Reboot Alberta

Friday, February 29, 2008

Harper Should Immediately Call for an Inquiry Over the Cadman-Con Affair.

Adam at 9:19 on the previous post in the Blog commented as follows:

1. Chuck Cadman himself publicly said he was not offered anything.

2. Dona Cadman is now running for the Conservatives and indicated that there was nothing unbecoming.

3. The Liberals fear saying anything outside the House because they will be immediately slapped with a defamation lawsuit.

4. Finally, there is no insurance company in the world that would ever give a $1 million policy to someone who is terminally ill. Only an idiot would think that can happen.

It is sad that you say federal politics is boring until the federal liberals decide to sling mud. Your party is neutered and losing credibility - harping on "character" is not going to help the Liberals.

Adam - your Comment points beg for rebuttal AND a post if its here goes.

#1 - Cadman said in media scrums and comment that he was not offered anything by Martin or Harper...however he was not asked by the media about offers from Mr. Harper’s operatives. In fact Mr. Harper says on tape in an interview for the book that he knew his operatives were making Cadman “a financial offer” allegedly to offset his cost of a pending election!!! Mr. Cadman was near death at the time and not going to be a candidate in an election caused by the non confidence vote. Mr. Cadman passed away two months after the vote. HOW stupid is that representation as a defense to the allegations at hand?

#2 Yes I understand that Mrs. Cadman is running for the Cons and that must be very awkward for you guys. You will likely end up paying her off or even refuse to sign her nomination papers under the circumstance. Your party has a history of treating nominee you don’t very like badly – forcing some to even sue you to honour the “expense deals” made to get them out of the way.

This is potentially a much bigger deal and could be a matter of influence peddling - a criminal offence. Mrs. Cadman is not, as far as I know, a lawyer, nor familiar with the law in this area or the influence peddling provisions of the Criminal Code. So it is not likely we can rely on her as one to adequately judge if the offer was "unbecoming" or not. We have police investigations, prosecutors and the courts to make those determinations for our society.

#3 - Why should any parliamentarian say anything outside the Commons about this matter? It is not their allegations and questionable behaviours that are at issue here. Besides it is all in a book and on tape and all over the media. If you Cons want to sue, you can sue the media coverage of the story if it is over the line. You can sue the author and maybe you will want to burn his books while you are at it. You can sue Mr. Cadman's wife and his daughter who are confirming the allegation in the book, apparently from first hand conversations with Mr. Cadman. These individuals are all outside the protection of parliamentary privilege. Go for it boys. If you want a legal action you have it against those actually making the allegations, not parliamentarians who are just doing their job on behalf of Canadians.

#4 Correct, there is no insurance company in the world who would issue a policy on Mr. Cadman's life given his terminal illness. Unless of course someone was prepared to lie or mislead on insurance application...but I am not accusing anyone of that…heaven forbid. Besides – it never happened because Mr. Cadman is reported to have thrown Mr. Harper’s operatives out of his office at the suggestion of such a scam.

Speaking of misleading scams, how gullible do you Cons think we Canadians are? We are being asked to accept that there was no offer of a $1m insurance policy to Mr. Cadman in exchange for his vote, even when the allegations are confirmed by two primary sources, Mr. Cadman’s wife and his daughter. They have nothing to gain by being misleading on these issues. In fact, Mrs. Cadman may have something to lose. She will likely have to face some concerns and reservations by the CPC as to her continuation as a candidate in light of her comments and her confirmation of these alleged events.

Instead, we are being asked to believe Mr. Harper’s version of events. He says that so far as he knew, the “financial offer” his operatives were making to Mr. Cadman was an offer to pick up his election costs. That presumes Mr. Cadman's candidacy in the election that would result from his support of the Cons in the pending non-confidence vote. That makes no more and no less sense than the possibility of a $1m insurance policy offer allegation. Perhaps both offers were made. Who knows but that does not matter in the larger scheme of things going on here.

The facts about Mr. Cadman' health were well known to all of Canada at the time of these incidences and allegations. And the facts were that, Mr. Cadman was in the final stages of his life at the time the non-confidence vote was being initiated by the Cons. That vote, given Mr. Cadman’s support, the Cons would be able to defeat the Martin government and trigger an election which Mr. Harper desperately wanted. The political stakes were high for the Harper Cons at the time the operatives were allegedly making certain “financial offers” to Mr. Cadman in exchange for his vote.

The allegations that are being made, if they are proven to be influence pedaling, will result in the potential for some high stakes and dire consequences for individuals involved. It will also have dire consequences about the respectability, the credibility and the suitability of Mr. Harper and his party to be worthy of the consent of the citizens of Canada to govern.

The stories the Cons are trying to spin about this is incredible and insulting. They are looking more and more like a cross between the Keystone Kops and Rasputin with all the efforts at obfuscation and the mockery and mocking defenses. They are now backpedaling on earlier positions in the face of the new facts that are coming out. The new facts are becoming a growing litany that are already well beyond the Cons traditional and trademark damage control and issues management techniques.

None of your points hold water adam. It is time to come clean boys. You should immediately implore your leader to call a judicial inquiry into this embarrassing and debasing Con-induced mess. Do it out of decency, for the good of the country and out of respect for the Office of the Prime Minister...if nothing else.

The Con-Cadman Affair Goes to the Character of the Conservative Party

I am up to my ears in the Alberta election BUT one can’t help but wonder at the goings on around the Con-Cadman Affair. Next week I will have more time to get into it but in the meantime check out this post from DustMyBrooom – it will make you “bristle.”

Emporer Harper and his minions have some 'splaining to do...perhaps to the RCMP?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

When You Woke Up This Morning Alberta - What Was On Your Mind?

Great Debate is a Week Old - Do You Remember Anything That Was Said?
It is one week since the Leader’s Debate. Does anyone have a strong memory of anything that was said by any of the leaders? Waht was the "take-away" message for you from the debate? Did it make a difference in the minds of Alberta voters and will impact the end results? Nope and Nope!

Well here are some of the issues I think we Albertans ought to be insisting our government start attending to and getting in front of immediately after this election.

Another Poll Shows the Political Sweet Spot in Alberta is the Environment:
Another poll from Leger for CanWest covered in the Herald and Journal for the past two days shows Albertans are way ahead of the politicians about concerns over the consequences of overheated oil sands development. They are calling for a greater pubic policy commitment and an active government response to GHG controls. Our oil sands survey showed the same results last November. NDs and Libs are on the case but with no credibility of being able to deliver. The issue seems to be a blind spot for the PCs…we better get up to speed on this issue and into the game if we want to continue to have the respect and confidence of the Alberta voter.

Stats Can Says Alberta Energy Investment is Bigger that Manufacturing Investment in ALL of Canada!
Oil sands investment in 2004 was $6.3B and zoomed to $16Bin 2007 and a 23% surge expected this year. Total investment in Alberta for 2008 is pegged at $83.8B, way ahead of Quebec at $60B and closing in on Ontario at $106.B. In fact Alberta is likely to catch Ontario in 2009 if current trends continue. Stats Can says “…in one more year at current rates of growth the oilsands will be bigger than everything: Utilities, transportation and conventional oil and gas.” Is Alberta ready to handle this rate of growth and can our political leadership get out in front of this and deal with the consequences? The environment and the economy are not a zero-sum game - they are the same game. And yes Ed Stelmach - you are right - the environment has to trump the economy and leadership trumps issues.

NAFTA and the Next American President:
Every viable candidate for the next US President is anti-NAFTA because they are either protectionist Democrats or a fear mongering Republican as they fall into recession. The environmental standards in a Democratic House, Senate and White House will compel Alberta to get smarter, greener and more strategic in diversifying our energy upgrading and other markets to reduce US dependency. Alberta needs to get in front of the NAFTA renegotiation – if it happens, the eco-integrity and standards issues and enhancing our capacity to maximize the long term value added benefits of our special position as a reliable, stable assured energy supplier.

Change, Change, Change – Fine, I Get it BUT Will it Happen?
I want political leadership with courage and wisdom and the personal capacity to think things through quickly and comprehensively and then to have the wit and wisdom to execute any plan that emerges effectively and efficiently. Albertans know there are sacrifices to be made to change the consciousness to a more holistic and integrated approach that modern governance demands in a globalized and interdependent world-wide reality. We Albertan are already making the wrong kind of “sacrifices” because of the poor planning and a passive policy culture of the past 7-8 years before the PC Party forced a leadership change.

Apathy is Boring - AND Dangerous!
Time to get focused Alberta and to figure out why you are voting, what you are voting for and then who is the closest to you concerns. The world is run by those who show up and Alberta is no different. Don’t vote – Don’t bitch. Get out and vote and not only can you bitch but you can also stay engaged as a duty of citizenship to get the changes you want. The option to stay passive as the proverbial frog in the boiling water and you only get to self-justify the obvious dire consequences but they will be as much your fault as much as anybody elses.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hancock Supports a Health and Wellness Foundation for Albertans

One of the ways to measure the level of engagement in an election campaign is the number of organizations that put out party position questionnaires and candidate surveys and how groups co-ordinate their efforts and use the results.

