Reboot Alberta

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Notes From London

Hello and sorry for so few posts as of late. I am on vacation in London and I have had “better things to do.”

There are some interesting parallel observations on what is happening in England and the US around the economy, leadership and Iraq. The anxiety over a recession is palpable here. Housing prices are plummeting, caught in the American sub-prime mortgage fiasco fall out and inflation is taking hold.

The future of the military involvement in Iraq is under debate but not an open question in reality…the Brits are in for the long haul and may be coming more engaged in Afghanistan too. There is some sense of shock and dismay over allegations of Iraqi prisoner abuse that are in the hands of the British military. While the Americans mollify their consciences by saying if they do something to a prisoner like water boarding, it can’t be torture…because, as Dubya says…”America does not torture prisoners. “

The Prime Minister is suffering from declining respect and confidence too. The media makes more of his getting “lost” (the Queen’s “observation” on an open microphone) at a recent state dinner; mistakenly thinking he was to be in a receiving line versus when he was to be seated at the head table.

All this unease and nervousness about where the world of the Brits is going is caught in the mortifying mess in the opening of Heathrow’s new Terminal 5. A magnificent botch up of monumental proportions that further undermines the confidence of a nation that brought us the Industrial Revolution. The chatter on the street and in the cafes is all about how embarrassing the Terminal 5 fiasco is for the reputation of England in the world.

Seems to me the angst over Terminal 5 as a national humiliation is simple transference. The sense |I get is that London at least is prepared to focus on some relatively meaningless management mistakes like Terminal 5 so they don’t have to face the stark reality of the really big and looming monsters under the national bed.

Off for a tour of Spencer House…and China's Terracotta Army display at the British Museum - BFN

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hillary Picks Hubris and Hyperbole Over Honesty and Honour

When the phone in the White House rings at 3:00 am I don't want the President of the United States of America and the Commander in Chief of the most powerful military on the planet not remembering what was talked about...intentionally or otherwise.

I don't what hyperbole to pass for honesty. And I sure don't want another liar in the White House who will continue to abuse the office by also making up facts as a means to justify a political end.

This is not an honest mistake. It is a fundamental character flaw.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bill Richardson Tells Us Why He Endorses Obama

Bill Richardson breaks the mould of old-style politics and speaks his mind and stakes out a new territory of inclusive leadership. He brings a depth of experience in foreign policy and the United Nations.

Cynics will say this is Richardson's bid for VP - I am for that.

Alberta is Ready for High Speed Rail

High speed rail between at least Edmonton and Calgary is an idea whose time has come. Perhaps extending it to Fort McMurray and even Banff could be considered now too. I know Ed Stelmach likes the idea. Heather Douglas the CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce has a well written piece on the concept in the Calgary Herald today.

It makes much more economic, social and ecological sense than adding two more highway lanes to the current highway between Edmonton and Calgary. That old-school “solution” will only add to problems when you consider all aspects of the pressures of growth in our "Corridor" and the transportation and other challenges that is causing

There are feasibility studies already done on high speed rail and some more detailed study efforts are underway and soon to be completed. High speed rail is green, clean, safe, quiet and quick. It is audacious enough that it triggers the imagination of forward thinking progressive Albertans too. I have been a fan of high speed rail in the Corridor since the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It was before its time then but not any more. Let’s get on with it.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

"A More Perfect Union" by Barack Obama

Every freedom loving and engaged citizen living in any part of the planet who appreciates leadership, sees a purpose in positive progressive politics and values good government should take the time to listen to the “A More Perfect Union” speech of Barack Obama.

Get a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and site back and take the time to listen and revel in the moment of a candidate for President of the United States actually talking to you as an adult about racism.

The Green Party is Becoming a Political Force

Here is a must read post by David Parker – Edmonton Green candidate -on climate change. It is a comprehensive reply to the APEGGA climate change deniers and the recent media coverage on that position.

The Greens have to be pretty happy and proud of their by-election showing earlier this week. They increased the Vancouver vote 50% and came in second and third but only 34 votes behind the second place NDP - and with 14% of the popular vote in the Toronto ridings.

I really liked the Alberta Greens policy platform in the recent provincial election here. They are proving to be a formidable alternative to the NDP and an emerging political force in urban centres at least.
Check out our interview with Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party of Canada, on Policy Channel.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Alberta Certifies Its FIRST Oil Sands Site Reclamation - Yahoo!

This is a monumental and critically important milestone day in the history of the development of the Alberta oil sands. After 40 years of development of the oil sands, at last there is a 104 hectare parcel of land that the Government of Alberta has certified as reclaimed.

This day has been a long time coming – partly because land restoration takes a long time, and partly because we have been in the project building and development stages. Now that some of the bigger projects are well into sustained production, it is time to pay serious attention to the reclamation duties that are part of the project approval obligations.

The first oil sands licensee to get a certified reclamation project accomplished and approved is Syncrude!!! Congratulations! And the same congratulations go out to the Alberta government departments of the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development for ensuring that the reclamation is real.

Reclamation is part of the oil sands project deals and a legal requirement. It is a key consideration towards keeping the Alberta public’s confidence under the social license to operate for all oil sands project developers too. Remediation is more than filling the hole that the open pit oil sands mining projects create. Reclamation requires that the land be restored such a way that it can be productive again and that means it must able to support a range of activities similar to its previous use.

The Syncrude certified reclamation site was not a tailing pond infill. The reclaimed site was used to collect overburden formed when open pit mining sites are being dug and this reclamation site work started way back in 1983 when the first seedling replacement trees were planted. This approval is not for the reclamation of a tailing pond. That is a huge looming challenge with many serious issues that have yet to be tackled…but it is time to get on with them now too.

Political and public pressure has started and will be increasing as the oil sands move past capital cost recovery and into profitable production. Some of the profits have to be dedicated to the larger and more serious site reclamation challenge of tailing ponds and that work needs focus and to be accelerated dramatically. Oil ands companies who choose short term oil sands profit taking and also deferring reclamation duties is not an acceptable operating model for Albertans.

