Reboot Alberta

Friday, November 30, 2007

Alberta Human Rights Commission Releases Panel Decision on Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc.

If you are cocooning at home this cold weekend take some time to read the just released Alberta Human Rights Commission Panel’s Decision on Darren E. Lund and Stephen Boissoin and The Concerned Christian Coalition Inc. and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Attorney General of Alberta.

It is very enlightening and chilling read about how some people and some organizations have been conducting themselves in ways that contravenes the Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.

Free Speech and Political Candidates

There is an anonymous comment on my posting of yesterday aimed at clarifying the resolution of the Canadian Human Rights complaint against Mr. Chandler. I thought a response to parts of the comment was worthy of a separate posting.

The Anonymous commenter says (in part) "There was no human rights decision, there was an agreement. Craig was not forced to do anything. He could have fought it but chose not to as he is a consensus builder."

Thank you Anon at 8:47 for the clarification on the Canadian Human Rights complaint against Mr. Chandler. I have chaired a human rights inquiry for the Alberta Human Rights Commission and presume the Canadian Human Rights Commission follows a similar approach and procedure.

The preferred remedy in these kind of human rights matters is to have a mediated and negotiated mutually agreeable resolution before calling a formal inquiry. That approach seeks a more enduring and effective solution that satisfies both parties without having to impose a decision by the Commission.

From the Anonymous comment that mutually agreeable resolution is what apparently happened in the complaint against Mr. Chandler. That being the case, I complement Mr. Chandler for apologizing and agreeing to such a respectful resolution of the issue.

Finding "guilt" in matters of human rights is not usually a very effective resolution because it does not likely change anything about the underlying problems and attitudes of the people involved.

A genuine and authentic public apology is a much better solution for the parties. Such a resolution of a complaint will hopefully also add to the social cohesion and mutual respect within a diverse community. Instead of finding a person guilty of a human rights offence and being fined or facing some other penalty versus that same person admitting a mistake and taking steps to rectify the damage they caused is a significant difference.

However, if the apology is not genuine or authentic and does not truly indicate a change in attitude and beliefs it is not effective. If it is used merely a tactical means to avoid a hearing on the issues and the problem, beliefs and attitudes persists, then there is no effective negotiated resolution.

Anonymous indicates Mr. Chandler has hired legal counsel to review newspaper and blogs presumably looking for opportunities to pursue litigation. I noted in an earlier blog posting that that looking for potentials to use litigation by people who are being judged and commented on in public would not be a surprise.

However, Mr. Chandler is a public figure, especially since he has put himself and his beliefs into the public sphere, politically and otherwise. He has done this in many ways and for many years. He is reported to have offered himself up before as a candidate for political office including as a leadership candidate for a federal political party.

Mr. Chandler is a strong advocate for free speech and he has a right to correct errors of fact to preserve his reputation. That said, under the circumstances of offering himself up again for elected public office, the public has a right to know about Mr. Chandler. He is a public political figure and clearly subject to fair comment and to expressions of opinions about his suitability for political candidacy and to hold elected public office.

After all, that is what elections are all about. The public goes through the election process to form opinions and to make choices about the suitability of candidates who offer themselves to govern us. We give politicians a great deal of power and discretion over our lives when we elect them. We citizens need to be informed and able to make careful and considered decisions about who we will vote for and to whom we will grant our consent to govern.

Earning the privilege of public office is based on the collective judgements of citizens about the abilities, capacities, character, values, opinions, beliefs, and yes even the past activities of the candidates. Consequently political parties and their leaders must have an over-riding discretion to accept or reject nominees for candidacy.

In the case of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta, this over-arching discretion is applied to all nominees from every constituency so Mr. Chandler is not and should not be seen as a special case. Prime Minister Harper, for example, has recently reject three nominees for candidacy in the Conservative Party of Canada. It happens.

For full disclosure I am a member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta and I have been clear in this Blog that I do not think Mr. Chandler is a suitable candidate for the PC Party of Alberta. While members and other individuals are entitled to express opinions freely and openly about the suitability (or not) of any candidate or potential candidate, it is not our decision.

In my political party that over-arching discretion is vested in the Executive Committee and the Leader through the PC Party of Alberta Constitution. It is up to them to accept or reject a nominee based on what they decide is in "the best interests of the Party." These matters are being dealt with tomorrow at a meeting of the PC Party Executive Committee and the Leader. That is a good thing and I look forward to their decision.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Alaska and Alberta Both Dealing With Resource Revenue Issues.

I received an email about the tougher stance Alaska has recently taken with its oil industry. Looks like posturing and game playing in the energy sector is not restricted to Alberta.

The Anchorage Daily News from Alaska has some déjà vu commentary like:

"ConocoPhillips says it's canceling a major North Slope project because the new oil tax denies deductions for the work, but the state revenue commissioner says the company never deserved the tax breaks in the first place.

The project involved upgrading a refinery in the Kuparuk oil field to make ultra low-sulfur diesel, the use of which federal law and a state agreement will require across the oil patch by the end of the decade.

ConocoPhillips, Alaska's top oil producer, and its partners wanted the state to allow tax breaks for the $300 million project under the state tax overhaul lawmakers adopted last year.

In a special session that ended Nov. 16, however, lawmakers passed Gov. Sarah Palin's new tax plan, which hiked oil taxes further and specifically forbade tax breaks for projects such as ConocoPhillips' refinery upgrade."

There is more to the story…there always is…but isn’t this interesting…Alberta is not alone in dealing with a fair share of natural resource revenues.

Mr. Premier - Just Say No to Mr. Chandler!

The PC Party Executive and its leader, Ed Stelmach, is coming together in Red Deer this Saturday to consider if Mr. Craig Chandler’s nomination in Calgary Egmont is in the best interests of the party. I am unequivocal in saying that it is not.

Mr. Chandler’s record speaks for itself and is being well exploited by Liberal Bloggers and well documented and commented on in the main stream media in Alberta and now nationally in the Globe and Mail editorial pages. These commentaries are focused on Mr. Chandler’s attitudes and beliefs and issues with matters decided by the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The record of Mr. Chandler speaks for itself and is well documented. I also think this matter has some purely crass political elements that need to be considered as well. The Stelmach government has some serious challenges in retaining and recruiting electoral support in Calgary.

The Calgary response to the Stelmach Cabinet appointments was shock and awe as they felt frozen out of their usual place of power and influence. The loss of former Premier Klein’s seat to the Liberals in the by-election in Calgary Elbow earlier this year was a very clear shot across the Stelmach bow. The recent full court press on the royalty review emanating from the energy towers in downtown Calgary is another unsettling example.

The PC party appears to be at least organizationally inert in Calgary and that ennui allowed the Alliance Party to take over the Egmont PC constituency and to be very effective in nominating Mr. Chandler as their “favourite son.”

To accept Mr. Chandler’s nomination means the citizens as voters in Calgary Egmont will see the Candler candidacy as nothing more than the Alliance party in a Progressive Conservative wrapper. That means the PC Party will effectively forfeit this seat to the Liberals if they accept Mr. Chandler’s nomination. How can forfeiting a seat to another party be in the best interests of the party?

Chandler’s candidacy will be the election story in Calgary and may be seen by Calgarians as yet another slight to that city by the PC party offering a candidate who has a proven record that does not respect the human rights of homosexuals. Calgary is a modern, inclusive and cosmopolitan city. It is hard to see a circumstance where Calgarians will embrace a candidate with these values and attitudes of Mr. Chandler. They are so out of alignment with how that great Canadian city sees itself.

There is not a single compelling reason to accept Mr. Chandler’s nomination on merit, principle or even based on pure politics. I can’t imagine how the Ed Stelmach that I know could see any way that he would welcome Mr. Chandler to his team as a Progressive Conservative candidate in Calgary. But politics is a strange business so we will have to wait and see how this all unfolds (or unravels) on Saturday.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Schreiber Is On His Way to Ottawa

So Karlheinz Schriber is on his way to Ottawa - no thanks to the Minister of Justice the Honourable Rob Nicholson.