One group I have been following is Health Vision 2020. They are a coalition of 15 prominent health organizations in Alberta. Their mission is to get political support for the creation of a dedicated health promotion foundation that has as its goal to have Albertans as the healthiest people in Canada by 2020. This is the kind of transformational thinking that has been lacking in this campaign from the main line parties. Nice to see it coming from engaged groups of citizens in this election.

The potential for this idea is that we can have improved quality of life outcomes. It will enhance our economy and reduce further demands on the healthcare system. The Mazankowski Report, released in 2002, has this wellness foundation idea as Job 1 in its recommendations…and the time to get on it is now.

The aging population in Alberta will make enormous demands on the healthcare system going forward in time. If we what a sustainable system the secret to that end is not just putting more money into the system but for Albertans to get healthy and to stay healthy and to make that a societal value goal of all Albertans.

So many of the proponents of such ideas only focus on the outcomes but tend to omit to consider what it would cost to achieve the goal and how it could be paid for. Health Vision 2020 is not like most groups in this regard. They propose the double benefit of a modest tax increase on tobacco and alcohol to offset the foundations costs and perhaps reduce the consumption of these products too.

A poll done in 2005 for the Canadian Cancer Society showed 77% of Albertans supported a wellness fund aimed at promoting healthy living in the province. There were 75% of Alberta who would funds for this idea from an increase in tobacco taxes and 69% supported an increased alcohol tax for this project as well.

I see my good friend and Minister of Health and Wellness, Dave Hancock, supports the Health Vision 2020 concept, because he said so in direct reply to another survey that included this idea from the Canadian Mental Health Association. Hancock is a big political champion of a wellness and prevention focus for health care. Well he is not as “big” a champion he once was. I say that because Dave has walked the talk on wellness and disease prevention. I mean that literally as he has dropped over 75 pounds in his own efforts at wellness and prevention.

I applaud the Health Vision 2020 folks and the CMHA for presenting and pushing this transformative idea. Hey Dave, tell Premier Stelmach this idea would be great candidate for Bill #1 after this election.

Leger Poll Results are Reassuring but Not Conclusive of the Final Election Outcome

The CanWest poll published in the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald today has some interesting and some unsettling results. The Alberta election is clearly a two horse race, or more accurately a PC horse (40%) and a half a Liberal horse at (18%) support.

There is no clear ballot question this election and we see there is no clear attitudinal consistency for voters in the election either. I say this because 45% say the PCs should be re-elected and 45% want a change in government. Even more (54%) in Calgary want a change in government but that may be holdover angst from the PC leadership outcome that shocked and unnerved them.

The reality is those who want a change of government have not seen a viable alternative in the other parties. The other reality is the undecided at 27% this late into the election. With no burning issue or no viable alternative to the PCs and about half of them having no inking of which party or leader they are even leaning towards, it is likely the undecided Albertans will stay home.

If the PCs become complacent over getting out the vote or some supporters may want to stay home to send a message to the party, as expected in Calgary, then the overall turnout is going to be abysmally low. That means there are going to be more close races in many places in urban Alberta. The Wildrose Alliance supporters will show up but they don’t have that many candidates running. Will the WAP supporters show for a second choice PC or just stay home? I doubt it.

The other question is how much can we rely on these polls these days. Strategic Counsel did one on the Alberta election in mid January for the Globe and Mail. They had the PCs at 58%, much higher than today. The Liberals at 19% and the NDP were at 9%, same as they are today.

The Strategic Counsel poll had a much stronger likelihood of vote switching at 41% agreeing they might change their opinions on Election Day whereas only 25% in the Leger poll are likely to switch support on Election Day. The Strategic Counsel poll noted PCs were the second choice for 29% of Liberals. A full 32% of PC had the Liberals as their second choice so there is fluidity there too.

I think 40% PC support this close to Election Day is a good sign for the PC Party. Not because it is high. It isn’t. But it should be a sobering reality that spurs on the PC volunteers to get on the phones and get out their vote. The Liberals will be disheartened with this result because it underscores that there time has not come – even with a strong desire for a change of government.

My sense is this poll is not conclusive of anything and that is not a challenge to the instrument design or anything else. I think each party has a core support that will show but there is a sense that the PC support is more “normative” than heartfelt beyond the hard core group. I think many people will make up their minds to vote or not this weekend and if they show up many of them will hold off a final binding vote decision up to the time they pick up the pencil in the voting booth.

As a PC supporter I am reassured by the Leger poll results but I am not confident enough yet to be taking any bets on the final outcome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The "Pundits Corner" Misses the Mark on How to Measure "Excitement" in Elections These Days.

The Calgary Herald has two political scientists “blogging” for them in this election to give “analysis of what is really going on.” They are worth a read but are very conventional in their perspectives...perhaps because they are academics after all…and one has to take with a grain of salt that they really know what is going on. In this election things are so volatile and variable that nobody knows what is “really going on.”

An example of the conventional, dare I say passé, point of view is that of U of Lethbridge Political Scientist, Peter McCormick and his recent rendering. His Five Ways to Measure Campaign Excitement are quintessentially quotidian and so out of date. Not wrong per se but so yesterday, obvious and mostly misleading.
I say misleading because “excitement” is not the test. Citizen engagement and voter turn out are the real tests of any election campaign's effectiveness. Excitement is a media construct not anything that is important to a voter or a requirement of an election. The world is run by those how show up and voters who show up run the world. Engagement

There is a whole new world of election information and citizen engagement that the Internet has wrought that Professor McCormick misses. I don’t know the gentleman but presume, as an academic, he is likely not an active partisan either. So he does not likely know the “excitement measures” and volunteer engagement that is internal to any election campaign either. But I could be wrong.

There is so much going on beyond the Professor’s tests of “coffee shop” chatter, the “sign wars,” paid advertising levels, opinion polls and voting day turn out. Not that they are not "measurements" but they are unreliable and increasingly irrelevant in the brave new (and morphing) world of elections.

Coffee shops are hardly representative samples of public opinion – especially in the go-go economy of Alberta…who has time to take extended coffee breaks to talk politics these days? Sign wars are becoming passé as well for three reasons, fewer people have party allegiances, fewer have time to volunteer and more are seeing them as pollution - visual and otherwise.

There is so much opportunity for earned media in an election that to resort to paid advertising to get your message out is the price you have to pay for being boring. Opinion polls and focus groups are a joke but MSM loves them for reasons of simplicity. “Opinion” polls are hardly representative of anything of substance anymore. This is because most people refuse to participate and those who do are as likely to lie to the pollsters as they are to tell the truth. I saw a great bumper sticker years ago. It said “Save Democracy – Lie to a Pollster.” Sound advice in some circles.

Voting day turn out is an accurate measurement of citizen engagement and I have no quibble with that but the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts of the candidates has a huge impact on turnout totals. That leads me to other real “excitement” measures internal to campaigns. The participation rate of campaign volunteers, the number of mail drops that get done the number of doors knocked, the number of phone calls made by volunteers – not professional services and ultimately – the amount of money raised are the real reliable measures of excitement and engagement in an election.

Then you have the phenomenon of the internet and the impact of Influentials as truer tests of excitement/engagement. Actual Bloggers who are citizen journalists and columnists who have a wide active readership and the amount of posts they do, ther new and returning and traffic requency plus the comment activity are all reliable measurement of excitement for a very a active and growing group of citizens. You Tube and Facebook activity is another modern measurement of political excitement/engagement any conventional observer would miss. Website traffic, readership, content updates and the number of active links are the new “coffee shop” for busy people - and a better measure of actual excitement and engagement.

The number of interest group surveys promulgated and targeted issues related campaign efforts directed at political parties and individual candidates are a better measure of citizen interest and engagement. The complexity of the issues being discussed in a campaign (and there are lots of complex issues these days) that are not being dumbed down by leaders and candidates is a more sophisticated measure of campaign effectiveness in their out reach to voters.

Readers of this Blog often hear me say campaign matter…and they do. What also matters is the new means and models of election campaigning that we have now emerged to reach voters and to be reached by voters. This technology had made it possible to have a dialogue and a virtual conversation between candidate and citizen – one-on-one actually for those candidates who blog too. The filter and traditional political agenda setting of the MSM is no longer dominant and new influential voices, like real bloggers, are publishing a wider range of input and opinion.

Old style politics are still around as are old style election techniques and commentary, but they are no longer mainstream. They are definitely not a measure of what is really going on in politics and elections these days either.

Pembina Institute Releases the Candidate Survey Findings.

The Pembina Institute has been busy focused on oil sands development issues. They released the results of the candidate survey they did on some development issues on the oilsands. They got great participation – 192 individual responses that covered the gamut of political parties too…not shabby at all.

