Reboot Alberta

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Canadian Bar Association Calls for Omar to Come Home.

It is incomprehensible why the Harper government continues to refuse to respect the Charter Rights of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen. Many on the right side of the political spectrum use Khadr’s family attitude in support of terrorism as a reason to refuse him his rights as a Canadian citizen. This is wrong at so many levels.
When such attitudes prevail the Rule of Law gets set aside by our democracies and we all become vulnerable. That is the best was to ensure the terrorists win. Look at the wide spread and illegal use of torture plus the illegal wiretapping and internet monitoring of private citizens by the US government all done without due process protections by the Bush White House. This is further evidence of this same dangerous decline in the democratic rights of citizens. When you consider how little has achieved from these tactics and how much foreign and domestic harm they have done you have to fear and regret the consequences.
The latest positive expression of the erosion of democratic rights and erosion of protections in the Khadr case comes from the Canadian Bar Association. This letter from the President to our Prime Minister and the President of the United States is written on behalf of 38,000 Canadian lawyers and speaks for itself.

April 24, 2009

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

The President of the United States
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: Repatriation of Omar Khadr

Dear Prime Minister and Mr. President:

On behalf of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA), I write to you to urge the U.S. and Canadian
governments to work together to facilitate the repatriation of Omar Khadr, the only Western citizen who continues to be detained at Guantánamo Bay.

The CBA is a national association representing 38,000 jurists across Canada. We work to promote the Rule of Law and improve the administration of justice in Canada and around the world. It is in this light that we have protested Mr. Khadr’s subjection to the military tribunal process in Guantánamo Bay and called for his repatriation. We take no position on Mr. Khadr’s guilt or innocence. Our concern is that he receive a fair trial in accordance with all procedural protections and special considerations to be afforded a minor, as required by domestic and international law. Canada’s justice system is well equipped to fairly and openly assess Mr. Khadr’s criminal culpability, in a manner that reflects his status as a minor at the relevant time.

Mr. President, we welcomed the news of your decision to close Guantánamo Bay within the year and to assign officials to review the status of all detainees. Pursuant to your executive order, you have tasked review members to first consider “whether it is possible to transfer or release the individuals consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and, if so, whether and how the Secretary of Defense may effect their transfer or release.”

Yesterday, Canada’s Federal Court ruled the ongoing refusal of the Government of Canada to
request Mr. Khadr’s repatriation to Canada “offends a principle of fundamental justice and violates Mr. Khadr’s rights under s. 7 of the Charter”. It ordered the government to seek Khadr’s repatriation as soon as practicable.

Mr. Khadr was 15 years old when he was wounded on the battlefield in Afghanistan, a child under the terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Mr. Khadr has not been fully afforded the basic entitlements of due process under the Rule of Law, such as the right to counsel and the right to know the case against him. He has not been afforded any process that took into account his unique needs and status as a minor under the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. He has been detained in the general population of detainees in Guantánamo Bay and has not received any physical, psychological or educational services that would assist in his rehabilitation. The Federal Court of Canada found that the terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment were violated in relation to Mr. Khadr’s treatment.

Prime Minister, the time has come for the Canadian government to advise the U.S. that it is willing to negotiate the terms of Mr. Khadr’s repatriation to Canada to face Canadian justice. In turn, Mr. President, we urge the U.S. government to negotiate the terms of Mr. Khadr’s repatriation with the Canadian government and to transfer available evidence respecting his conduct to the Canadian government. We urge you to come to an agreement that recognizes international human rights obligations, due process and the Rule of Law, and the desirability of ensuring the national security of both countries.

Yours truly,
(Original signed by J. Guy Joubert)
J. Guy Joubert
c. The Honourable Lawrence Cannon, P.C., M.P., Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Honourable Rob Nicholson, P.C., M.P., Minister of Justice
H. Thomas Wells, Jr., President, American Bar Association

Monday, April 27, 2009

Alberta Liberals Show Shabby Side With Conflict of Interest Ploy

I watched Question Period today and then received an emailed news release from the Alberta Liberals on the same thing - and both events irritated me. The problem is encapsulated in the title on the new release. It says: Conflicts of Interest in AIMCo-Precision Deal? Notice the question mark! Why the question mark?

Full disclosure, regular readers know I am a card carrying member of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, If you are a new reader you may not be aware of that fact but you need to know that so you can judge this blog post in context.

I also have enormous respect for David Swann and have met with him and communicate with him on a semi-regular basis. I also joined the Alberta Liberal Party to support his recent leadership bid. I applaud his effort to revitalize the Alberta Liberals and value the role of the opposition in our form of government. Now that is all out of the way let’s deal the issues.

