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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Is There a Wave of Change Coming to Alberta's Politics?

REBOOTALBERTA 2.0 GOES THIS WEEKEND FEB 26-28 IN KANANASKIS


The gathering of Alberta progressives called RebootAlberta2.0 is happening in Kananaskis this weekend. The instigators expect to draw over 120 progressive thinking Albertans together to talk about how they feel about Alberta and its future.

Reboot Alberta is an emerging citizen’s movement that is focusing on four theme streams of interest. Some Reboot progressives believe a new centrist political party has to be formed to respond to the dramatic shift to the right of Alberta’s political culture. Others are committed to changing the existing political parties and governing institutions from within to consider more progressive approaches to policy making. Still others want democratic and electoral reform in Alberta. Then there is a large group of Reboot people who are part of volunteer based, not-for-profit civil society organizations who want to look at changing the very nature of Alberta’s political culture.

The civil society people at Reboot want to move beyond old-fashioned adversarial decision models at makes marginal winners and disgruntled loser. The feel we need a more collaborative, networked, integrated and responsible decision making model for public policy.

Reboot2.0 is essentially about creating more citizen engagement. It will see all of these approaches used by participants to look at what can be done to enable and encourage citizens to be engaged in public policy design and development. The already engaged citizens of the civil society sector are going to be a strong basis to work with to start changing the Alberta political culture. All change starts with a thought and a conversation and Reboot2.0 will be all about people taking about what they are thinking about.

In a resent conjoint survey of 544 self identified Alberta progressives identified some major values they wanted law and policy makers to use when decisions are being made that affect people’s lives. The top five values progressive Albertans want to see used to drive and guide public policy are Integrity, Honest, Accountability, Transparency and Environmental Stewardship.

It is interesting that such fundamental values are top of mind for progressive Albertans. Is that because they are so fundamentally necessary for a strong democracy? Or is it because progressives feel they are missing from our democracy and governance that they need to be reaffirmed? Reboot2.0 people will no doubt spend some time to clarify that difference.

Another interesting finding from the Citizen’s Values Survey was the level of Influentials and Cultural Creatives who participated in the survey and in Reboot Alberta. Influentials are that group of people whose opinions are sought out and respected. They are trend spotters, trend setters and opinion leaders. Influentials are community activists and engaged citizens. They have large and active personal networks and help others decide many things, include who to vote for.

Influentials make up about 10% of the general population but 88% of those who answered the Reboot Citizen’s Value Survey were Influentials. These are people who can make a difference and set trends and a very large portion of the Reboot community is Influential.

The other interesting survey result was around the Cultural Creatives. These are the people who work and live in creative endeavours. They are not just artists, but include people architects, lawyers, writers, educators, media-types and anyone else who works with their imagination and design skills. They have been studied by Paul Ray since the mid 1990s when about 23% of the American population fit the description.  He wrote a very interesting book called The Cultural Creatives that I recommend you read.

Updated research found that this Culture Creative group has grown to about 43% of the American population. These are the people who create and thrive in the information, knowledge and cultural industries economy. The Reboot Alberta Citizen’s Values Survey found that 86% of participants met the criteria for Cultural Creatives.

There were 76% of the Reboot Alberta Citizen’s Values Survey participants who are both Influential and Cultural Creatives. Measuring their interests and levels of engagement saw that 87% of them wanted politics and government resources to have more emphasis on children’s education, well-being and on rebuilding neighborhoods and communities. Around 80% of them volunteer for one or more good causes and place a great deal of importance on developing and maintaining relationships.

So with this as a base and the growing concerns about the direction Alberta is heading economically, environmentally, socially and politically, Reboot Alberta is tapping into some fear, uncertainty and doubt progressives are expressing about the future of the Province. So far Reboot Alberta has been about conversations but, as one person said at the first Reboot Alberta gathering, “Conversations are game-changers.”

Time will tell but there is a sense that a wave of change is coming to Alberta politics. If that is the case the next vital question is what will that wave of change do to the political landscape of Alberta? Will it go far right and be like a little Republican Alberta? Or will the Influential, Cultural Creatives and Progressives be the leaders of the next and new Alberta? Yes, time will tell, but I sense it will be sooner than later that the change takes shape and shows what direction will prevail.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Does the Economist See the Wildrose Alliance For What it Is?

The Economist recently interviewed me about Reboot Alberta but we never made the cut when editors got ahold of the story. C'est la vie.  The Wildrose Alliance Party was the real reason this most respected sources of news and political information came to Alberta.  I managed to help explain the WAP to the Economist and put some of what they are and are not in perspecitve.

