Reboot Alberta

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bailed Out Investment Banker and Brokers Still Pay Billions in Bogus Bonuses

The Wizards of Wall Street have fallen from grace due to greed and some should be in jail due to corruption and fraud. The tone deaf insensitive and PR deficit CEOs of the Big Three automaker how took their private corporate jets to Congress to beg for taxpayer bailouts was seen as ignorance, arrogance and insouciance – which it was. It was child’s play compared to the almost $20 billion of bonus payout the investment bankers blessed themselves in New York alone, after they got billions of taxpayer money.

The next time some superficial self-satisfied captain of commerce tells me governments should be run more like business I think I will explode. Given the greed, corruption and indifference too many of these self-satisfied sanctimonious scumbags has shown to serving the public interest and lack of respect to their social license to operate I think the business community better shake its collective head and do some serious soul searching about its roles and responsibilities.

I don’t like over regulation but I detest under regulation even more. It was the latter that led to a lax governing philosophy that was bred by too much of the small government, regulation elimination mantra of the fundamentalist conservative politicians that helped to get us into this mess and economic meltdown.

Those neo-con politicians and their “free enterprise” campaign funders have forgotten that the economy is a social value system that we humans invented. It is intended to serve the needs of our society - not the other way around.

When the economic system gets distorted to the point where greed and corruption become normalized then citizens have to get reengaged and start insisting some heads get banged together and some other heads roll. We need to start making some serious demands of the politicians, regulators and to start to tar and feather, Internet style, those psychopathic self-satisfied corporate privateers who are cheating us and rip us off and then begging for taxpayer bailouts.

The cost of taxpayer cash to corporate bailouts must be much more public and regulatory scrutiny, operational transparency, fiscal accountability and governance controls on the private sector that gets the cash. They must be expected to satisfy the same ethical rigour, operational accountability and disclosure diligence that we expect of government officials and public servants. It is time we insisted that industry acted according to the same level of social service standards as we expect from government if they get a taxpayer bailout.

If you Masters of the Universe types expect taxpayer bailouts to be invested, lent and granted to your “free” enterprises in order to save your asses, then expect serious on-going open and transparent public accountability and scrutiny as one of the cost of raising that social capital from us citizens.

You supercilious business guys always knew that you are the “smartest guys in the room” - in any room - right? So I am sure you will have no trouble getting this new reality of accountability and transparency that will be imposed on you in exchange for taxpayer money.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Uncle Jay Explains: Jan. 26, 2009

Another update on political and cultural insights from Uncle Jay as he explains the news

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ken Chapman on Wildrose (Jan. 14, 2009)

This Interview on CBC Wildrose was around the time of the First Ministers meeting and Flaherty pushing for a single national securities regulator. A bad idea in my opinion andt he subject of a post I expect some dya soon.

Listen to this interview as context for the Federal Budget on Tuesday. I will be doing an interview on CBC Radio One - Wildrose all across Alberta on Wednesday about 12:45 pm in response to the Harper budget. Tune in!

Uncle Jay Explains: Jan. 19, 2009

Sorry I did not load this earlier in the week but Uncle Jay is never out of context. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Lost Generation

This video is 1:44 long and worth every second it takes to watch. Hat tip to Kim Bater Chair of the Canadian Rockies Public School district in Banff Alberta for the link.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Nexen Proves New Oil Sands Technology Works and Helps the Environment

With all the doom and gloom in the economy and the increasing angst around oil sands development there is still some good news coming out that is worth celebrating.

Nexen Inc. is an integrated, innovative and award winning Canadian energy company. It is involved in the Alberta oil sands, amongst other endeavours all over the globe. So here is the good news. They have just produced the first barrel of Premium Sweet Crude from their Upgrader at their Long Lake oil sands project.

On the face of this news, one could say “big deal” but it is. They have now proven that a new oil sands technology can work to scale that is both good for the environment and the corporate bottom line - at the same time. They have the Long Lake project now in production with a target of 60,000 barrels per day. They also upgrade the bitumen on site with a facility that uses this new environmentally responsible technology.

What the Nexen Long Lake project does is use some oil sands waste from their SAGD operations and they convert it into a synthetic natural gas that they use as a heat source in further oil sands production. This means less waste but also means they don’t need as much conventional natural gas to operate their plant. Using conventional natural gas for bitumen extraction has been described in the past as using "gold to mine lead." This new technology creates a "synthetic gold" if you will allow me to mangle the metaphor.

We need to see more energy companies show this kind of leadership and responsibility as we move forward to provide safe, secure reliable energy as well as RESPONSIBLE and SUSTAINABLE oil sands development.

Well done Nexen. Keep up the good work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Alberta Makes Housing Happen in Ft McMurray

The appointment of an Advisory Board on the development of 7000 residential housing units in the Parsons Creek area of Fort McMurray is great news. A full 20% of the first phase development will be affordable housing. This policy initiative has been a long time coming but better late than never.

I know most of the Advisory Board members and can say they are a very impressive group of people with experience, ability and integrity. Those members I know personally are involved and dedicated to the Wood Buffalo region and the northern part of Alberta generally. Good work Minister Fritz and thanks to those officials and citizens for taking on this task.

The Advisory Board is not going to develop the site but will represent community interests, advise and make recommendations to the powers that be about the overall development plan. The government lands will be sold and the profits will be reinvested in more affordable housing, schools, community health centres and recreation facilities.

