Pages

Monday, May 31, 2010

Do Donations Show That Power Begets Power in Alberta Politics?

The front page story in today's Edmonton Journal by Archie McLean on Lobbyist's contributions to political parties is the kind of journalism a fear we would lose with the demise of the traditional media.  The story is just the kind of thing the Lobbyist Registry was supposed to bring forward.  It is the kind of  transparency and accountability such legislation intends to help regular citizens know and better understand how the machinery of politics, and yes even democracy, actually works in Alberta.

I have no issues with the story and I am not surprised by the sources or levels of the donations.  I don't think that level of contribution is enough to buy any politician.  But is does buy access.  For example, big industry gets their phone calls returned from government, and even opposition parties.  I expect Brian Mason of the NDP is quick to respond to big unions when they phone.  Again I have no issues with that. 

The startling fact is the concentration of donations to the current government and the picayune level of support for the Liberals and NDP.  The Wildrose is pretty good at fundraising but will be secretive about the sources and amounts when it suits their political purposes...like the lack of disclosure of who paid for Danielle Smith's leadership campaign.  Too bad we can't force that kind of disclosure under the Lobbyist Act.  There are no rules running those gong shows that that private process inside political parties actually selects the small group of folks who could be Premier.

What is of concern is what is said and by whom for what ends when contributors come calling on politicians?  Is it all done behind closed doors - or on the golf course?  If there confidentiality for good reasons or secrecy pure political reasons?  When that happens we get a sick system and at best casual corruption.  I don't think any of that is actually happening in Alberta so don't misunderstand.  It is like the MPs expenses being audited by the Auditor General..  Of course they should be, just as we, as citizens,  have a right to know who is trying to influence government.  Jaffer has proven the need for that kind of sanitizing in spades.

The Lobbyist Act in Alberta is a late addition to an effort about applying more integrity to the Alberta political culture.  It is a tepid toe in the water of more openness, accountability and transparency in who influences government and politics and how they do it.  It is at least a start and when the review of the legislation comes up in a few years I trust the system will become even more honest and open about how democracy is done and ought to be done in our Alberta.

For the record, I am a registered lobbyist and make political donations but only modestly.  I have found access to politicians in Alberta not to be a problem and I don't think the money contributed makes any difference. In fact since I quit the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta last year, my access to the political and administrative levels of the provincial government has never been better.   Go figure.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What Will Albertans Get From Yet Another Royalty Rollback?

I wanted to do a blog post today on the latest retreat from responsible royalty rates by the Stelmach government. My research made me realize that Don Braid of the Calgary Herald more than captures my response.

The short term thinking of generating activity by single minded policy approaches is hindering integrated thoughtful policy approaches.  We know from our research and the early findings of The Big Listen by the Alberta Party that Albertans want a public policy approach that has a longer term view. We can't ignore the ecological and social impacts of shallow, simple-minded and myopic approaches to competitiveness that is exemplified by a constant foregoing of rents from non-renewable resources. 

These resource royalties rents are one time chances to grasp the intergenerational and birthright benefits of our kids and their kids.  We are being told our government can't afford to pay teachers according to the contracts we negotiated with them but we can walk away from another $1.5B of royalties because why?  More drilling activity in more marginal areas?  How much more have the companies who are doing this more drilling committed to do as a result of the royalty give-away?  Are there any guarantees from them in this deal?  What about a condition of a rollback that these companies first clean up and reclaim some of the old wellsites, roads and seismic lines they no longer need so wildlife can return to these areas?

We are not well governed and the Wildrose would be worse. They appear to be already owned and controlled by the conventional energy sector.  These guys are so cloaked in anonymity that they will not even disclose their contributions to the leader of that party.  We need a viable political alternative in Alberta that has Integrity, is Honest with us, truly Accountable, actually Transparent and who sees Stewardship of public assets and resources in the greater public of all Albertans interest as its job.  

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do You Believe Calgary is #1 Eco-City in the WORLD?

Mercer's Quality of Living and Eco-City survey of 221 cities world wide does not likely include Edmonton.  Not sure but if it were to find Calgary at the top ranking Eco-city in the world something is fishy about the survey.  Calgary has lots of merits but beyond the public transit system it is hardly a top ranked eco-city.  It has the largest number of cars per capita in Canada and is urban sprawl writ large...and that is still the norm in Cowtown with 100% of its growth in the suburbs.

Mercer says it used the following criteria for eco-ranking.  Water availability, water potability, waste removal, sewage, air pollution and traffic congestion.  Water availability is a serious problem for the future of Calgary.  In fact there was a restriction put on industrial use of water a few years ago.  Calgary suffers from water shortages and with the growth it has endured, that will only become more critical.  Only recently has Calgary metered water and that met with serious resistance I understand. Quality of water in Alberta is excellent almost everywhere with notable exceptions.  Waste removal and recycling are not big items in the Calgary civic culture - at least not compared to Edmonton.  Edmonton has a long standing and extensive blue box recycling system and city owned composting plant and even recycles Christmas trees.  As for traffic congestion with the largest per capita car population and the Deerfoot Trail rush hour "parking lot" and narrow downtown street system, traffic congestion is a serious problem for Calgary.

This is not a knock against Calgary.  It is  very livable city with lots going for it.  But to rank it as #1 Eco-City in the WORLD?  That stretched credulity. Mercer needs to broaden and deepen its Eco-City criteria and look to other locales for comparisons - especially in Canada.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! | Video on TED.com

Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the learning revolution! Video on TED.com

If you are interested in the future and what we need to change to adapt and enjoy the revolutions that are all around us you will want to watch Ken Robinson at TED this year.

