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Monday, February 28, 2011

Making Sense of the Alberta Budget

David Berry writes another perspective in the National Post about the underlying philosophy of the fiscal management of Alberta and the recent budget and the issues of our royalty rates in the energy sector.

It makes me wonder if we have a more serious revenue problem in that we are not paying our way for the actual costs of necessary public services. We are using one-time non-renewable resource revenues for current public service operations.  The Alberta Advantage idea of having the lowest taxes is part of the cultural DNA of this place.  However how much lower do our taxes have to be from those of our competitors?  That is the unasked question.  The recent Budget showed that Alberta tax revenue spread is $11B less than the next lowest province.  Do we need to be $11B lower  to be competitive?

By not paying our way on a current basis we end up using capital funds from non-renewable resource revenues to pay for current expenses.  This is not right.  Albertans are proud people who believe everyone should pay their own way but we don't translate that value into paying the cost of necessary public services from taxes and user fees.  We use capital funds from non-renewable resources instead. Isn't this approach just taking away from future generations? What is the legacy we intend to leave them as a result?

There needs to be a clearing of the air on the capital side of the recent budget too.  The Sustainability Fund is  being misrepresented in the political commentary around the Budget as a "rainy-day" or a "savings" fund.  It is neither - and never was.  It was the prudent taking of resource based surpluses and banking them for future investment in infrastructure. They are earmarked funds to be used for meeting the necessary infrastructure demands like schools and hospitals.  The Stability Fund enabled capital projects to be paid for in total, without borrowing, and at a time after the boom so we could get better prices, not compete with the private sector and generate jobs to lessen the blow of the recession.  It is a win-win-win deal.

It is not creating a fiscal deficit. It is fixing an infrastructure deficit. That infrastructure deficit was created by the policy of neglect in the Klein era when there was not enough maintenance of our schools and other public facilities. Debt and deficit reduction got carried away and was done way too rapidly. It left problems of facility neglect and deferral of other facilities we needed  like schools and hospitals to respond to the rapid population growth in Alberta from people moving here in the last boom.

We bragged that we paid off the debt in about 7 years, and I believe it was done even faster than that. Debt and deficit reduction was designed as a 25 year prudent program by the then Finance Minister, Jim Dinning.  We can't just blame the Klein government for this infrastructure deficit and late response to growth pressures.  We Albertans encouraged our politicians to pursue the hyper-rapid debt pay down. We also ignored the more prudent longer range planning that was in place to smooth out the boom and bust cycles and lessen the fiscal excesses that hurt us in both parts of the boom and bust cycles.

So don't be fooled by talk of the deficit being created in this last budget - from any of the current political parties, including the PCs strangely enough.  Why have they used deficit language to describe the conversion of the Stability Fund from cash to physical capital?  The Stability Fund is being used precisely for the purposes intended and at a "bust" time when we can get better value for the taxpayer's money.

Lets also look at the Alberta Advantage of low taxes and see if we have gone too far in tax reductions.  We are at the point current Albertans are not paying our way.  We are misappropriating non-renewable resource money from future generations to be spent on us now.  We were motivated in  1993 election to to pay down the debt and deficit in large part because we felt we could not leave that burden to our children.  I wonder if we appreciate that we are spending their natural resource birthright now because we are failing, refusing or neglecting to pay our own way today.

That is just one of the adult conversations that has to be held amongst Albertans going into the next election.  I wonder if Albertans in 2011 will feel the same way we did in 1993 about our duty and obligation to future generations...or is our sense of entitlement so strong that we just don't care about the legacy we are leaving our children, socially, environmentally or economically.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Some Priority Concerns Raise Questions in the Alberta Budget

I think the Alberta Budget announced this week - Premier Stelmach's last, has a lot going for it. There is some stuff that is not great but it is by and large a progressive prudent budget.  It is delivered in the classic political technique of setting up trial balloons of pending harsh expectations, then delivering something less brutal seems like a reprieve.  So the kudos are not always the result of any pure objective analysis.  Perceptions, values and mindsets of citizens are always a big part of the art of budgeting.

The Wildrose Alliance will say we have a spending problem and dire consequences will befall us is just wrong on the facts and misleading in the analysis.  More on that in subsequent posts I expects.  Bottom line is there is not deficit in this budget.  We earmarked cash in the Stability Fund to pay for much needed infrastructure to responds to years of neglect and to catch up to the population growth we ignored in the Klein days.  Using that designated cash on hand to build schools and hospitals and roads is not creating a deficit.

What I really want to do is direct your attention to an excellent editorial in the Edmonton Journal of Saturday Feb 26.  The title captures the mood of the piece "Budget Rich in Troubling Questions."  I think there are some unsettling questions Albertans need to ask themselves about if we are paying our way for the necessary public services we demand from government.  We also have to revisit the "huge handouts ...to oil and gas companies...in the drilling stimulus program."

Read this editorial carefully and consider if these policies make sense to you on incentives and royalty breaks.  Do we really need them or should Albertans start acting like the owners of our resources and have a more mutually beneficial business-like and not serf-like relation with those we license to develop our resources.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

It is Saturday Morning - Time for a Creative Diversion

Here is something that is worth watching if only for the sheer enjoyment of design and creativity.
http://www.youtube.com/watch_popup?v=qybUFnY7Y8w
(H/T to Paul Traynor for the link)
Enjoy.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Honesty in Politics: Oxymoron or Obligation?

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch has published a very important article on honesty in politics entitled "Is the 'High Road' Closed to Politicians?"  

Here is his closing statement:

"It is no wonder that the No. 1 reason non-voters give for failing to cast a ballot is lack of honesty in politics, or that dishonesty is voters’ top concern when it comes to government accountability.
Politicians need to be held accountable for their honesty just as the rest of Canada’s citizens are every day. It’s time for our political leaders to prove their worth by passing a strong honesty-in-politics law, giving voters a reason to trust them again."
Albertans have told us in research done under Reboot Alberta that Integrity, Honesty, Accountability and Transparency are the most vital values we want in our politicians.  We also know we are not getting the necessary commitment to those values under the current political culture.
The all to common responses of citizens to this democratic deficit has been to withdraw from politics and forfeit our responsibilities of making an informed and active choice about who we want to govern us.  In Alberta this is especially true when 60% of us can't even be bothered to cast a ballot to state our preference for how we should be governed and by whom.
The Edmonton Sun has run a very insightful Editorial today on the impact and danger of ideology over evidence and dogma over ideas.  It really sets out the changing dynamics in Alberta politics in a way I see and hopeful for  real change to happen.
Trust in democracy, our politics and our political culture is not a given any more.  People just don't trust our institutions any more - because most of them have done so much to betray our trust.  Trust is a judgment call that measures the reliability of someone to act and perform as expected and will not fail us, let us down or mislead us.
The political culture of spin and messaging is all about deception dynamics that create distrust as a result.  We need to insist on integrity, honesty, accountability and transparency from our politicians, the political parties, the institutions we rely on to make our society function like the media.  We also have to rise up to the responsibility of citizenship and not be intimidated by fear or coercion of authorities that use bullying and intimidation to compel compliance. 
We need to actualize the spirit of Reboot Alberta and as citizens take back Control of our democracy by informed active participation in politics.  We need to create viable political Alternatives to the one-party state we have let dominate our democracy in Alberta.  We need to Delete the power of those in politics for personal power broker reasons and not in the spirit of servant leaders.
We need new faces, and a fresh start and a return to moderate progressive policies that are based on integrity, honesty, accountability.  We need an alternative like the Alberta Party to shape up and shake up the system that has long since stopped serving the greater good.