Oils sands site reclamation was recognized one of the very important value drivers for Albertans in our Oils Sands Survey. It is and a serious concern of Albertans about how we see our government and the oil sands project developers proceed towards responsible and sustainable stewardship of our oil sands resources. Now that reclamation has started expect it to be a big public policy and political pressure point for the Government of Alberta as it regulates and stewards our non-renewable oil sands resources.

Good to see this essential oil sands reclamation process finally officially happening. It is a start and from now on I expect we will see site reclamation as a growing and expanded trend for all oils sands operators who will be more focused and attentive to their reclamation obligations from now on.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Introducing the Honourable Heather Klimchuk

Heather Klimchuk is my new MLA and my friend and is now Minister of Service Alberta. It has been quite a week.
Heather is going to bring a new sensibility, a different political perspective and a critical skill set to the Stelmach government. This is because of her personal experiences (political and otherwise), her character qualities and her engaging persuasive personality.

Heather as been actively involved in Progressive Conservative party politics ever since she was 3 years old, when her folks brought/dragged her to numerous town hall meetings and election rallies. She has a real-world sensibility as she and her husband deal with the day-to-day challenges of bringing up two teenage children. She has been the ultimate volunteer and an uber-citizen. For years she has been continually active in the issues that affects her community from education to transportation, to recreation and development issues.

She is a long time activist in Alberta Progressive Conservative Party she has served at the constituency level as a board member and as a Constituency President. She has volunteered on dozens of election campaigns and now she has become a successful candidate in her own right. She will now get to continue to bring her talents, imagination and insights to her community's needs, but now to a larger community as well and in her new role as the MLA for Edmonton Glenora.

Heather has a wealth of retail political experience. She was recently elected to the PC Party Provincial Executive and served until her election victory. She has plenty of practical front line political experience coming from her 10 years of work in the offices of both Premier’s Lougheed and Getty.

Heather personal life is typical of busy women, wives and mothers all over Alberta. She knows what they are dealing with in trying to cope with the overwhelming demands of working inside and outside the home, being totally immersed in the day-to-day demands of bringing up a family and running a household. She, like so many other women in her situation, still finds time and energy to volunteer and contribute to the betterment of their communities.

There is a need for our political system to have more appreciation of the demands that are put on so many women these days, especially those who are in personally challenging circumstances. In the male dominated world of provincial politics and government these realities can easily be overlooked. With Heather in the “House” I don’t think that failure to notice will be happening anymore.

Heather and I have been friends for over 20 years. We have shared thoughts on a wide array of political and policy issues over the years. I can tell you she also knows the important role of good government to our society, our environment and our economy. She is especially well versed in how a progressive and conservative approach can be applied to meet the challenges we Albertans now face, both individually and together.

She worked hard for her election success. I know she is honoured and humbled with the Premier’s appointment to Cabinet. All this mean is that she will get to bring her experiences, skills and capacity for caring to bear even more on setting the future directions and defining the new destination for Alberta.

Good Cabinet choice Ed - and congratulations Heather.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stelmach Signals His Inner Circle with Committee Appointments

Premier Stelmach’s key Committee (Agenda and Priorities and Treasury Board) appointments are out. Good balance again but these appointment is the real indication of the inner circle and brain trust of the Stelmach government as indicated by who sits on both committees.

Stevens, Hancock, Horner and Snelgrove are dual appointments and get to deal with the big picture for the Premier agenda and objectives.

Hancock once again takes on the Government House Leader role with the able assistance of Deputies Gene Zwozdesky and Rob Renner.

The all party Field Policy Committee Chairs see George VanderBurg back and Ray Prins and Dave Rodney getting the nod. Newbies Ken Allred and Fred Horne are all sound choice.

Deputy Minister appointments come later today and the Minister’s Mandate Letters come next week.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

albertatory Has a Great Review of the Stelmach Cabinet

For those who what a thorough Cabinet review Minister by Minister, go to Blake Roberts’ albertatory site. Blake does an enthusiastic breakdown of each portfolio and the Ministers who occupy them - and the new "Parliamentary Assistants" too.

This guy know the people in and about the PC Party. He is a great Boutilier fan – his only blind spot. Easy for me to forgive him for that one not only because I saw the Boutilier "boot" coming but I too have a blind spot - as Blake will tell you - I am a big Dion fan.

Stelmach's Cabinet Is Both Progressive and Conservative.

I am partisan and biased but all kidding side…Premier Stelmach's Cabinet is great for so many reasons. What I like mostly it that it is progressive and activist but focused. It is also conservative and prudent. The prudent, progressive and activist aspects are all wrapped into one when you look at Ron Stevens. He continues as Deputy Premier and goes to the revitalized International and Intergovernmental Relations, adding investment attraction as well. For a more detailed understanding of my reasons of how great the Stevens appointment is look at my post of Monday March 10…he fulfills every criterion.

Iris Evans in Finance with added aspects called “Enterprise” that includes economic development agencies is a focused activist appointment. Snelgrove stays in Treasury Board to ride herd on changes that are needed but he will not to sell the farm in the process. This is a conservative prudent appointment. Splitting Infrastructure and Transportation shows just how serious Stelmach is about the 20-year capital plan he highlighted just before the election too. More conservative prudence as I see it.

It is a great progressive idea for Renner to be continuing in Environment – he is very capable there and it will be a hot potato portfolio for sure. Morton staying on in Sustainable Resource Development is conservative and prudent because we need the continuity to get the Land Use Framework done - and it will be a challenge.

In no order of priority consider these other progressive moves in the new Stelmach Cabinet. New departments of Aboriginal Relations, Culture and Community Spirit as well as Tourism, Parks and Recreation means Premier Stelmach was listening to the messages from these largely ignored areas of our society. Adding a Housing and Urban Affairs department shows a new awareness of the changing nature of where Albertans live – in cities – and there is a housing crisis that needs immediate attention. Fort McMurray needs the crown lands around the city released immediately to get on with housing supply. Minister Fritz is back in this new focused and progressive portfolio and will have to deal with that challenge yet again - and hopefully get it done this time.

