals with a collective intention to work together and get a fresh start in this province. That is my hope for Reboot Alberta.

You too can become a part of this movement to effect and influence progressive change in our province. The world is run by those who show up. So re-engage, join the discussion and invest some of yourself and your talents into the Reboot Alberta process. If you want to know more just email me ken@cambridgestrategies.com and we will get you in the loop.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Local Governments Getting Together to Influence Alberta Government

The recent Working Protocol Agreement between the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties is a very important step in the right direction for better governance in Alberta. Congratulations are in order all around.


The local government, the so-called "third order" of governance, is the most vulnerable because of its limited revenue generating capacity and growing demands in its areas or responsibility. Paradoxically it is the order of government closest to the everyday lives of citizens but has the least governance authority of any order of government.

The senior orders of government most often overlook the municipal level unless they want to download costs and responsibilities in tough times. Not always true as seen in the federal stimulus funding finally going directly to local government and the Paul Martin direct payment of Gas Tax revenues to local government. The big boys at the province often like to put local politician in their place by pointing out that they are merely "creatures of provincial law." I always like to remind the provincial politicians that they too are creatures of statute from the federal level and refer them to The Alberta Act that created the province.

There seems to be constant battles over boundaries and services and cost sharing between municipalities and surrounding rural areas. Sometimes those can be negotiated but often a province has to dictate resolutions. The threat of a provincially imposed regional planning "solution" in the greater Edmonton areas was enough to bring the parties to the table. They worked out a mutually acceptable deal. Not perfect but better than submitting to an imposed deal by the province.

That said, here is an excerpt from the News Release that outlines the essence of the deal between the parties:

"The AUMA/AAMDC Working Protocol provides opportunities for joint political advocacy and calls for organizations to strengthen and enhance their individual business services to members. Both organizations’ boards have agreed to meet regularly to monitor the development of the Working Protocol. The protocol outlines that there will be times when the AUMA and AAMDC must take different positions on an issue. However, they have agreed that these times will not affect other positive joint efforts."

Might I suggest that one of the first projects these groups tackle together is pressing the CRTC, Alberta and Canada to require Telus to provide Albertans access to the copper wire land-based phone lines. Once that is done virtually every Albertan can have direct access to the SuperNet fibre optic system. That access is critical to rural and small town Alberta being sustainable and viable. It means time and distance are defeated and the best-of-breed SuperNet online communications network is just a click away for Albertans all over the province - at a fraction of wireless and fibre optic costs.

Reality, maturity and wisdom are all evident in this initiative. Albertans will be better served in the long run because of this collaborative approach amongst local governments. Well done!  Full disclosure: I am not currently working with either association but I have been advising a private business who is trying to convince the CRTC to require Telus to provide access to local copper wire for citizen's access to SuperNet, especially in small town and rural Alberta.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oilsands Investments Return 1 Year After Industry Threatens to "Leave Alberta"

Interesting to see all the big oilsands players announcing that they are reinvesting billions of capital once again into oilsands projects. A year ago they were all pulling out of Alberta as the played political gamesmanship over the new royalty rates. Albertans should not forget that pure political posturing of the industry that was nothing less than bullying and bluster by some of the corporate elites in the energy sector.


They sure spooked our Premier. He folded about four times on royalties since January 2009. As a result we now collect even less money than we would have if we left the old royalty regime intact. The tenants are acting like owners and dictating the terms. Instead we need Albertans taking the responsibility to ensure our oilsands are giving future generations the benefit of the resource and that we are not "giving it away."

Speaking of "giving it away" I just returned from a great time in Austin Texas on a project. It reminded me something that Murray Smith the first Alberta Envoy, said to a meeting in Austin in 2006. I have a copy of the transcript of his remarks. Here is the most remarkable part of what he said to an American energy audience: "The model that has worked so well for us is that the royalty structure for oil sands is 'give it away' at a 1 percent royalty structure and share the risk of these great ventures and great investments. As soon as they reach payout, the royalty take goes to 25 percent of net."

That was a necessary model in the early stages of oilsands development in the late 1990's when extraction and upgrading costs and capital costs were higher than the commodity price of the product. That is not longer the case so why are we perpetuating this old model of "giving it away" when Alberta is the best place to assure secure and a safe supply of hydrocarbons?