Monday, February 21, 2011

Some Context on Public Education in Anticipation of the Alberta Budget

The Alberta government called off the tripartite talks with Alberta's teachers and school trustees out of the blue.  Very strange since it was such a good initiative.  The idea of extending "labour peace" with teachers and trustees beyond the August 2012 date of the current agreement would enable a continuing focus on improving and transforming what is already an excellent public education system. One wonders if all the good work of public dialogue behind Inspiring Education will not be lost.

So now we apparently have a deficit budget provincially.  That budget, like all budgets, is a political projection based on assumptions and political purposes that we will see more clearly on budget day February 24th.   All indications are that we can expect the fiscal hawks and privateers to jump at this opportunity be pushing for more private sector competition for teachers and school boards as the solution to public education..  This is the same tactics they use in health care and social services, only more subtly with language designed to obscure their real intent.

In anticipation of the propaganda and rhetoric about our financial crisis I think some honest and accountable conversations have to take place.   Here is a link to one of those "movies" from an American source but the principles about public education work in our Alberta.  It is about 6.5 minutes long and worth a watch.  (Hat Tip to School Trustee Esme Comfort for the link)  It is an interesting "debate" between an anti-unionist and a teacher that has resonance in Alberta.

I like the way it puts perspective on the roles and relationship of the government to teachers.  I like the explanation of where public education fits in our social contract with the responsibilities we have for current and future generations.  Those are the same questions we face for the future of Alberta as we Learn Our Way to the Next Alberta.  The facts used by the privateers in their arguments to say government is the problem and the competitive marketplace is the solution are selective, simplistic and shallow.

This clip shows the inability or refusal of the libertarian mindset to see the interplay of various aspects that influence public policy issues like health, education, environment and other necessary public services.  Sound bite politics are not consistent with good governance. We really need to focus on good governance and not so much on power-play politics if we are going to realize our potential as a province.

We all have a stake in ensuring our public education system in Alberta is able to meet the needs of kids today and for the future they will face.  That is core to the Alberta Aspiration of thinking beyond being the best in the world but being the best for the world.  Learn more about these thoughts and ideas at the evening public lecture on March 17 with Pollster/Author Michael Adams and Professor/Author Jean Twenge at the Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton.  Click here to get tickets online.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Rick Mercer Rants on Canada's Telecommunications Costs

The User Based Billing bunk and the enormously uncompetitive telecommunications business in Canada is going to ensure we are marginalized and continue to be penalized in the new economy.

Rick Mercer captures the essence of this angst and should spark the anger of Canadians on the gouging that is going on.  The CRTC seems to be the epitome of the Stockholm Syndrome held captive by cable operators and telcos who control most of the excessively expensive access to the Internet while not even feigning to be interested in being the regulator and protector of the public interest on this issue.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Notes on Getting to Know the Alberta Party

THE ALBERTA PARTY DIFFERENCE!
There is a foundational idea that underpins the spirit and intent of the upstart Alberta Party.   This is a new citizen's movement forming into a political party.  It is starting to make waves in the volatile Alberta political culture.  That idea is about "Doing Politics Differently." The intent is to move beyond the narrow focused partisan motivated choice between left or right that is so embedded in the current approaches.

The evolution of the Alberta Party is a work in progress by progressives for Albertans and all about "Doing Politics Differently" - but on a fast track too. The next election is not that far away.  The Alberta Party is busy  getting ready with constituency set ups, a leadership selection, candidate recruitment and fund raising so we can be a force in the next election.

GOOD IDEAS COME FROM MANY SOURCES:
The Alberta Party difference is the belief that there not one source of good ideas.  Good ideas should be used, not refused, simply because they come from "the other side."  The traditional adversarial model of decision making creates political winners and losers.  It will always get you an answer.  It rarely gets you a very good answer and it is not even interested in pursuing the best possible public policy answer.  It short changes the citizen's best interest and pushes politics into gamesmanship.

Another Alberta Party differentiating attribute is a commitment to embracing difference and diversity over dogma and doctrine. This is why the Alberta Party is attracting membership from all the traditional doctrinaire style political parties and peopl who never belonged to a political party before in their lives.  Albertans are coming to realize and savour this diversity as a fundamental principle of the Alberta Party.  You can be yourself and share your best ideas openly, without fear, as we work together to map out a plan for the Next Alberta as Albertans.


LISTENING IS A LOST ART:
Listening is a lost art in these days of hyperactive partisanship and always-on connectivity.  In the Alberta Party part of doing politics differently is the expectation of people that they will be listened to, heard and understood.  That respectful expectation goes both ways as we gather together as citizens to discuss and design the best way forward to the Next Alberta.

Our values research out of Reboot Alberta shows the largest portion of Albertans are in the progressive thinking centre. They want a polity and a government that aligns with values of integrity, honesty, accountability, transparency, environmental stewardship, fiscal and personal responsibility.   The progressives  have started to wake up to the fact that political participation is not a choice any more.  It is a necessity if the Next Alberta is going to reflect their hopes and aspirations for themselves, their families and their province.  The Alberta Party is becoming their preferred choice to make such a difference.

The Alberta Party is inviting people to rethink, redesign, and restructure politics and governance in Alberta.  The Big Listen is a continuing process to engage citizens in the difficult and messy process of citizen participation.  Participation and conversations create the conditions to form new relationships, gain new insights and achieve enhanced levels of commitment to citizenship and democracy.  This is not about delivering change to people.  It is a journey to involve citizens in the co-creation of the change people want.

COMMAND & CONTROL TOP-DOWN POLITICS IS DONE!
The old standard of top-down, command and control edicts dictated by political bosses is done.  The power has shifted to like-minded persons working in horizontal networks spawned by the Internet and social media.  This shift has neutered the power-based model of enforced compliance through intimidation, innuendo and bullying.  There is still some who cling to power by hunting down the disloyal and repeating their propaganda until is becomes perceived as "fact." In the new social media made networks, citizens are more interested in learning, sharing and growing as persons than they are in being loyal or compliant to some political authority that insists on enforced obedience.

Reality has always been something that individuals create and interpret for themselves based on values and perceptions.  Reality is not something prescribed by someone else any more.  It is more about what we believe in that determines what we see. We only believe in and commit to those things that align with our values.  That alignment with our values and beliefs actually defines significance for us. Shared significance drives groups to form who then decide to get active in solving the great problems we face together.  Shared significance is a product of conversations and that is why the Big Listens will continue to be embedded in the Alberta Party culture.

It is important to understand we don't have to completely agree on an interpretation or hold identical values to agree on what needs to be done to resolve an issue.  We need to get off our personal or partisan soapboxes and open up to new ways of thinking, even if they disturb us.  What then invariably happens is individuals come to agree on concerted courses of action and will make personal commitments to the goals that are decided.  We can have the collective wisdom of the crowd or the pooled ignorance of the power elites.

FIXING DEMOCRACY:
Finally, the democratic system in Alberta is broken.  It is performing poorly partly because too many citizens have abdicated their duty to become informed and active supporters of real representative democracy.  It is as if they presumed they are above the responsibility for good governance and the selection of quality people to hold public office.

A broken social system, like our democracy, only gets fixed by those who are in it.  The repair work happens by people talking amongst themselves and changing themselves - and the system.  The Alberta Party is an example of people coming together within a system, talking and taking personal responsibility to share information and ideas for a better functioning democracy.  It is a living organic system, not a machine model, of human interaction.

This is part of my personal sense of what makes Alberta Party politics Different.  The Doing aspect of changing the political culture in Alberta requires different thinking by individuals about the role of government.  What you do is determined by what you think.  It is all a part of exercising citizenship, stewardship and leadership.  These are all large concepts but let me give you a thumbnail of each one as part of Doing Politics Differently.  


