Reboot Alberta

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Still Time to Send a Letter or an E-Mail to Your MLA & the Premier to Record Your Opposition to Bill 44

Here is an example of the kind of informed and engaged citizenship we need in Alberta. Sirthinks and I follow each other on Twitter. I am @KenChapman46 on Twitter if you want to follow me. @Sirthinks is also on Twitter. He and I were active in the tweetfest that happened during the Committee of the Whole debates on Bill 44 last week. It was a most amazing evening where the anti-Bill 44 online community came together and shared ideas, opinions and information about the Bill.

Third reading of this terrible law will happen early next week so it is not too late to register your displeasure with your MLA and copy the Premier too. Bill 44 looks like it will pass as amended but opposition is not futile, indifference is.

There is a legitimate expectation in a democracy that we can and should hold our politicians accountable. However, if we citizens do not take account of our our responsibilities to become informed and engaged, then the power shifts from the people to the political elites and democracy diminishes.

Early last week Minister Lindsay Blackett said he only received 300 letters on the issue of Bill 44. I take him at his word. If that is true, then we citizens who are too passive or indifferent to care about what kind of a society we are creating and allow a backward law like Bill 44 to proceed unopposed then we deserve the kind of government we will get from this lousy piece of law.

Thanks to Sirthinks and all the others who are making their opposition known to their democratically elected political representatives.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Premier Stelmach Say Bill 44 is a Free Vote and I Believe Him!

The smart money seems to believe that Bill44, as amended, will go through Third Reading tomorrow and become law. It will not be enforceable law until it gets signed by the Lieutenant Governor.

There have been some changes to Bill 44 presented by the government as a result of the political pressure and particularly from by teachers, school trustees and parent groups. More on that late, but the other significant change around Bill 44 was Premier Stelmach’s announcement yesterday that it would be subject open to a free vote in the Legislature. This is a dramatic turnaround from the staunch position of a few days ago that Bill 44 was going to proceed as a government bill and “as is.”

Premier Stelmach’s surprise pronouncement yesterday that Bill 44 would be subject to a free vote is very significant, shows enlightened leadership and needs to be acknowledged. There are many who don’t believe Bill 44 will be a free vote but I do. I think a free vote is only important at Third and final reading that makes the Bill the law of the land. Every vote beforehand is process and a free vote has no real meaning there. Liberal Opposition Leader has also said his caucus will have a free vote on Bill 44 as well, and given the small size of the NDP caucus every vote is essentially a free vote.

A free vote means that every MLA will be able to vote their conscience on Bill 44 without having to support party lines. I don’t know if the House voted on the government amendments last night or not but let’s not confuse the matter with parliamentary process. Let’s stay with the personal, political and leadership importance of a free vote.

A free vote shows the Premier recognizes the fundamental morality concerns and the personal values-based nature of what Bill 44 is all about. This shows Premier Stelmach is prepared to lose the vote and the passing Bill 44 into law. That is unlikely, but with a true free vote, why would anyone not take the Premier at his word on that?

Are there enough Progressives in the Stelmach government who do not doubt the Premier’s word and who will vote against Bill 44 as a matter of personal conscience regardless of partisanship? Are there some in the PC Caucus who realize that the opting out provisions are flawed? Do they see that the recent government amendments do nothing to fix the flaws, and may even make them worse? Will they exercise the free vote opportunity and declare their distaste for the unfortunate elements in this Bill and vote against it?

Or will the MLAs in the Progressive Conservative Caucus not believe the Premier when he said Bill 44 is a free vote? Are they afraid there will be consequences if they vote their conscience and oppose a government Bill regardless of what the Premier said about a free vote? That would be sad at so many levels and in so many ways, including the further erosion of our democracy. It would also show a lack of confidence in the leadership of the Premier if PC MLAs somehow felt they could not take him at his word that Bill 44 is a free vote for his Caucus.

I believe this proposed Alberta Human Rights law does not elevate Alberta society, or in any way, serve the greater good. It is supposed to be a law about what we believe in and reflect positively on us as a fair-minded, inclusive, diverse and respectful society. But it is so defective in serving those core Alberta principles, rather than make us proud to be Albertan; Bill 44 makes us want to cringe.

I don’t think there will be enough freely exercised Progressive Conservative MLA who will vote their personal conscience and defeat Bill 44. I also know not every PC MLA is enamoured with Bill 44 but they may think the “hard fought” amendments fix the problems so they can exercise their free vote and support the amended Bill. On a clear reading of the implication of the amendments, even by a mediocre legal mind, it is obvious that the hastily constructed parsing of words in the amendments only add process complexity instead of clarity. The changes simply don’t fix the fundamental flaws in Bill 44. For those who are not regular readers of this Blog just go back to archive entries for 2 weeks or so to get a sense of just how dreadful this Bill is.

If there are no dissenting votes from the PC side at third reading, as a Progressive Conservative Party member, I will be more disappointed than surprised. I will not know if that unanimity happened because the PC Caucus did not believe or trust the word of the Premier, their leader, when he gave his free vote directive on Bill 44. I will not know if that unanimous support of the amended Bill 44 was a character flaw or a judgment shortcoming of individual MLAs because they would not or could not see the serious social consequences of making such an ill-conceived law. I will not know if the Caucus membership is so timid or intimidated that some members who beg to differ, but rather choose to defer. I will suspect that if they all act like sheep they will at least have the integrity to be sheepish about it. Time will tell.

There is a great democratic force emerging on the political scene. It is an budding wave of voter energy and civic engagement that Bill 44 has created amongst networked and tech-savvy Influentials. I predict that nascent opinionated personal energy will become an on-going political force that will grow and gather momentum in Alberta. I smell democracy in the air and I sense a change coming. A few short hours ago hundreds of Influential tech-savvy and politically engaged Albertans from all over our province got on their computers and found each other online because of opposition to Bill 44. They eagerly explored their differences and enjoyed their like-mindedness too. The focus was all about what Bill 44 would do to offend their shared values and pride as Albertans.

A small group of people with the personal empowerment and communal potential got together on line, in Alberta, until very late last night. They engaged in common cause last night and that they may be the start of creating some big political changes that they want to see in their Alberta.

Margaret Meade is often quoted about cautioning to never underestimating the power of a small group of people to change the world - because that is the way it is always done. Margaret would have been proud of what she saw last night in Alberta. She would have enjoyed watch us struggle to find any rational reason, other than pettiness and pure power politics, for certain devastating, destructive and discriminatory changes being introduced into our Alberta Human Rights Act.

Late last night, online, a lot of Albertans got together, found each other, and started to wake up as they deliberately dusted off their citizenship. If Bill 44 is not a real free vote, there will be a political cost for Alberta Conservatives.

Alberta Opportunity With India

Not all my Blog readers are subscribers to the Cambridge Strategies Inc. Policy and Political Commentary list. So I give you the link to the most recent piece done my by Satya Das of Cambridge Strategies on the Alberta opportunities in the emerging India.

If you want to subscribe to future items there is a place to do so on the Cambridge Strategies Inc. website.

Bill 44 Debate Last Night Spawned Online Citizen Engagement and Will Change Alberta Politics

Something quite amazing things happened in Alberta politics yesterday. I saw some attempts to clarify some of the fuzzy language in Bill 44 even when the government said they would not bend. They tried to respond to the concerns of teachers and school trustees over a potential for a classroom chill as class conversations migrated and related to religion, sexuality or sexual orientation. The amendments proposed fail to clarify the situation and in my opinion, makes the situation worse. But the effort to adapt has to be acknowledged even if the Alberta government has to go back to the drawing board to get it right.

The fear from teachers and school trustees comes from the breadth and vagueness of those concepts of explicit religion, sexuality and sexual orientation. Bill 44 also that sets up a quasi-judicial process for complaints around parental exemption that will most likely be exploited some reactionary parents with a political/moral agenda looking for a test case to change public education away form secularism. Students, teachers and an excellent public education system will all be the victims if this new power and litigious process is provided to those activists in the fundamentalist fringe groups.