They surveyed issues on pace of development, GHG management, reclamation and the role of government. The interesting thing is to compare the candidate responses and see how much they align with the earlier poll results of Albertans done in 2007. Then 74% agreed the government should manage the rate of growth to better serve the long term needs of Albertans. Then 71% supported suspending oil sands approvals until infrastructure and environmental management issues could be addressed in the Wood Buffalo region.

This is what the Mayor and Council of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo has been saying. They have even intervened in EUB hearing to make that point. The EUB deferred to the government on those points in recent approval decisions even though they had jurisdiction to dictate some appropriate conditions.

The issue of developing the oil sands as fast as possible, the Greens are way out in front on the issues and the Wildrose Alliance are way behind on the issues. That should not be a surprise. However the big three parties are all very close to each other, all disagreeing in the 75-85% range. There should be little difficulty getting a consensus in the next sitting of the Legislature provided the government poses the questions appropriately.

The question needs to be posed as a policy initiative too because in 2007 67% of Albertans disagreed with developing the oil sands as fast as possible. Maybe the politicians are up to speed on the public sentiment on the pace of development issue. Now does the leadership have the courage to get in front of that parade?

On the idea of government suspending new project approvals until infrastructure and environmental management issues are addressed there is a significant difference between the parties. In 2007 71% of Albertans agreed with a suspension of project approvals to let us catch our breath and catch up to the demands we are already facing. The Libs, Greens and NDP candidates were all stronger in agreeing with this approach than the public. About half of the PC and Alliance candidates were aligned with the public’s agreement and 30- 40% were totally off side with public sentiment on this issue.

Reclamation is a big issue for the energy companies and one they ignore at their peril. The issue is should project approvals only be granted IF companies can demonstrate now that they can restore mined areas back to the way they were. In 2007 88% of Albertans agreed with this condition of project approval. The Libs, Greens and Dipper candidates wee bunched together at about 80% agreeing. Ironically the Lib and Dippers were slightly strong on this than the Green candidates. There were about 70% of the PCs and Wild-Alliance candidates agreeing. Ironically again the Wild-Alliance candidates were slightly ahead of the PCs on this issue and in both instances off side with the party platform and the positions of their leaders.

As to what should drive the pace of oil sands development about 60% of the Wild-Alliance and 15% of the PCs said the marketplace should be the control factor. Government management was preferred by 75% of PC candidates and virtually 100% of the Greens, Dippers and Libs. The public position was 74% wanting government management. PCs are aligned, the Wild Alliance is behind the issue and the other parties are ahead of public sentiment.

On the hard cap versus intensity standards of GHG emissions, 70% of Albertans wanted hard caps. Libs and Dippers are 99% to 95% in favour and the Greens are about 90% in favour. There are only 25% of PCs who what hard caps and that is even less than the Wild-Alliance candidates. Again the right is off side with public sentiment.

As a PC member I can say our policy position has to change for political reasons and if we are to exercise the proper roles and responsibilities needed to better serve the public interest. I see evidence of that change coming about in the recent changes from Ed Stelmach…see my earlier posting on the Premier’s evolution on a partial moratorium request to government from CEMA. I hope the Premier’s office reads these results and the Cambridge Strategies oil sands survey results too – and takes them to heart.

Stelmach Says Environment Trumps Economy - It is About Time.

You can’t blame Albertans for being confused when you read the reporting on Ed Stelmach’s alleged response(s) to the CEMA letter calling for a partial moratorium on further oil sands leases so conservation issues can be addressed.

I think the Edmonton Journal front page headline repeats Stelmach from over a year ago saying “No Brakes on Oil Sands” and the Globe and Mail has Stelmach saying “Environment Trumps Economy.” I think both stories are accurate but you have to wonder at the framing of the issue and why the PC policy position is not clearer and more consistent. It can change over time and I applaud that it does. But whoda thunk Ed Stelmach was so post-modern! Well, me for one because I know a bit about the man. I know his sense of ecological stewardship and the respect he has for the free enterprise system. However the role of government is to ensure and enhance both aspects of our lives and for the greater common good, not just the accumulation of private wealth.

I have to spend some time reflecting on how to square this circle. The best I can do so far is to express my own feelings and beliefs. The environment has to trump the economy –every time. And the economy has to serve the interests of society –every time and not the other way around as it has been in Alberta as of late.

Government has a duty to regulate and protect the environment. And there are economic consequences in the government's job in exercising that stewardship responsibility. Progress is measured by building on strengths and avoiding or mitigating weaknesses. On the weakness side I want a government that first avoids and, if necessary, fixed screw ups and one that seizes opportunities that present themselves.

On the strength side I want a government who takes responsibility for those things we need to care about as a society, including the natural and social capital deficits we have in Alberta today. I want a government that takes its role of managing our resources seriously and responsibly - including collecting royalty payments owned when due.

Finally I want a government that has a leadership group, like a Cabinet, that can listen, learn and adapt – effectively, quickly and appropriately. That is the real biggie going forward. We need to enhance our ecological integrity in this province. We need to enhance our social cohesion and capacity show caring and compassion for our vulnerable citizens form children, to seniors to the disabled. We need to vastly improve our decision making procedures and capacity.

So Ed, Kevin, Brian, Paul and George, that is what I want my next government to be capable of. The rest is detail that I will trust you, as my Premier, if you are in power after Monday, to work out in a way that is open, transparent and accountable. No pressure!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Partial Oil Sands Moratorium Has Industry and ENGO Support!

The proposal for a partial moratorium on further oil sands development to lands can be freed up for conservation as reported in the Globe and Mail today is huge for the future of Alberta.

The conservation initiative sponsored by some members of the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) shows enlightened leadership from some key players the energy industry corporate sector, some thought leaders in the environmental movement, aboriginal groups in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

CEMA has been around for awhile and a bit lethargic on dealing with issues but this initiative is a blockbuster positive move. The industry names are the Who’s Who in the Alberta energy sector and they are calling for a slowdown of new surface and subsurface rights in the Athabasca region of oil sands development. CNRL and EnCana don’t agree with the slowdown idea, no surprise. However strong advocates of corporate social responsibility like Nexen and OPTI Canada are also opposed and that is a surprise. Syncrude abstained and UTS Energy is in favour of the moratorium concept but has concerns of conservation site impacts where they adjoin project sites.

The lack of reclamation in oil sands to date and the harsh challenging realities of tailing ponds and actually achieving the needed reclamation standards expected on open pit mines especially is a real concern. One of the mitigation means is to provide off sets in other areas to compensate for the habitat, forest and biodiversity damage inherent in open pit oil sands development. This CEMA initiative is a profoundly important integrated step in that direction. Having the support of the various diverse interests and sometimes completing philosophical approaches is a major move in the right direction.

Ed Stelmach is a big proponent of the pending Land Use Framework. We at Cambridge Strategies know from our Oil Sands Survey results that land use is an emerging issue. Habitat, GHG, water and reclamation are the urgent and important oil sands issues for Albertans. Conservation areas that serve those ends using a land use framework as the tool to achieve those ends is the best policy approach going forward.

Thank you CEMA and especially corporations and ENGOs like Petro-Canada, Suncor Inc., Shell Canada, Imperial Oil, Devon Canada and ConocoPhillips and the Pembina Institute who are all on side. Congratulations on a great start to a new consciousness about responsible and sustainable oil sands development.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Debate Uncovers Personal Animosities Amongst the Alberta Political Leaders.

The Debate last week had some interesting subplots. Those revolved around the personal skirmishes between the leaders. It gives a sense of the personal positioning, fears and animosity that may exist between the various party leaders in this campaign.

The order of importance and context of these personal trysts, that I perceived, are as follows:

#1 Mason vs. Taft: Mason has to ensure his base does not go strategic on him and vote Liberal to try and defeat Tories…like what happened in Edmonton in 2004. A vote for Mason is not a Tory victory vote in 2008 but Mason is saying the Alberta Liberals are pretty much the same as the PCs…both are in the pocket of big money. Vote NDP to keep them both honest.

#2 Hinman vs. Stelmach: Hinman has to show some of his “true conservative” credentials and take Stelmach on over his “overspending” and “progressive” values. Hinman gets to ignore the needed increased spending is due to lack of meeting the needed infrastructure and maintenance spending of past years under the Klein regime. Hinman has to give the far right a reason to believe in him and that is best done by showing that the PCs have lost their way. He has gone too far claiming the Stelmach PCs are unprincipled people who “tear up contracts” with oil sands companies (not true at all but good spin) and therefore the PCs not worth reconsidering. Reality check…Suncor has already voluntarily renegotiated its royalty deal and Syncrude is on its way to do the same thing. NO contracts are being torn up and Hinman knows it. He is taking a pass on integrity with this misrepresentation crap…and he knows that too.