RENEWING CITIZENSHIP  STEWARDSHIP &LEADERSHIP:
Citizenship is an act of intentional informed  engagement on things that matter and are meaningful to individuals.  Those persons who know what matters to themselves are more likely to commit to apply their skills and capacities to serve themselves as well as the greater good.  Leadership is not an assigned or an assumed task.  It is a shared task.  In horizontal organizations leadership is not static.  It moves around and amongst those in the network and is taken up by different people at different times by certain individuals depending on the task and the skills required at the time.  Leadership is shared but it begins in the mirror for engaged netizens.  The other key aspect of the difference in Doing politics the Alberta Party way is the collective and personal stewardship duties for the environment, the society, the biodiversity of the planet and pride in the legacy we will leave for future generations.

SOME EXAMPLES OF THE ALBERTA PARTY WAY OF DOING POLITICS DIFFERENTLY: 
Here is a link to a Letter to the Editor of Will Munsey that captures much of what I am talking about when it comes to the spirit and intent of the Alberta Parry - in his own experience.  He resonates with my sense of the Alberta Party in this letter.  Will's letter tells me I am not alone.

Here is another story about the relationship of municipal governments to the provincial government and how services are provided to the taxpayer/citizen.  It quotes Glenn Taylor the three time Mayor of Hinton, Vice President (Towns) for the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and candidate for Leader of the Alberta Party.  Full disclosure, I am working on Glenn's campaign for Alberta Party Leader.

Again it shows the change in thinking towards horizontal collaborative partnership relationships that have to replace command and control paternalism inherent in vertical concepts of "senior" orders of government.  Taxpayers want quality public services that represent value for money.  They don't care much which order or level of government provides them. These collaborative partnership models of governance have to trump traditional hierarchies as we Learn Our Way to the Next Alberta. 

This blog post is just some of the reasons why I am in the Alberta Party and supporting Glenn Taylor as its servant-leader.  Join us in moving past the Alberta Advantage and into the journey of defining the Aspirations of the Next Alberta.  The Alberta Advantage was a scheme to make us the best in the world.  The Alberta Aspiration is to use our blessings and skills to become the best for the world.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Interesting Insight Into the Mood of Blog Readers?

So the Burning Question last week was about the mood of some readers of this blog.  This is not a scientific sampling and only a conversation starter.

We did not put a context on the question just what is your mood about so it is hard to be specific around context.  There were 41% who were on the optimistic side and 22% pessimistic.  Things are generally very good in Alberta but the future is uncertain for 34% of us.  For what it is worth the majority of those who responded are not in a particularly happy place.  Why is that with all the wealth we are told we have?

The economy is turning around, so we are told. So why only 41% of us are optimistic? There is a lingering concern that are we in for another energy sector induced Boom.  But is that a good thing in the minds of most of us.  I think not. We have seen the negative results of that last two Booms.  Is it time to print the third version of the iconic Alberta Bumper Sticker? Please God Give me One More Boom and I Promise Not to Piss it Away - AND THIS TIME I MIGHT ACTUALLY MEAN IT!

The Boom-Bust cycles are harmful for most of us. We make a bunch of money but the hours are long and it takes a toll on families.  The other sectors in our economy suffer staff shortages and we end up with social pressures of all kinds.

Can't we level out the booms and busts so we have steady predictable growth that enhances the well being and prosperity of more Albertans and not just the few at the top in the energy industry?  Is the Alberta destiny to be captives of destructive Booms and then devastating Busts?  There are billions of dollars of investment in oil sands already and billions more to come. How can we optimizing the full range of benefits of this investment now and for future generations?

What is our legacy going to be from the development of the oil sands?  I think it can be fabulous but only if we Albertans, as owners of the oil sands, get engaged in the politics and policy around the responsible and sustainable development of our resource.  With a world addicted to hydrocarbons and Alberta being the only place with significant reserves that is a functioning democracy, we citizen/owners have some serious obligations beyond getting as rich as possible as fast as possible from oil sands development.

What are your thoughts on Booms and Busts being the destiny of Alberta?  Do you like it of not?  What can we do to provide for a more rational integrated economic growth, with environmental protection and a society enhancing approach?  We Albertans are the owners of the oil sands.  We have the blessing and bear the burden of oil sands development as a result.  What do you think we should insist on from the industry as our tenants and the government as our property managers?

What would it take to make you proud as an Albertan and as an owner of the oil sands?  I think the announcement of the commercial upgrader/refinery in Fort Saskatchewan area yesterday is a good start. We Albertans will get more value from the bitumen royalty we take in-kind instead of cash and create the jobs and value here, including raising the bar on environmental concerns like carbon capture.    What do you think?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bill 36: The Alberta Land Stewardship Act - Fix It - Don't Kill It.

I want to direct your attention to a very well written op-ed piece in the Edmonton Journal, written by my friend Joe Obad, the Associate Director of Water Matters. It is a clear and comprehensive survey of why we need to retain the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (ALSA) but we must fix it too.

The Alliance Party has said they would repeal the ALSA if they formed government. There is an election coming up soon so that is not an idle threat. That repeal position is consistent with the fundamental libertarian-based  beliefs of the Alliance.  They promote that private rights are paramount along with a belief that government is the problem and the marketplace can solve most if not all public policy problems.

Private property is one of the great things about our society and a basis of our prosperity.  There are times, however, when the greater good of community, has to take precedence.  For example when infrastructure requires private property to be expropriated and used for community needs like roads, schools, hospitals and so forth.  Now there is an other community interest legislated in the ALSA that recognises of a common community responsibility for stewardship of water, air, land and habitat protection.That is a good thing.

The balancing and choosing between competing values and interests is the essence of good governance.  That is why we elect governments. There is a growing suspicion amongst land owners, in rural Alberta especially, that bad politics might be used to choose instead of good governance.  It seems to many that politics are are play here. People are concerned that their lands can be taken by the government at the discretion (or whim?) of a Minister, without compensation or appeal to the courts.  That is the wrong way to go and once such a suspicion is embedded, it is hard to prove otherwise.  Cynicism dominates.  There is a line of argument that says none of those fears are founded but they persist anyway.

There is a perceived lack of clarity in the legislation that needs to be fixed to assure people that politics are not at play here and will not be.  There needs to be an explicit commitment to the protection of property rights of landowners.  There needs to be a clear commitment to a fair and open expropriation process with a legislated guarantee of adequate compensation and the right to seek redress from the courts if need be.

People knows that politics tends to enable abuse and coercion and that can't come into play here or anywhere else in good governance.  Interpretations of the implications of the ALSA vary and the intentions of the PC government are suspect.  Frustration, fear and distrust dominate the public discussions and the feelings of those showing up at the community meetings who hear and outline of the downside of the ALSA.

The fact that there is so much suspicion, lack of trust and disrespect for the stated intentions of the government on this matter is very telling.  It shines a spotlight on just how big the trust and respect gap is between the governed and the governors in Alberta these days.  It is the belief of many Albertans that our democracy is broken when well intended policy decisions are met with such fear and resistance.  It is also a terrific opportunity to play opposition politics and feed the fear and frustration for political gain. It is for others to decide if that is happening here but it is a legitimate question .

There is a lot that is very good and progressive about the ALSA.  Clearly some things about the legislation that need to be fixed for clarity, reassurance of intent and with strong guarantees to protect the property rights of citizens.  The value of environmental stewardship is near and dear to the hearts of most Albertans, including most private property owners. We can't lose those aspects of the legislation with a political promise of the Alliance to merely repeal the entire Act once elected. Repealing it is not a viable option.  That goes too far in the other direction.  Revisiting it and clarifying it is the best approach.

Joe Obed sets out the issues and events and the need for Albertans to have the ALSA.  He also put  the duty to get it right squarely on the Stelmach government.  We can only hope that there will be an honest, open, accountable and transparent process that empowers people and that the province engages in an authentic conversation with Albertans so we can keep the best and fix the rest of the ALSA.  We all need to be sure we get it right and that means we need fix it - not kill it.

