Reboot Alberta

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Student Values Survey Very Interesting

I just read a news release on values of 2500 Canadian high school and post-secondary students.  The headline grabbed me:  "Happiness Rules: Canada's Youth Don't Live for $$$"

I wanted to see how the student values compared with the Influentials and Cultural Creatives in Reboot Alberta and the random sample we did of everyday Albertans on the same values.

First the students are said to be "idealistic, optimistic and confident in their abilities to accomplish goals.  They seem not to be entrepreneurial nor interested in great wealth accumulation with happiness being more important as a value driver.  The reasons stated were because this cohort placed low value on collaboration, innovation and leadership and they were risk adverse.

This is not good from my perspective.  If ever we needed a value shift in our culture it is now and this is needed in areas like collaboration, innovation and leadership.  The other side of the value coin for students was interesting too.   They reported a high importance on compassion, integrity and optimism and they believed that they would not change their values much between now and 2020.  They look forward to spending time with friends and family, getting more education, living a healthy lifestyle with a career and living in a safe and secure environment.

The top value drivers for the Reboot Influentials were around what they wanted policy makers and politicians to use when making decisions so they do not compare directly with the context of the student values. Rebooters want a government that had integrity, that was honest, accountable and transparent with a strong sense of environmental stewardship.  Next priorities were applied wisdom, a focus on well being and equity along with fiscal responsibility and respect for diversity.

If you share these values you should join Reboot Alberta  and become part of a citizen's movement Pressing for Change to a more progressive political culture in Alberta.  Block off November 5-7 for the next gathering of progressive thinking Albertans and help frame a progressive provincial political agenda and figure out what actions we need to take to make it happen.

Why I Love Edmonton

Ok - so I am a homer...not of the Simpson variety.  Here is a great video that captures my sense of my home town...Edmonton, Alberta.  Enjoy!

Lots of Moving Parts in Politics and Policy These Days

Lots of different things on my mind this morning.  So here is a sampling of some of them:

Alberta Party gets a fund-raising boost with a major donor.

I have done a piece for The Mark on some of the political and policy findings we discovered from the oil sands study we did in collaboration with the Oil Sands Research and Information Network.

I have noticed that Lawrence Martin has a great Op-Ed on the Incredible Shrinking Tory Tent of Control Freak Stephen Harper.  He details some of the many reasons we need to remove this man from the highest office in our land and real soon too.

Lots of real work to do today but Twitter is never far away.  Follow me there @kenchapman46

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

RebootAlberta Blog Has New Post on Progressives in Alberta

I am using another blog site to deal with progressive thoughts and ideas in the Alberta context called RebootAlberta.  This is not a site - it is my own blog.  I will send links to it from time to time for readers of this blog to follow.  My purpose is to connect you with on my work to help generate a progressive citizen's movement in Alberta to influence the political culture in Alberta.

Here is a link that I invite you to follow to see an example of what I am doing over there.

Water Act Enforcement Kind of Slow by Alberta Government

It is good to see that the provisions of the Water Act in Alberta are being enforced.
Water is a critical issue for Albertans in so many ways including environmentally, socially as well as economically.  There are lots of politics involved too, including agricultural, conservation and wildlife habitat concerns.  Water is a serious complex issue for all Albertans beyond the oil sands uses.

There is a serious water shortage currently and even more coming in southern Alberta and abuses like this example by this company in Calgary is not helpful.  I can't understand why there is no fine and why it took almost 4 years from September 2006 when the company was informed to change is water sources.   Now they have given them over three more months to find an alternative water source and then all the way to Feb 1, 2011 to get the proper authorization for and implementation of the alternative water supply.  Seems Albertans are entitled to a bit more information as to why this abuse of water sources took so long to enforce and why the finding and implementing of alternative sources seem to be not a matter of urgency.

Kind of ironic when the Alberta government news release closes on this matter with the line: "Enforcement orders are issued under the authority of Alberta's Water Act and are designed to ensure immediate action is taken to correct the situation. (Emphasis added) Seems like there is no sense of urgency here nor has the offence resulted in any punishment of the company.

Hardly a message that abuse of our water legislation carries serious consequences.  One thing we have to be careful of as citizens is that while government that is too big is a waste and often an interference, too small a government is incapable of doing the job we as citizens expect of it.  This is not a question of balance between big and small government.  It is a question of ensuring governments are properly resources in staff and expertise to do the job we expect of them.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Is Alberta Ready for a New Political Narrative?

There is a relatively true myth (sic) that Alberta sustains a one-party state politically for decades and then, seemingly, overnight changes its mind and goes with an entirely new set of politicians and a new government.

