Reboot Alberta

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Musings, Meanderings and Meanings

Morton’s Machinations
I am delighted with the death of Bill 208 but would have liked to see the vote happen in the daylight of the Legislature so we could tell where the individual MLA’s were on defending minority human rights. The PC caucus did the right thing (eventually) a few years ago deciding by a 2/3 majority not to appeal the Vriend case but that was done behind the closed doors of a party caucus meeting. To those provincial politicians who might think personal religious beliefs trump individual Charter Rights all I can say is sometimes you have to put away your principles and do the right thing ;-}.

Fed Funds for Highway 63
Congrats to Wood Buffalo MP Brian Jean and the Hon. Ty Lund, Alberta’s hard working Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation. on bringing to fruition federal funding towards twinning some of Highway 63 to Fort McMurray. Ironically the former federal Liberal government was prepared to pay half the entire twinning before the 2004 federal election but the “Honourable” Guy Boutilier, the local MLA and the “Honourable” Lyle Oberg, the then Min of Infrastructure and Transportation seemed, “less than interested in federal assistance.” Then some high profile tragic deaths and the increasing numbers of accidents on 63 draws media attention and increases the public’s demands to fix the problem. Dr. Oberg gets kicked out of caucus and cabinet and we get better departmental leadership under Ty Lund and the very good constituency work of federal MP Brian Jean and voila – it happens...fed funds will finally flow for this project.

Local MLA Guy Boutilier has known for years that Highway 63 is part of the national highway system and therefore eligible for federal dollars. He did nothing to make it happen earlier, when it should have and could have. Why?

Oberg’s Musings on Industry Providing Housing in Fort McMurray
PC Leadership candidate and recently reinstated PC caucus member. Dr. Lyle Oberg says, in recent media reports, that industry should provide employee housing in Fort McMurray if they need it so desperately. Good thinking Lyle. The companies were prepared to do that over two years ago. The province’s response was a meaningless meandering through a political miasma around its land release policy and process. The province then had, and still has, total control over the only new developable residential land in the Fort McMurray area.

A number of companies had asked the government for these lands to be released to them so they could build housing for the construction and operations of oil sands projects they were committed to build. The CNRL Horizon project in particular was very active in pursuing the market price purchase of land from the province. They were undertaking to do the servicing, subdivision and development work and then to contract out the house construction but Oberg was then amongst the naysayer within the government at the time who killed the concept.

Months passed, RFP’s for land sales were issued and called back and finally a small amount of developable government owned land was released for bid. The remaining government land is still being released in phases, by the Seniors department if you can believe that. You are to be forgiven if you think this sound like a government process and policy proposal from the now defunct Rhinoceros Party. CNRL instead build a huge airstrip next to their project, they lease jumbo jets and fly workers in and home again on a regular schedule from all over the country. This adds to the overall project costs meaning you and I enjoy the extension of the 1% royalty rates on this project a lot longer due to the higher project costs this solution has incurred. Thanks Lyle.

Where was Lyle Oberg with this bright idea when industry was actually proposing it? Where was Oberg, the then Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation in coming forth to provide the necessary roads, overpasses, schools, hospital and long term care expansion and other local infrastructure requirements necessary and that go along with housing demands in Fort McMurray? The evidence was all in the 2004 Wood Buffalo Business Case. He has been a central player in creating the problems in Fort McMurray today.

The Rhinoceros Party slogan used to be “If you think the problems are bad…just wait until you see our solutions.” I can just imagine what other “solutions” Dr. Oberg has in store for us should he win this leadership race and becomes Alberta’s next Premier – heaven forbid.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Is Bill 208 About the Kind of Alberta You Want?

Dr. Morton’s Bill 208 is potentially a demarcation point for Alberta – do we retreat behind a political and socially conservative “firewall” or do we pursue a future that is vibrant, diverse tolerant and inclusive? Do we engage the world as it is – not as we wish it was - or worse yet, that a small but active group “deems” it to be?

If the vision of Alberta represented by Bill 208 and Dr. Morton's intent to isoloate Alberta from Canada behind a policy firewall is the main stream consciousness then the people of this province are in for a bundle of trouble. If it is not the main stream thinking, then those of us with a different perspective better pony up Five Bucks for a PC membership, get engaged in the leadership issues and show up to vote for our view of the future. That means vote Hancock, Stelmach or Dinning…ideally Hancock who best represents this progressive conservative perspective!

The Calgary Herald recently had a front page story on a Leger poll saying Dinning and Oberg are potentially statistically tied based on the polling margin of error. Based on the same margin or error it would be just as accurate to say they are potentially far apart with Dinning showing a commanding lead. Just as important is the poll finding that Hancock and Morton were tied in third place. Only one of them will make it to the second ballot.

The Leger Poll results are not even close to being conclusive because 44 - 45 % of Albertans say they are currnetly undecided about who they support but the potential of a Morton victory is real and sobering.

