Reboot Alberta

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Stelmach's Caucus Passes Province Wide Smoking Ban!

The Alberta Progressive Conservative Caucus under Premier Stelmach has approved a province wide smoking ban in public and workplaces today. Indications are the new legislation for this ban is ready to go through the final procedural steps and could be tabled for First Reading by Dave Hancock Alberta Minister of Health and Wellness next week.

Premier Stelmach has been waiting for the "will of his Caucus" and now he has it. Now the Premier has to get firmly behind this initiative and help fast track this legislation. Let's get it passed into law this session. There is no good reason for more delays or dithering with the legislation until the fall session. It won't be easy pass this into law this session given how close we are to the end - but it is not impossible.

This idea for legislated province wide smoking ban is an initiative that has 84% public support. It can be law this session if the government has the will to keep the momentum going and if the opposition parties co-operate with some flexibility on scheduling issues.

Premier Stelmach has declared quality of life to be one of his fundamental governance principles. The government news release ties this policy decision to that principle. There is no reason to delay or defer this decision Mr. Premier.

Get ‘er done! And get 'er done NOW!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This is the Week When a Smoking Ban Policy Happens or Not.

UPDATE MAY 29/07 Indications are that the Hancock policy initiative for province wide tobacco control in Alberta passed through the Stelmach Cabinet today. It now goes to Caucus for final deliberation as early as this Thursday. Cabinet has been seen as the biggest political hurdle but that is now done. MSM media has caught on that this may actually happen now. One can only hope the momentum is enough to put this over the top and it becomes law as quickly as possible.
Well today is a kind of a crunch day on the initiative for a province wide smoking ban in Alberta. Indications are that today is the day the proposed policy package goes to Cabinet and media reports show three heavyweight Cabinet Ministers oppose the idea. The good news is the same reports show eight Cabinet Ministers support it. Four others are in the “other category” and that includes the Premier, all of whom are waiting for the decision of Caucus. That meeting is apparently scheduled for later this week as well. The smoking ban idea seems to have a better chance in Caucus with 36 PC MLAs identified as supporters.

If we are serous about a shift in policy emphasis to include a commitment to a wellness agenda, this proposal is an obvious and effective first step. Yes there are arguments that there are other problems that need attention too. Priorities always have a ranking challenge and resourcing. But no matter how you slice this one – as a health issue, as a cost issue, as a productivity issue, as a liability issue for damages caused by second-hand smoke, as a safety issue in the workplace or as a property damage and personal tragedy issue through fire - it just makes sense.

My understanding is matters rarely come to an actual vote in Caucus. With polls showing that 84% of Albertans supporting a province wide ban on smoking in public and work places, I would not be surprised if this issue was one of those times a vote was held. With an election coming up, perhaps in less than a year, no doubt those politicians who were on side with the mainstream thinking of Albertans around this issue will want that fact to be known.

Hopefully for Dave Hancock his proposal will pass and prove to be the exception to McClaughry’s Law of Public Policy: “Politicians who vote huge expenditures to alleviate problems get re-elected; those who propose structural changes to prevent problems get early retirement.”

We can’t continue to throw money at the healthcare system in 10% annual budget increments. It is unsustainable to do so. The system needs structural changes that do not erode the principles of the Canada Health Act but enhances and embraces more individual responsibility. A province wide smoking ban would be a great start. Good luck Dave.

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Great Canadian Wish List

There is a new phenomenon out and about in the land. The Great Canadian Wish List is the brain child of my friend Taylor Gunn. He is the push behind the StudentVote movement in Canada as well.

Launched today in cooperation with Facebook and the CBC it is an innovation to get us thinking and sharing, as citizens, our ideas about the state and status of our country. The Great Canadian Wish List is using the power of old time television, thank you CBC. Then it is married to the new social networking power of Facebook. This produces a way that we can all participate and actually watch the viral nature of this mass connectivity unfold before us.

The idea is to make a birthday wish for Canada and share it with others. I was invited to be an early participant and "tester" of the fool proof system. Well I proved to be a better fool than the programmers were capable of proofing against. I am as intuitive as the next guy and being a guy I feel instructions are always to be used as a last resort.

This idea is absolutely terrific and one in which I encourage you to participate. Get involved. Just reflect for a moment on your hopes and aspirations for Canada? What are our strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as you see them? Share your thoughts and wishes for Canada with the rest of Canada. It is fun, creative and even a bit confounding to someone my age.

This idea of Taylor’s may be just the ticket to banishing the collective bronze medal mentality of us Canadians. It may be the way we discover and disclose our true selves as we share our collective wisdom for the future of our nation. It is going to be an enormous contribution to our collective and cumulative sense of self as a nation. Nothing more! Nothing less!

Thanks for getting this going Taylor. Who knows? With your experiment in collective consciousness you may come to be seen as the midwife in a rebirthing of this nation. BTW here is the link to my birthday wish for Canada. I hope you will support it!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Are Charest and Harper Both Past Their "Best Before" Dates Already?

The volatility of the political scene all over the country is fascinating to watch and I would like focus on two examples. We have the spectacle of Jean Charest playing chicken with oppositions on his budget and the infamous "tax break for the middle class” that may (or not) trigger an election. The myth of the “so-called” fiscal imbalance in Quebec is now proven to be a myth if equalization money from Canada can be used for a tax reduction when it is supposed to provide for equivalent public service levels.

The ADQ and PQ parties are both on record as opposed to his cynical budget ploy by Charest. They say the tax break Charest wants would be better public policy if it were provided in the form of a debt repayment. That way the interest saved could be added to operating budgets through enhanced general revenues and that way serve the needs of Quebecers for generations. Charest is now being framed as a guy who can’t count akin to Joe Clark’s budget folly that brought down his minority federal government decades ago.

Next week will be most interesting in Quebec politics. I just hope the new Lt. Gov. in Quebec avoids an election and asks Mario Dumont to take a stab at forming a government with the PQ under a newly anointed leader in the form of Pauline Marois.

Another unfolding, or unraveling, drama, depending on your POV, is the aimless wanderings and wanings of the Harper Cons. The Base is angry at the lack of alignment of Harper’s actions to Reform/Alliance principles and the Quebec gambit of buying Charest’s victory with Ottawa tax money is backfiring too. The personal power agenda of the Prime Minister has alienated and aggravated just about anyone who he needs and wants within his sphere of influence.

He is now determined to devalue his political stock in Ontario with his legislative agenda to add and redistribute new House of Commons seats. It is god for the west but it is also more pandering to Quebec. That is now perturbing Ontarians even more as Harper moves to realign the seat distribution in a way that undermine their power and influence and short changes the largest voter group in the country.

With all the levers of power at his disposal for over 16 months and with no real threat of an election, unless he wants one, Harper has not been able to move beyond his political support ranking of the last election. Loyalty to his leadership from the Reform/Alliance side of the CPC is eroding and his personal trustworthiness and political integrity is in decline as well.

He is about to shut down Parliament and do an “Elvis” and “leave the building” in the next few weeks. more than a tad prematurely. He will leave a load of unfinished business and most of his critical policy Bills are now in limbo. This retreat from governing will enable his opponents, Dion in particular, to regroup and revive. He also forfeits the ability to control and set the political agenda in the media while wandering about the land on the BBQ circuit talking to his "choir" about yesterday's victories and avoiding discussions about today's realities.

Given that the big issue is going to be the environment and the fact it will continue to grow in importance this summer, Harper will become increasingly less relevant given his lack of traction, trust and tenacity on those issues. I am sensing the Harper era, such as is has been, is about to fade to black. The sound track will change and be full of whimpering and whining, with more vengeance and vanquishing to come from his partisans. That sentiment will show up with surprising results in many of the pending constituency nominations.