New faces that are exciting to me include Jack Hayden in Infrastructure where there is a need for sound management and a depth of knowledge in local government which Jack has in spades. Mary Anne Jablonski in Seniors and Community Supports is a perfect fit. This area needs someone who cares, has passion for the needs of vulnerable citizens and can help push through the big changes needed in the portfolio for theses service sectors to be sustainable. This portfolio has been very poorly served by many of the Ministers and has been in decline ever since Gene Zwozdesky was in charge. Speaking of Zwoz, Aboriginal Relations will benefit from his experience and enthusiasm. My MLA, Heather Klimchuk goes to Government Services and she knows PC politics and people. Calgary’s Alison Redford is the new Minister of Justice and is a good move for a rookie Minister too. They are new urban female appointments that show Stelmach learned some other important lessons from his last Cabinet too.

The Cabinet Policy Committees are all chaired by rookie MLA except incumbent Neil Brown and oh yes Tony Vandermeer who lost in 2004 is back again and chairing the CPC on Health. The new initiative of Parliamentary Assistant has some strong people too. The ones I know and think highly of are Doug Griffiths (Agr. and Rural Dev), Janice Sarich (Education), Diana McQueen (Environment), Raj Sherman (Health and Wellness), and Thomas Lukaszuk (Municipal Affairs). I don’t know Evan Berger (SRD) but I hear good things about him and hope he makes a difference.

So the larger Cabinet is not just bigger because size matters when it comes to a Caucus. It is bigger in ways that makes sense and with a mix of experience, continuity and new faces. The five new priorities that were announced with the Cabinet are important too. They are indications of where the Premier’s head is at and were he intends to focus his government but that is fodder for another post.

I imagine we can expect the Deputy Minister appointments tomorrow. One Cabinet Minister was dropped today. I would not be surprised to see one or more Deputies dropped tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Spec Stories On Stelmach's Cabinet Are Spin - Not News.

I read with interest the two different speculation stories on the new Stelmach Cabinet from Neil Waugh of the Edmonton Sun and Jason Markusoff of the Edmonton Journal. These two MSM outlets are fierce competitors and especially these days as they battle over political stories around a new government.

I see that same gamesmanship is continuing in these “spec” stories on the new Stelmach Cabinet. In a competitive media market the media goal appears to be around getting the story first more than getting it right. Is that what is happening this morning in the Cabinet spec stories in these two papers? Both these writers will have “sources” and both have different takes on what they say Premier Stelmach has decided about his Cabinet. As if they or any of their “sources” actually know…they don’t…and shouldn’t. So don’t get fooled Alberta.

I often speak to journalists on matters of public policy and offer personal opinions on political events and public policy and have often been a MSM source as a result. Media relations is part of my business. The right and responsibility of the Premier to announce his Cabinet when and how he wishes is nobody’s business but the Premier’s. Full disclosure, I am not one of the sources for either of these writers on these speculative stories. I have no inside information on the cabinet making process and results - nor should I.

Nobody but a very small group of advisers, who are totally loyal to the Premier or senior government administrators, who are duty bound to the government, knows the outcome of this process in advance. They would never get ahead of the Premier and be a media “source” on a matter so crucial to his leadership.

Citizens, including myself, are content to let the Premier make his cabinet decision in his own way, for his own reasons and in his own good time. To otherwise speculate on the Premier’s decision from the outside falls in the same category of gossip like what changes Mr. Katz will make to the Oiler organization. There will likely be changes but only Mr. Katz knows for sure and anybody else who thinks they know the final decisoin in advance is delusional.

Cabinet making is the work of political leaders and at the heart of public policy leadership. It is so important to the successful launch of a new government. That is why the Premier has to keep his own counsel on such important decisions. At the end of the day he alone has to make up his mind and deal with the consequences of his choices. He alone has to take the time to brief his Cabinet Minister's on his expectations of them and to do this in his own way and on his own terms.

In the mean time anybody else who the MSM quotes as “in the know” on such matters are simply not. They are gossiping and spinning and speculating - or very naive…nothing more. That does not mean you won’t get people, especially pundits, lobbyists and even bloggers talking about the make-up of new Cabinet. But rest assured none of them actually knows anymore than anybody else.

The MSM media will naturally be nosing around the margins of the political class for any tidbit, piece of gossip or rumour from “insiders” or “reliable sources” in advance of the final Cabinet announcement. These “insights” from so-called insider’s are mere rumour, gossip and pure speculation.

Remember MSM is a competitive business. They are all prone to speculation on such newsworthy events. They will even “sex them up” up as a “news” story from time to time and then claim that they got the “story first.” This is the nature of the media and for any politicians to complain about it is as about useless as a sea captain cursing the ocean.

This speculation approach is fine for op-eds and other opinion pieces but the public should not confuse them with “news.” Speculation on personality politics is fun, entertaining and engaging but that is all it is – it is not news. If these items are presented and perceived as “hard news” they do nothing to add to the battered credibility of the MSM. This approach to cover gossip as hard news does nothing to enhance the public’s perceptions of the reliability of the MSM either.

We need the MSM to be authoritative, credible and reliable because the alternative news source of the world-wide-web is so deplorable on these criteria. Citizens need an informative news source they can continue to believe and believe in. That reliability and credibility is the ultimate differentiating factor for traditional media these days as the Internet encroaches on their news source territory and their market share for readers.

Let’s hope the proper role of the opinion piece does not get conflated with hard news in our newspapers like entertainment has conflated with new on television. They all have a place but they ought to be very clear and distinct from each other.

So polish up your media literacy and read these spec pieces on the makeup and implications of the Stelmach Cabinet appointments today and realize that it is spin, speculation and supposition…but not fact based news. If the speculation turns out to be “accurate” that will be by coincidence only not because of the authoritativeness of the media’s “sources.”