Those fundamentalist arch-conservative based political agendas are actively playing out in parts of the United States and are about to be imported into Alberta big time with the advent of Bill 44. The kind of public policy issues that Bill 44 provisions will effectively import into Alberta the tensions teaching evolution versus creationism. Bill 44 is about a homophobic faction in our society who we are arming with a process so they can use our public education system as a means of institutionalizing and normalizing discrimination in Alberta on the basis of sexual orientation. It is also about a values conflict in human sexuality about differing reproductive philosophies between the abstinence of Sarah Palin or the teaching human sexuality in context of imparting factual biological information and promoting personal reproductive responsibility and loving relationships...yes Dr. Morton, regardless of sexual orientation.

Reasonable Albertans are not the concern caused by the clumsy drafting of Bill 44. There are small and activist fundamentalist factions in our society who would take advantage of the potential for pushing litigation opportunities inherent in Alberta’s proposed new Human Rights Act. This would not be the first time Alberta became a discrimination test case on sexual orientation was litigated and the Alberta government lost. The very fact we are writing sexual orientation into the Alberta law is a result of a Supreme Court decision over 10 years ago in the Vriend case requiring Alberta could no longer discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The next time it will not be the Government of Alberta who will have to defend itself, but some unfortunate teacher whose classroom will be turned into a test case.

Reassurances from some Progressive Conservative politicians that this is not their intent in Bill 44 and that they don’t believe it will happen are hollow assurances. Bill 44 is law making that imparts rights and imposes responsibilities about morals and values and gives access to the Courts for redress. It is not about simple symbolism or some benign rehash of the status quo. Bill 44 creates a new era in Alberta society – and not something we will be proud of either.

The other amazing political thing yesterday was the Bill 44 Committee of the Whole debate last night - that went on until about 4:30 a.m. Who says MLAs are not hard working! There were a flock of us Twitter-types watching and commenting online around the debate, in a vibrant cyber-community that included some MLAs. I went to bed at 2:00 am but some hardy on-line citizen souls stayed until the bitter end. Alberta’s Netizens found each other on Twitter last night as we gathered around the debates on Bill 44. There was a new realization that crystallized last night. That realization was that there is a new and effective political platform in which you can share, explore and exchange ideas with fellow citizens that is available on the Internet-and it is in real time. In fact the real time online experience went to 4:30 am along with our elected representative last night.

The Twitter exchanges were as respectful, wide ranging and probing as was the debate on the floor of the Legislature last night. A new citizen awareness and political engagement started to gel last night in Alberta. As a believer in participatory democracy and freedom of speech, I was delighted and reassured to see all that happen so spontaneously and spiritedly.

I expect the Netizen online opposition to Bill 44 to grow exponentially now and it will be amplified because the mainstream media was right there with us last night. The front page news coverage today on Bill 44 reinforces my point. I also expect the online opposition to Bill 44 to sustain itself and spread as the Progressive Netizens of Alberta emerge as an influential political counter force to those fundamentalists factions in our society.

Alberta politics changed last night. You had to be there to see it and to feel it. The Albertan Netizen genie is out of the bottle and it started a month ago with the passing of Genia Leskiw's Motion 503 on Grade 3 Provincial Achievement Test. That was where the real life Legislature debate was also an online concurrent Netizen debate. Online citizen engagement in politics and public policy is emerging and spreading as a new influential force in the future of Alberta.

Welcome to the next Alberta but buckle your seat belt - it is going to be a bumpy ride. Here's to the new trans-partisan Netizens of Alberta. May we boldly go, live long and prosper.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Thoughts a Sustainable Economy Within a Sustainable Environment.

Aaron Braaten blogs as the Grandinite and has a truly wonderful mind. Here is a link to a rich blog post to anyone you can accept that the environment and the economy are an integrated whole - not competing forces. Hat tip to EPSB School Trustee for bring it to my attention.

I think Preston Manning is about to have a much more effective role as a Conservationist than he ever did as a Conservative.

Don Hill is a fellow fan of Edward de Bono and accomplished broadcaster and documentarist and friend for about 30 years.

Mark Anielski is someone I always enjoy spending time with and learning from. I have bought and given away about 100 of his books award winning book The Economics of Happiness - Building Genuine Wealth.

These men are not only food for thought - they are an intellectual and educational movable feast.

Alberta Government Says Bill 44 Will be Amended

So the Stelmach government announced today in Question Period we can expect amendments to Bill 44 parental opting out provisions around issues of religion, sexuality and sexual orientation in Alberta classrooms. The public pressure has been mounting against Bill 44 and Minister Blackett admitted as much today.

Our government might have gotten the message from the majority of Albertans want an inclusive, diverse and respectful society. Our government might have come to realize that it is unacceptable to institutionalize bigotry against homosexuals and put teachers and school trustees at risk to prosecution by rights reactionaries. None of this undermines the current law and public policy that preserves a parent’s right to have their family views on religious beliefs and the reality of how they see their values on human sexuality prevail. That is still to be respected and preserved but not elevated to a right.

The bottom line is there is no compromise on recognizing sexual orientation in Alberta Human Rights laws, because it is the law of the land. Sexual orientation is part of human sexuality and when those matters are scheduled for classroom discussion as part of the curriculum prior notice should still be given and parental exemption wishes honoured.

It is also not appropriate for public education to provide religious instruction to those who do not wish it. The current provisions and practices under the School Act deal very effectively with that legitimate concern as well. Note that religious instruction is not the same as religion. Religion has to be an integral pat of any modern and forward thinking course of study in the Alberta public school system. There is Separate and other religious affiliated private schools in Alberta that are able to serve those faith based wishes around providing religious instruction.

The amendments to Bill 44 that are acceptable are the elimination of section 11.1 that created all these problems. I hope the Alberta government also revisits and eliminates Section 3 on hate speech too. Those provisions are not necessary either in Alberta’s updated human rights legislation.

Then teachers can continue to teach and school districts can provide the proper notice when required, as is the case today without Bill 44 “fixes.” Human sexuality includes sexual orientation so discussions can proceed with children of those parents who accept and respect differences. We can use public education as a means to expand our understanding of our differences without demonizing anyone.

The most appropriate amendments must eliminate any reference to sexual orientation as distinct from human sexuality and retain the latter as an option to opt out but only from pre-scheduled curriculum based class time. It must eliminate any reference to religion as a subject of opting out and stay with religious instruction only. Religious instruction is not part of the Alberta curriculum as far as I know. Catholic schools and other denominational schools can teach religious instruction but students in those schools whose parents wish them to be excused from participating can do so and still attend the school for all other purposes. That is the current reality and it should stay.

Am I optimistic this will be the amendments we will see tomorrow? I expect something less based on an incremental retreat from a very faulty public policy and governance stance articulated in Bill 44. This is about foundational social values and principles. It is not the stuff of compromise. A compromise on faulty principles will not fix the fault. It will perpetuate it. This is not the time to put forward the Canadian propensity for compromise by allowing incidental an incremental discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is the law of the land that no level of discrimination based on sexual orientation is acceptable and therefore any compromise on that principle is also unacceptable.

This is not the time to ease any public pressure to get this matter totally and appropriately resolved. I am waiting to see what happens tomorrow and will decide then if I am optimistic or not about the amendments.

Alberta's Bill 44 Embarassment Broadens.

UPDATE May 25 @ 2:15 pm: Minister of Culture and Community Spirit, Lindsay Blackett said in Question Period today that the GOA has been listening and Bill 44 is being amended. We can expect that will happen tomorrow. Hoping the matter stays in the School Act and we define the terms and conditions that create an opt-out in language that offers more clarity than in the current version of Bill 44. STAY TUNED!!!

The controversy around the opting-out provisions proposed in the draft Alberta Human Rights Act is not going away and now the rest of Canada is getting involved - and not just watching as we institutionalize bigotry in our proposed human rights legislation.

The Globe and Mail reports today that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has written to the Progressive Conservative Alberta government about the folly of this proposed legislation. They say "no valid public interest is gained" by extending a parental rights clause. They also say if Alberta proceeds in this way it will "become a counterproductive precedent" for other provinces.

Here is the quote I love. "You should be able to exclude your kids from indoctrination but not from knowledge." That is the core ethical issue at stake here. Parental choice and role is vitally important and they already have all the respect and protection they need in the current Alberta School Act to ensure no school will provide unwanted religious instruction and human sexuality instruction. Those exclusions ensure parents who want to exclude their children from school courses involving those topics are free to do so. That is an acceptable, effective and working current policy that does not need changing. It sure does not need fixing.