From some new research we have done at Cambridge Strategies, it appears that Alberta is on the verge of another a dramatic political shift.  For sure the ground is moving.  Not sure yet if the seismic indications are strong enough to have another political earthquake.  There will be more details on the survey findings in my blog posts over the next few weeks.  I suggest you subscribe or follow this blog to ensure you get notice of those posts when they happen.

The other macro-variable is to consider if the values and attitudes of the Alberta population of today is akin to those of the past.  It is a lot more urban, educated, wealthy and secure these days.  Not sure we can rely on history to repeat itself with how different Alberta is today form the past.

There is a sense of a social shift that is happening now that has some similarities to the revolutionary attitudes and hunger for change from the 60's.  That enabled Peter Lougheed to take the Progressive Conservative Party from nowhere to the overwhelmingly popular choice to replace the old, tired and out-of-touch Social Credit government.

What the conventional wisdom is the lack of a viable political alternative.  Kevin Libin did an interesting piece in the National Post looks at the Alberta Liberal party in this context.  He could do the same kind of analysis of the NDP and even the Wildrose Alliance.  Neither one has been able to capture the angst or the aspirations of the next Alberta.  There is a yearning, longing and hunger for a new narrative for the next Alberta that is just as strong as the anger and frustration with the current state of politics and governance in the province.

The rise of the Wildrose Alliance is an indication of some of the unrest and moving political ground in the province.  It is far from the mainstream values or majority point of view of everyday Albertans. There are many more conversations happening around the province these days about what kind of place and people we are and want to become.

The sentiment that is emerging in the conversations I am involved with and monitoring is not about Alberta being the best place in the world but about the potential and promise of Alberta to be the best is can be for the world.  That is a much more generative and engaging mindset than the banal boosterism we get from so many sectors in Alberta these days.

Reboot 3.0 is in the early planning stages and will happen in Edmonton this fall.  It will be focused on what it will take to get a more comprehensive and integrated progressive set of values in Alberta's political culture. It will be a focused conversation about how to use the aggregate political power of progressive thinking Albertans to Press for Change in the politics and governance of our province.  Stay tuned.  There is going to be a lot of changes in Alberta politics between now and the next election - I can assure you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Alex Himelfarb Speaks Out on Chief Statistician Resignation

The former long serving and long suffering former Chief Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada Alex Himelfarb  speaks out about the resignation of Munir Sheikh as a brave and admirable act.

Here is an excerpt from  his post:

In Canada, our professional, non-partisan public service has traditionally been guided by the principle of "fearless advice and loyal implementation." This is based on the belief that governments work best when they have access to the best possible information, options, and advice – including what they may not wish to hear – and, in the end, democracy demands that the public service implement loyally whatever lawful decision the elected government of the day makes – whether the public servants agree or not. That's how it works when it works. I know Munir to be a man of great integrity, committed to the value and values of a professional, non-partisan public service.


CTV Interview on UN Censorship of The Gun Sculpture

I did a short interview on the CTV national news on the Gun Sculpture.  Here is the link,Item,684381932.html

Thanks to for promoting the link and helping to get the message out about the Gun Sculpture censorship.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Vue Weekly Talks About Progressive Politics

Ricardo Acuna from the Parkland Institute has an interesting piece in Vue Weekly.  It is  on his perceptions of who is "progressive" in the Alberta political firmament.   He seems to settle on the NDP as the only party close to being what he sees as a progressive.  Fair enough but progressives Albertans are mostly not in political parties.

I would recommend reading the piece but also suggest people go to the Reboot Alberta site and click on the What's a Progressive link and read the thoughts of what is a progressive many non-partisan citizen participants in the Reboot Alberta movement.  It will add to the sense of what we are missing in Alberta political culture - even from the current progressively aspiring political parties.

If you red something at the Reboot Alberta site that resonates with you, consider registering on the site and become part of the broader progressive citizen's engagement movement in Alberta.

Shame on UN for Censoring Gun Sculpture.

I am most amazed that the United Nations, of all the institutions in the world, would succumb to pressure to censor art about the “Art of Peacemaking: the Gun Sculpture” by Edmonton artists Sandra Bromley and Wallis Kendal.  It is even more ironic when you consider the nature of the UN event in Vienna where the Gun Sculpture was displayed.  The UN Academic Council was meeting on "New Security Challenges" and
having speakers on the UN and the Media. (sic).

Sheila Pratt of the Edmonton Journal broke the story on the front page yesterday.  Congratulations to the Edmonton Journal for giving this important but not conventional story such prominent display.  Others have picked it up including the Montreal Gazette and the CBC, amongst others, with more interest being shown all the time.
I am very attached to this piece of art and have helped promote it in my own way for the past few years. I have helped bring it out of storage and brought it back from Europe for a display at The Works festival in Edmonton a few years ago. I am mostly interested in finding a permanent home for it...even considered the UN headquarters in New York, but with this development by the UN – you have to think twice.