If you enjoy this then you will want to hear the speakers (including Gwynne Dyer) and participate in the public dialogues happening May 31 in Calgary and June 1 in Edmonton on the theme "Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta." You can learn more and buy tickets ($10) online at http://www.learningourway.ca/ Ticket sales end Noon on Friday May 28 so you will want to act now.

My firm, Cambridge Strategies Inc is a sponsor of this event along with the ATA and Literacy Alberta. Hope to meet you in Calgary or Edmonton

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Alberta Law Society Polls on Legal Services Quality and Value for Money

This is not my usual blog post stuff but as a lawyer I found it interesting! Looks like the days of lawyer jokes are pretty much past when you see recent Law Society of Alberta survey results. This blog post is just a repeat of the summary of findings I received as a member of the Law Society of Alberta. The actual poll results will be out tomorrow and available at http://www.lawsociety.ab.ca/.  I hope that brings more clarity to the findings and afford an opportunty for some more indepth conclusions.


It has been an axiom for a long time that people do not like lawyers but they like their lawyer. This survey seems to address the last half of this question but not the first part so much. Here are some findings that Rod Jerke QC, the President of the Law Society says, “…show(s) that the public is generally satisfied with the service and value they receive.”

The Law Society notes the relationship between the delivery of legal services and the regulation and governance of the legal profession. This poll is said to “give valuable insight on the reputation of the legal profession and the high levels of satisfaction experienced by consumers of legal services.” ON the down side the survey showed “consumers” were concerned about availability of legal services to low income Albertans and the “perception of the costs of legal service.”

Next step is to survey lawyers but it is not clear how that will relate to the consumer survey. I have to say I find it strange to be referring to clients as consumers but many legal services have become commodities so I guess it makes sense. I also hope the actual survey breaks down the results in terms of types of legal services and geographically. Are divorce “consumers” at the same satisfaction levels as real estate “consumer?” I am curious to see if there is any difference between rural and urban and/or Edmonton and Calgary perceptions.

So here is a smattering of the poll results. There are 78% very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the legal service provided. I wonder what values were attributed by the public to their being very or somewhat satisfied. Is somewhat satisfied less than 5 but more than 1 on a 10 point scale?

As for value for money spent on lawyers only 34% who were polled say they received “very good value.” Then some 37% said they received “somewhat good value.” What does somewhat mean and what values were used to determine that answer?

How do you find a lawyer? This area has some more value based substance to it. Referral from another person – which means word of mouth, was the key factor for 41% of poll participants. Reputation was important to 43 % but what values and factors constitute reputation? Glad you asked! Here is where we got some useful information about what guide and drives lawyer selection. Legal training and professional credentials worked for 30%. Standing, whatever that means other than being subject to the Code of Ethics was crucial for 26%. Personal knowledge and relationship with a lawyer drove 25% while cost and proximity/access issues drove hiring decisions for 23%.

I applaud the Law Society for doing research on public perceptions on various aspects of legal services. But opinion polls are not of much value in figuring what really guide and drives the public’s state of mind in reaching such decisions. They are better than focus groups but not much better. The more effective way is to use discrete choice modeling or conjoint techniques to force participants to make trade off and choices between various values that they use to measure what is important to them about legal services.

I need to know more about the actual survey questions and methodology before I can comment further. Opinion polls are becoming notoriously inaccurate and when terms like “somewhat satisfied” is so vague that it is dangerous to attribute too much positive or negative results to those responses.

There is no doubt some useful information here for lawyers but it is far from being conclusive evidence to make sound a judgement and draw a decisive conclusion about what the consuming public thinks about the quality of legal service and the value for money received.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Some Facets of My Focus These Days

Lots happening in my cyberworld.http://ken-chapman.blogspot.com/2010/05/alberta-needs-viable-political.html

As the publisher of Satya Das' "Green Oil" I was delighted to see Stephen Murgatroyd write a blog post on the subject "Making Green Oil Happen."

Marshall Boyd did a blog post following up on my post on the Democratic Renewal Project suggesting limiting choice for voters may split votes but limited voices and points of view at elections is no way to bolster participation in democracy. 

Just got off the phone with David Peat the Quantum Physicist who was a contemporary of David Bohm working on reconciling quantum theory with relativity.  He now runs the Pari Centre for New Learning in Tuscany Italy and spends his thoughtspace on things from Carl Jung to Synchronicity to Art and Artist and his encounters with Blackfoot culture in Alberta.  He is speaking at public dialogues in Edmonton and Calgary and symposium I am working on at the end of the month on the theme "Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta"  I expect he will expand on the themes in his book on "Gentle Action: Bringing Creative Change to a Turbulent World."

Then I have been in fascinating Reboot Alberta based conversations with Dr. Haley Simons on the possibilities of a Creative Alberta and the 2010 World Creativity Forum in Oklahoman City this fall and the thought of making Alberta the next and 13th "District of Creativity." 

I have a rich and full life and now I have to get back to work.

Monday, May 17, 2010

CBC Wildrose Show is Changing its Name

Here is a link to the audio of the CBC Radio One session I did today for Wildrose. BTW the program is changing its name to Alberta at Noon.  Good move.  The Wildrose name is too political now that we have the Wildrose Alliance Party and, besides, it is too quaint a title for the kind of audience the program attracts.

For context on this radio bit you may want to read this blog post today on the Democratic Renewal Project.  This is what got the CBC interested.

Alberta Needs Viable Political Alternatives to Govern, Not Just a Bigger Opposition.