Housing has long been a chronic and systemic problem in Fort McMurray for years. The release of Government of Alberta owned and controlled lands in the region have always been part of the solution. The Radke Report “Investing in Our Future: Responding to the Rapid Growth of Oil Sands Development” added to the political pressure and provided the policy clarity needed for the Stelmach government to break away from the lip-service paid to the issues by the former Klein regime.

Full Disclosure, way back in 2005 my firm worked on a Business Case and a tripartite agreement with all three orders of government to work out how to fund and process funds to meet infrastructure needs in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

It was agreed to as a preferred working model by every level of government at the administrative and political level but at the last minute Alberta balked at the political level about proceeding and it never found traction. Then Doug Radke came along with a terrific report that pushed the policy ball over the goal line. With new leadership in the province, the ideas and needs finally got some political traction.

With the current market and recession driven hiatus on further oilsands development the time to get going and to catch up to this serious housing crisis is now. Nice to see it happening.

President Obama, Please Bring Omar Home!

Nice to see the Harper government is “reassessing” its deplorable stand to let the Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier who has been tortured and rotting in the Bush/Cheney Guantanamo disgrace.

President Obama promised to undo Guantanamo human rights disgrace perpetrated by the Bush White House that not only suspended the Rule of Law in the United States, it breeched it constantly.

Khadr is charged and being tried in a U.S. military “court” process that is seriously deficient as a fair and impartial judicial process. Obama knows this, has said so repeatedly and now is acting on it, in the first day of his Presidency by staying all prosecutions and saying Guantanamo must be closed within a year. It is nice to have a lawyer in the White House that didn’t graduate in the bottom of his class for a change.

The Harper government has been intellectually and morally bankrupt on the Khadr case. The previous Liberal government was not much better but they didn’t know all the facts Harper has come to know. Khadr is the only western national still in Guantanamo that has not been repatriated to his homeland. Perhaps President Obama will bring Omar home with him on Air Force One when he visits Canada in the next few weeks. That would be sweet.

That moral and legal deficit is entirely on the shoulders of Stephen Harper how has failed, refused and neglected to act because pleasing George Bush was more important to him than protecting a Canadian citizen .

The recent “evidence” in an FBI agent’s “testimony” in Gitmo alleging Khadr saw Maher Arar in an Afghan “safe house” has been discredited under cross-examination. Arar is the other Canadian who has been victimized by the morally lax and intellectually lazy leadership of Stephen Harper. Hopefully this is the last of this kind of abuse of authority and legal processes by governments and their agents - like the FBI.

The world has been delivered from the vile and viciousness of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld regime. Our very own Prime Minister Harper was all ready and prepared to be their political instrument on too many of their reprehensible policy positions from social to environmental to economic abuses and disasters.

It is time to bring Omar home and face a real court in a real judicial proceeding in Canada for any charges that are serious and of substance; not merely politically motivated. Too many men and women have died over the centuries to enable, preserve and protect those freedoms for the rest of us.

Harper has dishonoured those sacrifices and we as citizens have been way too complacent and indifferent to such abuses of rights of fairness and freedom. It is time for Harper to go and with Rick Hillier showing some interest in replacing him, the time is ripening.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Canadian's tears of joy for Obama presidency

My friend and business partner Satya Das wrote a piece that ran in the Chicago area newspapers today to mark the day of the Obama presidency. I hope you enjoy it.

Anti-Epcor Protest Misleads and Fizzles...As It Should


I am fascinated over the various events and pieces of commentary on the proposed EPCOR purchase of the City of Edmonton Gold Bar Water Treatment Plant. The media coverage has been extensive including Letters to the Editor, an editorial, columnist coverage and an Op-Ed More about that in a minute.

Today the Edmonton City Council will have an all day non-statutory public hearing on the proposed transaction. My guess is more people will prudently opt to watch the Obama inauguration.

This issue has clearly not resulted in a spontaneous ground swell of citizen concern over the EPCOR proposal to buy the plant from the city. The protest rally to oppose the sale drew “about a dozen people” to the steps of City Hall on Sunday. Can you conclude anything other than the support for opposition to the deal is underwhelming?

Full disclosure, EPCOR is a client but we are not working on this file and I have not spoken to them about it. What I really want to discuss here is the astonishing misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the relationship between EPCOR and the City of Edmonton, especially as it relates to this proposed transaction and generally. The best place to illustrate this is the Parkland Institute’s Executive Director, Ricardo Acuna’s Op-ed in the Sunday Edmonton Journal.

The Gold Bar proposed sale deal is for $75 million and Mr Acuna says Edmontonians are being told the sale is “trifling detail.” I don’t recall anyone putting that characterization on a deal that large and I wish Mr. Acuna would provide the source of that representation. It would help us better understand the comment and add credibility to his framing and positioning of the transaction.

The proposed sale is said to superficially “…seem innocuous enough –a simple transfer from the city to its wholly owned corporations EPCOR.” However there is a suggestion my Mr. Acuna that on closer examination the deal “…raises some disturbing questions.”

So what are the “disturbing questions”? Well apparently one is the very purpose of the water treatment plant which is to process sewage to make it safe to return to the river. The city operation of the facility is truthfully said to do that job with “…admirable efficiency and effectiveness.” Mr. Acuna poses a question about how the Gold Bar asset transfer will benefit Edmontonians and says “the question is still largely unanswered.” Whatever that means!