The Gun Sculpture is one of the best examples I know of art doing its job. In no small part this piece tells us something about the human condition, ourselves and provokes strong reflecting reactions. By doing so, it becomes effectively controversial in a number of ways...all of them positive from my point of view.

The Chinese delegation at the Vienna International Centre was offended because a couple of the Gun Sculpture related photographs showed Tibetan victims, but did not reference any direct Chinese involvement with the victims. The Chinese delegation to the UN event objected to officials and insisted the Gun Sculpture be removed. The fact that the UN partially capitulated to such political pressure and removed the photographs of victims that forms an integral part of the exhibit is absolutely alarming. It makes you wonder what they were thinking especially since China was not singled out and this artwork has been displayed all over the world without similar incident.

The message of the Gun Sculpture is critically important.  It is in the form of a prison cell and made up of 7000 thousand of decommissioned weapons from handguns, to AK- 47s, to ammunition and landmines.  It challenges “accepted ways of thinking” about violence and “acts as a catalyst that makes (people) respond to the suffering” these small arms weapons cause for so many people in the world.

We need more artists like Bromley and Kendal and artwork like the Gun Sculpture to provoke our thinking and to make us reflect on our values, beliefs, perceptions and attitudes. I hope the artists get a formal apology from the officials at the UN, including those who made this decision to censor the Gun Sculpture.

Free speech is not free and if we are not aggressive in using it and vigilant in protecting it – we will lose it. The UN censoring of the Gun Sculpture is a shameful example of the erosion of free speech.

I hope this story has legs and others start to help to ensure this story travels around the world.  We need to get the Gun Sculpture message out and deplore the kind of violence and suffering these weapons are causing in so many places, in so many ways to so many people. 

We also need to get the message out about the place of art in illuminating this kind of core message about violence, suffering and aggression in the world. You would expect more support from the United Nations for endorsing that kind of core message and more respect for art as a way to communicate it, at least one would like to think so!  This shameful example of capitulation and censorship is not the kind of action we would or should accept from the United Nations.  They need to be more accountable and thoughtful about their role and responsibility on these core issues too.

Please forward this blog post around.  Share it with as many people as you can who care about free speech, the role of art in our society and who decry institutionalized censorship.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Alberta Needs to Design a New Future for Itself

Nice to see the op-ed in yesterday's Edmonton Journal written by economist Todd Hirsch.  Todd is turning into a first rate public intellectual with his op-ed writing.  Now he and Rob Roach of the Canada West Foundation are planning a new book on the creative economy entitled Re-writing the Code: Changing Canada's Economic DNA.  I am looking forward to it.

With all the changes happening in the world it is imperative for Canada - and Alberta especially - to shift from a virtually sole focus on a resource extraction economy into a more  right-brained economy and society.  The Dave Hancock Inspiring Education initiative as Minister of Education has been a step in the right direction.  The new Literacy Policy and framework for Alberta is now established and needs life breathed into it as a key part of this shift in consciousness.

I have been involved with others in a new initiative that addresses this overarching concern about the future of Alberta in a series of public dialogues entitled Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta.  I encourage you to visit the site and see what we are up to in this effort to influence the future direction of Alberta.

The Premier's Council for Economic Strategy has a discussion paper out that starts to reshape the thinking around Alberta's future too. The Council is focused on six key questions:

  1. What must Alberta do to earn a global reputation as a responsible energy producer and natural resource steward?
  2. How can we ensure the Alberta of the future has a robust, stable economy and fiscal position?
  3. What steps can Alberta take to create new wealth through knowledge and innovation?
  4. How do we ensure we have the healthy skilled and engaged citizens needed to drive innovation and sustain prosperity?
  5. How do we ensure Alberta's urban and rural communities are vibrant, supportive and inclusive?
  6. How can we engage more strategically with the rest of Canada and the world?
All of these question integrate into each other - which is a good thing,  We need a robust and vibrant discussion amongst Albertans on each and every one of them.  There is a place to share your thoughts on these and other concerns with the Premier's Council here.  I strongly recommend you engage and exert some influence on the future of Alberta in this way.  I will be engaging on these questions over the next weeks through this blog and my public speaking opportunities.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Congratulations James Rajotte MP On Your Stand for the Long-form Census

Here is why I like James Rajotte and think he is one of the quality Conservative MPs we have, and for my money, the best Conservative MP in Alberta. He will pay a price for this breaking ranks from the Prime Minister's Office position on the long form census.  But isn't that what representative democracy is supposed to be all about?

Isn't good public policy supposed to emerge from a robust and informed public discussion of the issues by Canadians?  Are we not supposed to be able to assume we can then depend on a public policy decision to be taken that is based on evidence and the applied practical wisdom from those to whom we grant our consent to govern us.  Anyone in Canada seen that happen much lately, especially since Harper has been in power?