Wolf Kill Draws Wrath of Albertans.

The recent top stories in the Edmonton Journal media on the proposed wolf kill and sterilization have been particularly interesting to me. The Oil Sands Survey done last November indicated that Albertans were mostly concerned about wildlife habitat and GHG emissions and the key issues around the responsible and sustainable oil sands development. The other top issues related to water use and reclamation issues.

The announcement of a cull of the wolf population and sterilization as a government supported university “study” has been front page news. It has also caused a barrage of Letters to the Editor deploring this interference with nature.

None of this surprises me given how strong and intensely Albertans feel about preserving wildlife habitat. It is a below the surface issue for most policy makers and advisers but Albertans heads and hearts are with the animals.

The sentiments in those Letters to the Editor are strong and firm. Comments include concerns that “(we)…should be monitoring the natural cycles that exist between predator and prey without callously interfering in order to please a small sector of the human population. The project has been called “unethical” by other letter writers. The government is being called to task for “sanctioning a grizzly bear hunt even while the numbers of bears plummeted every year.” Another noted, “I read the article on the wolf kill with dismay and disgust. How self-serving! Mankind has caused tremendous upset to the balance of climate as well as animal and plant species.”

The times are a changin’ and this concern for wildlife and respecting their habitat is now a dominant value for Albertans and on the front burner politically. The key question is if anyone in the provincial power structure know the depth of that concern yet and do they get it enough to do something about kt? The politicians cannot ignore this new value set without bringing on the wrath of Albertans down on their heads.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Memo to Premier Stelmach - Alberta's International and Intergovernmental Department Needs a Very Strong Minister

As Premier Stelmach get out the shop tools and builds his first Cabinet with his own team and mandate there is one key department that needs to be elevated and have a much stronger Minister to head it. That department is International, Intergovernmental and Aboriginal Affairs.

In the constitutional wars of the 70’s this department was the intellectual powerhouse of the Lougheed government…and it had to be, given the constitutional and other challenges Alberta was facing then with Ottawa. It was an impressive group of minds and focused motivations in those days and the depth of ability is still there notwithstanding the budget cuts of the mid 90s.

The challenges Alberta is facing now on the intergovernmental front are even more complex and critical. That is why this Ministry needs the political leadership from the best and brightest talent available to Stelmach. It has the right stuff in the staffing and administrative leadership. It needs the political leadership to be beefed up significantly. It is not an entry level Cabinet position or a holding tank for under performing Ministers. Nor can it be merely a transition appointment pending retirement anymore.

Alberta has lots of complex issues do deal with on many fronts and with many different influences and influencers. The Alberta-Ottawa dynamics will be heating up significantly over the environment, climate change, transfer payment fairness, immigration and US trade relations, to name a few. There will be uncertainty caused over what appears to be an inevitable NAFTA review by President Obama or Clinton. Alberta will be one of the victims of the enormous desire for much tighter border control and homeland security measures that will undoubtedly be pursued under President McCain, if that is the Presidential election result this November. There is a raft of legislative initiatives in the US Congress that all impact the future of our so-called “dirty oil” from the oil sands development that need to be handled properly.

Then there will be the growing American demand on our oil sands sector to provide secure, reliable and relatively less expensive continental energy supply that will put even more growth pressures on Alberta socially and environmentally. Local upgrading versus shipping raw bitumen into new pipelines that have just been approved into the US refiners will be a friction point. The impact of more foreign direct investment in the oil sands, particularly from China will be a hot international and intergovernmental issues too.

The reconciliation of these different interests the between the integrated energy sector players, American political and economic interests and Ottawa policy approaches will impact Alberta’s control over its own future. These are powerful geopolitical forces and they put Alberta right in the cross hairs and a target in so many ways and at so many levels.

And then there will be the domestic intergovernmental pressures resulting from the growing central Canada angst over the power and influence shift to Alberta and BC from Ontario and Quebec. Alberta has half the population of Quebec and a much larger rate of growth and investment, that along with BC is rivaling Ontario. That power shift to the Canadian west will have to be handled adeptly as well.

The TILMA agreement with BC will be a dynamic intergovernmental situation for Alberta as BC’s Premier Campbell takes over the national leadership stage on the environment on carbon tax and other green alternative initiatives. That effort by BC will put pressure Alberta to match them under TILMA provisions sooner than later. There will intergovernmental issues with BC and Ottawa on how to deal with the Mountain Pine Beetle as it threatens to devour the boreal forest.

I have not even touched on the aboriginal aspect of the department which has its own challenges and urgency's. I could go on but I am sure you get my drift. Premier Stelmach held this portfolio and enjoyed it. Ron Hicks, the Deputy Minister of Executive Council served as Deputy Minister in this department too. They know it and no doubt see its emerging importance in the future of Alberta. I look forward to the Cabinet appointments this week – and the IIA Ministerial appointment with particular interest.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Revisiting Citizenship and Cynicism

I wrote a post way back on August 10, 2006 - one of my very first. It dealt with citizenship and cynicism. A reader recently reminded my of it and its timeliness in Alberta around the concern of a lower and lower voter turnout in elections.

Here is the link to a reflection on our declining state of citizenship.

I hope revisiting this post generates some new commentary on this Blog about how we can revitalize civil society and revive a sense of citizenship as both a duty and a right. People died for us to have this opportunity for a free and democratic society and that seems to be cliche now. Sad when you consider that our troops are making personal efforts and sacrifices, in our name, to help others in Afghanistan. They are risking their lives right now so others can have these democratic rights that we are blithely taking for granted.

We seem to have lost our way somewhere along the way as we seem to have adopted the dominant social goal of getting "rich" instead of the more exciting goal of becoming "enriched." Or is that just me talking?

