Reboot Alberta

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why "Green Oil" the Book!

Every now and then you get an idea that just won't go away. That is what happened to Satya Das, my business partner in Cambridge Strategies Inc. The idea for a book by an Albertan about the world's addiction to fossil fuels, how to get off the addiction when in the face of climate change kept rolling around in his mind.

So he wrote a book based on this thoughts and explorations around this conflict of values and he called it "Green Oil: Clean Energy for the 21st Century?" The goal of the book is to change the Question Mark to an Exclamation Mark..

The changing dynamics of the big engineering model that is used to overcome the limits of nature versus the natural capital model of working within natural resources and limits and as stewards for future generations is the overarching question behind the book.

You can also buy it in paperback at independent bookstores. In the spirit of green, the print copies are Rainforest Alliance Certified and Forest Stewardship Council Certified.

We are encouraging feedback on the book and the issues it raises at as well. So go there and join the conversation.


Former Premier Klein is on record with a Canadian Press story today saying if Premier Stelmach gets less than 70% support at the November 7 Progressive Conservative Party Leadership confidence review he should resign as Party Leader and therefor Premier.

If Premier Stelmach lacks the confidence of the PC Party delegates, Alberta could be into another leadership race early in the new year. I have commented on this in other posts that you can read here and here.

Mr. Klein was summarily dismissed by the PC Party in April 2006 when he lingered too long and the party faithful decided for him it was time for a change. That was after he he served leader of the party and the Province for 13 years. Klein may still be bitter but that is beside the point.

There are no laws or rules that dictate this situation but there are past experiences that set conventions. The conventional wisdom was set by Prime Minister Joe Clark in 1980. He was Prime Minister of Canada, leading a minority government that lost the confidence of the House on a Budget vote.

Clark put his party leadership on the line at a convention and got just under 70% support. He said that was not good enough and he resigned a party leader triggering a leadership review - which he lost to Brian Mulroney. Mulroney had been meeting secretly with supporters for months planning a coupe and a run at the party leadership just in such an event.

Conventional wisdom says anything under 70% support from party delegates and Premier Stelmach will need to resign and test his leadership with the entire PC Party and the people of Alberta with the one person - one vote leadership system the PC Party uses. Between 70 and 80% he will be seen as the walking wounded and can survive but with difficulty. Over 80% and he is safe.

The anxiety level is high going into the November 7th AGM confidence vote that some supporting MLAs to Premier Stelmach even suggested a show of hands confidence vote and not a secret ballot. Not a smart thing to do and it was quickly kiboshed.

The PC AGM vote is only one event creating growing uncertainty in the politics of the province. The first was the recent and devastating results of the Calgary Glenmore by-election. the next significant event will be the October 17th results of the Wildrose Alliance leadership. It will be important for three reasons, who wins, by what margin and what is the total voter turnout.

Then we have the PC AGM Leadership confidence vote on November 7th. The next serious leadership issue facing Premier Stelmach will be the Alberta consequences to the Copenhagen meetings on the world's reaction to climate change stating December 7th. The Alberta oilsands will be in the cross hairs of those global discussions and the consequences to Alberta will be a significant test of Premier Stelmach's leadership.

I have no prediction or insight as to what will happen in any of these pending events but Albertans better be aware of them because there is an incredible uncertainty about being Albertan these days.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New RebootAlberta Blog Post.

I have a new blog post over at RebootAlberta of the transcript of a radio commentary I just taped for CBC Radio One on the shifitng attitudes amongst Albertans about the oilsands. Please visit and give me your feedback on the thoughts in the post.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Web as Random Acts of Kindness & Spudstock

This blog post of Edward Monton chronicles something that I think is pretty profound. The Great Potato Give Away last weekend in Edmonton was a "success" beyond expectations. And that was part of the problem - the response overwhelmed the planning.

OK what is the big deal of thousands of people driving out to a farm to dig up and pick up some free spuds? That is not the whole story. The rest of the story is the community response to such a simple idea of local food and keeping quality farmland for growing - not for paving.

The evolving event took on a Woodstock kind of consciousness. Remember when so many people showed up as Yasgers Farm for the concert that weekend that they closed roads, tapped the resources of the small surrounding communities and then formed its own unique culture and society - at least for a while.

I did not go to Norbert's Farm on Saturday, had to work, but I followed it on Twitter. The overwhelming response to the event, promoted in MSM but also, and most significantly, through the power of engagement via social media. It was kind of a mini-Woodstock..."and was like a happening man!" ( pardon the 60's speak, just could not help myself.). In my Tweets back to folks on the farm, stuck in cars, walking to the event or on their way to the event I dubbed the day "Spudstock." Edward liked it and said he would use it in this Blog post.

The changing nature of society due to connectivity and the quickness of a community coming together as a horde or a mob or a happening (there I go again) to do something or experience something because of social media - do what ever they do and then dissipate to reform with other folks around another event or issue. It is fascinating.

I first experienced this phenomenon at the Second Reading of Bill 44 in the Alberta Legislature.
A whole Twitter based on-line community came to the issue, found each other and started to form its own little culture and society that night. It grew and grew, got more and more interesting and many of stayed connected and commenting until the bitter end of the debate which finally wrapped up at 4:30 am the next day.

There were some grumpy people who came out spudless from Spudstock but as the video in Edwards blog showed, they were prepared to stay the course and put in the time to be part of something interesting and different.

This TED Talk entitled "The Web as Random Acts of Kindness" by Jonathan Zittrain captures some more of what I am talking about, I hope you enjoy that too.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Is Harper Hiding From the House to Deliver the Quarterly Economic Report Card Tomorrow?

Prime Minister Harper will announce the next Quarterly Economic Report Card from New Brunswick tomorrow morning...not the House of Commons. This way he avoids the national media asking questions. There will be no news conference of scrum of the Prime Minister by the Ottawa media who follow the federal political scene day afer day. hard to conclude anything else that Prime Minister Harper is trying to bury the story tomorrow.

Here is a link to the CTV Question Period show with an interview of the Honourable John Baird, the Minister responsible for the stimulus program. Judge for yourself if he answers straight forward questions with the truth or just something that is "plausible."

This way our Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Harper does not have to respond to questions from the Opposition in QUESTION PERIOD. The economy of the country is in crisis but Leader of our country will not show up in an accountable, available and transparent way to advise the nation about the state of the nation.

Our Prime Minister Harper also avoided the Climate Change discussions at the UN and the General Assembly last week. Prime Minister Harper visited a Tim Horton's Donut place instead. We have hard issues to deal with in this country and we need a governing leadership that will show up and be accountable...and be capable of telling us the facts and in dealing with the facts.

I wonder if we can trust the truth of comments Prime Minister Harper will make tomorrow about the Canadian economy? Will he only give us "plausible" pronouncement and will he release documents that prove his claims about the economy in his presentation in St John New Brunswick tomorrow morning?

So far Mr. Harper has been consistently and chronically very wrong about telling Canadians what the Federal deficit really is and why. So there is reason for us to be suspicious of what he says. He has squandered any right to the benefit of the doubt from Canadians. What are the chances he will redeem himself and be truthful and forthright tomorrow?

There are also serious accusations about preferential stimulus program payments being made to Conservative ridings (are you thinking Conservative Adscam?). Prime Minister Harper has yet to counter those criticisms with any facts or other proof that they are wrong or inaccurate. He claims 80% of the stimulus money is already in the field so surely he can tells us where the funds are being spent on a constituency by constituency basis and how he arrives at that calculation.