Look out for a multitude of maverick CPC bumper stickers on pick up trucks all over rural Alberta this summer saying: “Come Back Preston Manning. All is Forgiven!”

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tobacco Control Legislation Will Show Stelmach as a New Leader of a Different Government.

The policy development effort of Dave Hancock, Alberta's Minister of Health and Wellness to restrict tobacco in Alberta is entering its final stages.

It has passed the Stelmach government’s Agenda and Priorities Committee and was accepted by the Cabinet Policy Committee. Now it is ready for the full Cabinet and the Caucus consideration and indications are that is happening very soon, as early as next week.

I have followed with interest the Alberta evolution of this initiative for new tobacco control legislation both personally and professionally. It has taken the political process a number of years and a number of tries to get enough politicians to see tobacco control as a health, wellness and a cost saving issue and not only as a personal freedom or choice matter.

The debate around this still persists with some people but there is more mythology than fact. The media likes to play up the personal freedom issue but there are fewer and fewer people who are there to articulate it these days. They are people who are usually characterized as rural and unsophisticated and the interviews are done in bars and pool halls or coffees shops or restaurants.

This framing perpetuates the myth of a rural – urban split in Alberta. It sets up rural people as opposed to tobacco control and city people in support. There is an effort to use the issues as a way to define a different value set as between rural and urban Albertans too. This is totally untrue based on numerous polling results the latest being from Ipsos Reid that showed no significant difference between Albertans in Edmonton and Calgary and the rest of the province.

According to that poll a full 80% of Albertans understand the issues and support a province wide smoking ban. The majority of Alberta politicians know that and also understand Alberta has been lagging behind other provinces on this issue for far too long.

There are 18 Alberta municipalities who have already passed smoking bans. To underscore the myth of a rural-urban split on this, the towns of Stettler, Cardston and Whitecourt adopted bans before the City of Calgary did…and Calgary has the highest education levels of any city in the country. Go figure.

Health is not a rural or an urban issue. Nor is workplace safety in terms of second hand smoke. The diminishing numbers of provincial MLAs who oppose the smoking ban are rural but they are not aligned with the core beliefs and values of the main stream of Albertans – especially on this issue. The majority of Alberta's politicians know this is an idea whose time has come.

Klein as Premier would never let this idea of a province wide smoking ban see the light of day. Stelmach’s new government should ensure this new tobacco control initiative becomes law. It is the right thing to do but it gives him another opportunity as well. This new legislation adds a new health care focus on wellness but it also busts two persistent myths. Firstly, that there is a myth about a rural – urban split in the province on fundamental values. There is not. Secondly, that the Stelmach government is just the same and an extension of the Klein regime. It is not. Tobacco control legislation will go along way to proving both myths to be untrue.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Canadian Politics Turns to Farce and the World Wonders Why We are Becoming Global Underachievers

Here is our LaPresse column that was published on May 20, 2007. It was inspired by Satya Das, my business partner, and his recent excursion to Hong Kong and India for one of our projects. It has caused a flurry of emails out of Quebec since it was published. Many of them are angry over how we framed Duceppe and others agreeing that Canada is punching well below its weight in the global reality of today.

Satya Das and Ken Chapman
After a frenetic week of business in Asia, it is a joy to step into the chilled cabin of a plane bound for home, take a long drink of clean water, and catch up with the SRC news.

The joy quickly fades. There on the miniature screen is the anguished face of Gilles Duceppe, explaining himself with all the conviction of a boy caught raiding the liquor cabinet. After the intense, concentrated, high-energy atmosphere of Delhi and Hong Kong, this farcical slice of Canadian politics is just too much to bear, especially when you’re flying 11 kilometres above the South China Sea.

In Delhi, people of serious intent asked about the status of India’s pursuit of a free trade agreement with Canada – they wanted to know how the idea was being received in Canada, and did the politicians and the public approve?

One had to reply, with considerable embarrassment, that India-Canada Free Trade really wasn’t on our political radar screen in Canada. We were too preoccupied with the minutiae of minority governments, with the junior high-school antics of sniping party leaders. Indeed, our national media has not even taken notice of the Indian overture. Why bother with the long-term sustainability of our economy and our society, when it’s so much easier to obsess about Duceppe’s bizarre psychodrama?

Already the world’s third largest economy by purchasing power, India wants to negotiate free access to its huge range of economic opportunities. "We believe that it is mutually rewarding for India and Canada to work towards a strategic partnership," Indian High Commissioner to Canada R.L . Narayan explained to a Toronto business audience at the end of April.

The fact that India is coming to us is hugely significant. It underlines once again the attraction and value of Canada’s abundance of natural resources, human talent, and our ability to craft a civil society from many streams of the human experience. India isn’t alone. Also on the horizon is a Free Trade proposal with the European Union. The pursuit of these opportunities demands significant political focus.

At this stage in history, Canada has an obligation of positive global engagement, indeed of global leadership. Yet our political class seems entirely incapable of even recognising the opportunity, let alone seizing it.

Our combination of political stability and huge energy reserves set us apart in a world addicted to the hydrocarbon economy. This puts an enormous responsibility on us to develop these resources in an environmentally sustainable manner, ensuring that we sharply reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases. Our stability is going to make us the energy supplier of choice for the world. There is a real opportunity for Alberta and Canada is to sell carbon capture and clean coal technology to China and India before they embark on a huge expansion of coal-fuelled power generation.

Yet by benign neglect, we are losing our way in the broader world. Our politicians are reacting instead of leading when it comes to our global engagement. This is a shame, because we have an obligation to share what is best in us. We can set an example for the world in showing how we use our wealth to advance the common good. This will distinguish us from the many resource economies where the bounty ends up in the hands of the few. We have a global obligation to show that investing in the potential of one's people -- mass access to education, health, a clean environment -- is a better application of the enormous resource wealth that fuels war and instability elsewhere.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper intends to meet with Canada’s First Ministers shortly before he leaves for the G-8 summit in Germany, to discuss Canada’s international trade policy and positions. It would be extremely helpful to use this meeting for a full consideration of Canada’s global leadership.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Give Me Prentice Over Harper and Hill Any Day

I was struck by the juxtaposition of CPC stories in today’s Globe and Mail. Off the top, let me disclose I was a Jim Prentice supporter for the leadership of the CPC and still hold out a hope that one day it will happen. I have known him for a number of years, as a PC Party member and a fellow lawyer. We were on opposite sides over the environmental and expropriation issues surrounding the building of Old Man River Dam by the government of Alberta in southern Alberta. He was a young lawyer and second counsel on the matter but his compassion, wisdom and sound judgment was very self evident even in his “younger” days.

So in the Globe and Mail today we see Jim Prentice adding fairness and equity in a proposal to “shake up” the process for aboriginal land claims settlements. The issues are the back log of claims and a means to dispense with the stacked deck our aboriginal people face in pursuing settlements. When the “government of Canada acts as defendant, judge, jury and research body” in such matters, it is had to seen the balance and fairness and equity of such “negotiations.” Talk about conflicting roles!

Prentice sees the Indian Clams Commission, an independent body where he once served as a co-commissioner in the Mulroney days, as the means to his ends. The ICC under Prentice’s idea will be delegated the power to actually settle treaty and land claims itself, not the conflicted government of Canada. According the G&M front page story, this approach “marks a “seismic shift in the way land-claims treaties have been negotiated in the past 60 years.” I agree!

Then, by way of contrast, we have the page A4 story and picture of the co-conspirators of Stephen Harper and Jay Hill (CPC Whip) presumably mulling over their latest masterpiece a “manual on disrupting committee meetings.” We have the Keystone Kons shifting their share of the blame many times before in a masterful display of “Bush-league” tactics. They justify this travesty again blaming the opposition by Hill claiming all they are doing is “to push back when we see the opposition parties basically getting together and trying to put together a coalition government between the three of them.”