Conversations matter.  Not every conversation changes the world but every time the world actually changes it  was usually started by a conversation.  Lets park the debate model that looks for winners and losers.  Lets dispel with the superficial meaningless public consultation processes.  Lets have an adult conversation that is province wide that uses the best evidence, the best expertise and seeks a mutually acceptable solution based on the principles or peace, order and good government...not top down command and control power politics.  Hopefully we will see some amendments to the ALSA in line with these aspirations in the forthcoming session of the Legislature.  Time will tell.

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Egypt the Revolution Was Tweeted! Is Alberta Next?

Very interesting article in the Sunday edition of the Toronto Star by Don Tapscott entitled "Here Comes the Wiki Revolution."  I like Don Tapscott's writings and read his books. Still have to get to MacroWikinomics but the sub title alone "Rebooting Business and the World" grabs my attention as one of the instigators of Reboot Alberta. 

Tapscott starts with a challenge to the Malcolm Gladwell assertion last October in The New Yorker magazine essay "Small Change:Why the Revolution Won't be Tweeted."  Gladwell contended that social media only created "weak ties" between people and it took "strong ties" and close relationships to bring about real social change.

Tapscott says "If Twitter, Facebook and YouTube didn't exist, Hosni Mubarak would still be president of Egypt.  The social media tools gave Mubarak's opponents unprecedented ability to share information and organize their activities, including massive protest which riveted the world's attention."  This is the core new reality of the shift of power to the networks of engaged citizens from hierarchies of personal power brokers.

Last June  a 28 year-old businessman Khaled Said was beaten to death by two police officers. Said has posted video of these police officers dealing in illegal drugs.  Shortly after Said 's death a Facebook page was created called "We Are All Khaled Said" with pictures of his beaten body in the morgue.  Within weeks the site had over 100,000 friends and that grew to over 500,000 and became a rallying point for Egyptians.

Tapscott notes that social media "...can take weak ties between people initiated on the web can become strong ties and forge close relationships that organize for social change. Egypt shutting down the Internet gave citizens no other choice but to take to the street to communicate.  The paradox is dictators typically take control of the conventional gatekeeper media and can effectively control the message and stifle rebellion.  When the access to the Internet and social media was removed by Mubarak, those in remote and decentralized connected nodes "were triggered into action" and took to the streets. It had just to opposite effect from what the dictator expected.

Social Media Implications for Governments
There are some very serious lessons here for modern democracies and free market enterprises.  Stable democracies but with fundamental political deficits around accountability, honesty, transparency and openness, like Alberta and Canada, should take heed.  The political leaders and political parties depend on the voluntary consent by citizens to those in power to govern us. When the citizen wake up looking for change they will show up to make that change happen.  The voter volatility in Alberta is early signs of citizens waking up politically and not liking what they see offered by the current options.

When we vote, or not vote, we voluntarily give up some personal power and individual agency to politicians to form governments that we expect will act for the greater good.  The engaged and informed but frustrated or angry citizen will not comply with the old and outdated vertical political power model. It is being replaced by a horizontal participatory public service model of governance where stable and mature democracies are involved.  Social media is playing an enormous role in creating and sustaining that change to horizontal based shared governance with real citizen participation in the political culture.

Social Media Implications for Industry.
Industry that depends on a social license to operate in the marketplace is also in serious peril from the organizational capacity of social media.  The growing public opposition to big Telcos and Cable operators over ridiculously high cost and low performance of Internet service and the manipulation of rates known as User Based Billing is going to bring them to heel.  That is only one sector to feel the pressure.  Any other regulated sector is vulnerable and those unregulated industries will not escape the power of the mouse.

The shifting of public opinion on oil sands in Alberta and around the world, is another prime area where the corporations developing this resource are now responding to demands for authentic corporate social responsibility beyond providing investment, jobs and public relations campaigns.

Governments and industry who are not accountable, open and transparent, that do not align overtly and effectively with the values of the culture they operate in and fail refuse or neglect to adapt have reason to be afraid - very afraid.

The Alberta Party and Social Media
The Alberta Party and its membership gets this shift from vertical power based democracy to horizontal participatory democracy.  We know that social media is a powerful force to create and sustain this shift in power distribution and citizen participation in politics. We are mocked by those who's power comes from the status quo for saying we want to do politics differently.  We are belittled by conventional-traditional political thinkers who make comments like "it looks like the Alberta Party is trying to Tweet its way to power."   We are and we will because the capacity to do so is in the Internet here and the will of citizens for a better government will make it happen.

Those who think that accusing the Alberta Party of "Tweeting it's way to power" are partly true but they don't understand the difference this new technology is making.  What is happening is not a set of weak tie  relationships but new vibrant networks are forming of like-minded citizens who have decided to get involved in the spirit of Reboot.

They are citizens who are going to retake Control of our democracy and politics.  Many are looking to create Alternatives like the Alberta Party and others are dedicated to changing others parties from within.  Then there is the need to Delete the old attitudes that lead to cynicism and disengagement from politics and participating in preserving our democracy.

Rebooting Alberta
The Reboot Alberta effort was the sparked that got progressives in Alberta together where we realized we were not alone and others shared our values and perceptions.  We also realized political complacency was not a citizenship option in Alberta any more.  We had to get engaged in the political culture of the times to change the trajectory from the hard core right wing shift we saw happening with the rise of the Wildrose Alliance and its libertarian governing ideology.

The forlorn belief that there is no reason to believe that anything can or will change justified not getting involved.  The amazing way citizens in Egypt and Tunisia used their collected energy enabled by social media to overcome fear and get rid of dictators has to be an inspiration.  Citizens in Alberta are starting to challenge how their governments work and behave.

Albertans have a safe secure and stable society but without much resolve to achieve our true potential. We must move past the pure economic realm of the Alberta Advantage.  We need to consider what are our Alberta Aspirations in this changing world.  Those aspirations, must be a stretch that worthy of us and push our potential as people and a province.  We have to be a more integrated in our thinking and always be concerned for the economy, the environment and our social cohesion in policy and politics.

One of my aspirations as an Albertan is in the spirit and intend of the new Alberta Party as we create a new progressive, inclusive political culture with integrity, accountability, transparency, fiscal responsibility and environmental stewardship as fundamental values.  I see so much potential in this new citizen's movement that has morphed into the Alberta Party.  I am inspired by the courage and commitment of individual Egyptians and Tunisians who have so much more to lose and so much to gain by getting engaged.  I only hope Albertans  will now commit to change by a personal resolution for a peaceful but profound political revolution in Alberta.

Changing Educational Paradigms

Sir Ken Robinson was recently in Red Deer to a packed house interested in the future of public education.  We will be able to provide some clips of the presentation ion the near future.

Here is an interesting video on Sir Ken Robinson on changing educational paradigms.  This is interesting stuff for context on Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta.  You should block off the evening of March 17 for a lecture by Michael Adams of Environics and author of a new book about the last half of life for Baby Boomers called "Stayin' Alive." 


Dr. Jean Twenge will also be speaking on  her new book "The Narcissist Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement."  This is part of the Learning Our Way as Aspiring Albertans series pf lectures and workshops we at Cambridge Strategies do with the ATA.

You can learn more and order tickets by clicking here.

His comments on ADHD are relevant to a new book by Kathryn Burke call "An Accidental Advocate" we have helped publish.  This book is a first person account of Kathryn's journey with her ADHD son and the struggle to get him the educational help he needs.


You can learn more about the book and order it here

Thoughts on the Changing Political Landscape in Alberta

Brandon Beasley has written a very interesting opinion piece in the University of Calgary student newspaper The Gauntlet "Alberta Politics: Out With the Old."