I was well intentioned to go to the Alberta Liberal convention as an observer and blogger this weekend but yard work and family chores took precedent. So what I sense is only what I read in the MSM and the headlines went from Warren Kinsella telling Alberta Liberals to get “mean and nasty” and rant against the social and fiscal fundamentalist forces on the dysfunctional right. The next day we see a policy resolution passing that says play strategically with the New Democrats under the guise of democratic renewal.


All Political Parties are in Decline:
It seems to have been an interesting time as the Alberta Liberals and New Democratic political parties are all trying to find their way forward as viable political options. This is not that different from the Progressive Conservative party who is heading into drift and despondency - but with cash to burn. It also seems to me that all conventional political parties are fading from relevance as they become trite, tribal and tedious to most Albertans. Even the recent “phenominal growth” of Wildrose Alliance is proving to be just so much media manufactured manipulation rather than a broad-based and authentic citizen re-engagement in Alberta politics. Recent polls show that without constant media coverage providing the “oxygen” to draw attention to the WAP, they are just another listless and languishing non-viable alternative to real change from the governing PCs.  The progressives remain disengaged and disillusioned about being listened to by "their" government.

The Need for Democratic Renewal
I have a great deal of respect for the leaders of the Democratic Renewal Project but have to say the model they propose for strategic voting is an erosion of choice and a dilution of democracy not a salvation for democracy. The DRP idea is essentially for Liberals and New Democrats to be “strategic” in certain constituencies where PCs have had small margins of victory. By not having Liberals and New Democrats run against each other and spit the vote the theory is more opposition members will be elected. The math the DRP has done shows that we get a bigger – but not necessarily a better – opposition. That is not good enough. We need viable alternative to the current political culture of feigned consensus if we are going to renew democracy and restore the public’s confidence in the political culture of the province.

Trying to manipulate the size of the conventional political party’s pieces of a dangerously declining rates of political participation pie is no way to strengthen democracy. We need real choices and effective viable alternatives for us to elect to form government. We need to enhance our democracy by having viable alternatives to assume office not just a bigger but not necessarily better opposition. We need to keep government honest, accountable and transparent by having alternatives not just oppositions.

Time to Design Some New Viable Governing Alternatives
The first step to this end is to stop the one-party-rule-by- default paradigm that is Alberta for so many years. In the one-party state citizens get taken for granted, or worse. The groups who do much of the work of government in the volunteer and not-for-profit sectors get intimidated, abused and bullied by the political powers. The behind the scenes casual corruption of business and the state colluding to create wealth for a few from the resources of the many is also the natural consequences of centralized single party rule. And even worse yet, too many citizens see that their only practical option is to withdraw from participating in their democracy rather than stand up for their rights – especially free speech and their ownership of the natural resource rights.

Have You Had Enough Yet?
We are in a political culture crisis in Alberta. Trust in our political and governance institutions is very low and legitimately so. The focus on short term political expediency over long term good governance is adding to the vicious cycle of citizen disengagement from their democracy.  I am not into blaming the status-quo conservatives from the PC or the WAP that would exchange one set of ideologues with a worse set of ideologues.  I am not into settling for a bigger but not better opposition as the only alternative to governing Alberta that the DRP alliance being pushed by some Liberals and New Democrats. 

I think we need a revolution based on the collective revulsion we feel about the politics-as-usual way of thinking. Collective ennui about how poorly we are governed in Alberta and Canada is a luxury we can’t afford anymore. Fundamental political change is required for real democratic renewal. The DRP is well meaning but the solutions they offer are not enough to make the kind of difference we need. Messing around with the margins of low voter turnout is not the solution – peaceful but powerful revolution to restore real democracy to Alberta must be the goal.

Changing Landscapes in Calgary and Alberta

I did a short video for the Calgary ATA locals on what they need to do and be aware and engaged as community leaders and citizens of Calgary and Alberta. 

There is so much changing in learning these days and teachers are needed to be at the forefront of dealing with those changes. We need an expanded definition of learning, literacy and now we have no choice but to be lifelong learners. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GI6ltnESuG0&feature=digest

There is another related video clip we did on Calgary's challenges and the impact on teachers and education that I will post later.

BTW the report on the Inspiring Education public dialogue initiative of Minister Dave Hancock is scheduled for release June 2. 

Cambridge Strategies is a co-sponsor of two public dialogues entitled "Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta" featuring Gwynne Dyer, David Peat and Scott Murray May 31 in Calgary and June 1 in Edmonton.  We are half sold with two weeks still to go.  There is obviously lots of interest in this topic. You can get tickets at http://www.learningourway.ca/

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Alberta Health Superboard Should Go!

I am heading into a meeting this afternoon on Foresight this. Foresight is not about making prediction like a futurist but it is about extrapolating possibilities based on evidence, experience, insight and a bit of intuition.


That said here is my non-prediction anyway. I believe the Alberta Health Services Super Board will be gonzo sometime this summer. ..and it should be. The government has approved a five year spending envelope for healthcare in the last budget and covered off the deficits of the Superboard at the same time.

With assured healthcare funding for five years, I assume they are working a five year business plan for health care delivery in Alberta as well. With Registered Nurses in contract negotiations now and the Physicians into negotiations next year, my guess is the government will take back the duty of delivering health care in Alberta. Then who needs a Superboard?

The Klein era governance model was ostensibly built on regional advisory boards of local citizens who were presumed to be best able to know, assess and advise Ministers and government on local issues. In reality that policy proved to be more fiction than fact, especially in the execution and application. I know this firsthand from some of the work I do.

There is a full report done by the Province of Alberta on governance and conflict of interest around provincial government agencies, boards and commissions. The process was lead by Allan Tupper (formerly of the U of A and now at UBC) many years ago. The implementation of the report’s recommendations is now in the care of a senior provincial bureaucrat in Executive Council office. So far as I can see not much has been done about the recommendations. My guess this is mostly due to political inertia and a lack of political will.