I don’t know exactly what representations EPCOR has made in support of the transfer but I doubt it was to enhance their “expertise and reputation” around water treatment. They already run the E.L. Smith and Rossdale Water Treatment plant for Edmontonians. They provide water treatment services to 8 other Alberta communities and others in B.C. and Ontario. EPCOR’s expertise and reputation is clearly not the issue.

Mr Acuna’s next concern seems to be about the ownership and control of EPCOR. EPCOR is a corporation that is wholly owned by the City of Edmonton. Mr. Acuna is right about one thing, these are two legal entities but they are not “entirely separate” as Mr. Acuna states. The City of Edmonton owns EPCOR and appoints the Board of Directors to oversee the strategic and management operation of the corporation for the benefit of the citizens of Edmonton. The city wisely does not interfere with the day-to-day operation, just like the Province of Alberta deals with the Alberta Treasury Branches.

This asset sale transaction is not a privatization as per Mr. Acuna’s mischaracterization. It is merely a legal reallocation of asset management responsibility within the governing and control ambit and ultimate continuing ownership of the City of Edmonton.
The coalition campaigners to discredit a normal business transaction as something sinister include the Council of Canadians, CUPE and the Parkland Institute. They managed to draw an astonishing “dozen people” to rally in front of City Hall last Sunday to protest the deal.

Edmontonians obviously don’t feel like Mr. Acuna alleges that they are being given a “dismissive pat on the head and patronizing assertions that there is nothing to worry about.” What is happening is this “Keep Drainage Edmonton” coalition has been exposed and proved to be like the Wizard of Oz with the curtain pulled back.

People are entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Yes We Can - Barack Obama Music Video

It is timely to revisit the Yes We Can video that has over 15 million You Tube views so far. Tuesday is going to be enormous for those of us who want change and are up for the challenges.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

@Issue Tobacco Cmopanies

I have not focused on the health issues from tobacco for a while and it is time to climb back on the soapbox. Allan Bonner and I work together and it is great to see hiim using this issue on his iChannel TV program. I publish some of his books through Sextant a subsidiary of Cambridge Strategies Inc. Email me if you want details.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Uncle Jay Explains: Jan. 12, 2009

Uncle Jay has more to say about the news. Enjoy this island of smart humour in a sea changing world.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why Did Syncrude's Former COO House Burn Down?

The investigation into the recent fire that destroyed the Carter home is not complete. It is a sad situation for the Carter family that they would have to lose their home, possessions and personal effects by fire and possible arson. Then there is anxiety one would feel about personal safety if it was a fire bomb that started the blaze. If there was arson involved it is also sad for the rest of us and should make us wonder about the kind of society we are evolving into.

Some folks are already jumping to conclusions about eco-terrorism and linking that to the Carter fire to his role in oil sands development. Some are even linking this incident to the drowning of the ducks on the Syncrude tailings pond last year. We need a lot more information from investigation that is going on before that leap to any conclusions.

That said, one has to be concerned when such an event happens to a family of a man in the past and current position of Jim Carter. We have seen 3 or 4 unresolved eco-terrorists bombings on pipelines in the Alberta – B.C. border of late. We saw Greenpeace able to breach security and place a banner on a tailings pond berm as a publicity stunt but the ease with which they did this trespass stunt is pretty telling and chilling if you think about it. Oil sands facilities are strategic targets especially as we tout it as the safe, secure and reliable energy source for the Americans. Alberta better be on top of the implications and consequences of that reality and ready to deal with it.

The pressure is mounting on the Alberta energy sector to get serious about the environmental consequences and practices around oil sands development. There are indications that they are feeling this pressure. Some efforts are being made within the energy sector to respond but indications are that they are not yet fully aware and conscious of the breadth and depth of their social license to operate problems. Employing PR techniques and tactics will not do it…in fact it will just make the animosity and distrust worse and deeper.

I have known and admired Jim Carter for about 14 years and assure you we all owe him a debt of gratitude for his skill and wisdom that he brought to bear in the early days of oil sands development. He and his family don’t deserve the anxiety, loss and sorrow the burning of their home has caused. I hope these incidents are shown not to motivated by eco-terrorism. I am not ready to jump to that conclusion without evidence. But I am looking forward to the results of the current investigation and will form my judgment and engage on the issues and implications, if any, accordingly.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

500 Drowned Ducks Still Haunt Syncrude and Governments

Update on the private prosecution against Syncrude over the 500 migrating ducks who drowned in their tailings pond. Shaun Fluker of the University of Calgary Faculty of Law is blogging on it at the faculty's blog cleverly called
According to Professor Fluker the action is founded on an alleged breach of Section 5.1 of the Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994. I understand there is a Canada US treaty protecting migratory bird habitat too. That brings an international persepective to the issues and Obama may be on it too.
This is federal legislation so both Alberta and Canada will be interested. The first Court appearance is anticipated sometime in February.

PHOTO CREDIT: /Sheryl McAuley in Flickr

Poll Shows Harper Is In Trouble With Canadians

My how the mediocre have fallen. While Harper is leading in the “Who do you think will make the best PM ?” But he is stalled at 36%. Not good at a time when we are well into serious recession, deficits and other fiscal adjustment. These are things the duplicitous Mr. Harper insisted would not happen under his superior skills and an economist and fiscal manage.