Harper is clearly ducking the House tomorrow. Why? Is it beause he will also be ducking the facts and avoiding accountability and scrutiny of Parliament tomorrow. I hope his is not hiding and hedging the truth again. Canada needs the straight goods from its Prime Minister. The consequences are too serious for political gamesmanship form our Prime Minister. We need a Prime Minister who is capable of statesmanship. Which will we see from our Prime Minister tomorrow? I will be tuning in, that is for sure.

New RebootAlberta Posts are About Recession Recovery and Greenness!

New posts on RebootAlberta all about green. New NYT Op-eds by Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman about a green China and how easy (and necessary?) it is for the economy to get green.

Another RebootAlberta post about the Alphabet Recession recovery. Only one vowel. The real economic change is consonant. Sorry about that. Couldn't resist.

Looking forward to your comments on the new public policy blog. It has a ranking function too. Interested in that response too.

Is Plausible Truthiness From Our Prime Minister Acceptable to Canadians?

I have been thinking about doing a blog post on this approach to political messaging used by the Harper Conservatives ever since I read it. Susan Riley has done it very well in this column.

Mr. Tom Flanagan, part of the Harper Team brain trust, is quoted as says that any edict, announcement or partisan attack does not have to truthful, merely plausible to be acceptable to align with the Harper governing philosophy. This has to be very disturbing to citizens of Canada. Is this a satisfactory value set for someone to be holding the highest office in the land? I sure don't think so.

We have seen so many examples of how this governing philosophy of the Harper government has played out in the 4 years he has been in power. Just search Harper in this blog for examples. Thank goodness Mr. Harper has never had the absolute power of a majority government.

Mr. Harper used this "truthiness" trick in his now infamous November Fiscal Update when he promised a surplus budget in this fiscal year. He also denied we were in recession. He knew both statements to be untruthful but "plausible." And that was enough of a "defensible position" for him to justify his intentional misleading of the Canadian public?

He had to come clean and he finally tells us we have the largest deficit in the history of the country, but his numbers are still being disputed by the government's own Budget Office. He still asserts that he is the best guy to manage the economy. He tells us 80% of the billions of stimulus dollars are into projects around the country. Maybe, but he offers no evidence and the plausibility of this assertion is under suspicion. Can we trust him to tell us the truth on this file? Mr. Harper makes assertions but he offers no proof. Without proof are we Canadians going to continue to accept his spin as plausible and therefore give it validity?

One of his own candidate is saying the stimulus money is being directed mostly to Conservative constituencies for political purposes. Mr. Harper has been silent on that issue. Perhaps the truth is so strong in support of that representation that anything else that may be said can't even reach the level of merely plausible. Is it just too far a stretch of credulity to say the stimulus finds are being fairly distributed that the issue just gets ignored by the Prime Minister?

Isn't that a sad state of affairs as we are trying as a nation to help those who lost and are still losing jobs, lost their businesses and are still loosing them, as we all commit enormous amounts of borrowed money that we need to get through this recession. The times call for statesmanship not partisanship Mr. Prime Minister.

Tomorrow morning Mr. Harper has to deliver his second Economic Report Card, a condition imposed on him in exchange for Liberal support of the Con budget (sic). Will he tell us the truth or will we merely has to settle for a plausible yarn? Is a plausible yarn acceptable in a time where we are struggling with the worst recession since the Great depression and a fiscal crisis that is the most serious we have faced in 80 years? I urge every Canadian who cares about the stability, sustainability and future of this country to watch and read Mr. Harper as he delivers his Economic Report Card. As yourself if he is telling the truth or merely spinning a plausible political yarn!

Canadians need the truth so we can plan and adapt to the new realities. What if all we get tomorrow is a plausible yarn to push a partisan political position of Prime Minister Harper? If that happens we citizens have to conclude and say that our Prime Minister has breathed our trust, breached our faith and that his conduct is unacceptable, inconsistent with, and unbecoming anyone who is worthy to be entrusted with the highest office in the country.

Time to come clean Mr. Harper. The verifiable evidence based truth is the only acceptable response from our Prime Minister. we all need to know what is really going on in the economic, social and environmental state of our nation. Only by changing and start telling us the truth, instead of pushing a plausible untruth, will Canadian citizens continue consider it plausible and appropriate for you to be re-elected to lead our nation.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Rick Mercer on Election "Fever"

What is the world coming to when only our satirists make sense anymore? Rick Mercer proves that point in this perceptive piece in the Globe and Mail today.

The EKOS poll of Sept 24 has some interesting results. I think the increase of the Cons support and the decrease of the NDP support revolves around the fact Canadians do not want an election now. The flat Liberal support in the face of the declaration that they will no longer prop up the Harper government means that they will now be acting like a true opposition. No longer will the Liberals be saying how insufficient and ineffective the government is and then voting for their policies to avoid an election.

The Cons level of commitment to their party is based on the sense that this next election is the last great hope for Harper to get a majority. If he fails to do that, the long knives will be out amongst the party elites and the base will stay home. The push to redistribute the House of Commons seats this fall will add seats in Alberta, BC and Ontario. Harper will pander to people there this election. It will not be as much as he pandered to Quebec last election but he has to bolster his base in BC and Alberta and grow in Ontario to get a majority.

The real and seriously under reported story of this poll is the level of uncommitted, and soft commitment levels. The hype on the Cons level of commitment is part of the total of 7% of all Canadians who are strongly committed to a party at this time. The Con supporters who are committed true believers are no more committed than Liberals, NDP or Greens, there are just slightly more of them in the 7% total for the country. That is no reason to leap to calling an election result.

The facts are that 27% are not committed, and 67% are moderately or loosely committed. That means 2/3 of Canadians are swing voters. This means the voter is volatile and in a vile mood. Call an early and unnecessary election at your peril Mr. Layton. Pander to regionalism and prefer stimulus funds to your pals in Conservative ridings at your peril Mr. Harper. Be passive aggressive and vaguely defined at your peril Mr. Ignatieff. As for Ms. May, just get into the House of Commons next election and you win.

Alberta Will Develop Land for Housing in Fort McMurray - Finally!

Government of Alberta announces release of Crown lands to establish two new residential communities in Fort McMurray. This has been such a long time coming. A large part of the reason Fort McMurray is the most expensive place to live in Alberta is the slow response to expanding and servicing additional land for housing.

We at Cambridge Strategies Inc. worked with all three orders of government and industry in 2004 in a very effective collaborative model that developed an update of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Business Case published in 2005. A very long time ago.

We had the municipality and the Federal government ready to sign off and invest money in their various areas of jurisdiction. Alberta made promises at the time but failed to deliver. One key Alberta Minister seemed determined to not facilitate this development for reasons that only seemed politically motivated from the "outside."

The Radke Report marked the change in the attitude of the Alberta government about getting the growth issues in the RMWB resolved. That former Minister is no longer an obstacle. This announcement of land development for housing is tangible evidence that the social and public services infrastructure deficits in Fort McMurray are finally getting the government attention it deserves.

With the Land Use Planning initiatives being undertaken in the Lower Athabasca Region that is contiguous with the boundaries of the RMB, we can expect more enlightened momentum to address the environmental and growth pressures the oilsands are creating.

I get pretty hard on the Stelmach government from time to time. This time I only have kudos for them on this announcement.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Who Can You Trust & Believe About Power Transmission Issues?

