Reboot Alberta

Friday, August 29, 2008

More Palin for VP talk

So here is the GOP VP Nominee - Sarah Palin. This clip is last year in response to the rumours she may be considered for the VP lsot.

This shows how the old-boy sexist Republicans saw her. Nice to see a woman nominee. Too bad she may be an example of gender tokenism.

She is pretty stong politically. She brought Big Oil to its knees on fraud charges over Alaska resource royalites.

She is tough and competent and the real political maverick on the McCain-Palin ticket.

Harper Denies The Economy is Heading For Trouble and is Shifting His Share of the Blame.

Stephen Harper tells Canadians not to worry we may only be in a “technical recession” and then he resurrects the ghost of Trudeau economics consistent with his usual hiding the facts and resorting to rhetoric.

Nobody is talking about a Trudeau-esque economic model for the 21st century – except of course old-school thinking Steve Harper. He promotes fear and angst and his political tactics promote his penchant for living in the past.

Only a conniving economist could politically parse data to declare there is a “technical recession” and that it really does not mean anything. Why? According to our economist Prime Minister “Even if it is true, I don’t think it is a real recession. There are job losses, but overall employment is pretty stable.” Boy that is a reassuring confidence building bit of analysis that should warm the hearts of Canadians who know we are living on an economic knife-edge.

Here are some Statistics Canada “real recession facts” conveniently ignored by our so-call economist Prime Minister ignores as he misdirects our attention about a “real recession.”

1 Canada ran a deficit in the first Quarter this year. This is because the economy is slowing. The Harper tax cuts at the top end and tax hike at the bottom end have reduced revenues so Harper can justify axing more programs and public sector jobs. Thatcher and Reagan economics are the threat facing Canadians under a Harper government.

2 Canada’ second Quarter wasn’t much better with a GDP “growth” of 0.1% and foreign markets for our goods and services declines for the FOURTH CONSECUTIVE QUARTER (emphasis added).

3 The United States economy is tanking and Canada is faring much better – or so we are being told by the Harper government. Not true according to Stats Canada Quarter report released today. The real numbers based on the Second Quarter results shows the Canadian economy growing 0.3% per year while the Americans are on track for a sound 3.3% annual growth rate.

Harper once again chooses “truthiness” and misdirection to elude dealing with the economic facts. Instead of alluding to the truth about the economic facts and their consequences he denies we are getting in trouble and consistently shifts any share of the blame away from himself and his “government.”

Denial, Deceit and Diversion are his core political values. He must not win the next election whenever it happens.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Re: An Election! Harper is Entitled to His Own Opinion But Not His Own Facts.

Mr. Harper is still posturing for his own political purposes. First he shuns the Chinese by not attending the Olympics and now he is trying to tell the Governor General she can’t attend the Paralympics to represent Canada because he might want to resign.

Then he fakes us along even further by saying he is trying to set up phony crisis meetings with other party leaders, some of whom he thinks are not leaders anyway and spends hundreds of thousands of donor money on TV ads to say so.

He brags about how well he has done achieving his five point mandate while leading one of the longest, if not the longest, serving minority government in Canadian history. Now he tells us Parliament is dysfunctional, won’t support his agenda (which he has hidden so far) and therefore we need an election. Parliament is not even sitting. How can it be dysfunctional? What is his agenda for governing or is that a secret he will spring on us after the next election?

He fears a shift in sentiment in Canada emerging out of the November U.S. Presidential elections if Obama wins so he wants to go now. He wants to avoid embarrassing and damaging findings from his own In-Out Advertising manipulations so he wants to go now. He want to avoid the continued personal linking to his mentor, former PM Brian Mulroney as the public inquiry over Mulroney/Schreiber lobbying cash while an elected Member of Parliament.

Harper is bad news anyway you want to look at him. His reputed strong management skills have proven to be bluster and bullying. His great strategic mind is only aimed at serving his personal purposes not his duty to serve the public interest while sitting in the highest office in the land. He is devoid of qualities of statesmanship and scoffs at the responsibility to provide good governance. He is all about power and politics and pettiness.

Harper is apparently prepared to cancel the four by-elections, three of them happening September 8th. Instead Harper wants to go for a full scale national election now and uselessly spend over $300,000,000 of taxpayer’s money. This “strategy” is instead of governing and as our Prime Minister, having the courage and character to meet the Canadian Parliament scheduled to open on September 15th.

Why on these tactics? Because he will do poorly in those by-elections in part because he has been the government and by-election results are always a means to send the government of the day a message. Harper sees himself as the Emperor of Canada. He doesn’t need a bunch of ticked off by-election voter sending him any kind of message – particularly one that may be critical of his divine right to rule.

Want more? Just look at his Orwellian explanation as to why he is prepared to go to the polls. He claims he has been trying to meet with Dion for “several weeks” even if by telephone, when in fact the idea of a meeting was floated eight days ago. Dion offered to meet Harper August 26 but his office declined. The PMO realized it was dishonest to claim any urgency to meet and then refuse to do so. They then changed their minds and tried to accept the Dion offer but other commitments were already made by Dion’s office. Now this is all Dion’s fault.