The scary top down command and control unilateral politically motivated decision making by Prime Minister Harper is wrong, reckless and abusive - especially to his Cabinet and Caucus.  It is no good governance and no way to run a country, especially one like Canada.  There are stronger words that get used in private by many Canadians when reflecting on the political style of Mr. Harper, including fascist.  I think that is a little strong but one starts to wonder the more we see how he actually operates and behaves with the levers of power.

Harper's position on the census means we institutionalize ignorance about much of what we need to know about who we are as a people in this country.  Such institutionalized ignorance and refusal to allow Canadians to become informed leaves Harper the political room to ignore facts and impose even more of his own beliefs on the country.  He could then be more reckless and abusive with his political power, and do so with even great impunity from his duty to serve the greater public interest instead of his own personal political aspirations.

We need an election in this country sooner than later. We need to make some real changes as citizens and voters in how we want our democracy to work in our interests and not just for the interests that serve the Prime Minister's agenda.

When and What Will the Next Alberta Election Be About?

I get a strange feeling the Stelmach government is easing into the election prep stage known as The Red Zone. That is where not much happens in governance because they don’t want to make political mistakes. With the rise of the “pungent and pink” Wildrose the current government, if not in the Red Zone, it is definitely concerned about the Wildrose “pink zone” of election readiness.

I don’t think we will have a snap election in Alberta but I would not count on Stelmach waiting until March 2012 as stated earlier. Alberta is mindful of many external forces influencing its election timing. For example there is potential for a federal election late this fall or next spring. It may happen over the next budget or, depending if Harper thinks he can get a majority, he will engineer his own defeat. The midterm US elections will be watched carefully by the Stelmach government for policy trends that impact energy policy and oil sands development.

Then there are domestic concerns about election timing. The Stelmach government had an approval rating of 12% in a recent survey of Albertans. The economy is apparently recovering but is it due to the billions of provincial and federal government stimulus money or is it authentic economic growth at play? Are we into a slow and steady economic turn around or a double dip recession? Too early to tell yet and economist are pointing in every direction, as usual.

Then we have the volatility of politics to consider too. There is change in the air in Alberta these days. And what form that will take is still unclear. Albertan’s self –image from environmental pressures and negative PR is eating away at our pride of place, our self-confidence and our self-esteem. Albertans are clear that oil sands are critically important to our future prosperity. But they are now questioning themselves and their government about how well this resource is being developed and managed.

The lack of faith in the leadership in any of the current political parties is another measure of volatility. We recently asked a random sample of over 1000 Albertans which political leader they trusted most to manage the growth in the Alberta economy. The results brought a sharp focus on the general disaffection Albertans have with the current crop of political leaders. Only 4% picked the NDP’s Brian Mason. Some 9% trusted Liberal leader David Swann. As for The Wildrose and Danielle Smith only 19% would put their management trust in her. Premier Ed Stelmach of the PCs garnered a scant 23% who said they trusted him the most to manage Alberta’s growth. Here is the kicker – 45% of us said we mostly trusted none of them to manage the growth of the Alberta economy. That survey outcome speaks to potential for serious political change but begs the question – change to what alternative?

Now add in the right-wing conservative political culture war that is raging in Alberta between Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Alliance Party. With Ted Morton’s move to Minister of Finance and Enterprise he is doing the next budget for the spring of 2011. We can expect his ideological fingerprints will to be all over the economic and fiscal policy direction of Alberta by next year. Kevin Libin has a very insightful and telling column in a recent edition of the National Post on the Morton factor in Alberta politics and policy directions. I recommend you read it.

If Kevin is right in his observations about Minister Morton, and my comments he quotes about Minister Morton from 2006 are still valid (and Morton himself says they are) then we have another fly-in-the-ointment political dynamic that will influence the election timing.

What if the PCs become less progressive and more Morton-like conservative between now and the next election? What if the defacto election battle on the right is between the Sorcerer Morton and Smith, his former Apprentice from the Calgary School? Where does that leave Stelmach? Where do progressives go given the current anemic political alternatives they are being offered? What does the next Alberta look like if only the radical right and reactionary left show up to vote?

We need a viable progressive political alternative in Alberta. The current situation is untenable for any thoughtful Albertan who sees a positive balanced role for responsible, accountable, open and honest government. Reboot Alberta is not a political party but it is a way to influence and shape any new or existing political party. We need to show the powers that be and any that want to be that they must move towards a more inclusive and effective approach to a more contemporary political culture that reflects the next Alberta instead of trying to perfect the past.

Efforts are afoot for staging Reboot 3.0 in late October to look at a more activist approach to bring the progressive agenda and voice back to Alberta politics. Stay tuned for more information here and to join the Reboot Alberta citizen's movement go to

Friday, July 09, 2010

Time for Alberta Progressives to Become Activists Again.