I did an interview today for CBC radio programWildrose on Bill 50 and electrical transmission and distribution issues. WHO can you believe, WHO can you trust and what are the facts?

There seems to be more heat than light in the discussions so far. Such a serious issue that the public interest has to trump the corporate posturing that seems to be emerging.

Here the interview on this link. It starts at 7:49 on the Friday September 25 program.

Alberta Lobbyist Act Goes Live Sept 28, 2009

I will be on Edmonton AM the CBC Radio 1 show on Monday at 7:15 am talking about the Proclamation of the Lobbyist Act, the Regulations and the Registry system going live on September 28, 2009.

I am setting up some workshops and sessions to explain the impact and implications of this legislation to business and others. It catches a lot of activity, exempts a bunch and requires some knowledge about what people have to do now to obey this law.

Consultant Lobbyists have 30 days to comply, Organizational Lobbyists have 60 days.

Send me an email if you want to know more.

Listing of All Alberta Government Supplies & Services Contracts Released

So if you want to know who works for the Government of Alberta this link is to the Blue Book issued from Alberta Treasury. It details all the contractual relations the province has for the last year. You can search the site and find out specific details.

Save you the time, and in interests for full disclosure, my company Cambridge Strategies Inc., did $30,500 of business with the province in that fiscal. Not surprising to anyone who reads this blog I guess.

(H/T Trish Audette at the Edmonton Journal for the link)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

What Messages Did Premier Ed Get From the Calgary Glenmore By Election?

It has been over a week since Premier Stelmach executed his much rumoured and much anticipated Cabinet shuffle. It was not much of a shuffle, more of a minor, one portfolio expansion of the Cabinet.

When former Deputy Premier Ron Stevens left politics for the Bench Premier Stelmach wisely assumed the International and Intergovernmental Affairs portfolio in his own office. Stelmach used to serve in that Ministry and knows the files. He also knows the IIA function is become essentially a glorified Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier's office. So it only makes sense governance wise and for fiscal prudence to reduce his cabinet by one and for the Premier to be the International and Intergovernmental face for the province.

So it is interesting that we saw the appointment of Len Webber as the new Minister. Len Webber is a good guy and I am sure he is capable of fulfilling the Parliamentary Assistant to the Premier function of this Ministry. This appointment had nothing to do with good governance of fiscal prudence. It was pure regional appeasement politics that pushed this appointment. It is more Calgary appeasement by the Stelmach PCs who looking for love in all the wrong places.


The key messages gleaned from the PCs enormous loss of the Calgary Glenmore by election is the recession is hurting and Albertans are grumpy with the spending plans of the province. It had nothing to do with the perceptions of the leadership capacities of the Premier or his office whatsoever. It was the good folks of Calgary Glenmore send a fiscal message only.

I don't think the Stelmach government is reading all the signs. They are practicing and perfecting selective listening. We have experiences a relatively light recession in Alberta compared to Canada and the planet. We have cash to cover the deficit. We have the "luxury" of not having to raise taxes for at last 2 years. We have unemployment at about 7.2%. In "normal" times 6% unemployment is considered full employment by economists. So Alberta is in a recession but it is not a dire as many of the past.

We have a natural gas revenue hit caused by low commodity prices between $4 and $5B but that is not enough to account for the almost $15B swing from last years estimate of $8B surplus and a $7B deficit one year later. We Albertans have not been shown how that math really works. I hope it is not more political messaging to manipulate expectations instead of actual accountability and authentic transparency.

So what. The "official government" key message and speaking points response to the wildly successful Wildrose Alliance campaign slogan of "Send Ed a Message is the recession and there is too much government spending. So the question for the Premier and his brain trust is what to do? The answer is clear. Shift to the right, fiscally and socially. Spend less and a lot less, right now.

Go ahead a break trusts by clawing back prior social infrastructure promises, especially in the vulnerable social service sector. They don't vote and if they did, they don't vote Tory anyway. One thing for sure, in a perpetual appeasement to Calgary elites we can't risk alienating the energy industry millionaire masters of the universe types, especially in times of recession.


The real evidence of a fundamental (sic) social policy shift is in the other appointments made concurrently with Len Webber's ascending into Cabinet. Look at the rewards given to the social conservative gang that promoted and won the battle to pass their beloved Bill 44. This is even more disturbing and profound evidence of the social repositioning of the Stelmach government to the right. I suggest the far right. This is an exercise in social conservative appeasement but there is some overtones of more Calgary Appeasement as a beneficial by-election by product.

The elevation of rookie MLA Jonathan Denis to Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Energy puts a socially conservative Calgary face on the portfolio. Jono and I are Facebook Friends and follow each other on Twitter. [We are @JonoMLA and @KenChapman46 on Twitter if you want to follow us.] I find him to be an intelligent and civil debater as we arm wrestle in the social media. He may prove to be a very capable guy and deserves the benefit of the doubt. But there is not doubt of is social conservative credentials as one of the front men on Bill 44.

Side note: Jono beat the ultra social conservative Craig Chandler who ran as an Independent in the 2008 election after winning the PC nomination but Stelmach refused to sign his paper. Mr. Chandler is now the power and behind Mark Dynholm's bid to lead the Wildrose Alliance Party.

Next is Broyce Jacobs as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister Agriculture and Rural Development. Mr. Jacobs is and was the MLA from Cardston. He lost to Paul Hinman in 2004 but beat him in 2008. Remember it was Hinman who parachuted into Calgary Glenmore and trounced the local high profile PC candidate in the by election this month. Elevating him also sends a message to Albertans with a strong fundamentalist faith base that they have a voice right into the provincial political power structure.

Next we have the evidence of the social and fiscal shift to the right in the new appointments to key Cabinet committees. Adding Lindsay Blackett to Agenda and Priorities is a reward for a job well done on pushing through Bill 44 in the face of serious, vocal and broadly based public opposition.

There seems to be soap-opera around the selection of rookie Rob Anderson to the all powerful Treasury Board. Rob is apparently a fiscal hawk and was the face of Bill 44 to the social conservative element in the caucus and in the PC party. His appointment is clearly a reward for his Bill 44 efforts and success.

The soap opera element is the apparent political punishment of Kyle Fawcett, another social conservative Bill 44 caucus promoter. Kyle, a Calgary rookie MLA, had the temerity to say the equivalent of Premier had no clothes in his analysis of the messages coming out of the Calgary Glenmore by election. See the blog post of Don Braid, provincial affairs columnists for the Calgary Herald for details.

All of this is a symbolic sign to those former PC supporters who abandoned the party and voted Wildrose Alliance in Calgary Glenmore. The Premier is showing off his social conservative bench strength and trying to convince So-con swing voters that their concerns will be dealt with from now on by his government. He is trying to show those folks that he got that message. I think that message has come through loud and clear since the last election.

That puts the progressives in the PC party on notice that they are marginalized. I think it may prove that the progressives int eh PC party will be even more marginalized than in the darkest days of the Klein regime. Time will tell.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Great Potato Give Away!

Here is a great example of community coming together to resolve problems and learn from each other and make a difference. It is "The Great Potato Give Away" happening this Saturday September 26, 2009. It is a cooperative effort of the Edmonton Potato Growers Limited, the Greater Edmonton Alliance and Norbest Farms in association with Khulmans Greenhouses.

