Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Revenge of Bill 10

Nation, with (as many as) 4 hours of time in the Legislative Assembly remaining for the introduction, debate, and voting on a Bill 10 that has been rumoured to be a "page one re-write" - not a moment too soon, I might add - it's worth re-examining how we got to this strange place in the Bill's history.

Government Bills pass. Almost always. The only time that Bills put forward by the Government of Alberta don't pass through the Legislature is when they are so fundamentally flawed that even the Cabinet can't support them. Being a Minister responsible for that kind of Bill will probably earn you a "not ready for prime time" label, and a trip to the back benches the next time there's a cabinet shuffle.

In Bill 10, the Tories brought forward a Bill - through a former junior cabinet minister who had been responsible for, among other items, preventing bullying in schools - intended to address the issue of LGBTQ teens being bullied in school. The solution, the government was well-advised, was to make "Gay/Straight Alliances" available to kids. The research was clear that kids with access to the supportive environment of a club in their school where they could be themselves and be surrounded by peers who accepted them were less likely to suffer from depression and less likely to attempt self-harm.

Let's be real, folks: Being a teenager sucks in a lot of important ways. You're oily. Your arms and legs don't really work properly. At least for the first half of your teenage years, you can't drive. You're always hungry. You start to smell funny. Your taste in music goes off the deep end, and your parents mysteriously turn into completely unreasonable and ignorant people (they'll grow out of it when you hit your twenties). For many of us, if you can think back that far, it REALLY sucked. I was a teen in the 90's. Hypercolour shirts were a choice that still haunt much of my generation to this day. Imagine how much worse it would be if the people around you considered you defective, dirty or lesser because of something you didn't choose.

Yes, I know there are people who maintain, despite all evidence to the contrary, that being gay is, in fact, a choice. That's an academic argument that I'm not prepared to have today - my focus isn't on settling the debate around the nature of human sexual identity and attraction. It's about helping kids feel safe at school - which is a more urgent need at the moment.

Now, you may recall that Bill 10 was brought forward by the Government in response to Laurie Blakeman's Bill 202, which would have made it mandatory for schools to allow GSA's when students asked for them.

In a move that can't really be described as anything but crass political gamesmanship, Bill 10 was introduced - because if you're going to do the right thing as a Legislature, you should be able to brag about how it was your government's idea. Bill 10 effectively killed Bill 202, as it dealt with the same issue. When the GSA's were set up, people wouldn't be thanking the Liberal opposition - they'd be thanking the government. And really, what good is a majority if you can't use it to crush your opponents?

The government's Bill 10 added another wrinkle, though: It gave kids a prescribed recourse in the event that a school elected not to allow the requested GSA (Bill 10, unlike Bill 202, didn't make approval of the GSA mandatory - an effort to protect the government from blowback among more socially conservative populations). If a school or school district didn't approve the GSA, the kids could - wait for it - take their school to court. Yep. Hire a lawyer (budget for $300 an hour, minimum - time to add a few more blocks to that paper route!) and put on your best khakis, you're going in front of a judge to hear your school's lawyer talk about why you shouldn't be allowed to form a club with your fellow students.

The outcry was entirely predictable, entirely justified, and entirely avoidable.

In the aftermath, the Wildrose opposition (remember them, from wayyy back in 2014?) tried to amend Bill 10, to no avail. The amendment to the Bill that DID pass was brought in by the government, and took out the provision that allowed kids to take their rejected case for a GSA to court. Instead, the Education Minister would mandate that a GSA had to be set up when kids asked for one - even if the school said no.

Awesome. Except for the small print...

... if the school said "no", the GSA would be set up somewhere off of school grounds.

So if you need the support of your peer group in a safe setting, and your school has decided not to allow you to have the club on school ground, you've got to walk 5 blocks to the YMCA after school, or hop on the bus to go into the closest town. The A/V club gets a space in the school, but you don't.

The justification for this, we were told, was that the government had to show respect for the beliefs of religious schools who were teaching students a certain moral code. It wouldn't do to impose secular beliefs on a religious school if they were contrary to the deeply-held personal beliefs of the school board, the teachers, the parents, or the students.

Riiiiight. Like the science curriculum in Alberta, which clearly states that "the Earth is over 3 Billion years old. Unless you believe it's only 6,000 years old based on your religion's teachings. In which case, please notify your instructor, and we'll accept either answer." 

The reality, of course, is that the science curriculum makes no such allowance for personal belief. You can still believe that the Earth is 6,000 years old if you choose. That's absolutely your right. But if you give that answer on your science diploma exam, you will be marked as giving an incorrect answer.

And here's where the real problem with that most recent incarnation of the Bill asserts itself: We're not talking about curriculum, here. It's not mandatory for all students to JOIN a GSA. It's up to them whether they want to join it. Nobody's forcing your child to do anything. And if no students in the school request one, the government isn't going to force a deeply religious teacher to sit alone in a classroom at lunchtime with a sign overhead in rainbow colours, supervising an empty room just in case a curious student wanders in.

The fear that a VERY small minority of people seems to have is that the presence of a GSA in a religious school will result in proselytizing about the virtues and benefits of the gay lifestyle. That if there's a GSA in the school, some of "those kids" might trick "MY kid" into being "a gay".

I don't really have a pithy remark to add in response to that fear, because I can't operate on that level of stupidity.

What I CAN add, though, is this: Bill 202, and what I HOPE to see in the "new, improved" Bill 10, would neither force your kids to join a GSA, nor force you to accept LGBTQ kids as equal. If you have your mind made up that these are just confused, sinful kids who haven't been raised properly, you have every right to continue thinking that. You can even teach your kids that value, in your own home. Nobody's denying you that. But when your kid goes to school and picks on some other kid (because intolerance in the name of "helping that kid see the light and saving him/her" is something your kid has learned at home), that bullied kid has a place in the school he can go to be supported and feel safe.

Because while you retain the right to be as supportive or as non-supportive of the LGBTQ minority as you want to at home, our publicly-funded institutions do not have that option. The public employee at your local employment office can't refuse service to coloured people because they believe them to be inferior. The public employee who answers your 9-1-1 call can't hang up on you because your last name is of English origin, and they're from Ireland. And the public employees who are entrusted with teaching but moreover with PROTECTING our children for 40 hours every week can't refuse to give kids a place in the school where they can at the very least support each OTHER.

The education minister has given indications in recent days that the changes to Bill 10 will restore what 2 failed attempts have tried to balance with parental or conscience rights for school districts, and that any kid who WANTS a GSA in their school, will GET a GSA in their school. If this is in fact the case, I hope they give Laurie Blakeman a chance to hang her name - or the name of her mother, to whom Bill 202 was dedicated - onto the Bill somehow as it passes into law. Without Blakeman's work on this issue, it's not clear whether it would ever have come up in the Legislature.

What is clear, though, is this: 82.5% of Albertans favour GSA's in public schools. 77.1% favour them in Catholic schools. This is basically as close to consensus as you can get on a social issue that hasn't been codified for generations.

The time has arrived to get on the right side of history with the third attempt at Bill 10. I hope this cabinet and this government do the right thing. And if school trustees have a problem with following a law designed to protect the kids in their care, I encourage them to either stop taking tax dollars to fund their schools, or to step down and run for the board of the local private school.

Because in my Alberta, we don't publicly fund organizations who put theology ahead of protecting children.

The science is settled. GSA's save lives. Now let our kids have them.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Put Your Money Where My Mouth Is...

Nation, back in late 2012 a few of us Alberta political blogger-types threw together a taco eating contest for charity, which we dubbed "#ablegcares". Through the pledges we collected from our respective party supporters, as well as an anonymous donor who matched every donation dollar-for-dollar, we raised in the neighbourhood of $10,000 for Inn From The Cold, a Calgary charity whose mission is "To provide emergency shelter, support and programs to homeless children, their families and others in need, with the goal of building healthy, stable families and ending homelessness."

Well, here we go again.