The story the got published is very interesting and a must read for every Albertan who is feaful for the future of our province if a fundamentalist conservative government were ever to get power over our lives. Here is the text of the Economist piece. Share this post with your networks, friends and families:

A Canadian conservative split




A wild rose blooms


A prairie echo of the tea party


Feb 18th 2010
EDMONTON
From The Economist print edition






WHEN the Progressive Conservatives won power in Alberta, Richard Nixon was still in the White House and Britain had only just abandoned shillings. Under various leaders, they have ruled continuously for almost four decades. Alberta, the home of oil, gas and cattle, has become the bedrock of Canadian conservatism. Yet now the Progressive Conservatives face a rebellion on the prairies—from the right, rather than the left.






Ed Stelmach, Alberta’s premier since 2006, won 72 of the 83 seats in the legislature at an election just two years ago. Now he is Canada’s least popular premier, with an approval rating in a recent poll of 14%. The recession has not helped. It has driven up unemployment in a province accustomed to the good life during a prolonged commodity boom, and caused Alberta’s finances to fall into the red for the first time in 15 years. The premier has antagonised the oil and gas industry, first with a bungled attempt to raise royalties and then by his lacklustre defence of the province’s tar sands from attacks on their carbon emissions by greens at home and abroad.






An election does not have to be called until 2012. But Mr Stelmach may be dumped by his own party before then. That is because it feels threatened by the Wildrose Alliance, a more conservative fringe party. This has only three seats in the legislature but leads the opinion polls. It is also setting the political agenda in Alberta.






Danielle Smith, the alliance’s young leader, criticises Mr Stelmach’s government for spending too freely and “blowing through” the province’s savings. Her calls for smaller government are popular with Albertans, whose views often align more closely with American Republicans (of the tea-party persuasion) than with eastern Canadians. Many also like Ms Smith’s unabashed defence of exploiting the tar sands (she argues that it is not clear that human activity causes climate change). Her suggestion that Alberta emulate Quebec and wrest control of a host of joint programmes, such as immigration, income-tax collection, the public pension plan and the police force, plays to a belief that Alberta is being short-changed in Ottawa.






Facing this conservative wind, the provincial government is tacking to the right. Mr Stelmach named Ted Morton, a fiscal and social conservative, as finance minister in a cabinet shuffle last month. The 2010 budget, unveiled on February 9th, involves a spending increase and a deficit, but it came wrapped up in promises of restraint and future balanced budgets.






Most of Ms Smith’s positions hark back to an open letter in 2001 by a group of Calgary intellectuals whose number included Mr Morton. Known as the “firewall letter”, it urged Ralph Klein, then the premier, to build barriers to keep the federal government from encroaching on provincial jurisdiction. As a leading contender for the Conservative leadership if Mr Stelmach jumps or is pushed, Mr Morton may get a chance to implement these ideas. One of the other signatories was Stephen Harper. Since he is now prime minister of Canada, he may be rather less keen to see firewalls going up.



David Cameron: The next age of government | Video on TED.com

David Cameron: The next age of government Video on TED.com

I was twigged to this TED Talk by Mark Diner - an avid Reboot Alberta participant. I am sure many will find this presentation by the leader of the Conservative Party of Great Britain at best ironic and it may significantly dissonant for others. It is far from the stereotypical Conservative misleading screed we see from the Harper Conservative Party of Canada or other fundamentalist conservative political philosophies that are alive and kicking, even in Alberta today.

As a social progressive who believes in a fiscally conservative governing approach I want open, accountable and transparent government.  I also want my government to be focused on the well-being of its citizens.  Based on my personal operating narrative, I have to say I LOVED this presentation. It is 14 minutes long but it is worth a watch and a careful listen - right to the very end.

The values that David Cameron refers to a being the basis for a "post-bureaucratic" shift from cenralized, command and control, top down paternalistic approach to government are very well aligned with the results of the Reboot Alberta Citizen's Values survey. That survey was aimed at the Progressives and Moderates who self selected and who have enjoined the Reboot Alberta movement at http://www.rebootalberta.org/. It is not a group that one would expect to align well with a "conservative" view expressed by David Cameron in this TED Talk.

I will be doing a presentation on the survey findings and exploring some of their implications for the future of Alberta's political culture at RebootAlberta2.0 next weekend. This shift from centralized power in the hands of a few to a distributed and networked power in the hands of the many is, acording to David Cameron, the result of the information and communications revolution spawned by the Internet. Now the 60s slogan of "Power to the People" has been actualized and that will change government, democracy, citizenship and the relationships amongst them.

Reboot Alberta is at the cusp of encouraging those kinds of citizenship induced changes in the political power relationships within the province.  It is looking and clarifying the purposes of politics and figuring out how we, as citizens, can make politics all about public service and well-being again.  How do we encourage informed and respectful dissent and stop the political power game and "democratic" processes being merely to win elections? 

Friday, February 19, 2010

Will the Renewed Alberta Party be a Game Changer?