HELLO! What do you expect in a minority government? The Kons and the “other parties” did the very same thing in order to bring down the Martin Liberal minority government when it pleased…save and except the dearly departed (in more ways than one) Belinda Stronach. The reaction to disrupt and abdicate the responsibility to govern is not an acceptable response Mr. Hill!

The CPC is a minority government selected by Canadians with expectations that they would work towards finding compromises and actually actively govern, perhaps with a tad of integrity and alacrity from time to time. We see delay tactics from both sides but especially from the Cons. Worse yet we see our “government” engaged in cheap tactical gamesmanship designed to “push back!” Again we see the character flaws of the current PM shining through. He seems always to be more intent on winning skirmishes in Question Period and now at Commons Committee instead to showing a capacity for meaningful leadership.

I can’t help thinking that if Jim Prentice were the CPC leader today we would have a socially progressive and a fiscally conservative government with enlightened and compassionate leadership that respects people as citizens and taxpayers. We could trust our leader as a person of integrity and character with new approaches and new ideas and a personal capacity to govern.

But alas my desire for change is not much more than thinking and hoping. Unfortunately thinking doesn’t make it so and hope is not a method to achieve meaningful change.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

This Site Allows and Likes Comments but Dislikes Anonymity

Thx to the Cowboys for Social Responsibility for correcting their post on yesterdays offering in this Blog. For some strange reason Blogger did not provide for Comments to be posted on “Rankled Reformers Resurrecting to Reject Harper.” CfSR thought I did not allow comments and they said so when they responded to he merits my item – and rather well I thought.

There is plenty of interest in yesterdays post so I thought I would try again with this entry to see if it would enable Comments that relate to “Rankled Reformers Resurrecting to Reject Harper.” It did not work. I have checked my site parameters in Blogger and Comments are enabled. I don't know what else one can do. Sorry!

I have been Blogging since late July 06 and have only deleted one Comment (so far) because it was libelous. I invited that Commenter to connect to me by e-mail and if they removed the offensive language I would hope he would resubmit. He did connect with me and we talked on the phone and he resubmitted a more appropriate comment as I recall.

I note that CfSR does not allow anonymous Comments. I find them offensive and often cowardly and say so very often. I wonder how others feel about anonymous comments. I am considering following the lead of CfSR and perhaps asking a Commenter who want to remain anonymous at least give a good reason for doing so.

Any thoughts? I guess without Comments on this post you will have to share your comments with me by email at:

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Rankled Reformers Resurrecting to Reject Harper

UPDATE: May 21 - more MSM is now picking up on the story.

Just as been predicting, the Harper’s “Gnu Government” political pandering to Quebec and personal power agenda is pissing off the base and he is about to start paying the consequences. There are moves afoot to revitalize the Reform Party and it is coming out of Kingston Ontario. There are not many happy campers in Reform country in Alberta either from what I see and hear.

My guess Prime Minister Harper’s summer of discontent will spread by wafting on the July winds like the Mountain Pine Beetle. You know it is big and it is moving and it spells disaster, but you can’t be sure where it will land next. When it does land - look out – it will attach itself to all the grumpy old Reformers in the area, just like the Mountain Pine Beetle takes over all the old growth forest.

Harper has found he can engineer a bump in the polls enough to just flirt with risking an election but it only lasts for a week or so. He can’t sustain a 40% approval level and he will not risk an election if he can’t win a majority. Now he has seen his “Canada’s New Government” poll results showing declining popularity and his trust levels retracted to the point where the Cons are even a bit below the ill-defined and detested Liberals some days.

The citizenry is ornery and volatile and not in a mood to be trifled with these days. With the rise of the Reformers again the future looks even more dire for the Keystone Kons. The Greens are on the rise, the Bloc is bumbling and the ND’s need a progressive government that they can make deals with to feel they have a purpose or else they end up infighting amongst themselves. The Liberals are under funded and unfocused but those things can be fixed…at least they are no longer demoralized.

It looks like Harper is about to board up the House of Commons for the summer and hit the BBQ circuit with his wardrobe and makeup department in tow. I'm betting we will definitely not see him with a cowboy hat on backwards and the vest that was five sizes too small at this years Calgary Stampede.

If the Reform Party resurrects itself with a vengeance in Calgary by this July, we may not see Steve Harper at the Stampede at all this summer. He may end up spending more time commiserating with Dubya on the ranch in Crawford Texas instead. He may believe it would be a might friendlier down in Texas instead of the BBQ circuit in Alberta by then.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Stelmach Government Moves One Step Closer on Tobacco Control

The Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta supporting tobacco control legislation is moving along well. We are assisting the campaign made up of a coalition of 15 professional and health advocacy groups that are the driving force supporting this policy initiative. They are promoting the health and wellness aspects of tobacco control and the dangers of exposure to second hand smoke that currently impacts half a million Albertans.

Smoking bans in public and work places became an issue in the recent PC leadership campaign. It is now being addressed and moving through the government’s policy development and legislative process lead by the Minister of Health and Wellness Dave Hancock. Seven provinces have already passed smoke-free legislation and have banned the “power walls” displays of tobacco products. Six provinces have outlawed tobacco sales in pharmacies. Alberta is just now catching up on these tobacco control public health and workplace safety issues.

A recent poll showed public support for the Hancock initiative at an all time high of 80% for public and workplace bans, 78% for banning pharmacy sales and 67% against tobacco power wall displays. These citizen support figures are essentially the same for urban and rural Albertans.

The Premier has reconfirmed tobacco control legislation must have the support of the PC Caucus and he will abide by that decision. With the change in leadership we are now seeing some change in the political climate around tobacco control in Alberta too – but it is far from a slam dunk. The first indication of this positive change in attitude was the recent Provincial Budget increasing tobacco taxes in the face of past edicts that “…the only way taxes are going in Alberta are down!”

The proposal has passed the first two stages of Agenda and Priorities Committee and the Cabinet Policy Committee. Now it has to go to the Cabinet and Caucus for a decision. The Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta ( has mobilized a very impressive effort to have citizens to contact local MLAs to encourage support.

Now the MSM are getting into the issue big time, with front page stories. The political newsletter Alberta Scan (780-421-9077 for more information) is carrying a very informative piece on the politics of this initiative now too. We have done three related interviews, representing a range of interests and perspectives, on our affiliate website Policy Channel ( as well. One interview is with the CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce, another is with the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour and there is an interview with the past-President of the Canadian Medical Association…all of them supporting the tobacco control proposals.

The Yukon is the most recent jurisdiction to catch up on this public health issue and recently passed a private member's bill imposing a territory-wide smoking ban in public places. The Feds have signalled the same kind of ban in federal buildings across the country. Albertans clearly believe this is an idea whose time has come but it is still a political decision so nothing can be taken for granted.

Now it is time for the Stelmach government to make sure Albertans have protections from second hand smoke and we discourage smoking as a public health and wellness issue, particularly amongst teenagers, 8000 of whom took up the habit in 2005 alone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Premier Stelmach and the Shifting Ground of Alberta Politics

There is lots of moving ground beneath the political feet of Premier Stelmach these days. The big shift in PC party power base to the north and Edmonton from its “natural” place of Calgary and the deep south has caused great angst in Cowtown. This anxiety is "true" even though in Calgary they have three Cabinet Ministers compared to Edmonton’s one.