Harper is looking like a dufus with all this pomposity and posturing. He is a man in fear. His bullying has not worked nor has it served him well to improve his image as a leader worthy of our consent to govern us…all of us – not just his friends. He has reverted to Bush-like dishonesty to hide his true motives behind a “need” for an election. He is now making false claims about the facts as he tries to engineer a sense of crisis in the land that simply does not exist. Harper is turning into his own weapon of political mass destruction as a result.

I don’t think an election now will clear the air or decide much of anything because there has not been enough time for any thoughtful attention to be paid by Canadians to the alternatives they would be offered. Canadians have not warmed to Harper and don’t trust him in two and an half years. His best before date has long since expired.

They don’t know Dion yet and therefore they still don’t trust that he is different from the old-style Liberal presumptiveness. The NDP are a spent force and the Greens are just that – too green to govern…experience wise not ecologically. They should be rewarded with some seats next election, in October 2009, when it should happen by law, so they can get some serious seasoning.

The only thing Harper has going for him is people are still pretty allergic to politics and may not show up to vote. That only serves his purposes of personal power and not the best interests of the country or its citizens. I blame Chretien and Martin and their long time warring factions within the Liberal Party for most of this mess today. Their long standing personal and internal squabbles created a Canadian version of the Weimer Republic and the Adscam to fraudulently pander to Quebec to insultingly buy them off to move away from separation was the last straw for federalist in Quebec and the moderate majority of the rest of Canada.

We had sent them a message in the form of a Martin minority government but not enough changed and with the ugly truth of Adscam we’d finally had enough of them and decided to throw them out in January 2006. We choose Harper in what we thought would be the lesser of two evils but did not really trust him with absolute power; hence a minority Conservative government emerged on Election Day. So far Harper’s leadership has proven him to be “lesser” for sure in terms of his governing ability, vision for the country and his leadership capacity. But he has also shown us he is no less evil than the worst aspects of the former Liberal Party.

So the moral of the story is always, we get the kind of government we deserve in a democracy. If there is going to be an unnecessary election Canadians better wake up and take it seriously. To stay asleep and ignore the power of the ballot will only hurt your family and your future.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Imagine the Power of the SuperNet in Your Home - From Your Phone Line

The technological changes around broadband are becoming very interesting and exciting. Telcos and cable companies are trying to play in each other’s markets as they move to compete in both television and telephone services. This competition ought to be good for consumers in terms of service and cost - but will it?

It gets more exciting in Alberta with the additional intrigue of the publically owned and privately operated fibreoptic network known as the SuperNet. There is an enormous range of new possibilities for individual citizens and enterprises in every community in Alberta, once they have access to this fabulous 21st century SuperNet infrastructure.

The SuperNet fibre optics network cost Alberta taxpayers about $700m to install. Local connections – the so-called “last mile” (known as the “first mile” if you are in rural Alberta) was to be provided by local private Internet Service Providers (ISPs). If an ISP did not step up to serve a community then Bell would provide the last/first mile connection.

The last mile solution so far has been wireless radios and satellites. But something new is in the wind. Something old has become new again. And it can also provide another even more competitive connection option for the first/last mile challenge. That old thing that is suddenly new again is SuperNet connectivity using plain old copper telephone wire.

Hardwired telephones are already everywhere in the province. This copper telephone wire is reliable, robust, resilient and resistant to interference from weather conditions. It is also regulated by the CRTC and likely to be priced very competitively compared to the Big Three Telco’s wireless oligopoly.

This plain old copper wire is also capable of providing full motion high definition video conferencing to and from your home or business anywhere in Alberta. The current practice of limiting Internet uploads and downloads by the big ISPs is not a problem once you have access to the SuperNet. It is an enormous data pipe and publically owned and controlled to serve the public interest not just for private gain like the Telcos. Nothing against the free open and competitive marketplace but one has to wonder if that really exists in the cell phone and wireless business world in Canada these days.

Actually using copper wire for Internet access is not new. It was the norm in Alberta before DSL lines came in. By the looks of it copper wire is coming back as a “new normal.” Yesterday’s Globe and Mail ran a story on BCE who says they going to be using its copper telephone wire to provide broadband to homes in Ontario and Quebec. They are only providing the excessively expensive fibre optic cable to a limited number of new apartment and condos which must have at least 100 units to justify the cost. What is more the fibre stops at the building basement and the signal into the individual units will be via the good old copper telephone wire.

That is exactly what needs to happen in Alberta. We need to get individual home and business copper wire access to the SuperNet just as Bell is doing in Ontario and Quebec. The only difference is in Alberta the telephone lines are owned by Telus - not Bell. Bell recently said they did not see the “business case” for them to use copper wire access to Alberta’s SuperNet. Strange isn’t it that there is a business case for copper wire internet access by Bell in Ontario and Quebec. Could it be because Bell owns the copper wires in Ontario and Quebec - but not in Alberta? Remember, Telus owns the wires in Alberta.

Telus has not been playing much of a part in the Alberta SuperNet project. They lost the bid to build it originally to Bell. They have recently been negotiating with the government of Alberta on the copper wire access issue but they seem reluctant to agree. This reluctance is impeding individual Albertans from expanded and enhanced internet and other SuperNet capacity services including full motion video conferencing capacity in and from your home or business.