The allegations and implications in the QP and in the Alberta LIberal Party news release around conflicts of interest are very unfair. If there is a concern of conflict of interest there is a much better and effective way to deal with it. This effort by the Liberals is so far just a fishing expedition and nothing but allegation and innuendo. It is a good for grabbing headlines but does a serious disservice to democracy and good governance.

To question the Minister in the Legislature as one of the Liberal MLAs did today gives parliamentary immunity to the Member who raises the question. That means they can say whatever they want in the Legislature and they can’t be sued for liable for any comments made in the Legislature. This put the individual citizens who are the targets of the allegations and the damning implications about their character and reputations at a serious disadvantage.

AIMCo is an arms-length Crown Corporation and if there is evidence of conflict of interest it ought to be brought to the attention of the Board of Directors of that entity. Conflating the responsibility of AIMCo and requiring in Question Period the Minister of Finance and Enterprise “…to review the situation and prove to the Assembly tomorrow that the Vice-Chair of AIMCo recused himself from all discussion regarding the Precision deal” if shabby at best. This is potentially pure politics at its worst. The proof of that is how the Liberal new release characterized the Minister’s response as pleading “ignorance and, furthermore was unconcerned by the news.”

What the news in this? Innuendo and allegation of “concerns” and “potential” conflicts of interest are not news. News is based on facts. This is just the stuff of politics, pure and simplistic. The media will have a field day with it. But as it stands right now, there are no facts proven and not much by way of evidence being presented to help prove these serious allegations.

The Liberal Party news release offers no evidence of conflict of interest and only alludes to some vague weasel words in support of “the case” like “raised concerns” and “longstanding friends and business partners” and “highlighting potential conflict of interest.” They then attach a Corporate Registry search of another company with a head office in B.C. Is that all the evidence they have of a “potential” conflict of interest? They don’t mention directly the names of the parties they presume to be in potential conflict of interest and so they impugn the reputation of every name on the list in the Corporate Registry search.

The proper course of action for the Liberals to have taken, if there was a legitimate concern about conflict of interest would be to write to the Board of Directors of AIMCo and ask to have a Certified True copy of the Board Minutes on the Precision Drilling investment decision. Those minutes should show who was in the room and who was not; and it ought to show how the Board voted on the Precision deal.

That would clear the air or indicate a need for real concern if the matter was not handled properly by the AIMCo Board. Today we have no evidence of any wrong doing and only odious politics at play.

That voting information and decision of AIMCo is not proprietary and should not be confidential since it is public money we have entrusted to them and it is being used here. If there was failure refusal or neglect by the AIMCo Board to provide the information then perhaps the government could be asked to ensure the release the information publicly.

I am disappointed in how cavalierly politicians sometime approach issues of personal reputation of private citizens who contribute their time and talents to the common good of the province. It does not happen very often but when it does it undermines our democracy and adds to the continuing cynicism of citizens about our political culture.

I hope that the Alberta Liberals will withdraw their premature demand of the Minister of Finance and Enterprise and hope they pursue any concerns they have using good governance practices in pursuing their goal. The tactics they have employed so far is designed to be a headline hunting political gambit. I expected better of the Alberta Liberals and Albertans deserve better of their politicians regardless of party affiliation.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Leonard Cohen's "The Future" Makes Me Think of Dick Cheney

I went to a wonderful Leonard Cohen concert last night. As I listened intently to the lyrics of his song "The Future" I couldn't help but thing of the disastrous and diabolical doings of former Vice President Dick Cheney and the other malevolent members of the Bush administration.

As you read these lyrics think of all the terrible things these people did from WMD, Iraq war to Gitmo, torture and the mass illegal invasion of privacy on Americans by their White House - just to name a few. None of this has made America safer or more secure, just the opposite.

Thing of how out of touch, isolated and fear-mongering they were and how they used that to justify ignoring and suspension of the American Constitution. It is eerily chilling and comes across as a 21st century protest song in this context.

Here are the lyrics:
"Give me back my broken night my mirrored room, my secret life it's lonely here, there's no one left to torture

Give me absolute control over every living soul And lie beside me, baby, that's an order!

Give me crack and anal sex Take the only tree that's left and stuff it up the hole in your culture

Give me back the Berlin wall give me Stalin and St Paul I've seen the future, brother: it is murder.

