Reboot Alberta

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Alberta's Politics Needs Transformation, Not Just a Partisan Revolt on the Right

Here is a pretty good story in the Calgary Herald outlining some of the feelings of some conservative leaning citizens in Alberta.  It is focused on rural attitudes but I think those in the cities are feeling much the same way.  Of course there is much more behind this disaffection with those who have political power over us. 

Citizen re-engagement is what Reboot Alberta is all about.  It is about getting past the grumpy, the cynical and the disillusionment with our political culture and governing institutions.  It is about taking back control of our democracy at the personal and community level.  The decline of deference in Canadian politics has been well documented.  That values shift is no emerging into a new sense of assertive citizenship and positive activism.

What is next for our democracy in Alberta and Canada is the emerging question.  That is the the overarching theme of Reboot2.0, the next gathering of progressive thinking Albertans that are coming to Kananskis Feb26-28.  You might want to come to Reboot2.0 if you yearn for some changes in the directions and the decision making in our province.

Check out Reboot Alberta.   If you see some of your concerns and issues being discussed there, join in the conversation on the website and become part of this citizen's movement to rejuvinate democracy, one citizen at a time.

We need more than just a political revolt to change how we are governed.  We need a transformation.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Democratic Deficits, Progressive Values and Reboot2.0

One of the Reboot Alberta theme streams progressives are following is the democratic deficit and what reform measures we could take to fix the problem.  Alberta mirrors the national problem but the fact is the federal abuse of power is more blatant in the hands of Harper than in Alberta. 

Yes to the Cons who will howl about Chretien's abuses too - as if that gave them license to continue to abuse our democracy.  Especially since Harper ran an won - twice- on a platform of more accountability and transparency.  The Harper hypocracy is coming home to roost and it is about time.  Prorouging to avoid accountability and forgetting his Senate reform undertakings plus his deceit about the recession and stimulus funding are just some of the consistent character flaws our Prime Minister is showing.  Canadians are coming to the conclusion Harper is a clever and conniving politician but he comes up way to short of the minimal standards to be worthy of our consent to govern us.

I will be dealing more with the reality of the Alberta democratic deficit in future blogs and post Budget to be sure we are as current as possible.  In the meantime, to get you in come context consider this Globe and Mail column today by Lawrence Martin on the national democratic deficit. 

There is a lot to consider in this area of our democratic deficit.  People who came to the first Reboot Alberta event and many people who are coming to Reboot2.0 in Kananaskis Feb26-28 will be grappling with their citizenship concerns as Progressives.  The obvious need for more integrity, accountabilty and honesty in our Alberta political culture is becoming apparent to everyone paying even minimal attention to the issues in the province. If you share these kind of concerns about the future of Alberta and want to know more about what is going on in and about our government consider joining us at Reboot2.0.

In the meantime, if you believe in the need a more progressive approach to politics, help Reboot Alberta by taking a conjoint survey on Albertan values.  It will uncover some of the most and least important values we Albertans feel should be applied when political and policy decisions are being made by our government.

It takes about 8 minutes and is frustrating for some folks.  You are required to chose a most and least important value from sets of four, and usually the values presented are all important.  However we always make value tradeoffs and this survey brings that reality to the forefront.  Which values do you think politicians and their advisors should consider mostly when they are making public policy decisions?

It is an anonymous survey but you can leave an email address in the survey and receive a copy of the results.  The aggregate survey results will be presented in greater detail at the Saturday evening dinner at Reboot2.0.  Take the survey.  Don't get frustrated.  Stick with it.  Your input is important to help Progressives learn what values we share and how intently we hold to them.  Click here to take the survey

Feel free to forward this blog post to others in your networks who you believe are progressives and want to do the survey and personally reactivate their sense of citizenship.  Reboot Alberta is all about citizen engagement and you are welcome to join the movement.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Social Media: Changing the Game of Politics

Had a great time doing a podcast at the request of the Alberta Liberals on social media and how it is changing politics.  Here is the link to the podcast.  Give it  listen and let me know what you think about how social media can - and is - changing politics. 

My sense is the impact is already dramatic.  Just look at the Obama campaign.  Also, we have just seen the tip of the iceberg  The conventional old-school political ships-of-state command-and-control types will either hit the iceberg or they will sink even before they get there.  If they sink beforehand it will be cause of they have not repaired their communications and political culture fast enough to adapt to the new world disorder on the Internet.

I have done a major piece for The Edmontonian on the reluctance of government and business to embrace social media.  It will be in the February edition coming out soon. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Reboot Alberta is Doing a Citizen's Survey on Progressive Values

RebootAlberta2.0 is scheduled for February 26-28 at the Delta Lodge in Kananaskis.  The Agenda for the event will be on the site on Monday so people can see what is about to happen around progressive politics in Alberta.

Part of the process leading up to Reboot2.0 will be an online conjoint survey designed to glean insight into the kinds of values progressives attach to their citizenship and relations with governments.  The survey will force participants to make some hard value choices and tradeoffs...just llike in real life.  It will help Reboot Alberta participants answer the question they posed at Reboot1.0 "What is a Progressive?"  There will be a link to the survey on the Reboot Alberta site starting about Wednesday next week.

There are discussion papers and blog posts on the Reboot website exploring that same question: What is a Progressive? Here is a link to them  I encourage you to read them and comment too.  Writers and bloggers love comments and feedback.

The focus for RB2.0 is to get individual participants to share their personal stories and concerns about the direction Alberta is heading.  Conversations are game-changers but only if they have good listeners as well as opportunity to voice ones own thougths.  What Reboot2.0 is going to do is get individual progressive Albertans to gop beyond talking.  Progressive citizens need to start taking personal responsibility to "Press for Change" and start taking effective action to impact the political and public policy agenda in Alberta.

Cynicism and indifference are luxuries we can't afford anymore.  This is especially true if the only "viable" political choices we are being offered is a far right-wing or an extreme right-wing political culture.  Albertans need more options and political choices to have an effective vibrant democracy.

Many of the actions Reboot people will be undertaking will be within the four Theme Streams that are emerging in the Reboot Alberta community.  They are to start a new progressive political party, to pursue ways to encourage more voter participation and democratic and electoral reforms. Some want to pursue the progressive political agenda as members of the conventional political parties and governing institutions.  Others in the civil society stream want to enable ane empower the not-for-profit and voluntery sector to have more respect and influence on the politics and public policy decisions in the province.