I have been talking with leaders and others of the progressive parties as a result of David Swann's letter and "Let's Talk" advertisement as Leader of the Alberta Liberals.  I have also spoken at length with Dave King, fellow Reboot Alberta Instigator about the framing and intent of the Swann initiative.  Dave and I agree whole-heartedly about what are the limitations of the Swann suggestions but also about the potential for something to happen.

Here is the recent blog post of Dave King's that captures where my head and heart is at.  I am away next week but on my return I think you will see Reboot Alberta offering to host a gathering that will become a place for progressive politics and progressive political action to be discussed and action plans put forth by aspirational and actual political people - partisan and otherwise.

Stay tuned.  In the meantime if any of this interests you encourages you or makes you want to get involved in designing and defining a progressive political culture for the next Alberta...go to Reboot Alberta and sign up.

Get Used to Incredible Uncertainty in Alberta Politics

Dave Clemenhaga once again provides a well researched and coherent commentary on things political in our province.  His insight into the implications of the rise of the Wildrose Alliance Party coincide with my own,  No wonder I like his perspective.

Since this post was written new developments sparked by the Liberal leader David Swann have triggered some serious conversations in progressive political circles about what to do.  Reboot Alberta has been instrumental in starting policy conversations amongst progressive thinking Albertan.  But the time has come to get more focused on the politics side of the progressive agenda.

I have been in a number of conversations with progressive thinkers in the province and the MSM in the past few days.  There is a plan emerging in my mind about how to use the conversation space David Swann has opened up with his invitation.  Expect a blog post on the ideas and events peculating around shortly.

So You Think You Want to be a School Trustee!

The Alberta School Boards Association is doing a candidate school for people standing for school trustee in the October elections. The next workshop for candidates is mid-September.  I am doing the politics part of it.  Go figure eh!  We did this for the first time in conjunction with the ASBA Spring Conference.  It was a lot of fun and very well received. I am looking forward to the next one.

Here is a link for more information.  If you are thinking of running as a school trustee this workshop is for you.  Here is the link to register

If you are interested in some of the new directions education and learning is going in Alberta you will want to check this links to Learning Our Way to the Next Alberta.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

David Swann Calls on Alberta Progressive to Come Together.

Got a call last night from Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann giving me a heads up on his effort to reach out to progressive thinking Albertans to do politics differently.  As part of Reboot Alberta I am all in favour of that and pleased to see David making the gesture.

This is part of a larger discussion he and I had a week or so ago about getting a larger gathering of progressives together in the new year to really get serious about how we want to be governed,with whom and what are the core values we want expressed and applied by our politicians and in how we are to be governed in the future.  It has to be much more that vote for me and lets get rich quick!

To linear people that sound like a lot of navel gazing I know.  But the reality is we are so badly governed in Canada and Alberta these days that something has to change and dramatically.  I am of the opinion that major transformations do not happen incrementally from the status quo.  Something altogether new replaces the status quo.  A superficial example is with the advent of cell phones just try and find a payphone.  They have become virtually extinct. 

What is the transformational replacement for the inert, inept, and inadequate model of politics and government these days?  I don't think for a minute that the reversal of decades of positive social development that the Wildrose Alliance Party wants to accomplish with its social conservative "us versus them" approach to politics is the way to go.  None of the existing political "alternatives" are resonating.  There are 45% of Albertans in a recent poll said they had no confidence in any existing Alberta party or leader to adequately manage Alberta's growth.

As Monty Python said, "...and now for something completely different"  is where most Albertans at at.  The Alberta progressives are overwhelmingly committed to making a positive contribution to the province's future and feel their personal efforts make a difference.  How do we focus that commitment, energy and spirit into actual political and democratic change?  That is the question before us and I am delighted that people like David Swann are prepared to pose it dramatically and purposefully.

I will await with great interest what he and others like the fledging Alberta Party are ready to do.  There are progressive thinking people who are showing up and stepping up to the plate.  Time to take a swing and even more timely to make a pitch.  (sic)

Stay tuned Alberta.  This could get interesting.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Have You Met OSQAR? You Should!

OSQAR is "Oil Sands Questions and Responses" and an effort of Suncor to help answer the "who can you trust" question on the oil sands.  I recently did another blog post on this question.

Here is a link to the latest offering of OSQAR on air quality in the oil sands producing region. It is worth a read and even worth you subscribing to for future editions if you take your rights and responsibilities as a citizen owner of the oil sands.  Full disclosure, I am a Suncor shareholder and have done work for them on occasion but not for some time.

Notice a couple of thing in this effort by OSQAR.  They quote evidence based scientific research to substantiate the claims.  They identify the individual who did the study and provide a link to learn more about the research.  They also provide a link to the original material they are challenging. This time from Environmental Defence.  Lots of context, content and authoritative sources you can read and judge for yourself.