Things are going to slide, slide in all directions Won't be nothing Nothing you can measure anymore The blizzard, the blizzard of the world has crossed the threshold and it has overturned the order of the soul When they said REPENT REPENT I wonder what they meant When they said REPENT REPENT I wonder what they meant When they said REPENT REPENT I wonder what they meant

You don't know me from the wind you never will, you never did I'm the little Jew who wrote the Bible

I've seen the nations rise and fall I've heard their stories, heard them all but love's the only engine of survival

Your servant here, he has been told to say it clear, to say it cold: It's over, it ain't going any further

And now the wheels of heaven stop you feel the devil's riding crop Get ready for the future: it is murder

Things are going to slide ... There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code Your private life will suddenly explode There'll be phantoms There'll be fires on the road and the white man dancing

You'll see a woman hanging upside down her features covered by her fallen gown and all the lousy little poets coming round tryin' to sound like Charlie Manson and the white man dancin'

Give me back the Berlin wall Give me Stalin and St Paul Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima Destroy another fetus now We don't like children anyhow I've seen the future, baby: it is murder Things are going to slide ... When they said REPENT REPENT ...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Susan Boyle According to Doyle

John Doyle in the Globe and Mail today cynically and sardonically asks “Have we been expertly manipulated” over the Susan Boyle phenomenal performance in “Britain’s Got Talent.” The You Tube video of Boyle's performance has had over 34 million hits since she sang on April 16, 2009. Doyle says that is more people than watched the televised Academy Awards this year.

According to Doyle viewing this video is a “heartwarming experience” and we seem somehow “vindicated” when we view it. What is wrong according to Doyle, the Susan Boyle event reveals “our collective hypocrisy about realty TV, beauty and talent.” He rightly says “If American Idol…actually featured a lot of people who looked like Boyle, then hardly anybody would watch.”

He notes “The attention given to Boyle is the exception that proves the rule – we are relentlessly superficial. It isn’t the fault of television. It’s a collective weakness, as we get the popular culture we deserve.” He laments that Boyle may be the vanguard for the next phase of reality TV lead by “middle- aged ordinary looking people.” The Jerry Springer Talent Show on television perhaps? Would that surprise anyone? I don’t think so.

What is happening on a world-wide scale given this catalytic moment in what was supposed to be merely entertainment? Doyle posits that the Boyle phenomenon is quite possibly being “foisted upon us.”e laments that Boyle may be a vangH He suggests that “… we’re not facing up to the collective hypocrisy that Boyle reveals to us. We are congratulating ourselves for cheering her on…” He challenges us to consider if we are “deluding ourselves about our honesty and fairness.”

Well I think Doyle is very right but not entirely right. The main stream media hype on the Boyle story is superficial and perhaps we are being hypocritical. But the internet participants who initially found the Boyle story from friends on Facebook, Twitter and were encouraging others to go to YouTube to see the phenomenon was not superficial, nor hypocritical. It was community based, heartfelt and human – no hype and hubris from the media machine that followed.

Boyle is a Cinderella story in real life and has been accessed and enjoyed “virtually” around the globe. It was another collective triumph of the power and influence of the internet as a creator of connected human community. That video link invited us to enjoy but also to revisit and reflect on our humanity, our sense of decency and our respect for people.

I know it made me reconsider an ill-considered recent blog post that I subsequently deleted because while it attempted political satire, it could be easily construed as cruel. That cruelty was pointed out by some anonymous comments that I in fact posted. Upon reflection I came to the realization of how easy it was to unfairly prejudge Susan Boyle. I deleted the post.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

What the Public Wants From Public Education.

My firm, Cambridge Strategies Inc., recently finished a community based research project for the Edmonton Public School Board as part of their work on improving their processes school closure and system sustainability.

Our goal was to find out relative value preferences on the role of public schools by the citizens of Edmonton. We used a technique called Discrete Choice Modeling which requires value trade-offs to be made that determines relative value preferences and the degree of commitment to such preferences.

We always make value trade-offs in the real world that determines real preferences between competing interests. That is why this research technique is so much better than mere opinion polling that only gives a snapshot but also lack any depth of insight behind in value drivers of the “opinions” in traditional polling.

We surveyed on seven value attributes with 706 Edmontonians that profiled the Stats Can demographic profile of Edmonton in early December 2008. We compared the following value attributes: proximity of schools, the programming of schools, the use of school facilities, costs and space issues, the educational focus, the operating structure of a school and the size of schools.

We found Edmontonians had two very dominant value preferences they expect of their public education system. All other attributes were equally important but less significant compared to the top two preferences

FOCUS ON EDUCATION: The most dominant value preference was in terms of sustainability of the system. The focus needs to be on the nature of the education being provided with a major emphasis on providing students with skills around creativity, thinking and adaptability. Related to this value was a desire to have schools meet the needs of individual students and prepare them for post-secondary education. Part of this attribute was to create a skilled workforce and prepare students for citizenship.

The focus on test results that is emphasized by some think-tanks and public education critics was not seen as preferred focus of public education. That does not mean test results are not important. It means that they are relatively unimportant compared to other competing values about where the focus of the public education system should be.