Budget 2007, the biggest spending budget in Alberta history was put together in 60 days and is suffering from some spotty execution. We are seeing this particularly in areas like municipal infrastructure funding coming with strings that are seen as forcing inter-municipal “co-operation.” As a result we have the Mayor of Calgary leading the charge over claims of broken promises. Even the distribution the funds using the assessment base make Counties happy and anger the Towns. The Counties gets most of the cash for the “co-operation projects” but the Towns have the infrastructure pressures. We all know the Golden Rule. He who has the gold makes the rules. This is not likely to be a winning formula for fostering any true town and county infrastructure co-operation...I could be wrong and hope I am...but time will tell.

There was too little budget bounce for what is needed to meet public service provider wage levels to stop the Diaspora of skilled workers in the disabilities sectors departing to the oil patch so they can make a living wage. For the record I am working on this issue. Staffing shortages and turn over in the disability private non-profit service sector is averaging 40% and some citizens with disabilities are going to suffer serious harm if this is not fixed and quickly.

Then there is the "minor" matter of ticking off the teachers in the Budget by tying a $25M supplement to pension fund payments as condition to labour peace. That is flying in the face of the Premier saying they would be separate issues during the leadership campaign. Expect work to rule job action from teachers this fall…and parents to be super ticked by October.

The affordable housing efforts have been sidetracked into a political football as shelter cost are soaring due to market demands and poor planning by the past regime. The environment has been given short shrift and oil sands management tie to growth is a concern. The resource royalty rates review is starting now but they are facing a monumentally complex job and have to report with recommendations by August 31.

Then we have the pure political plays. The recent Ethics Commissioner Report on the misguided scheme of the Stelmach campaign volunteers to sell access for $5k a pop to cover campaign deficits was found not to be illegal but not prudent either. The anonymous campaign contributions of leadership candidates was frowned up (to be euphemistic) by the Party membership at the recent PC Party AGM too.

Scads of public consultations are going on all over the province. They are aimed at reporting in the fall and positioning for a possible spring 2008 general election. This all add to the pressures and helps to keep the political footing tricky as the policy and political ground seems to be moving constantly.

Then we have the by-elections set for June 12. Framed as a litmus test for Stelmach’s leadership in Calgary circles it has some interesting dynamics. CalgaryGrit has an interesting take on how the story goes if the PCs drop Calgary Elbow. If the Liberals win it, that is somehow the end of the PC world. That is true if you are so Calgary centric that you think Calgary IS Alberta. It used to be the case but Alberta became a more balanced and interesting place when Stelmach won the PC leadership. Calgary obviously has some serious issues and now it will have some interesting politics. PC MLAs in Calgary will have to win seats on their own merit and not ride on the coat-tails of the leader any more. It has been that way for decades in Edmonton since Premier Getty lost his seat to a Liberal, the late Percy Wickman. It will result in better government and governance in the end.

Calgary Elbow is Ralph Klein’s old seat. Rod Love says the PC could lose it in this by-election and he is right. We lost Calgary Varsity to the Liberals in 2004 right after Murray Smith “retired” and went to Washington DC and he was a very popular Calgary PC politician. That should have been the wake up call to the Calgary PCs. The PCs in New Brunswick immediately lost former Premier Bernard Lord’s seat when he retired from politics. So it happens and yes, it could happen again. What does such a change mean in a by-election though…other than the usual chance to “send the government a message?”

Albertans in general, and Progressive Conservatives in particular, have been too complacent too long. We have been benignly presumptive that tomorrow will be an extension of yesterday so planning was seen as simply unnecessary. We seemed to believe this myth even when all the evidence we could see emerging belied those presumptions. Evidence like massive oils sands investment and development, the Edmonton-Calgary Corridor growth phenomenon and chronic labour shortages plus the implications of many other indicators were ignored.

Any partisan change in the by-elections on June 12 will only be meaningful if the voter participation rates exceed 50%. If people stay home and do not show up we may well see some changes. They will be based on local campaign dynamics and by-election realities, but they do not necessarily make a trend. Any local by-election change in party representation will be a wake up call for the PCs particularly if they lose Calgary Elbow to the Liberals and Drumheller-Stettler to the Alliance. All politics are local and by-elections are the epitome of that truism.

In the meantime Premier Stelmach has some refocusing and serious short term fixing to do based on sound principles of good government and long term planning not just the short game of partisan politics. He is very capable but he best get at it. Change is in the air...his election as Progressive Conservative leader has already proven that...but that was just the beginning. No doubt there are lots more changes yet to come so it is time to get ahead of the curve and design the changes - or sit back and be devoured by them.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PM Harper Claims Parliamentary Immunity in a Law Suit Against Him as Conservative Party Leader!

OK this is going too far! Prime Minister Harper has crossed the line and thrown his personal responsibility and reputation for accountability and transparency out the window. The irony of the circumstances under which “our” Prime Minister is using this device is as breathtaking as is the arrogance of the Right Honourable man’s actions in the first place and in the trial tactics.

The Globe and Mail is reporting that Prime Minister Harper, the leader of our nation, has invoked parliamentary immunity to “extricate (himself) from the matter.” The “matter” is a “tangle of court cases” brought against him and the Cons over an “agreement” (the existence of which is in dispute) that saw Ottawa South nominated candidate Alan Riddell “step aside” in exchange for the Harper Cons repayment of his “election expenses” (the payment of which is apparently still outstanding)

Why was Riddell sidelined you ask? Well so the Cons could replace him with the Adscam poster-boy, Gomery whistle blower and the epitome of how the Cons were going to be cleaning up corruption in government, Mr. Alan Cutler. Cutler lost. Too bad!

The PM’s parliamentary privilege is being invoked in a personal libel action against Stephen Harper and a Con Party President NOT the Prime Minister. The tactics being used by the Cons are somewhere between Monty Python and the Sopranos for ridiculousness, especially if you are Canada’s New Government. You know them as the new kids on the block who are all about the Accountability and the cleaning up of government corruption guys. Spare us the histrionics and hypocrisy Mr. Prime Minister.

There is a culture that has emerged in the CPC. It is not only from this incident. There were similar pay offs in the nominations of Stockwell Day, and the replacement of Ezra Levant, the former self-styled “Stockaholic” fan of the former leader of the Alliance Party. He “volunteered” to step aside for expenses so the newly minded party leader, Stephen Harper, could run in 2002 in Calgary Southwest. Then we have the courts setting aside the Conservative nomination of Rob Anders in Calgary West – twice - for breaches of its own processes and rules.

The RCMP recently decided that certain “new evidence” uncovered in the Day nomination fiasco was not new after all. They said had it all along and decided not to investigate further if this payment scheme was evidence of a Criminal Code violation. You ready for more irony gentle reader. Minister Day is currently the RCMP’s boss. You would have thought that the Mounties would have had another police service conduct the further investigation under the circumstances right? Dreamer! Who needs the appearance of justice when you are the corruption killers? When you are the Cons?

There is a place for privilege and immunity but that goes to the Office of Prime Minister not to the Leader of a political party, as appears to be the case here. The G&M story quotes Mr. Riddell’s lawyer saying if the immunity is applicable to Harper in this case, the legal actions can’t proceed “…until the government fall and an election is called – or possibly until parliament is prorogued.”

I will follow this matter carefully and post on it as it develops. In the meantime let’s hope for principles of democracy and fairness and transparency and accountability will be honoured by the Harper government. And lets watch this carefully since it is an opportunity for citizens to judge the quality of character and capacity for governance of the current minority government and its leader…and our pro tem Prime Minister.

The Cons ought to be providing a full public disclosure as a matter of course just so we ordinary little-people citizens can come to an informed decision if we can trust these people to represent and govern us.