On the other hand Michael Ignatieff has soared up 12% to 23% support as the best choice for PM and he has barely opened his mouth yet…except to warn Harper, rather forcefully and effectively, if he tries character assassination attack ads again, like he did on Dion, the response will be significantly different and undoubtedly harmful to the Cons.

The Cons have been in retreat on every political front since the Coalition came forth with an alternative game plan to run the country. Harper is moving through the various stages of grief since the lost opportunity of the election. Yes he lost. He was after a majority and could deliver it even though h e had all the trump cards and superior tactical skills on his side.

Here are the Five Stages of Grief and how Harper has been responding and coping.

DENIAL: Happened right after the election when he squandered the majority over $45m of culture cuts and lost Quebec in the bargain. Harper’s rhetoric as “We won. We have a mandate to govern.” In his heart, yes he has one; he was saying “This can’t be happening to me.”

ANGER: Here we saw the anger in the pettiness and partisanship in the FU Canada (Fiscal Update) statements where he tired to bankrupt the opposition political parties and refuse women human rights to pursue pay equity and take away public service unions right to strike. The anger in Harper’s heart came out as he tried to punish other people for his own shortcomings. He almost lost his government because his anger has clouded his judgment and impaired his capacity to govern.

BARGAINING: First he struck a bargain with the Governor General to prorogue Parliament just to save his political skin. Now he is into bargaining with and around the opposition parties as he tries to draft a stimulus budget. He has stuck a committee of independent advisers to help with the budget. By doing so, he as emasculated his own Cabinet and reduced their role from mute minion to meaningless munchkins. His rhetoric now s “We will do whatever it takes to get through these tough economic times.” His heart of hearts tells him it is OK to reverse your political and personal principles to sustain power. Never mind that we mislead and lied in the election. That was then. This is now. Keep power at all costs.

DEPRESSION: We have seen the early signs of depression with the appointment of 18 Senators. His prior commitment to not appoint any Senators until he got his senate reforms done is now in the integrity slag heap. He has given up on reforming the Senate and now only wants to pursue the perks of Prime Ministerial power while he has it. Senate reform is added to the pile of broken promises and past positions of the depressed and depressing Mr. Harper that grows daily. Now he sees that he can no longer trigger an election at his whim. That is now in Ignatieff’s power. Harper knows that he will wear the political consequences of this economic recession cum depression, how can Harper the superior economics, master tactician and political wunderkind. He is coming to realize that due to hubris, history will not be kind to President Bush nor Prime Minister Harper. Pretty depressing stuff to have to deal with, given the size of the Harper ego and the depth of his arrogance!

The last stage of grief is Acceptance. We have a ways to go in the Bargaining and Depression stages before that stage comes into play. But rest assured it Acceptance will happen. It will come right after he loses the next election and it will be manifest as Harper resigns the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada as a result.

Friday, January 09, 2009

The CAPP Oil Sands Survey - Is it Informative or Misleading?

Yesterday the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) released two opinion polls on the Alberta oil sands and said the results gave “…the oil sands industry a candid perspective on the views of Canadians on the development of the oil sands.”

The CAPP new release quotes Imperial Oil CEO Bruce March saying “Canadians are telling us that we need to do better. We have received a clear message: the economic and energy security benefits of the oil sands cannot come at the expense of the environment.” Here! Here!

I applaud the effort of CAPP to better understand what sustainable and responsible oil sands development means. The hearts and minds of the project developers may be coming around and the attitudes may be changing from the arrogant and threatening approaches they assumed in response to the Royalty Review Panel proposals. They even when over the line so far as to sponsor an Astroturf website on the royalty issues back in the day.

There is good work being done by some enlightened oil sands developers that on mitigation and some even on prevention of environmental impacts but it is late coming and sporadic, to say the best.

I am not a pollster or a statistician but I am a student of public opinion and public policy. But boy-oh-boy the process, content and presentation of the CAPP surveys shows that they still have lots to learn about being clear, transparent and accountable when they do public opinion research reporting.

We sponsor a lot of research for clients of value drivers on public policy issues and we know how much of an art it is. Read the great piece in the Globe and Mail over the unreliability and huge “margin of error” in the monthly Stats Can unemployment report. Heather Scoffield’s piece entitled “Extremely Influential, Notoriously Unreliable” says it all but read the column for an in depth review of this reality.

Is this poll and its release just a communications exercise? The language of the news release indicates it is more than just PR but the process, results and the lack of rigour (to put it politely) in the presentation makes CAPP's intentions suspect.

Here are some of the difficulties I have. The methodology shows that we do not actually have a survey of “Canadians” as the news release touts. We have a barely adequate same of 425 Edmontonians in one instance and 429 Torontonians in the second survey. While Torontonians may presume they speak for Canadians. As an Edmontonian, I can assure you we share no such presumptions. CAPP knows better.

The small sample size means the margin of error is very large, 4.8% and there were two different time frames for each survey. Edmonton was surveyed in the first half of June and Toronto was done later in the month and into July. This difference in timing could make them two very different and non-comparable survey results.

What if 500 ducks drowned in oil sands tailing ponds mid June and not in April? That would impact and change the opinions of one survey to the next. Obama was campaigning on dirty oil and Dion was into his Green Shift in June of 2008 and there was lots of media happening. Why didn't they survey both cities at the same time? And why did they only do two cities and not a national survey? beats me.