When we charge royalties on net returns, how do we know we are not getting screwed on cost allocations within companies? When we allow royalties to be deferred until all capital costs are recovered how do we have any control on the project costs? Does this indemnity to recover costs from foregone royalty make the companies who are building the project really care that much about controlling costs?

At the record oil prices of last year controlling cost didn't seem to matter too much. Once the recession was acknowledged in September 2008 the future projects were shelved instantaneously. Well that was then and this is now and the projects are all coming back. Go figure!

BTW - Here is the link to Vue Weekly interview with Green Oil author Satya Das. Green Oil emphasizes the point that Albertans own the oilsands and have the obligation to ensure the stewardship of energy industry players who our government licenses to exploit this non-renewable resource on our behalf.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Does the Fiscal Four Mean for the Stelmach Government?

Here it comes! The seeds of a PC caucus rebellion are planted by a group forming and publically calling themselves the Fiscal Four! Is this reminiscent of the (not so) Deep Six that Stelmach was part of as a rookie MLA? Three of them are strong social conservatives from in and around Calgary that were active in pushing the anti-gay, anti-teacher aspects of Bill 44. This will not sit well with the powers that be!


Is the Party Behind Stelmach but the Caucus, Not So Much?
This split in caucus is not a surprise. It is just coming much sooner than I expected. The 77% party support solution from the recent PC AGM was a great example of the wisdom of crowd. It was not so low that it caused a partisan panic. It was not so high that the Premier’s office could claim all was well in Ed's world regardless of evidence to the contrary.

The response from Premier Stelmach was obvious relief but too tentative in terms of articulating what he heard and what is intends to do. He says he will make changes - but slowly and on his time schedule. The delusional declaration that the PC policy is perfect and then blaming of the media for the poor communications and the head nod solution to using social media is inadequate and unimpressive. This response to the public’s resistance to the Stelmach government policy is just a “pocket full of mumbles.” That is the true communications problem.

Is Social Media Stelmach's Communications Solution?
The old-school command and control, top down, message management mentality of the PCs, and the Wildrose Alliance too, will not work in the culture of the new world order known as social media. The PCs tried to adapt to social media a year or so ago - and with some considerable effort and enthusiasm. The effort was shown with the set up of MYPCMLA site. As soon as the social media conversation started to work, the PCs enthusiasm waned and they have essentially abandoned the effort. Now a few PC MLAs still use it as well as Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs but on a cautious and inconsistent basis.

Fear of the openness of the social media world is the dominant reaction of traditionalists in political parties. This fear is because the inner circle political machinery in the Stelmach government wanted to continue to have absolute control over the messages. You can't do that in the social media world. It is too democratic for that. They are wary of joining in any authentic conversation with engaged Albertans online using social media tools.

Facing the rabble known as netizens without the usual tools of coercion and fear feigning as respect forced them PCs to retreat from the field. The rabble is talking about them anyway so it would be wiser to be involved and ensuring accuracy, understanding and context as well as the opportunity to learn and show real leadership.

So What is With the Fiscal Four?
Now we have the Fiscal Four breaking ranks and sending out their own messages. Two of them are very adroit at using social media and have substantial networks in the wired world. Is this self-anointed fiscal watch-dog group the start of the PC caucus “big tent” folding and not flourishing?

Are some of these MLAs part of the 10 closeted Wildrose floor-crossers that were rumored to exist a few weeks ago? Are they so fearful of defeat in the next election under the current leadership that this is now every man for himself - especially in Calgary? It has been that way for Edmonton PCs for decades. Or are these guys in Kris Kristofferson land and feeling a new found freedom because they have nothing left to lose?

Looks like the Premier may have to fast-track identifying and making the changes he alluded to last week end in his speech after the confidence vote. To delay now will only weaken his power, his base and undermine his own effectiveness and survival. He was quick to reverse the liquor tax increase last summer because he said he "did not feel right about it." He may need to be that nimble and assertive now. For sure he will have to be more substantive and more strategic now that these caucus cracks are showing.

Is the Wildrose Alliance Worth the Risk?
Albertans have to ask ourselves why the Wildrose Alliance is the best alternative for most us...not just the wealthy elites from the Calgary oil patch. They are in many ways scarier than the old Alliance crowd because they are not open and transparent on social and environmental policies. They seem to be conniving to avoid talking about key social (gay rights, abortion) and environmental issues because they say they are "divisive." It is all about aligning with the narrow and shallow Fraser Institute culture for the Wildrose Alliance.