The regional board system was implemented in health, childrens’ services, persons with developmental disabilities and perhaps other departments too. It has all turned out to be just another level of expensive governance without authority, expertise or an informed knowledge base to be very effective. They ended up being buffers to protect Ministers from having to deal with the rabble commonly known as citizens. Bottom line we have good people trying to do s job in a bad governance system and no political or administrative intent to change the dynamic.

These board members do not effectively connect with the local population or deal openly with local issues. My evidence and experiences suggest these regional advisory boards did not effectively connect with the government or the Ministers either. I had a conversation one such Minister who appointed well-meaning citizens these regional advisory boards. I asked if any of the appointed board members had ever given direct advice to that Minister. The answer was no. By the look on the Minister’s face in response to the question, I know a light bulb had just been turned. Perhaps that Minister had just realized why there were so many problems in the field that the Minister was chronically unaware.

It is in this context why I think the AHS Superboard will be extinct in a few months. The healthcare system started on this regionalization kick with 17 of them. That soon became 9 and one day, overnight and out of the blue, those were collapsed into one Superboard. The cynic in me says the Minister of the day wanted to fix an obvious regional leadership problem they had in the Calgary regional health board. The government did not want to look like they were picking on Calgary for political reasons, so they decided to dissolve all the regional health authorities into one. No advanced warning, no consultation, no review of the implications or consequences…and no thoughtful plan of implementation. It was just raw politics that were at work in that decision.

The former Minister of Health has since been shuffled and a new much more capable Minister is in place. A new Deputy Minister is in charge and he has the ear and confidence of the Premier. The government is back making the serious policy and implementation decisions about health care. The new leadership in the Department and Ministry of Health and Wellness has been reversing the mistakes of the former Minister and has taken almost all of the power away from the Superboard.

The Superboard and its administration were still (are still?) in the competitive slash and burn damn the torpedoes mindset of the former Minister. They failed refused or neglected to see there was a new Sheriff in town. As a result many the programs and initiatives the Superboard was implementing were stopped, stifled or reversed by the new Minister. The confusion as to roles, responsibilities and relationships between the Superboard, the Ministry and the department was enormous but it is being resolved – effectively, appropriately and dramatically from my point of view.

The political reality is the Minister and the Premier wears the good, bad and ugly politics of healthcare policy. Not the faceless members of the Superboard. The new Minister and Deputy Minister know this and, to their credit, they have taken back the control of the healthcare system into government. They are meeting people, professions and stakeholders to get a serious and in depth sense of what is going on in the field.

They are making positive changes, adding money and allowing for longer planning time frames. And they are burying the idea that private sector marketplace models based of competition will make the public healthcare system stronger and more accountable. The fact that the province has to spend $2.8 million of taxpayer dollars just to bailout a Calgary based private surgical centre from bankruptcy shows the folly of the radical right wing healthcare policy of past and possible future political regimes in the province…if the Wildrose replaces the Stelmach conservatives next election.

So while the governmet is on the job of discarding the AHS Superboard, I strongly suggest they do the same thing and dump all the regional buffer boards including in Childrens’ Services and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD). They are doing more harm than good when it comes to open, transparent and accountable governance. They are not effectively governing or connecting community to government or service providers. They are political buffers for politicians – pure and simple.

Good governance is always good politics. The opposite is hardly ever true.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Alberta Senators-in-Waiting Call on Stelmach to Reverse Decision & Hold New Elections This Fall.

I spoke with Link Byfield today about the three remaining Senators-in-Waiting (SIW)calling on Premier Stelmach to reverse his decision to delay the elections until 2013.  The law in Alberta says the terms of these three SIWs expires in November 2010.  But the loop hole in the law is that the provincial government can change things, like extending terms.  But that discretion should be exercised prudently and for reasons of good government and promoting and preserving democracy...not for puerile political reasons.

THE STELMACH GOVERNMENTS REASONS FOR DELAY DON'T MAKE SENSE.
I heard the rationale for the deferral of the SIW elections to 2013.  It would cost $5m to run them in conjunction with the municipal elections but no indication of how much more it would cost 3 years from now.  Then there was the possibility of Saskatchewan passing similar Senator-in-Waiting legislation and it was suggested Alberta' democracy be delayed until we know if another province would also have such a law.  What is that all about and why? 

The third facile and farcical reason for the delay was that Alberta Senator Bert Brown had just introduced a Senate Bill S-8 "An Act Respecting the Selection of Senators.  OUrugovernment has insisted that Albertans right to choose SIWs should wait to give that new law a chance to pass before we went into a new election.  For you information - and thanks to SIW Link Byfield for the Bill. 

Here is the summary text of Senator Brown's Bill that has caused a delay in democracy in Alberta: 

This enactment establishes a framework for electing nominees for Senate

appointments from the provinces and territories. The following principles apply
to the selection process:


(a) the Prime Minister, in recommending Senate nominees to the Governor
General for a province or territory, would be required to consider names from
a list of nominees submitted by the provincial or territorial government; and


(b) the list of nominees would be determined by an election held in
accordance with provincial or territorial laws enacted to implement the
framework.

Section 3 of Bill s-8 puts a duty of the Prime Minister to recommend to the Governor General "to consider names from the most current list of Senate nominees elected for that province or territory" if a province or territory has enacted Senate selection legislation that is consistent with the principles in the Summary above.  Well Alberta has has such legislation since 1985.  How does Bill S-8 justify the suspension of a law that provided Albertans with a democratic right to select SIWs?  Bill S-8 only puts the duty on the Prime Minister "to consider" such nominees selected by provincial or territorial law.  It is not even binding for crying out loud.  And this justifies a deferral and delay of democracy in Alberta? 