His point is that the re-alignment of Alberta politics would see the Progressive Conservative Party split in two.  The progressives would go to"the upstart centrist" Alberta Party and the conservatives would join the social and fiscal conservative Wildrose.  The Alberta Liberals would fold into the centrist Alberta Party leaving the NDP on the left.

This would provide a full spectrum of choices for a revived democracy in Alberta.  An interesting proposal for sure.  I wonder what it would take to make it happen.  For sure the PCs are likely to split to some further degree with either social conservatives leaving if a progressive wins and progressives leaving it Ted Morton wins.  There is no leadership candidate who has announced yet that is compelling enough to bridge that chasm.

As for the Liberals, unless someone like Anne McLellan runs and wins the leadership there is little chance for change to the fortunes there.  I don't see Anne wanting that "challenge" these days.

The NDP has it's core support and is comfortable in its role as the Jiminy Cricket kind of conscience of Alberta politics.  They are there just to keep the others honest and on their toes...and they are good at it. In fact they are very good at it that nobody wants to see them in any other role.  

Just some thoughts on possible options as time goes on and three political parties are hold leadership campaigns.  Hard to imagine the same old - same old is going to be the expected outcome of such a thirst by citizens for a real change in Alberta politics.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Oil Sands Film Completely One-Sided

There is a need for a real conversation about the oil sands based on evidence and science.  Propaganda by any side does not help and it is good to see some evidence based push back by industry.  The slick ad campaigns by industry and the Alberta government are perceived as nothing more than the propaganda from the other side.

Albertans as owners of the oil sands are not amused by any of this posturing.  Albertan's own the oil sands and we are becoming a target around the world.  The agitprop approaches are not helpful.  We want and deserve to have a sense of pride in this amazing opportunity.  That opportunity is not just to get rich as possible as quickly as possible.

The real opportunity is to be the best stewards of our Alberta owned hydrocarbon resources on the planet.  That means environmental stewardship, biodiversity stewardship, social impact stewardship, reclamation stewardship and to maximize the fiscal return from the exploitation of the resource for future generations of Albertans.  

Creating jobs and attracting investment is just the ante into the oil sands game.  There is so much more that needs to be done, can be done and to the credit of those oil sands corporations in the Oil Sands Leadership Initiative - is being done. More on that in later posts.

Creative Culture is Key to Inspiring Action on Education

Haley Simons is the driving force behind Creative Alberta and one of the key people behind Sir Ken Robinson coming to Red Deer last week.

Creative Alberta is also a strong supporter of the citizen's movement to Save Our Fine Arts (SOFA) that has 7000 people involved in the cause.  SOFA convened almost 700 citizens to an evening n Calgary on January 25 to hear Minister Dave Hancock and others talk about the role of arts education in Alberta.  You can watch the SHAW TV coverage of the SOFA event and see the broadcast time slots at this link.

Haley recently wrote a piece on the SOFA meeting that was published by the Alberta Teachers' Association. I highly recommend you read it.

I was at both evenings and thoroughly enjoyed both of them...and am part of Creative Alberta and a fan of SOFA too.

Next up in the public engagement on the future of public education is a public lecture by Michael Adams and Jean Twenge on March 17 at Sutton Place Hotel in Edmonton. This is part of the Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta project we are doing in conjunction with the ATA.  You can learn more and get tickets here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Watching the Culture War in Right Wing Alberta

The latest Environics Research Group Poll of 1,011 random Albertans 18 years old and over, in six geographic segments, Edmonton, Calgary, small cities, rural south, central and northern done between January 20 and 31, 2011 with a margin of error of +/-3.1% 95 times out of 100.

Good News for the PCs?  Not So Much!
The results are very interesting and imply some surprising changes.  Notwithstanding the turmoil in health care from Duckett to Sherman and the emergency room crisis, the PC support not only held, it improved from a pretty consistent base of 34% in three surveys from October 2009, March and November 2010 to 38% today.

There is a misplaced sense of relief in the PCs based on finally having hit the bottom...an presuming the only way to go it up.  Remember Premier Stelmach announced he is leaving politics (eventually) on January 25, with wall to wall media coverage and right in the middle of this poll.

What is the contributing factor of the 4% bounce for the PCs?  Some will say the Stelmach departure announcement and I expect that is partly right. Others will say the Wildrose Alliance has peaked and the support  was a parking place to send a message of dissatisfaction to Premier Stelmach.  He seems to have gotten the message by quitting so it is time to return to the PC fold. That is partly right too.  It looks like it is definitely right when yo see a 10% up tick for the PCs outside Edmonton and Calgary...that will be cause for a sigh of relief in Toryland.  The anger fomenting in rural Alberta over land bills and fears of private property rights in the face of increased Ministerial power over people is not turning folks off the PC or causing them to rush to the Alliance.  In fact the Alliance support in rural and small city Alberta is down 8%.  Go figure

Bottom line, the PCs are in minority government territory no matter which way you slice the numbers.  That is merely survival at best and not success by any measure given the dynasty they have created.

Wildrose Alliance Peaked and Piqued?
The question about the WAP is how solid is their support and what level is it at when push come to shove at the actual ballot box?  As a place to protest the Alliance has been handy since the Calgary Glenmore By-election when the Deputy Premier quit.  The Alliance won but the Liberal vote held and the PCs dropped to third place from a very comfortable margin of support from before.  The message was being sent by some Calgary PCs staying home and others in open anger with their perceived loss of influence on the Premier's office from the Ralph Klein days.

The drop of 2% in Calgary for the PCs and the Alliance with a 3% drop by the NDP resulted in a 5% bounce for the Liberals.  Calgary is getting interesting and volatile now too as voters there showed with the election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi, an Alberta Party supporter.  Danielle Smith is more than Calgary-centric but the "entitled" power elites in Calgary now longer control the vote results.  Nenshi proved that last October.

The dramatic drop of Alliance support in Edmonton (-7%) and the Rest of Alberta (-8) has to be unnerving for the Smith supporters. The anger with the PCs and the media hype over Smith versus Stelmach is over so Albertans are now taking a serious look at the Alliance and their politics.

Whither the Liberals and the NDP?
The overall results show the Liberals up 3% and the NDP down 3%, and this poll was done before Dr. Swann quit the Liberal leadership.  The NDP are trending down 3% everywhere in Alberta.  If this holds they may be seen as irrelevant in the next election, especially if the major trends are who will win the culture war on the right and who in the centre can we count on to replace both the Morton and Smith factions in the social conservative and public service stifling approach they both take.

For the Liberals there is some reason to hope not all is lost with a 3% overall bounce coming mostly from Calgary and Edmonton areas.  At 22% they are within the margin of error with the Alliance.  Will they be the choice for opposition or will the Alliance get the nod?  Way too early to tell and lots more political drama to unfold before that question is top of mind.

Things Not Considered!
There are two serious other issues not captured or reported in this poll.  The Undecided is said to be 18% overall slightly more than past polls.  However the poll results are blended answers of two questions.  "If a provincial  election were held today, which one of the following parties would you vote for?"  The second question is of the Undecided. "Perhaps you have not yet made up your mind; is there nevertheless a party you might be presently inclined to support?"


When you back out the second "inclined to support question" you get the true undecided.  I called Tony Coulson of Environics to find out the actual Undecided without the leaning aspect.  It is a whopping 27% - not the blended decided and leaning numbers that left a 18% Undecided!

That is very significant to show the volatility of the Alberta voter these days.  We don't know how that 27% distributes between Edmonton, Calgary and the Rest of Alberta but with a population of 1/3 in each segment, it could be significant in final seat results. If you back out that 9% leaning vote and distribute it proportionately with the Decided votes the hard core support for the PCs and the Alliance is significantly softer and less than reported.