My friend Shane Byciuk of Calgary Rants has taken up the mantle of organizing the event this year, and he has broadened the scope to include not just politicos of every stripe, but also representatives of Calgary/s non-political social media folk, including my wingman Cory Chapdelaine, podcaster Kevin Olenick, and stomach-with-legs Kyle "the Pancake Breakfast Guy" MacQuarrie.

The food being eaten this year has changed as well, as a reflection of Alberta's rich eastern European history. Our intrepid eaters will be chowing down on... well, there are about a hundred spellings, but I'm going with "pyrogy". If that's at all unclear, they look like this:

(actual pyrogy being consumed may be smaller than the one in the photo)
... and they're delicious. 

Here's where we need your help:

The entire concept of this fundraiser is simplicity itself: You choose an eater to support (might I suggest Joey Oberhoffner?) and pledge an amount per pyrogy (50 cents? A buck or two?) or a flat, straight donation (any amount helps). Challenge your friends to do the same, with the eater of THEIR choice. What makes it fun is that you can toss good-natured jibes at your friends who support other political parties, while watching some of us plow through plates of pyrogy, knowing it's all in good fun and going to a TERRIFIC cause. $600 raised enables Inn From The Cold to provide a meaningful and safe Christmas to a family of four who would otherwise be, literally, out in the cold.


Go to this link, and pledge your support. Check back often, and if you see your eater of choice falling behind, see if you can help them out. Spread the word via social media, too - there are links right on the page. It ultimately doesn't matter which political party wins bragging rights for the year, or which eater gets to take home the coveted "Golden Perogy" trophy (yes, seriously) - all that matters is that we're raising as much money as possible to support families who have next to nothing.

As of press time, pledges to your humble scribe's efforts include $300 straight donation (just for showing up), as well as $31 per pyrogy eaten, which puts me in fourth place behind Marc Doll of the Alberta Party, Vincent St. Pierre of the Alberta Liberals, and Derrick Jacobson of the Wildrose Party. My goal is to sit down next Wednesday night with NO LESS THAN $100 PER PYROGY pledged for my efforts. I know my fellow PC's won't let the cause down.

For details on the event, which is open to all and will be "live tweeted", check out Shane's blog over at Calgary Rants.

Savage, 10-35.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Total Recall

Nation, the Wildrose came out today with a plan to improve accountability and transparency in government. There's a lot of good stuff in there - which I'll leave some of their much-ballyhooed "100 bloggers" to expound upon.

I want to talk about the crown jewel of the proposal, though: Recall Legislation.

Wildrose proposes that they would legislate that if 20% of a constituency's electorate were to sign a petition within a 3-month span, the constituency's MLA would be recalled, forcing a by-election.

This is, to put it plainly, a gawdawful idea, based on a solid principle.

The principle is "the people should be able to fire their MLA if they go off the rails in between elections". It's a good principle. The problem with recall legislation is always "where do you set the bar?". If you set the threshold too high, it will NEVER happen, thus negating any possibility of actually recalling anyone, rendering the law moot. If you set it too LOW,  you can end up in a state of "perpetual recall", where voters unhappy with the result of their most recent election can force by-elections over and over, in perpetuity. Unless you add to the law that a constituency can only do this once in between elections - which takes away the right of the voter to fire their representative mid-term...  and so on and so forth. It becomes a vicious cycle, with each by-election costing over $100,000 in taxpayer dollars.

The Wildrose proposal is that the bar be set at 20% of the eligible voters in a constituency. For most of Alberta, that means a little under 7,000 voters signing the petition. It wouldn't matter how many of the remaining 28,000 voters (on average) were happy or indifferent.

So let's say you just ran a hard campaign in a suburban Edmonton riding, and the winner got 5,000 votes, compared to your candidate's 4,800 and the third-place party's 4,200. You know the party that won spent every dime they had, but you and the third-place finisher still have cash, and a group of hungry and motivated volunteers who believe they can make up the gap. If you can get together with the third-place candidate over a beer and agree that either of you would be better than the jerk who won, you can track down your voters, get them to sign on the dotted line, and send people right back to the polls. In some cases, in a different riding, all you'd need is your OWN voters to sign in order to break that 20% threshold.

Using the 2012 Alberta General Election results as a guide, under the 20% rule, 6 MLA's could have been recalled and forced to step down or run another campaign, based only on the signatures of people who voted for the 2nd-place finisher. This would have been the case in Highwood, where John Barlow's voters could have recalled Danielle Smith the day after the election, were this rule in place. Another FIFTY-FOUR MLA's could have been recalled if a combination of their opponent's voters got together and signed the petition, unhappy with the election's result.

That's 60. Sixty out of Alberta's 87 MLA's could have been recalled, even if they hadn't done anything wrong besides "winning instead of my preferred candidate". And this is just assuming that the old adage "decisions are made by those who show up" holds true, and we're only courting people who cared enough to vote in the General Election for their signatures. If you were to go after non-voters it gets even easier to hit the magic 20% threshold, though non-voters would likely only start to care if the person who won election actually DID start to go off the rails.

I'm a big fan of democratic reform that makes sense. Our elected officials need to be held accountable to the people who elect them, and "once every four years" might have been practical in the horse-and-buggy days, but things move fast in the 21st century. Remember the 77% approval rating Alison Redford got from her own party only a year ago? It'd probably be a little lower these days.

What I DON'T want to see, though, is MLA's so consumed with the fear of being recalled that they're unable to do their jobs. Skipping QP to spend extra time in their constituency because someone with an axe to grind is handing out a petition. Voting exclusively along the lines of popular opinion in their constituency with no regard for the ROB (Rest Of Alberta), because if they support a policy that benefits all Albertans but is locally unpopular they could be out of a job. In a constant state of fundraising, fearing that they need 2 elections worth of money in the bank at any one time just in case.

This is how the American system, with its recalls and Primary races, turns well-intentioned candidates into little more than fundraising machines after the election, taking calls from lobbyists and "issue-focused donors" all day, spitting out votes and speeches designed purely to hold off challenges to their office, rather than focusing on governing in the best interests of all. A party or interest group with 7,000 names on a contact list and bags and bags of money could conceivably tie up an MLA they consider a "problem" for YEARS with repeated recalls, until that MLA either quit out of exhaustion, or ran out of money to fight the by-elections.

Protect whistleblowers? Absolutely. Limit severance and bonuses? For sure. Free votes? Hell yes.

But if every second you're in office you're in fear of losing your seat if you stand your ground on a righteous but locally contentious issue - or, for that matter, just an issue a well-organized lobby group has a vested interest in - how free a vote IS it, really?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Govern Yourselves Accordingly

Just a quick hit as I sit waiting for my oil change today, Nation.

In a little over 80 hours, we will start to get by-election results in Edmonton-Whitemud, Calgary-West, Calgary-Foothills and Calgary-Elbow. 

These last 80 hours are "crunch time". Elections are won and lost in these last 3 days. Senior members of every campaign, and the candidates themselves, pull out all the stops. They forego sleep. They scramble, work every angle, fight for every last vote. As they should.

But a reminder to those campaigns, candidates and parties, that is always valid at this time of year but especially in light of recent events in Quebec and Ottawa:

Brave men and women have died to secure and defend your right to contest these elections, and appear on a ballot. Even during crunch time, ask yourself: "Is this behaviour worthy of their sacrifice? Would they be proud that their sacrifice enabled this campaign?"

I sincerely hope that the answer is "yes". And if you're being honest with yourself, and the answer is "no", it's never too late to turn things around.

It's crunch time.

Govern yourselves accordingly.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Just Win, Baby

Nation, as you're no doubt aware by now, the "silly season" is upon us, with 4 by-elections slated for October 27th, to take place in Edmonton-Whitemud (to replace Dave Hancock), Calgary-West (to replace Ken Hughes), Calgary-Foothills (to replace Len Webber), and Calgary-Elbow (to replace She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named).

If you're wondering what I mean by "silly season", do a hashtag search on twitter for "#ableg". Don't say I didn't warn you.

Much has been made already about how crucial it is to the long-term success of the Prentice PC Government that these by-elections buck the normal trend, and go the governing party's way. So let's talk about that. Jim Prentice is essentially holding a mini-referendum on his "new government" with these by-elections. The only one of the 4 that the PCs can actually afford to lose without major repercussions is Calgary-West.