PUBLIC EDUCATION AND COMMUNITY NEEDS: The second most significant value driver for public education in Edmonton was in the context of the role of schools to local communities. A decision about closing a school needs to responsive to community needs and the system needs to respond to growth trends in the city. There is a recognition that for a school to stay open there has to be sensitive to enrollment levels and the school to be viable has to be able to provide quality programming. There is no support for just providing a basic 3R’s education and lots of support for extended education programming. Very few were saying a school should stay open regardless of costs.

Meeting community needs included support for schools partnering with others to meet community’s social needs including early childhood education. Schools need to be available to the community for use after hours and to be more integrated into the local community. There was no sympathy for a school to be only focused on exclusively serving the K-12 student population.

There is significant support for schools to provide specialized spaces like shops and music rooms and services like librarians and teacher assistance. This all aligns with achieving the major value drivers of schools focusing on creative education and local community needs. The size of schools and how far they are away were not significant value drivers about what contributes to a quality public education in Edmonton.

DECISION SUPPORT FOR SOUND POLICIES: These findings show a clear path to the future for the EPSB to pursue in how to provide the public want they believe is important to the future of public education. Of course there are costs and resource constraints that do not always make these decisions easy.

Wisdom and judgment by the Board will still have to be exercised in reaching final decisions about the closure of a school. Some things are very clear from this research. If you need to close a school you need to carefull consider the local community needs and how best to use the facilities if they are no longer viable as a school. A focus on providing 21st century skills for students is by far the most preferred destination and direction of our public education system in Edmonton. Moving overtly and effectively to all those ends will ensure continued public support for a successful and sustainable public education system in our city.

Lois Hole's Love for Libraries Remembered

My Name is Earl (J. Woods): At Long Last, a Little Love for Libraries

Ran across this Blogger because he started to Follow me on Twitter (kenchapman46). So I returned the Follow and checkout his Blog. This post revisits a speech he wrote for the late and great former Lt Gov and friend of Alberta - Lois Hole.

Lois had a passion for gardening, libraries and literacy among other things - like hugging everyone she met. Now we have the Lois Hole Library that is an innovative and unique digital institution - built in her honour and in her spirit.

It was nice to be reminded or the warmth and humanity of this wonderful woman. Thank you Earl.

This is especially sweet given the recent provincial funding announcement for the advancement of our beleaguered Alberta libraries. Well done Minister Ray Danyluk and Alberta Library System Promoter Punch Jackson. Consider yourselves hugged gentlemen!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Cap and Trade Sucks - Get Real Alberta and Start Taxing Carbon

There is lots of buzz about cap and trade as a scheme to reduce carbon emissions. I think it is merely wealth transfer and a petrie dish to grow a culture of more corporate corruption. To get some context read Stephen Murgatroyd's blog post on the subject.

This Edmonton Journal story on the Alberta perspective on carbon pricing is more context. And we are being told Canada has to rationalize with the US standards - and Obama is pushing cap and trade too.

The $2B Alberta investment in carbon capture and storage is pretty impressive. The Americans ponied up $1B for CCS and the Chinese are into it for $6B but look at the investment per capita and Alberta is definitely a leader in this effort. That is a longer term and capital intensive solution and will not solve the political issue of cap and trade versus carbon tax options.

This issue of how to respond to the CO2 emissions puts Alberta in the political, ecological and fiscal cross-hairs big time and on a world scale. We have dipped our provincial toes into the CO2 emissions issue with some legislation that is timid and tepid and hopefully temporary. We tax carbon now at $15 a tonne based on intensity targets. That is a start but the political credibility of this policy has lost its lustre long ago. As we grow the oil sands we allow emissions to grow in absolute terms and that is not a viable solution to the GHG issue for Alberta.

The experts say the real cost of CO2 is about $125 a tonne so we have long way to go to get realistic about paying the piper and not passing the problem on to future generations. Alberta Environment Minister Renner questioned on the Alberta price of carbon is quoted as saying: It probably would do better if it were higher." You bet Mr. Minister.

The perennial concern is what happens if Alberta pays a realistic price for carbon and others do not. Will our economy will suffer? That is known as the "Edge Effect" where everyone knows what is the right thing to do but can't agree on the right time to do it. I'm hoping Alberta takes the first serious step and taxes carbon as a carrot and a stick to get serious about encouraging new technologies and penalizing those who refuse to invest to reduce their carbon footprints.

A made-in-Alberta for Alberta carbon tax keeps the cash in Alberta. Transferring wealth out of Alberta with a cap and trade policy to pay who knows what for what kind of flaky schemes that alleged ecological advantages is stupid and breeds greed and corruption. Surely we have seen enough of that these days with the market meltdown. We are all enduring this recession/depression thanks to the under-regulated American financial system and the breathtaking personal greed and corporate corruption in that sector.