I am ready for an election. I have at least made up my mind of who not to vote for at least. I will be watching for the evidence the true character and the capacity for governance of the other political options very carefully.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Duceppe is a Duffus and More Monday Miscellanea

Welcome Home Gilles
So Gilles Duceppe is wasted and wounded and taking that long walk back “home” to the Bloc. The Bloc head has had a tough time as of late. After he did his pre-emptive strike to oust Boisclair he made an even for presumptive blunder to think he was automatically the man for all of the separatists seasons. Wrong! The actual pending new leader of the PQ, Pauline Marois is now saying that her leadership would be about good government before it talks separation. Fat chance of that happening. That would mean program and spending cuts and more self reliance for Quebec and less dependency on Canada. That is nothing even close to the culture of the separatist movement.

Hurray for Shane and Shame on the MPs
Shane Doan and Team Canada wins Gold and rubs the noses of the Canadian Parliamentarians in it. Another misadventure lead by the bumbling Bloc head Gilles Duceppe. Now we need to be sure the MPs are “House Broken” and don’t take another “dump” on the floor of the House. I think the entire team should be flown to Ottawa, and be invited to the Gallery. Then the entire cadre of MPs should stand up and publicly apologize to Shane and the rest of the team for their bad behaviour. I bet if they asked their mother’s what to do – that would be the end result.

Water Water Everywhere?
Semi-secret talks by think tanks are happening over water exports and the Harper Cons are letting them continue. Canada is apparently “water rich” with an estimated 7% of world supply and only .05% of population. We have a high domestic use, export pressures and climate change influences that will impact supplies but no one now just how or now much. We also don’t know much about our ground water supplies and some 30% of Canadians depend on those sources. Water is a very big political issue within Alberta as we see glaciers receding and industry and agriculture demanding more access. Folks are going to be moving north to where the water is and leaving the south of the province as it turns into an area as arid as present day Arizona due to climate change.

Illegal Cigarettes Taste Like S**t.
More than 177 million cartons of illegal cigarettes from China, Korea and India have been seized in B.C. between 2003 and 2006. RCMP and medical office officials in Vancouver are reporting these counterfeit cigarettes are “knock off” brands and contain such exotica as insect eggs, dead flies, mould and human feces. Officials say if you are buying “street smokes” it is like buying “street drugs” – you just don’t know what you are getting.

Live Long and Prosper - Quit Smoking!
More smoking data from Japan provided empirical evidence on life expectancy due to smoking. The Shinga University Medical School study of 10,000 men and women with an average age of 50 underwent medical check ups in 1980 and 62% of the men were found to be smokers. Their smoking habits were recorded and they were traced until 1999. A total of about 2000 of the people had died in the 20 years of the study. The males who were 40 years old and who smoked in 1980 were found to be expected to live 3.5 years less than the average of those who did not smoke. If the habit was 2 packs a day you could cut off another 6 months off your life on average.

Researchers say the differences in life expectancy between smokers and on-smokers may be greater. Some participants would have quit smoking during the study time frame and they were found to live longer than chronic smokers. According to the researches, this confirms that quitting can prolong life expectancy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Hollywood "R" Rating Movies With Smoking Content

I was doing some background research for my work with the Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta today. I was astonished to see an LA Times newspaper piece announcing that the Motion Picture Association of America pick up on the social issues and health risks associated with smoking and will now consider it as a factor in movie ratings.

Smoking is now associated on the “Silver Screen” right up there with violence, language, nudity and drug abuse in ranking criteria. The MPAA brass are quoted saying “ There is a broad awareness of smoking as a unique public health concern due to nicotine’s highly addictive nature and no parent want their child to take up the habit.”

Apparently studies prove depictions of smoking in the movies have made children more likely to try cigarettes. The Attorneys General in 32 States have publicly called on the MPAA to put “R” ratings on movies containing scenes involving smoking.

Some research by the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta is also showing that we are seeing an increase in smoking in movies from the late 1990s to where in 2002 it was at the same level as in 1950. Not a good sign.

The Stelmach government has introduced Bill 37 to raise the tobacco taxes and it has passed First Reading. The banning of smoking in public and workplaces and discontinuing sales in pharmacies is working it w way through the policy development process in the provincial government as we “speak.”

Reports back from the Premier Stelmach’s meeting in the Edmonton Meadowlark constituency thins week is he commented on this initiative proceeding and sees it as a good thing. A legislated ban has failed 4 times before…with new leadership and a concern over health and wellness emerging - maybe it will finally become the law of the land EVEN IN Alberta…one of the last hold out provinces!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Tragic Death Restores Some Faith

We are hard pressed these days to identify a single one of our public institutions that has not let us down or betrayed our trust in one way or another. The RCMP and the Air India Inquiry, their pension fiasco and the Maher Arar case are all disappointing examples. The churches and our government betrayal of our values over treatment of children and families in Residential Schools and you can go back to the tainted blood scandal and the Sponsorship Scandal just to name a few high profile cases.

Cover ups, legal manoeuvrings, political manipulations, withholding evidence, abuse of power and authority along with many other tricks and techniques result in breaches and abuses of our trust and undermines public confidence in our institutions.

Then in a very recent and sad personal tragedy we get a ray of hope. The recent death Denise Melanson, an Alberta woman who was mistakenly given an excess of chemotherapy drugs is just such an example. Again we unfortunately see the institutional culture that initially misses the mark on earning our trust because a policy for public protection and service was not followed. Investigations into the death show that the family did not get notice of the error for five days and senior management was not advised of the error for 18 days. All this was in spite of a policy requiring immediate notice is to be given in each instance. This has become the typical kind of "response" we have come to expect from too many of our institutions these days.

Then we have the hope that results from the responsible reaction of the people and professionals involved who showed quality character and leadership. They have given us personal examples of how things should be handled, and can be handled, when good people step up and deal with bad situations properly.

Let me outline some facts to show what I mean. There was a swift, confidential and satisfactory settlement of liability and an assessment of damages that was done with out legal manoeuvring or posturing. That is a tribute to the Melanson family and their lawyer Rosanna Saccomani. Accolades go to the hospital, the Cross Cancer Institute too for how they handled this aspect of the consequences of the error as well.

Then we have Denise Melanson’s personal courage and character in how she responded to this terrible situation. She is reported to have had no ill will towards the nurses who administered the mistaken dosage that caused her death. Her family also took steps to reassure people of the care, compassion and treatment she received at The Cross. Sadness and sorrow and the suffering of a great personal loss did not distort their perspective and judgement either.

Then we have the example of quality leadership from Dr. Tony Fields, Vice President of the Alberta Cancer Board. Field’s approach was to be open, transparent, forthright and responsive to the mistake. The quality of his leadership was also shown by taking full responsibility up front and swiftly instead of the usual secrecy, delay and denial reactions we see so often in such circumstances.

Investigations have revealed some changes in procedures need to be made and they are being undertaken. We found that this kind of tragedy is not an isolated incident. Dr. Fields is reported have said “One of the hardest things to hear was that this mistake had been made elsewhere and resulted in deaths elsewhere. We were not able to learn from the mistakes of other, but we’ll ensure others can learn from ours.”

Tony and Rosanna likely did not know each other before this incident. For the record, I am proud to say Tony and Rosanna are both friends of mine. I would not be surprised if they became friends of each other as they worked through their professional roles and responsibilities both trying to do the right thing in these difficult circumstances.

I want thank them for giving us all a shining example of how such devastating, difficult and sad circumstances ought to be dealt with. We have an institution like The Cross Cancer Clinic, and people like Denise and her family, and professionals like Tony and Rosanna who each responded appropriately to this tragedy in their own way. The result was better service of the public interest and better outcomes for the greater good. That is all too rare a result these days.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Forestry Issues and the Mountain Pine Beetle Update

As a follow up on the ForestEthics taking on West Fraser Timber over the woodland caribou, I have come across a new blog that caught my eye. ForestWisdom gives long and detailed history of some Environmental Non-Government Organizations activities in the forestry policy area in Alberta. There is lots of history obviously. The question I have is more about the future of the forest as we face the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation.

