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Monday, March 30, 2009

Alberta's $2B Carbon Capture and Storage Project Receives Proposals

March 31, 2009 is the final day for Alberta companies to file details plans on what they would do to reduce CO2 emission if they were funded as part of the $2B Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) program of the Stelmach government.

This $B is an impressive financial commitment by 3.3 million Albertans into CCS technology. This is particularly impressive when you consider the U.S. was only investing $B and China was in for $6B for CCS technology and they are significantly bigger players than little ol' Alberta. Alberta is obviously serious about capturing and storing CO2 and this investment is a strong signal about the level of engagement from the province.

The CCS program was the only budget item that was NOT under reconsideration in the Alberta government's revisit of its budget with the economic meltdown that hit the world in September 2008. There was considerable private sector interest in the opportunity with over 50 initial indications of Expressions of Interest in the project. Over 20 proposals made it through the initial evaluation process and they were invited to submit details project plans by March 31, 2009.

Indications are that all 20+ proposals will make details submissions which will be evaluated by a committee of Deputy Ministers to whittle them down to between 3 to 5 accepted projects. What happens then is the proponents must actually develop and deliver on their proposals at their own expense. Once the projects are up and running and proven to reduce the CO2 as promised, only then will they get reimbursed from the $2B fund.

The Group of 20+ Proponents has been made public and I know of a number of project proponents and they are all proceeding very diligently on preparing their details submissions. That can only auger well for them, Alberta and our government’s efforts to reduce GHGs and deliver on it Climate Change policy. I hope there is a release of the Group of 20 who actually submit detailed project plans and a brief description of what they intent to do and how much they will reduce CO2 emissions.

This is all good news but there are some who are very suspicious about the effectiveness of CCS and say it is unproven technology. It is technology in progress for sure but it is far from unproven as the Weyburn CCS project has proven over the past number of years.

There is one persistent matter of confusion around the intent and outcomes of Alberta’s CCS efforts. The CCS project has been positioned as a solution to the CO2 emissions from the oil sands. It is not but that messaging still persists from some politicians and some government officials. The open pit mining of oil sands CO2 emissions will not be easily captured given the nature of the open pit mining process. However that process represents about 20% of overall oil sand development over time. Some 80% of total oil sands exploitation and almost all of future development with be using a drilling techniques, not open pit mining,

Drilling for oil sands is the future of the resource and most of the CO2 can be captured in those processes. The bitumen upgrading process also emits CO2 that and that can be captured too. That is all significant but the real payoffs for the Alberta CCS project will come from the reduced emissions from coal-fed electricity generation. Alberta uses a lot of coal to produce electricity and needs a great deal more electricity to keep pace with growth demands.

At a recent dinner meeting I had with the Premier I asked him about where the CO2 emission benefits would come from with the CCS project investment. He was quick to point out some benefits would be from oil sands development now and much more in the future. He noted the big payoff would be in coal based power generation.

The Premier had the facts right and the message clear but the impression left in the public and the media is Alberta is investing $2B in CO2 emission reductions from the oil sands. That mistake in messaging is going to cause more heat than light and increased mistrust over the intentions and actions of the GOA on delivering responsible oil sands development. We have had too much of that already so I hope the Premier and Ministers make it clear and transparent what the $2B CCS project is intending to do. I hope the clarity and transparency starts this week with some information on the 20+ project proposals that are applying for consideration for a share of the $2B of Alberta taxpayer money to reduce the Alberta carbon footprint.

As an Albertan I want to be proud of how we are developing the oil sands resources in a responsible and sustainable manner. I look forward to being proud of how we respond to CO2 emission reductions, still sustain growth and create green jobs in the process. $2B of investment in CCS is a great start.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Does Calgary West Harken to Harper's Downfall?

March 30 UPDATE: Just spoke with Randy Dawson and contrary to prior information, he confirms that he is not involved in any way or with any candidate in the Federal Conservative Calgary West nomination process. He says he only gets involved in his own constituency and that is not Calgary West. I have revised this blog post to reflect that reality.


The recent results of the Conservative Party AGM in Calgary West are very interesting. With 27 of 30 new board members supporting challenger Donna Kennedy Glans, this means incumbent MP Rob Anders is in serious trouble in Calgary West.

That is fascinating example of constituency politics but the implications go much deeper, right into Harper’s hope for continuing party leadership and potential to stay as Prime Minister. But more on that in a minute.

In an attempt to protect incumbents the Harper Party recently imposed new rules that required a 2/3 vote of constituency members to call for a nomination contest. That means most ridings will preserve the status quo for the protected incumbents – and representative democracy continues to erode. But not so in Calgary West! The new board election resulted in the ousting Ander’s loyalists and that pretty much guarantees that the incumbent Anders will face a nomination race.

So presuming a nomination battle in Calgary West, what might happen? Looks at first glance like a race between Anders and Donna Kennedy Glans.