I will talk in later Blog posts what that could mean for Albertans economically, ecologically and socially. Yes sir – exciting times indeed, especially when you consider is was only 15 years ago the Alberta Research Council enabled the commercial Internet in this province. Lot has happened since the Internet became an everyday part of our lives. With SuperNet access pending using copper telephone wire, even more exciting times and opportunities are coming.

Pressure on Wireless Business is Mounting

The negative reaction to the big brother controllers of the wireless business is mounting. Look at this aggressive and political approach by CREDO mobile in the States. They are using Karl Rove as a hook to move customers away from providers like AT&T and Verison. Go to CREDO to see what I mean.

Even the business types at the Canadian Association of Income Trust Investors are taking a poke at Bell Canada Enterprises on their website. They point out the privatization of BCE (2/3 of it now owned by a private US equity investor) so far has cut $1B in dividends to investors, axed 2500 jobs, wiped away another $1B in bondholder value, and paying $800m a year less in taxes. Ouch!

I love the marketplace - when it knows its place. The marketplace especially cool when consumers take back control by word and deed. The Internet is such a terrific way to take back control as shown by the examples above. No wonder China and big ISPs what to control what consumers and citizens see and do on the Internet. Don't let it happen - get serious about Net Neutrality.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Harper's Base Turns On Him - and For Good Reason

CAITI-On Line is a Blog I follow that speaks for those thousands of folks who invested in Income Trusts and are disgruntled to put it mildly.

They likely voted for Harper last time. But it will not happen this time since Harper reneged on a promise not to reverse the Income Trust policy in the last election.

These people make up much of the hard core fiscal conservative base for the Harper Cons. They are not happy and have turned into engaged citizens and activist voters...the kind of people I admire.

Look at their take on why Harper wants an early election. It is all about manipulative politics, something fixed elections dates were supposed to cure. An election now is all about HIM and his passion for PERSONAL POWER. That come across clearly when you look at this list.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Harper Should Resign and Dion and Layton Should Form a Coalition Government Until October 2009.

Before Dion meets with Harper to discuss cooperation for the pending parliamentary session he should meet with Layton first. A couple of reasons come to mind. First they ought to see if they can work out a collaboration to see if they can run a minority government until the fixed election date of October 2009.

If Harper wants to resign OK that is his business. But that need not automatically trigger a $400m useless election. The Governor General can accept the Harper government resignation because, as Prime Minister, he apparently feels Parliament is dysfunctional.

That is not the case. He has to admit it, given how he brags that he has delivered on his mandate in the past 2+ years that he has been in power. Harper is such an unabashed obfuscater with his self serving mewing about a dysfunctional Parliament. Consider that he has his henchmen draft a 200 page guide for his Caucus instructing them how use cheap political tricks and tactics just to disrupt Parliamentary Committee proceedings. And he now says Parliament is dysfunctional. Well I wonder who is to blame for that.

I like the idea of Harper resigning now. But I don’t think the only option coming out of that decision is an election. It is entirely within the Governor General’s purview and powers, given the minority situation, to consider inviting a coalition of Liberals and New Democrats to try and govern. I think that is a viable alternative for the short term until October 2009.

I think before any behind-closed-doors horse trading goes on with Harper, Dion and Layton ought to look at cutting coalition deal as an alternative to an election that dishonors the new fixed date election law they all just passed.

Such a Dion/Layton chat would also serve another purpose. These two parties ought to see if they can agree on what conditions they would require of Harper for continuing support. They ought to demand that they meet with the PM together so they don’t get inveigled and misled by the PMO in the post meeting patter, positioning and pandering.

If they can’t meet the PM together, they better take a witness and record the conversation too. Of course they should be able to trust the PM, after all he holds the highest and most honourable office in the land. But this is politics and it is always best to be able to verify what was actually said – just so everyone stays honourable.

I think a few reasonable conditions to present to Harper would be an immediate proclamation of his Accountability Act so it becomes binding on his government now. He honours it now more in the breach and that is unacceptable. Why not demand an immediate alternate strategy to provide for the 250,000 daycare spaces the private sector was supposed to provide but has been swept under the carpet. Struggling young families are not making it just with his taxable $100 per month per infant. He promised these day care spaces but has conveniently forgotten young families.

The Mulroney/Schreiber Inquiry has to be started immediately as well and not be a kangaroo court of his design. It needs to be a full fledged public inquiry to help restore public confidence it he Office of the Prime Minister – at a number of levels. The delays are deplorable and are undermining democracy. And while you at it, insist that Harper drops his U.S. clone copyright proposal called Bill C-61 and start over.

The best outcome I see would be for Harper to go the GG and resign and then she appoints a coalition Liberal/NDP government that would serve until the October 2009 - legal election date. They could go into a fall session and use it to undo some of the mess Harper has made like reverse the political interference in the judicial selection process, restore the arts and culture funding cuts and preserve the safe injection sight in Vancouver. There a many more such Harper ideological screw ups then need reversing right now and no need to wait for an election to fix them.

It is time for Harper to go – and he says is thinking of resigning. But an immediate election is unnecessary to achieve that end. The GG can accept his resignation and then look to other parties to form a government. When the next election happens, in October 2009 according to law, and if we end up with another minority, then Dion and Layton will have some experience in a coalition. Perhaps they can continue to replace the Cons then too, if necessary.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Buffett Not Investing In Oils Sand - Not Yet Anyway!