I expect CPAC will be covering the committee testimony of Mr. Schreiber tomorrow. With this testimony, this event should be their highest ratings since Chrétien brought his golf balls to the Gomery Inquiry.

Why is Rob Nicholson Abdicating His Responsibillity to Serve Justice in the Mulroney Schreiber Affair?

UPDATE NOV 29/07 - the government of Canada has agreed to push back Mr. Schreiber's extradition to Dec 10 but Schreiber's lawyers' refused this offer saying the matter is before Ontario Court of Appeal to decide this matter. Schreiber is seeking a stay of the extradition order pending a Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court. That is likely to be the end result in my opinion which means that Schreiber will be in Canada long enough to prepare and appear before the Commons Ethics Committee pursuant to the Speaker's Warrant.
On what basis is the Honourable Rob Nicholson, the federal Minister of Justice saying he has no authority to delay the extradition of Karlheinz Schreiber? The Extradition Act is clear that he such discretionary powers. The law clerk of the House of Commons says he does as do other legal experts.

The Ontario Court of Appeal says “…the ultimate decision” in extradition matters is political. Ah yes! There is the rub. Our Honourable Minister of Justice is appearing to be playing politics and preferring that goal instead of using his discretionary power for the purposes of good government.

Mr. Harper is a master tactician and is no doubt behind this Minister’s attitude. One can even speculate that when Harper called for the public inquiry in the Mulroney/Schreiber Affair he intended that Mr. Schreiber would never be available to testify because he would be in a German prison by then. If that is not the case, Mr Harper needs to tell his Minster of Justice that he should be serving the purposes of justice and not purely partisan politics.

What else can you conclude except the Cons are treating this situation as all about politics and not the greater goal of good government? Given the intransigence, indifference, insouciance and insolence of the Minister of Justice to appropriately exercise his discretion Canadians have to be thankful the Cons are a mere minority.

The time to end the pilot project of the Conservative minority government is coming to an end. The time for an election is not now but it is fast approaching.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Israel and Palestine Leaders Agree to Negotiation Talks

Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to start to talk about negotiating everything for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. They are planning on meeting every two weeks starting December 12 until the end of 2008 – when they hope to wrap up an agreement.

A hopeful sign for sure but with a long way to go. The world has been here before so we need to have more details of what makes this time any different. A deep division exist within the two countries and amongst all the members of Arab world, but talking is much better than bullets and bombs.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Climate Change Aspirations Won't Cut It Mr. Harper

The headlines coming out of the weekend meet of the Commonwealth “Defiant Harper Pans Climate Change Critics” tell us only part of the story. The distinctly isolationist stance of the Harper government to the obvious direction of world opinion on climate change is the more important political issue. Quite frankly the political issues fade in comparison to the policy issue of the need to deal with global warming.

Harper has “disputed this characterization” of Canadian policy being isolationist. That said, there are few “leaders” left who continue to effectively deny climate change. The Cabal of climate-change deniers that promote the aspirational model of dealing with global warming are disappearing faster than the polar ice-caps.

Australian’s dramatically dumped John Howard as he recently suffered the worst electoral defeat in the 63 year history of his party. He lost his own seat to boot…the first time that a sitting Prime Minister had been voted out of the Australian parliament since 1929. OUCH! Dubya has moved from lame-duck status to just plain lame in terms of leadership on climate change. He has turned over Republican leadership on the issue to “The Governator” Arnold Schwarzenegger. That irony still sticks in my mind.

Political aspirations to public policy are like water is to soup, necessary but not sufficient. Harper insisting on a 100% consensus on an issue as complex as climate change, is not leadership. It is just more of the Harper trademark of overwhelming tactical posturing inevitably leading to an underwhelming policy position.

It is time to move hard toward a binding commitment on emissions. Going green provides a wonderful opportunity for the developed world for a new form of genuine wealth creation and progress. Moving forward on hard emission standards will be the catalyst to generate new innovations and inventions that will benefit the ecology of the plant, the economy of all nations and the social cohesion of the human species.

In the 60’s JFK, in the face of the space race, challenged the American people to put a man on the moon and return him safely within that decade. They did it. It is time for an inspirational leader from the developed world to articulate and aspire to such a challenge climate change goal for the benefit of all mankind. No such leader is on the political stage at present. Al Gore has made it clear he is not going to run so he is not “in the wings.”

It is time again that we humans had a new and equally as bold aspiration as putting a man on the moon. But now we need a goal that is more profound and pertinent to the future of mankind and the planet than going to the moon will ever be. We have to change our habits and redefine success in terms of a more common wealth. We have to immediately slow down our ecologically destructive activities. We then have to focus on learning to adapt and alter our activities so that we reverse our impacts on climate change. While the urgent always trumps the important, this climate change reality is both important and urgent.

We need an inspirational call to action that is borne of a growing and increasingly urgent necessity due to climate change. The challenge today is more compelling than JFK’s aspiration to put a man on the moon. We need to get moving fast and hard, as individuals, enterprises, communities, governments and nations on reversing the impacts of our species on the planet through climate change.

We need to undertake this with a vigorous commitment and conviction beyond mere aspirations Mr. Harper. Only that way we can ensure that life on earth, including our species, can be safely sustained and even enhanced. This is not as romantic a challenge as sending a man to the moon. But it is much more meaningful to the role of mankind and much more critical to the future of the planet.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Review of the Chandler Candidacy is Not a Special Case - in the PC Party of Alberta All Candidates Are Reviewed.

I think it is important to point out some other relevant facts around the nomination process for determining candidates in the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, especially for the vast majority of readers who are citizens and voters but not involved in political parties.

The Progressive Conservative Party Executive Committee and Party Leader’s review of Mr. Chandler’s nomination and determination of his suitability for candidacy is not unique to him. In the PC Party Constitution, all nominees for candidacy for the PC Party will go through the same review process that Mr. Chandler is going through.

The PC Party of Alberta is a membership driven organization, just like all other political parties and the various other non-profit voluntary sector organizations that exist in the province. The objectives of the PC Party are firstly “To promote and assist the interests and principles of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.” Also “To promote and assist in nominating and supporting in an Provincial Election, official Progressive Conservative candidates, consistent always with the autonomy of the Constituency Associations.”

Clause 14(b) (vi) of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta says:
“A candidate who has been duly nominated shall be approved by the Leader and the Executive Committee and officially endorsed as a candidate of the Association if such approval is in the best interests of the Association.”

There is a dispute resolution process for resolving a range of issues surrounding candidate nominations, including a candidate’s qualification or disqualification before or after nomination.

In terms of fairness, Mr. Chandler is not a special case. The process for a nominee to be reviewed is clear and and I am sure the provisions of the Constitution will be followed for him and all other potential and aspiring candidates for the PC Party.

Stelmach Is Reviewing the Chandler Nomination...YES!!!

I am delighted to hear Premier Stelmach is reviewing the Craig Chandler nomination as a candidate for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta – and that the criteria he is using is the Statement of Principles of the party. Media reports say Premier Stelmach will meet with the PC Party executive committee to discuss this matter very soon.

Good move Mr. Premier. Being leader of a political party and Premier of a province has overlapping elements but they are fundamentally two different things. Mr. Chandler's nomination is a constituency and party matter but it is up to the leader to accept him as a candidate.

The leader’s final decision on candidates reflects to citizens/voters what the PC party will accept as "tolerable" and that should not include intolerance. This decision by Ed Stelmach is sending a message to voters about the character of our political party and our fitness to govern.

I believe Mr. Chandler is inappropriate as a PC candidate and as an elected representative from the PC party given our pluralistic, secular, inclusive and diverse province. He has often expressed views that are very inconsistent with those Alberta values as well as the Statement of Principles of the PC Party of Alberta.