#3 Taft vs. Stelmach: This is Taft bemoaning the past of PC governance to the point his is actually running against Ralph not Ed. For example he frames 37 years of the same PC government is long enough and that is reason enough to change government. He discounts the fact that voters decide who they wish to govern them. He skates over the fact that elections are a chance to change governments every 4 years or so and that the various PC governments have been responsive and nimble enough to change with the times. Taft has to beat Ed on a personal level if his is to win this election and based on the changes in the last 14 months, Taft can’t count on Ed gaffing his way out of government. Taft is hoping Calgary is in the process redefining its Red Mile to be a profound Liberal Red Mine with lots of seat shifts. Ed is banking on Redmonton returning to the PCs and becoming EDmonton. Cute metaphors but is there any truth in them? We will know in a week.

#4 Mason vs. Taft and Stelmach: As variations on the same theme, distinctions without a difference. He claims both are in the pockets of big business and they don’t have the best interests of his “regular Albertans” in their he obviously does. Nick Taylor, a former Alberta Liberal leader and federal Senator once described his successor Liberal leader, Laurence Decore, as “Getty with glasses.” Mason says the difference between Stelmach and Taft is indistinguishable at their core that he would net even made that distinction between how they would govern.…especially their too cozy relationship with big business in Alberta. Not very accurate on the evidence…but good positioning for Mason to speak to his base who need to believe in him to stay with him.
If all politics are local, are all leadership arguments and differences of opinion ultimately personal?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dave Hancock's Blog Post on the Environment

Why do I support Dave Hancock? Read this blog post from his campaign website for just one of the reasons.

This post shows the difference between a PROGRESSIVE Conservative and the just plain markets will solve everything type Conservatives that Paul Hinman promotes!

The Green's George Read Circumvents the MSM and Gets His Message Across.

Now is the time for all Albertans to prove their contrarian spirit and take a few minutes and give a listen to George Read of the Alberta Greens. Cut out of the debate by the supercilious determination of the Alberta television networks George is the Rodney Dangerfield of Alberta politics. Read is a maverick with a cause whereas Hinman is a rebel without one. Hat tip to Archie McLean of the Edmonton Journal for the link.

Visit his YouTube response to the debate questions. For those in my generation, who don’t know what YouTube is, let me explain. It is the nextGen’s interactive alternative viewing source to replace the MSM's "out-casting" model of network television. If you don’t know what nextGen means Wiki it…if you can’t figure out either of these concepts then rapidly retreat into the stupefying confining boxes of Dave Rutherford or Charles Adler.

Read’s rough cut video shows that he is knowledge, informed, authentic and genuine. No slick Vancouver or Toronto ad agency puffery here…a real deal kinda guy with commentary that is refreshingly progressive.

Alberta Debate Results: #1 Stelmach, #2 Don't Know, #3 Taft

The impact of the Alberta election debate is the subject of a CanWest poll published today. My blog post for the CBC YouCast site said the debate changed nothing for the undecided voter but the leaders all reaffirmed and reassured their bases. The poll results confirm this.

Pundits and MSM see political debates as contests between party leaders so, by definition, there has to be a winner and a loser. When there isn’t a clear result the chattering class suffer from a kind of political cognitive dissonance because can’t resolve the values conflict that demands a winner and a loser. I say let them suffer.

Looking at the poll results, ¾ of viewers did not change their minds and 23% are still undecided with about 10 days to go. The numbers say Stelmach “won” for 30.1% of the respondents and 34.6% say they are voting for him. Taft is perceived to have “won” by 23.3% and 23.1% are voting for him. This is showing the core vote for each party is pleased with their guy’s performance – nothing more can be read into this poll result. The NDP and WAP results are inconsequential but there are some interesting strategic implications around them for the two main parties.

The WAP’s Hinman confirmed his fiscal fundamentalist right-wing agenda. His challenge was to reassure the newly merged WAP members that they are a political force and not be discouraged with the President’s resignation and the poor showing on candidate recruitment. Hinman has to sustain his 70K popular vote from the 2004 election and get re-elect to succeed.

The NDP has to reassure core supporters not to vote Liberal for strategic purposes to defeat the PCs. He has done that by taking on both Stelmach and Taft. He has positioned Taft as pretty much a PCer in a red sweater. His core is reassured that an NDP vote is not a waste and they should return to the role of keeping both the Libs and the PC honest. He has to at least retain seats and sustain popular vote levels to succeed.

Taft has performed well this election campaign but the debate is where he will have peaked and is now plateaued. He will sustain this support level to and through Election Day. That potentially means more seats but not government. With no clear ballot question and a considerable but seemingly disengaged undecided segment, the big momentum change the Libs need to form government is not happening. His attempt to position Stelmach as same old…same old has not gelled because Stelmach has proven to be an agent of significant change in the past 14 months.

As for Stelmach, he has kept his true Progressive Conservative party core. With Hinman’s debate performance, the far right voters that abandoned Klein in 2004, are not coming back. That is a god thing because it clearly puts to bed that Stelmach is just a continuation of the past government. Stelmach has recognized that Albertans what change and elections are always about change and choices. The results coming out of this debate and the campaign so far shows Albertans want change but they are coming to realize Ed Stelmach is the kind a prudent, thoughtful and careful change agent we need in these time of turmoil.

It looks like Albertans are prepared to give him a real shot as a change agent and to give him more time to get the needed changes done right, not just rapidly. This time he will have his own team and his own mandate. He will also face a much higher expectation level for deliver on his promises and to stay true to his stated values than any other Premier of Alberta in history.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Thoughts and Theories on the Alberta Leader's Debate

For my take on the Election 2008 Debate (and Daveberta’s too) go to the site and click on Youcast to get the skinny. Davebeta and I are taping a piece for CBC TV tomorrow morning too. Not sure when it will air but I will let you know.

Is George Read What Albertans Are Looking For in Their Next Leader?

Have the personal qualities and capabilities Albertans want to see in their political leaders changed in 5 years? When political leadership was not an issue in Alberta, way back in May 2003, Cambridge Strategies did a survey of the preference drivers of Albertans on the “next leader.”

We asked Albertans about their preferences in the following areas:

Preparation – what kind of experience should he/she have?
Vision – where did we want them to focus Alberta’s future?
Education – how much education was needed to do the job?
Personal Qualities – which kind of character qualities were preferred?
Communications Skills – What communications skills and approach was preferred?
Change Agent – what approach to change should the next leader undertake?

We found some attributes to be positive as strengths to build on. Others were negatives that candidates should avoid or fix if they fit the personal profile of any Alberta leadership aspirant.

So here is what Albertans said then was the most desirable/optimal kind of leader. They must have life and business experience with a minimum of a university degree. They should be advancing new ideas and be able to bring clarity to complex issues. They had to exhibit integrity and honesty or be experienced and knowledgeable. Their vision for Alberta has to be expansive and focused on Alberta future in a world view, or at the very least, Alberta’s role in Canada.

Albertans were looking for a fresh approach to leadership in those days. Not much has changed I would say. The optimistic Albertan wanted more of Alberta’s potential to be realized. They were keen to have a leader who advanced new ideas and supported them but not one who was seen as content to follow the lead of others.

The pessimistic Albertans want the focus on solving our problems first. They worried about Alberta’s place in Canada, they wanted someone with knowledge and experience and good a listening and understanding issues. But who would also put out new ideas and champion causes.

The least optimal/negative attributes for leadership in Alberta was a leader who focused on Alberta, had only a high school education, is “media savvy” and is assertive and self confident. Looks like Ralph Klein would not win if the voter decisions were based solely on these negative perceptions of leadership. Elections have a life of their own and while PC supporter stayed home and other left for the Alliance, Ralph won again in Novemver 2004, but he dropped quite a few seats that election and the party sent him off to retirement in April of 2006.

A word of caution to today’s Alberta Liberal leader, Dr. Taft, an academic background was a big negative for leadership. It could be worse Kevin; the other preparation negative was a legal background. Good thing you didn’t teach law while at the University.

One overlooked leader who fits this set of leadership attributes bill pretty well today is George Read of the Albert Green Party. For education; he has a PoliSci degree, Preparation; business experience working in the furniture manufacturing business and as a tree planter as a summer job while going to school so he knows something about the forestry industry. As for Alberta role in Canada, well he was the National Campaign Manager for the federal Greens in the 2005-06 federal election. As for championing new ideas, how about his work with the Environmentally Responsible Livestock Operators and the Western Sky Land Trust for innovations.

All in all not a bad fit. Too bad he is not part of the debate tonight so Albertans could look him in the eye and judge for themselves his personal qualities of honesty and integrity. we could see for ourselves just how he exercises his communications skills and works under pressure. But that opportunity will not be available to Albertans in this debate tonight and that is a Pity!

Stelmach Responds to the Misleading Attack Ads...Good For Him!

I applaud the more aggressive TV campaign ads from the Stelmach team. If you don’t define yourself in politics others will do it for you. The union consortium that is sponsoring the attack ads on Stelmach is trying to tie into the Klein admission that he did not have a plan. Nothing could be further from the truth. Stelmach has done more forward thinking planning and policy implementation in a year than was done in the prior 7 years altogether. Ed is not Ralph, and while some may lament that, I don’t. Ralph was great for Alberta in his time but that time has passed.