Here is a transcript of what Warren Buffet said this morning on CNBC about his visit to the oil sand last Monday. I’ll still bet I was right, that Gates and Buffett did play some Bridge on this trip.

QUICK: Welcome back, everybody, to this special edition of SQUAWK BOX. We'vebeen talking all morning long with Warren Buffett of Omaha, Nebraska, sincewe're live in Omaha today.And, Warren, we've covered a range of topics, but there has been an awful lotof people who are interested in the trip you made this week. On Monday youheaded up with Bill Gates and you got to take a look at the tar sands. What happened?

Mr. BUFFETT: Well, what happened was Bill and I talked some months ago aboutjust how interesting the whole thing was from a geology standpoint and fromthe standpoint that that represents one of the few big upcoming sources ofmore oil production in the world, or very few. And we both thought we'dunderstand a little bit better if we went up and looked at it than simply byreading about it. So on Monday six of us, Bill and a few other fellows--theKiewit company arranged it. They're--they've done a lot of construction upthere. And we went up to northern Alberta and we saw a very big mining-typeproject. There are two ways that they recover oil from the tar sands. Andthen we went to this in situ project also, and we had some perfect peopleexplain a lot about how it worked both from a economic standpoint and from a physical standpoint.

QUICK: Uh-huh. And was this something that you came up with, that Bill cameup with, your friend, Walter Scott, from the Kiewit company? Who came up withthe idea?

Mr. BUFFETT: Well, Walter Scott arranged it for us.

QUICK: Right.

Mr. BUFFETT: Walter's a whole lot smarter than I am about what goes on inmining and all of--anything to do with the real world. I'm good with numbers.And so he arranged the trip for us. But it was something that Bill and Icooked up by--a couple of months ago when we were talking about the tar sands.We said why don't we go up and take a look? And so we found a date when sixof us could do it. Walter arranged the trip. We had some wonderful people upthere in Alberta at both projects that explained how the things really work,the costs involved. And they just couldn't have been more helpful.

QUICK: OK. So having seen that, there's already been a lot of people who'vebeen speculating that you must be interested in investing in this arena. Areyou?

Mr. BUFFETT: No, no. I go to the movies, but I don't buy movie companies.I mean, I--I'm always interested in understanding the math of things andunderstanding as much as I can about all aspects of business. And what Ilearn today may be useful to me two years from now. I mean, if I understandthe tar stands today and oil prices change or whatever may happen, I'm--I'vegot that filed away and I can--I can use it at some later date. And that'sreally the wonderful thing about investments is your knowledge is cumulative.So if you learn about coal or you learn about retailing or something, 40 yearsyou--it's useful at some point.

QUICK: Wait, does that make you think that an investment in a tar sands company, somebody who's making--taking advantage of that would not be worth it at $120 a barrel for oil?

Mr. BUFFETT: Well, the biggest variable in whether it's a good investment isthe price of oil. Now, it's important to know how much they can get out andwhat their costs are going to be and what the capital costs--all of that isimportant and that fits into it. But you still have to figure out what yourown feeling is about what oil's going to be selling for three years from nowor five years from now. Because you could be the world's greatest miningengineer, but if you were wrong about the price of oil in a big way it wouldnegate all that knowledge. So it--I can tell you that if 100--if you had $120oil from now till, you know, 50 years from now, that the tar sands wouldbe--would work out very well. But I don't know the answer to that. And I mayform an opinion at some point, and I've got it--I'm prepared to form thatopinion now.

QUICK: But you are not actively looking right now to invest in any of thesecompanies?Mr.

BUFFETT: Do I have a buy order this morning? The answer's no.

If you are interested in the video of the interview - here is the link:

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Grandinite Gives Some Sound Oil Sands Investment Advice to Buffett

The Grandinite knows what he is talking about in terms of the variables around oil sand investment. This blog post on the 5 criteria to consider for oil sands investment should be worth a consulting fee from Warren Buffett.

Sound analysis with maps and charts...more than you get from most "advisors" these days.

Big Telcos Are Driving Me Crazy - How About You?

I am getting increasingly suspicious about how the Big Three Telco Internet Service Providers are dealing with the customer these days. I am a Rogers cell phone customer. Have been for years and I like the company. However, I just saw an ad for Rogers Internet Mobility Stick in the Globe and Mail today. It drove me crazy.

It promises a DSL Internet connection on a stick which is a good idea but the fine print…the devil in the detail is where the truth often lies…or at the very least misleads. Consider the advertised price of “starts at $30/month.” “Starts” there indeed! It sure does not end there. In the fine print at the bottom we see this offer is “subject to change without notice.” I will not be a customer so I will never know if this $30 price changed before I got to the store. Is it a loss leader…or perhaps a bait and switch? Not accusing. Just asking. Inquiring minds want to know.

Next we see some fees and charges that “…apply in addition to the Monthly Service Fee. Like the $6.95 monthly System Access Fee. That will be added in every month so why not be honest and say up front the service will Start at $36.95 a month? They take pains to explain this is a “non-governmental fee.” As if that is supposed to mean something. A “non-governmental fee” is a commercially based service charge, plain and simple. Why bring the government into it at all…even by implication, or should I say “non-implication?” God know we have enough non-government already, and we sure don’t need more non-government. BTW, if you want 911 services – add $.50 a month for more “non-government service” (sic).