Friday, March 07, 2008

Low Voter Turnout Will Not Be Fixed by Tinkering

We see the losing parties in the Alberta election calling for electoral reform because of low participation rates. Any regular reader of this Blog knows I harp and carp about voters showing up. I also agree that while voting is a “duty” of citizenship and a right as well – it is not a legal obligation. Just as there is freedom of religion in Canada…there is freedom from religion too.
I saw a sign on a mailbox in Edmonton during this election that said it all. It was not the usual
“No Flyers” but rather the more disturbing message of “Don’t Ask Me To Participate.” That is not an unreasonable position to take these days - for many reasons – but it is emblematic of a sad state of affairs.

I too am saddened by the low turnout in Alberta and I share some embarrassment over it too. I do not bemoan this reality as if it were the fault of the voter. It is not. It is the fault of the political class, and political parties in particular. The “fix” is not tinkering with the system like preferential ballots, proportional representation or transferrable votes. The fix is for politics to become relevant to people’s lives. We need to adjust the balance between rural and urban seat in Alberta to be more equitable and that will happen by 2010 – well before the next election.

The big issues for me is how ignorant our citizens are about politics and civics in Canada – and apparently even more so in Alberta. My definition of ignorance is not pejorative but more of an adaptive challenge. Ignorance to me is the absence of all that stuff which could be learned that would be helpful - IF it were learned. This ignorance is masked by excuses for not voting that are mostly of the “my dog ate my homework” variety But the real question is why do people have to make excuses – lame or otherwise?

Low voter participation is not a systemic or an election process issue…it is an ignorance and education issue. Citizens have large gaps in their knowledge of the place, importance and implications of politics in their day to day lives. As a result the rationally conclude politics has little relevance to them. The bickering and belligerence they see in the television news clips coverage of Question Period is not something any reasonable person would respect nor likely see as relevant.

I do not want voters showing up at polls who are uninformed and indifferent and only “participate” because they may face a fine or not be able to renew their drivers’ license. I want informed engaged citizens who value democracy and see a positive role for government and want to have a say in their individual and collective future – and not only at election time.

If we do not start to have politics that are relevant and engaging to citizens we open ourselves up to all kinds of problems from corruption and demagoguery to despair with a disintegration of our sense social cohesion and common purpose.

The world is run by those who show up and those who don’t are mostly content to delegate their democratic rights to those who do get informed and engage…so be it. Political parties, politicians and leaders and the media need to get the gamesmanship out of the process and need to start helping educate the citizens about politics and how they can engage.

There is lots of work to do and it will take time because citizen’s ignorance of the political system has many sources. They include convention and habit, isolation, fear, uncertainty, rationalization, complexity, limits of culture, willful ignorance, belief in an “infallible ideology “, conventional success, geocentricism and constraints of circumstances – just to name a few.

So let’s not get trapped into tinkering with the tools of election processes and thinking that we can fix the citizen engagement situation. The disengagement and dissatisfaction of rational citizens in the politics of our times is not going to be resolved with such superficial solutions.

Democracy to survive and thrive needs an informed, engaged and effectual citizenry. Our political institutions are not fulfilling their responsibilities to the citizenry, their true political masters. This is because they have descended into a gamesmanship and media manipulation mentality.

This predominant adversarial gamesmanship kind of politics that dominates today is merely confirms to rational citizen that our key governing institutions are largely irrelevant and clearly impotent at dealing effectively with the real world concerns of the citizenry. Why would anyone with half a brain and a modicum of self respect want to show up, engage and encourage this kind of behavior that is the basis of our current political culture?

It is not the system that is the problem. It’s the combination of citizen ignorance of politics caused mostly by a stupid “modern” political culture that is the root cause of low voter turnout.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Federal Court Agrees With Stelmach - Environment Trumps Economy

Premier Stelmach is right the environment trumps the economy…and the Federal Court sees the world the same way. The Imperial Oil’s Kearl oil sands project has been sent back to the federal-provincial review panel because they did not adequately assess the environmental damage in the project in its first decision.

The Court was not satisfied that the environmental damages incurred could be mitigated and with specific reference to the representation that the project would not significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions.
And that is the environment trumping the economy my friends.

Our Oil Sands Survey found that CO2, a greenhouse gas was the second most important value driver that concerned Albertans about responsible sustainable oil sands development. For your interest our surveyfound that protecting wildlife habitat was the #1 value driver concerning Albertans about responsible and sustainable oil sands development.

Alberta is not a place that is all about getting rich or die trying. Once again the Courts intervene to be sure the right thing is done in the right way in the interests of citizens. That is supposed to the job of our governments but it is not always job 1 for those power focused politicians who are chronically disintereted in being statesmen.

Good government is always good politics. Good politics is rarely good government.

Stelmach Still a Target of the Energy Sector

Here is another piece out of the Calgary Herald that shows some folks are still thinking Stelmach isn’t up to snuff and that the energy business elites are still calling the shots in Alberta. Actually I am expecting Stelmach to evolve into a triple bottom line Premier who deals with the tax and resource revenues prudently. I expect his farming background will have him proving that he respects the environment even more prudently.

His election victory and new mandate with his experience as the Minister of both Infrastructure and Transportation will serve him well in addressing the growth and social pressures in Alberta. His experience as Minister of International and Intergovernmental Affairs will hale him be much more effective is dealing with determining Alberta' place in relation to the nation and the world too.

That means the business community has its place and creating jobs and wealth is a good thing so long as it serves the larger cause of a healthy society and a health environment. The need to design, develop and deploy an integrated effective public policy approach required of modern governments that must be individually accountable and still interdependent and interrelated on a global scale like Alberta will be much more difficult than the typical marketplace competition challenges of business.

With all the investment approved and in place in Alberta already we now need out government to start ensuring for citizens there are no are unintended secondary consequences of such accelerated growth. These unintended consequences don’t just emerge out of the Royalty Review for the energy sector but also for the rest of us. Look at the unintended consequences of unleashed growth in housing costs, inflation, family breakdown, gang crime, misuse of the environment including water, land and air plus an appalling lack of reclamation efforts, poor habitat protection - just to name a few.