The blogosphere is very active about Dr. Morton's Bill 208 – mostly in opposition from what I have seen. This proposed legislation and its future impact is a symbolic turning point for Alberta. Do we try a “perfect” a view of Alberta of the 1950’s or are we ready to be pioneers for our times and explore the potential of this province in the diverse greater context of Canada and the world?

Staying undecided in the PC leadership race is neither a smart or realistic choice. We have to make up our minds about the kind of Alberta we want and decide who we think can help get us there. Then we have to exercise our democratic rights if we are to be part of defining our future. Right now that means participating in the PC leadership selection process. It is more than a party leadership at stake - it is the premiership of the entire province for the next two years that is being decided too. That means the outcome directly impacts your life. In a democracy you always get the kind of government you deserve – especially if you opt out or are indifferent.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

On the Left Bank of the Left Coast

I am veggin' in Tofino for a week or so - expect fewer entries in the next few days. I will be blogging but in a more relaxed fashion.

The recently released Integrated Energy Vision interests me and I have downloaded it for "reflection." The new Leger Poll showing Oberg and Dinning in a virtual deadheat for first with Hancock and Morton tied for third is fascinating...just as much at the 45% undecided. Looking forward to looking at the real data and doing some analysis. This one is no shoe-in for anyone and is far from over.

Campaigns matter and this one is proving that reality yet again. Dinning and Hancock have one progressive vision for the province whereas Oberg and Morton represent a very different view and would take us in a regressive and disasterous direction to my mind.

Holidays matter too. I shall be in touch! "Stay tuned" as Ralph used to say!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dr. Morton’s Desire to Discriminate

Dr. Morton’s Private Member’s Bill 208 formally and ironically called the Protection of Fundamental Freedoms (Marriage) Statutes Amendment Act, 2006 is potentially up for debate and Third Reading to could become law in the late August “revival” session of the Legislature.
He proposes that no one who speaks ill of same sex marriages can be liable under Alberta’s Human Rights legislation, that anyone licensed by the province to perform marriages and who feels to officiate at a same-sex marriage “would violate the person’s religious beliefs or moral values… No action lies against a member of the clergy or a marriage commissioner who refuses to solemnize a marriage between persons of the same sex.”
He goes further to say any student or teacher who does not want to participate in teachings that involve same sex marriage discussion can opt out of responsibilities to the public and minority individuals with constitutional rights protecting there sexual preferences without penalty. I don’t think so!!!
This issue is settled law in Canada and broadly supported by Canadians – and yes Albertans too – as evidenced by numerous polling results. Minorities have their rights and ought not to be subject to the tyranny of the majority. Fair enough. However this is an example of one minority trying to impose their values on another minority. It is time for the majority to speak up and not allow this to happen either.
Parents who do not want their kids to understand and accept people who are gays or lesbians and to erode their rights I guess can send them off to certain private schools. Churches have already been exempted from performing same sex marriages because they are actually private institutions. There are already protections, choice and options for the religious beliefs and moral values argument fofor those who feel the need to discriminate.
However, teachers and marriage commissioners are licensed by the government on behalf of all the citizens of Alberta , regardless of status and sexual preferences, and therefore, they have a public duty. Consequently they ought not to be afforded such opting out options to allow them to discriminate against a minority’s rights inside a public system. It is settled law that under our Charter such discrimination based on sexual preference is illegal.
Dr. Morton’s Bill 208 is not only outside the provincial jurisdiction because it violates the Charter; it is pure and simple discrimination against a minority who has constitutional protections for those rights. Modern, cosmopolitan, enlightened, inclusive and educated Albertans are surely not going to allow this travesty to happen.
Daveberta’s blog content today gave me some hope and an opportunity to not let this happen and to demonstrate our tolerance and concern for minorities. Give him a read and set some time aside on August 28 in the afternoon when Bill 208 is expected to be heard in the
Legislature and also be aware there is a news conference apposing Bill 208 set for August 25.
This is an opportunity to engage as a citizen – those of you who follow this blog have heard me expound on that before. Oh yes…I also say “that the world is run by those who show up.” I am unfortunately out of town on holidays but I will be following these events with interest – I hope many of you who are in Edmonton or can come to Edmonton will “show up.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

A "Wonk Fest" In Quebec City

I have been on the road this past week, mostly in Quebec City for the Board Meeting of the National Theatre School. I am a new member so it was a lot of get acquainted and get oriented. Fascinating organization and I am looking forward to the experience.

I have not been to Quebec City in a long time and I have to say what a gorgeous city. The restoration and rejuvenation work they have done and are doing is absolutely spectacular. I am very interested in this stuff because my firm, Cambridge Strategies Inc. is part of a group working with the city on a revitalization strategy for certain Edmonton neighbourhoods, primarily the 118 Ave area. This all fits into Mayor Mandel’s vision of an arts cluster being formed there as well and Quebec City has done just that. I came home from Quebec City with lots of ideas, great contacts and proof that it can be done and it really works.