IS DENIAL OF DEMOCRACY FOR PARTISAN PURPOSES JUSTIFIED?
OK I agree there are bigger issues and concerns facing Albertan that this theatre of the absurd Senate nominee election process.  However, if our government is going to ride roughshod over these kinds of somewhat less than profound democratic rights, what is stopping them from staying the course and disregarding more significant democratic rights?  This is at best causal corruption and at worst abuse of power for partisan political purposes.  In no way shape of form is it good governance.

I am strongly opposed to this delay by the Stelmach government because it is unwarranted and an abuse of the discretion of the Alberta government.  There is no good reason for such a delay except for pure political reasons.  It seems like the PCs are running scared of the Wildrose and an election of Senators-in-Waiting this fall would likely result in Wildrose candidates winning. For the record Byfield ran as an Independent and the other three winners ran as Progressive Conservatives although they were all Reform and Alliance party faithfuls.

The result this time would see candidates running but likely mostly for theWildrose Party.  This is because the Wildrose is the only party in Alberta really interested in an elected Senate for Canada. Last Senate election saw about 160,000 Albertans either refuse the Senate election ballot or spoil it as a protest.  The political optics of Stelmach losing Senate elections this fall to Wildrose candidates will be seen as another referendum cum by-election result on his low popularity.  He want to avoid that obviously, so the democratic deficit in Alberta deepens and widens as a result of pure political posturing - not the respect for the Rule of Law.

STELMACH RUNS IN THE FACE OF ALBERTAN'S VALUES
Integrity, honest, open, accountable and transparent government is missing with the Stelmach decision to delay the next Senator-in-Waiting election.  This abuse of discretion and poor governance process to defer the next time Albertans get to say who they want be considered to represent them in the Senate until sometime in 2013 will put it after the next provincial and the next federal election too,  most likely.  Ironically the extension of the current crop of SIWs from 2004 to 2013 puts them in limbo longer than the eight years Harper would limit Senators terms of service.

THE STATEMENT FROM THE CURRENT SENATORS-IN-WAITING:
So here is the Statement the current crop of SIWs put out for your information.  For the record I don't endorse all of what they are saying but I do applaud them for standing up for citizen's based democracy - not top down command and control centrist power based politics.  That democratic deficit disease is creeping into Alberta and is  rampant in the feckless Harper federal government.  Looking forward to your comments.


Why we need elected senators representing us in Parliament

As Alberta’s three remaining senators-elect, we want to state publicly our belief that the Alberta government should hold a new Senate election with the province-wide municipal elections this fall. We say this solely in the interest of the province, and not for or against any provincial political party.

The government’s exercise of its legal option to extend our elected status by up to three years is not helpful to the cause of Senate reform in our view.

It is likely that one and perhaps two Alberta Senate vacancies will occur before there is a further province-wide opportunity for a Senate election.

However, in the event the government does not hold an election this fall, it would be wrong for us to leave Alberta in a position where a prime minister (be it Mr. Harper or Mr. Ignatieff) has no option but to appoint personal or party favourites to represent our province. We will therefore accept the government’s extension of our elected status until Albertans have been given a new chance to choose Senate nominees.

To illustrate why Albertans must not be represented by unelected senators, consider the recent Senate activities of Claudette Tardif.

She was picked to represent Alberta until the year 2022 by then-prime minister Paul Martin in 2005, five months after Albertans had cast 2.2 million votes to fill three vacant Senate seats. Neither Tardif nor Martin’s other two appointees ran for election.

On April 13th, 2010, Tardif introduced in the Senate Bill C-232, which if passed will require all future members of the Supreme Court of Canada to be fluently bilingual, not just in conversation but in complex and subtle points of law. The purported aim is to render translation unnecessary for judges in Canada’s highest court.

The many reasons why this private member’s bill is bad for the Supreme Court, bad for Canadian law, bad for national unity, and bad for unilingual regions, have already been aired in Parliament and in the media. Suffice it to say here that very few lawyers in Canada – and close to none in Alberta – qualify to hear a superior court legal argument in French without the aid of translation. This bill effectively kills the chance of most legally-qualified western Canadian lawyers and judges to sit on our highest court.

Neither of our two western Supreme Court incumbents, Beverley McLachlin and Marshall Rothstein, would qualify for the court under this statute.

Unfortunately, because bilingualism is so sacrosanct in Ottawa, Bill C-232 cleared the House of Commons by three votes on March 30th, with the combined support of the Bloc Quebecois, Liberals and NDP.

To add symbolic insult to material injury, C-232 was then put before the Senate by Claudette Tardif, an Alberta senator.

Instead of boosting official languages, Alberta’s six-person Senate delegation should be asking some searching questions. Is bilingualism actually working? Apparently not. According to Statistics Canada, “knowledge of [both] English and French” is a declining phenomenon, not a growing one. How much do official languages actually cost – not just for governments, how high is the immense cost of translation and compliance in the private sector? Ottawa doesn’t ask because Ottawa doesn’t want to know. Instead we blindly persist in the wishful thinking of half a century ago.

This is why we need provincially-elected senators in Parliament: to address questions the national government can’t or won’t. This is the “sober second thought” the 21st century demands.

It is time for parliamentarians to ask uncomfortable questions about productivity in the transfer-dependent regions of Canada, about our lack of success with official languages, about EI, multiculturalism, national marketing boards, and the economic value of subsidized industries.

These questions can’t be answered in the House of Commons because they can’t even be asked in the House of Commons. No national party can afford to lose the seats such candour would cost.