There is a “Renewed” political party that has just arrived on the Alberta scene. It is born from the amalgamation of the Alberta Party and the Renew Alberta initiative that was intent on creating a new centrist political party.


There are some very interesting historical and contemporary aspects to this revitalized and revised Alberta Party. Historically the Alberta Party was a response to the mid-80s Preston Manning political movement that resulted in the Reform Party. In talking with Alberta Party board members the membership and motivation behind the Alberta Party has become much more centrist in it outlook and political philosophy. It is still a group of dedicated Albertan who are very interested in democratic change and political transformation in the province.

As a result of this changed political approach, the Alberta Party started talking to the younger blood of the Renew Alberta initiative about working together. With some genuine generosity of spirit from all those involved, a way was found to reform the old Reform mentality and to adapt the Alberta Party into a more progressive and moderate that resulted in the amalgamation with the Renew Alberta people.

This new consensus is most evident in the interim co-chair model of the Alberta Party that has Edwin Erikson from the original Alberta party serving with Chima Nkemdirim of the Renew Alberta initiative. There are some interesting co-creation opportunities the renewed Alberta Party may offer around a new way of thinking about politics. What if politics was about citizens assuming and ensuring that Alberta had a political culture that was about a public service responsibility again? What if the general well-being was the operating principle of political culture instead of gaining and retaining political power?

The creative energy that can emerge from the renewed Alberta Party based on diversity of experiences and backgrounds is also very interesting. Consider the obvious diversity between Edwin and Chima as they work together to make a renewed and revised Alberta Party a reality. There are age and generational differences, cultural differences, the different urban and rural aspects of both men all auger well for a more comprehensive and respectful way of understanding the wide array of Albertan’s concern and contributions we all make to ensure the success of our province and the legacy we leave our children. This is a fascinating political experiment that could be a game changer.

That game-changer possibility at this point is just that. If the Alberta Party merely becomes yet another conventional command and control, top-down power based machine then nothing much will really have changed. However if progressive minded citizens engage and insist that this new Alberta Party initiative be something more inclusive, accountable, transparent that acts with integrity, and not just talk about it, then there may be hope. If nothing else it will force the existing political parties and governing institutions to adapt to a more public service based political culture.

Monday, February 15, 2010

How Dare Jean Charest Suck and Blow on Alberta's Oilsands

Prime Minister of Quebec Jean Charest is high quality politician and an staunch Federalist. He is someone I admire and have met a few times.  He is a leader that I value very much in his Quebec role in Canadian politics. What I can't fathom is his duplicitous political posturing over the oilsands.

He has a responsibility in Quebec and every right to "go it alone" on emissions control standards for Quebec. Environment is a shared Fed-Prov constitutional responsibility. Minister Prentice has to learn to adapt and realize he can't dictate provincial policy from Ottawa. 

But Mr. Charest must learn to adapt and not dictate to others as well.  He has no right to dictate to Alberta as to what we should be doing in the relationship of our energy based economy.  His uninformed interference on how we meet our ecological responsibilities or what impacts we will allow on our societal well-being from rapid and poorly planned growth in the past is our business, not his.  Albertans are well aware of the blessinsg and the burdens of the oilsands.  We Albertans are very engaged in dealing with the consequences as well as the opportunitity and stewardship responsibility of our oil sands.

There is lots of history that shows Quebec is hardly an environmental poster boy. It has a history of allowing destructive forestry practices to go on for far too long.  It has shown a breathtaking lack of concern for sewage treatment and condoned dumping raw sewage into the St Lawrence for decades. But I digress and risk engaging in the same rhetoric I bemoan from Mr. Charest.

What burns me about Mr. Charest is the anti-Alberta rhetoric coupled with the recent advertising campaign and political push by the Quebec government to subsidize local business to come on a trade mission to exploit the business opportunities of our oil sands. This Quebec government program encourages Quebec business to take come to Alberta in late March and learn how to advantage of the opportunities that the oil sands offers.  Isn't that running the risk that Quebec will be seen as adding to the "problem" and not become part of the solution as they too move in to exploit the so-called dirty oil in Alberta?

As a Canadian and as an Albertan, I welcome Quebec businesses to our province to find oil sands business opportunity. I enthusiastically encourage Quebec businesses to come to Alberta and seek out oil sands based opportunities.  I applaud that these are opportunities enabled by Alberta that they can take home and use to benefit my fellow Canadians living in Quebec.

I also ask those same Quebec business people to push their own provincial politicians to eliminate the isolationist and protectionist policies  in Quebec.  That province adheres to that protectionist stance to the point that it often makes interprovincial trade with Quebec harder than international trade with other nations. I live in a province that encourages and creates interprovincial trade opporunities. The best recent example is the TILMA trade agreement with B.C. Look it up and learn from this example of regional co-operation.  With these trade linkages between Alberta and B.C. we have created an market with the population of Quebec and a GDP about 50% larger than Quebec. 

