Sunday, July 23, 2017

USA Style Dark Money Has Come Into Alberta's Politics

Alberta's laws on reforming Election Financing has come a long way since the Notley government came to office. We really needed to "clean up our act" on donor disclosures, contribution limits and political accountability. 

But recently, in Alberta, we have seen the arrival of American-style Political Action Committees (PACs).  They are being formed and operating outside the spirit and intent of recent Notley electoral reform efforts. Some recent legislative review is needed for some context on what has been going on around political finance reform...and what still needs to be fixed.

Eliminate Corporate, Union and Employee Organization Political Donations.

The Notley government's very first piece of legislation upon being elected in 2015 was "An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta."

It was a law designed to eliminate corporate, union and employee organizations who bargain collectively from making donations into Alberta electoral politics.  

Prohibited contributions included those to, "registered" candidates in nominations, elections and by-elections.  Contributions from these sources were also disallowed to "registered" constituency organizations. Something long over due and studiously ignored by the former PC government.

Step 2:
Reduce Levels of Political Contributions by Individuals

In December 2016 they took their "second step" introducing Bill 35 the Fair Elections Financing Act.  The stated motive behind this law, as recorded in Hansard on December 6, 2016, was to "...rein in political spending by political parties and reduce individual contribution limits. Third parties would also no longer fund their agendas through anonymous contributions for political advertising."

The Notley government said they were getting "big money and special interests influences out of deciding elections," then adding transparency and a "level playing field for all candidates and parties...and give democracy back to Albertans."  Good stuff! 

The goals was to assure Albertans "...that ideas and not money would determine success or failure at the polls...that Alberta's political leaders would be chosen based on what they stand for and not be influenced by how much money was spent during political campaigns."

Specific nomination, election and by-election spending limits were set for political parties and candidates.  Individuals could only donate a maximum total  of $4000 per calendar year to all provincial political activities.  Corporations and Unions could no longer "second" their staff to work to a campaign and keep them on the company payroll. All good stuff in the service of the admirable policy objectives.

The Wildrose was on-side and noted, in debate, that rather than a $4,000 personal contribution limit, they wanted  an even lower $1,000 personal limit.  They also rightly noted, that nothing had been done to stop sitting governments from abusing taxpayer sourced advertising dollars to boost an incumbent government profile leading up to an election.

By all accounts the revised system of campaign finance controls is working as intended.  However the world has changed.  The perpetual campaign nature of modern politics and the rise of the influence of the ubiquitous Internet means the old election writ-triggering model is out of date and out of touch.  All the good intentions of fair limits, disclosure and eliminating big money backroom back-scratching anonymous influences are bring thwarted.  

Enter the Political Action Committees!
Elections Alberta tracks Third Party Advertisers both, politically and in elections.  There are some "Election Advertisers" who have recently de-registered and other registrants who have not yet disclosed any information at all.    

The "Political Advertisers" are even more interesting. All seven of the registered entities filed 6 months of fund raising for 2017, The Alberta Federation of Labour disclosed $490k from 24 union locals.  Next was the Merit Contractors Association coming in at $194k but no details on where that money came from.  That is followed by the Alberta Advantage Fund, a diverse group in at $178k.  The others have raised between Zero and $25k.  

These are all legitimate initiatives legally involved in election or political advertising and operating within the spirit and intent of the disclosure laws.

However, what is emerging is a number of politically active operations akin to American Political Action Committees, known as PACs.  They are not registered as Third Party Advertisers because they are not active in election or political advertising.  

The operations I know of, and there may be more, are the emerging Alberta Together centrists effort initiated by former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.  There is the left leaning, Progress Alberta operation headed by Duncan Kinney.  Full disclosure, I have been to events sponsored by both of these groups, and will continue to do so but have not donated to either of them and will not do so.

There is a coalition of conservative groups called Alberta Can't Wait, the Alberta Prosperity Fund and Unite Alberta.  The latter admitted to funding part of Jason Kenney's PC Leadership Campaign.