Nor can they be resolved in provincial legislatures, because there is nothing provinces can do about them. These are national issues under the authority of Parliament, best handled by the Senate.

In fact there is only one place where it would be politically possible to raise them and constitutionally possible to resolve them, and that is in a provincially-elected Senate such as Prime Minister Harper’s government is proposing. Not a Senate that is merely appointed, and which therefore dares not exercise the immense power it possesses under the constitution – powers equal to those of the House of Commons. And not a Senate filled with national party cheerleaders beholden to the same leaders who run the Commons.

No, to exert power the Senate must be elected, and to represent the diversity of Canada the elections must be provincial – provincial parties, federal issues.

This is what Canada needs, this is what the Prime Minister has asked provinces to provide, and this is what all Albertans should support.

Alberta Senators-Elect:
Betty Unger
Cliff Breitkreuz
Link Byfield


So dear Reader, what do you think?  Is this a tempest in a teapot?  Is this just the way things are and there is nothing you as a citizen can do about it? Or are you coming to realize that democracy is not free and free speech is not free either.  They both have to be exercised and valued to do any good.  Let you MLA and the Premier's office if you are tired of the disregard and disdain for democracy in Alberta.  Whose Alberta is it any way?



Albertans Are Embracing Citizenship and Activism Again!

When I see active engaged citizenship I can't help but participate and promote it.  At the bottom of thie blog post is a News Release from ARTES (Association for Responsive Trusteeship in Edmonton Schools) of an event I am speaking at in Edmonton on public education and Trusteeship on May 15th.  This an example of this kind of get informed and get involved citizen activism we need to overcome the democratic deficit we have allowed to prevail in Alberta - and Canada for that matter.

LEARNING OUR WAY TO THE NEXT ALBERTA:
It is all coming together as people take back control, start creating alternative approaches and changing the outmoded top down command and control style of politics and governance.   To get more of a flavour of this kind of awareness and engagement as an Albertan come to an of interesting public lecture (May 31 in Calgary and June 1 in Edmonton) featuring Gywnne Dyer as we  are Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta.  That link will give you more information on Learning Our Way and allow your to buy tickets at $10 each.  It is open to the public all about a better more vibrant and vital democracy.  It is very much in the spirit of the Reboot Alberta citizen's initiative - but this is not a Reboot Event.

So if you care and are committed to the future of Alberta and keen on preserving and advancing  what is good and can be better about our province, join us at these events and others that are being planned.

ARTES:
Here is the news release for the ARTES event as well.  I will be speaking on the Albertans values survey we recently did within the progressive Reboot Alberta community.  I look forward to meeting you at either or both events.


May 10th, 2010

For Immediate Release

Election event planned for potential trustee candidates


The (ARTES) will host a wine and cheese mixer for people interested in local education issues, including potential candidates who are eyeing the possibility of running in the fall election.

The focus will be on building connections, but the event will also include three brief presentations:

- Dale Hudjik, ARTES president, on the principles of effective and responsive governance;


- Lynn Odynski, a former EPSB trustee, on the responsibilities of the office; and


- Ken Chapman, partner at Cambridge Strategies, on the values that voters identify as most important heading into the vote.

Anyone considering standing for election as a trustee is invited to attend, along with members of the public who want to learn more the school board system or get to know potential candidates.

Event details:
Saturday, May 15th, 7-9 p.m.
Woodcroft Community League Hall
13915 - 115th Avenue
Media contact:
Dale Hudjik
c. 1.780.904.6081
dale.hudjik@gmail.com
http://www.responsivetrustee.com

ARTES (ar-tes) represents people committed to the welfare of children and public education in Edmonton. It seeks to encourage high quality candidates for school boards.


Mission: To encourage and support school trustee candidates who are independent, transparent in their views and values, accountable, forward-looking, and responsive to the community.


- 30 -

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Joe Anglin's Passion is to Pursue the Forces of Power in the Province.

I don't usually do "guest blogs" in this space...and this is not an exception although it may look like it.  Fellow Rebooter and activist Joe Anglin has been tireless in his pursuit of fairness, justice, accountability, honesty and transparency.  He has been especially diligent around issues of electricity transmission and impact on private property rights in rural Alberta.

I get Joe's missives on these complex issues and read them.   But like so many other Albertan's I feel the issues are too complex and as an individual I am too powerless to do much about them.  That is a dangerous and unhelpful attitude to take.  If citizen's are going to take on changing the power system - in many levels of that term - then we need to know what we are talking about and what we want as an alternative. 

Joe's latest message is pretty simple to follow and pretty important to understand.  I am sure he would be delighted to hear from you if you wantt to learn and know more about these critical issues to the future fairness, progress, sustainability and well-being of Alberta and Albertans. 

Here is what Joe sent me.  Read it and reflect on it and tell him, me, and mostly your local MLA, what you think.

Is AltaLink double dipping on the public?????



AltaLink has asked the Alberta Utilities Commission to force the Alberta public to reimburse $35 million dollars for the costs AltaLink incurred during the 2007 500KV transmission line hearings.


What costs did AltaLink incur in 2007? The majority of engineering costs for the 500KV transmission line were incurred and reimbursed to AltaLink from the 2004 “Needs” hearing process. After the need for a 500KV transmission line was approved by the EUB, the EUB reimbursed AltaLink for its costs in Decision 2005-037.


In fact, in Decision 2005-037 the EUB Board wrote:


The AESO claimed $262,195.13 with respect to its participation in the proceeding. Of that amount, $96,989.00 related to legal fees, $38,072.53 related to consulting fees, and the remainder related to disbursements.