There is lots of Buzz happening about Reboot Alberta.  The Twitter hashtag #rebootab is the second most popular provincial political hastag in Canada.  The website has had 6000 visits and almost 22,000 page views since it went live on November 27 at Reboot1.0.  Not bad uptake considering this was over the Christmas holiday period.  Not too shabby from a standing start for Reboot Alberta merely 2 month ago.

If you consider yourself to be a progressive thinking person concerned about the future of Alberta you will be interested in Reboot Alberta.  If you want to be part of this citizen engagement movement or are just curious about whzt the fuss is all about, you should come to Reboot2.0.  You can register here:  We are a month away from Reboot 2.0 and space and hotel rooms are limited.  So if you are coming, you best get registered ASAP. I look forward to meeting many of my new virtual friends in real life in late February in K-country at RebootAlberta 2.0

Friday, January 22, 2010

What Zwozdesky is Doing in Health Must Also be Done in PDD

Minister of Health Gene Zwozdesky first days on the job have been significant, and I have to say, reassuring. Stopping bed closures is one thing. Taking back control of the healthcare system into the government is even better. The bluster and bulling culture of the past years has done nothing to get those who work in the system to help the province accomplish the goals it has set out. Zwozdesky has not likely doing this without the support of the Premier.

I am wondering just how much the Whitemud Citizen’s Forum on Health Care rally a few days ago had on reversing the attitude of the government towards providing healthcare services. Dave Hancock had the largest margin of victory for any PC candidate in the last election. His constituents came out in droves to express their frustration and dissatisfaction with their government. So maybe, just maybe, the message got through that the bullying, intimidation and heartless approach to providing public services to citizens who need help is not winning friends. It was sure influencing people – and they are starting to show up and talking back.

So now we need the same Zwozdesky decisiveness and caring to infiltrate the Department of Seniors and Community Services. The last time this department was understood and had a champion in government was when Zwozdesky was the Minister. He understood the role of the department. He had compassion for the people it served and he was able to provide accountability for the taxpayer dollar too. He was well respected by the professionals in the field then too. In fact I have seen letters from Zwoz that he wrote to community based not-for-profit volunteer supported service provider agencies for persons with developmental disabilities that they have framed and on their walls. When was the last time you saw a politicians with that much respect?

I am working on a volunteer basis helping the service provider agencies who serve Persons with Developmental Disabilities stop the final quarter claw backs of fees for services to cover off projected deficits in the Regional Boards of PDD. How is it that these regional boards appointed by government and run by CEOs who work for the Department and allegedly report to both the boards and the Minister are running deficits? They know what money they get from the province. They determine who gets what services for how much so how is it they are in deficits?

The PDD service provider agencies have been bullied and intimidated by the province for years with these end of year claw-backs. But now the attitudes amongst service providers have changed. They are no longer willing or even able to cover the shortcomings of the funders. They do this work as a calling more than a job and have in the past spread out the services and pressed staff capacities thin to the point they can’t meet the safety, care, and dignity needed of the clients in their care. The services providers are standing up, demonstrating and asking questions of government – and insisting on answers. Over 1200 people in the PDD sector recently demonstrated in a church to demand that the government deal with the shortcomings in the funding of this sector and stop downloading bad regional and provincial management on the agencies.

The province wanted a “more business-like relationship” with the service providers and insisted on a contract – not a grant – relationship. Contracts were negotiated and signed but again in an atmosphere of intimidation, threats and bullying of the agencies by the province. I know, I helped the agencies in the negotiation of those contracts. The province however still seems to think that they can unilaterally at their whim single-handedly change a contract. That is not the law - and one thing for sure - the province is not above the law.

The intimidating and innuendo calls and comment to the agencies continue but the threat of a Court Injunction for anticipatory breach of contract has seen the province pull back. It no longer says they will just withhold the funds they demanded in the next payment. They are now threatening to cut back the claw back funds and more in the next contract rounds that are supposed to be in place April 1, 2010 for most agencies. That, of course is a matter for negotiation between the parties. If the province is not willing to pay not-for-profit community based volunteer local agencies what is needed to do the job, then the province will have to do the job of caring for citizens with development disabilities itself.

Let’s look at a bit of law to see who is really responsible for these vulnerable Albertans. The “Persons with Developmental Disabilities Community Governance Act of the Revised Statues of Alberta has a most enlightening preamble. Preambles are intended to set a tone, a spirit, if you will, and some context about a law. Let’s review this spirit of the law in the context of the intimidation actions and the bullying attitudes of the Government of Alberta in dealing with those who provide the services for the government to these citizens.

1 “Whereas the people of Alberta honour and respect the dignity and equal worth of adults with developmental disabilities;”

If this were true why is the province jeopardizing the safety, care and dignity of those vulnerable adults by not providing enough funds to meet their needs? Why the community based service agencies are only allowed to pay staff about 2/3 of government employees doing the same jobs and with fewer benefits? How can this sector attract and retain qualified trained staff with such uncertainty in working conditions and pay levels. So much for “equal worth” and “respect for dignity.”

2 “Whereas the Government of Alberta recognizes values and supports the ability of communities to respond to the needs of adults with developmental disabilities;”

Again if this were true why does the government strangle the ability of community based agencies to respond to the local needs with arbitrary funding cuts coupled with intimidation and bullying of agencies? Why are funding levels are so low that there are known risks being created that could threaten the safety of clients and put staff, volunteers and agency administration? Why are these people being asked to assume a risk of liability for possible contributory negligence because they can’t meet their legal duty of care for clients because of the low level of resources being provided?

3 “Whereas the Government has ongoing responsibility to ensure and oversee the provision of statutory program, resources and services to adults with developmental disabilities;”

Here is kicker for the Minister. She is the one ultimately responsible for all of this, the good the bad and the ugly. There is not much that qualifies as good these days. What is the function of the regional based community boards serve to meet the needs of the clients? They are appointed by the Minister, they get remuneration and expenses, and they get to recommend a CEO to the Minister. That CEO becomes a government employee not a regional board employee because the law says the community boards can’t have employees, can’t borrow money and have to be non-profit. That is the full extent of their powers – just stuff they can’t do. Why have them? They act as buffers between the community and the politicians and protect the Minister from the rabble called citizens. So much for responsibly “ensuring and overseeing” when the government has no intention of taking advice from its own community boards on PDD issues.