People can come to Norbest Farms between 9 and 4 and dig up 50 pounds of potatoes per person for their own use AND FOR FREE! Tools to dig and sacks will be provided. Folks can then stop at Khulman's Greenhouses on the way home and pick up the rest of their veggies. All veggie sale proceeds will be donated by Khulman's Greenhouses for that day to the Greater Edmonton Alliance.

You can attend Growing Potatoes 101 and learn how to grow your own potatoes on you own city lot from 10- 11 a.m.

This is all about raising awareness of the amount of local food produced in the farmlands around Edmonton. You can learn more about this in a session from 12 noon -1 p.m. to become more informed input into the Edmonton Municipal Plan and why high yielding farmlands need to be preserved within urban development and to create a strong local economy.

You know your lawyer, doctor and accountant. Do you know your farmer? This is a chance to introduce yourself. Here are some links to the Greater Edmonton Alliance and the Edmonton Potato Growers for more information.

Directions: Take the Manning Freeway to 195th Avenue turn right and follow the signs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Blog "Reboot Alberta"

I have started a new blog on the Wordpress platform called RebootAlberta . So I have another learning curve. Such is life. My second post is up and is about a rescent speech and conversation with John Ibbitson, the new Ottawa Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail.

John and I were both guests of the Alberta Teachers' Association's Fall Planning Session in Banff last week. I enjoyed his company and his comparisons of American and Canadian politics. He was especially interesting when he talked about the differences in how the two countries choose leaders and the impact of the Internet on politics.

This new blog will be more of a public policy perspective and focused on the future of Alberta. It will not be partisan or political per se. That stuff will stay on this blog. I hope you have the time and curiosity to visit both blogs. I hope you subscribe to both so you can be notified when new material is posted.

I really enjoy the comments and the conversation on this blog and look forward to the same if not more participation on RebootAlberta. I called it RebootAlberta because it is pretty obvious to most political observers that for the future prosperity of Alberta we have to Reboot and get a fresh start. That means Albertans have to take Control of some things, Alter others and not be afraid to Delete some other outdated approaches and ideas.

Hope to see you here and at RebootAlberta as well.

Day 7 Society's Child - Where Do We Go From Here?

This is likely to be the seventh and final episode of the Society's Child blog series unless there are further vital developments on the issues and events. Because of the court records we have had a unique inside look at one dramatic instance about how not to serve the best interests of a child at risk. We have see what happens when indifference and process predominates to override mandated public policy principles and purposes.

The public would never get this kind of access to detailed information and background about the government's conduct of a child welfare file. That is because it deals with the rights of a minor child in care and the overarching privacy issues will keep the facts from the public eye. But with a series of court appearances all the way up to the Appeal Court, we have seen a window of hard evidence open up to Albertans and we got to see into some of the inner workings of department of CYSA.


We have seen an anonymous foster mother show enormous and admirable determination and courage in the face of a very powerful and determined state system. She has been the reason we have had this unique opportunity to see what can happen when a system goes arrogant and even a bit indifferent to public accountability. We have seen the state exercise its enormous power and influence in this matter. They have the means and resources to thwart, frustrate, intimidate and break the spirit and bank account of a citizen in such circumstances. I think the system used all of those powers in this case against the foster mother but she persevered and prevailed. Well done foster mother. And thank you also to her legal counsel. She also stayed the course and showed the best qualities and capabilities of the legal profession in her conduct of this matter.

I also feel sorry for the child at the centre of all this wrangling. He was not well served by the system and those in government authority who are entrusted to ensure his best interests. I also have some sympathy for Richard Ouellet, the departmental Director who personally took the hit for the departmental ineptness. His personal actions and inactions contributed significantly to his fate and are not excused or absolved from responsibility. But he is not likely the only one who was directly involved in the file who is a possible contemptuous contributor to this fiasco. The court noted that and I hope the Ministers involved are seriously looking into this as well.

So let me end on a positive note. I have been provided some links to other high profile child welfare cases. One that is worth noting is the famous Klassen case out of Saskatchewan. There the politically correct presumption in these complex and high-risk situations that "children never lie" was seriously tested. In this case the Alberta child welfare staff are praised by the Saskatchewan courts for how they handled their portion of a a file that was seriously bungled by Saskatchewan authorities. Go to page 59 to read some complimentary commentary about some of Alberta's child welfare officials doing a great job.


Finally, I see hopeful signs that concerns raised in this blog series that reviewed in the court action and the concerns of the court are being addressed. Following is copy of a copy of the September 18, 2009 edition of the GOA "Connector" publication to provincial government staff. In it Fay Orr, the Deputy Minister of CYSA obviously starts an internal education process. She outlines the duties, role, relationships and background of Statutory Directors, like Mr. Ouellet, in the department.

This is a step in the right direction and one that I think readers of this blog will appreciate. I think this is a genuine effort to deal with the accountability (and cultural?) problems in the department that this court case uncovered. It is but one of many steps that need to be taken to fix some fundamental problems that seem to pervade too much of the systems in this department - and others in the social services sector including Seniors and Health. I have outlined in blue the most salient part of this commentary that I think shows some hopeful signs of positive change. This clarity of accountability in management relationships was clearly missing as evidenced in the court documents around this case.

Here is the Connector piece that is hopefully some evidence of a new day in Children and Youth Services Alberta:

Statutory Directors
ACYS has three statutory directors – one under the Child, Youth and Family Enhancement Act; one under the Family Support for Children with Disabilities Act; and one under the Child Care Licensing Act.

These directors entrust or delegate the authorities they are given under their respective pieces of legislation to fellow staff, so these staff can do their day-to-day work for children, youth and families. However, the directors do not and can not delegate the legal responsibility they have under legislation. That means these directors are ultimately responsible and accountable for the activities taken under the legislation.

Here’s an example of how this works within child intervention: When a caseworker is delegated by the director with the authority to seek a temporary guardianship order from the court, the caseworker is responsible for implementing the court order and ensuring the well-being of the child. The director is responsible for ensuring there are mechanisms in place by which he or she can be assured that the caseworker is exercising appropriately the delegated authority they have been given.

Approximately 9,000 children and youth are involved in our child intervention system, hundreds of families receive support for raising their child with a disability, and many families count on us to ensure quality and affordable child care. Having mechanisms to monitor the proper use of delegated authority and ensure clear, timely communication between and among the frontlines, support staff and management is crucial to improving outcomes for kids and fulfilling our legislated duties. That’s one of the reasons why we, as a ministry, are always looking at ways to enhance our processes and practices. Recently completed reviews in
Foster Care and Child and Youth Advocacy and the current Child Intervention review are prime examples.

With more than 3,100 employees, ours is one of the largest ministries in the provincial government. Whether we work directly with children and families or support those who do, each one of us has an important role to play ensuring that our policies, procedures and legislative responsibilities are followed and that Albertans receive quality services that make a lasting and positive difference in their lives. We are in this together, and continue to rely on and support one another in our daily work for children, youth and families.


The department has a lot going on and will face even more severe pressures with the new fiscal realities of the province. The problems will not go away, in fact there will likely be more at risk kids with worsening situations given the stresses of the recession. I hope the political leadership, departmental management and staff will take this case to heart and learn from it. We need them to become even more effective and capable at fulfilling one of societies most difficult function, taking care of kids at risk. That means serious commitment to sustained and substantial change and with the expectation of fewer resources. Not an easy row to hoe but it can't just be measured by merely tracking and cutting the amount of tax dollars dedicated to the area. That does not reflect the values and obligations we as a society owe to these children.