The presentation of the pie charts doesn’t show the data used to calculate the charts. They also say the results are the “mean of the first and second represented.” Why did they do that and why use means? Providing the actual numbers would be so helpful to reassure that this presentation is accurate and representative.

The Public Policy Priorities question is framed around the “next federal election” and the “next provincial election.” Why would they tie the question to a federal election that is not contemplated or even wanted and provincial elections are a long way off in Alberta and Ontario?

Why not just ask what are your public policy priorities and not politicize the question if you are look for authentic data? Tying it to and hypothetical election means the dominant answer is going to likely be “Other/No Opinion.” That skews the results and its usefulness. Take out the “Other /No Opinion and the top three are consistent as Economy, Healthcare and Environment. Note Climate Change is separate from Environment and #4.

The findings on the “…greatest environmental concerns about the oil sands activity in Alberta” are essentially the same as we found in our Discrete Choice Modeling survey done in November 2006. The top 2 value drivers in our survey were Habitat Protection and Carbon Emissions. They were followed closely by water use and reclamation concerns. Only about 25% has no concerns or no opinion. CAPP finds does not even ask about tailing ponds and reclamation in its survey which was done 2 months after the drowning of 500 migrating ducks in a tailing pond. Why not, given the timing? It was news all around the world.

The Bar Graphs in the CAPP presentation uses a typical technique that can mislead and even go so far as to misrepresent the data. The “Y” (vertical) axis usually is presented as a 100% scale. That way there is a sense of relative opinions between alternative answers and the overall impact of the results. CAPP never uses 100% in its “Y” axis presentation and that gives a skewed appearance to the data.

They top out their graph presentations at 60%, 50%, 45% and40%. On the very last question, the biggie about if people think it is possible to balance economic benefits and protect the environment they use 70%top scale. They had to because the results showed 60% of Edmontonians and 50%+ (we are not sure of the exact number based on the presentation) agree this is possible.

Not using 100% on the “Y” axis can be seen as a “slick” presentation technique. Not doing the “Y” axis consistently in the presentation is even worse. This does nothing to help provide clarity and consistence and meaningful representation of the data. Again the lack of the actual numbers used to calculate the graphs is an omission that is irritating at least.

I know of some of the great science-based environmental work some individual oil sand developers are doing. I want to give CAPP and the oil sands industry generally the benefit of the doubt but they don’t make it easy.

I will deal with the implications of the findings of the survey in more detail in a later post.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Syncrude Sued over 500 Dead Ducks in a Tailings Pond

The world of oil sands development just got a lot more complicated today. Ecojustice launched a private prosecution against Syncrude Canada this morning over the tailing pond drowning of 500 migrating ducks last April. This event has become symbolic about the ecological concerns around oil sands development, and tailing ponds in particular.

The action is under the Federal Migratory Birds Convention Act that prohibits deposit of harmful substances in areas frequented by migratory birds. This action is aimed at Syncrude but also targets the Canadian and Alberta government on issues of enforcement of environment protection legislation. Both governments promised to pursue the environmental legal issues at the time of the ducks drowning from the residual oil in the tailing ponds.

A recent science-based study on oil sand impact on migratory birds was released by Alberta’s Pembina Institute, the Boreal Songbird Initiative and the Natural Resources Defense Council based in Washington D.C.

The potential long term impact of oil sands development on all migratory birds in the Alberta portion of the Boreal Forest ranged from 6 million to 166 million bird lost in a 30-50 year period, depending on the pace and nature of oil sands development.

This new legal action launched against Syncrude is supported by Sierra Club and Forest Ethics. Forest Ethics are the same folks who effectively took on the Canadian forestry industry a decade ago with the famous full page Victoria’s Secret ads in major American newspapers.

The accusation being made against Alberta and Canada governments are the long delay in prosecuting the “wildlife disaster” of the 500 dead ducks and enforcing the law. The reasons for the legal action expressed by the sponsoring ENGOs is wildlife and human health concerns all around the tailing ponds and oil sands development practices.

There is another Alberta government study in process and pending release on concerns of human health in the aboriginal populations in Fort Chipewyan, down steam from the oil sands. There is no indication when that human health study will be completed and released publicly either.

At a recent meeting in Edmonton with experts and industry dealing with oil sands tailing ponds an industry spokesperson suggested that the solution for the toxic tailing ponds would be to clean up the water and release it into the Athabasca River.

These stewardship and environmental issues on oil sands development are getting more complicated and more energized as time goes on. In our November 2007 research we polled 4600 Albertans on their values about oil sands development. We found the most important issue of concern was habitat protection. CO2, water usage and reclamation were also major concerns from our study. The drowning death of 500 ducks has most of these elements gathered together in one tragic and resonant event.

Stay tuned. With Obama’s environment and economic transformation agenda, this drama has only just begun.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Media Layoffs Threaten Journalism

With the layoffs in MSM and the decline of journalism will the blogosphere mature enough to help fill the gap? Most political bloggers I know do it for free...not without bias - but that is usually obvious and stated up front.
We bloggers don't usually break news. We respond and comment on the stories in the MSM for the most part. Can bloggers become more like professional journalists? Should we? I think No and No!
Blogging is not professional journalism...but could it be an alternative in the hands of some well trained and dedicated folks? But doing it for a living? I admit blogging is good for business but my business is not blogging. I don't see an workable business model for blogging...or am I missing something?