Just as much fun was the “wonk fest” I enjoyed while in Quebec City. The NTS Board is a very interesting collection of accomplished policy and political wonks. Included is Bernard Roy, former Mulroney Chief of Staff and recently the Commission Council to Judge Gomery, who some of you might have heard of. Jodi White Chairs the NTS Board and is currently the head of the Public Policy Forum think-tank and a former key operative in both the Joe Clark and Mulroney Prime Ministers offices. Don MacDonald – former Liberal Finance Minister who headed a Royal Commission on the Canadian economy was part of the group. He was once touted as a potential successor to Trudeau but demurred saying he “lacked the Royal Jelly,” a phrase which has become part of the political lexicon in Canada. Senator Carstairs was there, mostly because her husband is on the National Theatre School board as well.

I ran into Rona Ambrose, Minister of Environment in the new Harper government and had a brief chat. She was immersed in her French lessons and getting ready for the fall release of Green Plan II. Then there was the board’s dinner with Premier Charest in the Quebec Parliamentary Dining Room where virtually all the talk was politics and culture. Premier Charest is very knowledgeable about Alberta. We discussed his desire to be in attendance at federally lead international negotiations that impact Quebec, culture most obviously. I mentioned Alberta need to be at those negotiating tables as well and for much the same reasons, like topics of continental energy discussions around oil sands development. Maybe a revival of the Lougheed- Lévesque liaison can be realized if Charest survives if pending election and if we don’t select an isolationist leader or Firewall Premier in Alberta - like Dr. Morton.

I learned a lot, laughed a lot and met a lot if interesting, thoughtful and influential people who are very committed to Canada. Sure got a sense of what some of the central and eastern Canada thinking and reactions to Alberta’s growth and emerging power role in the confederation is too. Lots of challenges are ahead for the next Premier of this province that is for sure.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fort McMurray Needs Help - NOW!

I read with interest Paul Stanway’s Edmonton Sun recent column outlining, yet again, the critical state of the infrastructure needs in Fort McMurray. He notes the fact this municipality is about to outpace Lethbridge in population and is rapidly closing in on Red Deer. Yet the province, who controls the land surrounding Fort McMurray that is available for development of housing has been virtually frozen in the face of such growth…an not as if they could not see it coming – oil sands plants don’t spring up over night.

To be fair, the province did release some land for residential development in 1999 but it was done so ineptly (a very polite way to describe that fiasco) that they literally gave away acres of land for free to a private developer who then took the free land site as part of a larger project, and at such a low price that part of the deal was questioned as well. He turned it all into housing and realized a multimillion dollar windfall from the free land. The recent Auditor General investigation on this deal outlined the utter ineptness of the deal but was not allowed to follow the money resulting from the transaction or to go into why political actions were taken afterwards, like a narrow scope appraisal that was ordered to “prove” the validity of the price. Too bad. There may have been even more interesting information that would have resulted from a wider scope of authority for the Auditor General’s office.

The government has reneged on promises made to the municipality and industry in May 2005 in response to the third business case report, in less than a decade, that was done and presented to government outlining the need and estimate costs and set priorities for the region. The promise was to provide funding help meet the growth demands caused by oil sands developments so the local tax base could eventually catch up to the growth and then sustain itself. A Ministerial committee, including Guy Boutilier, the Minister of Environment and the local MLA, said the province would help fund public needs like water treatment recreational, schools and hospital facilities, amongst others form surpluses in the 2004-05 fiscal year. It never happened.

Even more amazing was testimony by government officials before recent EUB hearings where the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo intervened in yet another effort to try to get the attention of the province. This was a very radical step for a municipality but nothing else they have tried to get the necessary help from the province had worked very effectively. The admission was made in those hearings that the 2005 Wood Buffalo Business Case was never given any credence by the province. They said they had not sought or received any third party verification of the numbers and it was never dealt with by the province. The province admitted they essentially ignored the joint report of industry and the community on the needs for the region. Astonishing!

Mark Norris says he wants a new government department to deal with northern issues. He is a little out of touch. We already have that department. It is called Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development. It is a small department that needs more clout and more cash to deliver on the mandate and promises made and to realize the potential of the north. I agree northern issues are critical to the future of the province as a whole. They have 10% of the population and generate 67% of our wealth. They need more than respect they need help NOW!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Is Gary McPherson the Next Candidate In the Race?

I believe the next candidate in the PC Leadership race will be Gary McPherson and he could announce as early as tomorrow.

Gary is a quadriplegic so has some obvious physical disabilities. Based on brains, personal accomplishments and contribution to society and community Gary can equal or better any other candidate in the field to date.

None of the candidates are perfect. Each has some shortcomings or disability. In Gary's case his disability is obvious, but his candidacy suggests that we all should look more carefully at the shortcomings and disabilites of the other candidates too. The test is not just the kinds promises they make but their capacity and character to deliver on them. This is very important.

The big question for Gary is will Albertans take him seriously or just dismiss him at first sight. That would be a very serious mistake for Albertans to make. This guy has something to say about our future and he is likely to be about much more than promoting a single issue around disabilities.

The leadership field is getting crowded and very interesting. I wonder if it is enough to get Albertans in to a serious consideration of the consequences for themselves, their families and communities inherent in this PC leadership campaign.