I have just returned from Grande Cache today where I was meeting local community, regional and business leaders about how to sustain their communities after the Mountain Pine Beetle infestation ravages the pine forest in Alberta. My firm is working for the Grande Alberta Economic Region in helping the local forestry related communities in the region come to grips with the implications, for them and their towns, of the Beetle infestation. It is not pretty.

These are somber and sobering times for those communities and many of them are going to need to be particularly innovative and adaptive to deal with these new threats. I don’t think there are any climate change deniers amongst the people I have spoken to in these region communities. The MPB never reached so far north because our cold winters killed them off. But now with the much milder winters, the Beetles are thriving in new areas throughout northern BC and now well into Alberta.

The most recent data I have seen shows the MPB infected over 3 million trees last year and is now as far east as the Slave Lake area. It can’t be prevented and all human efforts right now are on mitigation by burning, harvesting and salvage activities. This activity is only buying time, and the anticipated bill for MPB mitigation this year, by Alberta alone, is budgeted at $55m up from a mere $5m spent last year.

All this mitigation activity underscores that we can’t beat it. It demands that we must find new ways to adapt to life with the MPB and all its implications. Not easy. Not simple…but very necessary. The economic, ecological and social well-being consequences for humans and the impacts on wildlife are enormous. The MPB may well spread throughout the entire boreal forest across the entire country before it is done.

Pembina Institute Poll Shows Albertans Reject Intensity Targets for GHGs

While one can argue over the sample size of only 500, the results are so conclusive that margin of error makes no difference in the final result of some key findings of the Pembina Institute recently sponsored poll.

One finding from the poll is being billed in the Blogs as Albertans rejecting John Blair’s green efforts on intensity standards for GHG emissions. The polls shows that 70 per cent of Albertans support absolute reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from the oil sands, compared to 20 per cent who support intensity-based targets. So much for the caricature of the ugly Albertan too often seen as the non-caring capitalists, especially in relation to Canada’s environment.

In fact my firm did some in depth values based research for the forestry industry in the fall of 2005 with over 3000 participants in Alberta. We found then that 84% of Albertan’s believed that environmental protection had to trump economic growth. More information on our work for the Alberta forest industry is at, if you are interested.

Alberta’s Minister of the Environment, Rob Renner, says intensity standards for GHG emissions are only interim measures and legislated absolute emission targets are the goal. I wonder if the Federal Minister of the environment, John Baird is on the same page and I surly hope so.

As for nuclear energy as a heat source in Alberta, some rumblings of using geothermal are also out and about. I would think that solution presents more benefit economically, environmentally and even in terms of reliability and safety that nuclear.

I don’t know who is behind the nuclear option scenario and have no problem that it be investigated. The Albert PC party wants the Alberta government to look at nuclear as an option. I hope the Alberta government looks at geothermal as an option to natural gas and nuclear at the same time and with equal or greater enthusiasm.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Notes from the Alberta Progressive Conservative Convention

I saw lots of energy in the meeting rooms, hallways and hospitality suites at the Alberta PC AGM this weekend. At last April's AGM in Calgary, the party decided to tell Ralph Klein it was time for him to retire, and he did. It was an example of the membership taking back its power as a political party. It was a decision that shocked the status quo players and astonished most of the media...but it had to be done.

This convention there was still more changes happening, that may not be as dramatic as last year, but will be just a profound and potentially just as far reaching.

New Faces Elected to the Executive:
The party executive election results underscored the displeasure of the party delegates with the performance of the party executive and the continuing focus on change. They chose a new face for VP Calgary over old regime options and a much younger new face option for VP North over an older experienced party stalwart.

The defeat of Joe Lougheed for party president by a 90 vote margin of the 900 voting delegates will be seen by Calgary as another slap. It is not. This vote result was not and Edmonton over Calgary choice but the old guard power brokers in Calgary may have trouble believing that right now.

I think the selection of St Albert lawyer Marg Mrazek for president was the party opting for a proven organizer and a respected party activists. She is going to lead the PC Party through the next series of changes they clearly want. I know her and believe she will implement these changes very carefully, without any hesitation - and she will definitely not lead reluctantly. She will be independent from undue influence from the Premier's office too. This has been a serious problem in the past as far as I am concerned.

She will be steady and wise hand at the tiller as we shake things up and get set to sail into the next election under new leadership. Speaking of the new leadership, some 1500 delegates attended the AGM. That shows the transition to the new leadership is well in hand but there is lots of post leadership fence mending still to do. Ed Stelmach is clearly on top of that challenge but it is not a done deal yet.

More Change Coming:
There were other notable events at this weekend AGM with serious implications that offers insight into the hearts and minds of the PC Party of Alberta. Policy development and discussion is a big part of any successful political party and it was front and centre at the AGM.

Policy Process Proposal Rejected:
A centralizing and narrowing policy process option presented by the executive was rejected. The new executive will have to go back to the drawing board to figure out how to design an effective, inclusive, open and comprehensive policy development process. A unilateral party executive decision to double membership fees to $10 per year was rejected too.

Delegates Demand More Leadership Campaign Funding Disclosure:
Delegates were not impressed with the disclosure and accountability standards of the recent leadership around campaign funding disclosures. Delegates made it known they want serious and binding changes in place to assure transparency and accountability in such matters in the future. A legislated approach to apply to all political parties was the recommendation.

Democratic Reforms Well Received:
The new democratic reforms for all-party committees and the new processes and powers recently put in place were well received as positive and necessary democratic reforms. Internet streaming video of the entire legislature session and now even some committee proceedings will be streamed in video on the Internet to further enhance citizen’s access so they can see how they are being governed were innovations that were applauded.

Housing Crisis is Serious - Rent Controls are not the solution
Housing issues were top of mind. Rent controls were soundly rejected as an option but the shelter problem for Albertans was now seen to be a crisis and delegates wanted the government to come up with better solutions and fast.

Study Nuclear Energy Option for the Oil Sands
Then we have nuclear energy. A Calgary constituency put forth a resolution to look at the option for the oil sands exploitation. There was lots of controversy but in the end, it was pretty clear that the PC Party believes something has to be done and all options are worth studying.

There will be lots of spin and misinformation circulating over this nuclear power decision I expect. For the record, here is the wording of the nuclear power option resolution that what was passed:

Resolution to immediately set up a committee to study and come up with
recommendations for the construction of nuclear power plants for use in tar sands
development, including public consultations with experts from the private sector.

PC Party is Late in Adopting new Technologies:
Finally, it was pretty obvious that this political party has some technological literacy issues when we are told we only have e-mail address of about 20% of members. Part of that would be the result of instant party members who want only to participate in the leadership selection and not the life of the PC Party. Still, it is astounding that so few members have put their email addresses on record. On a positive technology note, the Premier's AGM speech was actually taped and uploaded on You Tube – it is a start and shows that some one is thinking ahead.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Importance of Involving Youth in Political Parties.

I just finished moderating a panel on how to engage youth in political parties at the Alberta Progressive Conservative Association AGM in Edmonton this afternoon. There was about 165 individuals in the room so the interest in the topic was encouraging.

The major themes I grasped coming out of the event that were generative enough to move forward were the need for mentoring, the adoption of technology, inclusiveness, and meaningful participation and building stronger and lasting relationships.

It became obvious that the most common way people get involved in the political process at the party level is because someone asked them and invited them. I expect this is true of all political parties. How utterly simple and obvious but yet we do not do it very well. People need to be asked to participate in civil society, including political parties, or so it seems. So we better start asking them.