As for this blog series, Society's Child, I think it is time to move on. I am very much into giving the benefit of the doubt to all those in this department who are mandated to serve the best interests of our society's at risk children. The essential reality is these are our kids. Albertans are also responsible for their well being, not just "the government." We are the government in a democracy.

I will continue to watch for positive and negative trends and will comment as best I can and post on them from time to time. Thank you for your dedicated regular reading this blog series. You came out in record numbers and I hope you come back and become regular readers. I will be continuing the regular blog posts on matters that continue to capture my attention and imagination. I will also be doing a new series on something completely different issues that are also critical to the best interests of the citizens of Alberta. Stay tuned for that.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

American Health Care Ranks #37 and Some are Proud of it!

So the ultra neurotic armed and dangerous traditional conservatives in the USA are disrupting health care town halls. This video puts some context on the "reality" of these guys trying to sustain the unsustainable American health care system.

And while we smug Canadians love our "system" we don't have much to brag about either when the rankings are exposed in this clip.

Enjoy this example of free speech and spread it around. I wonder if Paul Hipp will tackle Rush Limbaugh's call for the return of segregated buses. Could be a great video.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Harper, Layton, Duceppe - the New Coalition of Political Hypocrisy

I caught Robin Williams on Leno last night. In another context he said "...the hypocrisy gods are unhappy and the pay back is going to be a bitch." Couldn't help but think of that reality in terms of Harper, Layton and Duceppe, and their new coalition of the willing to serve their own self interests and beggar the best interests of the country.

The hypocrisy of Harper to say the next election is unnecessary when he did called his own unnecessary election - the last election. He broke his own fixed date election law and ran from the House of Commons begging the Governor General to call an expensive and unnecessary election to save his own hide, the good of the country be damned. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the Democracy Watch law suit against the Harper Cons for breaking their own law.

Then we have Smilin' Jack Layton who all through last Parliament lambasted the Liberals for propping up Harper's radical regime. While he did his dog in a manger magic show of alleging the high road of constantly voting against Harper he now has turned tail and is now covering up for Harper's personal political ambitions and supporting the Reform Conservatives. Talk about "inconvenient truths."

The Liberals were not ready to run another election lat year. They debated and criticized the Harper policies but in the end pragmatism prevailed and they voted for the government policies partly because Harper made every bill a "confidence vote" for no good reason than playing political chicken with the good of the country. The Liberal did not want to be blamed for another unnecessary election, especially one they could neither win nor afford. Canadians all knew that and we wanted the minority parliament to work that way anyway.

Ignatieff is adamant that times have changed. He has money and moxie and the means to make Harper accountable. He intends to do just that and an eventual election is the litmus test for all of this.. Layton now is going to bear the blame for the next unpopular but ultimately very necessary election.

Now Layton is the one who can't afford an election. He is withering in the polls, money is tight, has lost his mojo and he has messed up his message with superficial and cosmetic musings about changing the party name. The only thing New about the New Democrats is the utter hypocrisy of them now propping up the Harper Reform Conservatives. This new found coalition between Layton and Harper is not for the good of the country but to save Layton's political hide.

Duceppe is on autopilot politically. He wants out of the game but can't find an effective exit strategy. An unpopular election that has not yet squeezed the same amount and kind of blood out of Harper as last election will not serve him or his party interests well. Remember last time Harper was even more hypocritical in Quebec, pandering promises to recognize Quebec as a nation and reviving the mythical fiscal imbalance issue in that province. If the Bloc can't play its separatists card for domestic political purposes, they risk the fate of the PQ provincially - a Liberal majority.

And finally we have the sad and sorry state of affairs around Rahim Jaffer's arrest for drunk driving and possession of cocaine. Jaffer is former Harper poster-boy MP from Alberta who lost the last election to a New Democrat of all things. He was just arrested for drunk driving an possession of cocaine in Ontario. An arrest is far from a conviction and he is innocent until proven guilty. It is important to remember that!

In the meantime social media is all over this hypocrisy and that is fair game politically. This is because of the hard line law and order fear based Reform Conservative radio ad he did in the last election campaign. Here is what he said then:

"Jack Layton and the Ottawa NDP have publicly supported the legalization of marijuana. In fact when asked about marijuana Jack Layton called it a wonderful substance which Canadians should be free to smoke at home or in a cafe. Edmontonians understand how difficult it is to make sure our children make the right choices especially on serious issues like drug use. The Conservative Party supports drug free schools and getting tough with drug dealers who sell illegal drugs to children. Don't let our schools go up in smoke..on October 14th vote Conservative."
Rahim Jaffer
Radio Ad
(in the final days of the 2008 Federal Election)

(HAT TIP to Buckdog)

Yes Robin Williams is right. The hypocrisy gods are unhappy and the payback is going to be a bitch. The payback will come in the next election and no hypocrite, be it Harper, Layton or Duceppe, will be safe from the wrath of the vengeful voter.

Monday, September 14, 2009

By Election Results Shows that Alberta PC's & Premier Stelmach Have Some Serious Soul Searching to do!

UPDATE Sept 16/09: Now I just got home from Edson and read Dan Arnold's like-minded piece on the implications of the Calgary Glenmore by election in the National Post. Worth a read.

Just got home from meetings in Jasper and looked at the Calgary Glenmore by election results. Congratulations to WAP's Paul Hinman for his impressive victory. The results are going to have to take some time to sink in especially as the PCs start to reflect on the implications of these results.

The PC percentage vote was cut in half in a seat they have held since 1969 and held by the Deputy Premier in the Stelmach PC government. Clearly some PCs stayed home and some switched to WAP in this by election. In the March 2008 election PCs got 6436 votes for 51%, same percentage vote as in the 2004 election. Today with a high quality candidate with lots of name recognition, the PCs fell to 26% of the popular vote. ASTONISHING!

The total turnout for this by election was 41% (11,208 votes) compared to 44% (12701) votes in 2008 when there was a very poor turnout in Calgary PC country as they tried to send Stelmach a message. In the 2008 election the WAP vote was non-existent at 8% (1025 votes) Well this time the WAP supporters showed up and lots other conservatively inclined Calgarians decided to use this by election to send a very strong message.

Last time there was such a dramatic rejection of a PC candidate in Calgary was in 1992 at the end of the Getty era when Rod Love came in third behind a Liberal and an NDP candidate garnering only about 15% of the total vote.

The Liberals came in second again and held their position in terms of popular vote at 34% compared to 33% in 2008.

So the Monday morning political quarterbacks will be out in droves for the next few days. Here are some grounding realities that can cut both ways. This is a by election and there is 3 years until the next election, lots can happen. There is a WAP leadership in a month that will frame them in a certain way, for good or ill for their longer term political fortunes.

The Liberals are in suspended animation floating in a political weightlessness bouncing off issues and events but not creating them. The Greens are a spend force due to internal squabbling. The NDP are still trying to perfect yesterday and Albertans are happy with them a the Jiminy Cricket kind of conscience of government but not ever to be a government.

The political reaction from Premier Stelmach is what I will be watching for. How will the Premier's Office interpret and respond to this slap up the side of the head? How will the core group of Stelmach's leadership team who brung him to the dance respond. They are all in Cabinet so it will be interesting to see how they respond and what they do to change things.

What will be the PC Caucus reaction? They used to tolerate Klein's shortcomings, both personally and politically, because most of the PC MLAs felt that they owed Klein their seat. He was always more popular than the party. None of the current caucus owes Stelmach their seat. PC caucus reaction will be interesting to watch.