What: No Alberta Party?
Finally there is no reference to the Alberta Party in the results.  I understood that the Alberta Party was excluded from the November 2010 Environics Poll because they did not have a seat. In all fairness that was true for the most part in this survey period.  Dave Taylor joined the Alberta Party as its first MLA on January 25th, right in the middle of the data gathering.  However, next time I expect the Alberta Party will be included.  It will be interesting to see what impact the Alberta Party has overall and on Liberal, NDP and progressives in the PCs who are afraid of that party moving more to the right under Morton.



Albertan's Have to Take Back Control of Their Democracy

There is a great deal of defensiveness from some Alberta government-side politicians who are feeling at-risk these days with the new volatility in the Alberta political culture.  That defensiveness is being expressed in public meetings by some - not all - PC MLAs lashing out at citizens and accusing advocates of being liars.  Not good.

Danielle Klooster has done a very engaging blog post around such an experience that I recommend you read and reflect on.  (H/T to AlbertaVote.ca for the link)

There is an increasing level of anxiety and angst reflected in what amounts to casual corruption through acts of intimidation and bullying of employees, agencies, boards and commissions by political people in "our" government.  that behaviour includes politicians actually calling staff people directly making vague threats and innuendos clearly embedded in the kinds of questions they ask.

It is very difficult to bring truth to power when power has its own agenda.  It is even more difficult to bring truth when that agenda is abusive of those who are vulnerable and pushed to compliance for personal survival.

We know that Albertans see Integrity and Accountability as the most important values in their politicians.  We also know we don't have enough of it in our current political culture.  An election is coming up.  That is a time of citizen's making choices and sending messages.  Silence and cynicism is no longer an option if you value your democracy and want to have your say.

Compliance in the face of bullying is not an option if you want respect from the politicians who are supposedly working you.  Complacency is not an option if you want self respect.  Citizenship is about leadership and in a democracy that leadership starts by looking yourself in the mirror and staking a stand.

It's time for Albertans to take back control of our democracy by engaging.  It is time to empower and embrace alternatives to the status quo.  It is time to delete those from political power who are inept, abusive and believe they are above accountability to the public.  It's time for Albertans to start thinking for a change in government and about a change in governance.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

An Alberta Party Update from Sue Huff

Sue Huff, Interim Leader of the Alberta Party speaks in Lethbridge at a special meeting of the Southern Alberta Council of Public Affairs on the development and growth of the the Alberta Party.

If you are Alberta Party curious, and who isn't these days, you can get a real sense of who we are and where we are on policy, people and progress of the Alberta Party.   Listen to this audio file of Sue Huff's in a speech to over 100 folks who came out to learn more about the Alberta Party.

The Q and A is very interesting too.

If you want to know more about Alberta Party leadership candidate Glenn Taylor I encourage you to visit his website too.

Embrace the Act of Imagination

I was at the Sir Ken Robinson lecture in Red Deer last night.  This amazing event drew over 700 people and was sponsored by the ATA, Red Deer College, Creative Alberta and the Red Deer Advocate.  Another indication of a yearning for real change in Alberta.

The lecture was video taped and I hope we will be able to feed the need for change at the next Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta events in Edmonton March 17th.  You can get tickets online using this link. It promises to be another inspiring evening.

I received a tweet from a teacher who was at the SirKen event. She bought his recent book and asked him to write a line to new teachers when he signed the book.  What he wrote resonated with me, and I expect with most of the readers of this blog. He wrote: "Embrace the Act of Imagination."

This is not an abstract ephemeral aphorism but more of an admonition that the status quo for our society is unsustainable, socially, economically and environmentally.  I would even say our adversarial  and personally nasty approach to political culture is unsustainable.  

There is a shifting consciousness starting amongst a growing group of previously apathetic Albertans that we need to start thinking for a change.  It is not a groundswell yet but it is gathering momentum.  The opportunity for the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and the Alberta Liberal Party to respond to the change will come from the results of their pending leadership decisions. The same can be said for the newer, smaller but intriguing Alberta Party as an agent for positive political change is these revived citizens seek a leader.

Full disclosure I am an Alberta Party member and working on the Glenn Taylor campaign to lead this new movement.  I also had an Alberta Liberal Party membership to support David Swann' s leadership and as a PC member I supported Dave Hancock's leadership bid in 2006 and moved my support along with Dave to Ed Stelmach on the second ballot.   I have let both of these memberships lapse and feel a bitter sweet irony that both these gentlemen are now leaving political leadership positions and I expect politics as well.  

My sense is the Alberta Party with it aim of "doing politics differently" is the closest thing Albertans have  as a choice that will pick up and deliver on the spirit behind Sir Ken Robinson's advice to "Embrace the Act of Imagination."  Alberta is ready to move beyond the Alberta Advantage of corporate tax cuts, royalty breaks and industry subsidies.

The next Alberta is about a struggle for defining narrative about the Alberta Aspiration.  What does that mean and how will we see in ourselves and define ourselves as we move forward into the creative age and not just the industrial age of resource extraction as our reason to be.  The new narrative will be written by Albertans in part as a result of who these political parties choose for leadership.  Another big part of writing the next Alberta narrative will be decided when we citizens select and elect our new government as we pause about  how we are poised for striving and thriving in the changing world we must all face individually and together.

Granting your consent to be governed is partly a forfeiture of personal power to a politician so be careful who you vote for.  In a generative time like Alberta is in today full of challenges, threats as well as strengths and opportunities citizenship should be more than merely voting.  It should be the active act of embracing and imagining our aspirations as Albertans.

That is the stuff that motivates me to be so heavily engaged in the Alberta Party and the leadership campaign of Glenn Taylor. Visit his website and the party website and if you are at least curious take the next step and join the party and become a Glenn Taylor supporter.  Be the change you want to see happen.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Hearing Sir Ken Robinson in Red Deer Tonight

Looking forward to enjoying the company of 700 cultural creatives and fellow progressives who will gather from all over the province in Red Deer tonight to hear the insightful articulate and entertaining Sir Ken Robinson.

For those readers in the room here is the review of Sir Ken's new book "The Element."  It will give those of you who are not coming tonight a sense of what you are missing.


The Element

Viking USA | January 13, 2009 | Hardcover
From one of the worldas leading thinkers and speakers on creativity and self-fulfillment, a breakthrough book about talent, passion, and achievement
The element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the element, they feel most themselves and most inspired and achieve at their highest levels. "The Element" draws on the stories of a wide range of people, from ex-Beatle Paul McCartney to Matt Groening, creator of "The Simpsons"; from Meg Ryan to Gillian Lynne, who choreographed the Broadway productions of "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera"; and from writer Arianna Huffington to renowned physicist Richard Feynman and others, including business leaders and athletes. It explores the components of this new paradigm: The diversity of intelligence, the power of imagination and creativity, and the importance of commitment to our own capabilities.
With a wry sense of humor, Ken Robinson looks at the conditions that enable us to find ourselves in the element and those that stifle that possibility. He shows that age and occupation are no barrier, and that once we have found our path we can help others to do so as well. "The Element" shows the vital need to enhance creativity and innovation by thinking differently about human resources and imagination. It is also an essential strategy for transforming education, business, and communities to meet the challenges of living and succeeding in the twenty-first century. 

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Wildrose Policy Wants to Put a Price on Volunteering

The Wildrose Alliance is talking about giving a tax break for volunteering.  I can't see that is anything close to a good idea.  It runs contrary to the human motives about wanting to contribute to the greater good. Volunteering is not about individual rewards but participating in something greater than yourself.

Daniel Pink talks about the motivators of Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose for volunteering.  People do what they love because the love it and payment - like tax credits sullies the sense of contribution.  Community is formed by intrinsic rewards being enough of a motivator.  You don't strengthen a community by paying people to do what they love.  Remove barriers and increase capacity for people but don't insult them with payment to do what they love to do.