The motives behind the proposed changed to require a parental right elevate the exclusions to a human right, not a personal parental privilege, is admitted to be a sop to bigotry in a quote attributed to the Minister ironically responsible for "Culture and Community Spirit." The ultra-right elements in the "Progressive (sic) Conservative government are insisting that opting out be elevated to a human right and expanded and extended " an olive branch to religious groups and conservative voters who might be offended by the provinces move to recognize gay rights.

This political pandering masquerading as public policy pragmatism is offensive to the vast majority of Albertans. The mainstream of Alberta society what an inclusive, diverse and respectful society that thrives on differences and doesn't fear them. Gay rights are not negotiable. They are the law of the land. Legislators make those laws and they ought to be the first to respect them. It is a fundamental character flaw of politicians to even presume to negotiate institutionalizing bigotry on the basis of sexual orientation. To accept this into law to merely appease some ultra-right religious fundamentalists who dogmatically refuse to accept the fact of diverse sexual orientations as a reality is appalling.

Parents legitimately have the option to exclude their children from instruction on matters of instruction in areas of religion and human sexuality as is the case today in the Alberta School Act. That privilege protects their children from indoctrination. What Bill 44 does is say the opting out extends to the general topic of religion and sexual orientation. That crosses the line from protecting children from indoctrination to keeping them ignorant and excluded from access to useful knowledge. That is not acceptable in our modern Canadian and Albertan societal values.

Of course parents have a vital role to play in the education of their children and in teaching and transmitting social values to them. That parental privilege does not extend to the promotion of prejudice and potential persecution of teachers and school trustees as Bill 44 will empower them to do. Kill the opting out provisions of Bill 44 and leave the School Act as it is - that is protection enough for parents - and for the right reasons too.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Bill 44 is a Human Rights Disaster

I am running into all these bright minds grounded in sound principles writing in the mainstream media. Here is a piece on what a disaster Bill 44 amending Alberta Human Rights legislation for the worse. It is by Janet Keeping, President of the Sheldon Chumir Foundation on Ethics and Leadership. Janet and I participate in a monthly column in Alberta Venture magazine on business ethics along with Fil Fraser, the former head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission.

Janet's approach is to show how badly Bill 44 deals with real human rights issues and serious but ignored HRC conflict issues. My take is that parents rights around the education of their kids belongs in the School Act and there are protections there already. This is about quality, inclusion and relevancy in public education and not about extending exiting parental consent to instruction on religion and human sexuality to a human right.

The narrow mindedness of the Progressive Conservative caucus demonstrated by Bill 44 opting out provisions shows the world that Alberta is not the kind of place open hearted, creative, innovative and accepting people will want to work, live and invest in. It shows us to be just the opposite. may as well save what is left of the $25M branding budget. Nobody is going to believe the rhetoric with this shabby display of retrograde public policy by our government.

Time for the PC caucus to read some of the writings of Richard Florida and get up to speed what a successful society looks like in the 21st century.

"Mulroney Sinks to Using Clinton Defence"

I don't often just link to a news item or op-ed without further commentary on the content. This is an exception simply because I can't think of anything more to add to this excellent op-ed by Peter Bowal, UofC Law Professor. Oh yes one thing, full disclosure, Peter used to work for me as an Associate in my law firm more than a few years ago.

In a world were political integrity and transparency are touted, prevarication and deceit still trump the truth in context. If you want to go deeper into the "heart and science" of this behaviour an easy enlightening read is "Mistakes Were Made but not by Me."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Command & Control Governance is Out of Sync with the Times.

Edmonton Journal front page story by Sheila Pratt notes the Stelmach government has shifted to the right. I think they are hunkered down and have retreated into a command and control top down "father knows best" governing philosophy. This is unfortunate because in these times Albertans want to know what is happening and not be told what is happening.

With the Internet increasing connectivity and enabling communities of interest to form and push for public policy changes. The capacity for citizens to organize to engage and influence public policy has never been greater nor easier to do. For democratic governments to fail, refuse or neglect to pick up on this shift in power to the little guys means they will have to pay a political price. The Stelmach government has shifted from its initial governing philosophy of enabling and informing the public discussion and debate to where they now focus on controlling the message and sometimes some politicians are taking steps to intimidate some people and stifle dissent.

I have done a commentary paper on this shift in governance and influence for a client and it will be published soon. I will make it available when it is public. I know regular readers of this blog will find it interesting.

Are You Ready for Reverse Globalization?

Nice to see the Globe and Mail giving some space to Jeff Rubin and he new book. I posted on Jeff's new book a few days ago. He is predicting oil at $200+ and is a believer in peak oil theory.

He is also forecasting the reversal of globalization as a result of higher oil prices driving up transportation and other costs. That is an interesting prospect. A highly connected world in terms of technology, politics and the environment but less in terms of trade. China and U.S. relations will be an interesting case study for all kinds of reasons if this reverse globalization happens.

This could mean more focus and growth in local production especially in items like food. Thanks to Michelle Obama there is a vegetable garden on part of the White House lawn that has spawned a return to backyard and community gardens. This may be the early weak signals signs of another enormous economic shift.

It will be all good for Alberta if we get busy and plan for it now and not merely react late in the game as has been the case in the past.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Does Bill 44 Opting Out Provisions Make You Proud to be an Albertan?

Are you still proud to be an Albertan? For me that is the core values question coming out of Bill 44 - Alberta's Human Rights Act and section 11.1 parental opting out amendments. Parents are given a legal rights and remedies to have advanced notice so they can exempt their children if topics of religion, sexuality and sexual orientation happen in the classroom. It is impossible to tell when and how such topics may come up in a classroom discussion - especially if you what to foster curious and thinking students.

Aiding and abetting such institutionalized ignorance and encouraging it to be embedded in our pluralistic public education system is bad politics and is even worse governance. It begs the question: "Are you still proud to be an Albertan?"

These proposed parental exemptions are too broad and extremely offensive to Albertan core values of equality, fairness, inclusiveness and respect. It has been over a decade since the Alberta government took the decision on discrimination based on sexual orientation to the Supreme Court of Canada - and lost. It was the nationally embarrassing Vriend case.

Bill 44 takes the bold step of making a virtue out of the necessity that requires Alberta to finally follow the law of the land and incorporate protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation in our provincial human rights legislation. It is the right thing to do but it is not something to be proud about given it took us over 10 years to do the right thing. Does that long a delay in doing the right thing make you proud to be an Albertan?

Next thing we do is undermine our good intentions of being accepting, inclusive and respectful of different sexual orientations. We do this by passing another amendment in the very same Bill 44 saying that if there are educational materials and classroom discussions about sexual orientation, the public education system has to give notice to parents so they can exempt their child. Beyond being impossible to enforce it will allow reactionaries to victimize teachers and perhaps school trustees and administrators. Why on earth would we want such a law in our public education system in the first place? Does that possibility make you proud to be an Albertan?

The government's political talking points we are supposed to swallow is that section 11.1 says it only applies when subject matter is "explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation." Black's Law Dictionary defines explicit as "Not obscure or ambiguous, having no disguised meaning or reservation." The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines explicit to include being "definite, clear, expressing views unreservedly; outspoken." So how do you define and determine explicit when as the amendment says in" of study...include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation"? Is the innuendo, metaphor and inference in Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, or in Pope's "The Rape of the Lock"explicit enough to offend the proposed law? I'm betting we are going to find out if this law is passed.

Will teachers feel a chill, avoid subject content and stifle classroom discussions that could provide teachable moments and serve to overcome ignorance and intolerance for fear of being a test case? You bet they will, and who can blame them. How does this deplorable proposal improve public education and better prepare our youth for the interdependent globalized complex world they are inheriting? Does that consequent decline in the quality of public education make you proud to be an Albertan?

Every incident that turns into a complaint to the Human Rights Commission will turn on its own facts on a case by case basis. The government may think their new law is very clear but facts will not be clear. They never are. Nor will the matter be settled easily. The evidence surrounding an alleged breach of the law will undoubtedly have to come from other students in the class who will most likely be the only other witnesses to the alleged breach. How inappropriate is that? Having children testify in a legal process against their teacher, now that has to make you proud to be an Albertan.