Now we get into the really fine print. They say in the big print this Stick “gives you the fastest mobile browsing and downloads.” Great but what about uploads? I want to do some serious video uploads with my Sticky Mobile Internet Broadband service. Talk about being sticky. The very fine print says there will “overage data usage” charged extra and added to my monthly bill. What exactly does that phrase “overage data usage” mean? When do I know I am over using the data service? It is at Rogers’ discretion as to when and how much they decide to charge? How fair and clear is that? Could such a contract be void for uncertainty?

Next we have additional roaming charges. Well so much for being able to “Get Broadband Virtually Anywhere” as they promised in the advertisement. So I guess I can enjoy having the Stick “virtually anywhere” but then why do I have this feeling the company is sticking it to me with some serious and perhaps significant additional roaming costs, just because I use the product as promised? More price uncertainty.

Finally there is the “unsaid” that makes me wonder and mistrust even more. They brag about having the “Fastest wireless network download speeds within HSPA coverage.” What on earth is HSPA coverage? And why only measure download speeds. Do I get the same “fastest” upload speeds too? Since they are silent on this point and since the big Telcos already limit internet upload speeds now, my guess is no, I don’t get the same fast upload speeds from the Stick. I’ll bet I could technically get the same speed both directions but the providers don’t want me to have that level service, even though I am paying for it?

The Internet is interactive and evolving. The interactive aspect requires more bandwidth and speed to accommodate video uploads because that is where the Internet culture is evolving.

Don’t sell me a cell phone with video capacity and then limit its usefulness to me because you throttle the upload speed on my Internet connection. That is not what I bargained for in either instance. If you are allowed to do that in our contract, then I want out. Oh yes, according to the fine print that will trigger an Early Cancellation Fee on top of everything else won’t it? I’d text the cell phone providers a piece of my mind but they would only return a text message advertisement to me and charge me for privilege of receiving it.

Tell me again just how the open marketplace in the free enterprise system is supposed to improve my life because competition works best to serve those progressive ends. Telus, Bell and Rogers control 95% of the cell phone revenue market and I don’t know how much of the Internet market. That market place is not open enough and is sure ain’t free. matter how you look at it.

Now they want to take the usury of the cell phone corporate culture and apply it to the Internet making it look and cost like Cable and Pay television. It is time Canadians learned a lesson from Charlton Heston and the National Rifle Association. If they want to charge me and force me to subscribe to Internet websites on a fee for service basis like Cable or Pay TV, then they will have to take my wireless mouse from my cold dead hand first.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

FCC Has Teeth to Fine Internet Service Provider Abusers - Does the CRTC?

Here is a link to the Comcast decision by the FCC in the States to bring down the hammer on a service provider diddling the Internet service and access to their customers. They were "throttling" also some times called shaping. This is when your Internet provided has a different rate for downloading than uploading. So you con download easily at the rates you are paying for. However to upload a video from our computer - or to do video conferencing, you have a much lower speed put on your system. As a result you are not getting the Internet service levels that you are actually paying for when this service provider trickery happens. It is a RIPOFF!

We know this is happening in Canada too and it needs to be challenged at the CRTC. I don't think our regulators have the kind of teeth the FCC has to levy hefty fines for such customer abuse...but it ought to.

I will be posting more on this and other Net Neutrality and Alberta SuperNet issues over then next few weeks as well. Stay tuned!

"The Right Call" Column in the Green Issue of Alberta Venture

Here is the link to the latest Alberta Venture magazine column - "The Right Call"

This month it is on the Social-Environment Contract of business. It is very timely given the water issues emerging in oil sands development.

The participants are yours truly, Janet Keeping and U of A Chancellor and former Master of the Oil Sands Universe, Mr. Eric Newell.

It is all coordinated and ringmastered by Fil Fraser.

Buffett Buzz on the Oil Sands is Building...Better Fasten Your Seat Belts Alberta

I love how the communications media works. It has been 40 years of oil sands development that has been going on in Alberta. There is over $100B of oil sands investment committed and in the mill. We have envoys in Washington working diligently to get some attention amongst American energy sector influentials but only with middling to moderate success.

Then one visit by Warren Buffett and he is going to generate as much attention as the 500 dead ducks did. If the goal of the promoters of the Buffett visit was to neutralize the 500 dead ducks they will be disappointed. He will draw attention to the oil sands but it will not draw attention away from the ecological issues in oil sands development as the same time. The economic and ecological aspects will both be in play and there will be voices demanding reconciliation of these two aspects. Buffett will be amongst those voices I expect.

Buffett's junket will no doubt generate lots of media and market interests. It will also start to make Americans much more aware that they have a real solid solution to their dependence on Middle East and Hugo Chavez for energy supply tight here in little 'ol boring Canada. The Alberta government can also save its $25,000,000 for an advertising campaign to try and buy respect now that Warren Buffett is in the media mix. He will generate more positive publicity and buzz for the oil sands than any high paid pandering program would ever do.