Not all of the energy industry has this intimidation couples with an insouciant attitude…there are some absolutely wonderful exceptions and we all know them and are thankful they are here. But they don’t happen to be in the majority nor on the radar screen of this writer who implies the more condescending view that government is stupid and doesn’t knows its place. This is a very unwise stance for anyone who needs to acquire a lease, meet regulatory and statutory requirements to do their business.

Is it time for a change in attitude so some mutual respect can be developed between the Alberta government and the energy sector in this province. The coziness and favoritism and cronyism of the past relationship has to disappear and be replaced by a more open, transparent and professional relationship. If that were to happen I am willing to bet there would be more respect from the citizens of Alberta shown to both their government and the energy sector too. Voters have the real power after all. Anyone doubting that truth should have had it dissipate on election day.

Stelmach is Right the Environment Does Trump the Economy

There is a very interesting Calgary Herald story today “Tory Landslide Worries Oilpatch” noting the continued “uneasiness in the oilpatch and unhappiness with the Tory government” and what is being called “the big disconnect.” The oil patch need not worry - but is has some adapting to do with Stelmach acknowledging that the "environment trumps the economy."

There is indeed a BIG disconnected but it is not only between the energy elites in Calgary and the Stelmach government. It is also between the energy sector and the citizenry and their expectations of their government performing its responsibility as stewards of our natural resources and environment. The oilpatch is in the centre of all of these BIG disconnects. It has to look in the mirror and realize it does not own the oil and gas. They are only licensees from the Alberta public, the real owners of the assets. The energy sector’s access license to operate is one thing but it also carries a duty of a social license to operate too. The former does not transfer ownership and the latter duty is a delegated responsibility to serve the common good – as well as shareholder interests. Jobs are only part of the social license duty. Using the best available environmental practices and technologies, and timely and effective reclamation, protection of wildlife habitat and being a good neighbor in the communities where they operate are other elements of a social license obligation on private enterprise.

There is a philosophical reluctance in conservative governments towards interfering in the marketplace. It is a philosophy I share. We know it does not work, and hence the “not touching the brakes” comments of Premier Stelmach.

We have lost billions of taxpayer’s dollars in the Getty era through government intervention in private enterprise, trying to pick winners and losers. The need for private enterprise to have as much certainty as possible is a responsibility of good government too.

However, uncertainty takes many forms, from interest rates, commodity prices, exchange rates, economic cycles, geo-political events, competition for materials and manpower, inflation, skills shortages are just some of the uncertainty influences at play in the Alberta economy. Royalty rates are a minor influence overall and they are being overplayed in the larger scheme of things.

Not touching the brakes does not mean retreating from setting and collecting a fair economic rent for non-renewable royalties. It does not mean being lax on updating environmental and enforcing regulations on industry. I think successive Alberta governments have lapsed into a resting on our laurels attitude about the environment. We were the first jurisdiction in Canada to originate a Department of the Environment…fine but are we still at the leading edge in terms of policy and practices for conservation of our water, land and air as well as biodiversity and habitat?

Are we the stewardship leaders we ought to be in areas like responsible and sustainable growth that not only protect the environment but actually enhances it as we grow and create wealth? No we are not…and there is no reason why we should not be other than where we put our attention and focus. As the home of the oil sands and the primary beneficiaries of that enormous and complex resource, I think there is an obligation upon Albertans to be environmental and ecological leaders.

Premier Stelmach also said “the environment trumps the economy” and he was right then too. When our government exercises its stewardship responsibility in serving that greater ecological responsibility with goals that stretch us and engage us, it will in fact impact our economy. Proper ecological stewardship by our government on our behalf may even “slow down” the growth or at least stretch out the development cycles so we can actually adjust and achieve the environmental advancements we need. These economic consequences will not be unintended and they can be planned. They will not be the result governments inappropriately interfering the in the marketplace. Rather it will be putting business and the marketplace in its proper perspective as in service of the needs of our society, and not the other way as seems to be the way it works presently.

These are some of the BIG disconnect challenges the Stelmach government faces but can address with its powerful mandate. I hope Premier Stelmach elevates the role and scope of the Department of the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. It also must increase the accountability and effectiveness of the Department of Energy in meetings its responsibility as the regulator of the energy sector in Alberta. The overarching duty of the Department of Energy is to serve the benefit of Albertans now and future generations…not just be the advocate for the oil patch, as has been its wont.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Ed Stelmach's Astonishing Election Results

So what did the Alberta election results tell us? The results astonished just about everyone I spoke to except one of my staffers who yesterday about noon predicted 71 PC seats . All the people I know and who are “in the know” about these things were mostly thinking 55-60 seats and some were at the 65 level but we all admitted we did not know for sure. We were all surprised.

I think this result was a vote for change. It was a change away from the "Ralph’s World" but not a desire to change the fundamental governing philosophy of the province from a Progressive and Conservative party. My Stelmach endorsement post the other day asked Albertans to “Give Ed a Chance.” I think that is what many Albertans decided to do as they took the weekend to think about the future of the province and reflect on the choices they had in the election.

The Calgary results show that the “energy industry silk suits” don’t speak for the people of that city. The negative/attack ads against Stelmach done by the Building Trades Council, the Alberta Federation of Labour and later the Alberta Union of Public Employees under the guise of “Albertans for Change” backfired. The belittling branding of Stelmach as just a “Ukrainian Farmer” backfired.

The Liberal campaign tried to tell Albertans that the PC government that they had chosen to govern the province for 37 years had been a mistake...the electorates mistake. Albertans did not believe that nothing had changed in how they were governed in the past 37 years and the strategy backfired. The Liberal campaign ran as much against Ralph Klein’s record and did not focus on the future under them - or Ed Stelmach. I think that strategy misfired.