It is as if the Wildrose Alliance believes if we just ignore human rights abuses, the plight of the poor, the obligation to the vulnerable, like children, seniors and the disabled they will go magically to away. It is as if the goal for Albertans is to aspire to get as rich as possible and as quickly as possible regardless of environmental implications.

The Wildrose Alliance has pledged to stifle government by starving its capacity with more ill-advised tax cuts. That way the self-fulfilling prophesy of government being incapable of doings it job is assured - but that is ok because that is the world unfolding as it should in a Wildrose Alberta.

The next government can deal with social fabric breakdown fallout, the environmental and climate change disasters we are developing today through a wanton and reckless focus on only economic policy. To them it is as if that is somehow acceptable for the current narcissist generation to ignore and avoid any social or environmental responsibility to future generations.

We still don't know who funded and is hidden behind the scenes and influencing the new Wildrose leader. She has refused to disclose her funders and the reason is "because they fear reprisals" from the government. That is not good enough.

Lots to look at and much more attention needs to be directed towards the Wildrose Alliance Party by all Albertans. We need to see if they are an alternative to be trusted and worthy of our consent to govern us. And by “us” I mean all Albertans from all over the province - not just the beautiful and bountiful Albertans in the Calgary elites and the disgruntled old-school former Reformers they are currently courting.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Green Oil Author Satya Das Drops the Gauntlet

Here is a link to an interview Satya Das did with the Toronto Star that ran last Saturday in their business section. It is a strong statement that says Albertans need to start acting like owners of their resources and demanding better public policies from their government and more accountability and revenues from the energy industry.


That means the citizens of the province need to take back some political control and make demands of the political class to better represent the public interest and not just the interests of the resource industry - the tenants! The Premier promised to make some changes coming out of the 77% party support at the PC AGM last week end. Here is another area that needs some serious policy changes by the Premier - especially in royalty revenues and reclamation responsibilities.

The royalty rates for energy resources are ridiculously low compared to all other energy jurisdictions. Alberta is using non-renewable resource revenues as substitute for a responsible rate of taxation that would fund a pay-as-you go approach to the public interest. What we do now is mortgage the future of our children with social and environmental problems and precious little long term value added benefits from the oilsands in particular.

The Lougheed legacy of saving a significant portion of the resource revenues in the Heritage Trust Fund has been dishonoured for too long. It is time to take the money from royalties off the policy and political table. We should make a stretch goal to save 80% of those revenues in the Heritage Fund as our legacy to future generations. Then we need to tax ourselves at the level needed to pay for the necessary operational needs of the province that we decide are in the public interest. This is instead of the current model of constantly subsidizing the energy industry and beggaring everybody else.

The long term benefits of the Alberta energy resources are being squandered by poor planning, lax royalty collection and revenue policies that favour short term industrial growth and ignoring longer term potential benefits and turning a blind eye to the ecological and social costs of unrestrained growth.

Time to wake up Alberta. Time to dust off your citizenship and start paying attention to what is going on. Time to take on the responsibility of citizenship again. Time to get informed and involved in the politics of this province in a positive way. Indifference is a luxury Albertans can't afford any more. The world is run by those who show up.

Learn more about Satya's ideas for the future of Alberta in his book Green Oil

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Toronto Star Covers Sayta Das' Green Oil

TORONTO STAR Business Section gives GREEN OIL, the new book by SATYA DAS, some great coverage.

GREEN OIL on the EDMONTON JOURNAL Best Seller List fourth week in a row.  Thanks for the support Edmonton.  On Line sales at http://www.greenoilbook.com/ are growing too. 

Had the chance to introduce speakers and participate in the World Wildlife Fund "Ice and Oil" presentations by Andrew Nikiforuk and Ed Struzik in Edmonton and Calgary last week too.  Lots of people showed up and there were lots of questions.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Is Alberta About to Enter an Empire of Illusion Stage Politically?

The speculation about the PC AGM party leadership review this Saturday is just another act in the on-going political power drama in Alberta these days. The flu fiasco is a much more critical concern for the population and the politics of the province.

That does not mean these matters are not related. They are just two issues on the minds of Albertans, including the economy, the environment and our democracy. Everything is attached to everything else in our complex inter-related and interdependent world these days.