What do I mean by "major repercussions"?

Consider this: Under our system, it is completely legal to have a cabinet minister who does not sit in the legislature. We've seen it before, and we'll likely see it again. The reason for this is hard to argue: Sometimes, the voters don't pick anyone as a government MLA who is, quite frankly, qualified or ideal to run a certain department in the way the Premier wants it run. A medical degree doesn't automatically qualify you to run a major government department like Health, any more than having ovaries automatically qualifies you to be the minister responsible for Children's Services.

A little side-note, of course, is that it is ALSO perfectly legal in our system - though it hasn't been done, to my memory - to have an OPPOSITION legislator sit in cabinet. Some may recall that this was the suggested outcome of a possible Liberal-NDP federal legislative coalition to bring down the Harper minority government in its early days, with the Liberals said to be taking the bulk of the cabinet seats, but a major front-row seat going to several New Democrats, including their leader at the time, Jack Layton.

In the United States, that great exemplar of all that's right with freedom and democracy, members of the federal cabinet are NEVER elected legislators - if they hold a seat in Congress at the time of their appointment to cabinet, they have to resign that seat. In short, the expectation there - as it should be EVERYWHERE, frankly - is not that the person in charge of the Ministry is "the best choice from among the legislators who successfully won election", but rather "the best person for the job". Democracy still trumps all - if a cabinet member wants to do something and the legislative assembly shoots down the idea, it's not happening.

All that said, though, Prentice is putting himself and his 2 non-MLA cabinet ministers - Gordan Dirks (Education) and Stephen Mandel (Health) - to the electorate in their respective ridings, and asking those voters to give their endorsement. And here's where the peril kicks in for Prentice and his "new government".

If any - ANY - of the "Big 3" don't win their seat on October 27th, Prentice will have no choice but to see that person replaced. Even if that person is himself.

While an non-MLA in a cabinet position has the legal authority to serve in that capacity, once that same cabinet member has gone to the electorate and been rejected by them, it's hard to argue against the notion that they've lost the MORAL authority to continue to serve.

If that happens to Dirks or Mandel, Prentice is going to either have to shuffle his cabinet, or bring in another outsider and - if he wants them to sit in the legislative assembly - go through the uncertainty and hassle of finding them a place to run and rolling the dice on another by-election. This starts being problematic for Henry and Martha Albertan because of the costs involved, not to mention the optics of a government in a perpetual state of construction. It ALSO starts being problematic for the grassroots members of the PC Party, many of whom serve on local Constituency Association Boards, sworn to uphold constitutions that are built around the notion that local members, and nobody else, determine who their PC candidate will be. If someone tries to appoint a candidate against their wishes, then they - and their labour, their years of experience, and their fundraising - might walk away from the table.

If PRENTICE himself fails to win his seat in Calgary-Foothills, I don't see how he can continue to serve as Party Leader and Premier. A rejection by the people of Foothills would throw the PC Party - and the higher functions of government, by extension - into a state of chaos that would make this past spring look like High Tea by comparison. The other parties know it, too, which is why they're going to put everything they've got into Foothills. It's only one quarter of the available seats, but a victory for them there means the ballgame.

Jim Prentice isn't the only leader on a short leash with these by-elections, however. Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party leads in most polls, and as such it's expected that they *should* be capable of winning at least 2 of these seats, if not more. With many voters (erroneously) thinking that a vote for their local Wildrose candidate is a vote for Danielle Smith (it's not), some may be looking to try and "send a message" to the PCs, much like the voters of Calgary-Glenmore did when they elected Paul Hinman in a byelection (only to vote him out at the next opportunity).

Nobody expects Wildrose to realistically win all 4 of these byelections - a Wildrose win in Whitemud would be shocking, even to their staunchest supporters. If Wildrose DOESN'T win at least 2 of these seats though, given their standing in the polls, their successful fundraising efforts, their attempts to moderate the party's image and policies to make it more palatable to progressive urban voters, their status as the Official Opposition, and the fact that the governing party often loses byelections because voters feel free to blacken their eyes without needing to worry about actually changing governments as a result, then Danielle is going to start hearing more earnest whispers within her own party as to whether or not she's got what it takes to bring them over the finish line. If Wildrose doesn't win ANY of the 4 byelections, there's reason to believe you may start to see the type of open insurrection within Wildrose that you saw in the PC ranks earlier this year - MLAs looking for greener pastures, opportunists letting their feet do the talking as they seek out opportunities in a party they think has a better chance to be in power come summer of 2016, party rank-and-file and donors calling for new leadership...

It really is lonely at the top. And for Jim Prentice and Danielle Smith, the stakes couldn't be higher. They know it. Their advisers know it. And their mantras, whispered fervently before they go to bed each night, are exactly the same - inspired by the great philosopher Al Davis:

Just win, baby.

(author's note: this post was edited to correct a factual error kindly pointed out by Timothy Gerwing on Twitter - the Al Davis quote was originally credited by me to John Madden. No offense to Mr. Davis)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

SWOTing the Contenders

Nation: In case you hadn't heard, the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta is electing a new Leader. Despite repeated assertions by journalists and bloggers alike that the Party is in a freefall and destined for imminent destruction (many of the same headlines I recall reading in the spring of 2012, for the record, so at least they're consistent), the reality is that the only thing certain in Alberta politics these days is that the winner of this leadership election will be Alberta's next Premier. For how long, is up to the voters. Or the members of the PC Caucus. Or the Party membership. But I digress.

Over the course of the next week, I'm going to be doing a quick SWOT of the candidates, as they head into the final month of this campaign. SWOT, for those who've never had the pleasure of writing one up, stands for "Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, & Threats". They're pretty much a mandatory thing to do on any political campaign these days, both for the candidate you're running, and that candidates' opponents, in order to figure out what strategies are most likely to get you across the finish line ahead of the others. They can be brutal, as honesty is absolutely key - if you don't mention your candidate's philandering and come up with a way to blunt the damage, your opponents will crush you with it when they discover it (and they will, when they run their own thorough SWOT on your candidate).

I'm not going to go so in-depth with the 3 leadership contenders as to put you all to sleep, and I'm not going to tell any tales out-of-school, because I just don't know the tales - my research budget isn't quite as robust as those of the Opposition parties (I'm working off a $15 Starbucks card). What I hope to give you, though, is at least a taste of what these campaigns have already done internally - and what the Wildrose, Alberta Liberals, NDP, and Alberta Party are doing already (to some extent) and will start doing in earnest once the winner is announced.

Because it bears repeating again - no matter which party you personally support, no matter what the Sun's editorial page says, and no matter what you hear during the "call-in" portion of your local talk radio day-time show... the winner of this race is going to be Alberta's Premier. Whether you like it or you don't like it (blame the Westminster System), it's reality. So we may as well meet the guy who will be steering the next few $40 Billion budgets.

Savage, 10-35

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Be Careful What You Wish For...

"Be careful what you wish for - you just might get it."

These were the prophetic words spoken to me by a friend in the days before I sat down with my fellow members of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta's Board of Directors in a Calgary hotel on the Ides of March, and discussed the metaphorical elephant in the room.

I should back up at this point, and mention - because I don't think I have in this space - that I'm currently serving on the PCAA Board of Directors as the regional director for Calgary South. In that role, I represent the five PC Constituency Associations south of Anderson Road in Calgary to the Party Board - bringing the concerns of those grassroots members to the table for discussion and voting in their interests. Not because I'm some political genius or mastermind - I'm just the guy who put his hand up when they asked for volunteers.

I mention the above only so that I can mention this: The Enlightened Savage remains a blog beholden to no one party, candidate, or set of ideas. This blog is not a promotional tool for the PCs, or for anyone else. It has not been, and WILL not be, a platform trumpeting any particular leadership candidate. I am not a spokesman for the PC Party. Everything I write in this space is a reflection of my own views, which do not necessarily reflect - and are often in stark contrast to - the majority within the PCAA. 