How will the PC party membership respond in the November AGM leadership review vote? Will the rally behind the Premier? Will the Social Conservatives in the party, who had a group of about 12 like-minded MLAs orchestrate Bill 44, feel even more emboldened and vote against Stelmach? Will the Progressives decide to stay home? Or will the party show up and rally around and support Stelmach? Or will they vote confidence in the leadership because they want to support the "brand" as much or more than the leadership?

What if Stelmach gets around 70% support? Will that be enough to keep control of the government? What if he does a Joe Clark and says he wants to reaffirm his leadership with another leadership contest? That would have to happen pretty quickly given the turmoil in the economy and the strain on the social contract. My guess is only Ted Morton could be up and ready to go to challenge the current leadership.

Politics is a cruel and all too often, a blood sport. Based on this by election, the recession, budget cuts now and much more next year and the political power shift to the right in the PC party since the leadership I expect there will be political cruelty, both against politicians and even by them. I hope not but experience tells me turmoil and tensions are the most likely to be the political forecast for Alberta's political climate for the foreseeable future.

It does not have to be that way but unless Stelmach becomes, or is allowed (?) to become the Stelmach that I know, it is not going to be easy or pretty in Alberta politics - not for quite some time. The next election is 3 years away.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Prime Minister Harper - Just Visiting!

This is such a clever presention of some truth about Stephen Harper and his relations to the United States. He doesn't accomplish anything in improving Canada - US relations. He just visits, and visits and visits. Harper is off to Washington again...very soon...for another visit...too true to from.

He wants us to think he is aligned with President Obama on Climate Change. He is not.

He wants us to think he has the best interests of Alberta's oilsands at heart. He does not.

He is just visiting the United States - all the time.

(h/t @DanWoy on Twitter)

Energy Industry Rant on Alberta Royalties Wearing Thin

Here is a comment I put on Don Braid's column today in the Calgary Herald. First read Don's column then continue with reading this comment:

The old ways of doing politics by the Calgary Commandos under Klein is gone and these guys don't know how to they blame the royalties as it if were a made-in-Alberta NEP.

The market is what is making things tough in the patch, not the Alberta taxpayer's take from OUR energy resources. We share the risk with lower rates in tough times and take more of the pie when things are good.

We were still the second lowest tax and royalty burden on the planet AFTER the new royalty regime was initially. Premier Stelmach has rolled royalty rates back so far, as an appeasement to the Calgary Commandos, that we now collect less revenue from these NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCES than we would have generated from the original royalty scheme. Cry me a river!

Get off this royalty rant you guys; Albertans are sooner or later going to start acting like owners of their oil and gas reserves. When the do, then your social licenses will all come under serious public scrutiny. Your environmental records will be the first place the public will look to see if your enterprise is behaving appropriately to deserve a continuing social license. You are tenants on these public lands who are granted license to take a calculated business risk - not to play politics with the privilege.

You are welcome to go to Libya or Iran or Iraq or Nigeria instead of staying in Canada. And Saskatchewan is not the alternative; they are a different game with the Bakken. Their win with this great discovery is not Alberta's loss; it is win-win for Canada. That again is your independent business decision but the political games about royalties are becoming tedious. You have it really good and you know it.

I would really like to know how Albertans think about the royalties we collect on our natural resources and how the licensees who exploit them for us treat our land, air and water in the process.

Looking forward to your comments.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Harper Promises Other Parties to "Teach Them a Lesson" Next Election

Mr Harper says he is going to show the separatist and the socialists and teach them a lesson. Kind of like "you just wait until your father comes home Canada. There are going to be consequences if you don't give him a majority next election.

Harper and the strict and abusive father-figure is at his best in the Sault Ste Marie speech.

I always thought elections were the chance for citizens to teach abusive and arrogant politicians a lesson! Not in world of Harper's-Your-Daddy-and-you-better-obey-him-politics.

"Not Been Spending Enough of Your Money"

Here is an hilarious piece of creative political mockery for your cynical amusement. I came across this mock-ad by Edward Monton on Twitter (follow me @kenchapman46). It pokes fun at the $25 million Alberta branding advertising campaign and the Alberta budget plight. The text reads"

"There was never a better time for Alberta to waste $25 million of taxpayers money. The Tory government under Ed Stelmach is doing a wonderful job of running the Province from a surplus into a deficit. Let's forget about health care funding, the crumbling infrastructure and education to throw valuable funds into the creation of a new logo. We will also create ads like this that are uninspiring and refuse to break stereotypes. With that in mind, better let this fellow get back to polishing the metal nuts dangling from the back of his Chevy truck."

The logo cut line is "Alberta Freedom to Spend, Spirit to Waste"

OUCH! But this is the role of the artist, to tell us about ourselves. Good on you Edward Monton.

That said, Alberta's revenues are down due to commodity prices and royalty give aways and subsidy to industry in the good times. Cuts are here and more are coming. I hope we see some intelligence, integrity and compassion applied to the next budget building in Alberta.

We have not seen much evidence of anything happening to improve Alberta's brand image recently. Copenhagen is coming up in December, First Nations are getting European bank backing to fight energy issues and the oil sands investments by Statoil are an election issue in Norway these days, and China is getting serious about buying in. Alberta is on the world stage alright. There is a lot of angry and anxious people these days, and who can blame them.

I have been working on a blog post for the next in the series "Society's Child" but have been distracted by real work I have to do. I will be getting at it again shortly and will be posting about some pf the implications of the Bosco Homes closure for those kids and what will happen to them.

I will also be looking at some positive examples of where social workers in the children's services area. The examples I will use illustrate some exemplary work done on behalf of kids at risk, where the social workers have really showed up and stepped up. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Harper's Situational Ethics Rise Again - Will The Socialists and the Separatists be His Downfall?

Jeff Jedras has a hit on his hands with this video production. Situational ethics abound in politics. The Harper government's claim about socialist and separatist getting together to bring down the government before the last election has become the reality for Mr. Harper today.

Either the Bloc or the NDP will now be able to determine Mr. Harper's fate. Either one will have the power to vote non-confidence in him and force an election. We may not want an election but we need one to get out of this chaos from the current groups lack of leadership. We know we can't believe or trust this government and to perpetuate it for no real purpose will make things worse.

We can do better but only if we have an election. Then Canadians can take back the power from this Prime Minister and give the country a chance for a new government with a majority and a new mandate to manage the economy and work our way out of this recession

So I expect some day soon, but not right away, either Mr. Layton or Duceppe, or both, as the socialists and the separatists finally prove to be the nemesis of the Harper government.

Of course the irony of the situational ethics of Mr. Harper are made crystal clear in this video. He has a history of getting together with the separatists to defeat a minority government - but of course that was "different." That was not his government. No wonder citizens know they can't trust him. Just ask his income trust victims.

Harper in Court Over "Fixed" Election Dates Law - Was the Last Election Illegal?

This turn of events show just how strange politics can be. Democracy Watch is a watchdog group that monitors ethics in government., They are suing the Harper government in Federal Court and the arguments are being heard today. The issue is if Prime Minister Harper's last election call was illegal.

Harper had a campaign promise in the prior election of 2006 to set fixed election dates, and his law was passed unanimously by Parliament, if memory serves. Under the law of the land the next election was supposed to be October 19, 2009, pretty much as it looks like it will be, give or take a month.