This raises red flags about PAC political activities, because they claim to be beyond election and political advertising disclosure requirements.  What is at risk with this non-disclosure is the return to backroom back-scratching politician-based influence dealings funded by big-money anonymous donors.  This is not good for democracy, regardless of the quality of the intent.

Benign Citizen Engagement Groups or Secretive Political Operations?

These Alberta PACs are alleging that they are not engaged with or within any political party operations or candidate support.  Their fund raising is said to be for advocacy and issues management efforts.  

As a result they are third-party political action organizations with agendas and operate outside the current laws of donor disclosure and contribution limits. Operating without donor disclosure means they are essentially aligned with what has become known as Dark Money that has taken control of the American political culture.

We see these PACs organizing events, commenting and pressing on issues of concern to them  as a good thing for an informed citizenry enabled for more critical thinking. 

However, in the case of Unite the Right PAC, it raised $508,000 from 2,129 donors for the Jason Kenney PC leadership run.  These funds were raised before the  leadership writ was issued and therefore believed to outside the legal disclosure requirements. 

That money was in addition to the $1,505,894.13, also raised and disclosed, within the campaign financing laws relating to Mr. Kenney's PC leadership campaign.

Mr. Kenney "promised" to disclose the identity and details of Unite the Right pre-writ anonymous donors.  He has since reneged on that promise.  

To be fair the Kenney PC leadership has released the names of 63 Unite the Right pre-writ donors who contributed $118,745 of the total raised.  But what about the rest and why not disclose, as promised?

"Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant" - Justice Louis Brandeis

The question remains; what is the Kenney campaign hiding and why not fulfill the political promise to disclose the full pre-writ donor details? They claim to have a "subsequent" legal opinion claiming privacy constraints against disclosure. 

But that is exactly the kind disclosure concerns behind the recent legal changes to the campaign financing laws. 

Kenney should release the legal opinion so we could test its analysis and assess its veracity.  Kenney could also offer to return those non-disclosed donors dollars to those who do not wish to be disclosed.  

This may require some retroactive legislative capacity and a supervised systems by Elections Alberta to verify the return system. Is that OK, so long as it respects the privacy of those who contributed to the Kenney PAC scheme?  Or is the public entitled to know all those who participated in the pre-writ non-disclosure Kenney campaign fund raising scheme?  

Some ethical and moral questions obviously impinge on any such process.  Could it be developed as part of a new modern, comprehensive go-forward legislative arrangement for better disclosure requirement to cover PACs.

Step 4:

Modern politics has become perpetual election campaigning machine.  Writ periods are no longer reasonable time frames to control donor disclosures and apply funding limits in Alberta's political culture.  

Without continuous full disclosure and annual limits on all PAC donations regardless of policy or political influencing purposes we run the risk of seriously diminishing our democracy and, quite possibly, enabling political corruption.    

We need new disclosure and contribution limit laws more aligned with the contemporary realities of Alberta's modern political culture.  It cannot be delayed.  Accepting non-disclosure or benign indifference to Dark Money in Alberta's politics is a clear and present danger to our democracy.

The NDP government recently said they saw no reason to revisit its recent election reform agenda.  Given the rise of PACs and their donor secrecy, the perpetual nature of electoral politics, and the disclosure avoidance tactics of the Kenney PC leadership pre-writ fund raising, that reluctance has vanished. 

We need to revisit and revise our political contribution laws to build on the good work done to date and enhanced to accommodate legitimate PAC influence efforts but with full and real-time detailed disclosure. 

And that is a good thing for returning public trust in our political processes.  And that is a necessary thing to strengthen and protect our democracy.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Albert'a Political Uncertainty Continues

First a disclaimer.  I don't think we can rely on "opinion" polls done through the Internet as being representative because they are not random and often "weighted" by taking a small response segment and over-valuing it in an attempt to be more reflective on the population distribution.

The result is not the best possible version of the "truth" but more likely a rather blatant misrepresentation of opinion.   The Mainstreet Research poll I am about to reference suffers from these shortcomings and even used the much discredited 2011 "Census" results as the basis for demographic weighting.  That said, what else did they have to "weigh" the demographics in their survey responses? Garbage in - Garbage out!