You can rest assured that an aggrieved and offended parent who takes offence at some alleged explicit and offensive event in a classroom, somewhere sometime soon in Alberta, can find the ways and means to file and push a human rights complaint against a teacher If they are pursuing a complaint as a matter of "principle" it will not likely settle in advance through mediation and it will then go to a Human Rights Tribunal. If the principled parent is unsatisfied at the Tribunal stage, they can go on to appeal the Tribunal decision to the Courts. Why can this happen, because that is the law already extant in Alberta. What Bill 44 is doing is providing this kind of legal process to parents who wish to pursue it for political purposes as much as anything else. That is a new power afforded to them by the proposed opting out amendment in Bill 44.

This amendment serves no necessary educational purpose nor does it enhance any enlightened greater public good. The School Act and current government policy already allows for notice and exemption from "religious instruction and patriotic instruction" and matters of teaching sexuality. It has worked well for over 20 years and does not need fixing. Does the fact that we are ignoring that success and allowing teachers and trustees to be victimized make you proud to be an Albertan?

What is our government thinking? They are not only allowing this to happen but actively promoting it politically! Is this willful blindness to the consequences of normalizing and institutionalizing ignorance that is inherent in the proposed law? How can such a maladaptive view of progress be promulgated by our government? How can Albertans accept it when it demonstrates such an obvious indifference to social justice and Charter Rights that are at the core of our citizenship?

Why do our legislators have such a naive and misplaced trust that there will be no consequences in passing such a law? Are they that gullible to think human rights legislation is merely "symbolic"? If they are right that it is only "symbolic," then why pass it as a law at all. Leave it the realm of personal conviction and preference. Leave it alone and stay with current government policy. Why create new legal remedies for those who may take offense and invoke these new legal remedies and rights for no other reason than to test their legal limits. This attitude has already been expressed by the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition who are quoted to believe the new parental rights being granted in Bill 44 "can be more widely interpreted" and "'s up to the parent to make (the legislation) as broad or as narrow and they want." Does that possibility of Bill 44 being a test case over legalizing institutionalized ignorance in our public education system make you proud to be an Albertan?

Institutionalizing such ignorance and intolerance in our public education system is reprehensible. Ignorance is the adversary here, not people of faith. I define ignorance as the absence of that which if learned that would be helpful to know. It is mostly by a default to ignorance that leads me to believe that certain of our democratically elected representatives in our government are obviously fearing change and diversity. They appear to be looking for a quick internal partisan and parochial political fix that is a solution looking for a problem by allowing these opting out provisions. In the process they are sacrificing teachers, school trustees, children and obviously scapegoating gays and lesbians. Are you still proud to be an Albertan?

I have to weep at the political posturing that is going on and trying to reassure us that all of this is merely "symbolic" and changes nothing. If that were true then why change it in the first place. Human Rights laws are not symbolic. They create, clarify and assert rights and protections as a matter of law. Passing a law that makes the Bull Trout the "Official Fish" of Alberta is symbolic. Bill 44 is amending the Alberta Human Rights Act. That is not even close to being classified as "symbolic." To hear that our Human Rights laws in Alberta are being reduced to mere symbolism must make you proud to be an Albertan.

Invoking such an intolerable and invidious amendment into Alberta's Human Rights Act exposes an underdeveloped understanding and appreciation for Albertan and Canadian values. Persisting in being tone deaf to the dissonance it is causing is pure authoritarianism. It is disrespectful of Albertans intelligence and also disrespects other social virtues like compassion, empathy, inclusion, diversity and justice. Considering how this is being handled politically, doesn't that make you proud to be an Albertan?

It was Edmund Burke who said "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." And for my fellow like-minded Albertans, Burke also said, "Never despair; but if you do, work on in despair." I post this and past blogs about the shortcomings of Bill 44 in the spirit of Edmund Burke's advice.

I encourage you to resist and protest this proposed opting out provisions in the "new" Alberta Human Rights Act. This is the week to email and call your MLA and tell them to pull section 11.1 out of Bill 44. Your MLA is home in the constituency this week so take the time to find them and tell them to stop this unnecessary and destructive amendment. Restore your pride in being Albertan and stop this unnecessary and divisive opting out amendment from becoming law.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Brouhahas, Bungling, Banter and Buzz Befuddle the Alberta Government

There is a bunch of buzz out there about the Stelmach government, where they are going and how they are doing. I recently did a backgrounder interview with a daily newspaper reporter on the issue of how transparency has been changing - deteriorating - in the Stelmach government. I have also written a paper for a client on governance in Alberta that will be released in late May or early June.

There is a power shift happening in what forms public opinion these days. That power to form and inform public opinion is devolving to citizens who are actively engaging in conversations on matters of concern on the Internet, primarily through social media. This is generating buzz about the performance and positions being taken by the Stelmach government on a variety of issues and events. It is pretty obvious the traditionalists in government communications are unnerved by all this goings on becasue they have not come to accept that they can't control the message and provide the meaning behind the message anymore. The world has changed.

Now with the hasty departure of the Deputy Premier Ron Stevens, speculation and buzz will build. Part of the ongoing and online buzz is caused by past events like the Northumberland Beach brouhaha.

Here is a blog post by fusedlogic that gives some context and content as to why the online buzz about our government's performance and positioning is building. I will have more comments later but thought this link to blogger fusedlogic is worth a read.

Jeff Rubin's New Book Will be a Warning and a Wakeup Call for Albertans

Economics Jeff Rubins left the CIBC last March and has written a book to be released in a week or so. Entitled "Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller." It is as a consequence of peak oil that he says will drive prices up over $200 a barrel in 2012 and the "inevitable carbon tax" resulting in "very high transportation costs" which will "throw the machinery of globalization into reverse."

This is good and bad news for Alberta. We are using taxpayer dollars and foregone royalties to subsidize conventional oil and gas exploration in the face of mature basins which means diminishing supplies but at high development costs.

We will have renewed and accelerated pressures once again on oil sands development, upgrading, pipelines. Plus we will have more public infrastructure needs to meet the growth demands on us due to the energy shortfall from facts or fears of peak oil happening around the world.

Alberta needs to get real and responsible about planning and preparing for all of this now and not wait for the next boom to mess us up like the last two have done. Part of proper preparation is for our government to stop giving the resources away to energy companies by subsidies and ridiculously low royalty rates. Also start collecting and accounting for the cash Albertans are owed instead of letting the tenants defer and delay payment without penalty.

While we are at it, we better insist on constant updating of new technology for environmental reasons. Lets not grant any new leases to any companies who are laggards in reclamation of old sites, roads and seismic lines. If you have old ignored well sites, put your people to work to clean them up and reclaim them as is your legal responsibility and central to your social license duty. I am talking real reclamation back to forest with tree replanting for habitat restoration, not just a bit of grass seed scattered on the ground and forget it.

We have to break the back of the default mindset that says the energy industry in Alberta are the de facto governors who run the province and not our elected and somewhat insipid politicians. The energy industry has become Alberta's sacred economic cow. It can wander at will in the marketplace without concern or consideration for the damaged they do nor for the long term well being for rest of us.

In all fairness, some of the oil sands operators are getting it and show a growing concern for deserving their social license to operate. That is partly because they have large site specific capital investments so they have to be good neighbours, not just passing through the neighbourhood like the conventional exploration companies. Oil sands operators are miners, not drillers. They take a long term more integrated view of the impact and implications of what they do with land, water, air, habitat and local cultures. They are starting to behave more like a quality forestry companies. Foresters have a long term reclamation and restoration corporate culture. This partly because they are operating in a renewable resource sector but they have lots to teach the energy sector about good corporate social responsibility.

Albertans have to get serious, start acting like the resource owners and insist the energy industry be more responsible as our tenants who we grant access to exploit our assets for a fair mutual benefit.