This is clearly a more trustworthy approach than the glossy paid advertising approaches being used in too many instances by government and industry.  But I have to say, it is not quite there yet.  What they don't do is provide for a capacity for readers to have a conversation on the issue so people can share their thoughts, information, reaction and insights to the material and the issues.   This is still a one-way - let me tell you what you need to know approach to reach an audience.  It will inform and raise awareness but it will not create a trusting relationship with a recipient.  Nor will it likely form a community of conversation amongst Albertans on the issues being addressed so the sharing of ideas helps everyone learn more from each other as well as from authorities and experts.  It is not participatory.

The overarching question in all of this for Albertans still is who can we trust.   Research quoted in Reader's Digest in 2009 shows that some of the least trusted people in our society are CEOs and Politicians.  The least trusted industries are Oil companies and Advertising.   It is a tough up hill battle for oil sands companies but that is no reason not to engage but REALLY engage.

I think Suncor is one of the leading companies and one of the bright lights and most worthy on its social license to operate in the Alberta oil sands.  There are lots of reasons, OSQAR is only one very small but personal reason I hold this opinion.

So good start Suncor but open OSQAR up for some community feedback please.  People are already talking online and in person about oil sands, Suncor, air quality and a host of other topics that will interest and be about you.  You may as well know what is being said out there about you and your issues.  So come into the new media world with a bit more courage.  Create a space in OSQAR for a dialogue and participate along with Albertans in the conversations that will occur.  You will have ample opportunity to listen, be heard, correct the facts, add evidence and challange some incorrect assumptions if need be.

Could There Be an American Style Tea Party in Alberta's Future?

I subscribe to an American progressive site I just got a note about the Glenn Beck (Fox News ultra right-wing talk show host ) pushing the “conservative message machine” as the “chief cheerleader” for the Tea Party types. He is tapping into the resentment of working and unemployed people in the USA....and there are a lot of them that is for sure.

There are allegations that a lot of misinformation being spread by Mr. Beck including suggestions President Obama was not prepared to meet Tony Hayward the British Petroleum CEO because he was “a white CEO.” Beck apparently is also saying the American progressive movement is a “cancer” that was “designed to eat the Constitution.”

The enraging of vulnerable and fearful people in the Tea Party has been effective in mobalizing them for the November elections in the States. The “enthusiasm gap” which is the difference between positive feelings Republicans have for their candidates versus the same for Democrats is a 35 point spread in favour of the Republicans.

The conclusion is “...many progressives, liberals and Democrats are in denial, not tuned in to what is happening in Tea Party-land.” There is a concern that the money and machine behind the otherwise kooky and incoherent rage of Tea Party supporters " a powerful cartel of right-wing interests with very deep pockets...(and) a cabal of high-priced political operatives and lobbying groups....”

We have not seen the Tea Party effects in Alberta ... yet. What is just as interesting is what if the progressive voice in Alberta is in denial too. If so the political culture and political power can be highjacked very easily as a result of continued indifference – never mind actual denial.

Alberta has been more of less socially progressive and fiscally conservative for a long time. The shift of focus as of late by the PC and the WAP has been to be conservative on social issues, loose on economic issues and  narrow focused on environmental issues too. The progressive element is all but lost in the current Alberta political culture.  The trend lines are not promising that positive progressive change will happen automatically.

I have said before that progressives live in their heads and Alberta is no exception. The old ethos of the Lougheed PCs is long gone and actually very much forgotten. If progressive continue to be distant and indifferent to politics and to the realities – not merely the possibilities – of a hard fundamentalist shift to the right in Alberta we will have ruined the possibility of a pluralist, progressive and inclusive province. Such a waste of the potential for our place in time and for us as a people going forward.

So if you don’t want a Tea Party Alberta style in your future, you have to get informed and engaged.  I suggest you start looking for and supporting progressive candidates, or better yet, become a progressive political candidate yourself. I strongly urge you to join whatever political party you feel most at home in and start working for whatever candidates that comes closest to reflecting your values.

Many progressives in the Reboot Alberta citizen’s movement are already doing this in the forthcoming civic and school board elections. This is good but we also need to get geared up for the next provincial election too. There will be more on that in later posts-for now a word to the wise is all I am suggesting.  There is no time to waste.  Hope is not a strategy and denial is not an option.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Who Can Albertans Trust to Tell the Truth About Oil Sands?