They used their proprietary Chimera IVR process to get responses. I still can't get the smile off my face. IRONY ALERT!   The Chimera origins are from an "imagery incongruous monster" from Greek mythology said to be a "fire-breathing she-monster with a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail." Even the dictionary definition made me smile when applied to the reliability of such survey results; "a thing that is hoped or wished for but in fact is illusory or impossible to achieve."  Just like the reliability of the methodology of this "opinion" poll.

That said, presuming we can't rely on the findings there are some things of interest to be gleaned from these results.  Mostly what we seem to be able to say is that the political culture in Alberta is in an existential flux, especially regionally.

Edmonton is strongly NDP at 45%. The  Edmonton"progressives" seem to have left the Progressive Conservative party in and gone NDP or undecided at 16%. They have not moved to the Alberta Party or Liberal centrist options.   The conservative core in Edmonton at 21% has not seen a Jason Kenney leadership bump and actually dropped 1%.  The Wildrose base in Edmonton is static at 26% but in second place, which has to worry the big dark money behind the Kenney PC leadership.

Calgary Conservatives have seen themselves as the breeding ground for Premiers for sure in the PC dynasty.  It is not surprising that the core PC conservatives are big-time Calgary-based Kenney supporters at 38%.  What is more surprising is that NDP is number 2 at 26% and the WRP is 22%, worse than they do in Edmonton. The Alberta Party and Liberals have their largest support levels in Calgary too at 7% each. Note both party leaders come from Calgary.

The 'Rest of Alberta" a.k.a. "rural Alberta" is not in any existential flux.  They are solidly conservative with a 75% combined Kenney(27%)/Jean 48% support. It would be interesting to see if there is an urban-rural split in places like Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer and Fort McMurray.

The aggregate Alberta numbers are pretty misleading as a result of these regional influences and the reality that all politics are local. They may also be misleading due to the "weighing" of results to try and reflect demographics.  For example, the 65+ age group is only 11%  of Alberta's population but makeup 14% in the sample size.

The survey has 33.5% participants in the 18-34 age group but Alberta has about 24% in the same grouping so they get significantly over-represented.  Note that 41% of 18-34 survey segment supported Brian Jean's WRP, 17% for Kenney Conservatives and 18% for Notley's NDP.  Likely another misleading result as a result.  Another misleading concern is the survey asks how you would vote for today, on a decided and leaning basis but has the Liberal option with David Swann as its leader.  He isn't the leader. They are in a leadership contest now.

The other interesting aspect is the Undecideds.  The largest segment is in Edmonton at 16% and the least is Calgary at 13%.  On the preference on who should be leading a merged PC and WRP it is overall uncertain.  First, the question is misleading because the parties can't merge legally.

The regional differences come into play.  Calgary is split equally between Kenney and Jean at 27%.  Edmonton and the Rest of Alberta favour Jean.  In Edmonton "Someone Else" beats both men at 26% and Unsure is at 32%.  Overall it is a 53% share for Kenney and Jean but 47% split between None of the Above or Unsure. Not a strong indication of interest in the future of the conservative political culture in Alberta, regardless of regions.

So while we can't rely on the science-based reliability of the results I think we can surmise that Alberta is not yet made up its mind nor set the direction of its political future.  It is not a clear choice between Left or Right.

The Next Alberta is more likely to be a centrist progressive government if the results of a 2009 real survey of political values based on the 2006 Long From reliable Census trend into the 2017 population.  That research found 63% of Albertans identified strongly with progressive values.  Fixing the vacuum of political options in the progressive political center in Alberta is where the potential is for real change in our political culture.

So far it is still an open question about who, if anyone, will fill that vacuum... effectively.

Monday, April 03, 2017


Keith Olbermann, formerly on NBC I believe, is doing an informative series of Video Blogs on Trump administration.

He is worth a watch...and a careful listen.  Even worth a YouTube subscription.

Interesting that Russia is the largest number of links to this blog since I started commenting more on Trump "foibles."  Proof the "bots" are "alive and well."

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Does Donald Trump Know Anything About Public Policy?