Participation in politics is not an option...if you are not engaged, political consequences will impact your life anyway. Gary McPherson knows that and is getting his "game face on." Hurry up and get in the frey Gary - time is awastin.'

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Vote Victor - Then Hide Your Books

Another Cabinet Minister bites the dust. The Victor Doerksen leadership candidacy is very interesting. Presuming the speculation is right. Why else would he leave Cabinet?

My sense is the evangelical social conservatives were really behind Preston Manning’s candidacy and when he passed, they were reluctantly leaning to Dr. Ted Morton. With time, my guess is they likely found Dr. Morton’s brand of social conservativism too cerebral – all in his head, not enough in his heart and precious little worn on his sleeve…Ted wants to win after all.

For example, I’d bet Dr. Morton’s pending private members Bill is not tough enough for the anti-gay fundamentalist crowd. This Bill might get into Committee debate now that we have an August legislative session coming up. As I recall, the Bill is intended, in part, to relieve a teacher, based on conscious or faith, from the obligation to teach certain aspects of the curriculum that relate to homosexuality. This is pretty scary stuff to me but it is likely just not tough enough for those who believe homosexuality is a sin and a chosen lifestyle.

Victor Doerksen is likely a recruit to this fundamentalist cause and represents a superficial shunning of Dr. Morton, at least until the second vote. If Dr. Morton makes it past the first ballot many of Victor's suporters will go to Morton on the second ballot. Better to have a "second choice" social conservative running this province than none at all will be the rationale.

These Doerksen supporters are likely the same folks who were very active and overt for Harper in the 2004 federal campaign. Remember they made him look “scary?” By staying quiet but showing up to vote in the 2006 election, Harper, this time, was merely seen as “wonky.” He got a good positive glow off of Gomery's findings and eventually a minority government…a good thing in my books.

We know the Gang of 100 who “bought into” the Norris candidacy but I expect we will never know who is really behind Doerksen. Based on the success they enjoyed by staying low key and then coming out strong on election day they made a difference for Harper. They have a strategy that works for them and it ain't broke. Why not use it to get the kind of Alberta Premier you want - for at least the next 2 years! A lot can happen in 2 years!

Will this split the social conservative vote and hurt both Victor and Ted? Or will it energize this sector and generate even more over all interest amongst the sector and sell even more memberships. Time will tell.

To my mind if you vote for Victor and he wins - you better hide your books – he likes to ban them!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Is Complacency a Character Flaw or Just Being Canadian?

The Globe and Mail columnist Lawrence Martin had some interesting things to say today about unmotivated “dozy” youth. Dubbed “the complacent generation” by Liberal Leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy, who says, “I think my generation has been more or less asleep in taking for granted what assets we have. It is time to assert ourselves before it’s too late.” I could not agree more.

Lawrence Martin says the complacent generation has been “turned off by political corruption and the idea that they can’t make a difference.” He goes on to suggest that ought to be a “Motivating factor, not the opposite.” I would expect that response as well but apparently not.

Martin and I are baby boomers and we agree on many points in his column today. We had Vietnam, the Cold War, Watergate and the FLQ in Canada to stir our activism. I recall believing that the mainstream system was so corrupt and out of touch that “you couldn’t trust anyone over 30.” With climate change, terrorism, HIV/AIDS and various warring hot spots, and, as Martin points out, “a president who may even be worse than Richard Nixon,” that ought to be enough to stir up some activism amongst youth.

It all comes down for values and beliefs. There is a wide range and expression of values and beliefs in a pluralistic country like Canada. That diversity is a good thing, so long as we can continue to learn from each other, have mutual respect and not try to impose only one point of view on the entire population. That is the essence of Canada and what is respected and revered by other peoples and countries throughout the world. There is that “multilateral moderation” that is at the heart of Canada and what I call “the incredible enlighten-ness of being Canadian.” As so many other places on the planet decline into what Martin call a “medieval standard” Canada and Canadians have to overcome complacency and start to show some assertive leadership and greater engagement in the large issues of the world today. That ought to be the job of youth to force those changes.

As for values and beliefs, take a few minutes for personal self awareness and go to the Environics 3SC Survey find more about your beliefs and values and your values “tribe.” Then consider what you are doing as a citizen and how you can engage to make a better world and then get at it and keep at it…it is such a Canadian thing to do. Remeber generousity of spirit is not a sin.

By the way my tribe is Cosmopolitan Modernist.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Conservative Party Clips the Grassroots?

I read with interest William McBeath’s Blog (“Something About Glass Houses and Stones”) and his defence of the Conservative Party of Canada’s recent changes to the Nomination Rules and Procedures. He offers a rational explanation for the changes and takes on the federal Liberals for nomination process abuses as well…with justification I might add.

The point he makes, as I see it, there is plenty of blame to go around for both parties. OK but is mutual blame good enough? Does that restore faith in the ordinary citizen that, as individuals, their votes count and that there is a point in participating in elections? This behaviour reinforces the notion that party nominations seem to be manipulated. It gives a whole new slant to “fixed elections” don’t you think?