He seems to be more closely aligned with the new Wild Rose Party. They look like they could use his organizational talents as they chase enough signatures to qualify as a new provincial political party before the next election.

Mr. Chandler will undoubtedly respond and make arguments about respect for democracy and freedom of speech. But many of his past actions have been anything but respectful of those values. He has even been forced to publicly apologize for Human Rights abuses in the past.

Premier Stelmach is right. We Progressive Conservatives can’t tolerate intolerance – especially in our political representation. While the democratic process duly nominated Mr. Chandler in Calgary Egmont. A nomination decision is only a recommendation from a constituency to the party. It is not a final decision.

That final decision on the acceptability of a candidate is, and ought to be, with the leader who, after all, has to work with a group that becomes his team at the end of the day. The PC Party selects it leader on a one person one vote basis so we are assured the winner is the real choice of the party membership. Those votes are very personal and individual decisions – not based on some phoney delegated authority of special interests. Given that leadership selection process, Ed Stelmach, as our party leader, should be able to exercise his discretion in accepting or rejecting candidate nomination recommendations from constituency organizations.

By personally consulting with the party executive, Premier Stelmach has shown once again that he brings ability and wisdom to his position as party leader. Legally speaking, seeking advice from the party executive need not be done at all. There is a legislation that gives him a right, a party leader, to override the local nomination process. He can, by law, refuse to sign the papers that turns a nominee into a candidate.

I hope and expect the PC party executive will conclude that Mr. Chandler is not an acceptable candidate and they will support a move to reject his nomination in Calgary Egmont. Do not expect Mr. Chandler and his followers to go away quietly. It is not their style. I would not be surprised if legal actions were at least threatened by Mr. Chandler and his acolytes. But adherence to values of respect, inclusiveness and diversity should not be diminished by any such threats or intimidation tactics.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Did Alberta Try to Get Quebec to Change Policy on Kyoto by Offering "Billions of Industry" Money?

I have bought but not yet read William Marsden’s book “Stupid to the Last Drop” about the Alberta oil sands. I don’t expect to get to it until after Christmas but I may have to fast track my plans.

This CanWest news piece suggesting Guy Boutilier, when he was Alberta’s Minister of the Environment, may be enough to convince me to get into the book sooner. Apparently Mr. Boutiller tried in 2005 to influence the Quebec government to change its support for the Kyoto Accord in exchange for “billions of Alberta industry” dollars to help finance the Montreal Stock Exchange.

This is an interesting allegation given that Mr. Boutilier admits to writing the note and circumstances of the event. He berates Mr. Marsden for “sensationalizing something that is totally imaginative.” What was so imaginative about this ploy? Trying to buy Quebec loyalty and failing to do so is hardly imaginative.

Many past federal Liberal governments were masters at it and Chrétien was perhaps the biggest failure at it. Just look at Adscam for proof of that statement. Even the current Con government under Mr. Harper is playing the lets buy Quebec's loyalty card. He is into the “Quebec Nation” notion and has done some pretty serious federal spending in Quebec with the strategic advice of former Prime Minister Mulroney. Remember it was Mr. Mulroney who managed to get an impressive string of majority governments out of his application of this “imaginative” lets buy the Quebec loyalty tactic.

This is hardly an imaginative approach to nation building or cooperative federalism. It is nothing even close to the effective tag teaming Lougheed and Lévesque used to employ against Ottawa from time to time. Those events were marked by Alberta and Quebec sharing a mutual respect for the division of powers in the Canadian Constitution at a time when Ottawa was buying influence from all other provinces.

Hard to judge from what we know for sure about this event as to what Mr. Boutilier was really up to in offering billions of Alberta industry money to Quebec. On what basis Mr. Boutilier thinks he can offer billions of private industry money to Quebec in the first place is confusing enough. What was he thinking?
Claiming it was about being "imaginative" is not likely to pass any sniff test as to what his motivations really were.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Oil Sands Survey Comments Reveals Concerns.

As of last Friday we had 556 comments on the Oil Sands Survey. They cover a wide range of opinions, just as you would expect around a serious economic, environmental and societal concerns like the development of the Alberta oil sands.

I thought I would give you a sense of what people are saying through a smattering of the comments. The survey went live October 22 so the comments changed a bit over time. We can’t tie the comments to participants. They are anonymous and not traceable by us or anyone else. Here is some of what Albertans had to say when they took the survey.

“I have never lived in a more money hungry province. All "oil sand" workers are in it for the money and to get ahead. Eventually, you will not be able to compete with our dying world and be FORCED to stop drilling. If people conserve more, drive less and stop drilling, maybe our children's children will be able to enjoy our dying world!”

“I wish 'ED' would back off on the royalties’ issue. He's only causing bigger problems. Thanks for your time.”

“I wish we could find a way that the development would not hurt the environment and that there would be more funding and help available for disabled people and seniors in Alberta.”

“I'm tired of the businesses and government ALWAYS getting the royalties and then hiking prices of gas, electricity, natural gas, food, clothing, housing...all the necessities. They know we can't live without the necessities so they keep increasing them and tell us to deal with it. Meanwhile they are lining their pockets and keep getting raises!! Where's ours???????”

“Royalties need to be increased; more environmental thoughts need to be brought into play and good old fashioned common sense.”

Some people loved the survey technique and others distrusted it:

“This was an extremely unfair survey. Totally biased towards oil and gas. I didn't want to choose either one or the other, but had to. To me, this will be a totally unfairly represented survey. The results are not conclusive. Ridiculous.

“As in real life, you have given us several ugly choices in the options you offered. What will it take to make environment, long-term planet benefits, and community capacity the primary factors in business, rather than exploitative, market-driven decisions?”

“That was a good survey. It made one think.”

“A very interesting and thought provoking survey.”

The Survey is a challenge because the technique requires hard choices and trade offs to be made. Never an easy task! It is being done independently by Cambridge Strategies Inc. and will be used to try and inform government policy and industry practices around responsible and sustainable oil sands development. It is available on until December 7. Take a bit of time and do the survey yourself.

Oberg Discloses Alberta's Surplus - But Still Not His PC Leadership Campaign Donors - What (and who) Gives?

It is a good thing Dr. Oberg is providing an open and transparent declaration of the Alberta Surplus situation in his quarterly update. So we are into the $4B level of projected surplus now and yes there are some reasons for concern looking out and we need to be better at planning for a slower growth in our Alberta.

That said, I wonder when Dr. Oberg is going to release his PC Leadership campaign donor list? He promised he would and did I miss it? On December 2 it will be one year since the PC leadership was decided and still no disclosure from Dr. O.

He has the discipline to get quarterly updates done on surpluses, surely he can give us a simply list of his campaign donors and the amounts contributed before a year is out.

How can Dr. Oberg justify this failure, refusal or neglect to release his leadership campaign donor list when he promised that he would? Not good enough Dr. O. Not nearly a good enough. Dr. Oberg should be setting an example of open, accountable and transparent government given his Cabinet position!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Stelmach Should Reject Craig Chandler's Nomination

I am not happy with the Progressive Conservative Party nomination of Craig Chandler in Calgary Egmont. If you are Ed Stelmach, you only need to go to the Craig Chandler website and watch the video to see what kind of "candidate" you are dealing with.

Really listen to him and you have to be concerned about his intentions and attitudes and look at the record of what he says and what he has done.

I am glad the Premier is meeting with Mr. Chandler to discuss his intentions and to assess his ability to be a team player. The results of that meeting should be a foregone conclusion based on the Chandler website video. The Premier should refuse to sign this person’s nomination papers as an Alberta Progressive Conservative candidate.

In the website video Mr. Chandler says, “Do you think in a Caucus meeting I’m going to roll over?” He and columnist Paul Jackson of the Calgary Sun say Mr. Chandler will not “toe the party line.” Mr. Chandler himself makes the point that he believes he must represent “his constituents” and he…”won’t toe the party line and any of you think I will don’t know me very well.”