Anders is the choice of the rabid old-guard Reformers and has tried to frame Glans as a Liberal in his phony fending off of her challenge. So with all this positioning of the players, let’s play political scenario!

Anders is a formidable campaigner and the new rules favour the incumbent. Glans’ takeover of the Calgary West constituency board shows she too is a formidable campaigner. More to the point she has proven that she can attract new people to the party who will also show up to vote for a change.

The other dynamic at play is the disenchantment of the Reform base with Harper’s abandoning of their political principles for his own purposes, namely personal political power. Harper’s Liberal-like pandering to Quebec with money and federal largess was the very stuff that started the Reform Party in the first place – and it did not work in the last election. Now the Harper stimulus policy is again way too Liberal-like for the hard-core Reformer/Alliance conservatives. They, after all, are the ones who actually brought Harper to the dance in the first place.

This has plenty of implications for Harper’s survival as the conservative leader but what does it have to do with Ander’s candidacy! Potentially plenty! I don’t know if the rabid Reform base stayed home from the Calgary West AGM or if they were complacent. Perhaps they just did not see Glans coming, along with 600 other party folk, who were mostly intent on electing a new board. Both ways, they obviously did not show up in sufficient numbers to support Anders. The end result is that the Anders Reformers have lost control of the Calgary West constituency. Now what!

Will the rabid Reformers decide to stay home on the inevitable vote for a Calgary West nomination meeting? And will the nomination itself throw Anders under the bus as a way to send an early warning sign to Stephen Harper? Or will they “catch on” to the consequences of passivity and return to kill a nomination vote and thereby ensure that Anders survives as a symbol they still support the Harper leadership? I’m seeing the former reaction as more likely from old Reformers who have become more disenchanted with Harper’s leadership.

So where will the Calgary west battle lines be drawn? Will it be between the Reform/Alliance Anders types versus the Progressive Conservatives? Could it be between Anders’ Reformers and the Kennedy Glans Progressive Conservatives as it seems at present? What if another candidate enters the nomination process from Progressive Conbservative or the Reform side of the Federal Conservative Party? What if the Reformers stay home and the battle is between two Progressive Conservative candidates? What will that say about Harper’s presumptive Alberta stronghold and his political stranglehold in Calgary?

Remember in the last provincial election, Morton Reformers and Dinning Progressive Conservatives saw both of them rejected and Stelmach win the PC Party leadership. Calgary then saw Stelmach win a decisive election victory, much to their amazement. What’s more there were five Liberals elected in Calgary – and only three from Redmonton - in the last provincial election. The Calgary political climate seems to be changing, maybe not as dramatically as the planet's climate is changing but who knows.

I think the Calgary West Conservative Party AGM results have to be seen as some serious writing on the wall for Harper and his leadership. It is going to be a bell weather constituency for Harper’s future, even before the election, and especially if it chooses to have a nomination meeting in the near future.

Harper has ignored his base and they know it and they are not amused. He has also taken Alberta for granted for much too long. His best times are behind him and his style of leadership and his penchant for political tactics over good governing are “talents” that are no longer valued by the voters. His bullying and misleading instead of leading has worn thin. It is becoming more and more obvious that Harper is not what Canada needs, especially as we face enormous and mounting economic, environmental and social challenges all over the county.

It will take some time for Harper to exit, but by the time the next election rolls around, I think Canadians will just want to butter Harper because he is toast - and stale toast at that.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Is Alberta's Not-For-Profit Voluntary Sector Doomed?

The not-for-profit (NFP) voluntary sector in Alberta faced some challenging and changing financial times in 2008 but nothing like they are likely to face in 2009.

NOT-FOR-PROFITS REVENUES DOWN BUT DEMANDS ARE UP:
A recent survey comparing 2007 and 2008 NFP revenue sources and program demands has some interesting and disturbing trends, especially if we project into the emerging recession reality of 2009.

In 2008 51% of the sector sustained the same level of donor support but that is definitely not the 2009 expectation. Calgary and Edmonton have the highest expectations of support retraction and are likely to face the largest growth in social service demands in this recession.

There is a lower expectation of government contracts, a major source of some service agency revenues. These are likely to be reduced as the province deals with its own declining revenues from resources and taxes. That means the NFP sector will seriously suffer further decline as this semi-substitute for core funding dries up for many of them.

The NFP community based voluntary sector is responding with 57% of them hoping for new funding sources in 2009 – Good luck! Others (53%) think they can squeeze the nickel even more to meet the continuing and growing shortfalls – Good luck! In the 30% range is a group of agencies who hope to use a combination of reduced staffing, program or shared services to cover the gap. Doing even more with less in an already seriously stretched sector is potentially dangerous. This is particularly true for those social service agencies who are under staffed and dealing with vulnerable clients like kids-at-risk, seniors and the disabled. People are going to suffer and get hurt.