If Jeff Rubins is right about the economic and social impacts coming due to peak oil, Alberta is going to be saddled once again with a blessing and a burden of a boom. If we Albertans, as owners, truly want ecological integrity and sustainability in the development of our fossil fuel natural resources we have to get overt and active now. We have to show, in no uncertain terms, both the energy industry and our politicians, that lax enforcement of environmental laws and a lazy tax collection culture plus the past predatory operational practices in the energy sector are no longer going to be tolerated. It is time for Alberta to develop its fossil fuel resources the right way, not just rapidly.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

ATA Brief on Bill #44 Exposes its Flaws

Here is the Alberta Teachers Association brief on Bill 44. It clarifies and outlines the practical problems for teachers from the offensive section 11.1. Thoise are the expanded and extended parental opting out provisions centred around religion, sexuality and sexual orientation being brought up in an Alberta classroom.

It is a well thought out brief and I agree with every thing in it. Full disclosure, I have done work for the ATA but I am not advising them on Bill 44.

I have read Hansard on the second reading debates on Bill 44. I am impressed by the grasp Liberals Harry Chase and Kent Hehr have on the issues and the implications. Education Minister Dave Hancock is clear in his analysis but I remain unconvinced that this legislation is necessary nor well advised for any reason whatsoever. I expect Hancock would rather see the deletion of section 11.1 but he is stuck defending it as a Cabinet Minister. I encourage you to read Minister Hancock's blog posts on Bill 44 as well.

Exposing teachers and quite possibly school trustees to expensive and intimidating potential legal processing before a Human Rights Tribunal by zealots and reactionaries is not dispelled by Ministers Hancock and Blackett expressing their personal beliefs that such situations would be unlikely to happen. The way Bill 44 reads now, there is an entitlement for a parent to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and seek redress before a Tribunal. Once a legal process starts, no one can predict what will happen, other than to say it will proceed and take its course. Precious little solice for the teaching profession and the poor teachers who will have to defend themselves in such circumstances.

Current policy has worked well for years and there is no sound public policy reason to change things. That makes one wonder why this provision is appearing in a government Bill other than bad politics is trumping good government. The additional opting out provisions provided in Bill 44 are not the same as in the School Act, regardless of how the Stelmach government tries to flog that mischaracterization. As for being symbolic, these changes are sure symbolic, but not of a satisfactory status quo and definitely not of the progressive plural and inclusive society that most Albertans aspire to.

As for Minister Blackett saying in recent media reports that it is too late to change the Bill. Horsefeathers. It is far from too late. I worked on an exemption for the nonprofit voluntary sector from the provisions of the Lobbyist Act last session. That exemption came out of the Bill by way a government member proposing the exemption by an amendment at third and final reading of the Bill. The amended Bill passed and the nonproft voluntary sector is exempt from the Lobbyist Act.

BTW, the government member who introduced the successful voluntary sector exemption amendment was the current Minister of Education, the Honourable Dave Hancock. It is not too late to withdraw the offensive section 11.1 of Bill 44 and failing that, it is obvious not to late to amend it either.

None of this will happen unless Albertans tell Premier Stelmach and all their local MLAs that they want Bill 44 changed so teachers can do their jobs appropriately and without fear. The Legislature is not sitting this week so your MLA is in the constituency. Drop by or drop them a note or an email and let them know you are unhappy with Bill 44 as it stands.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Deputy Premier Stevens Throws in the Towel

The Hon Ron Stevens, Deputy Premier of Alberta call it quits - IMMEDIATELY! There was lots of speculation that Ron would retire from politics and head to the Bench sometime this year but not right now, before the Spring Session is over. There is so much going on and so much to do it is strange that he seems to be bolting out of the building. The timing and decisiveness of the decision to leave so abruptly is a big surprise.

There is going to have to be a by-election in Calgary pretty soon, I expect in the fall of 2009. It will be seen as a test of confidence in the Stelmach government by the Calgary elites. It will be interesting to see what happens but mid term by-elections are hardly ever good news for governments, especially those in a recession.

The Stelmach government has relationship problems in the energy tycoons in the Calgary Towers but I am not so sure that is also true of the guy on the street in Calgary. As Deputy Premier Ron Stevens would be the point guy on the ground to bridge any information and perception gaps and quell any angst in the Towers.

There is plenty of Tower Angst and the denizens of the Towers are equating the Jan 1/09 royalty regime as equivalent to the NEP. That is hyperbole and hypocrisy but the stuff that Stevens would have to deal with. Here is a link to a piece my business partner Satya Das did in rebuttal to a Calgary Herald columnist on the Tower Angst.

Will Premier Stelmach appoint another Deputy Premier out of Calgary, if so who. The Calgary crew in the Stelmach Cabinet is short on experience, with Ron Liepert now looking like the senior Calgary guy. My guess is the Premier will not appoint a Deputy Premier, from Calgary or elsewhere.

The more interesting political concern is with Steven's immediate departure Stelmach can do a Cabinet shuffle without looking like he is intentionally throwing anybody under the bus...something he will likely do anyway.

Stelmach needs to make changes and regroup. The government is strategically incoherent and becoming top down, centralized, thin skinned and insular. This is happening just at a time when they ought to be bold, looking outward, forward and listening to citizens.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ken Chapman, Ruth Kelly & Cory Janssen at InterVivos Event

I am looking forward to meeting and mentoring with the InterVivos crowd June 8 at their "Business Plan Your Lunch" event in Edmonton. Joining me in this event is Ruth Kelly, the President and CEO of Venture Publishing and Cory Janssen, the co-founder of

Check it out and come out and join us. It will be fun and practical too.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Stelmach Hands out the Pork - to Brian Mason

This is the kind of "stimulating" post partisanship we need in a modern democracy. Here is Premier Stelmach on the Legislature Grounds today "dishing out the pork" for a goods cause and to none other than the Leader of the NDP, Mr. Brian Mason. Eat pork Alberta...just like Ed and Brian.

CBC Radio Show Now on Bill 44 on You Tube

Yesterday I was on CBC Radio Wildrose programme about Bill 44. We were talking about the new Human Rights Act for Alberta. It was a great conversation with Albertans especially on the issues of expanded and extended parental rights to exempt children from classroom discussion about religion, sexuality and sexual orientation. I was amazed and reassured by the level of awareness and breadth of concern express of the callers to the show.

If you missed it we put the program up on the Cambridge Strategies Channel on You Tube. It is in three parts and feel free to comment on this blog on the You Tube Channel.

If you have more time, check out the Dr. Bill Gunter interview on carbon too. He is an expert from the Alberta Research Council.

Top Ten Countries for Internet Speed.

Here are the Top Ten countries for Internet speed:

1. South Korea; 2. Japan; 3. Hong Kong; 4. Romania 5. Sweden 6. Switzerland 7. Holland 8. Belgium 9. Slovakia 10. Norway.

Why isn't Canada on this list? Why isn't Canada even more wired into small towns and rural areas?

What is more, where is Alberta on this Top Ten list of Internet Speed? We have the SuperNet but is has not lived up to its potential for speed or distribution to Albertans.

It is time to get serious about realizing the potential of the Alberta SuperNet. It is a 21st century infrastructure but stuck in a mid-20th century political mindset. We need SuperNet access for every Albertan and the "last mile" to rural communities must be solved too. We can do all this without anymore delay or capital costs.

The key to making that happen is the good old fashioned telephone lines that exist all over Alberta now. What that takes is Telus seeing the business case to provide this infrastructure. Telus has not been inclined to provide access to their copper wire so now the matter is before the CRTC and a decision is expected soon.

If the CRTC directs Telus to provide Albertans access to the copper wire phone lines then Alberta citizens, organizations and businesses can get fibre-quality connectivity to the SuperNet. That is a game changer and can put Alberta on the Top Ten list of high speed Internet access.

Stay tuned to this blog for more developments.

Monday, May 11, 2009

GOA Goes After Big Tobacco to Recover Health Care Costs.

The Alberta government through the Minister of Health and Wellness just introduced Bill 48 today, Crown’s Right of Recovery Act. It is a great move and aimed at enabling the province to recover health costs incurred in a number of situations. They include car accidents but the law will use a wrongdoer’s insurance to recover health costs. That could get complicated in how to calculate the health costs associated.

The essence of the Bill is in section 2(1) that says in effect if someone receives health services for personal injuries due to wrongful acts or omission of a wrongdoer, the province then has the right to recover the health care costs, both current and future costs, from the wrongdoer. If someone, who is a victim receiving care due and contributory negligent, the wrongdoer is off the hook for that portion of the health care costs the victim is responsible for.