Getting the math right around debt and deficit was not easy but it was not nearly as difficult as the much larger and more significant governance and policy challenges that Alberta has to grapple with today. We need leadership that is more reflective, thoughtful, compassionate, adaptive and integrated. Toughness, decisiveness and discipline are still important qualities today too but only in the context of a practical long view integrated planning consciousness. These are the realities of the next Premier of the province.

I have worked on various projects where Stelmach was a key Minister. I know him to be careful but also creative, decisive and forward thinking. As Minister of both Infrastructure and Transportation he brought the kind of capacity to the department and that resulted in his recent introduction of the 20 Capital Plan for Alberta. The new royalty structure will provide certainty for the Alberta energy industry for a decade at a time when the issues are more complex and more critical and uncertain than ever before. To get the Edmonton Capital Region Plan moving and to institute an Oil Sands Strategic Planning and Management group in government are more examples of long range, big impact and strategic planning decisions that are hallmarks of Stelmach’s leadership.

The Stelmach settlement of the teachers' unfunded pension liability was an issue that was ignored for years. He dealt with quickly and conclusively. He also let the ATA and the various school boards ultimately decide if they wanted the deal. To me this is showing he is not just a prescriptive top down dictatorial leader. If a better idea came forth from the ATA locals and school boards, I am sure he would have changed things to improve the package.

The Stelmach story about how he cares, how he sees Alberta’s natural, human and public resources being used for the common good needs to be told loudly and clearly. The Stelmach view of the role of responsibility of accountable government needs to be told loudly and clearly too. There have been a few hiccups under Stelmach’s watch but nothing that can’t be fixed effectively and quickly. There is a much broader integrated policy agenda that must be addressed for the next Alberta. That expanded integrated policy agenda must include our environmental responsibilities and social well challenges have to be given at least equal prominence as our economic wellbeing.

The Progressive and Conservative model of governance is the best approach to deal with this broader more integrated long view sustainable policy agenda for the next Alberta. Ed Stelmach’s leadership of the province will change the context of what progressive conservative governance will become. He will be more socially progressive and compassionate about the human capital potential for all Albertans. He will put conservation back on the agenda in terms of Alberta’s natural capital stewardship and development of infrastructure and other physical capital demands. He will ensure that future generations of Albertans interests and needs are considered as he moves to conserve more of our one-time natural resource revenues as well.

The other personal quality I admire in Ed Stelmach is his proven capacity to learn, adapt and to embrace new ideas and approaches to solve problems. The most important challenge facing the next Alberta is going to be our individual and collective ability to learn and adapt quickly, effectively and appropriately. We all have to be able to anticipate and respond to the challenges and changes to the new normal of the next Alberta. It trust Ed Stelmach to show us the way and to be a model of how we undertake the greater opportunities and responsibilities of being Albertan moving forward.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Poll Shows Taft's Election in Edmonton Riverview is No Shoe-In

Well we pundits and the mainstream media may think this election campaign is boring but recent poll results in Edmonton Riverview shows that the citizens there don’t think it is boring. A full 93% of the citizens of Edmonton Riverview say they intend to vote in the election. We know fewer will show up but that expression of voter intent is pretty good everything considered.

Here are the startling results of the 1037 people in the Edmonton Riverview constituency who were polled on Feb18-19. This is the home turf of the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, Dr. Kevin Taft. This random poll sample size has a margin of error +/- 3% 19 times out of 20.

“If you were to vote today, which of the following parties would you vote for?”

Liberal 35%
Progressive Conservative 28%
NDP 7%
Green 5%
Wildrose Alliance 5%
Undecided 19%

Last election Dr. Taft garnered 65.48% of the vote and the PC candidate took 22.77%.

“Which of the following issues will be most important in helping you decide your vote?”

Health Care 41%
Environment 26%
Crime and Justice 18%
Affordable Housing 15%

Campaigns matter and I have said all along that this election is too close to call, especially given how volatile the electorate is this time. Looking at these results Dr. Taft may have to spend much more time in his constituency than he originally planned.

The undecided vote is high for half way through a campaign and if they show up anything can happen. The Greens and the WAP are hot on the heels of the NDP too. I wonder if there is a foot race for third place in the province this time too.

If the Alberta voters want change and if Edmonton Riverview is any indication, change may come in many forms. It will be interesting to see the range and variety of changes that may come from this election.

I said weeks ago the only safe seat in Alberta this time is Ed Stelmach’s. Everyone else will have to earn victory the hard way – by working for it on the phone, at the doors and through the internet. This election is far from over – and as Edmonton Riverview is telling us, it is not boring either.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Is Ralph Klein Calling for an Unrestricted North American Continental Energy Strategy - in the Middle of an Election?

The Fraser Institute has just released a report on a North American continental energy strategy, authoured in part by former Premier Ralph Klein.

It calls for a “long-term continental strategic framework which would support further integration of North American energy markets.” Seek a potential for “convergence of energy commodity markets” that would result in lower consumer prices and easier switching between energy commodities. Klein and Co. argue that more convergence of the North American energy market would be a “signal to international investors” that we are already “…a stable policy environment with less risk than competing world regions….” Policy certainty in the energy sector is said to be a key for project investors who have to plan out in terms of decades.

They see the framework for going forward is NAFTA and the report acknowledges this. However every US Presidential candidate still in the race form both parties are pretty protectionist and some are seemingly downright hostile to NAFTA, including Obama. The Fraser Institute paper says it will “…offer policy recommendations that could facilitate change to the Agreement (NAFTA) in a manner that is compatible with the objectives of a continental energy strategy.”

This language makes me nervous as a Canadian and an Albertan - and a free trader. This report at first blush is a manifesto to use the Security and Prosperity Partnership of March 2005 as a vehicle to sell out our raw bitumen to the US markets and not to require the upgrading benefits to come to Albertans.

Here is a paraphrase of a very interesting and somewhat disturbing quote from the report:

"Since the signing of NAFTA in December 1992, the North American energy sector has developed, in general, under the assumption of open and free markets in the three countries, and the energy sector has been shaped by the existing regulatory framework with respect to intra-continental trade, investment, and manufacturing. As the times have changed, the need for new legislation concerning North America's energy framework has increased. NAFTA's open-ended position on the the regulatory frameworks affecting energy, which essentially allows each country to do what it will, leaves much to be desired with respect to increasing the integration of North American energy policy, markets and transportation systems. [emphasis added] For example, North America needs an implementation plan for streamlining regulations pertaining to cross-boarder energy flows. Also, energy policies in Mexico, Canada and the United States must be reviewed in relation to the changes being made in environmental policy and in other related policies, and the three countries need ot strive for cohesive approaches to market, pricing, and environmental issuses."

I have to finish reading this Fraser Institute Report and I hope I have cause for more optimism for Alberta and Canada’s independent energy resource future than what I have digested so far. I can't understand what Canada, and ALberta, should be in a mad dash to an unrestricted integration of North American based energy markets with a limited role of government to protect the interests of Albertans, the owners of the resources.

I think we need to assure the Americans of continental energy supply but on terms and conditions and at a pace of development Alberta can absorb. A secure continental energy supply makes sense but not on an exclusive access basis to the oil sands. We need to attract more foreign investment and markest for synthetic crude outside of North America. And the upgrading has to happen in Alberta.

The value added aspects of oil sands development have to benefit future generations. It is not progress for Alberta and Canada to continue to be drawers of water, hewers of wood and now also add in "merely miners of bitumen." So far this report makes me nervous but I have not read it all yet. I think every Albertan better study and understand what is being proposed here.

Special Interest Groups Are Busy About "Surveying" the Candidates.

The special interest groups surveys are coming in hot and heavy to the candidates in the past few days. These are techniques used to inform candidates of the issues of interest to various special interests and to illicit responses form candidates.

The campaign war rooms in the past have often tightly controlled the messages in such survey responses. The Ed Stelmach war room has not been prescriptive to candidates on what they say and which surveys they may wish to reply to. There are suggestions being made as to responses but PC candidates are free to speak their own minds in survey replies.

The surveys themselves cover a wide range of topics. Some are very good, others are set ups and very biased and others are plain ugly in their attempts to get meaningful candidate responses on issues of “import.” The latter two survey models usually ask leading questions and accept only yes or no answers. If the issues were that simple they would not need leading questions and the answers would be obvious.

Here is a sampling of surveys I have seen and applaud, scratch my head ofver or just plain want to “dis’ them – and for good reason.

The CAANA group is all about commuter air service in Alberta and want to know if candidates support “Open Sky’s Policy” passenger air service in Alberta but the real agenda is passenger air service into the Edmonton Muni Airport. This matter of the Edmonton Muni passenger service is outside the provincial jurisdiction and candidates can try an influence the issue but they can’t decide it. Best to pass on this one…there are more key issues, especially for Edmonton candidates to deal with.