David Pakman is a vlogger (video blogger for the uninitiated). He has a very interesting series of posts on the capacity of President Trump to actually do the job of President.

He runs some transcripts of answers to questions Trump at a newspaper editorial board.  It shows just how incapable President Trump is when it comes to dealing with complex issues.

Do you believe there is an issue about President Trump's capacity to actually focus on a question and provide a reasoned relevant answer?

Check this out!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Is There a Future for Progressive Politics in Alberta

There has been a recent takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta by the former Federal HarperCon Cabinet Minister, Jason Kenney and his social conservative base.  This has to be the final wake-up call for Alberta progressives.

The rise of an American-style Alt-Right and old-style Social Conservative political culture is now well established in Alberta with the Jason Kenney leadership of the PC Party.  What will the remaining progressives in the PCAA do now with the loss of the Lougheed heritage from their party?

We progressives are the largest block of voter values in Alberta.  We have taken a lot for granted.  We have been complacent, comfortable, and even compliant, to the threats from an obvious authoritarian and growing conservative political movement in Alberta.

Up to now, Alberta progressives have been a laid-back bunch politically.  We have been dozing passively to these emerging authoritarian conservative changes, living in denial that they are a real threat.  With each alarm bell, we have repeatedly pressed the snooze bar, rolled over and went back to sleep, blithely presuming Alberta will continue to be the dynamic progressive society we have known.

The "Unite the Right" conservative political movement has been instigated by the HarperCons Republican-lite acolytes, Jason Kenney and Brian Jean. They both have the single-minded goal of coalescing Alberta conservatives to beat Rachel Notley and her "socialist" government.

These Unite the Right leaders have offered very few specifics or policy ideas about how they would govern, should they form a government. They have generally articulated classic conservative bromides of reduced taxes, reduced government, reduced regulation, expanded individualism, deny climate change, privatize health care, public education and deference to market forces and competition as the only way to solve complex social problems.

There are some efforts afoot to enable progressives to respond to these threats to a dynamic, inclusive, caring, responsible and resilient Alberta. The reality is Alberta progressives have to get active in the political culture of the province...or suffer the consequences of political omission.

The present progressive political options to influence the future of Alberta are very fragmented and, so far, ineffectual.  To change this Alberta progressives can make a big difference by joining a progressive party and donate to that party of your choice.  The options are the Alberta Party, the Alberta Liberals, the NDP or the Alberta Greens.

There are a few progressives still in the Kenney PC Party who believe they can convince him to move from the far right, where he has been all his life, towards the political centre.  I don't see any evidence he intends to do anything meaningful to those ends.  Consequently, I would not recommend Alberta progressives join the PCAA as a means to make a difference.

If you can't bring yourself to join a political party, you can effectively engage as a progressive citizen through activism within your memberships in community, social, professional and other networks. There are progressive  Alberta-based organizations focused on influencing politics and public policy.  Alberta progressives should also consider joining and donating to organizations like Progress Alberta and Public Interest Alberta to make a difference.

It is time for Alberta progressives to wake-up, stand-up and step-up for the greater good and the betterment of our province.  More to come from me in this space, but now is the time for action people.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trumpery* and Trumpism** are Coming to Alberta's Politics.

Gary Mason has some sobering and significant reflections on the rise of Alberta's own version of the alt-right...a.k.a. bigots, misogynists, and racists.

We are seeing these people being emboldened and potentially normalized - unless they are challenged and refuted and rejects as inimical to the dominant Alberta value set.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in the overwhelming increase of threats against Premier Notley.

It is worth noting that the majority of threats against Alberta Premiers were aimed at progressives, not Ralph Klein, a recognized conservative. This is an indication that the Alt-Right is prepared to be openly threatening.

As the Alberta conservatives, both Ultra and Alt types, plan to "unite" for the only stated purpose of defeating the Notley government, I expect we will see more of this aggressive and threatening behaviors long before we hear anything about social, environment or innovative economic policy positions.

For the rest of us, that means we can't be passive, indifferent, or event worse, tolerant, of any such inappropriate behavior.  That means we must become more politically aware and more informed citizens...and politically active.