How is it possible to meet increasing demands with declining resources? The impact of the recession shows that the NFP social services sector believes that demands for its services will increase over 70% in 2009. Estimates show that health service demands on the sector are going to be up over 50% so how does staffing stretching and program cuts make any sense? This is a recipe for disaster and burnout in this vital social services sector.


If government was smart and strategic they would realize this NFP community based voluntary service sector is the best and most effective program provider. It is also a prime source for fiscal leverage to meet most of the local social pressures being caused by the recession. They should be adding fiscal and other resources into these NFP community-based volunteer supported local agencies in times of recession. That is the best way to ensure local needs have responsive and reliable program design and competent agencies with the capacity to meet the increased local demands.

VOLUNTEERS ARE ADAPTABLE & ACCOUNTABLE BUT NEED FUNDING AND FLEXIBILITY:
There is a catch to achieving this that goes beyond more money. Volunteers are not easily controllable, particularly from the top down. The sector is prone to caring, resourcefulness, innovation and adaptability, especially if they are encouraged and enabled. To be most effective this sector must be freed up to use those strengths, wisdom and professional talents to the best of their abilities. They ought not be burdened with fiscal fears, administrivia and even intimidation as happens in some cases these days.


Unfortunately we see an emerging governing philosophy that is increasingly driven by dollar tracking accountability measures and a hardening of the auditors approach. A focus on effective outcomes for people needing services gets lost in this kind of narrow accountability culture.

We have evolved from the days of debt and deficit slaying into a fiscal accountability model that seeks to know how to track the cost of everything. In the process the system tends to ignore the real value and any meaningful evaluation of program service outcomes for citizens. Those in need also become victims in this new narrow accountability culture.

The community based social services sector has proven that it can deliver good results. They do not always fit nicely into prescribed and pro forma program accountability models that are designed mostly to make auditors happy but not necessarily serve the clients or the community. We need a balance but I fear we are not headed in that direction and the policy pendulum is swinging and shifting...perhaps too far.

To make matters worse, the individual agency volunteers, those folks with the heart, energy and courage to deal directly with addressing local social issues and pressures are facing burnout, policy backtracking and the harmful effects of funding shortfalls. My speculation is that the pending GOA budget constraints are going to cause the dismantling of many of the community based volunteer agencies as they just give up and close their doors. Those that survive will see fundamental changes in their roles and relationships with government and with clients.


I am speculating but I would not be surprised to see a new GOA fiscal, command and control approach, institutionalized within government, thereby causing the demise or forced amalgamation of a bunch of NFP volunteer community-based service provider agencies. That may not be a totally bad thing so long as we do not lessen the overall capacity of locally based not-for-profits to serve their communities needs effectively.

GOVERNMENT APPOINTED BOARDS ARE CHANGING TOO:
I suggest we may even see big changes and the possible dismantling of some of the government appointed Agencies, Boards and Commissions (AB&Cs). Because some of them are no longer needed while others are ineffective and should just go. My concern is, as a consequence of some shortcomings in some AB&Cs, especially in the social services sector, that may hasten the end of many community-based volunteer supported NFP service provider agencies. If this happens it will be politically justified in the name of fiscal efficiency and auditor-type accountability demands. Such justifications will discount any necessity for improved program performance, service delivery systems and enhanced client outcomes due to the recession.

For example, remember the Calgary Health Authority governing board? It was consistently out of control, over budget and demanding perpetual bail outs from the province. Instead of just changing the Calgary Health Authority the GOA dumped and disbanded all of the local health authorities across the entire province and put in a single Super Board to run things.


I personally think that is a good precedent to follow in terms of some other regional governing board structures like those in Children’s Services and Person With Developmental Disabilities. This is because they, like the old health authorities, have delegated authority, power and influence, but they seem to be more of a buffer that protects the government from the realities of the rabble rather than being locally astute and effective policy advisers to Ministers and departments.

There has been a thorough and independent review of Alberta's system of governance covering all of the appointed AB&Cs. There are changes coming in their governance structures as well with a new Bill 32 that has been recently tabled in the Alberta legislature. Since these AB&Cs spend about half of the annual provincial budget and there is a need to cut costs, I expect their will also be fiscal changes imposed on the AB&Cs in April 7th Budget too. I anticipate the coming provincial budget will also require more policy alignment of the AB&Cs with more fiscal and program delivery transparency, accountability too. All worthy endeavours for fiscal efficiency but that should not trump program and policy effectiveness. We need both.

I also expect there will be more fiscal pressures put on the NFP community-based voluntary sector for the same reasons. There will be pressures for agency consolidation and even elimination in some cases. There are about 19,000 registered NFP groups in Alberta engaged in a wide range of activities. In the end, I'm betting there will be fewer of these community-based volunteer not for-profit groups in the province by the end of 2009.