To be fair according to the Act the Minister “may” – not shall – give written direction to the community boards as part of her duty to “monitor and asses the community boards in the carrying out of their activities.” The role of the community boards is to provide services, determine community priorities, allocate funding, develop plans of delivery of services, oversee and evaluate the implementation of the plans, assess the ongoing needs of a region, manage the provision of services, ensure reasonable access to services and co-ordinate with other community boards, public and private bodies for the proviso in of services. With powers and responsibilities like that, if there is a regional deficit that is due to the management at the regional and departmental levels…not at the community based service provider levels.

The CEOs of the community boards have the power and ostensible responsibility to the Minister and the community boards. However the Minister pays them, so guess who they really work for. The appointed members are mostly inconsequential and either misinformed or uninformed. I expect they share that latter reality along with the Minister. I can’t believe the Minister is fully and appropriately informed about what is going on when these claw backs and bullying started to happen all over again. I could be wrong about the Minister but even so, it is about time she started asking some serious questions.

Here are a few questions ask her department and her regional CEOs and community boards.

1 How come there are last quarter deficits in the regions year after year? Can’t these people learn from mistakes?

2 Why does the money go? For example in 2006/07 of $508 million in the Budget only $404m went to the community based service providers but $104 stayed in the regions and the province to “oversight and direct delivery.” Why can’t we have a better breakdown of that $104m portion to see how much value we get for “oversight” and what the costs are for government provision of services? Rest assured if the community based service providers do not accept the provinces funding levels those services will have to be provided by the province in new institutions with unionized workers. That will not be cheaper.

3 Why are the Calgary Region Community Board expenses so out of line? Based on the government’s own audited financial statements in the seven years 2001 to 2008 Calgary community board “Supports to Delivery System” actual expenses have gone through the roof. These are the region administrative costs that do not provide services – just “supports to delivery.” In two words, administrative overhead! Here are some actual Supports for Delivery System costs numbers:

2001 12.0m 15.23 % of total budget

2002 13.8m 15.5 %“

2003 16.2m 16.9%

2004 19.5m 18.5%

2005 19.9m 17.5%

2006 22.0m 17.7%

2007 28.2m 22.1%

2008 31.0m 22.1%

By contrast Edmonton region spent $24.2m in 2008 in total Support for Deliver of System costs. Edmonton has a total budget that is $10m larger than Calgary yet spent $7m less on administrative overhead. The Calgary region 2008-09 budget for this cost was $31.6M a whopping 24% of total budget.

To add insult to injury the Calgary region board froze the administration and service delivery costs for community agencies for 2007 and 2008 even though they took on more clients.

There is something radically wrong with this picture and they still claim to be running deficits at the community board levels. This does not pass the sniff test as lawyers sometimes say. This is just one example of many I could bring forth but it makes the point. Service providers are in survival mode. They are not just playing hardball. They are meeting with MLAs and bringing their books with them to show them the facts not the spin that is coming to them from other sources. Service providers have nothing to hide and they are tired of being bullied and intimidated and misinformed.

All this information was provided to the Minister in a letter dated January 7, 2009. There has been lots of time to investigate and respond. I think that is exactly what has to happen, an independent investigation into the regional boards and departmental management and administration.

A request for a meeting with the Minister by the group that represents the community based service providers has not been responded to. A five page letter was sent to the Premier just before Christmas but no response has come yet. The letter outlined “Principles of Partnership” like accountability, independence, interdependence and dialogue. The service providers acknowledged that there are difficult choices facing the province but better decisions could be made in collaboration with service providers – not unilateral punitive actions. A recommendation for Principles Guiding Funding was made to the Premier that would take a long term sustainable approach that would provide stability and certainty for clients and the sector. There were Key Messages and Recommendations made for a Joint Solution to the challenges.

Gene Zwozdesky took the right path by re-engaging government directly in a hands-on way in health care. Minister Jablonski needs to do the same thing but the Premier has to give her the blessing to do that housecleaning and fact finding and verification in her department. The good news is this Minister’s heart is in the right place but she needs to make sure she has her facts straight from her department. I think an independent review of the PDD system internally and externally is in order. It is happening in Children’s Service and it is warranted here.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Public Protests Grow as Albertans Show Discontent With Government

Congratulations to all those caregivers, citizens and families who are involved in and helping those with developmental disabilities in Alberta. Your rally was amazing. I wish I could have been there.

The disconnect of the Stelmach government with citizens is growing. The discontent of Albertans with the political culture of the province is growing too. Last week marked a turning point where Albertans are no longer prepared to be differential to the powerful forces in politics and government.

The Whitemud Citizen’s Forum on Health Care last Monday was organized by four self-described “ordinary citizens” and drew over 500 people in one constituency in Edmonton.  More of these protests are being organized all over the province by other "extra-ordinary citizens." The PDD service sector agencies organized a mock "bottle drive" rally to help fund the Stelmach government so they did not have to brutally and unilaterally claw back funds from disabled Albertans.  They drew over 1200 to the rally in Edmonton on Thursday night. Then on Friday Join Together Alberta launched a campaign to hold 22 town hall meetings all over the province to fight the service sector funding cuts that are said to be coming in the next Budget.

Albertans are clearly fed up and are now standing up and gathering together to be heard by their government. I see discontent everywhere and I smell democracy in the air in Alberta again.

Indifference, complacency and cynicism are attitudes that progressive Albertans can no longer afford. This province and its resources belong to the citizens of Alberta, not the politicians or the corporate tenants who we give social licenses to so they can create wealth for more than just shareholders and executives.

Premier Stelmach is right when he says to attract investment business requires certainty. That certainty in our energy sector does not come from giving the resources away by foregoing royalties and ever increasing subsidies to the industry. That is just selling off the topsoil from our non-renewable resource and giving away the natural capital birthright of our young and future generations of Albertans.