There are other consequences of the Buffett Buzz. The oil addicted American energy consumer will soon go beyond being profoundly ignorant or passively indifferent to the potential of oil sands. They will wake up to the fact that Alberta is a peaceful, stable, secure, friendly, reliable and an already enormous energy supplier to the lower 50 States. They will soon be insisting we aggressively ramp up oil sands production to meet their growing needs. That is a more serious problem. We can't go faster that we are. We also have to develop the oil sands in the most integrated and sustainable way possible. We must not just push the development in the most rapid way possible without careful planning. We need to figure out how to optimize economic outcomes and avoid or effectively mitigate the inevitable ecological damage. We also have to ensure we have the necessary public infrastructure in place and on time so we don't destroy the social fabric of Alberta at the same time.

We can't go too fast for many reasons including realistic limiting factors like the skills and labour shortages, material shortage, insufficient upgrading, refining and transportation capacity. We have not even talked about the impact on land, air and water plus the growing natural capital deficit due to the unrequited reclamation requirements.

Besides that we have many other international players already involved in oil sands projects including Japan, France and Norway to name a few. China is here too but will be investing even more aggressively soon. Ireland just arrived I understand. There is a constant back and forth of Middle East oil industry players visiting Fort McMurray. They too are no doubt kicking tires looking for investment opportunities. India is even scouting the oil sands possibilities.

What if they all want oil sands for security of energy supply too? Alberta may need its own foreign policy before too long now that Buffett has blown the lid of the secret of the oil sands. I wonder how Ottawa is going to react to that? Harper is keen on providing more provincial powers. Alberta may have to press him on providing them as part of the pending election.

Buffett is not a spin-meister. He is listened to and highly respected. He is on NBC television on Friday talking oil sands. What he says will have a significant impact on the industry and the future of Alberta for years to come. Albertans better fasten their seat belts. It could be a rough and tumble ride depending on what Warren Buffett says.

Swann Runs for the Alberta Liberal Leadership

David Swann is in the race for the leadership of the Alberta Liberal leadership race. It is as I suspected and I am not surprised he did not pursue a new party approach. A new party demands you gather a swack of signatures from a bunch of diverse, disgruntled and disengaged Albertans and then try and mould them into a unified political force, all within four years. That would a quixotic adventure at best.

He is by far the best candidate in the Liberal Leadership running so far based on insight, intelligence and ability to listen and learn. He is also a reluctant politician. He got into the political arena to respond to the injustice and unfairness of being fired for speaking out as a medical health officer. That all appeared to be about pure politics. I kind of like reluctant politicians. Ambitious politicos like Stephen Harper make me nervous. I like the pure laine servant leader types who are in it for the opportunity to be of service to the public and not about wielding power. My reading of Swann is he fits the servant leader mould well.

I got to know a bit about David Swann this past week end because we were both at the Keepers of the Water Conference in Fort Chipewyan. We coincidentally flew up together on Friday and he was scheduled to fly out later that day. The conference was so significant that he stayed over and we had some time to sit and chat about issues facing the province and the state of democracy in Alberta.

We share a concern over the decline of citizen participation in the political and public life of the province. He said many Albertans were “allergic to politics.” When he said that, I remember thinking two things, first, he is right. My second reaction was wow a medical doctor who can use a metaphor in a meaningful way. There may be hope for this guy in political leadership. He is clearly a social progressive and ecologically conservationist Albertan and wants a responsible and sustainable economic regime.

Regardless of policy and issues, Job 1 for the next Alberta Liberal leader will be to pay off the party debts of about $700,000.00. They simply can’t be a viable alternative if they are fiscally vulnerable and can’t afford to campaign effectively. Swann showed he can raise money and did pretty well comparatively speaking in the fund raising for his constituency run last election.

If he wins, he has to show he can push a bigger rock up a steeper and longer hill and get some serious dollars donated to kill the deficit in the Liberal coffers. Given the political culture of Alberta, Swann is not likely to find 70 donors with $10K each. In fact what he needs to do is find 7000 Albertans with $100 each to come to the aid of the Alberta Liberal party. That would be more effective politically too. The good news is there are at least a couple of years to get it done given that the next Alberta election is about four years hence.

Stelmach was profound in his victory speech when he won the PC leadership saying “Nice guys can finish first.” Same could be - and should be - true for David Swann in this campaign. Glad to see quality people, regardless of party affiliations, still prepared to put their private lives on the line, their careers on hold, and stand for public office in hopes of serving the greater good…

More Oil Sands Issues Get Added to the Mix and Start Heating Up

As Alice said in her Wonderland “it is getting curiousier and curiousier” particularly as the continuing saga of the Alberta oil sands unfolds. We had dead ducks and now freaky fish are being found in the waters in the Fort Chipewyan area. The “Dirty Oil” label is sticking and gaining traction as the ENGO protesters are picking up the pace and pursuing this messaging with some serious persistence.

The recent secret visit to Fort McMurray by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett will draw even more American media and special interest group attention to the oil sands. We can expect lots of buzz coming out of this trip, especially given the American cultural proclivity for celebrating celebrity.

The oil sands are now going to be in the geo-political cross hairs more than ever as a result for these guys paying us this recent visit. The oil sands are significant in so many ways like as an enormous energy resource, a gigantic investment opportunity, and a massive set of ecological issues. It even has to be considered as a potential terrorist target too given it strategic importance to North American continental energy supply and security.