That said, where will be get authoritative, authentic and informative news if the MSM as well know it disappears?

Monday, January 05, 2009

Uncle Jay Explains: Jan. 5, 2009

Monday's suck. But Uncle Jay and his Monday explanation of the news are a little bit of sunshine in a cold and dark winter's day. Insightful and funny. Enjoy

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Believing is Seeing in Politics and Life

The very quotable Marshall McLuhan once said “I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.” We are all subject to this subjectivity and selectivity in how we allocate our time and attention and our opinions. We will also tend to ignore new information or contrary data that does not fit our preconceived notions, beliefs and opinions.

WARNING! This is a longer post than relax and reflect with me for a few minutes.

Reading Lorne Gunter’s column in the Edmonton Journal this morning gave me a chance to reflect on just how this can work. Lorne is a noted columnist of the “right” persuasion and a fan of conservative policy and ideology. When you read him you can clearly see that frame of reference. What was interesting me this morning was to consider what he sees when he looks at certain events and what he concludes from them given what we know about his political beliefs. This is not unique to Lorne. We all do it but we should all try to be aware of it and try to be open to other points of view. Especially if you are trying to run a country with a minority government.

The Conservatives think they unconditionally won the last election. But they do not have a majority and therefore have to learn to govern with a compromising consciousness. Unlike the last Parliament, they now have to accommodate enough opposition objectives or they risk defeat. This is a bitter pill for Harper to swallow. His recent FU Canada (Fiscal Update) showed that he not only gagged on the bitter pill of policy compromise and political accommodation, he damn near choked on it. As a result he enabled and emboldened a Liberal–NDP coalition that was ready, willing and able to defeat and replace him. Harper cut and ran to the Gov Gen and begged her to prorogue Parliament to avoid a non-confidence vote he was destined to lose.

In that context I read the Gunter’s piece and about what he sees and seems to believe about Ignatieff and the coalition. To reinforce McLuhan’s comment, I offer some of my own believing is seeing observations on the same issues and events. I too have a filter and a lens through which I view the world. Go figure.

Lorne’s piece invites us to “…assume the coalition is dead (and 99.9 percent is)” and that “...Ignatieff is keeping the possibility of a coalition alive rhetorically because without the threat of the coalition toppling the Tories…the Liberals’ bargaining position would be greatly weakened.” “It is not…in Ignatieff’s interests over the next three to six months to keep the collation alive.”

It seems both wishful and wistful thinking to invite us to assume the coalition is dead. There is still a signed agreement outlining it terms and conditions of the coalition and how it would operate. In that sense it is very much alive and full of political potential. Its sole purpose is to be a threat to topple the Tories, and then govern, if necessary. If the Tories don’t govern like a respectful minority government there will be a non-confidence vote to turf them. The coalition may not form the next government as a result of defeating the Tories. What if the GG decides there should be an election instead? Given that possibility, the coalition is hardly a "power grab" by some opposition political leaders as Harper's hype would try to sell us.

Besides, this possibility of a coalition is exactly how our parliamentary system of government works. It is not a sinister plot by Ignatieff and Layton. It is their duty as opposition to keep testing and trying the government. So keeping the coalition alive, even if it is in hibernation for the winter, is very much in Igantieff’s best interest in his duty to keep the government on it toes or to cut the toes off if they cross the line.

Lorne implies Ignatieff is more American than Canadian referencing a “…old New York Times column championing American empire and referring to ‘we’ Americans."

My gosh how defensive can you get? Ignatieff has returned to Canada, run for a party leadership, coming in second, and the successfully ran for parliament and is now the interim leader of choice of the Liberal Caucus and party elite. Besides he has already effectively responded to the context of such “we” American slurs in subsequent essays and interviews. In the globalized reality and our closeness to the Americans, one would think Ignatieff's education, expertise, international and first-hand American experience would be an asset. Surely it ought not disqualify him from Canadian politics.

This is typical and tired Conservative rhetoric akin to American Republican Karl Rovarian tactics. If anyone has been American in their approach to governing Canada it has been Stephen Harper. His foreign policy and economic policy totally aligned with the Bush White House. This is well documented. His adoption of a presidential style of leadership is also renown, even to the point he now speaks to us on policy issues and events through a Press Secretary, just like President Bush.

Lorne suggests Ignatieff will “…have to live down his signature on the coalition agreement.” The reason is because the “…first line talks about the coalition begin in the best interests of ‘Canada and Quebec,’ as if the two were separate nations already.”

Interesting admission that there is an actual coalition agreement that exists don’t you think? So lets deal with the merits of the comment. Stephen Harper set up his last election run by publicly acknowledging “Quebec as a nation.” He also said, contrary to all the evidence, that there was a “fiscal imbalance” against Quebec’s interests within Canada and that he would resolve it as Prime Minister. Both of these are soft-nationalists hot buttons and have been used for political pandering purposes for decades, all the way back to Mulroney at least.

Cynical political opportunism was at the root of Harper’s pandering to Quebec in this way. By the way, Harper conveniently ignores the historical fact that he came into federal politics through the Reform Party. Reform started as a political force partly in reaction to such federal government pandering to Quebec.