The Citizens Advocating the Use of Sustainable Energy (CAUSE – cute eh?) are a Calgary group who oppose the development of nuclear energy in northern Alberta. Some “context setting” language is in the survey that is prescriptive and the expected response to a complex set of issues is again yes or no. Naïve to say the least but it helps bring the nuclear question to candidate consciousness – if they take the group seriously.

The Gay Calgary and Edmonton Magazine has a survey they have out is unfocused and on everything from privatized healthcare to rent controls and low cost hosing to the Civil Marriage ct and environmental issues. The kicker, they will publish replies in their March edition. The election is March 3, what good will a March publication date do any candidates?

HealthVision 2020 is a group promoting a dedicated funding of a health promotion fund focused on improving the quality of life of Albertans and they provide helpful context behind their questions. The Pembina Institute survey on oil sands development gives rationales for the questions they ask as well. They still all design in yes and no answers but they at least the issues are conceptual and not just totally self-serving for the sponsor's cause.

It will be interesting to see how survey sponsors use the results and if anyone beyond their own circles of friends actually will care about these surveys in the end. Can a special interst group actually create a ballot question for its members using such survey techniques? Or will people just use the survey information as more background in deciding how to vote. That is an interesting research question for some political scientist to study some day. My guess is that such surveys are just white noise in the real world of how voters make choices.

Alberta Greens Nominate More Candidates Than Wildrose Alliance But Are Cut Out of the TV Debate! What a Dumb Move!

Congratulations to George Read and the Alberta Greens for nominating 79 candidates this election. That exceeds significantly the Wildrose Alliance Party 61 candidate nominations. The WAP would have had access to a larger and better oiled political machine, plus, I presume, assiatance from federal Conservatives who are sympathetic to them. Good for the Alberta Greens. Talk about grassroots.


I am on the verge of predicting that the Alberta Greens will be the most successful party this election based on increased popular vote. I see a number of trends happening that benefit the Greens. I will wait for a week or so before I actually stick my neck out on this prediction - but I see a trend forming.

The world is run by those who show up and as a result nobody ever wasted a vote. Only no shows on Election Day are a waste. So the disenchanted and disgruntled Albertan who are not happy with any main line party can have a choice. If they want to show up they can either spoil their ballot – but that does no good because they don’t realy get counted. Or they can park their ballot with the Greens.

Disenchanted supporters of the Tories, Liberals and NDP, who don’t think staying home on Election Day is very effective at sending a message have a choice. Those who are not so ticked off with their party as to abandon ship and switch to another party may decide to park their votes with the Greens as a means to show their own party they are not happy.

Previously disengaged non-partisan citizens, and those who are engaged but undecided, and a big chunk of them are women and youth, can comfortable park ballot or even chose the Greens as a preference.

I think the Green popular vote is about to blossom this election and could be 10 -12% of total votes cast if voters get ticked enough to get actively engaged and not just sit back and be quietly enraged. Will the Alberta Greens elect anyone? Not likely because their resources and support is too thinly spread out to make an concentrated impact at the polls.

I do think there are a few Green candidates to watch on election night. One is Joe Anglin in Lacombe Ponoka who rose to prominence in the EUB spy scandal incidents and was very effective for Alberta farmers in thier plight. The other Green with a chance, I am told, is Edwin Erickson in Drayton Valley Calmar who came in second last time. He has a much more formidable PC candidate this time in Dianne McQueen, the popular Mayor of Drayton Valley. Dianne defeated the incumbent PC candidate in a nomination fight and is a formidible campaigner.


The Alberta Greens have been cut out of the TV Debate this Thursday by the MSM television people. That decision is presumably based on the fact they don’t have any seats. That is a bad and wrong-headed decision. Pam Barrett as NDP leader got to debate in the 1997 when they were shut out of seats. There is precedent.

There is a danger here for the television people due to this desision. Content control of the election campains is no longer absolute perview of televisoin networks and print media. Albertans now have the internet as an alternative interactive information source - and boy are they are using it. The power and reach of the internet strikes at the very heart of traditional institutionalized one-way message control of the MSM.


George Read, the Alberta Green leader, is going to use the internet to respond to all the televised debate questions on YouTube and get the Alberta Green message out that way. Read’s on-line debate answers will be there on-line for the rest of the campaign and beyond. His content will be available long after the MSM televised debate content is gone and forgotten. Anyone who wants to see and hear his comments can do so when, where and how ever they wish, and as often as they wish. His audience will also be able to link, post and redistribute the Read YouTube videos to further expand his reach.

Cutting the Alberta Greens out of the television debate may be one of the biggest blunders the Alberta television networks ever did. Because this decision to cut the Greens is unfair and unjustified, it will drive more and more citizen away from conventional media and on to the Web for political content.

Election Campaigns are changing and so is the media coverage changing because of new media and Web 2.0 techniques. There are now real alternatives to get content and real conversations going about politics and public policy. Too bad our traditional television stations are out of touch with the new realities.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What Question Do You Want to Ask Alberta's Party Leaders in the Debate?

Kim Trynacity of the CBC will be one of the media panellists for the Alberta Election Debates to be televised on all networks this Thursday at 6:30 pm. On the CBC website she asked Albertans to suggest questions she should ask the leaders in the debate. The suggestions started rolling in on the Comments part of her Reporter’s Notebook on the CBC site.

Daveberta, Aaron Braaten and I will be blogging on the debate for the CBC website on Thursday night. I will be doing some commentary for the CBC on the debate and on-line commentary for the CBC on election night as well.

Reading the submitted questions on Kim's Notebook, I as struck by the range, complexity and context of the question suggestions in 2 days show me just how tough the life as a politician can be. We need to attract our best and brightest into public life. We need to quit degrading and debasing all politicians in gratuitous ways…but hold them strictly accountable and insist on performance. I know my cynical readers will be rolling their eyes by now. They will take the same stance towards politicians as the old lawyer joke that said it was 99% of lawyers that gave the rest a bad name.

If we continue devalue democracy by not participating in the political life of our province, and if we continue to debase our political representatives by cheap personal affronts we all suffer in the end.

For the most part this campaign has been more on issues than personalities. The critics who liken politics to a hardball blood sport are suggesting the issues are getting attention because of the “uninspiring personalities” of the political leaders in Alberta. I am OK with that because I think charisma-based populists politics is over rated. And before you ask, no Obama is not a charisma-based populist politician. He is much more than that – he is a transformative force of nature.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Alberta's Election is Half Over - Not Much Has Happened - Yet!

The Alberta election exits Week 2 and it moves lethargically into week three. The missteps by the mainstream parties of the opening day are done and nothing can be done about them. The "big" stories last week were very weak to say the least. The PCs seem to be always on defence punching from their back foot. The Liberals are showing lots fancy footwork and jumping around a lot but not punching a lot. The NDs are pretty much out of the ring but they running around the outside apron trying to stir up the crowd. The Wildrose Alliance candidates are busy in their livingrooms crafting home made lawn signs. Midweek, the Greens were just 4 seats short of mounting a full slate of candidates...impressive.

The last week saw the headlines preoccupied with stories about partisan appointments of Deputy Returning Officers. The media coverage and the attention getting machinery of the various political parties obligingly “engaged” on the "issue." Bottom line – this is something that should have and could have been fixed before the election. FIXING THIS IS A NO BRAINER.

Political parties should be far removed from the suggestion and selection of DROs. There is a need for absolute - not relative - independence of those who run the election machinery on the ground. That choice of DRO staffers must be the sole and absolute discretion of the Chief Returning Officer. Nothing more. Nothing less. It is not a good enough response to say that there has not been a problem in the past so why is this an issue because there is no problem now.

Doing the right thing, in the right way, all the time...even when no one is what citizens ought to reasonably expect from political parties and their election procedures. Whose election is it anyway? Elections belong to citizens, not the political parties.

The current “recommendation” model for DROs is old style arcane power/patronage politics that is unacceptable and must go. We PCs have been way to slow to catch up to this issue and put it to bed. I can’t figure out why we are so far behind on it and so slow on getting past it. There are some really big ticket issues of long term significance that deserve attention in this election.

Why are we getting knocked off the puck and appering to be trying to sustain this past stupidity? Stelmach's move to establish all party legislative policy committees last year was a democratic reform that hard to do - and he did it. To cease and desist on appearances of political interference in the election procedures is an easy democratic reform. Get it done Ed!

This past week saw the union sponsored attack ads, under the pseudonym “Albertans for Change, get a big boost in the bucks. AUPE, the GOA staff union, ponies up a cool $300K to keep the campaign alive. I hear lots of grumbling in some labour circles that their unions have been pretty useless at representing the membership’s interests as of late. I wonder if the motivation behind this TV advertising spending against the PCs is as much about showing the union membership that their unions are actually doing something “for them.” Do the boys running the Alberta Building Trades Council think that playing politics with membership dues at election time is going to appease their membership for what many see as a lack of their union's effective performance? Not all union members vote against the PC Party so I can imagine this use of union dues for political attack ads will not be receiving unanimous membership support. At the polls nor in the union halls.