I admire an independent streak and have one myself, and that does not preclude one from being a team player. You don’t have to "toe the party line" in Caucus during what is often a rigorous debate. But you have to accept the ultimate and final decision of Caucus. That is when the MLAs in any government must "toe the party line" or else nothing will get done or even be finally decided.

If you disagree with a Caucus decision Mr. Chandler you have a few options. Suck it up and shut up. Quit or cross the floor. Speaking out against the party line or the party principles will likely see you quickly kicked out of Caucus. Don’t fool yourself, sir it happens. Just ask Dr. Oberg

The problem I have with Mr. Chandler is not that he is independent. He is also oppressive and dogmatic. He strikes me as a person who chooses not to see nuances on issues. Kind of like George Bush. If you are not for us, you are deemed to be against us. Can Mr. Chandler accept and reconcile differences of opinion in ways that seek effective solutions to complex governance problems?

He comes across as the kind of person who is often wrong but never in doubt. He has expectations that everyone else should adapt to his version of “reality and truth” because he sure isn’t going to “toe any party line.”

He doesn’t come across as being able to accept that he has blind spots. We all have blind spots and that is why we get better judgments and wiser decisions when our politicians listen and learn from a wide rage of perspectives. Does he have the right stuff to be effective in a representative democracy that is based on principles of being inclusive and valuing diversity? Those are core qualities of modern democratic political representation.

He makes a strong point of saying he represents his constituents before he owes any party or Caucus allegiances. That may be true but it is going to be interesting to see if he can be representative of all of his constituents, especially if they disagree with him. Given he has such a dogmatic attitude, ask yourself how well he will represent the concerns of his Gay constituent? I think it is a pretty sure bet Calgary Egmont has gay residents and they would be Mr. Chandler's "constituents" should he be a PC candidate and win in the next election.

Premier Stelmach, take a minute and read the Statement of Principles of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. Then make a personal leadership statement based on those principles and refuse to sign this gentleman’s nomination papers.
Mr. Harper has taken this leadership step on more than one occasion recently. You will get some heat but refusing this candidate is the proper thing to do under the circumstances.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Latest IPCC Climate Change Report is the Most Sobering Yet.

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) today is releasing its most sobering analysis yet. Past civilizations have been successful but have made fundamental and monumental errors and disappeared. Read Ronald Wright’s “A Short History of Progress” for some examples and context on this phenomenon.

Today, with what we are doing to the planet, our nations and our species have the capacity to actually see the coming disaster we are creating for life on this planet through global warming. We have two perceptual advantages over the past doomed ancient civilizations. We know about those past failures so we can learn from their mistakes and not repeat a modern variation of the same.

We also have the capacity to foresee the pending consequences of our actions and we can adapt and change our ways. Easier said than done but it is clearer everyday that we cannot continue to define progress and development as we have.

The planet will survive. There is no guarantee that our species will continue to be part of its future, especially if we do not fundamentally change our wasteful and damaging ways.

Alberta's oil sands and energy industry will be at the centre of world attention as this focus on an attitude change by mankind gains momentum as a way to respond to climate change. ENGOs are already gearing up to make oil sands the "Baby Seals" issue of the next decade.

Albertan's want changes mand in how we can be more responsible and sustainable in the development of our energy sector and the oil sands in particular. There is an on-line survey being done by Cambridge Strategies Inc. and The Policy Channel to find out what Albertans want and value most about responsible and sustainable oil sands development.

Here is the link to Policy Channel to do the survey. It takes about 8 minutes to do and forces you to thnk and make hard choices and trade offs...just like real life. So stick with it and finish the survey...and leave us an email address if you want a report on the findings.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Premier Stelmach Shows What Good Socially Progressive and Fiscally Conservative Government is All About This Week.

This has been a good week for Albertans and yours truly.

Tobacco Reduction Act Passes:
Our government has moved decisively on third reading of Bill 45 to prohibit smoking in public and work places. This will improve the quality of life, save lives and tax money form tobacco related disease over time. I have been working professionally with the coalition organized to get this legislation passed. Congratulations to Dave Hancock, Alberta’s Minister of Health and Wellness for this great political and policy accomplishment.

Public Good Exemption in Lobbyists Act for Voluntary Sector:
Next we see our government has moved to exempt public-good non-profit/voluntary organizations from the requirements of the new Lobbyists Act. That means volunteers and staff people in these various community based and charitable organizations do not have to worry about what they say to whom about what in the government when it comes to their good works.

This was the position expressed by the Muttart Foundation and Volunteer Alberta’s brief to the government on the Lobbyists Act. I wrote the Volunteer Alberta brief pointing out the proposed legislation would cause a chill in the volunteer community because it was so harsh and inappropriately drafted. This new Public-Good Exemption amendment to Bill 1, the Lobbyists was also proposed by Dave Hancock and will undoubtedly pass in this session. Congratulations once again.

Teachers Unfunded Pension Liability Issue Finally Resolved:
Now today Premier Stelmach resolves the final debt obligation of the province, the unfunded pension liability for Alberta teachers. This has been a perennial problem that has been bungled by the Klein government and Dr. Lyle Oberg in his former capacity as Minister of Learning. This matter has been one of the most unfair and long time outstanding labour issues that Klein and Oberg used as a punishment for a past teachers strike.

Full disclosure, over the past three years, I have worked from time to time on this matter on behalf of the Alberta Teachers Association. I know Dave Hancock has been working on this issue for years behind the scenes too. But the credit for this progressive step in good government and the saving of some $48B in accrued taxpayer costs over time goes to Premier Stelmach and the leadership of the ATA.

It has been a pretty good week for socially progressive and fiscally conservative government everything considered.

Federal Leaders All Found Wanting and Out of Touch With Concerns of Canadians

What is going to happen to Harper’s Quebec strategy now that he can’t talk to Mulroney – the mastermind behind it all?

Has this Calgary Conservative captured the hearts and minds of the Quebec people to the extent that without Mulroney pulling his strings he will still have support in Quebec? Will they still believe Harper when he says he understands the Quebec Nation in the same way they do? Will they still believe that Harper really means it and get it without the Mulroney influence to reassure the soft nationalist support in Quebec?

Once thing for sure there is not going to be a federal election coming anytime soon under these circumstances. With the emerging reality of another public inquiry involving another Quebec based prime minister Dion will gladly wait out the time for this issue to mature before he will want an election. Quebec is a battle ground in the next election. Is the Harper support in Quebec a mile wide and deep as a dime? Without the reassurance of a continuing Mulroney influence on Harper - will the Quebec support last?

Besides the polls show Canadians are less than enamoured in any meaningful way with any of the federal parties and their leaders right now. My reading is the public sees Dion as very beige, Harper is very grey and Layton is too red. None of them are known commodities and some are seen as less trustworthy than others. Be it the Adscam overhang on the Dion Liberals, the Bush-league conniving tendencies of Harper or the ill-defined opportunistic political and policy ploys of Layton. What Canadians want is someone who is truly and comprehensively green in economic and ecological terms.

The successful new political leaders will be someone with an integrated green agenda that has to be able to embrace and articulate issues of environmental protection and sustainability as well as responsible economic growth and be able to clarify the societal impacts all at the same time with authority and authenticity. Not that tough to do right?

No media-trained, pre-packaged, shrink-wrapped, messaging mouthpiece with a patina of manufactured charisma will cut it anymore. And now we see we have to revisit the recurring issue of honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency in our political culture too.

How much of this crap can the long suffering citizens of Canada take - and how long will they tolerate it?

Mr. Mulroney Best Advised to Stifle the Rhetoric and Bluster in the Schreiber Affair.

Lots of thoughts and themes emerging out of the Mulroney/Schreiber affair that is worth noting and tracking as this story evolves. One key concern is the recent conduct of Mr. Mulroney.