Alberta’s investment certainty to the energy sector is not created by absurdly low taxes and ridiculously low royalty rates.  Real investment certainty in Alberta includes a place where industry have assurances of a educated, skilled, trained and healthy workforce.  Where they can depend on the rule of law and a justice and policing system that is independent of government that enforces that rule of law.  Certainty comes from a quality and reliable banking system, no government and political corruption like most other energy producing areas of the world.  Alberta has clear and fair environmental laws and project approval processes that provide certainty.  We have no civil wars or terrorists threats but discontent is growing.  We have no government or dictatorship nationalization threats of their investments and no concerns over kidnapping and ransom of employees as happens in so many other energy producing countires.  We have a stable currency and we have the closest proximity on the planet to the largest energy market in the world plus all the necessary infrastructure in place to deliver the energy to theat market.  With oilsands there are enormous and reliable sources of supply with no uncertainty over exploration and discover costs.  In oilsands the Alberta taxpayer shares the investment risk via royalty forgiveness until all capital costs of projects are totally recaptured. The list goes on.

Compare that to the shabby treatment our government is giving to the most vulnerable citizens in our society from foster children to seniors to the disabled and you have to ask yourself “What is wrong with this picture?” The answer is becoming more obvious. We always get the government we deserve in a democracy. If our governments can’t change to respond more appropriately to fulfill their duties to citizens then citizens must change their government.  That is becomoing more obvious to ordinary Albertans who are standing up and speaking out.  And it is about time.

Reboot Alberta is one of the ways progressive Albertans are using to get their message out to government.  That message is that things need to change in Alberta's politics and governance. Citizens have a duty to help their government change - complaining is a good place to start but it is not good enough all by iteslf.  Change has to happen in the attitudes of the government and what gets their attention, time and resources. If the exercise of the power of politics takes precedence over the duty of our elected representative to govern, then citizens have to step up and make the necessary changes.

Citizens will have to wake up and make political and governance changes we need at the ballot box in the next election. Albertans also need to help create some viable alternatives to the existing political culture.  Right now we seem to have choices two viable choices, the right wing PCs and the extreme right wing Wildrose Alliance. Reboot Alberta is a place to have that discussion and to start dealing with that democratic deficit too.

How do Albertans get their government to listen and internalize the messages they have to hear?  How do we help our government make better public policy decisions?  How do we get our government to be more open, accoutable and transparent in its decision making?  How do we attract our best and brightest into a politics based on public service and not a political exercise of pure power that uses intimidation and bullying to promote its policy agenda? 

Democracy is in the air in Alberta - but it is not yet on the ground where it counts.  That will depend on citizens acting as owners and stewards of their democracy.  I see green sprouts of democratic reform but there is a long way to go.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stelmach Shuffles the Cabinet but Does it Make a Difference?

So the Stelmach government Cabinet shuffle is over. Let’s take a look at the "new look" Cabinet. The media plays the winner- loser game on Cabinet shuffles and that is always “fun” except for the losers. I will not characterize the shifts in those terms but more in capacities and consequences for the Stelmach government and the potential for better or worse governance.

The Sad side:

The most notable exclusions from Cabinet are Janice Tarchuk and Fred Lindsay. We will never know the real reasons but the fact is they are not demoted they are delisted. Both are quiet people and questions of competence have enveloped them both. I know them both as good people and pass no judgment as to competency. That is the Premier’s job.

Also "delisted" is Doug Griffiths.  He is out of his role as Parliamentary Assistant. That is a serious political mistake at so many levels. I know Doug has been marginalized, as have most progressives in the Stelmach government. I am sure the Fiscal Four framing did not help Doug and the fact he actually speaks with some independent thought as an MLA. What is more (and worse from the leader’s brains trust perspective I am sure) Doug speaks his mind on his Blog and to a lesser extent, on Twitter. Griffith’s use of social media is an effective means of ensuring that “better communications” the Premier has been promising for about a year now, but has not yet achieved.

The Upside:

There are a couple of positive notes. I have to say I think Thomas Lukaszuk is one. He has grown over the years in politics and he has worked hard, especially at the constituency level. He is ready for Cabinet and I applaud the Premier for rewarding him but also for acknowledging his potential.

The fact that Snelgrove is still President of Treasury Board means Ted Morton has a “keeper” in his new Finance job. Snelgrove has been one of the most pleasant of surprises in the Cabinet from the Stelmach loyalists. He was a protégé of Steve West (comes from the same areas and riding) but Lloyd has none of that nastiness. He listens and sees all sides of issues and he can make hard decisions. But does so with reasons and takes the responsibility for the decisions too.

Having acknowledged “Political Ministers” in Edmonton and Calgary is a good thing too. Hancock and Redford in those roles are smart choices. Moving Jack Hayden into Agriculture and Rural Development makes him the de facto Political Minister for rural Alberta. That too is a very good choice and move. Jack is a rural development guy who gets agriculture. There is so much anger in Ag circles and even city-slickers like me hear about them. Jack has some work to do to fix that or the WAP will be eating PC s alive in the country come the next election.

The Downside:

The promotion of Ted Morton to Finance is not the downside that many may believe. I think he will surprise some folks in the effective execution of the budget's goals. The budget is done already.  Morton just gets to write and read the speech – this time. Not all of the surprises Morton will execute will be pleasant.  There is a move to “crack down” on social services budget expenses in health, education, vulnerable Albertans like children, seniors and PDD folks. That is all political more than fiscal, just like even more tax concessions, cash incentives and royalty giveaways to the oil patch are political...all in service of the perpetual push by Stelmach to buy some political love in Calgary.

And besides the current Budget is done and the deficit will have magically all but disappeared by the time the next Quarter “disclosure” comes due. Oil is up and gas has been over $5 for about five months now. Next time, the Budget for 2011-12, going into the red zone for the next election is a different story. Till the fiscal hawk still have sharp talons to cut and kill programs in the lead up to an election? Nope!

The downside is that this Cabinet is all about fixing the screw ups and papering over political problems. It is not about vision or striving or even sacrifice. There is no attempt to show fiscal sacrifice by amalgamating departments to reduce the size of Cabinet. They want the not-for-profit sector to become smaller and do more with less. They could have shown leadership if they were serious and sincere about the reasons and reduced the size of Cabinet. It still sits at 24 and was at 18 when Stelmach became Premier.

Here and the fixes and the wallpaper over the cracks. Liepert is in Energy and out of Health. The energy sector has direct access to the Premier whenever they wish. They will not go through Liepert nor will they trust him to be their guy at Cabinet. The patch will do its own lobbying directly to the powers that be. And if they want political attention from a recalcitrant Premier, they will call Danielle – not Ron.