What burns me is the concurrent finger pointing, myopic political rhetoric and self-serving sanctimony inherent in the posturing of the Quebec Prime Minister over the Alberta oilsands.  These are not core character elements in the Jean Charest personality that I know. Still he has consistently spouted inaccurate public statements decrying an alleged disproportionate amount global damage he deems to be caused by Alberta's oilsands. And he does this at the same time he is subsidizing Quebec business to jump on the economic gravytrain of the oilsands.  That is hard to reconcile logically and morally - never mind politically. It is not the sutff of nation building that I have come to depend on over the years from Mr. Charest.

Oilsands are a dirty business but it is not nearly as bad as its opponents pretend it to be.  Its environmenal future is destined to be significantly better as we move forward from open pit to about 80% SAGD extraction.  With new cleaner technologies, reduced GHG emissions and lower water use we are making significant progress as the demand for oil sands sourced energy grows.  SAGD, like conventional oil and gas extraction, will still destroy and fragment significant amounts of wildlife habitat.  That habitat destruction can be alleviated and mitigaged with an accelerated reclamation approach coupled with a conservation and biodiversity offsets policy to ensure equivalent habitat protection in other parts of the province. (Full disclosure - I am working on establishing a policy on conservation and biodiversity offsets in Alberta).

On a well-to-wheels, full-cost accounting of equivalent conventional oil sources, including lives lost, defense spending and the funding of global instability caused by the US sourcing of Middle East oil, the Alberta oilsands come out as an economic, ecolgical, social and political bargain...all things considered.  That full-cost accounting approach does not reduce the ecological stewardship responsibility of Albertans one iota.  It does show why the oil sands are a preferred, reliable, safe and stable energy source and put the oil sands issues in a more comprehensive and proper perspective.

As an Albertan I welcome the Quebec businesses to Alberta and encourage them to learn how they can gain economically from the oilsands development. I also hope that they spend some time learning what Alberta industry and government is doing to reduce the ecological impacts and mitigate the other damages inherent in this development. 

I encourage them to ensure whatever oil sands business opportunites they undertake that they do so with a serious commitment to sustainable ecological and responsible economic principles.  I hope the Quebec business people will come and bring some new and practical ideas to help Albertans serve the ecological stewardship efforts around reducing the impact of oilsands deveopment. That is a responsibility they might also bear. It presents another way for them to benefit as they come to cash in on the oilsands business opportunities.

We Albertans are far from perfect stewards of our oil sands development.   We are aware of our stewardship duty and we are on the right track towards meeting it.  We have to pick up our game and the pace of our environmental play for sure.  That said, we are far from the irresponsible philistines that many would like label us when it comes to our oilsands development.

I hope the Quebec business people spend some time while in Alberta to learn more about the reality and not just the rhetoric around oilsands development. I hope they take the business opportunities and their new found and informed reality of the oilsands back to Quebec.  I hope they have the opportunity to debrief their politicians.  I hope they can help to temper and teach Mr. Charest a thing or two about the reality of the oilsands.  Constructive criticism is always welcomed by Albertans. Destructive self-serving rhetoric is not.

Might I also suggest a business opportunity of my own around oil sands development?  To those from Quebec and elsewhere, who are planning to find some new business in Alberta. I encourage them, to read the book "Green Oil" before they come.  It was written by my business partner Satya Das. It serves well as an owners manual for Albertans on how to better develop the oilsands but also as an instruction manual for others to help them undersantd what this oil sands resource is all about.

BTW, you can go online at Green Oil and download it.  That way you can save some trees and reduce your own carbon footprint in the process.   There is an interesting online conversation happening on the Green Oil book site too.  I encourage you to join in and share your thoughts and ideas on the oil sands too.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Shane Koyczan Defines Canada at the Olympic Opening

Watching the Olympic Opening Ceremonies puts to bed any lie that Canada has no culture.  A magnificent production by any and all standards that spoke to our pride as we often do: quietly and confidently.  

Of the many highlights one was special for me. It was the Slam Poetry of Shane Koyczan at the end.  His piece "We Are More" should become as well known and revered by Canadians and as self-defining about who we are as a nation and as a people as our beloved Flanders Fields.

 

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Are the Politics Behind the Stelmach Budget

The fiscal narrative around the Alberta budget has been written and yes the results were very different than what was projected in the trial balloons the Stelmach floated in the lead up. The potential return to the massive versus brutal cuts of the early 90s was floated as a possible fiscal reaction by the Stelmach government to cover an extrapolated $2B revenue shortfall. This political messaging was done as part of its continuing quest of the Stelmach government to out flank the Wildrose Alliance Party on the right. But it never materialized in the Budget, much to the astonishment of almost every Albertan. In fact what happened is Premier Stelmach reasserted his own progressive personality.  He applied some sound Keynesian fiscal principles in response to the recession and the expressed priorities of Albertans over health and education concerns.