In that same vein, if you're looking for someone to "spill the beans" on what goes on in those meetings, you're going to have to keep looking - because I'm not your guy. It's not that I'm a big fan of secrecy: Far from it, in fact. But I gave my word that things discussed in confidence will remain in confidence, and that's not a promise I'm willing to break. Not because I owe anything to the party, but because I owe it to MYSELF to keep my word when it's given.

Now, ALL that said - this is a space for opinion and analysis. So here's some of both.

Alison Redford resigned as Leader of the PCAA at just about the last possible second that the decision was going to remain hers to make. Facing possible revolts on all fronts, she pulled the parachute cord because she had no other choice. If she hadn't, the revelations that continued to come out in the days and weeks that followed would have resulted in open insurrection within the Party.

It's too soon to judge Redford's legacy as Premier - history will do that in due course. Her government brought in reforms that increased transparency and accountability in government - ironically, some of those same reforms helped hasten her own downfall. She was the Premier of record when the historic agreement between the Province and the Tsuu T'ina was inked to finally, after decades of delays, complete Southwest Calgary's stretch of the ring road. And she received generally positive reviews for her handling of the worst natural disaster in our province's history.

Of course, it wasn't all sunshine and roses. In addition to the scandals that contributed to her resignation, Redford was panned for making up policy on the fly, and was heavily criticized for fostering a sense of patronizing and arrogant governance. She was aloof and confrontational with other legislators and staff, going months without having conversations with her own cabinet ministers. Teachers and members of the public service felt utterly betrayed by the attitude that her government took towards collective bargaining.

But, to quote former PC Leadership contender Ken Hughes: That was then, this is now.

NOW, we've got a leadership race. The third one since 2006. I remember the leadership election of 2006 very clearly: It was the event that gave birth to this blog, when an anonymous twenty-something decided that someone had to fill the vacuum being left by the mainstream media's love affair with the "Jim Dinning/Ted Morton" showdown for the PC Leadership.

In this leadership race, it looks as though there will be three candidates: Thomas Lukaszuk, Ric McIver, and Jim Prentice. So it will be easier to cover than some other races. So easy, in fact, that we might even be able to count on the MSM to cover every candidate.

I'll be covering it, too. I'm not working on anyone's campaign. I'm going to try - like I did in 2006 and again in 2011 - to be an honest broker of information, so that my readers can make up their own minds who - if anyone - has earned their support.

I'm not going to pretend to be super-excited to be covering my third PC leadership race in 8 years, because I'm not.

But considering the alternative - this is better than THAT would have been.

Be careful what you wish for, indeed.

Savage, 10-35.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Nation, it's been an interesting few months to be me, politically-speaking. We'll talk more about that soon - I promise.

What hit my radar yesterday was the news that 53 Alberta Liberal constituency associations - including 2 with sitting MLA's - and 3 Wildrose associations, including that of sitting Little Bow MLA and noogie participant Ian Donovan, missed a mandatory filing deadline with Elections Alberta and were subsequently de-registered.

The partisan "dance of joy" began almost immediately on social media, with opponents (mostly PCs and New Democrats) eager to point out how utterly disorganized and amateurish these associations must be to miss a mandatory deadline from Elections Alberta, and how terribly embarrassing it must be.

Yes, I imagine it is pretty embarrassing. And you should probably shut up now.

The reality is, most constituency associations are run by well-intentioned amateurs. Regular, average people who just want to participate in the democratic process and make their province better. People like me. And you. And your parents. And their neighbours. Most of them aren't experts in board governance. Or accountants. Or lawyers. Or experts in the application of Robert's Rules of Order.

They're just doing the best they can to participate. They're doing the heavy lifting in between elections so you and I can show up on election day and vote for a candidate representing the party of our preference.

And you know what? Those amateurs - US amateurs - make mistakes. None of the associations I'm involved with missed this particular deadline, but that's not because I'm some super-genius backroom political organizer (I'm not). It just as easily COULD have been one of my associations. People miss deadlines. There are things we amateurs just flat-out don't know how to do. And if our central party office doesn't have staff who can help us keep track and get things squared away under the wire - or we don't have the time to figure it out ourselves - deadlines get missed. There might be a chance to criticize a party's paid staff as result of this situation, but even that is like scoring in the 10 point ring on "SkeeBall" - your political drinking buddies might "cheers" your Tweet, but voters don't care, and you just come across as cheap.

At the end of the day, what happened with this deadline could just as easily have happened to any association, anywhere in the province. And going out of your way to make fun of groups of volunteers who are trying their level best, with absolutely no financial return for their efforts whatsoever, is the lowest form of sleazy politics.

It's an embarrassing situation all right. But not for who you THINK should be embarrassed.

Savage: 10-35.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cats and Dogs Living Together

Happy New Year, Nation.

And what better way to start off the new year than with a nomination battle in the freshly-minted federal electoral district association of the Calgary Signal Hill Conservatives?

Signal Hill is a new constituency encompassing much of the current constituency of Calgary West - represented in Parliament since the Spice Girls hit "Wannabe" topped the charts by Rob Anders.

Mr. Anders' CV is readily available elsewhere on the net, and doesn't need to be repeated here.

Anders, 3 short years before being elected to represent the people of Calgary West

The recent announcement of yet another in a long line of "Oust Anders" campaigns was capped off today with the formal entry of Ron Liepert, former Alberta Cabinet Minister, as standard-bearer for the "timetodobetter.ca" movement. The argument put forth by the group is that they support Prime Minister Harper and the Conservative Party of Canada, but want a better representative for their riding than Rob Anders has been.

Anders, as he has successfully done in the past, leapt to the offensive, labeling the group disaffected "Red Tories" and accusing them of trying to sign up Liberals, New Democrats, and "fellow travelers" in an effort - orchestrated by minions of Alberta Premier Alison Redford, herself a former Anders challenger -  to take his job away as retribution for his support of the provincial Wildrose Party.

And for the better part of a week, Anders' strategy worked. Again. The entire conversation focused not on Anders and what he has or has not done for the people he represents, but rather on what a Red Tory was - and whether Ron Liepert was one. Discussions of "red vs. blue" in Alberta don't usually end up well for the person who is unsuccessful in labeling themselves as the blue candidate.

While historical Red Toryism is an entirely different kettle of fish, the reality remains that there is, and always has been, a large contingent of Red Tories in the Conservative Party of Canada. When the party was founded out of the union of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative Parties, many of the former PC's fell into this more socially moderate camp. Nationally, Red Tory has come to mean someone who is fiscally conservative, yet socially liberal. 

Now, different provinces foster different environments for people to identify themselves within, politically speaking. Someone who would be an Alberta PC might find themselves a BC Liberal, or a member of the Saskatchewan Party. Wildrose Party members who moved to Regina would likewise find themselves as SaskParty members with their former Alberta PC foes, but if they moved to BC they might be more comfortable in the BC Conservative Party. It's all a matter of what parties are available to choose from, who's been leading them, and what real estate on the political spectrum they've staked out their claim on.

In Alberta provincial politics, the distinction between "Red Tory" and "Blue Tory" comes down, usually, to 2 things: Their social politics, and their attitude towards short-term debt. Social conservatism and social liberalism are pretty self-explanatory - even in Alberta - so we don't need to beat those to death. A Red Tory, though, might find it acceptable to borrow in the short-term - say, build a badly-needed overpass and pay it back over 5 years - while an Alberta Blue Tory would smack that Red Tory in the face with his framed picture of Ralph Klein and declare that public debt is stealing from future generations.

Detractors of Red Tories in Alberta would tell you that they are "Liberals in blue shirts" - people who, if they had the courage of their convictions, would come out as small-l liberals and accept that they'll never get elected in Alberta. Red Tories, therefore, are liberals who try to sneak their way into government, watering down the "true conservative" nature of the governing PC Party.

Supporters of the Red Tories would point out that policies that have come out of supposed Red Tory governments like those of Peter Lougheed and Alison Redford would be about as far right-wing as anyone in any other province would dare tread as the government. So, Red by Alberta standards, but plenty Blue compared to the rest of the nation.

