Reboot Alberta

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why Are Alberta's Energy Sector Wages So High?

Alberta has the highest average weekly wages in Canada.  The Oil and Gas employees make twice what average industrial wages are in other sectors.  Here is a link to an ATB top line analysis on these facts.

The last 3 years in the energy sector has relied on a "new normal" mantra about commodity prices being "lower for longer." The more enlightened and revised sector mantra now is "lower forever."  Sure there are those who still believe that oil prices will rebound because "they always have."

Those who believe that the rebound is just around the corner are not adapting to the new reality and trying to hold on waiting for the rebound.  Even if they did rebound, the consequences would be for us to revert back to old wasteful, extravagant expectations, poor and unsafe work conditions and disastrously poor productivity results.

Oil trading at $100+ hide a lot of sins and left the energy sector and its supply chains in construction, manufacturing and logistics with well founded reputation as expensive, poor quality, questionable reliability, rigid attitudes, dangerous safety records and noncompetitive from an international investment perspective.

The dramatic drop ion oil prices from $100+ to around $50 forced cost cutting and recalibrating the commercial relationships between energy customers and suppliers all the way through the system.  Lots of companies with band balance sheets and mediocre management have gone they should in a free market economy.

There were also serious layoffs in the oil sands energy sector developers and operators as new projects were deferred, delayed and abandoned.  This was particularly in the higher paying professional ranks and repeated in very well paid contractors conventional energy service providers.

While supply and services cost have come down throughout the full range of energy sector operators, the much higher than average wages of sector workers has not come down.  New initiatives are underway in progressive companies for improved productivity, adopting innovations and automation, expanding workforce skills and competencies and many more process improvements.

According to the ATB analysis, this seems to mean energy sector wages are staying high, perhaps because of the productivity improvements and innovations, not as many workers are needed any more.  This is a difficult and harsh reality for many previously highly paid but laid-off wage earners.  These less agile, less adaptive, less skilled, and now, a less required part of the emerging workforce, that the KenneyCons propaganda is courting for support.  They are doing this by political messaging and manipulation by blaming their plight on the current government instead of working to help them adapt to the new normal of lower forever.

If these unemployed energy sector workers are waiting for prices to bounce back and presuming they will go back to the same old wasteful unproductive workplace culture of the past, they are likely to to be very disappointed.  Concurrently they may find very little sympathy from other wage earners  in comparable industrial sector jobs who have had flat and stagnant wages for years.  They have not benefited from the booms of the past, and in fact has suffered from them in many ways.

And this doesn't even come close to dealing with the even more severe income gap between the energy sector haves in Alberta and the working poor or struggling middle-class in the rest of the economy who are the have-nots.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Deal With Dark Money PACs Before Any Bye-Election Call

So Mr. Kenney, the leader of the United Conservative Party has a chance to get a seat in the Alberta Legislature through a bye-election, with the retirement of one of his "faithful."  Premier Notley has to set the date within six months of the retirement of the former Member.

Given the questionable integrity track record of Mr Kenney in his PCAA Leadership run, new donor disclosure laws are needed before he gets to seek a seat in the Alberta Legislature.

He has already broken a promise of full disclosure in his PC Leadership campaign financial backers through an American-style Political Action Committee.  These dark-money PAC operations are using a "legislative loophole" in the donor disclosure obligations in the Alberta Elections laws.  As a result we can't trust him not to abuse the same loopholes in a bye-election.

Here is a link to an earlier blog post I did on the background on these danger to democracy dealings through PACs.

Elections Alberta is on it. They want legislated powers to deal with full disclosure of these dark-money political influence and financing operations.

Let's hope Premier Notley tightens up the election laws before calling the bye-election.  We don't have to worry then about who, if anyone, "owns" Mr. Kenney's through anonymous purse strings in backrooms.

If we sit back and do nothing before calling the bye-election, given Mr. Kenney's anonymous dark- money fund raising tactics of the past, we may as well call it a BUY-election.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Closed Nature of the UCP Kenney Party

I've been doing some reading about values and mindsets and applying some of these learnings to political organizations and trends.  In the previous post I spoke about Arrested, Closed and Open mindsets and related them to the Alberta NDP, UCP and Alberta Party respectively.

I want to delve a bit deeper into the characteristics of a Closed organization like the Kenney lead United Conservative Party.  It is essentially a binary mindset.  You are for them or against them.  We saw that with the HarperCons when they framed the debate on a piece of get-tough-on-crime draft legislation of you are either "with the pornographers or against them."

As a Minister in Prime Minister Harper's Cabinet  Mr. Kenney spawned his politically autocratic tendencies and honed his single-minded political focus.  Winning isn't just the best thing, it's the only thing when in pursuit of political power.

There is no flexibility in the Closed organization mindset.  They have difficulty accepting alternative ways of perceiving or different values.  Closed organization, like the HarperCons and now the United Conservative Party, seem to be happiest with then can hunker down and try to make the world fit into what they believe to be the only truth...their truth.