Albertans want the problem solved here - not just a fiscal surcharge penalty that somehow absolves us of the duty to adapt our economy to better serve the environment. The best way to do that is to park the ideological posturing about taxes and use taxes to change behaviour. We know that works and it is easier to monitor and evaluate effectiveness.

That way the money raised with such a tax stays in Alberta to foster investment in things like a state of the art mercantile upgrader so more bitumen gets processed here with jobs and value added benefits here too.

I think we Albertans need to get that comprehensive carbon tax happening now and stifle the efforts of those who are pushing a wealth transfer away from Alberta with their cap and trade ecological schemes and bad economic dreams.

It will not solve the Alberta emission challenges and only penalize our economy. Beat them to the punch and put in a realistic tax on Alberta carbon now Premier Stelmach.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

When do Albertans Have a Right to Know About Environmental Law Investigations?

OK here is the problem. Which is more important, the public’s right to know or the preliminary process needs of the justice system? This kind of issue is well resolved when it comes to charges against minors. We have legislation that protects the identity of youth facing judicial proceedings. Unfortunately this law sometimes ends up protecting the identity adult bad guys from public disclosure because that might inadvertently disclose the identity of a minor so it too could be better.

We have a formal judicial process to ban publication of the names of those involved in judicial proceedings, not only accused but witnesses too. That decision is made in a formal court application before a judge who decides if a ban on publication of the identity of parties or individuals is in fact in the public interest - and not just the self-interests of the accused party.

So why in Alberta do we not hear of cases where about possible environmental law issue arise until investigations are complete and charges are actually laid? The competing values and the conflict between the various interests are very clear. The Crown Prosecutors rightfully want to gather all the available evidence, review and test it to see if it is sufficient to lay a charge before a charge is laid. If that evidentiary hurdle is overcome there is further consideration to decide if a charge is even in the public interest. Satisfaction of all this reviewing and evaluation may finally result in a charge and the public is then finally informed about the matter…but not until then.

That process and practice serves the interest of the judicial review process and the privacy of a potential accused but it does not serve the greater public interest and our right to know what is going on. The Alberta public owns the natural resources of the province. Our government, as our democratically elected agents/proxy, is legally delegated the duty to protect our environment and to ensure responsible exploitation the public’s natural resources in the service of the greater public good. Simple enough!

When an alleged breach of environmental law happens by actions of a company with a license operate and a duty to obey the law while profiting from our publicly owned natural resources, why shouldn’t the public know about any such allegations right away?

Governments talk accountability, transparency and openness with regularity but do they walk that talk with authenticity, integrity and alacrity? Not so much. This deficiency is not necessarily because government doesn’t want to be overt about such public notice. They have made a choice not to. They have decided the needs of the judicial process are the values that dominate and they dictate otherwise.

I think this is a misplaced virtue when it comes to investigations and pending charges for alleged breaches of environmental laws. The public interest and our right to know what is alleged, against who, the nature of the alleged breaches and extent of the possible damages is the public interest value set that should predominate in all such cases.

Immediate public disclosure ought to be the default position in all such cases. If a company wants a ban then let them go to court and prove to a Judge that concealment of the facts and the identity of the parties involved are in the public interest. Let the corporations and the individuals involved go to Court and get an Order for a ban on disclosure and publication.

What happens now is even the Minister of the Environment is uninformed and unaware of such allegations and investigations of potential breaches of our environmental law and therefore oblivious to the current consequential environmental damages. This is bad governing and bad public policy. Here is why.

When a charge is laid the Minister gets to rightly say he can’t comment publicly because the matter is before the courts. However if an investigation is on-going but no charge has yet been laid, than a Minister can’t use that sub judice tactic if asked about any such matter in Question Period, by the media or the public. In fact open, transparent, accountable governing principles would dictate that the Minister ought to obliged comment on such matters in an informed and comprehensive way.

So, as a consequence, to avoid the duty to comment, it seems the justice system and the government public relations systems seem to have decided not to tell the Minister anything about any such investigations. I am not prone to conspiracy theories and don't believe that is what is happening here. Keeping the Minister willfully blind and the rest of us uninformed and ignorant as a result is a long way from open, transparent and accountable governance. I don't think it is a conspiracy. I think it is cultural and the wrong governing philosophy.

There is another unfortunate consequence of not having early public disclosure of allegations and investigations of possible environmental law breaches. Many of the alleged breaches come from industry self-monitoring and reporting requirements. So the evidence they present, regardless of accuracy and timeliness, would naturally be under suspicion right away. The company and the government would both tend to be seen as not doing their jobs of protecting the environment when such incidences occur. There is no public benefit of the doubt for anyone involved in such situations.