The Reform Party had a platform plank about too much political control in central Canada. The Reform mantra Harper also espoused was “The West Wants In.” He actually fans the flames of separation in Alberta every time he does this Quebec pandering. His recent political tactics toward Quebec have had that effect in Alberta recently.

Ironically Harper was one of the signatories to the famous Alberta Firewall Letter encouraging Premier Klein to extricate Alberta from some core Canadian policies and programs. Talk about living down signatures and engaging in political opportunism! Harper’s name comes up more often than anyone else’s in recent history if those are your criteria for criticism.

There more. But my point is Lorne’s lens focuses on issues and events but only in a certain context. We all do this and it is our right to speak out in a free and democratic country. What citizens need to be aware of and careful about is taking some time to get more media literate.

As traditional media’s effectiveness and even its viability is being threatened by fragmentation, competition and recession, its capacity to gather and give us the news is diminished. The Internet’s influence as a news source is growing. According to Pew Research, it is ranked and the #2 new source now, behind TV and ahead of newspapers.

If the Web is now a significant news source, where will the authoritativeness and authenticity of the “reporting” we can trust come from? How will we know we can trust and believe news and information when we actually see those items that capture our time and attention? Who will help us understand what is important and critical versus what is trivial and superficial? How will know if something we see, hear or read is just misleading spin or pure and dangerous propaganda?

We all have more data and information than we can handle. Where will the wisdom come from to help us make sense of all those inputs? How will we be able to put it all into a meaningful context in ways that creates some useful knowledge that we can believe in if and when we see it?

Beats me! Anybody out there got any ideas?

Saturday, January 03, 2009

01/03/09: President-elect Obama's Weekly Address

What are the chances Pariah Minister Harper will approach the future of Canada with the same clarity, sentiment and caring as Obama does in this weekly message to Americans? Harper has a chance to be relevant, resolved and significant when he meets with the First Ministers on January 16 in preparation for the Budget due on January 27.

I'd say the chances of him getting it, being forthright and showing genuine concerned about us and our country instead of his own politcial neck are between slim and none --- and slim just left town.

Wassup 2008

I have a soft spot for dark humour. This bit of darkness shows the fine line between comedy and tragedy, between beer ads and personal vulnerability.

A perfect prologue for what is coming. Change!

Friday, January 02, 2009

Themes of Hope Change Optimism and Anxiety Are All Part of the New Year.

As I get focused and down to some serious work this morning, Friday January 2, 2009 (the first time I have typed 2009 – feels weird!)I am struck by some pieces I read this morning.

It is an interesting American take on what is happening as we emerge into 2009 facing very different realities than the last decade. Here fears were about runaway climate change, loose nukes and societal breakdown she describes as a potential “Mad Max World.” All valid but I want to focus on her message of hope and positive change potentials.

I really liked her optimism over “young people stepping up and how they “infused the country with the ‘Yes, we can’ spirit.” We need that young people’s infusion of a democratic spirit to happen in Canada in inevitable election coming 2009. She sees overwhelming support emerging in the States for “universal health care and notes “A majority of Americans favor a tax-supported single-payer system like Canada’s.” The waning of corporate power is a reason to be hopeful too and Obama permeated all the hope and change points she makes.

The second was by Timothy Garton Ash who hangs out at Stanford and Oxford and wrote an Op-Ed in the Globe and Mail today entitled “2009 Capitalism on the Ropes.” His theme is that there are “hard choices ahead on the road back to prosperity.” He calls for a review of the shelf-worn brand of free market capitalism of the past two decades and calls for a re-balancing of the “…state and market, public and private, the visible and the invisible hand.”

Government is no longer a dirty word thanks to Obama. What government seems to be doing in the face of the market meltdown, according to Ash, is “desperate improvisation.” This improvisation is due to the urgency of the situation caused by swiftness, depth and global reach of the meltdown. This economic calamity has seemed to happen virtually overnight. It has been building to a tipping point was fed by years of excessive deregulation, poor monitoring and enforcement of bank and other regulations and the extreme greed of some corporatist.

Obama talked about change and hope. I think we have to reverse the order and hope for change. It is now going to be personal as we see millions of people fall into serious uncertainty about their future. Growth at any cost, including degradation of the environment and erosion of social cohesion and decline of personal security is no longer acceptable.

When we all come out of this recession we need to be better people if we hope to be better off and happier in the future. We need to re-engage as citizens and participate in our democracy and civil society. We need to redefine success beyond consumption and include concepts like conservation, preservation and equity in a new success paradigm. We need to retool our institutions and invent some new ones to face the realities of global economic, ecological and societal interdependence. We need wiser leaders who are called to public service and not motivated by personal or political power as we have seen in recent times.

I am interested in what others think about the reasons, rationales and readiness for hope and change as we plunge into recession and the inevitable recalibration of our economies and communities. As Lily Tomlin once said, “We are all in this alone, together.” I look forward to your comments.
(Photo credit to .Hessam from Flickr)

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Ode To Joy

Watching this Muppet video makes me realize that we may all need to slow down in 2009. It may help to slow down a bit if we want to truly express our talents.

It begs the question if we can even survive the pace we have created for ourselves or allowed ourselves to be caught up in.

Uncle Jay Explains: Year-end! 12-22-08

Lessons to be learned in the Christmas Spirit in familiar "themes." Hat Tip to Challenging the Commonplace Blog.