Mel Knight in SRD means the Land Use Framework is losing steam. Morton took is as far as he could and had lost interest near the end. Knight is an energy guy not a forest and fauna guy and will not be able to take on reconciling the pending political battle between Quad owners and conservationists, never mind the real complex stuff that needs real attention like the mountain pine beetle’s capability for total destruction of the boreal forest. If ever a department could not afford a holding pattern – they are SRD and Environment…I will get to the latter department later.

The Ho-Hum Side:

The Morton and Denis Cabinet appointments are appeasements of the far right and to stop more floor crossings. No comments from me about competence in either case, I am sure they are. Just an interesting development that says more about the continuing fear the PCs have about the rise of the Wildrose Alliance. They are missing the reaction of that larger segment of the population, like those angry and frustrated citizens who showed up at the Whitemud Citizen’s Forum on Health Care earlier this week and gave Dave Hancock a piece of their minds.

The Cabinet seat merry-go-round of Goudreau from Employment to Municipal Affairs is a fix-a-problem shift. Danyluk had angered both the AUMA and AAMDC to the point where they were working jointly on advocacy issues, he had to be moved. Fritz to Children and Youth Services is a fix the Tarchuk problem not a solution to the Children’s Services problem. Hayden to Ag and Rural Development is a fix the Groenveld problem because he was as unpopular on the farm as Danyluk was in the towns and counties. Zwozdesky to Health is a fix the Liepert problem but will it deal with the problems in healthcare? These changes seem more like musical chairs than anything else. Guess we need to see the Mandate Letters, the Budget and Business Cases to see if there is any focus on fixing the real problems and not just the political perceptions.

Nine Ministers stay put and that is not a bad thing so far as Renner, Horner, Hancock and Snelgrove are concerned. There will be those who speculate that Horner as Deputy Premier is a signal that he is Stelmach’s choice to succeed him. It is way too soon to even suggest something like that. Even if it were true, it offers no upside advantage to Horner in his pursuit of that goal, presuming he aspires to be the next Premier.

The big downside is that the Shuffle is its utter insignificance. It offers no new energy, no new vision nor sense of a focused sense of a new direction. It says nothing to mark a place in time that we can look back on and say – that was when the fortunes of the PC Party turned around and got back on track. Harry Strom and Don Getty didn’t do it and Ed Stelmach hasn’t done it now either. With two years left in the mandate, he will not get a second chance at showing us some inspired real change…at least not with another Cabinet shuffle. If there is a next time for another Cabinet before the next election, the PCs would only look desperate, weak and afraid of the WAP.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Join the Reboot Alberta Movement & Be Proud of Alberta Again.

My commitment is to frame this blog around Citizenship, Ownership and Stewardship in Alberta and Canada.  It is so easily accomplished when I look at the volunteer work being done in the spirit of those principles by a group of citizens coming together in the Reboot Alberta movement.

The Reboot Alberta Launch in November 2009 was an overwhelming success and a unique political experience in citizenship for most, if not all, of the participants.  People with a progressive personal philosophy came to Reboot Alberta at their own expense and on their own time.  They came to explore some ideas about how to change the political culture and improve democracy in Alberta. 

Reboot participants decided amongst themselves what they wanted to discuss and they self-selected how and where they wanted to participate in the conversations.  The result was not chaos and cacophony.  It was all about people being reflective, thoughtful and respectful as they listened and shared with each other.  It was about authentic conversations, and as one participant noted, "Conversations are game-changers."

The event created a citizen's movement that has taken off and is now creating a life of its own.  It is based on citizen engagement with people parking their cynicism about politicis and then coming back to participate in the political culture of the province.  Some Rebooters want to start a new party.  Others want to enhance the impact and effectiveness of civil society organizations on the political culture of the province.  Others want to change the existing political parties and institutions to a more progressive mindset.  Others are simply individual citizens who want to be better informed and more active in how they undertake their responsibility of citizenship.  

The well worn cliches that "politics is all about perception" and "all politics are local" are being revived and taking on a renewed sense of reality because of Reboot.  When individuals come to realize that their citizenship is more than about their rights, it also has an individual responsibility aspect,  then the "local" nature of politics now becomes "personal."   When individuals are starting to rethink their feelings about their government and how they are being governed, then the perceptional reality about politics becomes more personal too.

Citizens are starting to pay attention to politics again.  They are seeing unacceptable things being done by THEIR government by the people THEY elected, or allowed to be elected becasue they could not be bothered to vote.   When citizens come to realize those political decisions are not being made to serve the best interests of the public but rather to enhance or sustain the personal power interests of political leaders, political parties and the politicians, something snaps and people start pressing for change.

For progressive Albertans who are joining the Reboot Alberta movement, part of what has "snapped" is the realization that it is OUR government and what they do is in OUR NAME.  After all we elected them and in a democracy you always get the government your deserve.  When we elect a government we give our CONSENT for those chosen politicians to use their best judgement to make decisions on our behalf about the serious issues we face as a province. 

When we see the decisions being made based on the pure preservation of political power and that trumps good government and democracy, we have to respond as citizens and press for change.  We need to take back the political responsibility part of our citizenship.  What does that mean and what does it look like for progressive minded Albertans?  Reboot Alberta's launch started to frame the new questions we need to ask and set up a process to seek some new answers.

The first question the Reboot movement want explored was "What does it mean to be a Progressive in a 21st century Alberta?"  A number of people in the movement have taken the time to share their thoughts on that question.  The Reboot Alberta website as a link to those provocation papers.  I encourage you to login to Reboot Alberta, read the the papers and comment as you see fit.  Reboot will no longer allow anonymous or username comments.  Engaged and effective citizenship demands courage of conviction and a new openness.  Otherwise abuses, fear, and intimidation will continue to be used as political weapons against individuals and organzations to demand compliance to serve the personal political ends of those in power. 

If you are intrigued, encouraged or just curious about what you see in Reboot Alberta, then register here and come to the next event in K-country Feb 26-28.  I guarantee you will meet some of the most interesting people in Alberta  from all over the province. They will be from all walks of life, ages, interests and experiences.  They will come from every kind of community and with a common hankering to share their experiences and stories as citizens of Alberta. I can assure you at Reboot Alberta 2.0 you will be part of conversations with ordinary Albertans who have some of the most inspirational and aspirational stories imaginable - all focused on creating a better future for Alberta.         