We now have another chapter as many of the northern First Nations Chiefs from Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and the NWT got together this past weekend in Fort Chipewyan. They are drawing a line in the water by unanimously passing a “Keepers of the Water Declaration. The Declaration was “…affirming water is a sacred trust and a fundamental human right.” The First Nation leadership is committed to “taking all necessary steps in our power to protect our lands, sustain our communities and assert our rights.”

The First Nations Chiefs at the Keepers of the Water Conference agreed to launch a legal action to assert their rights, build unity between the First Nations Communities and work with other organizations that support their goals. This set of aspirations reminds me of an African Proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go as a group.”

Looks like northern First Nations through their Keepers of the Water Declaration have decided to take the longer road and to go together. That has to be a good thing. In fact former Premier of the Northwest Territories Steven Kakfwi told me his reaction to the Keepers of the Water Declaration saying “This is as good as it gets.”

I’m thinking the Keepers of the Water Declaration will be seen as an historic moment in Canadian history. Not as big a deal as the Last Spike or the Queen signing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms perhaps. I think it will definitely be in the next level of significant historic events in the maturation of Canada and First Nations relations as they continue to be clarified.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Gate and Buffett Get the Buzz on the Oil Sands

What gives? Bill Gates and Warren Buffett visit Fort McMurray and don't even stop by to say hello? I was in Fort McMurray for over three hours on Monday and never saw these dudes. I was on a lay over on my way home from the Water Keepers Conference in Fort Chipewyan. More on that later.

I was having lunch in the Sawridge with Darcy Henton of the Edmonton Journal and fellow traveler Don Reimer of Fort McMurray. I understand everyone in McMurray passes through the Sawridge sometime during the day. Chances are I should have seen Gates and Buffett at the Sawridge given how long, liquid and thoroughly enjoyable our lunch was.

My bet is these billionaires spend their entire Ft. Mc. time flying over the tailing ponds and the open pit mines in their private jet while indulging their common passion playing Bridge together throughout their visit.

Welcome to Alberta gentlemen...and don't forget to consider the societal and ecological aspects of this investment opportunity. Don't forget to insist on an integrated, responsible, sustainable and comprehensive development approach as you consider the oil sands as the best option for a secure, safe, reliable, close and friendly provider for the future of American energy supply needs.

Next time you're in town, stop by and say hello.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Political Ground is Going to be Shifting Between Ottawa, Washington and Alberta

There are strange things happening politically these days. Everything old is becoming new again. In Canada we have Prime Minister Harper promoting asymmetrical open federalism and musing about transferring some international and foreign relations powers to the provinces.

This approach is the same as Joe Clark proposed many years ago in his view of Canada being a “Community of Communities.” Pierre Trudeau, a strong centralist, called Clark the “Head Waiter for the Provinces.” Paul Martin was also becoming very adept in this Head Waiter role too. I wonder if Harper will wear this tag too. Elizabeth May is likely to be the source of such a “reprimand.”

Quebec and Alberta will love the new Harper approach to redefining a decentralized Canada. Many others, primarily those who are Ottawa-dependent and Ontario, who is in economic decline, will see it as weakening Confederation. It will mean that Alberta will become more aggressive in setting up more foreign offices to advance its trade beyond the US and help recruit for labour shortages. This is an idea that is already in the works and bound to happen.

Obama is reviving some old ideas of Ronald Reagan and revising his energy position too. Obama’s suggestion that the Americans release their Strategic Petroleum Reserves to reduce oil prices was a tactic effectively implemented by President Ronald Reagan. In Reagan’s day this policy decision had a dramatic and immediate downward impact on oil prices. Releasing these oil reserves put Alberta’s economy immediately into the dumpster.

This happened just before the NEP took hold, which would have devastated the Alberta economy if it was given the chance. The NEP’s disastrous impact on Alberta’s economy is an urban myth because Reagan’s release of the Strategic Oil Reserves actually beat the federal Liberals to the punch in destroying the Alberta economy back then. But we Albertan’s have never “forgotten” the NEP - nor have we ever forgiven the Federal Liberals for it.
Obama is now “nuancing” his off shore drilling opposition and his anti-NAFTA stance now too.

All this Obama shifting has significant implications for Alberta and especially the oil sands development. One of the reasons Obama want to release the Strategic Oil Reserves now is to put light crude on the market to reduce gasoline prices. He also wants to replace the reserves with heavy oil that is lower priced but requires refining. I expect the Americans are going to be looking to Alberta’s oil sands as a long term source of that heavier oil, and why wouldn’t they?

If Obama becomes President with a Democratic Congress and all this happens, the States will soon start seeing the oil sands as their best source for reliable continental energy supply. Then Alberta will need to respond. Alberta's response will be to take advantage of Harper’s new decentralized Canada approach of more provincial powers on international matters.

Alberta will have to establish its own provincial foreign policy to deal directly with the United States. It will start being about energy and environmental matters around processing and exporting of oil sands - a provincially owned natural resource with serious international and geo-political implications. Who knows where it will lead but, one thing for sure, it will be interesting times.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Suncor CEO Rick George Joins the Blogosphere.