Listen to this video on the research that shows why this is.



The attitude that you can put a cost on everything tends to be blind to the fact that what people really value.

Glenn Taylor's CBC Radio Alberta Party Leadership Interview

This is an audio link to the interview done with Glenn Taylor today on CBC Radio Alberta at Noon.

Give it a listen and share it with your friend, family and people in your community.  Then consider joining the Alberta Party and help change Glenn and your fellow progressive thinking citizens change the political culture of Alberta.

We will have the text of his speech on his website and Facebook page soon as well as the full video of his campaign launch for the leadership of the Alberta Party.

Check out Glenn's Facebook page too. Glenn Taylor A New Day. A New Way.

Times are changing in Alberta - it is time to be part of the change.  Contact me (ken@cambridgestrategies.com)
 if you want to help Glenn become the people's choice for leader of the Alberta Party and to get this new movement election ready.

Doing politics differently also means thinking about politics differently.  How do you want to change things about how you are governed?  Let us know what you want to see changed for the better - and get involved.

Glenn Taylor Announces Alberta Party Leadership Bid

This morning at 10:30 am from the Art Gallery of Alberta, Glenn Taylor will announce that he is seeking the leadership of the Alberta Party.  

We will stream it live at http://www.facebook.com/GlennTaylorAlberta?v=app_142371818162 and of course we will  tape it for posting later in case you can't come down or view it live.

This is just the third Tuesday in a row where there has been a game changing announcement that impacts the future of Alberta.  Two weeks ago Premier Stelmach said he was finished with Progressive Conservative politics.  One week ago Dr. David Swann did the same when he stepped down from the Liberal Party leadership.  Both of these leaders deserve our thanks for their service to Alberta.  

Today, on this Tuesday, Glenn Taylor steps into provincial politics from an effective record of service at the municipal level.  Glenn wants to get Albertans to re-engage in the political culture of our times.  Unlike those past Tuesdays where leaders were stepping down, Glenn is stepping up today. He is offering his skills, experience and commitment to Alberta through the Alberta Party.

I wonder what is in store for next Tuesday?

Monday, February 07, 2011

A Message for Moderation in Alberta Politics

Here is a very well thought out and articulated plea for more civility in Alberta's political discourse in the Edmonton Sun yesterday. 

We see the Harper government returning to the half-truth attack ads again.  This time it is on Ignatieff and before on  Dion but the intent is the same...belittling and unfounded personal attacks.  The Harper brain trust do this to bolster the support of the Conservative base voter...and to divert attention on just how much he has betrayed the principles of those supporters with his policies that have caused big debts and big government?  

The Harper Cons are also using taxpayer subsidized dollars to effectively campaign before the election writ so they don't have to account for the money under the election law.  This is not illegal but it is way outside the spirit of the law.  Disingenuous is a polite way to describe this lack of integrity.

Can this happen in Alberta? Stelmach when he announced his intent to step down as PC leader and Premier alluded to a concern that the next election would be rife with personal attacks against him too.  I don't know where he got his information from but he is not a man prone to exaggeration.

We have a democratic deficit in Canada and in Alberta.  Part of it is due to the importation to Canada of nasty negative adversarial campaigning from the darker side of the Republican party in the United States by the Harper government. The Tea Party movement in the United States bolstered by media ranters on Fox News like Glen Beck is a focal point for this kind of destructive political culture.

We don't want or need this kind of political campaigning in Alberta.  One wonders just how much the Harper -Rove destructive election approach will infiltrate the culture war on the right between The Wildrose and the Morton campaign.  Harper has influence on both camps. It will be interesting to see if the Harper nastiness,  mean-spirited disingenuous electioneering will also be used by the hard right to try and unfairly discredit those in other parties in the coming election.  I hope not but time will tell.  

It is legitimate to take issue about the integrity  and character of candidates and the consistency of their words and deeds but it needs to be relevant to their policy not just their personality .  For example the media reports of Ted Morton claiming to be a "moderate" in the PC party is fair comment.  He gives no evidence in support of such a statement - just a personal assertion that since the progressives find him too conservative and the Wildrose find him too progressive he must be in the middle????  This is a cynical framing comment designed to change the impressions of moderate Albertans of his persona and distance him from his pronounced social conservative past.

Taking Stelmach to task for calling on full disclosure of PC leadership campaigns now when he would not do so himself in the 2006 contest is also fair comment.  That is not nasty campaigning it is asking for clarity on integrity and intent of his recent proclamations in conflict with past actions. It is important for politicians to be able to learn, grow and change over time and is that what Stelmach has done? Disagreeing and calling candidates to account is not nasty politics so long as it is evidence based and intended to increase honesty, accountability and transparency in politics and politicians.

But there is a line and it does get crossed and when it does citizens now have the Internet to protect against such abuse and to pronounce it unacceptable to a fully functioning and fair democracy.  Yes and bloggers will have to be taken to account too if and when we cross the line.  So citizens of Alberta - don't be taken in by the negative ads and the nastiness of some anonymous trolls who comment on the events of the day with out evidence or elan.  Insist on a higher standard of conduct for our democracy and be harsh on those who don't meet those standards publicly and a the ballot box.

Health Care Reform in Alberta - Who Has the Answers?

There is a major concern over access to health care in Alberta. The quality of the care once you are in the system seems to be very good but we need both.

The solutions offered by the culture war on the right in Alberta are difficult to follow but some changes proposed are a more "market-based"  and "competition" approach to the publicly funded health care system.  They don't like to call it privatization because they know that would be rejected in the next election. So they couch the language but you have to wonder if that  is just hiding the privatization approach.  It is hard to know what is really proposed and what is really going on with such language.   There will be a debate in the PC, Liberal and Alberta Party leadership campaigns around all this I am sure.

Comforting political reassurances from the far right that privatization is not on their political agenda do not align with past pronouncements of those who are proposing this "competitive" approach to health care reform.  Even Ted Morton of the hard right Calgary School is now claiming to be a "moderate" in the Progressive Conservative Party.  This re-packaging of the hard line right wing past of some in the PCs and the Wildrose Alliance is just too hard to swallow and sure does not pass the sniff test based on past performance and policy positions. Have these leopards really changed their spots?

IS HEALTH CARE TOO EXPENSIVE NOW?
Other fiscal conservatives bemoan that the cost of health care is eating up a growing percentage of the provincial budget and that is "not sustainable."  Is that percent of total government budget a good test of what we are committing to health care in Alberta?  We are a growing economy and I understand we spend a smaller portion of our GDP on health care now that we did in 1968 when it first came in - and we get a lot more services now that we did back then.  Isn't that a better measure of the cost of health care as a portion of the Alberta economy and not just of the government budget?

We have some political parties totally bent of reducing the role of government by starving necessary public services like health, seniors, children services and education. Ironically they see no problem is increasing subsidies and reducing rents to sunset energy sectors at the same time.  This excessive subsidy to business puts the burden of personal income tax and strangles the capacity of the government to do the job the citizens expect of it.  If you reduce the denominator of total government spending you increase the percentage attributed to health care but that isn't a public policy disaster as a result...it is just arithmetic based on  a governing philosophy.

Look at it in another way.  Our rush to the bottom in tax rates and revenues with our ridiculously low royalty regimes and then we use a significant portion of non-renewable resource revenues to pay for current government operations means this generation is not paying its way and robbing from the birthright of future generations. Again this is intentional with the goal to drive down tax revenues and reduce the capacity for the public sector service providers to do their jobs.  Are there political forces in Alberta that want to be elected to that they can assure that the public system to provide necessary social services like education, health, and seniors services will fail?

ARE WE SETTING UP THE HEALTH CARE SYSTEM TO FAIL?
Setting up the community based service providers, health care professionals and public sector services to fail by starving them of resources means we will then be told that the only saviour of the system will be market-based private sector providers.  There will be soothing words that competition will keep the private providers honest and costs low but all too often we see reduced services, higher costs and feigned competitiveness.