Politically closed operations have tendencies to harbour zealots and extremists who not only reject alternative perspective, they can tend to demonize the "other."  Those who disagree or oppose them are often labelled heretics, fools or idiots.  You see this frequently in Twitter posts of, mostly anonymous, conservative trolls.

Complexity and nuance is rejected in favour of simplistic solutions and group-think leader-driven policy approaches. The default state of mind is  "This is all there is." Fresh ideas and new methodologies are rare . They tend hold fast to what they see as "tried and true" so there is no need to change.

The lack of adaptability or capacity to accept new ideas or changing circumstances is seen as inappropriate because there is only the one way to be.  Countervailing facts, events or circumstances are rejected by the inner circle and the rest follow along willingly accepting the "wisdom" of their leadership.

As a result we can see many UCP partisans as very tribal and absolutist in their thinking while also being differential with strong allegiance to internal authorities and leadership.  Their world is full of threats so they find security in rituals, religion as they pursue power-seeking political goals.  They value loyalty, traditions and like to celebrate their wins especially if they are at the expense of others.

This is not the kind of political culture that will enable Alberta to transition, to an adaptive, inclusive, integrated and progress as a province.  But the UCP could become government easily if progressives choose to stay into their mindset of self-satisfied, comfortable, contented and disengaged from politics.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

What is the Future of Progressive Politics in Alberta?

I posed this question in a blog post last March when Mr. Kenney won the PC leadership.

A lot has happened since then. The PCs and Wildrose have "united" under the leadership of Mr. Kenney.  Former Wildrose leader Brian Jean seems tentative about serving under Mr. Kenney.

The Alberta Liberals and Greens both have new leaders.  And the Alberta Party is in the hunt now for a new leader with the surprising resignation of Greg Clark/

Premier Notley became the Leader of the Alberta NDP three years ago in October 2014, and is now the longest serving party leader in the province,.  She is replacing the recently resigned Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark who became leader way back (sic) in September 2013.

With all this churn where will progressive go in the next election?  They went NDP last time to turf the PCs and because of a well-founded general distrust of the Wildrose on many policy issues.

Will there be a split amongst progressives between the NDP and a refreshed Alberta Party so the UCP comes up the middle to take over and rule Alberta?

Will more women and Millennials show up next time, like they do in non-partisan municipal elections, to help organize campaigns?  Will there be more progressive voters showing up so we get greater political participation and turnout?  Will that expanded progressive participation and voter turn out avoid a disastrous split of progressive votes and ensure the UCP is in third place?

Will the next election be as dramatic as the last one?  Would a minority government be possible?

Who knows?  The reality is the volatility in Alberta politics we have experienced is now dating back to 2006 election that was portending end of the Klein era.  He was kicked out as PC leader at the next AGM of the PCAA. 

Political volatility in Alberta is not over yet...and frankly, we ain't seen nothing yet as we move into perpetual campaign mode two years before the next election.

Can Alberta Conservatives Win in 2019 and Deny Climate Change?

Abacus Data has a new on-line survey of 1534 Canadians randomly selected from a panel of 500,000 Canadians.  They weighted the responses to "match census data to ensure that the sample matched Canada's population" demographics.

Not sure that weighting is reliable or even possible.  The Harper government killed the long form census so we likely don't have a reliable base line to weigh against.  Harper did not want reliable statistical evidence  contradict or undermine his political agenda.

Prime Minister Trudeau's first policy move after being elected was to return the long form census so it may be possible that Abacus Data has those results to "weigh" against.  Are the results using this methodology truly representative of Canadian opinion and values?  I don't know but I have a serious suspicion of on-line panel responses.  Are they anything more than allegedly random samples using questionable sources where certain responses are weighted to induce or deem a representative sample?

That said, lets take a look at what the survey purports to discover in the context of what political policy should be on climate change if a political party wants to be reflective of the will of citizens and victorious at election time.

Abacus says that back in the day "...politicians who chose to be early champions of action to reduce emissions were running a certain amount of political risk."  Carbon emission consequences were not fully formed in the public consciousness.  However, "Today in Canada, the risk equation has changed. the bigger political peril lie in appearing indifferent to a matter of widespread and growing public perception."

If this survey is accurate half of Canadian voters (49%) won't even consider a party or a candidate that doesn't have a plan to combat climate change.   Only 6% prefer a party or a candidate that ignores the issue.

If ignoring the issue of climate change is the same as denying it exists then are Conservatives, including those in Alberta, in trouble next election?  Yup, but only if climate change is an election is a significant enough issue in the minds of voters.  Consider this survey finding.  "The rest (44%) are 'willing to consider' a party that doesn't make the climate a priority."

Abacus' analysis on the 44% says "For Canada's conservative parties and candidates, an optimistic read of these numbers is that the Conservatives cold win without an ambitious plan given that half of the population don't consider this policy a pre-requisite for their support."  They go one to warn Conservatives that ignoring the climate change issues would be "tying on hand behind their backs, leaving them no room for error."