Last summer I was encouraging Suncor to have their CEO, Rick George, become the new human face of the Alberta’s oil sands industry. The prior face of the oil sands industry was Syncrude’s CEO Eric Newell. He is a person of influence, integrity, wisdom and character who spoke for the oil sands from the mid-90’s until his retirement a few years back.

Ever since Eric retired this enormously important energy undertaking has lost its sense of identity and the growing and accelerating investment with erupting environment concerns has taken a toll on its credibility. It needs a person who is identified with the industry and who is the trusted industry talisman that we can rely on to tell us what is going on in oil sands development, from the industry perspective.

Suncor is a quality company in all aspects and intricacies of the triple bottom line approach to enterprise. It made sense to me then, and it still does today, that Suncor ought to be taking a significant leadership role around the future of the oil sands. Some one needs to be engaging, responding and explaining the challenges and potential for this industry to develop in ways that are profitable and ecologically responsible and socially sustainable.

That meant to me that Rick George needed to take up the torch from Eric Newell and it looks like he has done so. Check out his first Blog post and let me know what you think. It is worth a read and I am told he wrote it himself. I believe that. This is no cynical PR based messaging and positioning piece. It is in the first person – personal from a CEO of a very significant oil sands player - and with something to say.

I hope he writes many more blog posts and his efforts encourage other oil sands CEOs to write blog posts on this site too. Again, be careful and please tell us your thoughts in the first person – personal. Don’t insult your readers and Alberta citizen’s who own the resources you are exploiting, by having your comments ghosted by some anonymous PR specialist. That would do more harm than good.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) has set up a website called “Canada’s Oil Sands – A Different Conversation.” Some hard line environmental groups and activists will write this off as green wash. I don’t think so. At least I am willing to give it a chance and the benefit of the doubt for now. I intend to visit it often and comment when the spirit moves me, and evaluate its integrity cautiously.

It is a site that will have challenges and it will have to work hard prove its authenticity. Since it is an industry sponsored site there is a default position in Web culture that it is merely green wash. There are lots of green wash examples and some of the Alberta energy industry players engaged in green wash PR based efforts last year around the royalty review. So a healthy skepticism is not unfounded.

This CAPP effort will have to earn our trust and gain respect over time by showing us its candor and that it will be open, honest, comprehensive and factual on a wide range of key and controversial issues relating to the development of the oil sands. This effort is a big step in the right direction for CAPP and Albert’s oil sands developers. Let’s hope they do it right and for the right reasons.

For the record, I have been a Suncor shareholder for years. I have worked for Suncor but not presently. I also enjoyed working with Suncor people on a few other projects including the 2005 updating of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Business Case.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Ugly Face of Radical Conservatism

I have been called to task on this post and I have reflected on some of what is said in this post. I do think some of it is potentiall unfair. The Harper affinity to follow George Bush's economic, security, social policy and political tactics is a fact. That said, nothing Harper or Bush does or says should have them implicated in any way with the radical right-wing Conservative violence in Tennessee noted in this post. I think I may have left that erroneous impression with some of the content of this post. It was not my intent. Rather than edit the post, I think this explanation is a more reasonable way to clarify matters. If the Anonymous commenter who made this observation would comment again using his or her real name, and in a civil manner, I would be glad to post the comment.

There is a worrisome group of extreme social conservatives in America who are, all too often, running amok with violence, often causing death, due to their rigid and raging ideology. They used to murder doctors around the abortion issue. Now they seem to have moved on to targeting liberals because they can’t tolerate then because they are different. This radical right-wing anger against difference recently played itself out in a killing spree in a Tennessee Unitarian church.

I often wonder about these people and how they justify their beliefs and behaviours, especially when many of them espouse a fundamentalist religious belief as well. I see the Harper government aggressively aligning itself in word and deed with the political and governing philosophy of the George Bush White House . This is not healthy for so many reasons and at so many levels...and it is especially problematical for any hope Harper has of forming a majority government.

It gets very complicated to see how this value set advances the best principles of American society and for how it influences Canadian society too, especially with Mr. Harper's affinity for such political values. Mr. Harper’s personal relationship with George Bush and his embracing of the deceitful neo-Republican political techniques, coupled with a fear based foreign policy, does not serve Canada well at all. There are some insightful bloggers commenting on this event and its implications too. I particularly like what The Red Tory as to say.

The Canadian orienting value set is very much more classic liberal than the social conservative orientation of some scary people in the States. That Canadian difference is a good thing from my perspective, especially when we see events like what happened in Tennessee recently.

I think it is time the Harper Cons created and articulated a specific Canadian conservative vision. We don’t need a conservative Canada that is just variation on the American Republican social conservative model that we see happening now under Harper.

Otherwise the default decision by Canadian voters will be to see all conservatives as the same – just like the neo-Republicans of America, or worse yet, to presume conservatives are mostly like the radical conservatives who are killing liberals based on intolerance for differences.

As the sign on the wall in the Chapter’s bookstores says; “The World Needs More Canada.” The time has come for Canadian conservatives to start speaking up about what it means to be conservative in Canada, socially, ecologically and economically. If it means the same thing as being a American Republican then who needs the Conservative Party of Canada?