The then Minister of Democratic Reform, now Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson, said, according to CBC reports, the fixed election date law restricted the Prime Minister from calling an election unless a vote of no-confidence in the government occurred before October 2009. Ouch!

Democracy Watch says the fixed election date law was intended to stop the kind of actions Mr. Harper took last year in asking the Governor General to dissolve Parliament and call an election. Of course Mr. Harper's lawyers say nothing in the law prevents the Prime Minister from making such a request of the Governor General.

An interesting challenge of what is the appropriate statutory interpretation of Harper's fixed election date law will ensue in the Federal Court today. Does it mean a minority government can only be defeated by a non-confidence vote? With Harper proroguing Parliament he managed to duck out of facing such a vote. Is that good for democracy?

Technically the Governor General calls an election not the Prime Minister. So what does it matter if we have an election based on a non-confidence vote or a voluntary submission of a minority government to dissolve and go to an election.

In this case, the opposition parties formed a coalition and were prepared to do two things. First defeat the Harper government in a non-confidence vote. Then go to the Governor General as a majority coalition and ask the Governor General for permission to form a new government.

If she agreed to the coalitions request they would form a government and we would not have had the last election forced on bu by Mr. Harper's tactics. We did not want an election then either but Harper forced it anyway, and he still won anyway. Almost looked like a majority there for a few days too.

So what will happen? Will the court decide that last election was illegal? If so what does that do to the legitimacy of the Harper's right to govern? Do we go back into an election now by court order? Or will the courts wait out the forth coming non-confidence vote, see the next election through and then announce its decision? I think so. The courts do not want to get that deeply into the political thrust and parry of validating or invalidating an election if they can avoid it.

Or will the courts do what the RCMP did in 2006 and proceed and announce their decision, even if it is in the middle of an election. Remember in the middle of the 2006 election the RCMP announced a criminal investigation into possible income trust leaks by the government. that investigation later proved baseless except for one civil servant who used the insider information for personal gain.

Many believe that ill-advised and ill-timed investigation led to the defeat of the Martin Liberal government. I don't think the courts will do that but there is nothing to stop them. In fact there is much to be said for them proceeding on their own timetable and to ignore the political implications. After all many do not like what they call judge made law.

Just as the state does not belong in the bedrooms of the nation, so too the courts do not belong in the election campaigns of the nation. However, that principle could cut either way. Staying out of the election campaign may be interpreted by the court as just delaying releasing its decision until after the next election is over. That is one way to stay out of the election process. It could also mean that the courts decide that the election timing and process has nothing to do with them and what ever they do is irrelevant to the election process. They would then choose to ignore the election process entirely and release their decision whenever they are ready. To do otherwise is a de facto involvement in the election process.

Then of course, this all depends on what the final court decision is. If Harper is off the hook and did not act illegally, should that decision be released in the middle of an election campaign? Will that not be the courts having an impact of the final result? If Harper is off the hook and the decision can be announced before the election starts but knowing we are headed for an election; should it be announced?

What if the courts wait, Harper wins the next election but loses in court? Does that destabilize and undermine the the legitimacy of his government? These potential scenarios are all real issues that could have been avoided simply by Harper facing the House of Commons non-confidence vote and challenging the coalitions legitimacy to govern and forcing an election in 2006.

Democracy Watch is saying if they win, then Canadians could start a class action against the Conservative Party for the $350,000,000 of costs for the last election. What a tangled web our Prime Minister weaves by the kinds of political choices he makes.

Are Volatile "Voters" Confounding the Pollsters?

So once again we are seeing voter volatility and uncertainty reflected in the various recent poll results but they are all about a hypothetical question of who will you vote for when there is no election on, so generally, people don't take the question seriously. Ekos says Harper and Ignatieff are tied but the Libs have been leading for a while. Strategic Counsel says Harper is up 5 points and has been leading the Liberals since early July. Ipsos Reid a couple of weeks ago had a poll result that was very different that a group of other recent pollster findings. Go figure? All are pollsters in the game are reputable and capable but how can we account fo rthe wide variations in findings?

Strategic Counsel says the Liberal Vote is down 14% in Quebec since last May. Ekos tells us that Liberal support is higher in Alberta than Conservative support in Quebec. A fun factoid but what does it mean. Will the Libs break through in Alberta again? Will Quebecers send Harper packing? All this proves nothing but continuing uncertainty and just adds to the misinformation and distraction from the real issues we need to be facing in any pending election.

Here are some of my concerns about the state of politics and the nation these days. Consensus about leadership is lacking, both in terms of Harper's capacity and Ignatieff's intentions. No one has really talked clearly about vision and how we need to mitigate and adapt over concerns over climate change, education based on skills needed for the 21st century, how we can rethink our economy to reposition ourselves globally as we come out of the recession. What about our relations with America - where the puck was, and China and India where the puck is going. None of these issues are in isolation, they are all integrated and impact on each other.

Canadians recognize that we need a change from another minority government but we are not sure yet which way we want to go to create that change. An election will focus us on how we really want to answer that question. The Conservatives are feeding fear that an election will shut down government and the home reno provisions will not be passed. Not true but in uncertain times feeding fear is a powerful political strategy.

Elections have never destabilized the continuing work of government in Canada. And the home reno issue is assured and need not be political at all, unless Mr. Harper decides he wants to make so. I still don't understand why Harper did not just pass it all in his budget last April. Why did he not just get the home reno program done when he had the chance? We have enough uncertainty and his approach to suggest it might not go through if an election were called this fall is not true and intended to add to the angst and uncertainty of the recession.

Harper wants to avoid an early election because he wants the media attention of the international meetings that are coming up, including another session with President Obama. He will likely do what it takes to defer any efforts to personally present a confidence motion on an issue that he would like to be defeated on, like EI reform. He will at least wait to play that kind of political card until after he gets to rub shoulders with the truly powerful politicians on the world stage.

The Liberals already voted for the Budget and want it finished and effectively implemented so they are not going to scuttle the home reno program. They also want to see the results of the fiscal update the PM has to deliver to the nation by the end of September. They are just starting to talk about hope and are staking out a place presence for their leader on the Internet and traditional media with a new advertising campaign. That needs time to gel too.

But but neither Conservative fear or Liberal hope is in itself an effective method to prove either leader is ready to govern in these perilous uncertain times in our country. We will want more meaningful policy meat from these camps if we are forced to go to the polls this fall. The economy, health care and the environment are likely the top of mind issues for most of us. No polls that I have seen are exploring what the issues are going to be in the next election and our attitudes are towards them. Pity!

The punditry is all about talking up the horse race between the leaders, as meaningless and trivial as that is to the real concerns of the country. Commentary is presented without clarification nor with the contextual reality that the race has not yet started so all this chatter is just that, much ado but signifying nothing. The polling focuses to date are just about positioning politicians and parties like people in elevators. They are either coming in and on their way up or they are going down and on their way out. Sadly we don't yet know for sure who is who in the zoo.

We are going to have an election eventually. The timing will be based on if Mr. Harper's minority government can still sustain the confidence of the House of Commons. The Liberals are now on record that they are ready to go any time. So now the Bloc and the NDP have the finger on the trigger of the starting gun that will cause the election. It is up to either them to tip the scales and determine when Mr. Harper's leadership has to face the nation. It is an open question when it will start, who will start it, Layton or Duceppe, and what issue they will use to trigger it.