I will deal with the politics behind this Budget in this blog post. The Budget numbers are important but what motivates the government politically when it builds a Budget is just as important. It all adds to the volatile political culture in Alberta these days. The new Budget represents a positive shift in the attitude and approach of the Stelmach government. Stelmach has shown with this Budget that he is no longer trying to emulate the Wildrose Alliance Party. Stelmach is actually isolating the WAP, putting it out there all by itself on the extreme right of the political spectrum.

The WAP has been controlling the political and media agenda in the province for months now. Stelmach has been chasing them from behind thinking he had to be more right wing and reactionary than the WAP to win the confidence of Albertans. The Stelmach government signaled with this Budget that they are not going to let that happen anymore. Stelmach has given a strong indication that he is prepared to pursue a balance between fiscal prudence in response to the reality of the recession and at the same time ensuring that social services are sustained while bolstering health and preserving education supports. The use of the Stability Fund monies to do this is the exact right move at the right time and for the right reasons. That is why the fund was set up in the first place and it is time to use the money.

There is still a blind spot in the Stelmach government over responsible revenue policy. The most obvious shortcoming is the lack of serious attention to charging reasonable royalty rates with a long term view instead of pandering to the unfounded threats of conventional oil and gas sectors. The return of commodity prices and the return of oilsands projects show that energy development is shifting away from the conventional business as it should.

Here is my take on what happened politically over the last few months as the Stelmach government found its way to the recent Budget.

THE WAP FACTOR:

The political strategy for Stelmach for months now has been to try and outflank the Wildrose on the right. The by-election loss, with their candidate coming in third in the former Deputy Premier’s riding, spooked the Stelmach brain trust. , The acceptance of the myth that the royalty review somehow caused the decline of drilling activity, while ignoring the collapse of commodity prices and new easier energy plays in Saskatchewan and northeastern BC, added to the anxiety. All this saw the Stelmach government move beyond appeasement of the conventional energy business into capitulation to their threats and demands. They walked away from rational decision-making about reasonable royalties five times since they accepted the Royalty review recommendations. With the so called “competitiveness review” to be released “in draft” in March they are apparently poised to capitulate again.

The rise of the “smart, intelligent and media savvy” Danielle Smith and her convincing win of the leadership of the WAP (she won 75% of the votes) made life even worse for “Unsteady-Eddie.” That was only one of the mocking taunts that the good old-boys in the conventional energy sector have been spouting in Calgary about the Stelmach government. Then add the reality of the potential for a serious revenue shortfall from commodity price meltdown and the Stelmach government was on the hunt for $2B in program cuts going into the 2010-11 Budget deliberations.

THE BLIND AND TONE DEAF PRE-BUDGET BUNGLING:

Transitioning out of the fear factor of the WAP touting the need for smaller, meaner and leaner government, even in a recession, the Stelmach government took a run at the health care, education social services sector. The announcement of hospital bed closures in Edmonton and Calgary plus the ham-handed handling of proposed Alberta Hospital transfers and closures of psychiatric beds added to the distaste and distrust of the public policy and governing philosophy of the Stelmach government.

The approach in the education sector was at least more collaborative and inclusive where school boards were asked to use accumulated surpluses to help make up for anticipated funding shortfalls. The use of the arbitration process in the ATA pension settlement agreement to determine the amount owing by the province to the pension fund was also seen as a more enlightened policy approach than the dictatorial demands the province tired to apply in other sectors.

The province extrapolated annual revenue shortfall of some $2B based on the presumption of low energy commodity prices continuing into the next budget cycle. The then tried to use that presumed shortfall to pressure and intimidate community based social service providers dealing with vulnerable Albertans into returning funds for services already paid for, provided and pursuant to contracts not grants. That dictatorial and intimidating approach was based largely on inaccurate and misleading information provided to politicians who were all too eager to assert their political power over groups while at the same time forgetting about their legal duty to provide these necessary services to vulnerable citizens. They tried and succeeded to get some not-for-profit volunteer based agencies to capitulate but in doing so the government has actually threatened the safety and security of people like children at risk, and persons with developmental disabilities. They also showed a chintzy and mean-spirited side by withdrawing of personal items and toiletries from institutionalized mental patients all done for a saving of only $70k annually.

This lack of caring and compassion by the government caused some in the not-for-profit and voluntary sectors to stand up and push back by refusing to accept claw-back demands. The Regional PDD Boards in many cases made career-limiting innuendoes and other fiscal threats to the leadership and management of these agencies trying to force compliance with the government’s demands. The agencies hung together and organized meetings with MLAs to tell them the facts of the matter, including that there were legally binding contracts with the government for these services that were negotiated last year at the insistence of the province. That the information the MLAs had in briefing notes about agency costs and where funds were going to serve vulnerable citizens was inaccurate and misleading. It got to the point that it was suggested that the province would be better advised to investigate its own administrative and service spending if they wanted to see where there was real waste.