Bill 48 deals with convicted criminals who are hurt in committing a crime. They will be paying their health care costs. And it also goes after the tobacco industry to recover the health costs associated with the damage done by their products. The tobacco sections are very complex and I will need more time to study and digest what they mean and if second hand smoke is involved too. Overall - Wow! As a citizen and taxpayer, on first blush, I'm loving this Bill.

The province makes a direct claim for recovery of health care costs against tobacco companies so the patient is not involved in any messy litigation. The province looks like it is actually pursuing the tobacco companies on an aggregated basis to recover all health costs caused by and associated with tobacco produces. With tobacco, it looks like it is not dealt with on case by case approach but in the aggregate. That is smart.

Lots of detail to consider here but this is a great step in the right direction. It was impossible to get the Klein government to accept a ban on smoking in public and work places. There were numerous tries and all were rebuffed by Ralph Klein. That smoking ban was finally accomplished by Dave Hancock when he was Minister of Health and Wellness in the first Stelmach government.

His good work is being carried on by the current Minister, Ron Liepert. Full disclosure, I worked with a consortium of health professionals and advocacy groups to get the smoking ban in Alberta last year. There are lots on blog post in the archives if you want to know more about that initiative.

Bill 44 sucks but Bill 48 makes great sense.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Allan Bonner's Book "Political Conventions" a Timely Read

In the Spirit of my Blogger's Manifesto I am doing this post as an excerpt of my thoughts from my Foreword as the publisher of Allan Bonner’s latest book “Political Conventions the Art of Getting Elected and Governing.”

It follows his previous book “Political Columns – Behind the Scenes with Powerful People.” We got “Political Conventions” out in January just as federal election was happening that gave Stephen Harper a repeat minority government.

My best guess is we are heading for another federal election in the late fall or early winter of 2009. This book has case studies, commentary, insights and advice on the various “conventions” of political campaigning and effective governing. He covers conventional element and new political nuances in Media Relations, Campaigning and Public Speaking. His war stories and personal experiences are in the political convention section.

Allan serves up insight and advice on interview techniques and traps, websites, blogs, advertising, fundraising and all the other tools and techniques of political campaigning, media relations, speech making and yes, even governing.

During the American election season Bonner went to various campaign head quarters in New York and for the New Hampshire Primaries to get a feel for the changing nature of U.S. political campaigning. He wrote a number of columns for The Hill Times and did stints on NPR with an analysis of the Republican and Democratic Conventions. This led to more research and a significant concentration in Political Conventions on the American election and the U.S. political process.

That has turned Political Conventions into more of a “how to” book about how to get elected and then about what it takes to govern. It will also interest political aides and advisers as much as candidates.

For Canadians who what to know more about the American election culture, Political Conventions is a good place to start to gain an appreciation for its strengths, weaknesses and some comparisons to our model of governing. The chapters are thematically tight so it is a book you can pick up and read one chapter at a time. You can jump all over the book and still get a grasp of the essence of what is being said of the campaign and governing conventions Bonner explores.

An election is looming in Canada. Bonner’s “Political Conventions” is timely once more, especially for all those who will engage actively in the political process, be it on the front lines, in the backrooms or on the phones, the emails and the doorsteps. Even the typical Canadian voter, who is just trying to get a better understanding about what is happening in a campaign, will benefit from reading Bonner’s “Political Conventions.”

The best way to get the book is to email me at with your contact information and we will mail it to you for $25.00 including tax, shipping and handling.

Satya Das Talks With Dr. McEachren on Water and Oil Sands

Here is a series of of a conversation between Satya Das of Cambridge Strategies Inc. Dr. Preston McEachren is a water science specialist with Alberta Environment.

Dr. McEachren explains the facts about water and tailing ponds from the oil sands. He describes in some detail the context and complications about dealing with oil sands tailing ponds.

Cambridge Strategies is working to have the public better understand the current state of the oil sands and what needs to be done to make the development of the oil sands more responsible and sustainable. Looking forward to your comments.

Part One: Introduction to Tailings

Part Two: Leaking and Leaching Issues

Part Three: On active reclamation

Part Four: Emerging Technologies on Tailing Ponds

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Harper Appeals Federal Court Order to Repatriate Omar Khadr.

According to reports from Canwest News Service, Prime Minister Harper and his government continue to refuse to protect the human rights of Omar Khadr.

The Federal Court has ordered that Omar be repatriated to Canada from Gitmo. What does Harper do? Instead of following the court order, he appeals. What is more the cowards and con artist in control of this country now say they can't comment on Khadr's case. Why? Well it's before the courts.

Cheer up Canada. It could be worse. Our government could be the ones torturing Omar, not mere acquiescing that it be done by his "hosts."

So much for our country protecting its citizens. In Harper's Canada, is the State becoming the enemy of the people instead of their protector? Omar is not the only one Harper is mistreating. There are others.

I want a election this November 9th. Harper's "fixed" election date established by a law he passed and then broke. Harper's time has passed and his Party thinks so too...if not for some different reasons.

Humanity and Happiness Happens

There is a recession going on out there but these folks in London have obviously decided not to participate - at least for a few minutes. Congratulations to them and T-Mobile for making this moment happen.

The Social Market Economy is Coming

I hardly ever just link to a news story or opinion piece from mainstream media without some analysis or commentary. This Globe and Mail op-ed by Timothy Garton Ash is so totally aligned with my view and beliefs about the role and relationship between society and economy. I hope you find value in the piece as well

Is Bill 44 to Stelmach What 500 Dead Ducks Were to Oil Sands?

Here is a wonderfully illustrative and instructive Letter to the Editor in today's Edmonton Journal. It captures the concern behind the expanded and extended opting-out provisions in Bill 44 eloquently and almost poetically.

Here is another that is equally as insightful about what we should allow and expect of our public education system. This letter it totally aligned with the recent research finding we did for the Edmonton Public School Board on what the citizens of Edmonton what from their public education system.

There was a comment in the Edmonton Journal Venting column today that said to the effect if evolution were real then why are there still apes? If a comedian said that, I would have context enough to laugh. Without that context this comment is also enough to make one weep.

By not exposing our children to the full array of thought and inquiry, be it science or faith, past, present and potential, we stifle human curiosity and exploration. We rob our youth of the means to develop their own minds and to find their own meanings. Mankind, like nature, thrives on diversity.

This is not the stuff of the law or legal processes like Bill44 enables. The law is too blunt an instrument to decide such things.

The fallout for Bill 44 is to the integrity of the Stelmach government like 500 dead ducks were to the oil sands industry. It is time to put away these "fundamentalist principles" Premier Stelmach and do the right thing for Alberta's children and our society.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Taking Your Calls on CBC Radio May 11 on Bill 44

I am doing the open line portion of Wildrose on CBC Radio One Monday May 11th from 12:30 pm to 1:00 pm all on Bill 44 - Alberta's proposed new Human Rights Act. It promises to be interesting so tune in and call in. Let me know your thoughts to the program by comments on this blog post starting Monday.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Canada Family Action Coalition Says Bill 44 to be Interpreted Broadly

I am reading the Edmonton Journal piece today by Trish Audette and Sarah McGinnis on Bill 44. Given the quotes in the story attributed to Brian Rushfeldt of the Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition, my worst fears about the implication of section 11.1 of Bill are reaffirmed.

The Stelmach government is naively clinging to mistaken delusion that the insertion of the word “exclusively” to pertain to education around religion, sexuality and sexual orientation somehow inoculates this inept law from a legal challenge. The defense the government offers are rhetoric about the role of parents in education, which is not disputed nor undermined in the current School Act provisions.

Mr Rushfeldt says he thinks the proposed human rights provisions “can be more widely interpreted. I agree with him. That is exactly what is going to happen and some poor teacher is going to be made an example of for the purposes of promoting intolerance. Mr. Rushfeldt is quoted as saying “it’s up to the parent to make (the legislation) as broad or as narrow as they want.” If that isn’t a foreshadowing of some aggressive advocates taking on the place and purpose of the school system and victimizing teachers and trustees in the process, I can’t imagine how it could be made any clearer.

The question is ought these section 11.1 provisions in the proposed Human Rights Act be more widely interpreted? If the government of Alberta intends otherwise, they have not been clear enough in the working of this section to ensure a narrow interpretation. This is the kind of fuzzy headed vaguely worded law making that invites legal challenges.