And herein lies the crux of Anders' argument: He's trying to paint Ron Liepert as being a Red Tory, because:
  • Ron Liepert was a provincial PC and was in cabinet under Alison Redford, and
  • Ron Liepert broke the First Commandment of Alberta politics and talked in public about a sales tax, and
  • Ron Liepert is socially to the left of Rob Anders.

Are all of the above things true? Sure they are. Liepert WAS in Cabinet under Redford - then again, so was Ted Morton, and Anders supported Morton for the PC Leadership. Liepert DID talk about a provincial sales tax. As a means of reducing the provincial Income Tax, so that people would be taxed on what they consume rather than being punished for their productivity - it's one of the fundamental principles of fiscal conservatism. And Liepert IS to the left of Rob Anders. Along with Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, and the vast majority of Canadians.

But is Liepert a Red Tory?

No. No, he's not. He's about as Blue as you can get before you enter the "Anders Zone" - and that's pretty blue. Think "#0B0B3B".

Is Liepert a recent addition to the Conservative movement?

No. He started working for Peter Lougheed in 1980, when Anders was 8 years old.

Does the Red Tory/Blue Tory thing MATTER?

No, it doesn't. Political parties are the creation of their members. As such, they shift politically - sometimes slowly, and sometimes quickly. Old members leave. New members join. Members switch from one party to another, based on this issue or that issue. Many of the members of the Reform Party started off as federal PCs, before leaving that party. When they left they took their voices and viewpoints with them, and the party shifted to the left. By the time the descendant Canadian Alliance and the federal PCs merged, there wasn't much uniting the parties in common purpose except for the belief that debt was to be avoided if possible, and that they needed to come back together if they ever wanted to be able to defeat the Liberals, who had been handily winning majority governments for the past decade.

So they came together. They took away the Liberal majority government, and reduced it to a minority government. And then they won a minority government themselves. And then another. And finally a majority, in 2011. 

In the end, what we have on the right side on the spectrum in Canada is a monolithic, HUGE-tent party, called the Conservative Party of Canada. There are social moderates, and social conservatives. People who believe in a woman's right to choose, and people who believe life begins at conception. People who believe that short-term debt is acceptable, and people who will fight you if you suggest they pay for dinner with a credit card rather than cash. 

In much of the west, including most of Alberta, securing a nomination for the CPC all but guarantees a seat as an MP. What we're seeing in Calgary Signal Hill isn't an effort by a carpet-bagger to swoop in to the riding and steal the seat away from a popular incumbent. It's democracy in action - a new riding, requiring a new nominee for the party. Party members will decide who that nominee will be. And it very well may be that Anders overcomes this challenge, as he has so many times before. But every citizen in Calgary Signal Hill is entitled to join whatever political party they choose, no matter what Rob, or you, or I, think about it. There's no blood test that proves conservatism, and - contrary to Anders' argument, you CAN be a conservative, and support Stephen Harper, and STILL not support Rob Anders.

At the end of the day, the people decide.

Red or Blue, it doesn't matter. After all: We're just one big, happy Conservative Family...


Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Up To You, Calgary... #yycvote

Nation, in about 12 hours, this day is going to get pretty dark.

A lot of good people, who poured their hearts and passions into this municipal election campaign, will see themselves looking at the wrong end of a result. These people - who I believe want very much to make Calgary a better place - are going to be crushed. Trust me: I know a little bit about it. They have my sincere sympathies, and my thanks today for having the courage to step forward in the first place.

And yet, I do not despair. Because for all the good people who will NOT see their dreams of elected office come to fruition tonight, there will be 29 who DO (in fairness, 2 have already been acclaimed in the Calgary Catholic school board race).

I'm not going to say that I'll agree with the decisions they all make. I remain singularly unimpressed with the unwillingness of the CBE's elected trustees, with the exception of a small few, to embrace the idea that greater oversight needs to be exercised to ensure students are being given every opportunity to succeed. Likewise, I find some of the social engineering brainstorms to come from City Hall to be unnecessary uses of my tax dollars.

But here's the thing: This is a democracy. I don't HAVE to like who everyone else votes for. I don't have to quietly accept what these governing bodies look like - nor do I intend to - but, I have faith in my fellow citizens to make the right choice for themselves, and for all of us... whether or not it's the choice I would have made.

MY track record of making important decisions, after all, is far from perfect. I've made some poor choices in the past. If we're being fair, I think it's safe to say we ALL have. Luckily, not all of them have ended up running the city.

So here's my plea to you: Get informed. If you haven't already done so, check out your Ward Profiles or candidate interviews on CalgaryPolitics.com. Look up your candidate information of CalgaryDemocracy.ca. Read the blogs. Read the papers. Read the websites. Take in that information, and don't let anyone else tell you how to vote. Don't trust any site that gives the candidates a "grade" - that's YOUR job. Go to the polls, and make your choice. That's how the system works. That's the ONLY way the system works.

It's up to you, Calgary.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tip Of The Hat, Wag Of The Finger...

Nation, I've spent a LOT of time over the past months sitting quietly, just... observing.

I have been astonished, inspired, and disgusted by some of the reactions I saw to recent events in this province and elsewhere. Let's take a walk down memory lane, shall we?


Calgary to Mother Nature: "You're Not The Boss Of Us!". Calgarians come together - friends, neighbours, and total strangers - and rebuild neighbourhoods. Take a breather and grab a few longnecks for the Stampede that no one thought could be pulled off. And then throw the rubber boots right back on and get back to work. I love this town.

Politicians (mostly) Hammer Their Swords Into Plowshares. In the aftermath of the Flood of 2013, most politicians of every stripe put their partisanship on the back burner, and come together to try and help the people whose lives were turned upside down. Those who try to score points are almost universally derided.

Drunk Driving Deaths Decrease. The province attributes the reduction to new provincial legislation. Critics suggest fuzzy math or random chance is responsible. Either way, fewer people are dying as a result of drinking & driving. And that's a GOOD thing.


If It Bleeds, It Leads. Faced with an overwhelming number of "good news stories" to cover coming out of the floods, some media outlets go out of their way to find tragic stories - or try to manufacture outrage.

Darwin's Law Cannot Be Invoked in Calgary. Left with little he's allowed to say on family-friendly airwaves to describe people trying to recreate on rivers that are clearly deathtraps, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi leaves the descriptions to our collective imagination, giving birth to the Twitter meme "Nenshi's Nouns".

The Edmonton Eskimos Football Club. Just because. Come on, fellas - get it together.

I'm going to be writing a lot more in the coming weeks and months, though things are going to take a decidedly municipal slant in the next while, with Election Day less than 3 months away. Keep an eye on this space - and on the juggernaut of the blogosphere, CalgaryPolitics.com - for all your Calgary Municipal Election coverage. The Mainstream Media is cutting jobs, but CP has actually EXPANDED this year, with more writers than ever providing news, commentary and opinion (from EVERY angle and spot on the political spectrum!) to help you familiarize yourself with your options ahead of October 21st.

Remember: Every vote counts, and the mission at CalgaryPolitics is to make sure every vote can be an INFORMED one.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

You say "tow-MAY-tow", I say "tow-MAH-tow"...

Never a shortage of things to talk about, is there, Nation?

Just a shortage of time in which to do so.

  • Health Care has been a big topic of discussion in Alberta as of late (yes, bigger than usual), with the announcement (re-announcement? re-re-re-announcement?) of 24 locations for Family Care Clinics to be set up...  eventually. I'm sure there will be an announcement.
  • Cuts to programming for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (or "PDD", for people who prefer to frame those cuts as attacks against the people rather than programs) have drawn a lot of ire from opposition politicians looking to draw media attention during the dry summer months.
  • Fred Horne went all "Chuck Norris" on the board of Alberta Health for their refusal to follow his instructions regarding pay-out of contractual bonuses to non-union executives. Critics have decried this as political interference in the management of the system. My father would call it a study in "the Golden Rule": He who controls the gold, makes the rules. And since it's MY gold - and yours - I'm glad someone is finally showing a willingness to say "No. Health - you've had enough cookies. No more. You'll spoil your dinner."