What makes it worse is the Crown Prosecutors have to take the time necessary to carefully gather, evaluate and figure out how to prove the alleged case before they can appropriately lay any charge. The various incidences of breach are rarely simple and straight forward and if they are the evaluation of the resulting damages is always difficult to quantify. Preparing the case to see if a charge is warranted can take years to yield an appropriate answer and justify a charge. Such delay makes a suspicious public think industry and government are in cahoots and neither one is presumed to be serving the greater public interest.

Recent charges were laid resulting from an incident in the oil sands. It was about untreated human waste discharged into the Athabasca River that happened some three years ago. Even the Minister of Environment had no prior knowledge until the charge was laid and in fact he assumed the matter had been disclosed publicly at the time of the original incident. Much to his surprise that was not the case then nor would it be now. He has said this policy must change and the public’s right to know must be honoured immediately in such instances.

Under the current policy when such environmental breaches are finally made public the company and the government end up looking like they were conspiring to delay matters and hide the facts. This serves the best interests of nobody, including the government, the company, the minister, the public and ultimately the public's respect for the law.

This systemic indifference to the public interest came into sharp focus on the famous 500 dead ducks in the Syncrude tailings pond. That incident resonated around the world. Well this time we all knew about it before charges were laid because some anonymous tipster called the media. Thank you very much Anon.

The public got increasingly suspicious about the integrity of the evidentiary review process when it a year passed and yet no charges were laid. The public’s suspicions were so aroused that a private group eventually announced they were going to seek judicial leave to launch its own civil suit against Syncrude for damages about the 500 dead ducks.

Coincidentally, it would seem, the government finally laid its charges just before the private action finally got going. That kind of delayed timing adds to the public suspicions and cynicism. Then we get the icing on the dead duck disclosure cake. We find that the company and government officials knew, for some considerable time, that it was not 500 dead ducks at issue but over 1600 dead ducks that were lost in the tailing pond incident.

That unfortunate updated fact was only disclosed in a company affidavit that was filed in the courts and then caught by the media. The Minister did not find this out about the reality of 1600 ducks until he heard it on the news and read a press release by Syncrude. How does this process circus of delay and non-disclosure serve the better interests of anyone or any institution that is involved?

My solution is not perfect. There is some reputational risk to the corporations who are facing investigations in such circumstances. The public has a poorly developed understanding of the presumption of innocence. We all too often jump to a conclusion of guilt when charges are laid.
What is to prevent the public from assuming guilt at the preceding stage of mere allegation and investigation? Not much except perhaps a better educated public about the importance of the presumption of innocence and an appreciation of the checks and balances about investigations and evidence evaluation.

The judicial process eventually resolves all this one way or another by acting fairly and judiciously in service of the greater public interest. But that takes time and the unwarranted damage to reputations is done and may be irreparable. The finding of guilt will be well publicized, while the finding of innocence – not so much.

That said I think the consequences to public reputation, the need to meet certain corporate social responsibility standards and the duty of corporations to meet social license to operate obligations as the tenant on the public‘s lands and in service of the public interests is a corporate deterrent worth having. The court of public opinion can be more effective as a deterrent than the law and the justice system itself sometimes.

These corporations who are sold leases on public lands and entrusted to develop our natural resources in a responsible and sustainable way that they are all too often way out of line. They seem to think it is their oil and gas or their trees. If they provide jobs, pay taxes and our minimalist royalties and stumpage, they are meeting their obligations to the public interest. Stewardship of land, water, air, habitat and reclamation is always somebody else’s hassle and to be left for another day in the minds of the leadership in those kinds of irresponsible and arrogant corporations. NOT good enough! NOT any more!

Those modest corporate economic accountability measures of serving the public interest are the mere ante of corporations to play the 21st century resource exploitation game in Alberta. In the Alberta public’s mind, anyone who only sets merely meet the minimal ecological requirements and makes no effort to exceed the lowest allowed environmental and social standards are about to see some serious backlash from the public.

And for any government officials who choose judicial process convenience over duties of public disclosure you need to change your approaches and reassess your attitudes too. Ministers of the Crown in the Right of Alberta who may value willful blindness as a defense to avoid doing the right thing and fulfilling your sworn public duty, you are also in for some rude public awakenings too.

US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously said “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.” That is especially true in Alberta today when it come to the public’s right to know and our need to know what our government and corporate tenants are doing with our ecological and natural resources birthright. Only with full and timely public disclosure will we see a change to a more accountable and open governing philosophy in this province.

We citizens also have an obligation to change our behaviours and adjust our attitudes. We must learn more about our legal system and especially about the place and importance of the presumption of innocence in that system. We have to respect it and to learn to be patient and not jump to negative conclusions at the mere mention of an investigation.