The Quest for Truth in the Oil Sands is the title of the Todd Hirsch op-ed in today’s Globe and Mail. It captures much of the angst Albertans are feeling as citizens and the owners of the oilsands. We know this from some of the values surveying we have been doing with Albertans in the last few years and more extensively in 2010.  This survey was commissioned by OSRIN, the Oil Sands Research and Information Network out of the University of Alberta.
The subtext of Todd’s piece asks if the oil sands are an “economic bonanza” or an “environmental apolalypse.” There is so much spin and self-serving selection of fact that everyone know that the whole truth is not being told. Who can we trust and believe about what is happening in our oil sands these days? In Alberta today 89% of us believe the oil sands are either extremely important or very important to our future prosperity. Any government or industry that risks betraying our trust on oil sands development will face serious consequences from the voter and the public.

Progress is being made on the environmental front and a more rational approach to the pace and purpose of development is happening now too. There is more of a long term integrated view that is becoming the normative oil sands development model. This is in stark contract to the “damn the consequences” lets make a quick buck attitude that was so common in black gold rush of the recent past.

That said the facts are that conservation, habitat, air, water and reclamation concerns dominate the minds and values of Albertan around oilsands development. There is a sense that not enough is being done in these areas of concern to convince Albertans that our government or our industry tenants “get it” about how we want this resource developed.

The politics and policy approaches to oil sands development are still mired in mendacity, mediocrity and even the mundane. We are giving the resources away as we trade reasonable royalty rates in exchange for short term jobs or to appease industry threats that investment will dry up. Our environmental laws are not as good as we tout and our enforcement has been lack lustre. That is true notwithstanding the recent successful Syndrude prosecution of 1600 migrating ducks who drowned in tailings ponds due to corporate negligence.

Corporate and government communications efforts are focused mostly on PR positioning and not about sincere efforts at communicating and solving the problems. There are efforts being made and progress is being achieved but we don’t seem to hear or even believe those stories and when we do we sense they are mostly self-serving. We get snippets of stories but it seems the culture of spin is so pervasive that we just can’t bring ourselves to trust any good news about the oil sands. It is truly sad that the level of skepticism and cynicism about the oil sands is so endemic in Alberta and beyond these days.

Even the recent effort by the Alberta government to score a media coup with the Premier’s Letter to the Editor in the Washington Post has some interesting twists and turns. I applaud the efforts of the Premier to get out there and start telling the Alberta oil sands story in a broader context. Unfortunately the Washington Post Editor did not see the newsworthy merit of the letter saying it was more about “Canada Day than anything new.” So the province bought the newpaper space to promote their message instead. Even a cursory read of the Premier’s letter shows how wrong that “Canada Day” perception was about the content and context of the Permier’s letter. Still such a newspaper ad looks like the kind of boiler-plate damage control apologizing advertising we always see from businesses that screw up. Earned media is more believable than purchasing advertising space as a way to get a messgage out any day. But you still gotta do what you gotta do to try and communicate I guess.

I really applaud the Premier’s points about the safe, secure, reliable energy supply from the Alberta oil sands to the States – and the fact we are the largest suplier of oil to the Americans. That is a critical fact that is not well understood or appreciated by the Americans...and their ignorance is largely our fault.

As for GHG and other environmental issues, they are critical concerns but they need some context, like the Premier’s “letter” provided. If the entire value chain costs of oil sands development is considered and compared to entire value chain of other oil sources like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola and Algeria then the dirty oil tag on Alberta’s oil sands is not justified. All fossil fuels are dirty to varying degrees but to focus only on certain aspects of the oil sands in isolation and to ignore the greater political, environmental, human and social costs of other jurisdictions is a lobbying tactic that needs to be challenged.

Alberta is one of the few oil energy providers that have a democracy, the rule of law and stable currency and government. In addition there is only casual corruption in our culture compared to the rampant corruption in other supplier nations. You don’t have to worry about staff being kidnapped for ransom and you should not ignore the costs in human life in the internal conflicts in many other energy provider jurisdictions. Those costs are nonexistant in Alberta. I suggest the oil sands are by comparison is actually “cleaner,” than the sources form these other jurisdictions, all things considered. I may be right in that contention but that is still not good enough and Albertans know that too.

Getting back to Todd’s point about who are we to believe in the Babel about oil sands, there is a need for the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth to be discussed in the public realm. We have to stop the focus on issues management, message framing and media massaging that thrives on reporting conflict and not about construtively informing the public and helping us get a handle on the issues and the implications.

Our recently complete conjoint research survey tracked 8 crucial values Albertans have around the development of the oil sands as the owners of the resource. The insight we gained adds to the dilemma and disconsternation of the government and the industry as they continue to be tone deaf over what Albertans really want attended to in the development of their oil sands.

Safe secure reliable supply to the American market is a given. No “atta boys” for stating the obvious. Technology as a means to overcome environmantal and other abuses is not seen as the only a valid mitigation strategy we need to use to overcome harmful affects of oil sands development. It is acknowledged by Albertans that technological solutions are the responsible and reasonable thing to do but not the only asnwer to the concerns. No “atta boys” for doing the obvious here either.