Mr. Mulroney was in a full-court press while speaking at a fundraising dinner in Toronto recently. The always quotable Mr. Mulroney said “I, Martin Brian Mulroney, 18th prime minister of Canada will be there before the royal commission with bells on because I’ve done nothing wrong and I have absolutely nothing to hide.”

The tendency to want stake out a position early and often for some one in Mr. Mulroney’s shoes is understandable but the credibility of the parties is a key issue here. His media-messaging and very crafted quote sure sounds like what we would expect as the opening lines of his testimony just before he goes oath, doesn’t it. Strikes me also as being right up there with the now famously inaccurate “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”

Also, who said this was going to be a “royal commission?” It might be a judicial inquiry. It might be bumped off the rails by criminal proceedings that will be pre-empting the inquiry. It has to be considered in the light of the extradition proceedings happening in the Ontario Court of Appeal. There is a matter of a possible perception of bias by the current Conservative Justice Minister who has extensive discretionary powers around the extradition of Mr. Schreiber. He also served under the past Mulroney government and he is no doubt weighing his roles and responsibilities in the extradition process and these pending proceedings as well.

Who knows what is going to be the end result at this point in time? So, Mr. Mulroney lets stifle the histrionics and posturing and pre-framing of the issues in the media while Professor Johnson is peeling back the layers of this onion. Lets not presume or pre-position anything and lets not try this matter in the media first either. You are likely to get your inquiry so please respect the process that has been undertaken by the current Prime Minister and let the process do its job.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bill 45 - Smoking Ban Law Passes Third Reading in Alberta

Bill 45 the Tobacco Reduction Act received 3rd and final reading today in the Alberta Legislature this afternoon. This has been a long time coming. Many passed Alberta Health Ministers have tried and failed. With a new Premier in Stelmach and as renewed effort by a new Minister of Health and WELLNESS in Hancock…it has happened.

The real hero’s here are the coalition of health advocacy groups, professional and health care groups that have banded together, stayed together and even grown in numbers and strength. Their consistent and persistent lobby efforts and sustained energy and collective intelligence is the stuff that really made this happen.

Of course it is not groups or organizations or even political parties of governments that makes this stuff work and gets positive results. It is individuals with talent, time and ability that work together for common cause that makes this kind of policy change really happen. I have been working with these individuals and the coalition they have formed this past year on getting Bill 45 introduced and passed.

Congratulations to the folks behind Action on Smoking and Health Alberta for a job well done. Congratulations to Minister of Health and Wellness Dave Hancock and the people in the department who have assisted the effort.

This smoking ban law in public and working places is one of the easiest and best ways to improve the quality of life for Albertans. It is also one of the best wellness initiatives the government could have undertaken to prevent disease and to improve the wellness of Albertans as well.

Harper Moves Fast and Well on Independent Advisor Appointment

Mr. Harper has moved quickly and well to appoint the independent advisor on the Mulroney/Schreiber affair. The appointment of Professor David Johnson, President of the University of Waterloo is an excellent choice.

I also like the mandate and the flexibility and discretion afforded Professor Johnson.

a) specifies the duties of the Independent Advisor as to conduct an independent review of those allegations respecting financial dealings between Mr. Schreiber and the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney, P.C., and to submit to the Prime Minister by January 11, 2008 a report in both official languages, which shall
(i) make recommendations as to the appropriate mandate for a public inquiry into those allegations, including the specific issues that warrant examination, under the Inquiries Act,
(ii) state whether the Independent Advisor, in the course of his review, has determined that there is any prima facie evidence of criminal action; in that case, the report shall make recommendations as to how this determination should be dealt with, and what should be the appropriate mandate and timing for a formal public inquiry in those circumstances, and
(iii) make recommendations as to whether any additional course of action may be appropriate;
(b) authorizes the Independent Advisor to adopt procedures for the expedient and proper conduct of the independent review, including reviewing relevant records and documents and consulting as appropriate;
(c) fixes his remuneration as set out in the attached schedule, which per diem is within the range ($1,200 - $1,400); and(d) authorizes the payment, in accordance with Treasury Board policies, of the following expenses incurred in the course of his duties:
(i) travel and living expenses while in travel status in Canada while away from his normal place of residence in accordance with the Treasury Board Travel Directive and Special Travel Authorities,
(ii) expert staff, as required, and
(iii) any other reasonable expenses as necessary to conduct the independent review.

I applaud the swiftness, quality and the mandate behind this decision by Mr. Harper.
This review process is not a witch hunt and never was. It is the beginning of a hunt as to which version of the truth we will believe, that of Mr. Schreiber or that of Mr. Mulroney. That is the ultimate question and it is still an open question waiting for an answer

Privacy Commissioner Order Contract Disclosure - Stelmach Balks

I don’t understand the stance of the Stelmach government around the disclosure of details of the service contracts of Rod Love the former Chief of Staff for Premier Klein and Murray Smith, the province’s former envoy to Washington D.C.

The well reasoned and thorough analysis of the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner in Order F2006-007 answers all the questions and concerns over privacy issues insofar as Mr Smith is concerned. The Rod Love Chief of Staff contract is not dealt with in this decision and may be an entirely different matter.

The reasons Premier Stelmach’s reluctance to comply with the Order is based on a fear to comply with this Order to disclose they may have to do it for all public sector employees. So what and why not? We disclose this information on MLA, Deputy Ministers and other senior officials. In fact we can even tell who Minister’s bought lunch for, when and how much they paid because the Ministerial expense accounts are not on departmental websites.

The public is entitled to know this stuff and more. I believe there needs to be disclosure of compensation levels in all government third-party contracts too. A few years ago my firm was contracted by the Minister of Justice and the Speaker’s Office to review the risk management policies of the GOA due to the defamation actions around certain allegations by former Alberta Cabinet Minister Stockwell Day.

Getting the government to publicly release of our report was a saga unto itself but it eventually happened. However since this was a sole sourced contract with us we took the extra step of attaching our contract as a schedule to our report because we believed citizens had a right to know this information. That report document is still posted on our Website if you are interested.

This alleged policy concern of the Premier makes no sense. The presumption should be disclosure and if there is a possibility for rebuttal due to circumstances, then that can be taken to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner for a decision.

Premier Stelmach is keen on transparency and that is a good thing. That is why his position on these contracts is so confusing, especially in light of the recent Order of the Privacy Commissioner. His default position cannot be opaqueness – that is not transparency and confuses the issues rather than clarify them.

Albertan's Are Responding to the Oil Sands Survey.

I am very encouraged by the response to the Oil Sands Survey we at Cambridge Strategies Inc and The Policy Channel are doing on values Albertans attribute to responsible and sustainable development of the oil sands. So far over 4400 Albertans have participated in this discrete choice modelling survey and this is not an easy survey that asks if you like Pepsi or Coke – it makes you think and requires you to make some personal value judgements.

We have also done a Stats Can aligned sample of 1300 Albertans to be sure we have a scientific base line for this project. Now we are reaching out to get as many Albertans as we can to do the survey as well. This is not a sponsored survey but we intend to use the results to influence government policy and industry practices on the future direction and goals for responsible and sustainable oil sands development.

The survey is anonymous but if you want a report on the results we ask you for an email address at the end of the survey. There is also a place for you to comment on the survey and the issues around oil sands development. Those comments will help us inform government and industry on the theme areas as well.

If who want to have a say in how you believe your oil sands ought to be developed please take the time to do the survey. It will force some hard choices and trade-offs on you - just like in real life but stick with it - you will be glad you did it!

Here is a link to Policy Channel and the Survey link is in the top left hand corner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

An Inquiry If Necessary but Not Necessarily an Inquiry.

So we are not yet quite at the stage of a public inquiry on the Mulroney/Schreiber affair. In a statement today from the PMO we see the intent of Mr. Harper to appoint “an independent and impartial third party to review what course of actions may be appropriate given Mr. Schreiber’s new sworn allegations.”

There may be prima facie findings of criminal actions so this preliminary review will identify and advise on what course of actions should be taken as well as the nature and timing of the inquiry.