More on becoming politically active as a progressive in Alberta in later posts.  In the meantime decide what if important to you, what you want to happen around those issues and what you are going to do to make those results happen.

Now, let's reflect on what Trumpery and Trumpism means.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Middle Age Bulge: The problem with Trump

My friend Russell Thomas blogs as: Middle Age Bulge: The problem with Trump: The first month of the Trump administration has been nothing short of a train wreck, AND WORTH A READ.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Erosion of Trust in Institutions is a Danger to Democracy

The Edleman Trust Barometer for 2017 is very telling and the findings are most disturbing.  Richard Edleman, the President and CEO of Edleman opens the report, speaking of 2016, by saying "It has been a year of unimaginable upheaval."

His context is clear.  He notes incumbent or elected heads in 5 of the top 10 economies have been "deposed or defeated," including the U.S.A, U.K, Brazil, Italy and South Korea.  He goes further to note populists candidates are "leading or growing" in elections pending in France and Germany.

The 2017 version of the Edleman Trust Barometer found that 2/3 of the countries surveyed found under 50% of people a now " mainstream institutions of business, government, media and do what is right." This is put at the feet of "aftershocks from the stunning meltdown of the global economy" with "origins in the Great Recession of 2008."

Now `...only 15% of the general population believe the present systems is working, while 53% do not and 32% are uncertain.` This is fertile ground for populists movement to gain momentum based on fear for personal safety, a better life for one`s family, an erosion of social values, immigration and an accelerating pace of change.

The far left and far right are both rejecting globalization based free trade, fearing innovation as automation is replacing lower-skilled jobs, deregulation, centralization of power and wealth in elites and multinational corporations. More than 75% of the well informed and the general population both ``...agree the system is biased against regular people and favors the rich and powerful.  Even the best educated, best informed and best-paid citizens have lost faith in the system.

The loss of belief in leaders in government or business to affect meaningful change is greater than the erosion of the institutions they head.  Belief in the credibility of peers, folks like me, are equal to academics and technical experts, and far and away more credible than CEOs and government officials.

The mass population is 85% but on 45% of them trust their national institutions of government, business, media and NGOs.  In the mass population, a majority in 20 of the 28 countries surveyed distrust their institutions. The informed population is 15% of the total and 60%of then trust their national institutions.

This is not a sustainable set of circumstances for positive progress.  Incompetence, corruption and divided polarized hyper-partisan government are core beliefs of the majority of citizens. This can only lead to a massive collapse of societies, economies and democratic institutions if not corrected...and quickly!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


Walter M. Straub Jr. is the Director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics.  He delivered a fascinating dissertation on the situational ethics of President-Inept Donald Trump to the Brookings Institute today.

He noted his office negotiated with Secretary of State Nominee, Rex Tillerson the CEO of Exxon.  Straub says Tillerson is making a "clean break...forfeiting bonus payments worth millions...he's now free of financial conflicts of interest."

The Tillerson ethics agreement is said to "...serve as a sterling model for what we'd (the Office of Government Ethics) like to see with other nominees.  Straub goes on to say "We've has similar success with some of the President-elect's other intended nominees.  Some of them haven't quite gotten there yet,...."

Where Straub goes from there about Mr. Trump's situational ethics is most interesting.  This is the stuff that feeds a need for impeachment.  A President is not the same as a CEO of a private corporation.  Trump's less than half-hearted machinations on his tepid attempt to appear that he is inoculated from conflicts of interest, real and perceived are very disturbing.

I commend that you take the time to read this report by an independent public servant, and one who Trump can't fire or replace for the next two years at least.

Read more 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Canada Must Provide Collaborative Climate Change Leadership

The world has gotten smaller, more complex, on the whole, wealthier, with citizens having more opportunity to be informed, engaged and collaborative in the Internet Age.  This was enabling of globalization created more interdependency and, in some ways, the weakening of some national sovereignty.

Of course, the countervailing reality is wealth has concentrated at the top 1%, data is growing but information is being falsified, personal and institutional privacy is disappearing. Coping with complexity is beyond the capacity of our outdated institutions and status quo leaders.  Fear, xenophobia, authoritarianism, religious violence and religious governance are on the rise.