The government side debaters are reported as saying that fears about teachers being dragged before the Human Rights Commission by disgruntled or religious activitist out to prove a point as mere “conjecture and nonsense.” If the GOA was so confident in that assertion why are they declining to indemnify teachers and trustees for legal costs and other expenses in the event such unlikely events actually occurred? If the GOA is right that this would not happen, they have no risk in providing such indemnification, so why not offer it now. The reality is the legislation is flawed, reasonably intelligent and clear thinking members of the PC Caucus know this. So why are they are holding their noses and letting this litigation in waiting become law? Albertans are entitled to know.

We saw the same ineptness in 2006 with the Ted Morton private member’s sponsorship of Bill 206 entitled “Protection of Fundamental Freedoms (Marriage) Statues Amendment Act 2006.” Here the social conservatives, were trying to use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, specifically the freedom of religion, to exempt clergy and licensed marriage commissioners in Alberta from being required to perform same sex marriages based on their personal “religious beliefs and moral values.”

The Morton Private Member’s Bill also attempted to amend the School Act to exempt students and teachers from attending or being required to teach “…that part of a course that has in its curriculum that marriage may be a union between person of the same sex.” There was a further requirement of advanced notice to parents is the subject of same sex marriage were going to be part of course material and class discussion.

That private members bill caused a public stir and was defeated for good reason. If you are licensed to perform marriages under Alberta law, then any one legally entitled to be married in Canada, and that included same sex couples, is entitled to expect you to perform the solemnization of the marriage. End of story.

This Morton Private Members Bill is also the Genesis of the current section 11.1 proposed new “Human Rights Act (sic). But some newly Stelmach government so-cons have taken up the cause again but this time it is even more pervasive and distasteful. The topics now go beyond same prejudice over sex marriage and include religion, sexuality and sexual orientation as topics. Are those merely code words for some fundamentalists for evolution, homosexuality, and same sex marriage? It would sure appear so.

I have not listened to the debate yesterday on Second Reading yet. Relying on media reports all we see is red herrings quoted from the government defenders of the proposed law. This faulty and unnecessary law is not undermining existing parental rights in the School Act to exempt children from “religious instruction.” It expands and elevates parental rights to the point where prejudice is normalized and makes allegations of breaches or perceived breaches legally actionable through complaints in the Alberta Human Right processes. This is an invitation to religious fundamentalist to impose their values on the rest of us. I support freedom of religion just as much as much as I support freedom from religion.

Of course parents are central to the education of their children and have the right to be informed and have personal religious beliefs tolerated. That toleration also extends equally to homosexuals and same sex couples. That is the law of the land in Canada. One head of tolerance is not more equal than the other in the Canadian Carter of Rights and Freedoms.

We have significant funding for charter, religious based and private schools in Alberta where parents can opt to educate their children and escape from the messiness of inclusiveness, differences, plurality and diversity. The public school system is just the opposite of that isolationist inclination. It is designed and intended to be all inclusive and all encompassing in its teaching and content. Alberta’s tolerant, inclusive and adaptive public school system is one of the great strengths of Alberta society. But we taxpayers contribute significantly to funding alternative schools as we show our respect for choice, but not for intolerance.

This Bill 44 fiasco is politically motivated and mostly about fault lines within the PC Caucus. As a result those caucus members who are giving it a pass for peace in the party are failing in their duty to the great good of Alberta. Blackett and Hancock as Cabinet members are caught having to defend this sloppy law making because it is a government Bill.

How about a free standing vote on this at Third Reading? It is not a confidence vote so defeat will not bring down the government. However, if it passes as is, that ineptness may stick to the Stelmach government and erode the public’s confidence in this government.

Alberta Venture Column on Business Ethics - May Edition

The May issue of Alberta Venture magazine is out. The business ethics column I participate in "The Right Call" tackled the question "Should a good corporate citizen go to any lengths to avoid taxes?" Leveraging loopholes and lax enforcement versus stepping up to the plate for the common good.

The Canadian Income Tax Act started about a century ago as a"temporary measure" to help pay for World War I. Things were simple them but now it is so complicated that mere mortals can't comprehend the tax laws.

The larger question is what are we paying for when the taxman take his chunk out of our hard earned dollars? Are we getting value for money. I scoff at the "self-made man" types who think they are the masters of the universe and their success is a result of their time, talent and risk taking.

All that is true but only part of the story. They are able to succeed because the public sector is there doing its job and that provides a stable society, with some serious certainty they tend to take for granted. I am talking things like a quality public education system that generates skilled talent they can lever but we all pay for. A justice system and the rule of law with an effective policy and fire protection system assures that private property can be expanded and protected and we all pay for that.

The free market system is a function of these universally provided public goods, not the other way around. The economy is there to serve the society, not the other way around. Enterprises have duties beyond the bottom line. Those in regulated industries like energy, forestry, telecommunications and broadcasting must earn public trust to continue with the all important "social license to operate."

There is more but you get my point. Paying taxes is no fun but it is necessary. As citizens our job is to be vigilant to make sure we get value for the money we pay.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Bill 44 Amendments on Parental Exemption is Bad Law and a Political Sop to So-Cons

There is a significant and growing citizen's resistance movement to the so-called “parental exemption” proposed in the new Alberta Human Rights Act. I have been mulling this situation for a few days and my concerns have growen the more I reflect on the implications of this Bill 44 amendment. I also simply fail to see neither the need nor the wisdom in passing such a law.

It is pretty obvious that most of the Alberta Progressive Conservative caucus is "going along to get along" with the social conservative element. They are hoping that by being quiet this ill-conceived parental exemption amendment will pass unnoticed. By being benign they are reneging on their duty to Albertans as our political representatives. They are actually doing serious harm to many citizens, including children, parents, teachers and school board trustees – just to name a few.

This will be bad law. It will cause more problems for individual teachers and school boards trustees than they deserve. They should never be asked to shoulder such a burden because of such inept legislation. The PC caucus is setting up those hard working and innocent public servants for personal pain and anguish - just for doing their jobs.

There will be the inevitable accusation of a violation of this new parental exemption head of human right our government is creating in Bill 44. This will be done by filing of formal human rights complaints against teachers and likely school boards, perhaps even against individual Trustees. It will be championed by some dogmatic zealot who will set out to make a name for themselves on the issues of religion, sexuality and sexual orientation. This will put some poor teacher right in the middle of the controversy and a nation-wide media feeding frenzy. Talk about unintended secondary consequences of political ineptness and poor governance.

This Bill 44 amendment also has all the markings of a court challenge written all over it. If is passed and applied it is undoubtedly on its way to the courts or its legality. My guess is it will go all the way to the Supreme Court. The Alberta government forced the Constitutional issue of french language education rights all the way to the Supreme Court in the more enlightened days of the Lougheed government. This Bill 44 stuff is going to be much more controversial.

The lawyer in me asks why we need this legislated change and this new legal status for a parental exemption right at all. What is the actual social mischief or mistake it is trying to solve? The School Act has already resolved the parental exemption issue quite satisfactorily and it has been working for years. The Preamble of the School Act also “explicitly” recognizes the role of parents in the education of their children. Here is the relevant parts of the Preamble and the key section of the School Act.

WHEREAS the best educational interests of the student are the paramount considerations in the exercise of any authority under this Act;
WHEREAS parents have a right and a responsibility to make decisions respecting the education of their children;

Section 50 of the School Act already provides both the provision of religious and patriotic instruction and for the parental exemption from such religious and patriotic instruction. This provision has been working well since 1988. It reads as follows:

50 - Religious and patriotic instruction
(1) A board may
(a) prescribe religious instruction to be offered to its students;
(b) prescribe religious exercises for its students;
(c) prescribe patriotic instruction to be offered to its students;
(d) prescribe patriotic exercises for its students;
(e) permit persons other than teachers to provide religious instruction to its students.

(2) Where a teacher or other person providing religious or patriotic instruction receives a written request signed by a parent of a student that the student be excluded from religious or patriotic instruction or exercises, or both, the teacher or other person shall permit the student
(a) to leave the classroom or place where the instruction or exercises are taking place for the duration of the instruction or exercises, or
(b) to remain in the classroom or place without taking part in the instruction or exercises.