I agree with Mr. Harper’s course of action here and his reasoning behind them as well. He is looking for non-political professional advice on how to proceed and on setting priorities for issues and terms of reference for any inquiry if needed.

Mr. Harper is now discovering it is not easy setting serious complex policy priorities. Mr. Dion has known this for a while. In fact the CPC attack ads on Mr. Dion have made the point very effectively about how difficult setting this matter of priorities can be.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mulroney Himself Calls for a Public Inquiry into the Schreiber Allegations.

Mulroney calls for a public inquiry and says by pass the investigation stage. Finally a statesman steps up for the good of the country and perhaps even to enhance the public's confidence in the state of our democracy in the process.
As I said in an earlier post Mr. Harper should call an inquiry. I also supported his decision for an independent investigation as first step. I also hope Schreiber can’t prove his allegations because our respect for most of our political institutions has been severely shaken as of late. We don't need that trust to be tried and tested further right in the office of the Prime Minister.

Given Mr. Mulroney's recommendation, go directly to the pubic inquiry route Mr. Harper and lets get this cleared up. It is time to get this behind the players, the parties and the country.

The Enlightened Savage Sends Up Margaret Atwood

Every time I try to use sarcasm in my Blog postings, I get in trouble. It is because my “nuance” just gets lost in the text that simply cannot seem to translate my “tongue in cheek” prose. Or maybe my critics and commenters are all uber-rational positivist who think a metaphor is a five. Anyway I seem to suck at sarcasm in print.

One of my favourite Bloggers – The Enlightened Savage pulls it off every time. Even the name of his blog is proof positive of this man’s skill at "incite."

Well his latest post is a brilliant send up of Margaret Atwood and underscores the impotence of being earnest when it comes to shilling for political dollars.

Well done oh-enlightened one…well done.

Was Prime Minister Harper Really Out-of-the-Loop on the Mulroney/Schreiber Affair?

Can you believe that Prime Minister Harper, the master of micro-managing-message-control, was out of the loop for seven months on a letter sent to him from Karlheinz Schreiber alleging serious wrong-doing by former PM (and current Harper mentor) Brian Mulroney?

Given that the letter was accusing former Prime Minister Mulroney of serious abuses of the highest political office in the country, can you believe the Privy Council Office’s characterization of the letter’s content? What were they thinking when, according to media reports, the CPO decided the Schreiber letter to Prime Minister Harper as merely dealing with a civil suit between two private citizens and therefore Harper need not even be advised of the letter's existence, never mind the content?

Mr. Harper’s recent threats in response to the opposition parties (and many Canadians) saying they want him to investigate this matter saying we had “better be careful what we ask for” in demanding a sitting PM investigate a former PM. This attitude was pure unvarnished and unscripted Stephen Harper at his most insinuating, intimidating and threatening best. He implies with such a request to investigate the Mulroney/Schreiber affair there could also be other investigations of other former PMs. Scary stuff.

If further investigation of other PMs is warranted Mr. Harper, then that sir, is exactly what I and other Canadians would expect you to undertake. Your insinuation that this may bear some “consequences” to other politicians and other political parties is damaging to your own reputation as PM and brings into question your own fitness for service the highest political office in the land.

The last time Harper launched such an investigation it was politically motivated and over certain communications, polling and advisory contracts with former Prime Minister Martin and a consulting firm. That firm was also heavily involved in Martin's bid for leadership of the LPC and in his last two election strategies. The investigation mandate Mr. Harper set then was to look for any wrong-doing and skullduggery by the contractors and Mr. Martin. That appointee was seen by most as more of a political provocateur than an indifferent and independent investigator. He was supposed to report back on his findings in 6 months and that time has long since past without any report being released by Mr. Harper. We don’t even know if Harper has actually received such a report as yet. Not an encouraging record Mr. Harper.

Mr. Harper indicates he will appoint an independent third party to investigate the issues and allegations around the Mulroney/Schreiber affair. He says that appointment announcement may come as early as this week. Mr. Harper needs to prove, through this action, that he has the character and capacity for service in the highest political office in the land. If he aspires to a majority government with virtually unfettered control that would bring to him, and as was enjoyed by Prime Ministers Mulroney and Chrétien, he can do much toward ensuring that outcome in the next election by the appointment of a truly independent person to do this review.

Be careful who you appoint this time Mr. Harper and be very open and transparent with the mandate and terms of reference and be generous with the resources you afford this investigation. We are talking about the integrity of the highest political office in the land and not some clever political out-of-season campaign ploy like your series of “who-is-not-a-leader” negative TV ads against Mr. Dion. Please do not politicize this situation Mr. Harper.

Our faith in our democracy demands that we look to you Mr. Harper as our Prime Minister and as the leader of our government to ensure the necessary accountability is extant in dealing with these difficult circumstances.

While you ponder the appointee and the nature of the assignment please put a stay on the extradition of Mr. Schreiber for a while too. We need him in Canada to be examined under oath surrounding the various allegations in his recent affidavit on this matter. The Germans can wait a bit longer to pursue their tax evasion and fraud charges against him. Right now Canadians need to know if he can prove his allegations or not.
I'm not taking bets on if Schreiber can prove his allegations or not. I am hoping, for the sake of the confidence of the country in our political institutions, that he can't. Time will tell.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Harper Distances From Mulroney and Starts a Review Process Based on Schreiber Affidavit.

On November 2nd in this blog I called on Mr. Harper to call in inquiry into the Mulroney/Schreiber affair. I have not kept current on developments on this front as I have recently been out of town at a fascinating conference on blogging and new media…more on that at later date.

I am pleased to support the steps announced by Mr. Harper and reported in the Globe and Mail last Friday that there will be an independent third party review of the Mulroney/Schreiber affair. In my earlier post I said this incident was a character test for Mr. Harper. I believe this situation should be used as “a measure of the man” and citizens can thereby pass judgment on Harper’s personal capacity to govern as a wise statesman and not merely as a clever political tactician.

I am a serious critic of Mr. Mulroney and while it is rare, I have applauded him in the past a number of significant occasions, like the decision on income trusts. Today I am pleased to applaud Mr. Harper again on this decision to call for an independent third party review and to advise the Prime Minister.

Given the complexity of the fact situation, the history of the past Airbus fiasco where former Prime Minister Chrétien inappropriately politicized and personalized the matter that resulted in hindering the RCMP investigtion and causing Canadian taxpayers to pay a libel suit settlement to former Prime Minister Mulroney and the RCMP not being able to get to the bottom of the matter as a result. Add in the dubious reliability of Mr. Schreiber’s credibility who is currently in custody and facing extradition to Germany for fraud and other charges.

This is serious stuff and weighs heavily on the player, not the least of who are the current Prime Minister Stephen Harper and former Prime Ministers Mulroney and Chrétien. Because of the allegations in a sworn affidavit of Mr. Schreiber, it is now also about the integrity, honour and respect of the highest political office in the land, the Prime Minister’s Office.

Perhaps a judicial inquiry is justified but I think Mr. Harper is correct to initially have an independent third party to conduct a review of the facts and circumstances. This will effectively amount to a de facto preliminary inquiry used in criminal proceedings to see if there is enough evidence of sufficient reliability to proceed further.

Stephane Dion and the NDP are calling for a judicial inquiry now. That may be warranted but today, given the history and the circumstances surrounding the allegations and the source of the allegations that may be premature. Let’s get a truly independent third party with experience, wisdom as well as judgment to review the file and advise the PMO.

The test of character issue for Mr. Harper is still extant and we will judge him on who he selects to do the review, terms of reference he gives and the openness he allows and the resources he makes available for the review. Any shortcomings in any of these matters will be viewed as a whitewash.

Mr. Harper is doing the right thing…now he must do it the right way.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Coming Back from Blogworld in Las Vegas - Lots to talk About.