The end result will also see more centralized funding approvals with more program design and delivery decisions being made in the provincial bureaucracy level. Those functions will likely be brought back into the direct control of provincial government departments and become even more rigid and rule bound than before. This will be politically justified as part of the journey towards more fiscal prudence and accountability for taxpayer dollars. My guess is many social program outcomes and effectiveness will suffer along with the vulnerable Albertans who depend on those services.

MLAs WILL BE LOBBYISTS FOR FUNDING LOCAL NEEDS:
These changes will put the local MLAs in the direct line of fire. They will be expected to personally get the government support needed and to get things done in their local constituencies and communities. They will have too know much more, and in more detail, about the local social needs, trends, implications and consequences as the recession impacts grow and deepen. They will have to be more activist, engaged and representative of their constituencies to the government and not from the government.

MLAs will have to become the overt and activist champions within the government to get the provincial resources needed to address the local social needs of their constituencies. Bottom line, political success will be measured in how well MLAs deliver the government resources needed to resolve the various concerns of their constituents. The competition amongst MLAs for limited and declining provincial resources will be fierce. I'm betting that caucus and committee meetings will be more volatile and differences will be more personal amongst politicians.

THE LOBBYIST ACT WILL ENABLE MORE CITIZEN ACTIVISM
The Lobbyist Act is scheduled to be finally proclaimed in November and the regulations are to come into effect then too. It will set the rules of the game for the NFP voluntary sector to pressure their MLAs to better understand, deliver and to satisfy local needs. I think the Lobbyist Act will not inoculate the local MLA and Ministers from feeling some profound political and public policy pressures coming from local citizens and community interests groups. I think The Lobbyist Act will actually enable and embolden more local citizens and groups to be more aware, engaged, aggressive and politically overt in lobbying techniques to achieve the desired ends of their communities.

If my speculations are right, we can only hope any new centralized public policy decisions review processes will be based on sound principles and not just by politics-as-usual depending on what "big wheel" has the most squeak, influence and access to power.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Part 3: Ken discusses the 10 year provincial plan to end homelessness

Part 3 - the Final Part of the CBC Radio March 16 Wildrose Openline session on Alberta's Homelessness Strategy.

Part 2: Ken discusses the 10 year provincial plan to end homelessness

Here is Part 2 of the CBC Radio One Wildrose Openline sesson on the Alberta Homelessness Strategy done on March 16

Part 1: Ken discusses the 10 year provincial plan to end homelessness

There are three parts to this CBC open line and interview on the recent Government of Alberta Homelessness Strategy. All three parts are at YouTube if you search Cambridge Strategies. I will post all three parts on the blog too

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

World Events are Like a Dope Opera.

I am fascinated by a whole lot of individual stories floating around these days.

OBAMA IS AFTER THE BASTARDS OF THE UNIVERSE:
Obama will do whatever he can to frustrate the AIG bonuses. Good. How can it be sound corporate governance when you need $170B bailout and still thing the senior management in place was entitled to bonuses for good performance. Glad to see the NY AG is looking into this scam using a fraud lens. I am interested in the findings and applaud the initiative. Someone hast to rein in these Bastards of the Universe.


DOES MINISTER KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SCIENCE AND A SEANCE?
Harper’s Science Minister Gary Goodyear is being coy about his religious beliefs regarding evolution versus creationism. The natural vacuum he leaves with comments like “I’m not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don’t think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate.” The question was not actually about his religion. It was about science and if he believed in evolution. To default to presume that this is about his religion and his bvelief in creationism provides us with the answer he tried to refuse to give. BTW, studies show 28% of Americans still believe the Sun revolves around Earth. What say you Minister Goodyear?

CRAMER CRASHES AND GET BURNED!
Mad Money Fiscal Infomercial Man - Cramer seems to have disappeared from the chat circuit ever since Jon Stewart eviscerated him on the Daily Show. CNBC says “In Cramer We Trust.” Must be very lonely for the CNBC promo people these days!

CONSERVATIVE PARTY INSTITUTES INCUMBENT PROTECTION PROGRAM:
The Globe and Mail Editorial today takes on the Conservative Party on its Incumbent Candidate Protection Program. Democracy suffers when control comes from the top like this and citizens are excluded even more from politics and policy issues Political parties in Canada have too much power and,as private clubs, they lack sufficient public accountability. They need fixing. The Liberals are not the only political party that is "broke." (sic)

OUR BANKS ARE BETTER - THE HAVE CASH & OPT TO REFUSE HARPER'S BAILOUT POLICY
I want to end with some good news. Canadians are “...becoming our grandparents: we’re starting to think in terms of savings” according to CBIC World Markets. The upside is the Canadian banking system has lots of cash and are relatively solvent. Savings are to the point the banks are refusing the Harper government’s offer from last October to buy up some risky mortgages with taxpayer money. “We actually don’t need a lot of funding right now” says a senior Big Five banker. All of the Canadian banks are pretty flush right now with cash.” Was Bush right when he said "Go Shopping" after 9/11? Is it time to borrow and start buying again Canada?