So 53% of Albertans who showed up, chose a decent man with a big heart who they acknowledged, had spent most of his 15 months as Premier, fixing the screw ups of the past administration. In that 15 months Ed also showed he was prepared to take on big new challenges like the regional governance in the Capital Region, a royalty review that he opened up to all Albertans to read and respond to right along with him and his government. That new openness created an energetic public policy conversation amongst Albertans on big issues - and it was a big change.

I think the Alberta public collected their wisdom together on Election Day and decided Ed was a change, and if nothing else, a change from “Ralph World.” They decided he deserved a real chance to be our Premier but with this own mandate and the opportunity to set his own course. He got his chance in spades in this election and now he has to show us what he will do and how he will do it - without having to pick up after Ralph anymore.

I think there are some serious challenges for the Stelmach PCs. They have some policy blind spots that became apparent in this election but that too can be fixed. The first test of a blind spot that needs fixing from Ed's past will be his Cabinet selection. He can’t repeat the mistakes of an over abundance of loyalty like last time. He should not take the "easy way out" of a larger Cabinet either, because there is no real need to increase the size, at least not significantly.

In fact there is such a dire need for more interdepartmental collaboration in government these days that a key test for any Cabinet appointment should be the person’s ability to collaborate, integrate, design and then execute policy decisions. I am keen that he keeps a small Cabinet and goes forward with his best and brightest people, mixing those of proven experience and ability with some promising newbies - and of course being very very careful to provide the necessary geographical mix.

I know some will be concerned that with 73 seats the Stelmach government may turn arrogant, self-absorbed and self-satisfied. Perhaps that could happen - under a different leader - but not under Ed Stelmach. That is not his nature nor part of his character. He will have to be careful to show that he will not tolerate those attitudes in anyone else in his government either. After all, as the “renewed Premier” says, governing is a privilege that has to be earned. He knows that privilege has to be earned everyday and in every way – not just at election time.

This is part of the point Ed Stelmach made last night at his victory celebration in Edmonton when he said, “It is not about how long you govern but how well you govern.” Let’s get going on some damn good governing!

Congratulations for this victory are also due to the entire Stelmach family – both personal and political. Well done and thank you.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Thanks To All Those Candidates Who Ran and Some Advice to Those Who Won.

There are almost 500 individual Albertans who have offered the rest of us their time and talents and have taken some serious time out of their lives to run for public office in this election. They represent a wide range of skills, experiences and qualities, some of them even applicable to a successful political life and some even applicable for governing. The rest of us can judge them as we wish because that is our right, after all, they are the ones seeking our consent to allow them to govern us. That citizen consent ought not to be granted lightly because we delegate a great deal of power to our elected representatives.

The irony of the paradox between politics and governing is that they are entirely different things. I call it the Catch 23 of our electoral system. The talents it takes to get the job, by using politics, are very different from the talents and skills needed to do the actual job of governing.

The vast majority of candidates will lose today and 83 will “win.” To win means your life will totally change. Privacy will be a thing of the past. You personal life will be public property as will most of your time. While you have governing to do you also have a constituency to represent and those are made up of real people with real problems. You are expected to be their advocate and to cut the red tape and the crap of government for them.

You will have to learn how to deal with the media and now to stay out of trouble and on message as dictated by your leader and his advisors. No political points are given for originality and as for freelancing -forget it - it comes with a cost.

You have to stake out your areas of interest and there better be more than just 3 or 4 key issues. You will have to become knowledgeable and authoritative and stay absolutely current in all of them if you are to be taken seriously. If you are taken seriously you will be pressed by special interests to become a political champion for them on those key issues. That is often a trap but not always. You will have to learn how to tell the difference and deal with it.

You will have to learn how to deal with a creature called a caucus and be a team player but also establish yourself as a thought-leader with a respected opinion if you are going to be effective at getting anything done. The art of persuasion and a facility at biting your tongue will be concurrent skills you will have to learn and hone.

You will have to create and collect something called political capital and learn how to use it to horse trade with you colleagues if you want to get thing done – especially if you are in government.

You will have to learn how to account for your expenses to the penny and round off program budgets like health and education to the nearest few million. You will have to learn to be prudent and cautious, innovative and imaginative, then grounded and transformational - all at the same time and see no conflict in that creative non-fiction approach to life.

You will have to learn to take a bullet for the mistakes of others, including your leaders, who may be prove to be fools from time to time - but they are your fools, get over it. You will have to suffer through too many official dinners, receptions, special events and community gatherings that will constantly take you away from your family and your sanity. You better like people because they are going to be everywhere in your life and many will think they own a part of you. Be especially afraid of those people.

You are going to be constantly judged and scrutinized by everyone you meet everywhere and all the time. They are entitled to be wrong in their opinions about you but they are still entitled tell everyone what they think about you anyway - and they will…mostly behind your back.

You will never again, while in public office, be entitled to presume you are having a private and personal conversation with anyone, anywhere at any time, including with your closest friends. Everything you say can and will become public, in some form or other, and if possible, used against you.

I understand from those who love both politics and governing that it is amongst the most rewarding thing you can do – if you are good at it. So thanks all of those who took the plunge and ran for purposes of the common good of the rest of us Albertans. Special thanks the leaders of the various political parties and for those who won. Very speical thanks in particular those who will get the call to become Cabinet Ministers.

Congratulations. Our prayers are with you…as is our future…no pressure!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

CalgaryGrit: Stelmach's Environment Minister calls for a new NEP - I DON'T THINK SO!

Tip of the Hat to the CalgaryGrit for posting a video clip of Rob Renner, Alberta's Minister of the Environment.

Rob Renner's comments in the CalgaryGrit posted video clip and the reference to CEMA proposal have nothing remotely to do with the NEP, as the "Grit" would have you believe.

However this video clip of Renner is a great example of why I think Renner is a great Minister of the Environment for Alberta. We need him back in that job right after tomorrow nights election results.

Want the "Final Word" on the Alberta Election Results - It's In the Stars!