McBeath (Conservative) also takes on Nicole Martel (Liberal) and her comments on the recent Don Martin column lambasting the Conservative’s changes. McBeath "outs" the dismal record of the Liberal Party of Canada candidate selection processes. I like to see this, a respectful yet pointed and energetic dialogue that is both factual and principled and not the least bit personal. These two people are some of the brightest and most effective young political organizers in Alberta today. We are blessed to have such people and we need more.

Now lets look as some of the reality of the recent Conservative nomination process rules changes. Having consistent, comprehensive and enforced political party nomination rules and procedures are critical to an open, transparent, accountable and inclusive democracy. I have done a quick look at the Conservative Party website and can’t find any notice of the changes. Not saying they aren’t there – not just quick and easy to find. That raises suspicions in cynical minds. William – please do what you can to get the new nomination rules and procedures posted, or more at least more prominently, on the party web site.

Secondly, this action seems to run in the face of the traditions and values of the grassroots local autonomy principles of the Reform/Alliance and even the former Progressive Conservative elements in the new Conservative party. I remember the demands that local constituencies have the power of Recall over their MPs. What ever happened to that kind of grassroots populism? Surely local party members can decide who their local candidate will be without “advice” from National Party Office, or worse, the PMO.

Thirdly, it is not a practical process now. It takes more than a week of filling out forms, getting police checks and selling memberships for someone to decide to run for elected office. This is one of the most profound personal decisions an individual and their families can make. It takes reflection as well as action…and reflection takes time. This rule change seems to be more of a barrier to enabling more people to participate in politics. I am wondering just how this action enhances democracy and respect for political processes by ordinary citizens.

In a democracy efficiency is nice to have - but it is over rated when compared to effectiveness. Better to do things right rather than rapidly – especially if you want people to respect and respond to the results.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Now That We Can Do Anything, What Will We Do?

Just so you know that I am not all angst and anguish over the state of democracy in Alberta, I had a wonderful evening last night. I was at a good old fashioned pot luck supper with an eclectic collection of old and new friends. Sitting beneath the stars on a patio in the river valley on a beautiful evening with a cold beer, great conversations and the sounds of the fabulous Edmonton Folk Festival filling the air…thx to our hosts for a great time.

In my conversations last night I was struck by the commonality of concern and comments about the future of Alberta. We had a wide mix, from an architect to an economist, a social agency executive to an artist, a film festival producer to a media monitor and lots of people with different experiences in between.

It is pretty clear change is in the air. My sense is that people are focusing on the environment as an overarching concern and how it must be integrated into everything else we are doing in Alberta. These folks last night were creative, comfortable, competent and confident folks but they were not convinced our politicians are “getting it.” I am sensing there will be a singular ecological act or event, either symbolic or tangible, which will be a tipping point causing the environment to become the #1 concern public policy issue. I could be wrong but I would not be surprised if I wasn’t.

I remember an earlier tipping point in 1993 when Laurence Decore stood in the Legislature with his wallet held high above his head. He was making the point that the Alberta government had a serious spending problem and it was coming right out of the wallets of every Albertan. The public already knew this and the dramatic gesture resonated with Albertans. The other “dramatic” consequence was, given the public’s response, Premier Klein immediately dove headfirst into an election and campaigned on “slaying the debt and deficit dragon.” Some of you will remember the choices the voters were given – brutal cuts or massive cuts, take our pick.

So what is the next tipping point going to be in Alberta that captures our collective imagination and moves us forward? I got part of the answer today in some material sent to me from the Alberta College of Art and Design. In it was a quote from Bruce Mau, head of the Toronto based Institute Without Boundaries. He said, “Now that we can do anything, what will we do?” It is that sense of possibility and potential that we in Alberta must capture and use constructively. We have all the tools, timing and talent to do “anything” – the challenge is to define and deliver on what we mean by “anything.”

Some possibilities that appealed to me were in the ACAD material, including: to build our communities, create a new industry, invigorate our province, explore ideas, stir culture, celebrate, imagine and be prepared to be amazed. Nice places to start the thinking and design process for the next Alberta.

It is Sunday – a day of rest. I think I shall do just that for the “rest” of the day.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Are We Ready for a Change?

I first read Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” back in the spring of 2000. It’s been 99 weeks on the Globe and Mail Best Sellers list. The book is a “how-to” primer for modern retail politics. Gladwell says modern changes occur when three characteristics coincide, contagiousness, the fact that little causes have big effects and change is not gradual but happens “at one dramatic moment.”

With these awareness’s expect political campaigns to change big time. For an example of this just look at Democratic candidate Howard Dean, the internet based political phenomenon that was – and then all of a sudden, wasn’t – just one “scream” later. Contagion, little things creating big effect and then, all of a sudden, it’s over.