I have been in Las Vegas for three days at the Blogworld and New Media Conference. Lots going on in this new medium. Very exciting times…lots of diversity of people involved. I thought I would be the only one without tattoos and body piercing. I was very wrong. Met lots of interesting people who are all very interested in facilitating the conversation and doing so responsibly.

Sorry I have not been posting as regularly but I am back late Saturday. Checking headlines good to see Harper relenting on an inquiry on the Mulroney-Schreiber affair. Sometimes you have to put away your “principles” and to the right thing.

The discover of carcinogens in the Athabasca river is going to be a hot story that ties in health, environment and the Alberta economy into an integrated whole…too late coming and a prime political challenge.

Curious as to the Alberta privacy commissioner comments that certain government contracts with Murray Smith and Rod Love have no impediments to public release and Premier Stelmach’s refusal to do so…don’t know enough facts yet but this si one to be dug into and followed. Political credibility is on the line here.

Here in Nevada the US economy is now a topic that rivals homeland security as a major concern. The musings by Chinese officials that they may start to diversify their treasury reserve cash holdings (that are enormous) beyond US Dollars has shocked and shaken the confidence down here. Not a major deal yet but American Pride it is an issue with legs.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Political Spin at its Best!

The public has to worry about political spin all the time. I received this example of spin from a friend on the Internet. It is such a fine example I felt it is worth sharing:

Judy Wallman, a professional genealogical researcher, discovered that Hillary Clinton's great-great uncle, Remus Rodham, was hanged for horsestealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889. The only known photograph of Remus shows him standing on the gallows. On the back of the picture is this inscription:

"Remus Rodham; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885, escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times. Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.”

Judy e-mailed Hillary Clinton for comments. Hillary's staff of professional image adjusters sent back the following biographical sketch:

"Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory. His business empire grew to include acquisition of valuable equestrian assets and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad. Beginning in 1883, he devoted several years of his life to service at a government facility, finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad. In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency. In 1889, Remus passed away during an important civic function held in his honor when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed."

And THAT is how it's done folks!

Too Much Heat and Not Enough Light on the Royalty Collection Issues

So now we see the over heated rhetoric and misinformation campaigning move from the energy industry and into the Alberta Legislature. This is a sad “state of affairs.”

The Alberta Liberals are torquing the facts by insinuating criminal intent on the Klein government Ministers of Energy and the current Minister of Energy and is reported to be “suggesting” a criminal investigation may be needed….” Mr. Taft, the Leader of the Alberta Liberals is apparently making these unfounded accusations and he knows better. After all he has a B.A. in political science, a Masters degree in community development and a PhD in business. So this hyping of the facts by such an educated and experienced individual is neither ignorance nor innocence. It is more like the kind of negative, half-truth, Republican-esque partisan politics we have come to expect from Stephen Harper.

The Auditor General Fred Dunn has clearly stated the situation around past royalty collection decisions by the Klein government. This kind of decision is at the discretion of the government and taken by the appropriate Minister, the Energy Minister in this case.

Premier Stelmach also seems to be getting caught up in the torque the facts for effect and rhetoric. He is reported to be tying an “Our Fair Share” recommendation for a proposed Oil Sands Severance Tax as being akin to the NEP and saying such a tax would “cripple the province’s economy.” That is mostly a political judgement. Ironically if Stelmach had kept that severance tax recommendation he would not have to try and renegotiate the Suncor/Syncrude royalty agreements. That tax would have leveled the playing field for the newer projects. That is partly why the Expert Panel recommended the tax.

Political judgment aside, Premier Stelmach goes much further by implying such a "production tax" would drive people out of the province, create a situation where people could not pay their mortgages and many business would go broke…as he suggests happened with the NEP.

The NEP is part of the Alberta mythosphere and we tend to forget that the NEP was negotiated with Alberta. The fact is conveniently forgotten that before the NEP got implemented President Reagan released the US strategic oil supplies. That alone pulled the rug out of the world oil prices and as they plunged they sent the Alberta economy into a tail spin. The NEP would have really hurt Alberta but it didn't, President Reagan got to us first.

The issue of uncollected energy royalties is very clear in the Auditor Generals Report. The administration recommended an increase and that recommendation was rejected by the Minister(s) of the day. That decision was totally within the government discretion so no legal wrong doing is at issue. To project a criminal intent is over the line.

What is at issue here is the quality and consequences of the policy judgment call to not increase royalties and how and why it was made at that time. We elect politicians to make these “hard choices” on our behalf and the issues are never simple and all the facts are never fully known. It is always a judgment call.

So it comes down to a few salient points. Did the Ministers of the day follow a proper review process and analysis of the situation in coming to this discretionary judgment? On what basis did they make the decision and was it a sound judgment and how do they justify the decision as being in the public interest.

The other key question is who did the Klein government listen to in arriving at such decision? Interestingly, Premier Stelmach is quoted now as saying "But at the end of the day, in this government the decisions are made by government, not listening to advice that may come from bureaucracies." "We take advice obviously, from others."

Well I hope the new Lobbyist Act will help us answer the question of just who those "others" are who our elected representatives listen to in the future and why they were so persuasive. We Albertans can then perhaps begin to understand just what part of the public interest those "others" represent. We can also consider if our elected representatives are serving the common good in the exercise of the many discretions they have and the complex decisions they have to make.

Lets remind the politicians of Premier Stelmach's early suggestion to calm down. Lets also get serious about this stuff. There is enough grist for any political mill in these royalty issues that hype and rhetoric are not only unnecessary - it is unhelpful in assisting Albertans in better understanding what is and was going on.

None of this needs to be torqued for effect. The politically motivated manufacturing of misleading media headlines are not helpful. Lets get opportunistic partisan politics out of the royalty deliberations and go right to the debate about how we ensure open, transparent, accountable and good government as the larger goal.

There are signs of hope this could happen. The multi-party support of the NDP motion for an emergency debate on these issues was a step in the right direction…we need more politicians with that greater sense of responsibility and public duty who will stand up like that. Good for those individual MLAs from all parties who voted for the emergency debate. I am looking forward to reading Hansard to see who the real statesmen are on this issue.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Manning Wants a More Comprehensive Policy Approach in Alberta - and He is Right

You have to admire Preston Manning and Peter Lougheed. They both have different takes on the Stelmach’s government responses and the consequences to the “Our Fair Share” Royalty Review Panel recommendations.

Lougheed praised Stelmach and it should be noted Lougheed knows what he is talking about, having raised royalties himself many years ago. The federal Minister for Alberta Jim Prentice also praised the Stelmach response.

Manning, on the other hand, pans Stelmach’s response but not so much on the royalty issues in terms of balance and appropriateness but on the larger issue of the capacity of Stelmach to adequately govern.

Let’s look at what Manning has to say. He accuses Stelmach of tearing up agreements with two major oilsands players (Suncor and Syncrude). That is not the case and Manning knows it. Stelmach has confirmed that those deals run until 2016 and if they are not renegotiated by mutual agreement, they will continue to be honoured.

Manning was on CTV’s Question Period yesterday noting that the Stelmach government may fall into minority territory should another 150,000 Albertans stay home on Election Day. This is in addition to the 210,000 PC supporters who stayed home in the 2004 Klein election. Here is where I agree with Manning, if that happens, Stelmach in minority or even losing territory.

However an election is not here yet and there is lots of time for Stelmach to do the rights thing to restore good government to Alberta…and get the credit for it. That means he needs to be between the far right and the old-style Klein somnambulist approach to governing but also to fix the social and ecological deficits in Alberta to day and going forward. A single minded focus on the economic agenda alone is not good enough.

Now let’s look at the Manning Agenda based on from his reported comments. He notes “…the big picture just hasn’t been spelled out, that’s where I see the problems.” The items in the Manning “big picture” are tying royalty rates to tax policy, continental energy security and environment. And he pointedly asks if Stelmach has the competence to deal with these issues as well. It is a fair and provocative question. It will get distorted and massaged by all kinds of spin-masters but I think Albertans can see through that noise and keep a focus on their core concerns.