There truth is there is good news and bad news about the future of Alberta.  The good news is we have all the pieces in place to not just be one of the best places in the world, we have the capacity to be one of the best places for the world.  The bad news is, we as Albertans, will have to do the hard work to design and deliver a different sense of what is means to be an Albertan from what we have today.  We need to change a lot of things currently going on in the governance, politics, economy, environment and how we serve the public interest if we are going be successful in defining and pursuing such a vision. 

If you want to be proud Alberta again then join Reboot Alberta.  Reassert yourself .  Dust off your citizenship and become part of the Reboot Alberta movement.  Reboot is all about Albertans being intent on recreating a province that we can all be part of  - and proud of once again.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Did Danielle Smith Ignore WAP Floor-Crossing Policy?

What gives?  It now appears from a coupe of sources that the Wildrose Alliance Party has a policy on floor-crossing MLAs contrary to the comments of their leader Danielle Smith that there is no party policy. 

Brian Dell outlines some of his personal experience in trying to clarify the WAP policy on the issue.  A floor-crosser has to have the support of the WAP leader, the local constituency and be subject to a by-election if the constituency wants one.  Dell suggests an opinion poll in the constituency would suffice to determine if a by-election should be called or not. 

When citizens cast ballots it is unclear if they are voting for a party, a candidate, a leader, a platform, an issue of just name recognition or any combination of these motivations.  Do we elect politicians to exercise their best judegement or to reflect the majority opinion of their constiuents or perhaps some other controversial but perhaps more "enlightened" position on an issue? 

When a politician says "my constituents are telling me such and such how do we know that is a true reflection?  Who spoke to them, in what context and how is the will and state of mind of "the constitencyu" determined.  It is not.  It is totally subjective and most often framed as a convenience for the benefit of the politician or their political party or purposes. Let's be truthful here, almost every time you hear a pooiticina say "My constituency tells me..." it is all about spin, posturing and the self interest of the politician and nothing to do with the best interests or actual instructions of their constituents.

So to my point, thanks for waiting.  The WAP policy on floor-crossing MLAs is easy and practical so far as the requiremetn of the consent of the leader and the local party organization is concerned.  It is vague and vacuous when it come to the best interest and desires of the citizens that potential floor crosser is support represent.  How is the policy supposed to determine if the citizens in that constituency approve of their MLA joining another party between elections? 

Should a potential floor-crosser go public first and run a poll to see if they have citizen support for them to cross?  What happens if the citizens say no don't go?  Where does that leave the MLA?  Unwanted by the "receiving" party and distrusted by their current party.  It forces them into de facto independent status, something that the citizens in their constituency did not vote for either.

This is WAP policy on floor crossing is naive at best and pandering populism at worst.  It is impractical.  If a politician is unhappy in their current party or the party is unhapppy with them, the simple answer is they go independent - period.   Then they can explain to their constituency the reasons for them leaving or the leader who turfs them can do the same.  After that, if the independent MLA wants to join another party they can canvas and even poll their constituents to see if that is acceptable and judge themselves accordingly.

The reason this approach makes more sense is because we don't know how to respond to the wide array of reasons why people voted.  But there needs to be more respect shown by politicians, leaders and parties for all of those reasons.  If a politician is no long comfortable with their party, its leader or its policies,  they need the flexibility to leave, just as the party or the leader needs the power to kick someone out of caucus.  That should put them in an independent status and as far as the politician, leader or party power should come into play. 

Moving from there to another party is something that the citizens must have a say in before it happens.  A poll that asks if a by-election should be called if the independent wants to join another party is not a solution.  But a petition of say 20% of voters calling for one may be enough to trigger a by-election instead of a unilateral behind closed doors decision about joining another party is made.

I would be interested in thoughts from readers on this issue.  The WAP has not solved it and they have not even followed their own policy.  If we are to do politics differently the recent example of the floor-crossing by the WAP is not a shining example.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Harper's Teflon is Cracking - Can He Stand the Heat?

Reading the Globe and Mail this morning I was engaged by the editorials on Prorogation and Senate reform.  More particularly I was drawn to the op-ed pieces by Gary Mason and Lawrence Martin. All of these pieces connected with my theme of citizenship for 2010.

The unilateral and conniving tactical appraoch by Prime Minister Harper to use prorogation to delay  accountability of his government and defer the truth on Harper and his Ministers knew about the torture of Afghan detainees.  This is an affort to democracy as we know it.  His contempt of Parliament in stopping the business of the country in it tracks because of the Olympics and "recalibrating his government" is laughable. He presumes Candians are suckers.

As for Senate Reform the hypocracy of the Prime Minister is monumental.  He is appointing 5 more Senators to add to his personal record for such appointments to the Upper House and pandering to his base by trotting out the last old Reform policy chesnut of a elected Senate.  He is not anymore serious about this policy charade than he was about not eliminating Income Trusts.

Lawrence Martin is continuing his very dispassionate but effective pressure on the credibility and integrity of Prime Minister Harper. The Harper government is all about messaging, raw politics and personal power for Prime Minister Harper.  The sense is the teflon coating of Harper is cracking and some light is shining through and Canadians are waking up and not liking what they are seeing. 

Gary Mason's piece is such a nice complement to the edictorials and the Martin column.  We says we citizens have been indifferent and disengaged from our citizenship responsiblities for far too long. The decline of our democracy at the hands of Prime Minister Harper is the direct result. We have enormous policy problems at hand and on the horizons but the debate and discussion in Parliament and amongst politicians and people is stifled.  The lack of public outcry he says is "eerie."

All this underscores the personal energy and citizen re-engagement I am seeing in and around Reboot Alberta. Democracy is fragile and needs nurturing, even in mature states like Canada.  Alberta's democrcacy is also seriously undermined and our institutions are ill-equiped to deal with the pace, scale and intensity of change we are seeing. 

Citizens sense the political culture systems need a Reboot.  Citizens haved to retake CONtrol of their democracy.  We have to start to exercise our rights and assume our responsibilities to be informed and engaged in the politics of our times.  We need viable ALTernatives to  the current state of affairs and distructive aderserial political posturing of the Conservatives in Ottawa and Alberta.  We need to DELete a buch of politicians and policy approaches that are ideological but not practical or pragmatic in the face of current and emerging realities.