The last Health Care-related bit I wanted to touch on today is the insane argument I'm hearing about whether certain services should be delivered by not-for-profit entities, for-profit corporations, local organizations, out-of-province outfits... you know the one I mean.

Are we seriously debating this?

The service should be provided by the organization that can provide the best service with the greatest value to taxpayers. All stop.

To borrow a phrase from the late Ralph Klein, I don't give a tinker's damn if it's the local Shriners club or a giant health care company with headquarters in Chicoutimi or Cincinnati... can they provide the service, and can they provide value for our tax dollars?

It's that simple.

The front-line staff - the people on the ground, providing service - live in Alberta. Nobody's driving from Kelowna to Calgary every morning to work as a nurse. So the argument about keeping tax dollars in Alberta is a red herring - the people getting paychecks to perform these tasks DO live here. Beyond which, it's also a complete and utter distraction from what the real issue should be: Are people getting the quality health care they need, as quickly as is feasible? I don't care if the money goes to Drayton Valley or Abu Dhabi... the health system isn't a wealth distribution mechanism. It's a system built to provide medical services to the people of Alberta. Where the money goes is so secondary a concern as to be laughable.

I understand that people are concerned about their jobs, and the jobs of their loved ones. I would be too. But as a province, we have to accept that the health care system is broken. The days of it swallowing up every job even remotely related to health provision and making it a full-time, salaried government position are long past.

Can you provide the service, and can you do so in a cost-effective way, respecting that every dollar spent is a dollar that belongs to the people of Alberta?

If your answer to both questions is "yes", I couldn't care less what area code your CEO's business card has on it.

Let's get to work.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


As news first trickled in, and then came as a torrent, about the bombings in Boston yesterday, my thoughts naturally turned to the morning of September 11th.

Not to the horror of those minutes and hours. And not to the feelings of fear or helplessness that I felt on that day as I watched my nice, safe, innocent naïveté disappear in clouds of fire, smoke and dust.

No, my thoughts yesterday turned to the people of the greater Boston area. In the aftermath of September 11th, the whole world saw the resilience of the people of New York as they dug out from the rubble and reclaimed their way of life. They heard the inspirational stories of New York's Finest, and New York's Bravest, and thousands of New Yorkers pulling together to make it through the dark days that followed the attacks.

One of the most touching things about that recovery was, to me, the way the people of Boston reached out and threw everything they had into helping their New York cousins. The rivalry between New York and Boston is legendary - but when New York most needed help, it was the people of Boston who jumped to their aid, without question or hesitation. "The Yankees still suck. What do you need?"

The men and women of Boston and of Massachusetts are the descendants of people who looked down the barrel of the greatest military power in the world and said "Bring it on, you're not holding us down." They took up arms against the imperial might of Great Britain, led a revolution, and won their freedom.

Cowards with gym bags and pressure cookers full of shrapnel can't hold down the people of Boston. The full weight of King George's army couldn't keep them down - and neither will this.

They'll stand up, and will keep fighting. Boston always does. They don't know how to quit, and they never have.

EDIT, 4 pm: The New York Yankees posted this photo of Yankee Stadium on Facebook earlier. Clearly, the people of New York remember how Boston helped them in their hour of need better than I. That's family: You don't always like each other, and you fight like hell - but you're still family.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The MacKinnon/Dial Exchange

Nation, every so often as you're surfing through the ether of social networking, you stumble across proof that it is possible to disagree about an issue without coming to blows, putting together a snotty inforgraphic or proving Godwin's Law.

This was the case for me a few weeks ago, when I saw an exchange between two University of Calgary 3rd-year Law students on Facebook regarding the Idle No More movement.

Now, I'm still working through my feelings on the movement as a whole. What's making it harder for me is the notion pushed by a small but strident segment of the activists that, as a Canadian of European descent, I am to be referred to as a "settler", and if I levy any criticism towards the movement or its leaders or tactics, I'm automatically therefore (at best) ignorant of my own racial prejudices, or (at worst) a closeted racist.

As I said, though, the morons advocating those extreme positions are but a small segment of the movement as a whole, so I'm trying not to judge their entire enterprise based on the loony-tunes opinions of a few. :)

This is the exchange between Alastair MacKinnon and Josh Dial, with notations and links to same by a fellow 3rd-year Law student. MacKinnon is, by the way, the Law School Debate Champion as of a few days ago. But I could still TOTALLY take him. ;)

MacKinnon/Dial, notations by MO, begins now.


MO: Alastair posted this link, which sparked his debate with Josh Dial.

JD: Virtually everything in the article regarding consultation is complete nonsense, and has no basis in law, despite what Professor McNeil thinks.

The Crown is not the legislative branch, despite what many think. The legislature has the power to make and unmake laws as it chooses. On this point, Hogg says, "there are no limits to legislative power; there is no fundamental law which cannot be altered by ordinary parliamentary action."

In [Re:Anti-Inflation Act, [1976] 2 SCR 373], Chief Justice Laskin wrote that "[t]he answer to this submission is simple, and it is an answer that has been consistently given by the Courts, namely, that the wisdom or expendiency or likely success of a particular policy expressed in legislation is not subject to judicial review. Hence, it is not for the Court to say in this case that because the means adopted to realize a desirable end, i.e., the containment and reduction of inflation in Canada, may not be effectual, those means are beyond the legislative power of Parliament."

Of course, Parliament and legislatures are constrained by a number of factors, including federalism, the constitutional amending process, the Charter, and Aboriginal rights under s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. However, the duty to consult is not a right, but a duty.

If the Bill's effects lead to situations where the Crown fails to discharge its duty to consult, then Aboriginal groups will have an action. However, Parliament owes no such duty of consultation when drafting or proposing or voting on the legislation itself, and therefore Aboriginal groups have no justified claim in that regard. Even if the Bill specifically targeted the duty of consultation, there would still be no claim on that ground--the government would instead have to justify (and fail) the legislation as per Sparrow.

Is Parliament now to consult on every bill? Clearly things like criminal and tax legislation will have specific implications for Aboriginals.

AM: It’s a little overzealous to say that there is no basis in law... unless of course you think that decisions of the [Supreme Court of Canada (SCC)] interpreting the constitution with respect to Aboriginal rights does not amount to law... then I suppose you might be correct. But so long as we are still in a common law system, I should think that the SCC pronouncements on Aboriginal rights are binding legal authority.

There needs to be a distinction drawn between the sovereign powers of parliament to pass bills and the Crown's duty to consult. In my reading of the blog post, there is no suggestion that it was beyond Parliament's power to pass Bill C-45. Indeed there can be no doubt that Bill C-45 followed the proper legislative process to become a law in this land. The argument is that, notwithstanding that proper legislative procedure was followed, the outcome may not be constitutionally valid. In this respect, it is no different than when Parliament passes a law that violates the Charter and is subsequently struck down. The fact that a bill gets three readings in both houses does not magically turn a substantively unconstitutional law in to a constitutionally valid one.

Furthermore, the fact that bill goes through the proper legislative process does not absolve the Crown of its duty to consult. Let’s pause for a moment and remember our Hofheld: we will all recall that the correlative to a Duty is… that’s correct… a Right! If the Crown has a duty to consult, it’s because Aboriginals have a right to be consulted. It cannot be ignored that Bill C-45 was moved by Ministers of the Crown. Also, legislative enactments are acts of the Crown; the preamble of every Act reads... " Her Majesty, by and with the consent of...." and of course we are all familiar with the requirement of a Bill to receive royal assent before it becomes a law. While each Member of Parliament may not be an agent of the Crown, the outcome of the legislative process is an Act of the Crown. Parliament may pass bills without affording the Crown an opportunity to consult, but it doesn't mean that the duty disappears after Parliament has acted, nor that there are no consequences on the validity of Parliaments act as a result of the failure.

So to conclude, the quarrel does not appear to me to be between Parliament and First Nations, but between the Crown and First Nations. Because the Crown chose not to consult, and because Parliament chose to pass the bill anyways, Parliament's action may be struck down as a result of the Crown's failure. This is not unjust, or undemocratic; it is a function of constitutionalism, and the requirement that when government's act they do so in compliance with their constitutional obligations.