Democracy is messy and cumbersome. Freedoms only survive with usage and vigilance so citizens have to smarten up and show up too. Civic cynicism is a luxury we can no longer afford in Alberta. It is time for citizens to show up an put some skin in the governance game of their province.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Stelmach Gov't Pays for Police Checks for Voluntary Sector.

One of the little Alberta Budget 2009 gems that got lost in the deficit spending headlines was the province funding of $2.4 million for a three year project to compensate police services for criminal record checks for the not for profit and voluntary sector.

This is an idea that goes to the very beating heart of safe and vibrant communities. This is also an idea that has been long time coming and reflects the new focus on Premier Stelmach's personal commitment to community and values.

The need to ensure that people who volunteer time and talent to community service are not dangerous or inappropriate because of past criminal or other behaviours has been pushed by Volunteer Alberta for a number of years.

Cambridge Strategies was commissioned in 2006 by Volunteer Alberta to do a survey and analysis of "Volunteer Screening Initiative." We found that police checks were an expensive and difficult process for the not-for-profit voluntary sector to absorb and that no grants were available to pay for this protection of the public. I encourage you to read the study because it is a window into the plight of these volunteer dependent community service agencies.

The report we did, like so many in those days, fell on deaf ears as the PC government was going through a leadership transition so anything new and innovative was shelved. Well I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see the Stelmach government step up to the plate on this concept. It will ensure that the community based not-for-profit, volunteer supported service agencies who work with our most vulnerable citizens, can do their jobs better, clients can be safer and communities can thrive from the good works of caring and committed citizen volunteers.

Congratulations to the Board and Staff of Volunteer Alberta for persevering and making this progressive policy change finally happen.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Goldman Sachs Sues Blogger Who Takes Takes Them On

Here is an example of how powerful a blog can become and how the power has shifted to the individual with a public purpose from corporate interest with a private purpose.

When Goldman Sachs - a big Obama bailout recipient, considers a lowly blogger dangerous enough to issue a cease and desist letter, something has to be up. The claim against the blogger by Goldman Sachs' lawyers seem to be that his posts "violate several intellectual property rights" and "imply" he has "a relationship with the bank."

The blogger apparently has an explicit disclaimer on the site saying he is in no way associated nor sanctioned by Goldman Sachs. So there goes one claim. As for intellectual property of GS one can only imagine what they might be talking about. Could the intellectual property this blogger is abusing the intellectual honesty Goldman Sachs had shown through their involvement in AIG and the sub-prime fiasco?

I don't htink they are merely bullying this blogger. I htink they are genuinely afraid of what he may say that is informative and helpful to the public about what went on and how GS participated.

Goldman Sachs is another of many newly minted corporate welfare cases they are living and surviving on taxpayers hard earned money through bailout bucks. This is happening while American workers and investors have been sold out due to the self-interested decisions in such corporations and banks. A touch of humility is called for - not just continuing hubris.

I am rooting for the blogger and anyone else who wants to take on these Bastards of the Universe. The mess we are in today is due largely to the personal and corporate greed and the breathtaking indifference they showed to the common good. These are values they shared with the Bush White House. Together they have put the economies of the world in this mess.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Cambridge Strategies Commentary on Alberta Budget 2009

Here is a link to the Cambridge Strategies Inc. commentary on the 2009 Alberta Budget written by my business partner, Satya Das. I will be sharing my thoughts and doing some more specific issues based posts on the budget in the near future.

In the meantime here is a provocative take on where Alberta is and some ideas of what can be done with our fiscal strengths and challenges. One thing that we at CSI find disturbing is around the Royalty Regime. The new royalty policy that came into effect January 1, 2009 and that delay gave industry more than a year to adapt.

The only ones who seem to have really "adapted" are the provincial politicians. They are the one who have chipped away at the new Royalty Rates as the energy sector presses them behind closed doors. It now seems that the energy industry in Alberta is intent on making royalties the new NEP as see them as the major cause of all their woes.

There have been many expensive concessions made since then to encourage drilling activity and conventional energy plus commodity price sensitive royalty rates. The reality is everything in the new royalty regime that was to get a fair rent to Albertans for our energy resources has been given back to the industry. That is playing Albertans for chumps and taking away the providence of future generations as we will never again be able to collect proper rents for these non-renewable resources.

Satya talks about this and some other serious shortcomings in our pubic policy models in resources and other sectors of our economy.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ken Chapman's Blogging Manifesto

I am writing this post as a personal manifesto about what has been on my mind about the future of this blog. I understand a manifesto to be a statement from "a body of little consequence" that explains past actions and the reasons and motives for what is forthcoming. So, in that spirit, I am going to be extending and amplifying the tone, tenure and attention of this blog to be more assertive, aggressive and pointed on public policy issues and political events in Alberta, its place in Canada and the world.