There is lots happening in the world. Most of it is either sad, scary or absurd. I wonder what George Carlin would be saying about the current state of these notions if he were still with us.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Conservative Party Pushes to Protect Incumbent Candidates

Representative democracy in Canada was recently dealt another blow as political parties move to protect incumbent MPs from facing contested constituency nominations. The Hill Times is reporting on the details of recent decisions of the Conservative and Liberals parties to make nomination challenges against incumbents more difficult to mount.


The Conservative barrier is significantly more onerous in that an incumbent candidate will only face a nomination challenge if 2/3 of the local constituency membership petition the National Party office for a nomination. The reality is any challenger has to win two times to be successful. First they need a large majority of the current members to ask for a nomination and, if 2/3 of them agree, the challenger then has to win the actual nomination.


Perhaps in reality if a constituency membership is upset enough with their candidate that 2/3 ask for a nomination process, they may see the writing on the wall and demur. Or, given the combative nature of politics, it may cause the opposite reaction and result in some serious dirty and deceitful politics to rule the day.


This is a disaster for the 90%+ of Canadians who do not belong to political parties and only actively engage in the political process at election time. There is already a strong resistance amongst Canadians to join political parties so the candidate selection game is already rigged in favour of those of us how belong to political parties. With this change in the Conservative Party nomination process, the nomination process becomes an even greater rigged auction. The "reserve price" on a nomination is set so high that nobody will or can pay it. So the status quo prevails.


The other natural consequence of such a rigged system of candidate selection is we protect mediocrity as well as merit. The top down central office control of the incumbents and the nomination apparatus puts even more power in the party executive, the leader and his inner circle of advisers.


The Liberals have used a carrot to protect incumbents. To stay "protected" in their nomination, they have to prove to the party headquarters that they have until June to recruit 400 members in their riding associations and at least 40 "Victory Fund" donors who donate $10 or more on a monthly basis, $5 to the party headquarters, and the other $5 to the riding association.


The Liberals need money and manpower to run an election and that is clearly what is behind this move to jack up the performance requirements of incumbent candidates. It will be interesting to see what happens to those candidates who fail to achieve this goal. Will they see the party headquarters actively recruit alternate candidates to run against them? I doubt it will be the norm but I full expect it will happen. Liberal candidates who go through the motions at election time who still believe they represent "the natural governing party of Canada" will be in for a rude awakening.


The NDP have no such protections for incuments. Each and every candidate must earn the support of the local constituency membership for each and every election...just as it ought to be.


What this all means for the Canadian voter is not good. We have not attracted our best and brightest into public life for quite some time. The Conservative move will embed the incumbents and demoralize potential challengers. Politicians for life will the net result in the Conservative ranks, especially in Alberta seats where the Conservatives have a vice grip like hold on seats.


What are we to do about this? Well there is not much we can do. Political parties are private "clubs" that are ostensibly controlled by the membership. Without a party membership ordinary citizens are shut out of this vital part of the overall political process. We only get to chose between party candidates at election time.


With only 40% of eligible voters bothering to participate by at least showing up to vote this move by the Conservative Party only serves to further disillusion citizens and alienate them from their so-called democracy.


There is a crying need for serious governing and democratic reform in all orders of government in all corners of Canada.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable « Clay Shirky

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable « Clay Shirky
You think I write long blog pieces...Meet Clay Shirky. This is a must read for anyone thinking and worrign about the changing media reality.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Blackberry Boys Obey the Rules but Are the Rules Realistic?

I remember when Ed Stelmach was one of the “Deep Six” group of rookie backbencher MLAs. They sat in the nose-bleed seats way in the back. They wore pink bow ties and were prepared to be contrarian. When truth had to be brought to power they delivered it - often very effectively.

Now we have a new group "The Digital Six." These are, the thoroughly modern and contrarian MLAs I like to call The Blackberry-Boys. These are the MLAs who were caught “Twittering” in Question Period and have been reprimanded by the Speaker. There are rules and they must be to be honoured, and the Speaker is clear he will enforce them. The Blackberry Boys have said they will abide – as they should. Otherwise the Speaker will come down hard and they will find themselves out on their ears and become the “New Kids in the Hall.”

The Speaker is right to enforce the rules. It is his duty. The question is should there be such rules against using PDAs in the Legislature Chamber? Is that reasonable in the age of digital democracy? I don’t think so. Tradition versus technology is the dynamic at play here. The rules banning Blackberry communications in QP or even the debates and in Committee is something that must be changed.