The rationalization of the pace of development that does not cause boom and bust cycles is also now to be expected of intelligent investors and our industry tenants. We need to be sure only those who deserve their social licence to operate in Alberta are given the responsibilty and opportunity to exploit this public resource. The pull out threats from some elements in the energy industry (not all) and the rapid retreat by the provincial government in response to the reasonable and rational royalty regime is the epitome of fear and collusion against the public interest. That kind of intimidation by the tenants has to stop too.

None of the actions by government or industry on royalties has been seen to be in the greater public interest, either long term or short term. Misleading messaging and school-yard style bullying was the rule of the day around royalties. And all it did was show Albertans who really runs the province...and they do so all too often behind closed doors. Not approprite behaviour in any way.

So I think Todd has struck a nerve and hit a nail on the head at the same time with his op-ed. So who can we trust and believe in the noise around oil sands development? Albertans have to believe in someone and trust that someone is serving the public interest. We are mature and wise enough as people to know there are real issues and they are complicated. We know we can handle bad news. It seems that is pretty much all we get now about our oil sands development anyway. I would like to call for more carity and comprehensive information to the public instead of the over-simplified pap we get now in the oil sands messaging. We need and deserve that kind of comprehensive candour. It needs to come from the province and the companies that are in the business of developing our oil sands.

In the meantime governments, as our proxy holders of our oil sands interests, and the energy industry, as our tenants, had better start thinking about public perceptions of their worthiness to govern and to justify a social license to operate with our public assets.

Safe to say, Albertans are not amused. In fact, we are tired of being bemused and abused by the PR machines and machinations of government and industry around oil sands development. We need a reason to believe and trust government and industry aroudn oil sands issues. We must have some serious evidence of their integrity, honesty, accountability, transparency, environmental end economic stewardship around oil sands development. The stakes are too important for all concerned. Failure is not an option for oil sands development for Albertan. However, failure is an option for government and energy companies if public opinion and perceptions continue to distrust and disbelieve them.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Alberta Government Plays Oil Sands PR Games While Canadian Forest Industries Show Leadership

I have to say the front pages of the Edmonton Journal for the past while have been amazing.  The stuff they are featuring is so much of what I am interested in for public policy and politics.  Some of the stories about the Alberta Minister of Energy telling a Middle East audience that the dead Syncrude ducks is a media event promoted by ENGOS has been astonishing.  He has shown an enormous sense of tone deafness as to what Albertans and the world are seeing happen in terms of how we are developing our vital oil sands resources.

Then the fact that the Premier can't get earned media in the Washington Post newspaper from a Letter to the Editor so he bought advertising space to run the content is telling.  In the Social Media world paid advertising is a necessary part of an y effective communications campaign.  That said, it is also well regarded as the price you pay for being boring. I will read the letter with interest.  Some of the media coverage n the paid ad has been "earned media" and the content has mentioned some vital points but rejection of a Letter to the Editor of one of the most influential newspapers in the USA has to speak volumes about how un-newsworthy they saw the letter from the Premier.

Buy space to run a text message on the Friday before a long weekend in the USA is damage control.  It is not and effective media strategy...but what is new for the $25m of propaganda programing the province perpetrated and cancelled early...again after being caught publishing misleading photographs of Alberta beaches.

Today's front page is reassuring and provocative in that it shows some conservationist, political and industry support to ensure the Canadian Boreal Forest is revered , respected preserved and respected as an intact and extensive ecosystem.  I have much more to say about this later but for now, know that I worked for a few years on establishing a policy for biodiversity offsets in the Boreal forest to mitigate the habitat destruction of the oil sands development.

The forest industry also hired me in 2005 to help them understand what it would take to have them to be seen and valued as the preferred stewards of the public Boreal forest assets. We know that answer now and much is being done by the forest industry to deliver on that brand promise - in very difficult times.

There was a time when the forestry sector was the economic pariahs of corporate social responsibility.  While not everyone in the industry is a stellar performer, many are now.  The oil sands and conventional energy industry need to go to school on how be be worthy of a social license to operate as developers of the public's natural capital.

If we did not have the forestry industry in Canada these days, for purposes of setting a positive corporate social responsibility model, we would want to invent it.  It is not all sweetness and light but the parties are on the right path and energy sector titans would do well to take a lesson from them and learn to be effective stewards and good tenants - not self-serving masters or their own universe.

The energy industry needs to be more concerned about the public interest and quit trying to bully government.  Elections are coming and there is lots of evidence of changes in the air.  Behind closed door deals with lame duck politicians is not a winning strategy to preserve a social license to operate in the public and shareholder interest any more.  Time for real engagement by industry and the public and time to quit the behind the scenes games we see being played now.    

So energy executive, take a forestry company leader to lunch and learn from them.  You need to change your attitude just like they did.