THE CITIZENS ENGAGE AND STAGE RALLYS

The provinces pressure on agencies mounted but so did public support. The PDD agencies in Calgary held a mock bake sale “selling” muffins for thousands of dollars and the proceeds to be “donated” to assist the Stelmach government meet its statutory obligations to the people in the province with developmental disabilities. A bottle drive rally was held in Edmonton that brought out 1300 citizens to demonstrate and protest. They brought recyclable bottles and cans with messages to the Premier to drive home the mean-spirited attitude the province was showing towards the most vulnerable citizens in our society. The bottle drive raised $1000 and organizers collected thousands of letters to the Premier to be hand delivered to him at the legislature. The citizens trying to deliver them were denied access to the building. The Speaker upon hearing about that in Question Period recently asked opposition MLAs for a letter detailing why peacefully protesting citizens were denied access to their Legislature to carry out their protests. One can almost smell democracy returning to the air in Alberta again as citizens re-engage in the politics of our time.

The Whitemud Citizens Forum on Health Care rally in early January drew over 550 citizens to protest the health care situation for seniors too. The rally was organized by a few citizens who became frustrated with the lack of attention the government was paying to the issues. This rally was undoubtedly a key to the turnaround in attitude of the Stelmach government to health care funding and policy approaches shown in the recent Budget. So many upper-middle class Albertans showing up to protest in the riding where the Stelmach government had enjoyed its widest margin of victory in the election less than a year ago sent a clear message that people were fed up and not going to stand for any indifference or deceit from its government any more.

It is clear that one of the best ways to get the attention of the Stelmach government is to stand up, stand out and protest against bad politically motivated public policy pronouncements. Regular readers of this blog have heard me say many times that the world is run by those who show up. In Alberta you have to show up and stand up for what you believe in and that can make all the difference in how our government responds these days. Merciless and mean-spirited politicians are elected by good citizens who do not show up to vote.

THE PC AGM VOTE OF CONFIDENCE FOLLOWED BY FLOOR CROSSINGS AND CABINET SHUFFLE:

The 77% support for the Stelmach leadership at the November 2009 AGM was seen as a reprieve for the Premier but it put him on a short leash too. He said in his speech at the PC Party gathering that he “got the message” and he promised changes would come. Then everything just stayed the same with the Premier’s office now taking on even more of centralized top-down command and control stance in using the political and policy levers of power. MLAs were getting restless and quietly grumbling about the centralized political control by unelected staffers in the Premier’s office. With a Cabinet shuffle in the offing they choose to keep their discontent below the surface.

But in early January there was the loss of two PC MLAs floor crossing to the WAP both of whom decried the centralized power in the Premier’s office controlled by unelected staffers. There were anonymous media sources spreading rumours about the possibility of many more PC floor crossings to the WAP. This rumour became more plausible as it got repeated and amplified. It all tended to gives the WAP even more credibility and media attention. The Premier fast tracked his Cabinet Shuffle to stem the tide of a possible erosion of Caucus confidence. The gambit worked, at least for now, as the arch-conservative Ted Morton, got the job he wanted as Minister of Finance. This Cabinet appointment added fuel to the suspicion that the Stelmach government was going to return to the massive and brutal cuts of early Klein days and Morton would lead the slashing and burning with the Premier’s blessing.

The Cabinet shuffle was otherwise pretty inconsequential and did nothing to change the image and fortunes of the Stelmach government as tired and out of touch. The punditry and media saw them as still trying to show they were more neo-con than the conservative fundamentalism of the WAP. While this was going on, the grumbling old boy conventional oil and gas sector in Calgary started to work on developing an energy policy for the WAP. Suspicions rose that the WAP energy policy would see the rights of Albertans as resource owners ignored and relegated to being policy takers of decisions that would be made in boardrooms behind closed doors. The coziness of the conventional energy sector to controlling political power would then be complete and run by the tenants and not by the legislators by the duly elected representatives of the people of Alberta.

A NEW PARTY PROPOSAL AND REBOOT ALBERTA STARTS A PROGRESSIVE CITIZENS MOVEMENTS:

Progressives and moderates in the province saw that the only political choices Albertans were being offered were variations on neo-con policy agendas that would gut government and reduce citizens to servants of the old-school energy sector economic forces that were supporting the WAP and abandoning the PCs. Reboot Alberta was born in reaction to this rapidly rising right wing trend in the Alberta political culture. Again it was set up by a small group of independent and individual citizens as a way to revitalize and restore a progressive voice in Alberta politics.