Couple this with James Surowiecki’s 2004 book “The Wisdom of Crowds” where he illustrates the amazing accuracy and effectiveness of “disorganized decision making.” There is a power of collective wisdom in decision-making that result from the participation of a diverse collection of independently deciding individuals. Even with insufficient data and personal biases when pooled and applied, there is an amazing accuracy. Sounds like a rich decentralized network of people not a centralized hierarchy of power brokers, right?

In the Internet age of networked independent, effective, connected communities of interest based relationships, I can see a new political paradigm emerging. This is especially true in Alberta. The SuperNet is starting to “light up” in libraries all over Alberta. Albertans will likely be the most powerfully connected place and people on the planet. With citizens having a direct access to this network and its power, it will be hard to control political events and information from a top-down, command and control centralized source – like the Legislature – or worse yet, the Premier’s office.

This shift is already happening but on a modest scale. Blogs are the canaries in the political coal mines for the traditionalist politicians. Blogs are a contagious, disorganized “decision making” reality that is the beginning of the end of the traditional political class. Anyone who believes and/or hopes that the past centralized top-down elite driven political power and authority will continue into the future is wrong. It will not!

We are approaching - or may already be at - a “tipping point” in Alberta politics and the PC leadership results could be the proof of that new reality. We saw the tipping point at work in the last Edmonton Mayoralty race. Voters started to question conventional “media wisdom” and the appeal of the two front runners. The erosion of their support happened slowly at first, but time took its toll. In the critical last two weeks of the campaign, everything changed because people wanted real change and the so-called third candidate was seen as real change. Mandel won handily. Messrs. Dinning and Oberg should read Gladwell and Surowiecki and get ahead of the change before it’s too late.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Who Is "fromthemountains"

Today a blogger who uses the name "fromthe mountains" and is part of a group of political bloggers "Renewingtheonepartystate" suggested Dave Hancock, who I support for the PC leadership, rein me in. My words - not his/hers. I commented on that site but wanted to share what I had to say on this blog as well. Here was my reply to "fromthemountains:"

I have read your comments on my blog re lack of long term planning and your advice to Dave Hancock to “lay down some ground rules” with me. I hope you read my entry today. I think it best answers what I think is wrong with your recommendation to Dave Hancock.

When people are afraid to express independent, considered, reflective thought and opinion we end up with the state controlled by dictators - not citizens. When you are required to adhere to an ideology of the powerful and to be silent for fear of reprisal we get old style communism. When you feel you have to be on the side of the “authority” regardless of whether you respect them or not, you destroy democracy you don’t merely diminish it.

When you find people of ability and character prepared to enter thankless politics in order to authentically serve the public good and not just a party boss – it does not take much to value them and want to support them, regardless of party affiliation. Parties can be effective if they are composed of citizens who believe in and value our freedoms. Parties exist to make sure politics is in the service of our society - not the other way around.

We in Alberta still have a free, open, inclusive and democratic society. We lack an active, informed and engaged citizenry. If that trend continues power based extremists politicians will be able to take over and “set some ground rules” including free speech. That would be tragic. Political participation is not an option. Citizens either get involved politically or else politics will get them. If you allow powerful extremists to take over our democracy and destroy it – to blog will be at your peril.

I notice you do not tell us who you are in your blog. That is your prerogative. Come out from behind the shadows “fromthemountains” and bring your co-contributors with you. Come into the sunlight and tell us who you are and speak your mind freely. Do this with out fear of reprisal from your peers - or your masters, if you have them. You owe this to yourself so you can avoid having that “little chat” with someone some time soon who will “lay down some ground rules for you.” In your last sentence you say to the effect “If you don’t, I think things will only get worse.” With that statement I could not agree more. Who are you? Inquiring minds want to know.

Has Citizenship and Cynicism Become Synonyms?

The “silencing” of citizen's voices in our governance system is disheartening. Why have so many people settled for cynicism and given up about speaking out? It is as if Sidney Harris’ observation about a cynic is becoming embedded in too many citizens and becoming a fundamental part of our culture. He said “A cynic is not merely one who reads bitter lessons from the past; he is one who is prematurely disappointed in the future.”

I have recently read a book of essays by Margaret Wheatley, “Finding Our Way – Leadership for an Uncertain Time.” An essay she did entitled “Ending Our Silence” struck home and gave some insight on this trend.

She observes that “we don’t know how to talk to each other anymore…even nations where there is a strong tradition of citizen participation; people have stopped talking to one another about the most troubling political issues.” She observes the consequence of “…the silent thoughtful people creates a vacuum filled by extremists.”

We feel overwhelmed and helpless by the amount of suffering in the world and the complexity of the problems. She wonders if it is all “too much to bear, and so we choose numbness over involvement.”

Wheatley believes “People feel more powerless now than at any time in recent history.” Decisions get made politically in our name that we absolutely disagree with. This seems especially true for youth.

Others are afraid to speak out because of what they might lose. Some people in government are more about power than public service and they are bullies. Silence becomes co-option and one ends up forfeiting personal integrity and principles in order to stay on the “good side” of those in power. Wheatley observes that we want some significant change yet we delude ourselves that it can happen at no cost to ourselves.