Collaboration is becoming more difficult as institutional and personal trust is in rapid decline.  The countervail to this decline is the amazing cooperative spirit extant at the national, institutional, business, institutional and community levels on the climate change challenge.

The extreme hyper-partisan points of view on the left and right are well represented.  They are superficially articulated in extensively covered the conventional media info-tainment approach to what is "news" or "news-worthy."

Moderate, thoughtful, open-minded, inclusive, caring empathetic citizens don't believe in the extremes.  However, these folks don't yet have reliable, authentic thought-leaders to bring forth some practical reality and workable solutions to the economic, environmental, social, and governance options to the challenges we face.

There obviously needs to be some perspective brought to bear by civic and political leaders.  We need leaders to provide a compelling vision that will connect with the big value drivers of change in ways that connects with citizens' concerns in their daily lives.

I believe that set of big and personal connecting value drivers will become around various applied and practical economic and social responses towards the climate change challenges.

Carbon tax policy, technology, and innovation supports, along with carrot incentives and stick disincentive policy options are going to be key.  These instruments will influence personal behaviors in the way we behave and will bring out a positive personal perspective going forward.

As Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna say in their new book Age of Discovery
Perspective is what enables each of us to transform the sum of our days into an epic journey.  And it`s what imporves our chances of together makng the twenty-first century huimanity`s best.
They make the case for hope and determination for us as a species. For humanity, there is good news and there is bad news.  The good news is there is hope for us because we have been through such amazing changes before.  That was during the Renaissance.  We can learn from that past.

The bad news is we have to be determined to change our ways...because, as they say,  this new golden age will not simply arrive, we have to achieve it.  In that spirit let me refer you to a recent Op-Ed in the Globe and Mail by Thomas Homer-Dixon.  He says when it comes to climate change Canada must not give up the fight.

My takeaway from Homer-Dixon is hope is not a method and determination is not a vision.  But Canadian values are strong and our country is coherent and capable enough to be leading on climate change.

We Canadians, and especdially Albertans, can be the people who are providing perspectives, solutions and practical approaches to dealing with climate change.  We can be the people with the determination, dedication, and ability to anticipate, prevent, detect and correct ignorance and error when it comes to dealing with the consequences of climate change.

What do you think?  Please comment on the blog to aid the conversation.

Monday, January 02, 2017

The Reign of Trumpism

We are all in for some very trying times in the Trump Era...more accurately described as the "Trump Error."

There are the obvious pitfalls of the man's inadequacies, ignorances, arrogances, and ineptitudes as a person, politician and even as a businessman.

Trump's narcissistic personality disorder and megalomania are very well exposed and documented.  The mainstream media is yet to pursue this mental-health aspect of  President-Elect (a.k.a. President- Inept) Trump.

The revolution that is Trumpism is a "truth" and like Schopenhauer said:

 "All truth passes through three stages:"

First, it is ridiculed.  Remember all the pundits and politicos saying Trump was a joke candidate? Watch is real satire from 1988 and reflect on the parallels Pat Paulsen has to Trump and his approach to politics.

Second, it is violently opposed. That is where we are today as Trump has ruminated (look it up Donald) about running for President.  Now he is having anyone with significance as to will participate and perform in his Inauguration. The opposition to Trump is well documented in other more significant terms.

Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.  That is the option before us, not just in the US of A but the rest of modern democracy.  And that is the challenge before us.  Here is a Canadian context of Trumpism from the Editorial realms of the Globe and Mail. 

We can't be sanguine about this infecting the institutions of and in our Canada. We still have the ghost of Harper cum Bush policies lingering in our politics.  We have Trumpism "karaoke" candidates running for the Conservative Party of Canada.  We have a Harper "mini-me" in the form of Jason Kenney also channeling for Trumpism in Albert's politics.

We must resist, oppose and rejuvenate inclusive, caring, progressive values into updating our institutions as a way forward for a truly Canadian political culture in the face and threat of Trumpism coming to our country.