The Reboot Alberta social movement met for the first time at the end of November. In less than 90 days has become a gathering place for most of those Albertans who are concerned about the direction and destination of the province. The Reboot Alberta website (www.rebootalberta.org) has generated lots of traffic and lots of postings from individuals who are keen to share thoughts and ideas about how Alberta can start to live up to its potential once again.

There is a study being done by Reboot Alberta about what values moderates and progressives in Alberta want to see applied by Alberta’s provincial politicians as they make various political and policy decisions that impact the lives of ordinary citizens. The survey results will be released at Reboot2.0, the next gathering of Reboot supporters in Kananaskis Feb 26-28. Early indications from the study show that the people joining the Reboot Alberta movement are very active Influentials and Cultural Creatives. This will be a potent citizens based social movement and will have an impact on public policy approaches now and in the future for sure.

The Reboot Alberta movement is evolving around four Theme Streams that are all moving forward concurrently. They are supported by individuals who want to change the existing parties and institutions to be more progressive from the inside. There are some who believe we need fundamental democratic reform in voting, electoral policy and political culture in the province. Others believe there needs to be more influence on politics and public policy from the not-for-profit and voluntary sector to balance off the power of big business in political and policy decision making. Still others believe there is a need for a new progressive-centrist political party to balance off the trends to the reactionary right shift that WAP is fostering.

The idea of a new political party is alive and moving forward through another citizens based group who call themselves Renew Alberta. They are in the process of organizing and gathering signatures needed to petition Elections Alberta for new party status.

CONCLUSION:

The Stelmach government reaffirmed itself as still having a potential to be both progressive and conservative with this Budget. There is a lot to applaud and to criticize in the document but overall it shows a shift away from running scared of the WAP and a return to the starting line of being a socially progressive and fiscally prudent government. The effect of this shift in attitude of the PC government will be to marginalize the WAP on the extreme fundamentalist conservative right and to show that they are far from being ready for primetime political power. The rise in WAP “support” has been more of a revolt against the PCs and a rejection of the other conventional parties as a viable option but as a way to send a message that citizens are upset with the status quo.

There is no doubt that political change is in the air. What form it will take is yet to be determined. There is a restlessness and restiveness in the land known as Alberta these days. It is touching many people in many aspects and goes to the core of our sense of being Albertan. Volatility is the new normal in the Alberta political culture. It will be interesting to see if progressives and moderates return to participation in the political culture of our times and add to the volatility. Will politics become relevant and cool for them again? I think many aspects of the new Budget will set the stage for an even more emboldened and engaged progressive citizen’s movement. They have seen what it takes to exert influence on their government, stand up, stand out and take action. I expect they will start to use their new found self-assurance to make even more meaningful differences in setting the agenda and policy direction for the province.

The rise of the WAP all of a sudden made politics interesting in Alberta. They offer no new insight or policy options, merely variations on tired and old political power themes. The rise of Reboot Alberta as a group of Influential and Culturally Creative progressives who are becoming engaged in a concerted social movement aimed at making Alberta live up to its potential as a civil society will make our politics actually fascinating. Progressives’ working respectfully and collaboratively is where the real revolutionary and transformative forces for political and public policy change will come from. The new political reality of Albertans is that they are rejecting the tedious and pointless posturing between left and right politics. They are ready to move forward as a more progressive society that lives up to its potential and where Albertans can be proud to be Albertan once again.

If you are interested in the Reboot Alberta movement you can participate at http://www.rebootalberta.org/.
You can register for Reboot2.0 there too. If you come to Reboot2.0 you will find like-minded progressive citizens who are intent on making a difference in how Alberta is governed.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Reboot Alberta on Rob Breckenridge's Radio Show

Here is the link to the podcast page of  Rob Breckenridges interview with me about Reboot Alberta event February 26-28 in Kananaskis and the Manning Centre for Democracy "Future of Alberta" event last weekend in Edmonton.

I really enjoyed talking with Rob on the changing political culture in Alberta. Sure are lots of changes.  Wonder what tomorrow's Budget will bring by way of changes.

Reboot Alberta on Edmonton Global Television

Here is the link to the Edmonton Global TV Lynda Steele interview with Reboot Alberta Instigator Michael Brechtel.  http://bit.ly/bGxFvt?r=td  Michael does a great job of putting Reboot and Reboot2.0 in perspective.

If you want to be part of a new movement for effective citizen engagement and press for change in how we run our democracy and how we are governed, join us in Kananaskis Feb 26-28.  Here is where you register http://www.rebootalberta.org/.

Read the blogs on the RebootAlberta site too.  They are always interesting.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Manning Centre Event Offered Nothing New for Alberta Politics

I spent an enjoyable day at the Manning Centre for Democracy Future of Alberta wonkfest on Saturday.