It is approaching three years since I innocently started this blog. It has been an enjoyable experience. I have met many new and interesting people. I have found new mentors (mostly under 30) who patiently explain the changing world of connectivity and social media to me. I have been able to exercise my right of free speech overtly, to formulate my thoughts purposefully and to share my opinions widely. The conversations emerging from the comments and emails, plus the numerous invitations to speak to groups and gatherings have provided some of my best learnings-for-life experiences.

I think it is time to take all this to the next level. Regular readers know I am most interested in politics, culture, creativity, environment, business and social justice stuff. This is also the core interests of mainstream news media and journalism. I have never thought of blogging as actual journalism, just “journalism-ish.” There are traditional journalists who are now blogging regularly from their traditional media outlets too, so the lines are getting fuzzy.

The closest blogging comes to journalism is published and promulgated opinion pieces through internet and traditional media, in what some have called citizen journalism. The citizen journalist parallels are closer to mainstream media columnists - not traditional news reporting. Although news reporting is possible for bloggers using live blogging techniques that strive to “cover” certain news events. We don’t pretend to cover the “news” but some bloggers get invited to news events and conferences in hopes that we will “cover” them in our postings.

As the blogosphere matures there is more authority being attributed to certain newsworthy bloggers and websites. This is especially true for those that create and aggregate useful subject matter that provides insight, opinion and commentary - and can draw an audience.

The other reality is the business model for newspapers, magazines and network television are all suffer from increasing expenses, dwindling audiences and diminishing advertising revenues. All of this media turmoil is happening in the perfect storm of a severe economic recession.

The other big changes that are impacting our reality as citizens are the social, environmental, economic and political shifts. They are not only large scale tectonic changes, they are happening rapid and accelerating and are world-wide; all at the same time.

With ubiquitous connectivity information is instantaneous, context is confusing, complexity is expanding and meaning and connotation is confounding. What are citizens to do and where are they to go to get an understanding and a sense of what this means for the future wellbeing of their families and communities?

The standard journalism edicts of telling the public the news by reporting on who, what, where and when are not enough anymore. They get trumped by the pubic need to know why and how and; even more crucial, to understand the ends or consequence of complex events or issues. In the information maw of the 24 hour news cycle, novelty replace nuance, simplicity replaces clarity and being first with a story is too often more valued by the media than being factual. Putting adversarial pundits on television to mouth focused group tested messages “against” each other is passed off as in-depth analysis. It is all being dumbed down and debased as infotainment.

With all this happening, I sense a decline in the ability and capacity of the traditional media to be effective as the watchdog for the public interest. The citizenry has also become cynical, distrusting and disengaged from politics and governance. As a result governments go though the motions of public consultations and the public feels more distanced, distained and marginalized, even at election time. I think the underpinnings of western representative democracy, namely an informed and engaged citizenry, is under threat due to an institutionalization of ennui, alienation and indifference.

It is my experience that you can take truth to power but power mostly has its own agenda that is not necessarily public information, and if it is public it may not be well known - by intention. Power may simply not care about the truth you bring to it, especially if it has already made up its mind and is prepared to risk the political and governance consequences of being wrong. The consequence of the power elite being wrong doesn’t just mean a potential loss of their power to be the “deciders.” Such arrogant mistakes can be devastating to an entire economy, society, culture and yes, even the planet.

This recession is caused largely by this arrogance of the powerful people in the Bush administration, lax regulators and a gaggle of greedy business “leaders.” It has been made much worse by their indifference to the extent of the consequences of them being wrong.

So with these conditions and with this consciousness, I have decided to take this blog even more aggressively into the realm of citizen journalism. In fact this blog will be dealing more aggressively with issues, events, politics and public policy matters I care about, I know about or am actively engaged in, personally or professionally. I will be prudent in letting you know every time I write about a matter I am professionally engaged in, and to what extent, so you can better judge the authority and authenticity of my content.

I have blogged on matters that I have been professionally involved with in the past and have disclosed that fact, except one time I forgot. I was working with a coalition of health professionals and advocates to get a law passed to ban smoking in work and public places. In earlier posts I mentioned my professional relationship with the issues but one time I forgot. I got called on it by other bloggers and in comments and rightly so. I have learned my lesson and will be vigilant about such disclosure in each and every relevant post in the future.

This blogs move towards journalism about citizenship is not going to replace the traditional media. It is more of a supplement to traditional media, provided traditional media continues to survive and provide a useful service. If it doesn’t survive then something will have to fill the vacuum to help citizen understand context and connotation of public policy issues and events.

Perhaps citizen journalism and journalism about citizenship using blogs will be a transition to a different sustainable news and opinion medium. I know we will need some new media model to emerge to aid and protect the public interest.