If you share some of thiese concerns, visit and start reading about a New Progressive approach to politics and public policy in Alberta.  If you want to start doing something about the democratic deficit and the policy approach of the conventional political parties, join in the Reboot conversations and register are part of this movement.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Forsyth and Anderson Cross the Floor on the Stelmach Government

So another shoe drops on the heads of Alberta PC government with two Progressive Conservative MLA defections to the Wildrose Alliance Party today. My guess is this is just the start and we can expect some more MLAs to be evaluating their future with the current government.

Rob Anderson is a social conservative and has been pushing buttons in the government for a while now. His head and heart is more aligned to a far right political philosophy. He was a big proponent of the Bill 44 that was push through in spite of protestations of progressive Albertans. The raw political power push to pass that draconian social conservative legislation was a tipping point event for progressive Albertan’s attitude about “their” government. It made many progressives in the PC party realizes they were no longer being listened to, including me.

I was surprised that Heather Forsyth being one of the early defections. I know and respect Heather and know her to be a quality person and conscientious MLA. She is a political realist too. From listening to her reason to cross today, there was the usual stuff about representing her constituency but there was more. She listed a lot of serious issues and concerns about the Stelmach government’s approach to many social and economic concerns she has been dealing with at the door steps. She said the “government has lost its way” and commented that “Albertans need to feel proud of their province” again. I think she is right and those realities resonate.

These decisions are never easy. Both of these MLAs have to be taken seriously and I respect their decisions. But I sense this is just a beginning not the end of Stelmach’s woes with the Wildrose Alliance. I would not be surprised if more PC MLA defections are in the Wildrose plan but don’t expect anything until after the Cabinet Shuffle.

Reality in politics is about perception and just because that’s a cliché does not mean it is not true. Perceptions come from stories and narratives more than facts. The emerging narrative is that the PCs are in disarray. They are scrambling for relevance and respect and squandering what they have left of both qualities. The WAP is getting organized and has been an effective place to park ones protect about the PCs.

Today the narrative changed – dramatically. Today the cracks in the brain trust of the Stelmach leadership are being discussed by disaffected former party and government loyalists like Heather Forsyth. The light is shining in and what we are seeing is not helping the plight of the PC government or its leadership. The defector’s new conference comments today about the Stelmach government being undemocratic, authoritarian, intimidating and bullying inside the caucus reflects badly on the government. These same innuendos and coercion tactics have been happening from the government about many vulnerable but courageous people outside politics too. I know this from direct experience and reports from the not-for-profit community based social service sectors, most recently in the Persons with Developmental Disabilities area.

Here is another narrative that is totally speculative but as plausible as any other in the volatile and variable world that Alberta politics in now all about. Consider this story line. What if Ted Morton is not happy with his Cabinet position in the coming shuffle? Why would he stay in the Stelmach government? I don’t think he will cross the floor however. He will resign and return to the University of Calgary. His leave of absence from the U of C must be running out and if he does not return could he lose his tenure? He is not going to be Premier via the PCs or the WAP route so why stay in politics? He resigns and causes a by-election just outside of Calgary that Danielle Smith wins. She owes Morton big time as a result and he can then become anything he wants to be in advising and directing the future of the WAP.

Even the plausibility of this narrative will smoke out the rest of the disenchanted social conservatives in the PC caucus to jump to the WAP in the coming weeks. The internal politics will preoccupy and destabilize the government for some time to come. The more serious question is what will Stelmach do in response?

That is fodder for another blog post at another time. For now I think Albertans will be watching for big internal changes in the Premier’s office and in the Cabinet as well as with the fiscal, social and environmental policy agenda this month. Realistically, I see no scenario emerging today that would see a rebalance of the PC government towards a fiscally conservative and socially progressive and a resource stewardship and conservation mindset. That was the hallmark of the glory days of the PC party in Premier Lougheed’s day. To my mind we need to restore that kind of political culture so we Albertans can be proud of our province once again.

Greener Oil Sands, Greener Planet and Alberta's Role.

The op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail “Greener Oil Sands, Greener Planet” by my business partner Satya Das is a perfect example of how to integrate the guiding principles I set for myself in 2010. Those were, citizenship, ownership and stewardship, especially in an Alberta context.

We clearly need to get serious about a low-carbon future and it is Alberta with the best opportunity and duty to lead the way in Canada and the world for that matter. We have a $15 trillion concentration of hydrocarbon based wealth in the oil sands. That wealth is a key to an effective transition to alternative energy and cleaner greener hydrocarbons too.

Alberta is also the best place for ethical investors to place their energy, and innovation investments, especially when compared to the uncertainty and corruption of other large energy providers in regimes like Saudi Arabia, Iran or Iraq.

Albertans have to exercise their citizenship right and responsibilities and as owners of the oil sands to ensure they are developed sustainably and responsibly. We also have to ensure we get the best value from the resource for the benefit of current and future generations of Albertans and yes – Canadians too.

Stewardship is about the environment and preserving biodiversity. But it is also part of policy and programs to encourage Albertans to personally adapt and adopt new and greener practices in our personal and community lives. That includes investment in capturing the wealth of the oil sands. One way is to have a Natural Resources Severance Tax that would fund the transition and new technologies necessary for a carbon neutral future for oil sands development.

Here is the link to Satya’s Globe and Mail op-ed piece. Here is a link to his book Green Oil too.

Finally if you are also an Albertan interested and concerned about you citizenship, your resource ownership and stewardship you may want ot join in the movement known as Reboot Alberta.  That where you will find like-minded people who are gathering together and starting to get actively engaged in these and other aspects of our democracy in Alberta.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Some Guiding Principles I Intend to Follow for 2010

I have been mulling over a suggestion from Chris Brogan for a couple of days now. He selects three words each year to guide his actions and thinking rather than set New Years Resolutions.  It made a lot of sense to me but I still had to figure out what concepts I was going to select to guide me.  I have been doing some serious thinking and reflection over the holiday about the coming year.  I have finally landed on some principles I will want to follow in for 2010 and here they are:

Citizenship: I am going to try and help Albertans, and even Canadians on some issues, to re-engage in the politics and the governance of our times. Citizens have become passive consumers of policies, programs and politics and see government as a vending machine that delivers products, goods and services to us. We citizens must revisit our role and relationship with governance and the political processes the produces power and influence in Alberta and Canada.  Reboot Alberta is going to be a big part of 2010 for me in this regard.