Here I think Manning’s focus on what he calls “the big picture” is right on. But I think the focus is not on Stelmach’s competence to govern alone is too narrow. Do any of the political party leaders in Alberta have the trust of Albertans to competently deal with these issues? Our oil sand survey preliminary results show that none of them have generated sufficient trust to deal with growth issues in the province. Stelmach is by far the most trusted political leader in Alberta according to our results but at only 32% support that is not enough to presume electoral success.

There is a need for the political agenda to deal beyond the dollars and get into the environment and social issues and angst that this economic growth has caused. Albertans know that and have moved ahead of the political pundits and politicians to embrace a more comprehensive and integrated approach to public policy and governance. So media sound bites and political personalities aside in the complex real world I think Lougheed, Prentice and Manning are all correct in their comments and observations on the Stelmach royalty response and the potential political and policy consequences to governing.

Albertans will decide all of this in the next election. Staying home and not participating is not a viable option to sustain a robust democracy. My bet is if people are not happy the far right will go to the Alliance or the new Wildrose party if it gets enough signatures to forma party before the election. The left will go Green and the disenchanted middle will also park with the Greens as a way to send a message.

I will shortly post what I think that could mean for all the current political party leaders in the aftermath of the next election.

Friday, November 02, 2007

What Does Responsible and Sustainable Oil Sands Development Mean to You?

So it has been an interesting and intense few weeks since the “Our Fair Share” Royalty Review came out. The ferociousness of the energy industry response and the anger and tactics of many of them was as lively as good theatre. However, the Alberta audience did not suspend their disbelief and we were not transformed by the industry messages or their performances.

The Expert Panel engaged in clarifying, explaining and defending their process, findings and recommendations - and at times even defending themselves. Some were enlightened by the Panel's engagement, others were offended.

Then the Stelmach government came up with its decision and we have seen some interesting post announcement poll results. there have been some supportive endorsements, some serious reservations and others who say Stelmach did not get the job done that should have been done.

This week is considerably quieter. I expect people in the energy industry are trying to digest the economic and political implications of the Stelmach royalty decision and the consequences of their lobbying campaign. Those not directly involved seem to have “moved on” into other issues or back into their so-called “normal” Alberta lives. Others have a lingering sense that there is a new normal emerging in Alberta around citizens relations with government and our governments role with the energy industry coming out of all of this.

After a bit of a breather from the blather, Albertans will once again have to re-engage and this time it should be about the future of the oil sands. We at Cambridge Strategies Inc. and The Policy Channel are already into that re-engagement process. We want to encourage other Albertans back into “active duty” through a survey we are doing on the future of the oil sands.

We are doing this web-based Discrete Choice Modelling survey ourselves and not for any client. It is looking into the values Albertans attribute to the responsible and sustainable development of the oil sands. What we are looking into is what does responsible and sustainable oil sands development mean to Albertans? What is really important about that concept and just how important is the future development of the oil sands to us?

We invite all Albertans to participate. We are actively reaching out to Albertans in all walks of life to have some input. The more the merrier and so far some 2000 Albertans have done the survey. We will use the results to hopefully influence government and industry on future policy directions for our oil sands in ways that align with our values and aspirations.

In the survey you will be given optional scenarios to choose from. Be advised they are not likely to be practical choices but also understand that is not the purpose of the survey. What we want to know is what aspects of the choices offered are the most important and the least important to you. Your choices of the various scenarios sets in the survey will tell us that. Be forewarned, it is not easy. It will take about 8 minutes to do and you will be asked to make some very difficult choices. You will have to make trade-off decisions attributes around oil sands development. Just like real life.

It is an anonymous survey but you can leave an email address at the end of the survey if you want us to send you a report on the results – expected that in mind January.

Thanks for participating.

Mr. Harper - Call An Inquiry Into the Mulroney-Schreiber Affair.

The response of the Conservative House Leader Peter Van Loan underscores what is essentially wrong with the Harper Conservative’s fitness for governing. Harper gets good marks for message management but not for managing the right message.

Claiming that a pursuit of facts not previously disclosed surrounding a lawsuit settlement as a vendetta against Mulroney is bad governance. For the Harper Cons this stance and characterization of the initiative as a vendetta is proof of bad judgement in government – and it is very bad politics too.

Mulroney got a $2.1 million dollars of taxpayer’s money but it now appears not all the known facts were disclosed when the settlement was negotiated. The bungling of the RCMP and the political overtones instigated by Prime Minister Chrétien on the events were clouding and confusing the issues. Now we are seeing some further allegations that never came to light in 1997 that should have before the matter was "settled."

Transparent accountable and open government demands full and frank disclosure – especially under the circumstances and emerging story as to the nature of the Mulroney-Schreiber dealings, the timing of them and some previously undisclosed information and allegations.

Mr. Harper touts his Accountability Act and a new standard of ethics and governance, even though a big swack of the provisions are not in force. Is that because he fails, refuses or neglects to proclaim them because he is not really serious about accountability issues or the provisions of the law he passed?

This issue is going to be a major character test for Mr. Harper and his minority government. Is he going to follow the old-school approach of obfuscation, bluff and blustering your way through the issue like Jean Chrétien would have? Or will he take the high road like Paul Martin did in Adscam and call an inquiry because it is the right thing to do regardless of the political consequences.

Canadians want good government that is trustworthy and competent and focused on serving the best interests of citizens. Leadership on this issue is much more important than the usual Harper tactics of media manipulation and message management. Leadership is especially critical given the serious circumstances and allegations that are just now coming to light.

Mr. Harper, this issue is a real confidence vote in you and your government because you will have to face judgment of the citizens of Canada and the consequences of that judgment. We will be asking ourselves if we ought to continue to have any confidence in you and your party to be open, honest, transparent and sustaining any semblance of integrity. Passing a law about accountability is one thing, acting accountably is another.

In reality, it is all mostly about you Prime Minister Harper. You going to be judged by voters by the way you handle this. Will it be ethical an governance issue for you - or purely a political one? We will be watching how you handle this and then asking ourselves if you are still fit for service in the highest office in the land and if you continue to be worthy of our consent to be governed.
Don’t let us down sir. Call the inquiry.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Stelmach Accepts New Governance Recommendations for Agencies, Boards and Commissions

There is another significant step towards better governance in Alberta with the release today of the Premier’s Task Force on Agencies Boards and Commissions. These groups, largely appointed, spend about half of the annual operational budget of the province so they are not insignificant.

There is a full report on line- suffice to say the Premier has accepted 14 of the 15 recommendations and the other one was modified. That recommendation modification was that no elected or senior government officials should be appointed to governing bodies of agencies. The modification was to acknowledge that sometimes. Given the mandate of an agency it is helpful to have elected or senior government officials input.

I see the quibble but such political or administrative input can be obtained very easily without elected or senior government officials being officially appointed to the agency, board or commission. These various groups are formed mostly to get independent and sometimes expert advice (like the Hunter Expert Panel on the Royalty Review) and to take politics and bureaucratic culture out of the deliberations and decision or recommendation making. Having bureaucrats and MLAs appointed and directly in the decision making process tends to undermine that larger and important goal.

The other recommendation that will be the media focus on is going to be on “a competency-based appointment process.” That will be interpreted as code to not just appointing the party faithful. Competency is paramount but it does not eliminate partisanship in appointments. Nor should it. Everything being equal, any government is going to appoint like-minded people to agencies board and commissions because they want alignment with government policy directions and goals. Competency is the first test; pedigree will still be the second test – regardless of which party is forming government.

“Diversity of Appointments” recommendation to reflect the diverse nature of the Alberta population is a great step forward.

Good governance and transparency are in desperate need of policy and political attention in ALberta. This positive response by Stelmach to the recommendations of the Agencies, Boards and Commissions Governance Task Force is one more way Stelmach is getting it done.