We have had Hansard for eons and we have had live television coverage of QP for decades. There is even on-line streaming of QP these days so you can catch it on your computer from anywhere in the world that has a browser. That streaming service has been extended to include audio and video coverage of Committee meetings. These are all progressive steps to be applauded and were achieved under the leadership of the current Speaker. Hard to peg him as a Luddite. He is not.

That said, what is the principle and purpose of banning digital communications from the Legislature to the outside world by MLAs? It is because of the decorum of Question Period? Well the tradition of parliamentary government in QP is hardly one where manners prevail. It is a tradition rife with heckling, hectoring, haranguing and humiliation. That history hardly justifies a ban. School teachers have been loathed to bring classes to see QP because of the bad example these “adults” provided to students in their QP shenanigans.

Is it because MLAs are perceived as not paying proper attention while Twittering or text messaging? With the extensive staging and scripting of QP and the focus on Ministers what is there that demands such attentiveness? Is anyone actually sitting in the Legislature in QP not already knowing what the focus and outcome of this farce in three acts is going to be about? Who needs to pay that kind of attention with you already know the plot, the characters and their lines and the outcome of the “drama”?

I think the Backbenchers time is better spent reaching out to the world and putting the proceedings in some meaningful context for the rabble also known as citizens. This better use of their time instead of feigning interest in the proceedings for the benefit of the TV cameras.

The larger question is what is the actual value of Question Period anymore anyway? As I said, it is highly scripted political theatre designed to garner positive or negative headlines. It is not a way to get accountable, open and transparent governance. The Opposition’s questions are rarely answered to the point where the running gag saying “It is called Question Period not Answer Period” is more true than funny.

Then we have the self-serving puffball questions that are read by government Backbenchers to government Ministers, many of whom merely answer by reading directly from prepared scripts. The purpose of this tactic is to get the government version of the “story “on the public record and hopefully garner some positive media coverage. But it is not credible to the media so it does not work. Puffballs have the side benefit of giving Backbenchers some Hansard excerpts to send to constituents to show they are on the job. This is all so passé and such a futile exercise in message control. It merely adds to citizen cynicism about the overall effectiveness of our representative democracy.

There is a new web-based world out there and it is changing everything, including democracy and governing. I am thinking the Alberta Speaker’s enforcement of the old-world rules is doing the focus on this issue of digital real-time communications and the ubiquitous connectivity capacity of politicians a real favour. He is precipitating a public discussion about what accountable, open, responsible and effective representative government can actually be in the digital age.

There is so much positive potential in all of this in so many ways and at so many levels. Technology induced change is not new but it is always disruptive so let the debate begin.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ken Chapman on CBC Wildrose (Mar. 11. 2009)

Texting and Twittering Tempest in a teapot. MLAs have Blackberrys - OMG - what will they think of next?

T Mobile Advert 2009 Full Version HQ

Sure this is an advert from England...but suspend your cynicism for a few minutes and get into the spirit of the thing....BUT FIRST DO NOT WATCH THIS VIDEO UNTIL YOU SEE THE EARLIER POST.

Making of T-Mobile Dance

This is the best metaphor I have come across for how real politics for real people being really human ought to be like....next post is what they did. H/T to Paul T

Barry Schwartz: The real crisis? We stopped being wise

Here is 20 minutes of video that is worth your time. Virtue as an old fashioned word. I think it is worth watching in the context of what we might consider from our political representatives.

I think Alberta MLAs who are Twittering in Question Period may be an example of personal virtue and not a slight to tradition or decorum.

Instead of being/feigning "attendance" for a partisan show of symbolic solidarity they may be actually communicating with real human beings as citizens and about what is happening in the legislative process that may impact them. Wouldn't that be refreshing. It is not easy to control the scripted political message in this new world order. What kind ot treason whoul happen if our are elected representatives who can, on their own, see beyond the rules and how they can get in the way and choose to exercise personal wisdom and judgement.

Politicians are there to serve other people not just the party or the caucus or the leader without exercising personal wisdom on behalf of US.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Linking the Internet and the SuperNet Will Reshape Rural Alberta

The wonderful world of technology to evolving and revolving – all at the same time and changing the way we live and work and relax!

Marshall McLuhan said “We shape our tools and then they shape us.” The way the tool of the Internet is shaping us is absolutely fascinating and I’m thinking absolutely profound in technical terms but also in socio-cultural terms.

In social terms we have newspapers are struggling to find a sustainable business model in the face of growing internet competition as a news and information source. Television no longer has the dominant grasp of our eyeballs because we are using more on-line viewing of programs. We now have a box of technology that will provide free internet based television that will be challenge the viability of the subscriber based cable companies. The box has the support of the major program producers to boot.

iTunes with MP3 players like iPods has found a successful business model to make money from music and are now the largest vendors of music on the planet. The e-book is an emerging challenge to traditional book publishing and the new Kindle reader from Amazon may be the tech breakthrough needed to make this finally happen.