The other interesting observation was the nature of youth involvement in a political party. It is about apprenticeship or it is about being fully active from day one, regardless of age and experience? The answers there seemed to be both but the determining factor ought to be the wishes of the individual and not some cultural party norm that ends up being a barrier to any real and meaningful participation.

Mentoring needs to work both ways too. Older more experienced party activitist can teach young people the ropes of how the political policy making processes works in our democracy. This needs to be taught at the grassroots level in practical term and be focused on political parties and also in government terms. We need people to become empowered and to see how they can make a difference using politics as a vehicle for change.

Equally as important is younger people teaching and mentoring more senior party members about the uses and advantages of technology, including building social relationship opportunities. The technophobia of so many older people has to be overcome. They have to be introduced to technology, taught how to use and become comfortable with applications like Facebook and even Blogs, so they come to see how it helps for political outreach, even on a personal basis.

The current state of wide spread indifference to down right cynicism over political parties and politics in general cannot be healthy for our democracy. We citizens have to take back the power of politics and put it into the hands of ordinary people who will hopefully choose to re-engage and who can see the value in doing so. It was a wonderful session to be involved with and I look forward to some actual follow up happening to get some of the suggestions we heard into practical action plans.

Responsible Blogging

The other day I was asked “Son of Gaia,” a Libertarian Blogger, in a comment on this Blog this most interesting question, “By the way - this is not an accusation, just a question. Are you being paid by any person or organization to promote this tobacco control agenda, either as a single issue or as part of a larger "wellness" agenda?”

I responded that my firm, Cambridge Strategies Inc., was retained by the Campaign for a Smoke Free Alberta and was doing some communications work with them to support an effort for province wide legislated smoking ban. I referred him to some video interviews on our affiliated website Policy Channel that was part of the work.

This relationship to my Blog and my professional work has offended the “Son” and fellow Libertarian Werner Patel and they have accused me of “shilling” as a result. At first I was angry with the accusation and put it down to the “agony of defeat” that the opponents of tobacco control are feeling as they are finally losing this battle.

That may be true, but on reflection I think they have a point. In fact it is a much larger point than even tobacco control, important as that issue is to our society.

The blogosphere is a wide open unregulated free for all unlimited access medium that enables conversation and discourse to happen amongst a diversity of people on a wider and more equal basis than ever before.

That is a good thing but that freedom also demands some responsibilities be associated with it. The Blogosphere, as part of the Internet culture of today, is subject to abuses too and it can be a dangerous place for the naïve and the vulnerable.

There is little trust left for objectivity and accuracy in the MSM at least in the populations I deal with. As for the blogosphere, there is an inherent and healthy presumption of distrust because of the very nature of the medium. So if a Blogger wants to be taken seriously and be seen as above the screaming and screed of those Bloggers and Commentators who usually hide behind anonymity, they have to be more responsible.

So here is my short list suggestions for standards and responsibilities for serious Bloggers.

One must be authoritative. You have to give sources and reflect them and their content accurately. Rants are fun – sometimes – but they need context to be effective. Criticism is important but it has to be fair and anchored accurately to actual issues, significant events and provide a correct account of the perspectives of those being criticized.

One responsibility has to be genuineness. This is a very personal medium and Bloggers points of view are usually very obvious and their beliefs are strongly held. To be taken seriously readers will be looking for the evidence of consistent alignment of a Blogger’s actions, like posting content, tone and subject matter selection, with his or her stated values and principles.

The next responsibility for a serious Blogger is authenticity. One has to be worthy of belief and be trustworthy. Authenticity is the most important of these three responsibilities for a serious Blogger at the end of the day to my mind.

This is where Son of Gaia and Werner have a point about my postings on tobacco control, smoking and wellness. I should have made it clear that I was working on this issue and not just posting on it…for purposes of honouring a responsibility for authenticity.

In an earlier posting on Mountain Pine Beetle infestation I noted I was working for a group of communities west of Edmonton called the Grande Alberta Economic Region on how they might adapt to the consequences of the beetle infestation. I noted in a posting on Dion wanting the return of the Court Challenges Program that I had received funds from the program as a lawyer to help establish French language minority education rights in Alberta many years ago. I feel strongly about literacy and have done work in that area. I have as posted on its importance, particularly in terms of workplace safety, productivity, competitiveness and personal capacity and growth.

You can rest assured I will always be personally engaged in the issues I post on, but given the nature of the Blogosphere, one can assume that. In the future I will be more careful to let readers know if I am professionally involved in an issue or event that I on post in this Blog as well.

Friday, May 04, 2007

ForestEthics Responds to West Fraser on Woodland Caribou

ForestEthics has responded to the West Fraser Timber refutations around their allegations on their forestry practices around Woodland Caribou habitat in their recent YouTube released video.

Go to my posting of May 2 for some more context on this issue if you are new to this Blog.

The link is on the ForestEthics website. It is interesting that the Forest Ethics document was sent to me by West Fraser Timber.

What do you think Alberta? It is your forest after all!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Harper Panders to Quebec and Parliament Goes Weird on the Doan Affair

I was the 12,220 person to sign the Save Shane Doan petition advising our Parliamentarians to grow up and get serious about their jobs. This calling Hockey Canada on the carpet is an inappropriate use of political power that was instigated by the Bloc who are feigning an alleged insult to francophone Canadians. The claim is that Team Canada captain Shane Doan said something offensive to a referee at a professional hockey game - wait for it - TWO YEARS AGO!!!. It was dealt with then as a disciplinary matter within the sport and found to be noting but an unsubstantiated claim. You have to ask yourself why this is coming up now and being framed as a national political issues for God's sake!!!

Harper - is this what you expected when you pandered in the last election to the Quebec "soft nationalists" and the ADQ supporters with your notion of a Quebec Nation? Is your thirst and thrust for power such that you will wantonly sacrifice the reputation a high profile citizen in professional sport who is representing our country internationally in sports not less. Is this the way you will govern with a majority? It is always going to be all about your personal power?

As for every other member of every other party in the House of Commons who signed on to this feckless fiasco - how utterly common of all of you. Shame on you!

Please join in and sign the petition and tell our political "masters" (sic) what you think about their priorities and perspectives on the world. I did and felt much better for it.

Here is part of the preamble to the petition to give you some context about what this is all about:

"During a late 2005 NHL Hockey game, it was alleged that Phoenix Coyotes forward Shane Doan directed an anti-French remark at the referee of that particular game. After an investigation by the NHL, Doan's name was cleared. Nearly a year and a half later, Doan is the captain of Team Canada at the World Hockey Championships. Amazingly on May 1 all four of Canada's political parties supported a motion in a session of the Canadian House of Commons requiring Hockey Canada to appear before a parliamentary committee and explain its choice of Doan as captain of the team.

While allegations along the lines of the 2005 one are no laughing matter, something isn't right here. It would appear as if a hockey player and the game itself may be being exploited for political reasons."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Evolution of Ed Stelmach on a Smoking Ban in Alberta

Last May, the Campaign for a Smoke-Free Alberta submitted a survey to all of the PC leadership candidates regarding various tobacco control measures in Alberta.

In the early days of the leadership campaign, Stelmach initially signaled his resistance to provincial legislation, instead promoting education to reduce tobacco use.

However after several forums, citizen feedback, the strong positions of other candidates and increasing media profile for tobacco legislation, Stelmach submitted his reply to the Smoke-Free Alberta survey on November 1.

In the survey, Stelmach supported a tobacco sales ban in pharmacies and free votes on private members bills regarding smoking and tobacco marketing. He responded “no” to government legislation to make all workplaces completely smoke-free and a ban on powerwalls. He also responded “no” to a tobacco tax increase (which he eventually supported in the recent budget).