Can you imagine what the union friendly NDP and Brian Mason could have done with all that money being spent on an Ontario advertising agency and for the cost of the TV time too? It would have at least paid out the NDP debt, if nothing else. Brian Mason would likely have had to refuse it anyway because it would have been BIG money running politics again. That is something he has been on about last week in criticizing the big corporate money behind the PCs and the Alberta Liberals.

Week three is coming and I wonder what we will see. There are lots of surveys being circulated to candidates. I have seen those sent to PC candidates so far and I presume all parties are getting them. My post tomorrow will be on the good, the bad and the ugly about survey’s that have come in to date. I will comment on examples in each category. The source of the bad one so far is a surprise.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Yes We Can

This is a video that will grab your spirit...and lift it - enjoy!

Stelmach Gets Tough on Crime and in an Enlightened Way.

I like the PC platform on Crime. I have been involved for awhile in the revitalization of “Alberta Avenue” (118 Ave in Edmonton) and have seen first hand the positive impact on a community that results from sustained, concentrated and effective police work. Thanks to Chief Boyd, the members Edmonton Police Service and the Edmonton Police Commission for their terrific work on 118 Ave. This is a perfect example of what can be done - if the necessary resources were made available for the police to do their job.

This 118 Ave area was mostly about drug deals and prostitution. It was where many of the mortgaged frauds took place and where great police work resulted in guilty pleas by the perpetrators of the frauds. Expanding powers of municipalities to tackle crime like shutting down drug houses will provide an enormous payback towards safer communities all over Alberta.

Now 118 Ave is emerging as a revitalized neighbourhood full of artists, festivals and new businesses. New facilities are in progress in the area, there are new neighbours restoring and rebuilding properties. There are new accessible housing developments that are on the verge of becoming reality. Saying you are tough on crime and having the necessary sustained resources to actually be tough on crime is a big difference. Tough action on crime in 118 Ave area has made a big difference to the renewal of life and has added to quality of living on 118 Ave.

I am told that there are chronic criminals who commit the majority of the crimes in Edmonton. This fact is recognized in the Stelmach plan for getting tough on crime as he commits to target repeat offenders. Good idea.

The plan is big on catching bad guys but there is so much more to it. It is very progressive too in that it acknowledges and sets out to deal with some of the major root causes of crime like drugs and mental health issues. More funds for treatment and revised specialized courts are part of the PC plan to better deal with these kinds of “criminals.” These are a meaningful and enlightened approaches to making our communities safer and more liveable – for everyone!

The focus on exploitation of children is already in process but it needs more resources to be effective. The Stelmach plan on crime is on to addressing that concern too. A continued focus on family violence and Fetal Alcohol consequences are examples of more progressive steps in the right direction.

The challenge is proper allocation of resources and that means more money has to be dedicated to properly pay the people who work on these concerns in our communities. We need to show how much we value those community based staffers. They are the folks who deal with these problems involving children, spouses, elders, addicts and the developmentally disabled day in and day out. They are the real keys to any successful outcomes in these policy areas.

Good job Ed and Co. This is the kind of policy announcement I have been waiting for. I think it is a great move in the right direction for all of Alberta.

Stelmach Is Dealing With the Alberta Social Infrastrucutre Deficit

I like most Albertans I strongly supported the Klein plan on our debt and deficit. I have become very concerned about the social infrastructure deficit that was created by the single minded fast-track focus on debt and deficit elimination. I don’t just blame the politicians for the social consequences of this concentrated fiscal effort. We citizens cheered them on as they squeezed every nickel out of the system and paid down debt with breakneck speed and efficiency.

I have been working professionally with many of the social damage consequences of ignoring the social infrastructure deficit we have created in the wake of our debt and deficit over-success.

One of the social deficit consequences I have been working on professionally was resolved on Valentine’s Day by Premier Stelmach under his “Building Our Quality of Life” platform plan. He agreed that his government would pick up the costs of Police Information Checks on volunteers. These volunteers are citizens who take time to work with not-for-profit community-based social service agencies. who together, are helping vulnerable Albertans.

The Alberta voluntary sector has wanted an enhanced and effective Police Information Checks system to be provided and paid for by the province for quite a while. The cost of doing police checks on volunteers has become a serious drain on the not-for-profit and voluntary sector program funds. These PICs are a vital part of providing the social service sector with a responsible volunteer recruitment and retention program.

Congratulations to Ed Stelmach for picking up the ball and the cost of PICs for volunteer screening for vulnerable Albertans. This key political promise will go a long way to easing some the unfair operational fiscal burden on community based social agencies.

These not-for-profit communities based social service agencies are the on-the-ground front-line people who are building better communities all over Alberta every day. These community-based social service groups are the backbone of a province wide system that is in crisis. Picking up the costs of PICs is a big step forward for those agencies that use community-minded volunteer citizen to help meet the needs of vulnerable Albertans like at-risk children, the elderly and those who are developmentally disabled.

Congratulations must go to Volunteer Alberta too for bring this issue to the provincial policy forefront and for quarterbacking it to this successful result.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

All Candidates Will be Polled on Important Oil Sands Issues

I know that political candidates dislike the surveys that special interest groups send to them during election campaigns. The questions are often amateurish and leading. They are designed to limit the ability of a candidate to respond fully or to weasel out of addressing the issues posed. There will be the usual plethora of such candidate surveys in this election. If the various surveys also gives a sense of a candidates values that are behind the opinions expressed then they provide a real valuable service to voters.

One of the more vital surveys this election,that will be of interest to many Albertans, is being promulgated to candidates by The Pembina Institute. It deals with the challenges and opportunities surrounding the development of Alberta’s oil sands.

I know from the results of the Cambridge Strategies Inc. and Policy Channel survey that there are serious concerns about the rate and scale of oil sands development. The economic benefits have to also be balanced by the environmental and social consequences.

The Pembina Institute has commissioned a professional pollster and will approach all candidates in all 83 ridings to take their online survey. They will be asking candidates for opinions about the pace of oil sands development and if it ought to be controlled other than by the marketplace. They ask if oil sands companies must be able to demonstrate that they can reclaim the lands they mine. Candidates will be asked what standards they think should be used for GHG emission controls, hard caps or intensity targets. They are even allowing the candidates to refuse to answer.

It will be interesting to see the results on a Party-to-Party basis as well as regionally. I would be curious how many of the candidates align with the values of Albertans on the same issues, and which party has the most candidates with the best alignment. It will also be interesting to see which candidates from which political parties actually participate the most in this non-partisan survey.

Pretty safe bet the Greens will be the big participation players percentage wise. The candidates from the mainline parties will need to play too and I expect most candidates will want to let their personal views to be known. I still wonder, however, if the candidates will be directed by the various party campaign War Rooms on exactly how to answer – if thay are allowed to answer at all. Both approaches would be very wrong in a democracy. Either party approach would also be very telling on just how such a political party would actually govern us.

We have seen that top down and message controlling domineering approach with Mr. Harper for the past 2 years. It does not make for good government.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Staff in Red Deer Group Home For Disabled Albertans Goes Union Seeking a Livable Wage - in Alberta of all Places

I see 400 residential staff working in 40 group homes in Red Der has decided to join AUPE to try an get a liveable wage and benefits for their labours. This is one of the natural consequences of putting people who care for our most vulnerable citizens in penury. I can understand the frustration that leads to this kind of action.

As a Progressive Conservative I can't understand why government has not addressed this issue more effectively. The absurdity of this situation is that GOA will be paying these "union wages" anyway if these not-for-profit community based agencies fold because the problems of the developmentally disabled in Alberta will not go away. They will just become a primary function of government and will be handled inside government. Not an optimal solution and ther are no cost savings that way either.

There are other alternatives are for the community based not-for profits who do this work on behalf of Albertans through our government. One is to close up shop and let the government take on the entire task of caring for developmentally disabled Albertans. The other is to pay staff what they deserve and cut back programs to meet the budget limits imposed by the poor funding models imposed by the government.

The better alternative is to increase the grants with some flexibility so the community based not-for-profit can pay their staff at the same level as government employees who are doing the same work. The current discrepancies are breathtaking.

A recent consultant report on compensation comparisons by the HayGroup indicates just to equalize current staff, not the recruit to vacancies or pay same benefits would require an injection of $182,000,000 of new funds.

Last year the GOA put in $36m of new money in three different tranches. The February Budget added $10.5M to base but some agencies have not yet sween those funds trickle through the system (such as it is) to the copmmunity agencies so they can pay it to staff. It has been a year for cripes sakes! Another $10.5 m was added mid year and more recently ther was $15m added. These are small band aids and put out as one time “bonuses” that only adds to the uncertainty and frustration of staff. There needs to be systemic change here not a bunch of patch jobs.