Is it time for a wake up call for citizenship? I think so. As Edmund Burke noted “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I think I have just found another good reason to be writing this Blog.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Planning - We Don't Need No Stinkin' Long Range Planning

So the Premier says Alberta doesn’t need long range planning for oil sands development and those “think-tanks” who say differently ought to keep their nose out of the risky business of oil sands development. So there! That attitude sums up the short sightedness that has characterized our provincial policy planning since the “victory” over debt and deficit. With such hard fought fiscal flexibility one would think long term infrastructure planning would be Job 1 for a fiscally prudent government - but it obviously isn’t. At least not until there is “new management” in place.

The oil sands industry has been trying for years to get the province to do some public sector infrastructure planning for the Wood Buffalo region – Fort McMurray especially. There were three comprehensive business case studies done jointly by the municipality and industry over the years. Each one was done professionally, with prudence and caution. Each time the province was forewarned of the dire consequences to the region of public infrastructure neglect in the face of rapid populaton and oil sands project development.

Each time recommendations were persistently ignored by the province. Each time government said industry should take over government’s role and provide the Ft. Mc. public infrastructure. Each time industry said OK as long as it was included as part of project costs. Nothing ever came of it.

A good example of the political neglect is how the province perpetually sat on the release of residential land supply in Fort McMurray in the face of 6-8% annual compounding population growth. Land for housing was, and is, totally within provincial control and for years nothing was done. Now Ft. Mc. housing prices rival Toronto and Vancouver. And we wonder why we can’t get any labour to work up there.

We did a long range plan once - in 1993 - to eliminate the provincial deficit and debt. We said we would do it over 25 years. The powers that be at the time took personal pride in the fact that “they did not blink.” True enough. So steely and concentrated was their focus on the fiscal goal, that it was accomplished in a mere 8 years – and to great fan fare. Every available loose nickel seems to have been put directly to the debt and deficit.

Government did not blink but they wore blinkers. They let infrastructure demands slide in the face of population growth and ignored things like school maintenance. Such infrastructure neglects and planning “mistakes” were widespread. Alberta taxpayers are now paying a premium to fix up the messes - if contractors can even be found to bid such public sector projects in this over heated labour constrained construction market.

Long range planning? We don’t need no stinkin’ long range planning…not at $78 oil we don’t. Cash flow can hide a lot of sins…for a while! Just ask the federal Liberal Party. And remember - there is more than one way to piss away a boom.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Revenge of the Rudderless Reformers.

When Preston Manning balked at a bid for the PC leadership he left a lot of Reformers rudderless. They were anxious to have Manning help them redefine the direction for Alberta towards a “Republican lite.”

Reformers have already taken over one Progressive Conservative Party – it ought not to happen again. There is a need for a fiscally and environmentally conservative party coupled with an open, inclusive and socially progressive policy. Alberta already has that combination of qualities in the PC Party - as it exists now.

In a post-Preston world these Reformers are getting organized and intend to impact and influence the outcome of the PC leadership. Media reports say they will have “a new name” (what is wrong with Reform or Social Credit for that matter) and a new website and they say they “may endorse a candidate.” Given what they think is ailing Alberta, it is pretty hard to imagine they will pass up this opportunity to endorse one or both of the “Doctors” - Oberg or Morton.

They are demanding candidates “come clean in terms of democratic ideals and values inside the party.” The Alberta PC Party has nothing to come clean about in terms of its democratic ideals and values. It wears them on its sleeve. They are called The Statement of Principles. They are quite encompassing, inclusive and open. Check them out on the party website.

These are the PROGRESSIVE Conservative Party values and ideals that were endorsed by a PC Party Convention in the early 1990’s. There was a review process that involved and engaged the entire party membership - at the grassroots constituency level – not the party elite in some backroom meetings.

The process was very successful and was very revitalizing for the Party and it was started and lead by then Party President, Dave Hancock. Yes the same Dave Hancock who is also a candidate for PC leader.

For the record the Statement of Principles were updated and reconfirmed in January 2002. They hardly need revision but I agree that the party could once again use some rejuvenation. Hancock did it 15 years ago and would do it again but based on the principles and values already endorsed by PC Party members.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Ideal Candidate for Premier

The May 2003 leadership preference research shows what attributes the ideal leadership candidate needs to align with the values and preferences of Albertans. They have to be enthusiastic, active and be leading agents of change. Albertans are ready for a change. Any candidate who represents the status quo or is tied to yesterday’s agenda or the old way of doing politics is not going to cut it.

Albertans know the world is very complex so we want someone who is level headed and clear thinking. We want someone who is can see nuances, understands systems and how issues and events are all related. They will have to show us they can deal with uncertainty and still get things done. Someone who wants to clarity and a better understanding of issues and events, coupled with a practical approach to solutions is what Albertans want from their next leader. Media savvy spin masters with simplistic sound-bites are no longer acceptable.