Ownership: Albertans have become serfs when it comes to dealing with our natural resources. We have delegated all of our ownership rights and responsibilities to our politicians. As a result they political processes happen in private and even covertly behind our backs. We are merely policy takers as our government gives away our royalty rents to the companies who they decide will get to exploit them. This giveaway by our government reduces the birthright wealth creation of future generations. It limits our ability to provide long term stability for our economy, diminishes the demands to fully account for the environmental costs of resource extraction, including reclamation and puts the tenants in control. Albertans have to start thinking and acting like owners of their natural resources and making demands on returns, responsible and sustainable exploitation and new ways to add value here, not merely sending jobs and wealth down pipelines.  I came to be concerned about Ownership of our resources from reading the Royalty Review Panel Report and watching the subsequent government retreat from the sound reasoning in that report. 

Stewardship: Albertans have the blessing and burden of the second largest concentration of hydrocarbon energy deposits in the world. We have a set of values and a mindset as people that we must be careful and cautious about how were take advantage of this resource in an integrated economic, environmental and societal approach. We know we need to protect habitat, water, air and soil in all that we do in promoting wealth creation and progress. We are mindful of our opportunities and our responsibilities but we are way too passive in pressing our government to provide appropriate stewardship policies and protections. I have been working in the Boreal Forest for about 5 years now and most recently around mountain pine beetle infestation and helping to develop a conservation/biodiveristy offset policy for the province.

So those are going to be my guiding principles going forward for 2010. They are large conceptual baskets that will give me great flexibility.  They will also force me to address them as foundational to all my activities and aspirations for myself, my family, my community, my province - and in some ways; my nation, going forward.

So, Happy New Year everybody! 2010 promises to be interesting and volatile. All the more reason to be grounded in some fundamental principles as we go forward as Albertans. Thank you for reading and sharing your comments on this blog over the past year. I look forward to more and better blogging in the year to come.

Fellow Blogger Hits a Home Run With a Funny Bone.

Chris LaBossiere is my friend and fellow-traveler on the Reboot Alberta journey.  Today he has a most interesting and entertaining blog post.  He has discovered a new program that apparently turns text into "movies."  The technology is pretty ridimentary (think Mario Brothers meets South Park) but it is potentially at the threshold of a new social media platform.

This is Chris' first adventure into animated political parody.  His content is as focused, biting and pointed in his animation as he is in his text blog posts.  His context is even better with this animation tool.  He takes on the Wildrose Alliance Party political policy positions.  He makes a very clear point about what they will not talk about, like donors and social policy.  What they do say speaks loudly but it is mostly one-line media ready sound bites that glosses over complex environmental, economic and social concerns.  His post has all the links you need to the WAP policy documents to check them out and decide for yourself.
He promises to take on Reboot Alberta next.  He calls it the "Goldilocks" of Alberta politics.  With a set up like that I can't wait to see what he comes up with. I don't think Chris is going to be Alberta's next Frank Kapra or Donald Cameron.  But he may be well on his way to being our Trey Parker or maybe even our Jon Stewart

Well done Chris.  Thanks for the laughs - but also for the information and the insights which you have presented in such a clever and entertaining way.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Has Harper Finally Gone Too Far for Canadians in Ducking the Afghan Detainee Torture Issue?

Far and Wide: Smug
I have been mulling over what to say about the move by Prime Minister Harper to prorouge Parliament. Reading the points and comment of one of my favourite bloggers, Far and Wide, on the subject covers much of my concern.

The real reason our Prime Minister is prorouging Parliament is as yet unknown. We know the Conservative spin cycle justification but that is far from and wide of the truth (Sorry Steve, couldn't resist.) It is clearly a tactical action to delay accountability and further discovery of the facts around what the Harper government's role in the torture of Afghan detainees.

The clear deceit and denial that permeates throughout the politcial culture of the Harper government is well known and documented in so many areas be it denial of the recession to being forced into admitting it and doing stimulus investing, but still on a partisan preferential basis is one. The culture of denial about the science of climate change and the missing inaction policy position on GHGs and Copenhagen. The phony trip to Cop15 in Copenhagen by our Prime Minister Harper only because other world leaders were engaged and attending made it imperaive that he go, only to stay in his hotel rooms for a few days living off room service so he could not be asked questions.

The Harper government's indifference to the need to protect the human rights of Canadian citizens abroad like less than tepid response to the plight of the Alberta freelance journalist held hostage in Somalia.  She was actually freed by her family and other citizens, some from other countries, I believe. The ultimate indifference to the human rights plight of a Canadian being held in a foreign prison is Omar Khadr the Canadian child soldier held in Gitmo for over 7 years without trial and in the face of numerous court decisions saying he should be repatriated and face Canadian justice.

Now we likely have a concern that may go right through the power structure in the Harper goverment around the political and policy role of our government in the handling of Afghan detainees and turning them over to be tourtured. The backpedaling on the facts by the Harper government is astonishing. The smoking guns on this one are everywhere, including the feeble attempts by Harper's partisan political power structure to discredit the diplomat who was sending warnings and written concerns. All of which were ignored and he was admonished for putting them on the record by his "superiors.".

The Commons Committee dealing with the concerns was starting to make serious progress at getting to the facts on detainee torture. It is my belief that they were about to uncover some other serious breaches by the Harper government around the handling of the Afghan detainee file. Harper does not want that discovered nor discussed so the easiest way is to defer and delay the working of the Committee. To avoid any such accountability, openness and responsibility, Harper shut down Parliament. He hopes Canadians will tradeoff this breach of Canadian values in enchange for hosting the Olympics? Harper's hubris and indifference to democracy allows him to kill 30 Bills in process and all of his much touted law and order agenda. He must be very afraid of what the Commons Committee was about to discover to sacrifice the law and order policy agenda that was needed to secure his right-wing political base.

Is this mostly about our Prime Minister's cowardice, indifference to democracy or something even more perverse like his pursuit of personal rule through authoritarianism? I think it is all of that and more. Canadians better wake up and resist and insist on at least good government. Peace and order already seem to be beyond the Harper regime. I think Prime Minister Harper is proving yet again that he is good at raw power politics and tactics but indifferent to and incapable of good governing. It is time for him to go. If Conservatives don't dump him soon, Canadians will dump him and many other Conservative politicians in the next election.