Environmentalism has changed in Canada and is now a "moderate" concern for 78% of Canadians.  Only 11% see themselves as "ardent" environmentalists and another 11% are indifferent.  There are 68% of us how attribute climate change to human and industrial causes, 21% say its just natural phenomenon and 2% are climate change deniers.

Obviously one way to defeat the KenneyCons (a.k.a. the UCP) in Alberta is to elevate climate change action into a ballot box issue.  How might that happen?  Well we need to be sure the voting public understands and appreciates the consequences of inaction or inept half-hearted action on climate change.

That may already be the case given the Abacus survey found 85% of us said "...taking no action on climate change will be severe, very severe, or catastrophic across a wide range of areas..." including agriculture, human health and insurance access, taxpayer costs of rebuilding after disasters to name a few.  The momentum is for action so says 63% versus 37% who want" to do little or nothing" about climate change.

Here's the kicker for inert Conservatives on climate change.  There is an enormous moral responsibility as 91% say taking action on climate change is a duty to future generations.  While 47% believe the damage is already done, we are past the tipping point and there is "...little chance we could  stop climate change at this point."  Contrast that with 87% who feel there is "already lots of evidence we can cut emissions when we try."  And, get this shift, 79% believe "...combating climate change will open up economic opportunities."

So the old-line HarperCons climate change denier stance is no longer tenable as sound political platform.  The environment is not perceived as a trade-off with the economy nor is it a barrier to growth, in fact is is a catalyst for growth, responsible sustainable growth and a competitive advantage. 

Will the KenneyCon UCP base in Alberta, that now is really the same old HarperCon fundamentalist  social conservative crowd, accept this shift in public perception and deny being deniers?  Will a UCP shift to rhetoric on responsible sustainable economic development that stewards the environment be credible to Alberta progressive voters?

I'm betting no to both propositions.  That doesn't mean the UCP loses the next election.  But making the integrated comprehensive mutually positive relationship between the environment and the economy as a major ballot box issue is a great start to defeating Kenney next election, 

If you want to dig deeper into the Abacus survey the link is here...

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Greg Clark Steps Down as Alberta Party Leader

In a surprise move the Alberta Party is in the hunt for a new leader.   With recent consolidation of the uber-right in the UCP there are a lot of free-floating former progressives in the former party of Lougheed who are looking for a home.

The Alberta Party has had a number of false-positive political test results around thwarted floor crossings from the Stelmach government and the Sherman Liberals.  Never able to raise sufficient funds to really be a contender they were able to elect thier Leader Greg Clark in the last provincial election.

Whether he was nudged, pushed or saw a personal obligation to resign to help refresh the Alberta Party through a leadership contest, that is the stuff of pundit and partisan  pontification.  In the real world it matters not.

We have a two-party system at present that sees each other as extremist, be it the "socialist" left or "social conservative" right. The reality is the majority of Alberta voters are in the centre but nobody is really resonating with this progressive majority of Albertans.  The Alberta Party is an unfulfilled potential and the Notley NDP is making moves more towards the centre while the UCP is moving farther to the radical religious right.

The three partisan options potentially to be offered to Albertans can be described as Arrested, Closed or Open.  The NDP was elected as a reaction against the social conservative Wildrose and the self-serving entitled mindset of the PCs.  The political surveys, while fraught with methodological faults, a consensus seems to be forming.

That is a growing perception that the NDP has peaked and further progress is "Arrested" or Stalled. Barriers towards further progress have emerged that need to be overcome. They may lack the insight to perceive or to explain what is happening so that the barriers can be overcome.  Political dissonance on wedge issues may still emerge to help them sustain power and establish them as an authentic and preferred option for change.

The UCP is Closed in that they are psychologically blind to seeing alternatives to their fiscal hawkishness, social conservative base and climate change denier beliefs.  They can't even see their barriers to achieving a broader "big tent" political acceptance, never mind overcome them.   Their internal divisive history makes change difficult.  Their membership is threatened by change and fight to perfect yesterday.  They wish to return Alberta to a Bible-Belt social policy with simplistic economic policy while ignoring environmental concerns.

The Alberta Party is Open to realizing the potential of change as as evidenced by the resignation of its leader.  The Alberta Party has had many barriers to becoming a significant political force but they are aware of them and open to new ways to overcome them.  Recent boost in membership from disenfranchised progressives and centrists and the potential for some serious fundraising show the Alberta Party is able to more more freely to adapt and adjust to the shifting political culture of Alberta.  

They are not locked in the Left versus Right outdated political perception trap.  They are open to accepting individual differences and not locked into habitual patterns of the other conventional parties.  They accept that change is and complex so they are not prone to jumping on the politics-as-usual simplistic bandwagons.  They are more likely to have good listening skills, be accepting of differences and be non-judgmental about various approaches to life.

We may be closer to the next election and to the last one.  So time is of the essence for all parties.  I have no idea what will happen but nothing is guaranteed for any political party in Alberta these days.