Other bloggers have done some great analysis of the event. read Chris LaBossiere, DJKelly and Duncan Kinney for examples. I find myself agreeing with all of them. I have attended many such events and have designed and deployed dozens of them. The format was about as traditional as you could get and it served the purposes of the organizers. It was not conducive for any affective and reflective conversation because 15 minutes with pre-set tasks and pressure for a quick consensus really erodes any opportunity for a nuanced understanding of topics.

I would caution people who want to follow up on the reporting of the “results” of the event to take them with a grain of salt. The event had some non-conservatives in the room, including Linda Duncan, the NDP MP from Edmonton Strathcona. For an invitation only event, it was a pretty white, male and mostly my age group. There were some younger people, many of them from the Reboot Alberta movement and more than a token number of women too.

It was interesting to observe who did not show up. The absence of the PC Caucus was most notable. Ken Allred the PC MLA from St Albert was there all day Saturday and Kyle Fawcett was “debating” Daniele Smith on Friday night. Ken told me he was dismayed more of his colleges did not make the effort. The event was overtly designed to promote what Preston Manning calls “small c conservative principles” and it did just that. To presume a designed discussion by over what shade of blue the future of Alberta should be is helpful for the Wildrose Alliance and could have been good for the Progressive Conservative Party too…if they bothered to show up.

What happened yesterday was a conservative value set validation by conservatives for conservatives with a presumption that the outcomes would be a rough draft policy blueprint for Albertans to follow. I think that is how the results will be presented by the Manning Centre. The political shifts that are bubbling below the surface in the minds of Albertans are much more complex. That complexity inherent in the issues addressed will not be captured with the 15 minutes of time allowed for participants to express their opinions and ideas at the tables.

I really enjoyed the folks at my table and it was good to catch up with folks like John McDougall, recently retired head of the Alberta Research Council, Don Diduck from the Alberta Congress Board, Dr. Richard Plain, Health Economist and former Mayor of St Albert, Edwin Errickson the leader of the Alberta Party, Colin Jackson former head of the Epcor Centre in Calgary and WAP MLA Paul Hinman. Naheed Nenshi was there too and I got to congratulate my friend Shannon Stubbs on her new job as Danielle Smith's new Executive Assistant.

I especially enjoyed the presentations from the University of Lethbridge Political Scientist Peter McCormick on citizen participation, Marlo Raynolds of the Pembina Institute on conservative environmental approaches and Mike Percy’s excellent information on the future of the Alberta economy. The other presentations, not so much!

What I saw come out of this event was predictable and perpetuation of traditional conservative thinking. I did not see anything that made me think that there is something new and refreshing coming from the “small c conservative” approach to politics and policy. If the outcomes from this weekend are what the conservatives see as the future of Alberta, I have to say it looks more like a passion to repeat the past. I saw nothing about them being able to rethink, redesign and be able to adapt to the new economic, environmental, societal and political realities. I saw nothing new, nuanced or newsworthy except the same-old same-old stuff of personality based leadership driven politics.

I was glad I went and got to spend some time with old friends, meet some new people and many who said they wanted to come to Reboot2.0.  I also got to hear from a few smart speakers who came to share their knowledge. But was this a game-changing event? Maybe it was a positive event for the WAP and a less than tepid event for the PCs.  But it had little that was new to offer to help Alberta live up to its potential or to create the kind of the change Alberta needs to make in order to adapt to new realities.

So now it is time to focus on Reboot2.0 at the end of February.  That is where change will start as a wider range of concerned Albertans gather together to share their hopes and feeling about the future of our province.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Come to Pecha Kucha and Hear About the New Political Compass.

Tomorrow night I am speaking at the Pecha Kucha event on The New Political Compass.  The doors open at McDougall United Church 10025 - 101 Street at 7:00pm and the presentations start at 7:30.  Tickets are $10.00 at the door on $9.00 online at http://www.tixonthesquare.com/

This Edmonton NexGen event is a very interesting and focused format.  There are 11 of us presenting with very strict rules of engagementimposed by the Pecha Kucha "culture."  Each presenter will have 20 powerpoint slides which will display for 20 seconds each.  None of the slides are allowed to have have text on them.  This is tight 6 minute and 40 second total time for each presenter.  Obiously your must have a point, make it resonant, ensure its compelling and quickly move on to the next slide...and keep going.  I imagine it will be like speed dating with an audience.

If your audience mind wanders you can always catch up...but you better not let that happen if you are a presenter.  The lawyer's sin of being more voluminous the luminous willl be punished with this format and punished harshly.  OMG - I may have to use a script.

It promises to be an engaging and entertaining evening with a wide array of important subjects and interesting speakers.  the event is called "Psst! It's a Secret" so maybe I'm not supposed to tell you much about it.  Come out anyway and have some fun - even if at my expense.