The agency staffs that are still on the job throughout Alberta are spread too thin due to staff shortages and vacancies where no recruits are coming to fill. There are annual staff turnover rates in the 45-65% range all over the province. That is a set of circumstances when mistakes happen. These employment conditions are a breeding ground for errors and omissions. Government policy makers and officials have to be actively concerned that there is a real and present danger of serious risk to both clients and staff. This simply cannot be allowed to continue in a civilized society and not one as “wealthy” as Alberta.

Full disclosure, I have been working with the Alberta Council of Disability Services for a while now on their relationship with the Alberta government and now on wages and contract issues. This is not just another project for me. This is now a personal calling for me because of how ridiculous the current state of affairs has become and how grossly unfair it is to staff and clients.

Read the ACDS policy briefing to government for some context. Then read the HayGroup backgrounder for a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Then contact all the candidates from every political party running in your constituency. Let them know, as a citizen who cares for the most vulnerable in our society, that you want this situation rectified immediately.

The problem is well known and the solution is obvious. It takes political will to fix it. It is election time. I can assure you they will listen. If enough people make the point and connect directly with the candidates, I can assure changes will happen.

PC Parks Policy Great for Edmonton But Could Have More New Parks and a Focus on Wildlife Habitat

Great to see Ed Stelmach put up $50m to kick start the River Valley Alliance Park in the Edmonton region. This is a magnificent project that will help ring the regional consciousness together. A large urban park is a welcome addition to the Capital Region and a plus for Edmonton.

The rest of the parks policy is pretty vague when it states a renewing our commitment to Alberta Provincial Parks. What does that mean? Conservation is only mentioned in terms of land banking public lands and selling “surplus” urban lands for conservation. What examples are being considered to meet these objectives? Are we talking large land masses being preserved to offset the impact of the oil sands development? What constitutes conservation? Is it and activitist habitat protection for flora and fauna? That is want is needed.

Ensuring eastern slope protection by updated regulations for industry and recreation use is fine but what about wildlife habitat protection too. The way things are going the dirty little secret is extensive human development on the landscape is about to extinguish up to three of our caribou herds and is really threaten the survival of grizzly bears all over the province. We need to be very proactive in matters of habitat protection and this policy is pretty vague and almost silent about this growing concern.

I have been working with a diverse group of interest groups for a few months now to establish the Andy Russell Park on the north end of Waterton Lakes National Park. This park proposal has support from the local municipalities, stakeholders and Shell Oil, who hold energy leases in the region, has also warmed to this park proposal. Many letters have already been sent to you Mr. Premier, and more are coming, to confirm this support for the Andy Russell Park.

I know this as a result of the exposure I have had and the “education” I have received about the current state of parks and parks policy in Alberta. There is such opportunity during this election campaign to release the long over due Alberta Plan for Parks. There could have been the announcement and the establishment of up to three new parks – Andy Russell, Bighorn Country and Mountain Park. All three parks have already been recommended by previous hearings or review processes and they are known to be key for endangered species recovery and protecting water sources.

The conservation commitment in this announcement did well to acknowledge the watershed concerns. It could have gone a step further and embraced a conservation concern for wildlife habitat too. To sign, seal and deliver the three new parks that have been approved and awaiting confirmation. That would be a positive step and a great example of forward thinking about the future generations of Albertans too.

Good work on the River Valley Alliance Park announcement Mr. Premier. With a bit more focus and without stretching the budget or launching into any new territory, a bold new approach could have and should have be taken on a provincial parks policy. It is not too late to clarify the habitat issue and to confirm the three new parks as a reality during this election campaign Ed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying Meets the Rhino Party

I have run across two great sites, one is a Blogger and the other is a "political party."

The Rhinos are more party types than political types. They are always a clever and cutting.

They are a lateral thinkers diversion from the blowdryer shrink wrap political culture the traditional political consultants and media specialists produce. Kind of like reading a "horror-scope" for the future of Alberta that is funny... and strangely profound at times. Or is that just me?

The Blogger is "Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying" is a sharp, witty, topical and thoughtful read. I recommend you visit him/her often.

Concerned Christians Canada Are Allegedly Launching a Human Rights Complaint for Mr. Chandler

Misguided and mistaken is about the kindest things one can say about the report of the “Concerned Christians Canada” allegedly filing a human rights complaint against Ed Stelmach and the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

This complaint is over the party’s rejection of Mr. Chandler as a candidate in Calgary Egmont is not the stuff for an effective human rights decision for reasons well articulated by others. That said, this initiative is more tactical than anything else. These folks don’t like human rights commissions at all and launching this complaint will be used as a means to argue against them as much as it will be about the PC Party.

So let in the clowns and let's get on with the circus.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Wildrose Alliance Platform Reads Like it Came From the Rhinos

I was delighted to hear the Rhinoceros Party had resurrected itself and was ascending into the heavenly realm of Alberta politics. I have been waiting and waiting with baited and bad breath for their platform to be released. Finally it has arrived…under the guise of the platform of the Wildrose Alliance Party.

It has some of the best fuzziness, obfuscation and irrelevance to be found in Alberta politics today. Read it yourself but I was drawn to the “Social Policy” platform and here are some of my Favs:

A Wildrose Alliance Government will collaborate with non-profit societies and commit adequate funding for emergency residences to ensure that all children and victims of violence have a decent bed to sleep in and good food to eat. NOTHING TO IT - A WARM BED AND A SQUARE MEAN AND THE DOMETIC VIOLENCE PROBLEM IS SOLVED!!

A Wildrose Alliance Government will oppose all acts of family violence particularly acts against children by establishing a child'­s defense agency which will protect children from reprehensible acts. YES – IF WE MERELY OPPOSE FAMILY VIOLENCE IT WILL GO AWAY –RIGHT?

A Wildrose Alliance Government will offer to negotiate a delegated municipal style of self-government with any First Nation that wants to move beyond the Indian Act.
A Wildrose Alliance Government will recognize the precedence of the authority of the Provincial Government over the authority of a municipal style government.

A Wildrose Alliance Government will have as a goal the elimination of homelessness in Alberta within its first term of office. THIS IS TOO CLOSE TO A RHINO–LIKE PLATFORM PLANK TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY.

There is more and I am sure some planks have some precision and merit but I am still looking. The WAP election platform proves once again that for every complex problem there is a simple answer that is WRONG!

It was embarrassing when Daveberta allegedly absconded with Ed Stelmach’s personality in the Domain-Name-Gate. But the WAP policy looks like it has been seriously infiltrated by the Rank and ‘Philes of the Rhinos.

To be fair the WAP has some merging pains and is floundering having recently lost its first President coming from the "Wildrose" side of the merger. He resigned for reasons that are still unclear. The "merged" party website mAy give a clue however. It is the "Alberta Alliance" and Wildrose is not part of the "MERGED" party's website name. Strange. Could this JUST be a Rhino astroturf site afterall?
Coming up with a pretty comprehensive set of policy platform themes under the circumstances and time constraints the WAP has faced has to be given some acknowledgement and credence. As for the policy being thought through and executable – it is not. Sorry WAPPERS - no points for effort and merely hoping complex problems will be solved is not a plan for Alberta.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Worthy Websites if the Environment is Your Alberta Ballot Question

There is no clear “ballot question” going into the Alberta election. The Alberta Liberals are basically saying 37 years is enough so change to us. The NDP is saying Alberta is out of control and a socialist approach to controlling us is the best option. The Greens are well…too green experience-wise not Green wise. The Wildrose Alliance is just too wild and wooly in their thinking.

My bet is we will see a variety of ballot questions form various places, sectors and value segments spread all through Alberta. One of the leading ballot question contenders will be the environment.

As an Alberta Progressive Conservative I really want to see Ed Stelmach wearing his farm based stewardship values on his sleeve. I want him to put conservation principles back into Alberta's conservative politics. Conservative politics used to be almost exclusively related to fiscal issues but has been hijacked by the social conservative agenda for far too long. Equating conservative with conservation in this growing ecological consciousness of Alberta is a much better emphasis as to what it means (should mean) to be an Alberta conservative in a modern and progressive context.

If that resonates with you, Conservation Voters of Alberta is a site worth book marking and/or adding to your favourites for future reference. It promises to be informative and knowing some of the people behind this effort…it will be comprehensive too!
While you are at it, visit the "My Vote is for the Environment" site too...and become a regular visitor for info and updates. It too will be worth your time.

Dave Hancock Starts Candidate Blog - Other Candidates Starting Too.

So Dave Hancock (Edmonton Whitemud) has entered the blogosphere and is posting as The Daily Dave. Sweet. I see Janet Hancock has done the most recent post. Lots to talk about in any election campaign and with -30 it is tough to get at the doors – but all candidates are up for that and into it.

A candidate blog is going to be a pretty good supplement to door knocking I think. I know PC candidates Wendy Andrews (Edmonton Riverview) and Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton Glenora) are starting up candidate blogs too. I will let you know how to connect to them shortly

Check out Dave Hancock's Blog and be a regular reader. If I know Dave, and I do, it will be a read well worth your time.