AltaLink claimed $204,500.03 with respect to its participation in the proceeding. Of that amount, $172,732.00 related to legal fees, $19,155.00 related to consulting fees, and $12,613.03 related to disbursements. AltaLink participated in the pre-hearing meeting, prepared written submissions, IRs, and answers to IRs, cross-examined the City of Calgary (Calgary) and IPCAA/ADC, and provided argument at the proceeding. The Board considers that AltaLink was one of the major participants in the proceeding.






The “Needs” hearing determined the size of the line, and where the line was going to be placed in the west corridor. The size of the line dictated the size and type of the conductor, which dictated the size and type of towers. After the “needs” hearing there was little left for AltaLink’s engineers to do! All that remained was for AltaLink’s engineers to space the towers apart, (on a piece of paper), from one another in a straight line, and count the total number of towers. It is reasonable to believe that AltaLink’s engineers should be able to count approximately 300 towers for considerably less than $35 million dollars!


Surely, Borden Ladner and Gervais (BLG), AltaLink’s lawyers, didn’t charge $35 million dollars in legal fees! After all, AESO and AltaLink’s combined legal expenses only totalled to less than $500,000 dollars for the “Needs” hearing, and the total 2007 legal costs incurred for all 32 parties involved (each represented by individual lawyers and consultants), amounted to less than $1.9 million dollars. Ralph Klein and the former EUB Chairman, Neil McCrank, who coincidently oversaw the approval of the transmission line, who both now work for BLG – could they be worth $35 million dollars?


What the public needs is a full independent judicial inquiry into this debacle!


Joe Anglin


Rimbey, Alberta


(403) 843-3279

This commenary from Joe Anglin says alot to the citizens of Alberta but are we saying enough to change things in the way we are governed in our province?  Whose province is it anyway?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Supreme Court Clarifies Confidential Sources & Whithers Our Democracy?

Supreme Court of Canada rules media confidentiality of sources is not absolute. I have not read the judgement yet but I will and will comment more on it later.


According to news sources the court recognized “for the first time that journalistic privilege against divulging sources can exist, but they concluded that each case must be weighed on its own merits.”

This means each time a media source wants to be confidential an evaluation will have to be made about is the protection of the secret source in the public interest and does the confidentiality protection outweigh other competing interests.

This has implications all over the place including bloggers. Some bloggers are becoming news sources and often the recipients of anonymous tips and evidence. I know that is my experience and I am not alone. Bloggers are becoming more like journalists and professional journalists are blogging. The conventional and social media norms, rules and laws and changing and traditional media ownership becomes more concentrated. The decentralized and chaotic new world of communications increases and decreases the control factor and authority of media of all kinds.

I see this Supreme Court test of what is in the greater public interest being even more interesting when we look at controlling our governments. I see the power of the state over citizens as significant as terrorism. The recent rise in the tendency of governments at the political and program levels to intimidate, bully, threaten and scapegoat people and organizations they disagree with is a very disturbing trend to a free and democratic society.

The role of dissent is crucial to free speech and a vibrant democracy. When citizens and organizations acting on behalf of the state, helping the state in decision support roles or advocating for change to improve our society can be marginalized by Big Brother hostile attitudes from the politically powerful, we run the risk of destroying our democracy through disengagement.

At Reboot 2.0 we heard from lots of Alberta not-for-profit organizations that were being threatened by our provincial government with funding cuts and career limitations if they spoke publicly about provincial government policy decisions. Many of those social program funding cuts were being made for selective political purposes, not good governance objectives. Fortunately these groups are banding together and finding strength in numbers and standing up to such Big Government harassment.

When a Senator can advise women’s groups to “Shut the fuck up” about the Harper government’s ridiculous stand to deny abortion funding in its maternal care (sic) foreign aid fiasco we need to worry. Senator Nancy Ruth warned that there would be government push back and repercussions if there was vocal opposition to the anti-abortion ideology of the Harper government. This politically motivated hypocritical farce has been vigorously opposed by some activist women’s groups.  Many of them found their funding cut by the Harper government the very next day.

We see Prime Minister Harper Proroguing Parliament just to hide information on torture of Afghan detainees from the Canadian public as a further erosion of democracy for purposes of retaining personal political power. We see some political theatre of the absurd as Premier Stelmach presumptuously and unilaterally extends of the term of current Senators-in-Waiting rather than face the legislated election of replacements.  This inept political posturing is motivated by fear of a potential electoral embarrassment in elections this fall in the face of rise of the Wildrose Alliance .

In such a climate of fear the state can stifle discussion and derail debate and, the process, destroy an effective democracy. Now if you are brave enough to leak confidential information to the media you need to be pretty sure you know what you are doing and be prepared to face the consequences. With the recent Supreme Court decision you can rest assured Big Brother government like Steve Harper’s will come after you, one way or another. We have seen how they handle their friends like Mulroney and Jaffer. Imagine how they will handle a little guy!

Citizens have to regain control of the politics and governance processes of oir democracy.  I think government is an important agent for change but with the wrong people in power the change is never good.  Be careful who you trust to govern us and get serious about understanding your power and options as citizens.  If you want to learn more join the Reboot Alberta citizens movement and be part of the solution

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta

We live in challenging, changing, and uncertain times. Fortunately, Albertans have the strengths, stability and stamina to deal with these volatile times. We have the resources needed to plan the next Alberta in ways that are adaptive, deliberative and wise.


That vision inspired a public lecture in Calgary (May 31) and in Edmonton (June 1) entitled “Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta.” We have three internationally renowned expert speakers. Gwynne Dyer author of “Climate Wars,” David Peat, author of “From Certainty to Uncertainy” and Scott Murray, a literacy expert and researcher who has studied impacts and implications of low literacy levels on Alberta’s economy and competitiveness.