Our next leader must be well educated, be unquestionably honest and with demonstrated integrity. Character will count and it will trump candidates with media manufactured “charisma.” We want someone with proven experience and actual knowledge about how government works. We also expect them to have some real life experiences beyond politics. We want proof they know something about business and how it works too.

Albertans are very aware of our role and responsibility as an economic leader in the country. Given our wealth we can expect that Albertan’s will want their next leader to expand our national and international influence to include environmental and social spheres as well. We expect our next leader to be able to think beyond our provincial borders and beyond our national borders. We will want our leader to help Albertans become better understood in Canada. He must help Albertans participate, understand and benefit from world events and issues too.

With these research results I saw one potential PC leadership candidate who stood out - Dave Hancock. I immediately decided try and convince him to enter the leadership race when Ralph retired. Thankfully he did. In future Blogs I will tell you why I support him.

Friday, August 04, 2006

More Preferred Leadership Qualities

The next set of leadership qualities we researched were Personal Qualities, Communications Skills and Change Agent aspects. In terms of personal qualities we found integrity and honesty along with experience and knowledge were positives. People did not value an informed and curious traits as preferrred leadership qualities and they really did not like someone who thay saw as and assertive and confident personality.

The positive communication skills valued in leadership was if they could bring clarity to issues and was a good listener. Being articulate was positive but not all that important. The strong negative was someone who was seen as "Media Savvy." This negative was so strong that even if a candidate had all three positive qualities and was still seen as media savvy that would neutralize all the good communications attributes.

Albertans want to see a change and a leader who has new ideas and will support new ideas. They no longer want a follower of ideas coming from others. The Klein view of political leadership that says he looks to see where the public parade is going and then he gets in front of it and acts as the leader will not cut it now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Alberta Leadership Value Preferences

This is the graphic that shows some of the 2003 values preferences research results on Alberta leadership qualities from my entry of a couple of days ago. A business backgound is a very dominant positive value preference. Thinking about Alberta in isolation to the rest of the country or our place in the world is very negative. Alberta are not impressed with the Firewall concept.

We expect our next leader to be educated. Having advanced education will not get you elected but not having it will be sure to help you lose. Anyone who frames themselves as an academic will not do themselves any favours. Consequently, "Professor Morton" or "Dr. Oberg" is not something we should look for on their websites anytime soon. Even though in Oberg's case his "Dr." a medical degree, if it were to be perceived to be a PhD it would do is campaign some real harm. Hancock is a lawyer who has been Minister of Justice and Attorney General who will position himself with that experience and knowledge to overcome the negative perceptions of being a lawyer.

Dinning is positioned as the business candidate but spent most of his working life in politics, going back to early Lougheed days. He has been in the business world for under 10 years but he has a strong business image nonetheless.

I will show some more results and their implications for this leadership campaign soon.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Oberg the Iceberg - You Only See 10%

Grande Prairie Herald Tribune today quotes Lyle "the Prodigal Son" Oberg as advocating a "merging of the energy and agriculture industries to create a biodiesel fuel industry as a means of diversifying the provinces economy." How long do you think the agriculture industry would last in such a "merger?" About as long as the federal Progressive Conservatives did when MacKay signed his NO merger deal with Orchard and immediately proceeded to shamelessly sell out to the Reform/Alliance party.

We need to expand clean alternative energy sources and should support the Alberta forestry and agriculture entrepreneurs and innovators who are taking the risks and leading the way. Lyle says lets turn them over to BIG OIL and see how well they can continue to survive and innovate for energy alternatives. There are plenty of good independent and clever minds in agriculture and forestry who are pioneers of our times. They can help diversify our economy and also aid our environment without the aid of the conventional energy sector. This merger idea is the dumbest policy suggestion since cutting taxes in half for under 30 year olds.

Oberg further plead his case for $1billion of surplus fund to be spent for fixing schools. Great idea. We're talking straight up infrastructure stuff like leaky roofs, or if they don't leak, perhaps Lyle will put some bucks into fixing those schools whose roofs have already caved in. Why would Oberg propose this bold initiative at this time? Because, and I repeat his quote, "I don't think anyone wants their kids to go to school with a leaky roof or the school in a state of disrepair." Spare us Mr. former Infrastructure Minister. This is the very stuff Oberg failed, refused and neglected to do for schools as the Minister. He was told of the scale and urgency of the school maintenance problems by the governments very own MLA review committee. He repeatedly turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to them, the school boards, the parents and the teachers who were crying out to him as the Minister responsible.

The news story closes with another gem from Oberg where he is said he "...hope(s) the upcoming leadership race will be shaped ideas and not as much as with personality." DUH! I guess. Who would want personality - and character - raised as leadership issues after being kicked out of caucus because of reckless and wanton statements about his colleagues and his leader? It's been months and no skeletons have been exhumed. A man of character would be duty bound to expose any wrong doing he alleges. Anything less could only be judged as a character flaw.

Albertans will engage in this selection process for party leader and Premier. They will reflect on character and integrity as key criteria when they make their choice about who is best fit to govern. Character, integrity and capability will count - as will a candidates record. That is as it ought to be.