Finally, we have a political analysis on the Alberta election that eschews the pretense of authenticity of opinion polls. Check out the range of scientific the various opinion poll results we have been getting from numerous sources on the Alberta election.

Rick Mercer shows us the dark underbelly truth about polls and just because it is funny does not mean what he says isn't true.

I plan to drink some wine tonight and get out the Ouija Board and do some serious prognostication about the election results myself.

Remember the world is run by those who show up and in a democracy you always get the government you deserve - whether you voted or not.
Show up and vote tomorrow. It is only about you having your say about the future of Alberta that is at stake here. No big whoop!

Edmonton Riverview Survey Shows BIG UNDECIDED NUMBERS

There is a kind of hush all over the province this week end as Albertans reflect on the future of their province and who will best serve as our next Premier. Then there is the question of which local candidate is the most aligned with the personal perspectives and aspirations of voters to represent them in the Legislature. Not an easy decision but one an informed and engaged citizen must make on Monday.

There is one constituency where the weekend hush of reflection has been replaced by a vigorous campaign BUZZ. That BUZZ is what is happening in Edmonton Riverview where the PC candidate Wendy Andrews and her Green Theme as has snuck up on Alberta Liberal Leader, Kevin Taft.

A recent telephone survey of 3,453 Edmonton Riverview constituents was done by Banister Research. The findings are the basis for the PC BUZZ in this constituency campaign. Change is in the political air in Alberta in this election and these survey results prove it in spades.

Look at these numbers. There were 12409 original constituency household phone numbers called last week. There were 3,453 actual respondents who were asked would they support Wendy Andrews, yes or no. Here is what they said. There were 992 (28.7%) who supported the PC’s Andrews and 1,092 (31.6%) who will not.

Here is the kicker!!! There are 1369 – that is 39.6% - who are UNDECIDED in Edmonton Riverview at this late stage of the campaign.

This is in Alberta Liberal Leader, Kevin Taft’s home riding. Last election the Alberta Liberal leader, Dr. Kevin Taft got 65% of the vote. This time he looks like he is in a much closer contest. Time will tell.

This survey result has the makings of an upset if those undecided voters show up for change in the form of the Wendy Andrews and her Fresh Thinking green theme campaign. My guess is the Wendy Andrew’s Get-Out-The-Vote volunteers will be energized and vigorous on Monday. Will it be panicky and nerve-wracking for the Taft campaign in Edmonton Riverview tomorrow? Looks like it.

In any event getting out the vote is what will make ALL the difference in the Edmonton Riverview outcome on Monday night. Based on the size of the undecided factor, Edmonton Riverview just became another key race for the whole province to watch.

"All I am Saying is Give Ed a Chance."

This weekend in Alberta has been eerily quiet and anxiety raising for the hard-core partisan campaigners off all political stripes who have been working hard for local candidates and their leaders in this election. This is because no one really knows what will happen tomorrow at the polling booth.

The opinion polls are all over the map. The undecided is high, there are 300,000 new Albertans since the last election and they are a wild card. The old political "order of things" in the power structure of Alberta is changing too.

Personally I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic…I am fatalistic. Que sera sera is how I see it. The citizens of Alberta who show up and vote will decide our future and I trust their wisdom. Albertans are quitely reflecting this weekend and struggling to make up their minds about how they will vote. They hold the future of the province in their collective hands and they are weighing the alternative choices before them and considering the consequences.

There are many regional differences and issues in play all over the provionce. Indications are that Ed’s rural vote is holding and Edmonton is firming up behind Ed where polls say he can expect more seats. The deep south is in play in some places and there are some other intereting local campaigns to watch too. And then there is the Calgary factor.

In Calgary it is all about choosing between being pissed with Ed Stelmach (because he is not one of them) or being practical and pragmatic about their continuing place in Alberta’s political power structure. This choice is made especially problematic for Calgary’s power brokers if Edmonton goes to Ed this time and he ends up with a comfortable majority. Sending message to Ed by voting RED is one thing but losing influence to Edmonton - that would be too much to bear.

There is an interesting and telling comment in the Edmonton Journal today that quotes a U of C political scientist who said “Calgary’s not used to being ignored.” Calgary has not been ignored by Stelmach since he won the PC leadership, and particularly since he called this election campaign. But Alberta has changed and it is no longer “Ralph’s World.” In Ralph’s World , Klein did not so much "own" Calgary as the Calgary elites "owned" Ralph. They had Klein's ear and he pretty much did what they whispered into it.

But now there is a new man in charge and he comes from northern and rural Alberta. He is definitely not from Calgary...and that is disquieting for the Calgaty old-boys who firmly believed what was good for Calgary was defacto good for the rest of Alberta. Ed is not in the pockets of these energy elites nor is he beholden to them. As a result the old energy sector power players don’t know how to respond to him except to be personally condescendingly at times, brashly aggressive at other time, especially over royalties, and a tad defensively too, from time to time.

The energy elites in Calgary are used to being “The Loop” not merely in the loop. The Calgary energy elite angst is made more complicated as they wonder and weigh what will be their future influence in Alberta politics if they go RED and Ed wins a comfortable majority particularly because of a strong “EDmonton” showing. The Edmonton outcome is still uncertain but that does not make the Calgary power-broker-voter decision any easier as they try and figure out how they can stay “in control and in charge of Alberta.”

In any event, sometime tomorrow night we will know the outcomes of this election. There will be many different outcomes depending on your perspectives and aspirations for the province - and your place in it. By Tuesday, the past will just be the past and Alberta will be moving on in one way or another, in one direction or another and with a new government with a new mandate.

I just hope the election results are clear and conclusive and not vague and variable. If the latter happens we will waste a lot more of our precious time fumbling around trying to get our political act together trying to get our future directions and destinations defined, designed and delivered. We have already lollygagged for 8 years at the end of Ralph’s World.” Alberta can’t afford 2 or 3 more years of wondering, wandering and squandering our future opportunities and potential.