Bill 44 makes Alberta the last province in the country to “explicitly” acknowledge, in statute, sexual orientation as a human right. Concurrently with this late coming enlightenment, Bill 44 also proposes the following amendment to extend and expand the power of parental exemption from the Alberta school curriculum:

Notice to parent or guardian
11.1(1) A board as defined in the School Act shall provide
notice to a parent or guardian of a student where courses of
study, educational programs or instructional materials, or
instruction or exercises, prescribed under that Act include
subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or
sexual orientation.
(2) Where a teacher or other person providing instruction,
teaching a course of study or educational program or using the
instructional materials referred to in subsection (1) receives a
written request signed by a parent or guardian of a student that
the student be excluded from the instruction, course of study,
educational program or use of instructional materials, the
teacher or other person shall in accordance with the request of
the parent or guardian and without academic penalty permit the
(a) to leave the classroom or place where the instruction,
course of study or educational program is taking place or
the instructional materials are being used for the duration
of the part of the instruction, course of study or
educational program, or the use of the instructional
materials, that includes the subject-matter referred to in
subsection (1), or
(b) to remain in the classroom or place without taking part
in the instruction, course of study or educational
program or using the instructional materials.

What is actually proposed in Bill 44 is much more disturbing and expansive than anything covered in Section 50 of the School Act. The official government line is Bill 44 is not proposing anything different that Section 50 of the School Act. If that is the truth, why amend Bill 44 at all. The matter has been well under control for over 20 years.

The real problem here is bad politics not good governance. The majority of the PC caucus appears to be pandering to the minority social conservative elements in their midst. It looks to me that the choosing-to-be-silent majority in the PC caucus are attempting to appease the social conservative with this over-reaching and unnecessary “parental exemption” provision. They are self-delusional if they believe it to be merely a symbolic gesture. Laws are more than mere symbolism. If your purpose is mere symbolism, please don't use the law as your symbolic vehicle.

The truth is the Bill 44 proposals go dangerously beyond mere symbolism. We already have a Charter giving citizens freedom of religion. That also means we have freedom from religion in Canada. Those are the two sides of religious freedom are handled in the current parental exemptions from religious instruction in the School Act. That is very different from the proposed Bill 44 parental exemptions contained in section 11.1 of Bill 44.

Bill 44 is not about an appropriate and respectful accommodation of an exemption from religious instruction as provided in the School Act. Bill 44 is about providing an explicit exempting option whereby a child can be removed from teachings about religion itself as a subject matter. This is hardly symbolic and very different from the School Act exemption. What's more that extended exemption in Bill 44 appears to be elevated in status. It is to become a legally enforceable right of the parent, who can then complain to the Alberta Human Rights Commission about any preceive breach, as they wish. Is that the stuff of symbolism?

If I am right about Bill 44 creates an exemption from instruction about religion, well there goes a good portion of the history curriculum. How can you exclude the impact and influence of religion from the Crusades or the Reformation, or the Renaissance and the Enlightenment? They all relate to religion in one way or another. While we are at this, what qualifies as a religion to justify the exemption? How about aboriginal spiritualism? How about ancient and emerging alternative religious belief? How about Wicca? How ironic and idiotic this all becomes.

Wait, it gets worse. We have finally included sexual orientation as a protected status under the proposed new Alberta Human Rights Act. While Bill 44 now says sexual orientation is to be a protected human right in Alberta, just as it has been in every other province for some time now. It is also written into our proposed "human rights" law that sexual orientation is somehow not an acceptable topic for discussion in Alberta schools. So much for any evidence of an authentic effort by the Stelmach government at inclusion, acceptance and tolerance of differences when it comes to the sexual orientations of our citizens.

Here we go again feeding the Neanderthal stereotype of the socially backward Albertan yet again. We are the last province in all of Canada to put sexual orientation in our so-called Human Rights Act and then, right in the same legislation, we effectively legalize disdain for those Albertans with a “different” sexual orientation. Ironic yes, but it more like a shameful tragedy to my mind.

Looking at the specifics of the Bill 44 amendment we see it is not about School Act provisions about “religious instruction.” It is about exempting instruction about “religion” (a.k.a. evolution?) “sexuality” (a.k.a. homosexuality?) and “sexual orientation” (a.k.a. gay marriage?). Why are the so-cons being appeased by the deafening silence and insouciance of the PC Caucus? Do they actually agree with these provisions?

Please don’t tell me the appeasement is a quid pro quo for the insertion of sexual orientation in Bill 44 in the first place. That is not a negotiable item. It is the established and accepted law of the land. Alberta is finally catching up the rest of the country by explicitly including it in our Human Rights law. There is nothing to negotiate here. It is settled law.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This so-called “religion” and “sexual orientation” exemption is all about certain social conservative and religious creationists continuing to fight over our public schools teaching evolution and not creationism. I suggest it is also about the intolerant religious angst from some So-con over losing the battle for sexual orientation to be finally included as a legislated human right in Alberta. It is a thinly veiled effort to elevate an acceptable School Act parental exemption over “religious instruction” into a faux and ersatz human right enforceable by complaints and hearings before Human Rights Tribunals in Alberta.

Bill 44 section 11.1 is bad law because it is not only unnecessary but it will embolden social conservatives and religious fundamentalists to take a page out of the playbook of those radical Muslims who filed an ill founded human rights complaint against Ezra Levant. Mr. Levant was accused of encouraging discrimination, hate and contempt by virtue of his republishing the famous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. He was the victim of fundamentalist zealots using human rights provisions inappropriately. So it can and will happen if the opportunity is there.

Mr. Levant’s issue was with section 3 of the human rights legislation not the effects of the proposed section 11.1. He had a point, but his solution was not to eliminate section 3, an argument which has some merit, but to throw out all Human Rights Commissions in total. Mr. Levant offered a non-starter solution but he had a sound principle worth fighting for. In the end he won but it was no doubt an expensive, exasperating and exhaustive process.

Social Conservatives fundamentally detest and deplore what they perceive as judicial activism by the courts. They often accuse judges of making law and not just interpreting law. That happens, but it only happens when we have politicians passing vague, weasel-worded and ill-conceived laws in the first place.

Those bad laws are usually motivated by the blatant ideological attitudes of marginal, not main stream, politicians. As a result they are found to be contrary to the law of the land, most often due to a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Bill 44 section 11.1 is a perfect example of such an ideologically motivated failure to provide good governance.

If Bill 44 is passed as is, it's shortcomings will inevitably and expensively remedied by the courts.
This would not be judicial activism. It would be the courts fulfilling its role as the ultimate protector for citizens from abuse by the state. This abuse by the state happens when our duly elected democratic representatives fail to show courage of their convictions, exercise sound judgment, display real wisdom and demonstrate the strength of character needed to do their duty as public servants for the greater good of our society.

Citizens of Alberta are upset with these parental exemption provisions of Bill 44. Their public response is effectively serving notice on their government and their duly elected political representative that the Bill 44 amendments on parental exemptions are unnecessary, dangerous and ill-conceived and contrary to the greater public good. I trust they will all reassess their passivity on the matter, govern themselves accordingly, and delete section 11.1 of Bill 44 at Third Reading.

Friday, May 01, 2009

What Has Your Government Done to You This Week?

Here is a link to Fusedlogic, a smart social media strategy company. This is a blog post showing some of the topical traffic issues in and around the Government of Alberta for the last week. It has not been a good week for the strategically incoherent Stelmach government. These numbers show that cyberspace has been engaged.

Let me know what you think about the barring of opposition MLAs from a new conference on a new pharmacy policy, or the misleading beach picture from England in the $25m ALBERTA branding campaign or the weird amendments on Human Rights legislation to make it a human rights violation for a teacher to allow discussion on things like evolution or human sexuality where parents of kids in the class might object.

Parents now receive advanced notice when such topics are scheduled to be taught as part of the provincial course content. They can legitimately keep their kids out of those classes and that is fine. But what will religious fundamentalists do if thees issues come up spontanously in unscheduled classroom discussion. Dangerous to make this a human rights offence. Parents can teach their religious beliefs at home and in chosen places of worship. They should not be entitled to stifle free speech and expression for the rest of us.

What do you think?