JD: I am in complete agreement with you on your second paragraph (which is why I confined my post to consultation). I'm pretty sure I made the necessary concessions to the constraints of law-making in my post.

However, the fact that legislation is assented to by [Her Royal Highness (HRH)], contains magical words, and may be moved by Ministers (who are the Crown) does not make legislation an action contemplated by and captured by the duty to consult. Elected members of the lower house are not the Crown (I would hasten to add that HRH and "the Crown" are not always the same thing-- it's a very fine distinction, but it's there). Members of Parliament may table, vote, defeat, and pass whatever legislation they choose, without the requirement to consult Aboriginals as to the content or effects of the legislation. Parliament's Members don't have to consult anyone else when they pass legislation-- they'll live or die at the polling station later. Why should they have to specifically consult with Aboriginals?

*Implementing* legislation will most certainly attract the duty to consult. *Drafting* and *passing* legislation does not.

Again I would ask: must Parliament consult with every Aboriginal band in all of Canada, when it wishes to pass an act potentially affecting them, such as an act regarding criminal law or taxation? If the effects would be large, is more than mere notice required? Is deep consultation?

What about appropriations bills? Must Parliament consult for every budget now if it affects an Aboriginal or treaty right (which they surely could)?

If a bill is scheduled for a vote, and no consultation has occurred or is likely to occur, can an Aboriginal group seek an injunction prohibiting the vote or rendering it ineffective?

See also R v Lefthand, 2007 ABCA 206 (leave to SCC denied), where the Court said, at para 38, "There can however be no duty to consult prior to the passage of legislation, even where aboriginal rights will be affected..."

Also at para 38: "[i]t would be an unwarranted interference with the proper functioning of the House of Commons and the Provincial Legislatures to require that they engage in any particular processes prior to the passage of legislation. The same is true of the passage of regulations and Orders in Council by the appropriate Executive Council. Enactments must stand or fall based on their compliance with the constitution, not based on the processes used to enact them."

AM: The problem isn't that parliament passed the bill, it’s that the Crown failed to consult when it proposed action which it knew would impact on actual and claimed aboriginal rights. I concede that Parliament is free to pass any bill, at any time, for any reason(s) it sees fit. But if the agents of the Crown (i.e. ministers) should have consulted and failed to do so, and parliament chooses to pass the legislation nonetheless, then Parliament takes the risk that their legislation will subsequently be struck down on judicial review. I take your point that there is a distinction to be made between passing legislation and implementing legislation. There cannot, I should think, be any constraint on the former, while there can undoubtedly be limits placed on the later.

While the House of Commons as an institution may not have the duty to itself undertake the consultations, such consultations may nevertheless be a constitutional pre-requisite. It’s trite to say that Parliament must comply with the constitution when passing laws; if it fails to abide by the constitution -- be it for jurisdictional reasons, non-compliance with the Charter, or passing legislation which will in consequence result in a violation of aboriginal rights protected by the constitution -- then it does so at its own peril. I think the issue that that the Idle No More movement takes with Bill C-45 is not that parliament exercised its legislative sovereignty to pass a Bill, but that failure to consult when the implementation can have foreseeable consequences on Aboriginal rights will not allow for any sort of meaningful consultation and accommodation when the changes are presented as a fait-accompli.

I was not previously aware of the Lefthand decision, but I would note that in para 37, the [Alberta Court of Appeal (ABCA)] says that the duty to consult is still "being hammered out on the anvils of justice." Admittedly, Lefthand appears to stands as an authority against the position that I would advocate and the position that the Idle No More movement would argue. But one decision from the ABCA hardly settles the matter, and all that can be inferred from the leave application being denied is that the SCC chose not to hear the appeal. It is at least arguable that the duty to consult should be extended to situations like Bill C-45, and there is sound legal authority upon which to make such arguments. Whether the arguments will prevail at the end of the day or not I do not know, and there can be valid debate about whether Idle No More ought to succeed.

JD: I think you are giving the Idle movement more credit than it is due, honestly--indeed your fait-accompli statement is probably more nuanced than the actual position

Every single release/petition/letter I've read (I think I'm up to about thirty, now) specifically mentions how the government (always says government, and not Crown) owes a duty to consult and accommodate (says accommodate, not "where necessary, accommodate") when it wrote, voted on, and passed the bill. Full stop.

In my opinion, if Aboriginal groups want to argue that by passing specific legislation, Parliament has effectively pre-empted effective consultation (or otherwise prevented it from occurring), they will have an action when there is a prima facie case of failure to discharge the duty (or when the legislation runs afoul of the Sparrow test, etc). If the legislation is indeed so bad, then it ought to be a very easy case to make!

In effect, if Parliament wants to make it even easier to be found in breach of the duty to consult, then it can do so, to its own detriment. I'm more than happy to cast my vote against an MP who insists on voting for such bills.

Lefthand is correct that the duty is still being hammered out, and to that end, the Aboriginal groups certainly have a right to test the law and make it do work for them. However, I stand by my view that as regards the consultation question, they are wrong both in law and policy (see my questions above for the policy implications).

Good debate though, sir! Always entertaining!

AM: Indeed, its always a pleasure!


So, what say you, Nation? Are you with Josh, who puts forth that the Idle No More assertion that no consultation on C-45 makes it invalid is, in fact, incorrect? Or do you agree with Alastair, that the failure to consult at the legislative stage impacts the ability of First Nations to be consulted during implementation?

Or, can we all just agree that Omnibus bills are fundamentally undemocratic, and lead inevitably to pork barrel spending and legislative takeovers by Special Interests, like we see in the legislatures of our friends to the South? ;)

Argue the Law, not the politics, s'il vous plait.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

#ABLegCares... it really, really does.

Oh, what a night.

Politicos, tweeps, MLA's, and just general decent folks from all over the place pledged $4,851 last night. The anonymous donor that Shane had rounded up committed to doubling that number, bringing the total donation to Inn From The Cold up to $9,702. Add all of the items that Shane has received as donations from across the political spectrum during December, and you get more than $10,000.

Nights like last night are why I fell in love with politics in the first place.

We had a New Democrat, a Liberal, an Alberta Party member, a PC, and a Wildroser sitting down together, committing gastronomical atrocities together in the name of charity. We worked TOGETHER, and in one night raised almost $10,000 for Calgarians in need. Truly a Christmas miracle.

For those of you keeping score, or who pledged and want to know what you're on the hook for, here was the final damage:

  1. Vincent St Pierre (Alberta Liberals) - 24 tacos (yes, seriously) 
  2. Joey Oberhoffner (Progressive Conservatives) - 15 tacos (14 hours later, I still have no interest in eating)
  3. Derrick Jacobson (Wildrose) - 41 chicken wings (at 3 wings/taco, we'll round up to 14 tacos)
  4. Marc Doll (Alberta Party) - 13 tacos (at $100 in pledges PER TACO)
  5. Stephen D. Anderson (NDP) - 10 tacos (before driving back to Edmonton)

You can make your donations directly to Inn From The Cold, through this link and clicking on "Donate Now".

The largest donations came from supporters of Derrick, the Wildrose representative, who raised $1,680. Of course, it's never too late to pledge, so if you want to make a donation through the link above, PLEASE do!

The real winner here, of course, is Inn From The Cold.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my fellow eaters, who spent much of yesterday haranguing their personal contacts into pledging for this enterprise, which really only took solid form in my mind at around 9:30 on Tuesday night. You put your stomachs on the line for a good cause, gentlemen - thank you!

Also, big props to our official Tweeters, Kirk Schmidt and Patty MacLeod. They were keeping track of funds raised on a taco-by-taco basis, and keeping the eaters motivated. We were the number one trending topic on Twitter in Calgary for much of the night.

Another big thank-you to the Blind Monk Pub, which was extremely accommodating for us. The service and food are top notch, and we truly appreciate their support in making this thing come together the way it did.

And most importantly, a huge thank-you to YOU: The donors. Those who pledged your hard-earned money, less than a week before Christmas, and helped support a fantastic local charity. You're the real heroes of last night - and you've most definitely made Santa's "Nice" list this year.