There is a strong role for the private sector in many parts of our society but it must serve the needs of the society not the other way around.  Solving the health care concerns in Alberta is very important but it is embedded in a much more foundational issue and that is what is the role of government in our society.  Citizens also have to come to grips with what is our personal responsibility for our life style choices and the implications for the quality and cost of heath care too.

All these elements have to part of the discussion and design of a health care system that gives us access, quality and value for tax dollars.  To reduce it to a private versus public health care debate is an over simplification of a complex social, cultural and political challenge.  For every complex problem there is a simple answer that is usually wrong.  Albertans should not be fooled by soothing over simplifications as we struggle to design a quality and sustainable health care system for now and the future.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Alberta Party Becomes a Political Punching Bag

There is a new and nasty reaction to the rise of the Alberta Party from sources in the traditional political parties.  The rumour mills, media quotes and online chatter is full of anger and angst aimed at  the Alberta Party as some upstart new kid on the block that needs to be put in its place.  It is as if our new found validation as a viable political option in the eyes of the media and others was our fault and not theirs.

The Alberta Party is now a target by some saddened practitioners of the politics-as-usual  We in the Alberta Party are being punched way above our weight these days. But beating on us will not change the reality that Alberta citizens have rejected the old-style Alberta political culture.  The tired and untrue political spin cycles just remind citizens why they avoid politics and see voting a pointless.  It shows why we don't get our best and brightest people participating in public service and politics.  They rightly conclude "Who needs this grief?"

Speaking of grieving, the soul searching of the NDP and Liberals and progressive in PC party has begun in earnest, especially with the recent resignations of Stelmach and Swann. The core partisans in these parties are grieving.  They were in the denial stage of "this can't be happening" as they saw the infighting result in the loss of two good men as party leaders - within a week.  That makes the continuation of the denial stage pretty pointless.  There are some who are well into the anger stage now of "why me...this is not fair."  If you look at the comment thread on this Daveberta post you can see the anger stage playing out in real time. 

If the grieving continues we will see some examples of the bargaining stage emerge in the progressive wing of the PC Party.  That will start to happen when they see who actually steps up to run for the PC leadership from the progressive side.  There will be desperate bargains struck about who gets the nod as the preferred progressive candidate.  There will be concerns of  will he or she be strong enough to beat Ted Morton.  If the preferred progressive is not strong enough to win expect more progressives to drift into the Alberta Party.  Expect a wave of progressives to to the Alberta Party from the PCs  if there is a purge of their ranks as a result of a Morton leadership victory.

On the Liberal side we have seen many rank and file members already make the value trade-off decision and have joined the Alberta Party.  Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman's recent media comments about considering running for the leadership of either the Liberals or the Alberta Party is an example of a bargaining stage of grief.  This ambivalence is totally understandable and this kind of decision making process is not easy.  It is much more than just keeping political options open.  It about being authentically open to new ways of thinking about politics.  It is about trading past loyalties for the potential for new hope when everything is uncertain.

Some partisans will just go into the depression stage now or after the PC and Liberal leaderships have been decided.  They will likely respond by withdrawing from political life and politics all together concluding "what is the point any more." Other partisans, displeased with the leadership decision of their party, will emerge out of all this looking for new hope and a new home.  They will go through the final Acceptance stage of grieving.  They will come to realize that Alberta has changed and they must change too.  Perhaps the Alberta Party will be their new hope and their new home - but only time will tell.

I went through this kind of political soul searching and grieving in my own decision making process to leave the PCs.  I realized, through my involvement with  Reboot Alberta, that Alberta had fundamentally changed from what I had assumed was the political truth of the times. We found through research that Albertans were losing their sense of pride in the province but their personal commitment to making Alberta better was still extraordinarily strong.  The research results we so strong that it was obvious that something was about to change dramatically in Alberta politics.  Who knew how, where, what and when that change would happen - but it is happening now.

 The research uncovered the fundamental values Albertans wanted to see from political parties before they would grant their consent to be governed.  Those values are integrity, honesty, accountability, transparency, fiscal and personal responsibility and environmental stewardship.  Albertans also felt these values were seriously lacking in the current political culture. My sense from the Reboot Alberta experience and research was that something new and different was needed in the Alberta political landscape.  The politics as usual approach could not respond to the longing and yearning for a more caring, compassionate and responsible political culture.

The Alberta Party idea emerged from the first Reboot Alberta gathering.  In time I came to see and accept that the Alberta Party was the best chance to do politics differently in our province.  I have become active and have not been disappointed nor have I second guessed my decision. In fact I have been delighted with my new political home.  I trust other moderates and progressives will eventually find their way to the Alberta Party using their own paths and processes.  Check out the Alberta party website, stay tuned to its progress and see if it aligns with your values and aspirations for a better Alberta..  When you decide you want to become part of the co-creation of the next Alberta you should come join us.




Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Rockyview School District Opens up to Social Media

I am doing some work with the Rockyview School district just outside of Calgary on citizen engagement.  This focus on reaching out to communities to engage in a conversation about the role, responsibilities and relationship of public education to the larger community is laudable...and very exciting.

The leadership of Superintendent Greg Bass and the support of the Trustees, administration and teachers is quite energizing to someone like me.  Conversations are game changers.  Not every conversation is a game changer but I am pretty sure every game changing event started with  a conversation.

Here is a link to blog started by a teacher who is embracing the spirit, intent and the new territory of social media.  I encourage anyone interested or just curious how social media can be used for students, stakeholders, community and citizens engagement to follow the journey that the educators in Rockyview has started.  The twitter hash tag for this emerging on-line community is #rvsed to get in touch and keep in touch with what is going on.  Also search Twitter hash tags #abed #inspiringed #abfuture

There is lots more happening in the area of social media as a means to communicate the place and purpose of pubic education too.  There are a growing number of Trustees who have taken up the cause of being in touch with constituents and communities using social media. Check out some of them here, here and here.  There are many more.

There are broader, deeper and more meaningful relationships about the future of public education in Alberta happening all over the province but, like any major change, there are early adopters and early adapters.  Soon what seems unique will be quotidian.  Some of that face to face conversation will be happening in #yeg (that's Edmonton for newbies to Twitter) March 17 at a public lecture as part of the Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta work we do with the ATA.  Join in the conversation with Michael Adams and Jean Twenge and meet other Albertans with a passion for public education.  Learn more here- and to order tickets on line

When citizens of all kinds and concerns start to appreciate the quality and contribution of our Alberta public education system with information and connections they made online then we have a game changer. That game changer is part of the new creative economy the Internet and digital media is spawning.  Alberta is perfectly poised to be the Petri dish to grow this new inter-related, networked and interdependent social, political, human and even spiritual culture. With the SuperNet we have the best fibre-optic connectivity infrastructure on the planet to foster a community based creative culture. We just have to unleash our imagination on how to use its potential.

It is all part of the whole about Alberta moving past the competitive race to the bottom and shifting to larger goals, greater dreams that are the emerging focus on the Alberta Aspirations.  One of those new Alberta Aspiration is in the realm of public education.  The Alberta system is already the best in the world, along with Finland. Now we should aspire to use our BEST IN THE WORLD world public education system with a renewed imagination and enthusiasm.  We need to expand our consciousness to leverage our public education as an exportable asset and aspire for it to be the BEST FOR THE WORLD.

The educational leadership of school districts like Rockyview, the Canadian Rockies and the Edmonton Public are the scouts on the new digital frontier.  They are making new paths, with new excitement but based on traditional values that has empowered people to make Alberta's public education system amongst the best anywhere.  Now with high speed high quality and quantity connectivity, we can make it the best everywhere.