These speakers are very familiar with Alberta. They will share perceptions, trends and ideas about the potential of a learning culture in our province. It will be an informative and engaging evening with a focus on how we go about “Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta” together.

Space is limited so we encourage early registration. For more information and online registration please CLICK HERE

Monday, May 03, 2010

Alberta Venture "The Right Call" About Working From Home

The May issue of Alberta Venture magazine is out and here is the link to The Right Call column on telecommuting and working from home.  Not for everyone and not as easy as it seems in many cases.  However when it works, it should be a viable alternative and given serious consideration.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Alberta! Whose Province is it Anyway?

Kevin Taft’s excellent piece on the Alberta economy and what has happened to growth, taxes and public policy directions in our province is worth a careful and reflective read. It begs a couple of serious public policy questions about what kind of Alberta we have and who’s province is it anyway. I think I will be doing many more posts on those questions in the future.


In his op-ed piece “Public Spending Stayed Flat as Alberta Economy Grew” he “follows the money” with some very disturbing observations about the balance of power in Alberta. He underscores the lack of attention to the needs of the greater good giving way to the profligate pursuit of short term private profit by keeping taxes low to attract investment. We all want low taxes but not so low that we can’t provide for our children, our vulnerable citizens, our safety and security and preserve natural capital and expand our human capital.

Then add the absurdly low royalty rates we change our tenants on energy exploitation crown lands and you can see where most of the money from our non-renewable resources is going. To excessive private profits at the expense of the long term common good of Albertans now and in the future.

Like Taft, I agree that profits are important and a reasonable rate of return on investments relative to risk is vital to a successful economy and a viable society. What I see happening these days is the society is subservient to the economy instead of the economy being in service of the social goals of Albertans, including the environment. Our government is not the proxy of the public interest as much as it is pandering to the private interests of the energy sector as forestry, agriculture, manufacturing and innovation languish.

The argument is not about which is better, big business or big government. Neither is appropriate to solve the problems we face or to achieve our potential as a province and a people. We need an efficient adaptable sustainable private sector economy that creates real wealth for a society not just short term excessive profits for a few. And we need a values based empowering public governance model that enables and empowers citizens to achieve their personal potential in a safe, secure, adaptive, resilient and self-reliant way that also contributes to society.

I think there are two overarching critical uncertainties that cause a creative tension between our market-based capitalist economy and our responsible representative democratic society. One critical uncertainty is that we need to balance the constantly moving ground between the rights and responsibilities of individual self-interest and the collective interests of the common good. We are all in this world together and alone so how do we rationalize the various personal roles and relationships within our culture as contributing members of our society?

The other critical uncertainty we constantly grapple with is the creative debate as to what is best done in the private sector versus the public sector. Grappling with this question provides both its benefits and show the shortcomings of each alternative. I am a big fan of the market place, but only in its place , where business can flourish but not risk the need to serve the greater good where profit is an ineffective motivation. The market place strength of competition and the “invisible hand” is not the end all and be all of a health society, just one aspect.

That competitive principle is often a marketplace myth as we see the concentration of control and ownership, poor governance controls, short term thinking, greed is good attitudes and “too big to fail” corporations that need taxpayer bailouts because of their morally bankrupt, casual corruption and crass self-aggrandizing cultures. The marketplace is allowed to be blind to inequity, injustice, and prejudice – just to name a few blind spots in those “masters of the universe” types that are too often tolerated by governments who look to them for validation and contributions. Markets are supposed to be good at efficiency – they are not always! This is often our fault as consumers.

I am also a big fan of responsible democratic government that is principled, values based, focused on governance over politics and representative and concentrated on serving the best interests of voters – not themselves. We need more politicians who are intelligent, wise and courageous enough to know what they stand for, speak out clearly about it and champion causes that reflect their personal principles and values – especially at election time. We don’t have a very good record of providing a comprehensive sense of good government in Alberta. The future for comprehensive good government looks even bleaker with the few political and policy options we are being offered from the PCs and the Wildrose. Governments are supposed to be good at effectiveness – they are not always! This is often our fault as citizens because we disengage from our civic responsibilities.

So thank you Kevin Taft for this insight and analysis of what has actually been going on in Alberta’s public spending. It is a crime that we can’t seen our way to meeting our social and environmental obligations to each other and this place we call home compared to the wealth we are creating and concentrating in the big corporate sector in this province. It is a fair assessment of a situation that is not fair to Alberta’s best interests or the best interests of ordinary Albertans either.

We Albertans can only blame ourselves. We seem to have abdicated our civic duty to this place environmentally, socially and politically…hell 60% of us can’t be bothered to get up to speed on the issues and learn about the political options so we can cast an informed vote. And while we were sublimely indifferent and disengaged our government has defaulted in its duty to serve the greater good too. It has put corporate profits ahead of the public good in a short-term shallow thinking view of Alberta’s best interests. As a once proud member of the PC Party of Alberta I take no joy in saying that. We get the government we deserve in a democracy. Too bad our expectations of ourselves as Albertans have been so apathetic. Our indifference towards realizing our full potential means that we settle for so little from ourselves, our government representatives and our industry tenants.

Wake up Alberta. It is a new century and citizenship is important again. Our democracy is in danger due to your indifference and distain for politics. Politics suck because we allow them to suck. Take control of your democracy. Create some space for viable alternatives to flourish and start demanding the end of stupid rules, insipid policy and that partisan politics trumping public interest. Thanks again Kevin for shining some light on what has been going on in the Alberta economy beyond the rhetoric and partisan positioning.