PC Leadership Review:
It is hard to imagine that PC Leader Stelmach will not get at least 80% support from the party faithful this weekend. I say the party faithful because even if you are unhappy with the job the party leader is doing, he is still Premier of Alberta. And the primary purpose of a political party is to stay in power. Why would any of the delegates take the risk of opening up a bitter leadership fight? Better to get the leader to change than change the leader.

The PC Party is not the Same as Alberta:
The thinking members of the PC party appreciate that the people of Alberta are very unhappy with the Stelmach government. The new Environics poll in the CanWest papers today proves that in spades. The horserace part of media coverage is always the main focus. But it rarely reveals the real story.

So the Wildrose is #2 and closing in on Calgary. That’s not news. At best it is old news since the Calgary Glenmore by election. What does a Wildrose Alliance far right reactionary party holding the #2 spot mean for politics in Alberta? Is that the alternative most Albertans want? If not, then what? Where does all this leave the Liberals and NDs? That is the deeper news story.

Other Interesting Poll Results:
The poll raises some interesting concerns. Like why was there a 2 week data collection period? Very strange when one considers the impact of the emerging H1N1 story. It also makes you wonder how many calls were made to get 1000 Albertans to answer the poll. Some estimates say as many a 20 calls have to be placed before someone will answer a pollster. Makes you wonder about the true randomness doesn’t it? We don’t know much about the participants either but we presume they are properly demographically distributed not just geographically.

There are more interesting results in this poll than just the top line. Top issue for me is that the PC approval rating is at 36% - a 16 year low. With 54% of Albertans saying they disapprove of the government's performance. There is not much equivocation in opinions about the quality of our governance and leadership. I remember back in the day Don Getty had a personal approval rating of 17% - just before he retired. What is Premier Stelmach’s personal approval rating? We are not told. Hope it comes out in follow up stories. Please tell me that this question was asked.

The other interesting findings are the province wide 16% of undecided Albertans. That is as big as the Wildrose Alliance support in Edmonton. The tale of two cities is another interesting story. Calgary is used to having power, access and getting its way in the province, a holdover attitude from the Klein years. They continue to send a message of displeasure by parking support with the Wildrose Alliance. But do they truly believe in the WAP or just want to send a message the Premier. Or is this all about having a Calgarian in power, regardless of party? Too early to tell but that is an interesting unanswered question.

Edmonton is a much more interesting place politically these days with the PCs (34%) and Liberals (27%) statistically tied within the margin of error. The WAP is a distant 3rd and the NDP has their strongest showing in Edmonton at 13%. Are there are at least three solitudes emerging in Alberta these days? It sure looks like it. I think south, central and northern rural Alberta has some considerable differences too but the poll samples are too small to show them.

Another curious result is the Green support at 8% in the big cities and 9% in the rest of Alberta. That party does not even exist anymore but still can garner that kind of support. The Greens are equal to NDP in Calgary and beat them in the rest of Alberta. Ouch.

The Politics of the Poll:
The PC Party and the Premier’s office will see the timing of this CanWest sponsored poll coming out just before the leadership review on Saturday, as mischievous at best. Not that such manipulative and mischievous media messaging ever emanates from government. Remember the phony beach ads and the $25 million taxpayer paid slick ad campaign of the government to respond to dirty oil and the ugly Albertan? Whatever happened to that campaign?

This tradition of political and governance mis-messaging is exactly what will happen in coming weeks if the PC party leader gets over 80% support in the review process. The official line will be to ignore these poll results. They will say: Hey, we won the PC leadership when we were not supposed to. We won the election when we were not supposed to - and we got a larger majority too. Now we have the overwhelming endorsement of the party. There is a recession going on so what is the problem? The conclusion will be that there isn’t a problem. Things are just fine. The message will be that leader’s hand is on the rudder, the direction is clear and the government is on the right path. Steady as she goes and there is no need to change a thing. With that level of support they will promise to “stay the course.”

That attitude will likely be confirmation of an accelerated end of dominance of the Alberta PC political brand. Will it result in the demise of the dynasty that was created and nurtured by Peter Lougheed over 40 years ago?

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.”

That is a James Baldwin quote from “Empire of Illusion – the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” by Pulitzer Prize Winner Chris Hedges.

Time will tell but will the clock be ticking for Premier Stelmach starting Saturday?