The social media explosion of Facebook, Twitter and other such sites, where people “meet” and make sense of their world, has happened. It represents a fundamental culture shift that has happened around the globe and virtually (sic) overnight. The move from text based e-mail applications to social media methods and beyond that include YouTube video being uploaded at the rate of about 10,000 a day shows how the internet has changed the cultural context of the web.

One of the next big economic enablers from the changing internet is going to be from the declining cost of videoconferencing equipment and the increasing ease of use. There is a technological breakthrough that dramatically reduces the bandwidth needs so it can now use telephone lines instead of cable or expensive fibre optics. This will be a ubiquitous and cost effective way to get anyone with an old-fashioned phone line into the front lines of internet capacity and connectivity.

Rural communities in Alberta are no longer isolated by time and distance and their sustained economic viability is now more about their imaginations than the traditional limitations. Remote First Nations are now into videoconferencing. Other communities are restructuring relationship internally and externally to lever the opportunities for enhanced internet links for SuperNet access. Others are getting grants andlooking at the feasibility of providing optical fibre connections direct to all homes and businesses in an entire community.

Still others are taking advantage of CRTC regulatory procedures to seek a requirement to enable use of existing land line telephone services. This access, if approved, will provide for competitive services for internet, VOIP and even high definition videoconferencing all over the province with no additional physical infrastructure requirements or other costs to taxpayers or users.


This copper wire connectivity will also enable Albertans to link at fibre quality to the SuperNet fibre optic network that is all over the province too. This old-fashioned copper wire connectivity will ironically make that $B investment in the SuperNet pays off through personal, community and business access for anyone in the province who wants to use it.

The internet is definitely a tool that we shaped and it is dramatically reshaping us - and there is every indication that it will continue to do so for some time to come. Fascinating times.

Friday, March 06, 2009

IDEAfest and the Power of One

There is a strange shift happening in the world these days. The power to influence, change and adapt is shifting. The move is from creaky institutions stuck in hierarchies working in a "pecking ordered" world, to wired individuals who are in a heteroarchy, conversing in a linked and networked world.

This is all happening primarily because of three major forces. First is the decline of relevance, trustworthiness and capacity of our old-style institutions in all realms from the political to communications, to religion to the societal influences.

Second is the power of the Internet and the increasing access to high speed and high capacity bandwidth give everyone access to new sense of community when, where and how they choose. Third is the advent and mindboggling adoption of the social media and the participation phenomenon ranging from Blogs, to Facebook to Twitter and YouTube, only to name a few.

In the old “pecking-order” reality what it took to make a difference was not what you knew but who you knew. In the new “networked reality” what it takes to make a difference has changed. Now it is about what do you know for sure and who knows you. The social media tools needed to engage in this wired-world are just a click away. Anyone who wants to engage, share, create, converse and even take action has opportunity and capacity. It is all about personal expression and choice, not permission or position.

For a perfect example of the “Power of One” to make a difference, generate interest and enable action in this new networked world just look at Michael Janz and his IDEAfest 2009 project. One guy with an idea, a network of friends and contacts with a Facebook account and his is pulling this event off.

IDEAfest runs this Saturday, March 7, 2009 from 10am-5pm at the UofA Tory Basement 95 and it is free. It is a mini TED that will be made up of self-selecting people with a passion and a purpose who will present their ideas to anyone who wants to show up, lisaten and perhaps participate.

The event format is loose so you just show up and you can go to any of 3 concurrent sessions of 30 minutes presented by a variety of people all through the day. The subjects are and intriguing and the presenters are interesting.

The closing comment on Michael’s Facebook link for IDEAfest 2009 sums up the spirit when he says “At the end of the day we will get together and order Pizza and Beer.” Sounds to me like the beginning of a beautiful set of relationships.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Ken on CBC Wildrose (Feb. 25, 2009)

The Alberta Image Problem comes from the embedded images of dirty oil. It is now an image that is set in the imagination of the peoples of the planet and the recent National Geographic feature is all the proof one needs.

What are we going to do about it? There are lots or good things around oul sands development to talk about and other events and activities that we need to apolozige for and get fixed but we need to get on with it in an authentic and authoritative way - not just media messaging and spin.

We have to get serious about the reality of our ensuring ourt foundational Albertan values are more aggressively and obviously aligned with our actions in oil sands development. Research shows Albertans want the oil sands to be developed the right way - responsibly - and not just rapidly.

Slick messaging and focus group tested slogans will do more harm than good and only serve to add to cynicism and skepticism and just undermine (sic) our reputation in the world.

Albertans want to be proud of what we are doing in the development of OUR oil sands. So far we have been mostly boastful about the size of the reserves and the enormity of investment levels. Albertans have not been given enough reasons to believe that we should be proud about how we - as owners - are responsibly and sustainably exploiting this vital resource.