In the final week of the leadership campaign, Stelmach sent a letter to Smoke-Free Alberta stating “Let me be perfectly clear in my disapproval of smoking. I don’t smoke and I don’t like it. It has a tremendous cost to society in terms of health care.” He went on to say, “I support the use of preventative health programs to reduce smoking….”

His bottom line is, “I will encourage my caucus to debate further measures to reduce smoking and to support and champion their collective decision” and “I will support my caucus decisions—part of an open and inclusive government”.

It is worth noting that three major supporters of tobacco legislation—Dave Hancock, Lyle Oberg and Mark Norris—all endorsed Ed Stelmach in the final week of the leadership campaign. This likely contributed to Stelmach’s evolving consciousness and changing of heart on the issue. It also reinforces his message to promote “an open and inclusive government”.

This is not a new idea in Alberta. Unfortunately under Premier Klein the idea was killed 4 times during the policy development process, even though polls show that 84% of Albertans support a legislated province wide smoking ban. Banning smoking in public places and workplaces saves lives, saves money, and should even help improve health care access over time if we can all put more of an emphasis on wellness and prevention. Then tobacco related diseases will not be needing so much of our health care system's resources.

The Premier’s support of the tobacco tax increase in his first Budget as Premier is a very good sign that he is willing to “support and champion” his caucus’s decisions on this issue, especially considering that he initially opposed a tax increase in the Smoke-Free Alberta survey. The key here is that it will be a caucus decision in the final analysis. Now Albertan’s who want a wellness in addition to a health agenda have to make sure their MLAs know it.

Citizens have to return to exercising their power in a democracy between elections. This is a good issue to renew ones responsibility of active citizenship in a representative democracy. This legislation needs to be introduced and passed now. It has been far too long in coming.

So take a minute and call your MLA, or e-mail them or better yet, invest some time (and a stamp) and write and snail mail them a personal letter. Let them know why they must join you and support this initiative for a province wide smoking ban in public and workplaces throughout Alberta.

All the MLA contact information is at:

West Fraser and ForestEthics Square off on Caribou Habitat

The focus on the boreal forest is heating up again. This time it is a focus around the habitat of the Woodland Caribou and certain allegations being made by ForestEthics, an environmental NGO on YouTube. The allegations claim negative impacts on the Woodland Caribou due to forestry practices of West Fraser Timber Co. Ltd. in Alberta and B.C.

I have done some policy research work for the Alberta forest industry in 2005 focused on what the public expectations were around that industry sustaining and enhancing its social license to operate in the public forested lands. The second most important value driver amongst Albertans around what they expected of industry was the effective protection of wild life habitat.

The topic is timely and “hot.” ForestEthics and West Fraser obviously both know this is a very critical issue and not just grist for PR purposes. That said the medium is as interesting to me as is the message. The use of the Internet by ForestEthics is a significant move towards reaching a new and receptive audience for their message. MSM is not very much trusted any more and if this video were on broadcast television it would be seen as a “commercial” even if it came from an ENGO. On the Internet, it has the chance of being more “believable” and better received by a more influential audience, if you do it correctly.

There is a larger collection of issue oriented activists, well informed, knowledgeable and engaged “influentials” in the “netizens” group that tend to haunt the web. Industry has not caught on to this reality as yet and they ignore it at their peril.

Equally as interesting is the counter-activist approach being taken by West Fraser in response to the allegations. Usually such incidences have caused corporations to generate expensive full page newspaper ads with lots of feel good PR verbiage that come across as mostly self serving and staged. West Fraser has focused it messages on directly challenging the facts and representations in the ForestEthics YouTube video. This is a responds to the challenge and an invitation for the public to engage and learn more about the issues and the implications but to do so in a way that goes to testing credibility and authenticity of the messengers as much as the message.

As George Lakoff of the Rockridge Institute says, (and I paraphrase), “The facts while interesting, are almost totally irrelevant. It is how you frame the issues and activate values that make the difference in public opinion.”

There are clear facts about the plight of the Woodland Caribou and the species is undoubtedly under serious duress. What caused this and what is being done about it are more facts based. Who really “cares about the Woodland Caribou” is the framing context so far from what I have read. What is being done about the issues, both “good” and “bad,” is the values activation effort. That is what is really going on here between ForestEthics and West Fraser.

I applaud both sides for their initiativesand efforts on the issues. Now the public has to make up its mind. Our research involved over 3000 Albertans in the fall of 2005 and we know the issue of wildlife habitat is important to the public. It demands attention and resolution.

The process question about how we see moving forward on the issue is one that also interests me and it is also very important. Is it to be resolved in the old fashioned way by who is the most effective at didactics in a pure adversarial contest of key messaging and media positioning?

Or is it going to be about a more meaningful and inclusive dialogue that is presented and “sponsored” by authoritative, authentic people who are focused on finding the collective wisdom to design effective sustainable solutions? I am pulling for the latter and fully expect if that is what happens here the caribou, our environment and even our society will all be better for it.

In the meantime I have had the pleasure to meet some of the key individuals in ForestEthics and in West Fraser and know them to be quality and capable individuals. Time will tell how wise they (and we citizens are) can actually be about all of this and the many other critical environment issues we now face.

I will be following this story line as it evolves with great interest and will do my best keep you informed about its progress.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Workplace Deaths Increasing in Alberta - Improved Literacy is Part of the Solution.

The recent death of two Chinese contract workers at the Canadian National Resource Limited Horizon oil sands project has caused an interesting set of reactions, responses and concerns.

There are calls for an inquiry and threats of work stoppages to review of immigration policy and temporary worker policy. Occupational Health and Safety officials are on the job conducting an investigation. The Chinese Canadian National Council is invoking shades of the Chinese workers and the building of the CPR. Condolences are being expressed and some serious soul searching about the alarming increase in workplace deaths in Alberta. We had 149 work related deaths in Alberta in 2006. There were already 27 such death in the first two months of 2007, putting us on track for our workplace death rate to double in 2007.

All of this is activity, concern and reflection is necessary and expected under the circumstances. There is another significantly related issue that needs to be considered as well. That is the issue of literacy capacity in the context of worker safety. In the case of the Chinese workers what resources did they have in the form of translation services? Did they have safety information and training provided in their own language? These are literary related questions.

Literacy levels are emerging as a major concern in Alberta because every able bodied person is working full tilt. In complex industrial society, having “able bodied” workers is like water is to soup. It is essential but insufficient in and of itself. You also have to have a set of skills and a literacy capability a critical skill to do these jobs these days. This is critical if for no other reason than personal and co-worker safety.

This is a national problem but one that comes into sharp focus in the over heated labour starved economy of Alberta. Our literacy levels in Canada are being taken for granted but that is a luxury we can no longer afford. Studies show that 40% of Canadians don’t have the literacy skills needed to meet the ever-increasing demands of our complex and knowledge-based society.

This translates into growing concerns over reading, numeracy and problem solving skills. As we become more global and interdependent we will become more aware of a need for cultural literacy too. Not everyone can learn to read but we can all do better about improving our skills in the full range of modern literacy demands.

Without adequate literacy capacity individuals are not keeping current on new methods and procedures, operational requirements and safety issues. The very long hours we now see as the new normal increases risk factors. That coupled with the elevated risks inherent in less skilled workers who are being thrust into more complex situations, is a recipe for more disasters like the recent deaths in the oil sands.

There is also a growing gap between the highly literate citizens and the insufficiently literate people in Canada today. It is a serious, social cohesion, citizenship, economic, productivity, and workplace safety issue too. The “fix” for this problem is also low hanging fruit for improving our economic productivity and global competitiveness. Studies show for every 1% increased in literacy rates we get a 1.5% permanent boost in GDP. That is about $3.5B increase in wealth creation just in Alberta. It is now obvious for reasons of personal safety and future prosperity we must improve our literacy rates across the board in Canada.