Some Political Predictions and Observations for Canada and Alberta

I have been challenged by some friends and regular readers of this Blog to make some bold predictions for 2009. They come a bit easier if you look at the future through a values lens and not just an events lens. Based on some of our research on Albertan’s value drivers and with an extrapolation of those findings here are a few predictions for 2009.

YES ANOTHER FEDERAL ELECTION IN 2009. It will be early June or in the fall, depending on if Harper can move beyond his personal agenda and get serious about governing the country. The ballot question will be which leader you distrust the least to govern. If Harper fails to get a majority he is toast, just butter him.

I think Harper is past his prime and he will get a notably lower popular vote next election especially in Quebec and Ontario. Iggy benefits as a result of the Harper fatigue that is growing in the land. Iggy will be given a shot at leading the country but will only get yet another minority government. It will be our 4th in a row as Canada tries to work out its future direction and design its destiny. A Liberal coalition with the NDP will happen and not require the Bloc to participate to be viable. A coalition government will be seen by many electoral reform types as an experiment of what governing in a proportional representation voting model would be like.''

There is no Harper successor in the conservative wings, other than Prentice, who is the most obvious. But Prentice is not a natural replacement because he would be the 4th leader in a row from Alberta. That is not likely to happen take over unless the membership, in what has become Harper Party, evaporates in the Maritimes and Ontario and if only the west shows up to select a new leader.

A SEA CHANGE IN THE PUBLIC MOOD: There is a sea change in the national mood coming as well in 2009. It will be most dramatic in the form of a move away from the destructive and tiresome Bush league neo-republican political tactics that defined the Harper style and regime. His demise however will leave Canada without any strong and substantive federal political parties in this critical time. The political parties will come through the next election all lacking modern organizational capacity, enough money, strategic campaign capacity and effective and definitive leadership.

I see some dangerous times ahead for Canadian democracy as we try, as a country, to work our way through a serious and game-changing recession and the implications of the economic power shift to Alberta. Drift and confusion will prevail as partisans dive into desperate searches for new style political saviour/leaders that they (and we) can trust to govern not just win elections. We will long for new leaders who have ability, energy and enthusiasm for the job of governing and who also understand the nature and essence of the country. We will latch on to an effective leader who can communicate with a personal resonance and activating and invigorating vision for the country.

INDIFFERENCE TURNS TO ANGER AND ANXIETY: Citizen’s indifference towards politics in 2008 will turn to fear and anxiety in 2009 as a sense of foreboding and uncertainty sets the political mood. Such attitudes will colour the policy agenda as we wait for a miraculous leadership messiah to deliver us and perhaps help us adapt to the new world order. If we don’t see this new style leader emerging, Canadians will emotionally align with Obama. He will come to be seen as the best Prime Minister Canada never had as we will shift our focus on new American policy and governing models in a search for meaning in Canada.

WITHER ALBERTA? Alberta will feel the pain of the rest of Canada but we will weather the global recession better than anywhere else in the country. We will see people migrating here in droves again in the second half of 2009 looking for work as oil prices recover and stabilize in the $50-80 range. People will come to Alberta wanting jobs so they can pay taxes. They are not going to be coming just because Alberta taxes are low.

THE ALBERTA "BRAND" Alberta will be seen increasingly as the unrepentant bad-boy on the environment as carbon concerns accelerate and climate change becomes personal. This is especially going to be true if Alberta’s government pursues a counter-attack policy of spending $25million for a paid advertising campaign. This foolishness appears to be based on old-style “branding” techniques using messaging and positioning instead of sound policy and effective mitigation action. The rise of Web 2.0 and social media proliferation will make such old school approaches look and be laughable.

We Albertans have already lost the credibility battle on the emotional framing of oil sands versus tar sands in the world's consciousness and consequences of this very important energy resource. A slick and glossy paid media campaign aimed at getting out a countervailing “message” will be seen as a green wash and erode our credibility even further. Albertans want to be proud of how they are responsibly and sustainably developing the oil sands for wealth creation now and for future generations. Green washing old school attempts to buy media manufactured messaging will embarrass us.

LEADERSHIP SHORTFALLS: Alberta policy makers have yet to show that they get it. "It" is a clear and demonstrated consciousness about the intertwined nature of economy and environment and how it is best used to serve and reflect the social needs and values of the citizens. “It” is an integrated triple bottom line comprehensive and long term view of wise and responsible oil sands development.

As Premier Stelmach said in the last Alberta election, and I paraphrase: "...the environment trumps economic development and leadership trumps issues (management). I have seen some, but not enough, evidence of sound public policy on the ground that shows me this insight is an operational governing conviction and not election rhetoric.

In political Alberta and political Canada I will be looking for signs of leadership based on lessons learned from past mistakes, earned public trust, obvious character and intellectual integrity with demonstrated authenticity and a commitment to renewal. These are the key political, business and community leadership talismans I will be watching for in the coming year.

In my heart I remain cautiously optimistic in spite of the dire tone of this post. 2009 is here and it promises not to be pretty. We will have to change many things and in many ways as a result of unregulated and condoned greed and abuses. We should not try to come out of this recession by merely aspiring to replicate the kind of society, economy and eco-consciousness we were going in. We will all be better for the lessons learned leading up to the recession and new learnings and experiences we will have coming out of it.
(Photo credit dgwallick1 from Flickr)