Buffet Says He "Blew It" on Energy Sector Investment

Warren Buffet "admits mistake" when he bought ConocoPhillips oil stock at the price peak of $147 for Berkshire Hathaway, his investment company. He, like many other irrational exuberant investors did not fore see the dramatic fall in energy prices in the second half of 2008.

the move cost Berkshire Hathaway "several billion dollars" according to reports quoting Buffet. Berkshire Hathaway posted 2008 net earnings just shy of $5B - a 60% haircut from the $13B of a year earlier.

Based on the US financial sector performance last year Buffet is still looking relatively good.

If Warren Buffet can get caught up in this downward fiscal vortex that badly, what are we mere mortals expected to do?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

"Downstream" Film Showings in Alberta

The screenings of DOWNSTREAM a documentary on the health concerns downstream fomr the oil sands are happening in Ft. Chipewyan Friday March 6, two screenings in Edmonton Sunday March 8 and on Monday March 9th in Calgary.


Here is some of the promotional material for the film:


"DOWNSTREAMCanada, U.S.A., 2008, 33 minutes http://www.downstreamdoc.com/
At the heart of the multi-billion dollar tar sands industry in Northern Alberta, Dr. John O' Connor's career is jeopardized as he fights for the lives of the Aboriginal people living and dying of rare forms of cancer downstream from one of the largest oil operations in the world. Making the short-list for this year's Academy Award® Nominations for best short documentary, Downstream, provides an in-depth look at the impact oil sands extraction is taking on the surrounding communities."

"Witnessing unprecedented changes to their land, health and heritage, the people of Fort Chipewyan have struggled for years to have their concerns addressed by government and industry. Downstream has raised unparalleled awareness in Canada and the United States regarding the environmental, economic and social impacts of the tar sands on both sides of the border."

Here is the ticket information:

Sunday March 8th, 2pm and 4pm • Metro Cinema9829 101A Ave NW, Edmonton, AB T5J 0A1, CanadaAdvance Tickets in Edmonton available at 3 locations as of Monday, March 2nd. All tickets $10: Metro Cinema (office)6-32, Stanley Milner Library7 Sir Winston Churchill SquareEdmonton 780.425.9212metro@metrocinema.orgMetro Cinema Box Office Zeidler Hall, Main Floor Citadel Theatre9828-101 A Avenue, EdmontonTix on The Square9930-102 AvenueSir Winston Churchill SquareEdmonton 780.420.1757tix@tixonthesquare.ca



There will be panel discussions in each location but only after the 2 pm screening in Edmonton.


Leslie Iwerks Emmy® Award Winning Producer, Phil Alberstat, Family Physician, Dr. John O’Connor Professor of Ecology, University of Alberta, Dr. David SchindlerAlberta Liberal Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, Dr. David Swann Member of Parliament for Edmonton-Strathcona, Linda DuncanFormer Chief, Mikisew Cree First Nation, George PoitrasFormer Chief, Smith’s Landing Treaty 8 First Nation, Francois PauletteEcologist, Treeline Ecological Research, Dr. Kevin Timoney


CALGARYMonday, March 9th, 7pm and 9:30pm • Plaza Theater1133 Kensington Road NW, Calgary, AB T2N 3P4, Canada Advance Tickets in Calgary available at 2 locations as of Saturday, February 28. Adults: $9Students/Youth (13-17): $7Seniors/Kids (Up to 12): $5HERITAGE POSTERS:1505 11th Avenue SW, CalgaryTelephone: 403.802.1846Email: heritageposters@shawcable.comPLAZA THEATRE:1133 Kensington Rd NW, CalgaryTelephone: 403.283.2222Email: pete@theplaza.ca


A PANEL DISCUSSION WILL FOLLOW THE 7PM SCREENINGin Calgary PANELISTS WILL INCLUDE:Academy Award® and Emmy® Nominated Director, Leslie Iwerks Emmy® Award Winning Producer, Phil Alberstat Family Physician, Dr. John O’Connor Award Winning Investigative Journalist and Author of Tar Sands-Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, Andrew NikiforukAlberta Liberal Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the Alberta Legislature, Dr. David Swann Proceeds of ticket sales will benefit the people of Fort Chipewyan.

Harper Continues to Ignore Khadr Case

The Harper government (OUR GOVERNMENT FOR NOW) is still refusing to move on the Omar Khadr case. This is confirmed in Minister Cannon's recent meeting with Secretary of State Clinton.

Khadr is a child soldier and has been rotting in Gitmo for a third of his young life, thanks to Harper, Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney. He is not getting the benefit of the American system fo due process of law and he is being denied the legal protections that ought to be afforded every Canadian citizen by our government.

Globe and Mail has a piece just out on line that shows even those who were prosecuting in Gitmo can't take it any more. A link that is well worth a read.

Bring Omar home Mr. Prime Minister. I can't believe we still have to protest this kind of crap.