As to what the ballot question will be in the next election, it is always based on a theme of leadership, change and vision. The next election will also be about those themes and how do we achieve an majority government so we can get back to some stability in our politics and governance. That means the underlying and animating ballot question will be which leader do we, as a nation and in our collective wisdom, trust with the absolute governing power of a majority government - Harper or Ignatieff.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Can Pre-Election Opinion Polls Do More Harm Than Good?

I don't have much faith and even less trust in opinion polls. Not because I think they are wrong or a waste of time. I just think they are too trapped in time and context and only a superficial snap shot of "opinion." So they are a pretty meaningless predictor of actual behaviours.

So I was interested to read this piece on polling in yesterday's Edmonton Journal. Ipsos Reid is one of the best brand names for polling around. It was good to see the discussion on the role and limitations on opinion polling.

It is getting harder to get folks to respond to polls these days, and when they do to ensure you have a truly random sample and that participants are telling you the truth. One of my favourite bumper stickers from many years ago was "Save Democracy, Lie to a Pollster."

I think this attitude about intentionally lying to pollsters is more prevalent than many realize. Also, the random sample may be demographically pure but there are so many more phone calls that have to be made to get people to actually participate. As a result we get a self-selection skew in the randomness of sampling. This self-selection skewing is especially true in on-line polling techniques.

I know lots of people who admit lying to pollsters, intentionally. Others give normative but untrue answers that do not reflect reality either. For example less than 60% of Canadians voted in the last federal election but polls indicate a much larger number say they did. Are they lying? some are. Did they forget that they did not vote but intended to vote and re making a mistake? Are they giving what they know is the proper (normative) answer even though they know it is not the truth?

Mr Bricker of Ipsos Reid also notes in the article that the order and syntax of questions will make a big difference in the answers polls generate. So with all this, I take opinion poss with a grain of salt. Those unscientific "surveys" you see in websites of traditional media are actually dangerous. This is because they have a air of unwarranted credibility about they because of the authority of the newspaper, radio or television broadcaster who is hosting them. They often get hijacked by special interests or competing interests, like political parties. The results mislead an unsuspecting public and can have a significant impact on the actual beliefs of many well intentioned but ill-informed people. Look how many Americans still think 911 terrorists came through Canada, even the US Cabinet Secretary involved made a recent comment to that effect. Mistaken initial beliefs are had to change, regardless of the amount and credibility of the subsequent evidence to the contrary.

That said, let the polls proceed. We just need to ensure we have some general literacy in our society about what opinion polls do, what they mean and don't mean and what they "prove" - if anything. I often do commentary and analysis on political opinion polls in the blog. I think the real value they have is, over time and with many sources on similar questions and issues, they can collectively provide a sense of trend or direction of public sentiment. But unless we are into an actual election, asking a hypothetical "how would you vote tomorrow if an election was called" generates pretty meaningless data.

Elections matter and campaigns create consequences that generates real results that truly matter to the good of the country. Poll away but don't let them have any sway until the reality of an actual election is happening, then, and only then should people pay them some heed.

Obama Speaks to Student's About Their Responsibility

I have never had a guest blogger and this post is not one either. However, it is the transcript of the remarks he will make live tomorrow to school kids all over America. The rest of us will watch on television or on the Web. I wanted to post the speech here so you could read them and have them sink in as you watch the President deliver them tomorrow.

The message is clear and much of it can be considered serious challenges for many citizens. This is particularly true for those who have given up on democracy, have withdrawn from the politics and no long choose to be informed about the issues of our times. I hope you read this and share the text with your friends and family who no long feel they have a contribution to make to create a better society through informed citizenship and political participation.

Prepared Remarks of President Barack ObamaBack to School Event
Arlington, Virginia September 8, 2009

The President: Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.
I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.
I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job.
You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.
That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Wildrose Alliance Invites Bloggers to Their Leadership Convention

My hat is off to Jane Morgan the Executive Director of the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta. I recently made a suggestion to her on Twitter that bloggers should be accredited media at their leadership convention in Edmonton on October 17, 2009. Almost immediately she responded - and favourably to the idea. OnTwitter she is @wildrosejane and I am @kenchapman46 if you want to follow us.

Her blog is "Up Close and Personal With Jane." Here is her recent blog post on the point and accepting the challenge. I am returning from out of the country the day before the event but I plan to be there and posting on my impressions from the floor of the WAP convention. I expect others more adept at social media than me will be live blogging the results in real time. There will be quite a few of us political bloggers who will take up the invitation and be posting from the floor of the convention.

Some tweets have expressed concern about allowing "overly partisan bloggers who are strong supporters of other parties" into the WAP convention. I understand the angst at one level but in reality, we will be blogging anyway. By not being there we will not have the advantage and responsibility of accountability that come with actually being there. The fact that bloggers of any and all stripes will be there in person will add authenticity and authority to the social media dialogue that will happen.

I also applaud Jane for also saying that no anonymous bloggers will be allowed. That will add to the accountability and responsibility of the bloggers who post about the WAP leadership. That does not mean blogger's nom-de-plumes can't be used, just that the real name of the blogger has to be published too. Putting the real name of registered bloggers on the WAP website would solve that identity and political perspective problem for readers. This way readers will be able to judge the content, context and credibility of the bloggers...critically important stuff in a vibrant dialogue on policy and politics in the province.

This initiative will be good for the credibility of the WAP. It frames them as an open and accountable party who are demonstrating a commitment to free speech and supporting serious citizen engagement in politics. They also get enormous amounts of free publicity and new media coverage that will be more fact based and biases (like mine) more exposed as well.

Now I wonder if my party, the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will do the same thing at its November Annual General Meeting in Red Deer. That is when the party delegates will have a confidence vote on Premier Stelmach's leadership. Again the blogosphere and the social media will be alive with commentary in any event. It would be better if the citizen journalists who want to attend the AGM could do so and write their posts in real time from the actual event itself. But again lets not allow anonymous bloggers into the event and lets post the names and URLs of the registered bloggers on the Party website for all to see. Anonymous bloggers will still write stuff but readers can discount their commentary because they don't know if the source is informed and trustworthy.

Yes the bloggers at the PC Party AGM and the WAP Leadership Convention will be looking for interviews with party members and delegates in attendance. Yes they will be asking the key questions about perceptions of Premier Stelmach's performance as party leader and who should lead the WAP and why. Yes there will be biases in the blogging. But there will also be a wide array of bloggers and postings, not all of them supportive of the "host" political parties. That again is the essence of free speech, freedom of association and the price any political party should be prepared to pay as part of it role to promoting a dynamic, vibrant democracy in Alberta.

The old days of controlling the content, context and timing of political messaging is gone. Now it is about the Internet based conversation that happens within social, political, economic and environmental networks of concerned citizens. These exchanges of ideas and opinions are in the open, unfiltered and unmediated by traditional one-way messaging of the conventional news sources.

Political parties are pretty much private clubs, with too much power, in my humble opinion. Anyone can join but few do because they are seen by the general population as closed and constricting. To include and accept social media, and bloggers in particular, into the media mix of such political and partisan events will open them up to scrutiny and accountability but how can that be a bad thing for democracy?

So I applaud Jane Morgan and the Wildrose Alliance Party. Congratulations for having the courage and taking the initiative to be open and accountable as a political institution. Kudos too for being nimble enough to see and accept the new media reality of the 21st century. It can only be a good thing for your organization and for politics in Alberta.