After Christmas, we can pick up the swords again. That's politics.

But as you spend the holidays with friends and loved ones, know that by coming together as a community of passionate civic-minded citizens and friendly rivals, you all did something amazing last night.

I'm honoured to know you.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put Your Money Where My Mouth Is

(edited to reflect new participants)

Politics is ugly. It's ugly, and it's nasty, and it's dirty.

But it can also be a noble and uplifting pursuit, when the right people are involved.

With the Christmas season upon us, I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to put the weight of our weekly pan-partisan Politweet events in Calgary behind something uplifting in time for the holidays. We certainly have a great time and learn a lot by putting away our swords and commiserating as real PEOPLE instead of as faceless partisan avatars retweeting our respective caucus communications trolls... but how do we do something that makes a real difference for someone who needs a hand up?

So here's what we're going to do...

My friend Shane over at Calgary Rants has been working this December to help raise funds and donations of items for the great charity Inn From The Cold. During the course of this process, he has also received a commitment from an anonymous benefactor that all donations will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $5,000. This would make a HUGE difference to the people who need to services that Inn From The Cold offers, especially at this time of year. And we're going to help.

At the Blind Monk (918, 12th Avenue SW) on Wednesday night, Kent Hehr is hosting his regular Pints and Politics night. And at 8:00 pm, taking advantage of the fact that at least 60 politicos, if not more, will be in attendance, we are going to have ourselves a chow-a-thon. Partisans and politically involved folks from all over the province can pledge their support to any one of our designated eaters - some will be downing chicken wings, while some - myself included - will be taking advantage of "South of the Border Wednesdays" at the Monk, and will be crushing tacos instead. In the end, though, it makes no difference: While we're competing for bragging rights for our respective parties, the important thing is that every wing or taco that gets eaten will be raising money - through your pledges - for Inn From The Cold.

We're going to try and get at least one "designated eater" to represent each provincial party, if you define your support as a partisan enterprise. Pledges can be made in the comments section of this post, on Twitter using the hashtag "#ablegcares", or in person at the Monk. Each eater will collect the pledges they earn, and pass them on to Shane to be matched by the anonymous donor.

Thus far, we have the following confirmed eaters - always room for more! Just email me at joey (at) dulcetmelodies (dot) ca to be added to this list! (Eaters will be picking up their own tab, unless someone volunteers to do it for them):

  • Derrick Jacobson (@AlbertaAltruist) - Representing the Wildrose Party. Will be eating wings.
  • Joey Oberhoffner (@oberhoffner) - Representing the Progressive Conservative Party. Tacos.
  • Vincent St Pierre (@vsp) - Representing the Alberta Liberals. Tacos.
  • Marc Doll (@dollhouseyyc) - Representing the Alberta Party. Tacos.

The object here, folks, is to RAISE MONEY THROUGH PLEDGES for Inn From The Cold. While we'll appreciate any cheerleading you can do in person or via Twitter, as well, we're only actually doing any good if you can pledge. Retweet the HECK out of this post, even if you normally disagree with 99% of what I post. There's already a commitment from Jane and Cory Morgan of $2 per wing eaten by Derrick. Surely, my PC friends can do better than that? We're not going to let the far right walk away with this thing, are we? ;)

And not to talk too much trash, here, but I'm going to win this thing. It's going to be April 23rd all over again. Don't believe the polls - I was BORN for this kind of a contest. So if you're looking at making a huge difference in the lives of some of Calgary's less fortunate this Christmas, pledge at least $2 per taco on Joey Oberhoffner's plate. I won't let you down. ;)

Come on, #ableg. Let's show everyone that when the rubber hits the road, we can do more than TALK about how to make things better. Put your money where our mouths are.

UPDATE 1: Where are you, NDP? Alberta Greens? Derrick has confirmed pledges of at least $3.75 per chicken wing. I'm sitting at $4 per taco - but even a skinny guy like Derrick can eat a lot more chicken wings than tacos. I'm going to need some more pledges to defend the honour of the PC Party. Of course, if more PC's want to EAT and raise pledges themselves, that's fine too - Inn From The Cold can use all the help we can offer!

UPDATE 2: Still waiting for the NDP and Greens to get in on the action. The pledges continue to roll in, with Marc Doll having wrangled FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS to Inn From The Cold for every taco he eats tonight.  My fellow PCs, we are getting CRUSHED in the pledge department - I'm going to have to out-eat Marc 3-to-1 just to keep pace! Open your hearts and your wallets - it's Christmas, after all!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To Merge or Not To Merge? - Guest post by Marc Doll

Note: The following is a guest post written by well-known Calgary politico, realtor, and Bishop Grandin graduate Marc Doll. We don't agree on everything, but we do agree on most things, including the evils of blind partisanship. His text begins... now. - ES

[content edited at author's request - 10:45 am, Dec. 13]

To merge or not to merge... that is not the question.

Based on the Math that may very well be the question but math in human affairs rarely adds up. In my mind the question is to be a Partisan or not to be a Partisan.

Partisanship is the cancer of today's politics.

Partisanship leads to laziness from political Parties. People who vote for or support one particular party regardless of the candidate, or shifting ideas or ideals of the party leads to most of the problems in our political system.

Would Harper have run Crockatt in Calgary Centre if he didn't rely on the blind partisanship of a significant portion of the electorate? Would he have sent his cronies out to ensure the candidate that best reflected his position instead over the general consensus of the centrist Calgary Centre was chosen?

At the moment neither the NDP, Liberalberta or the Alberta Party have put forward a strong enough position or unifying candidate to earn the vote of the forward thinking in Alberta.

So long as we put Party before all else, this will never happen.

It is my argument that those who identify themselves as Liberal, NDP, Conservative etc. are the source of the problem of a disjointed "left". They stifle discussion and do everything in their power to ensure other the other "teams", especially those relatively close to themselves on the spectrum gain no purchase. For decades the NDP has run harder against the Liberals than they did against the Conservative. The reverse can also be said to be true.

It's time we burn our banners and demand that the Parties earn our vote.

Naheed's election was our first taste of this post partisan world. Since Naheed, unlike Higgins and McIvor, did not cling or self-identify with any political brand he challenged us to do the same. He has proven by his 80% + approval rating that there is a large consensus in the centre in a post partisan world.

It is our flags and not our vision of Calgary, Alberta or Canada that divides us.

I believe there is a way to work within Partisan Politics to achieve a post partisan unified reality. The Alberta Party is an attempt to do this but to date it has not attracted the central unifying voice nor the right policy balance to be able to accomplish this. It is my hope that if any of the forward the forward thinking Parties are able to do this, we will be forward thinking enough to put down our Flags and look for consensus in the ballot box.

The Liberal President's letter that has spurred this current conversation is the manifestation of the aforementioned cancer. Defending the reinforcement of silo's and the reinforcement of walls and divisions does nothing but feed this cancer.

I'm sorry that a 22 year old blogger is fed up with this conversation. Some of us have been fighting for this post partisan conversation for longer than this blogger has been alive and will continue to do so until it comes to fruition.

There is no other path forward. 100 years of Liberal and to a lesser historical extent NDP electoral failure and bickering are the proof of this unfortunate reality.

The army of forward thinking engaged volunteers that was assembled under Nenshi and forged under Turner (and I could be convinced under Harvey) is in my view a possible game changer. For the first time in my life, I feel that there is a chance for people I generally agree with, to not only influence but decide elections in this once monolithic Conservative bastion that is Calgary. The upcoming Municipal election is a fantastic time to prove this thesis. If this army is able to identify and coalesce around 2 or 3 strong forward thinking candidates we can completely alter the composition of Council.

If we vote for or work for the candidates who self-identify under our "chosen banner" we will ensure that the DiCu's, Demongs, Hodges' etc. etc. will continue to hold our city back from where it needs to go.

The choice is ours. Partisanship or a coalition of the forward thinking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr. Strangevote or: How I learned to stop surfing and love the paper ballot

(Guest Post by Kirk Schmidt)

TeH Interwebz are all the rage these days. The kids use the twitter. The facebook is where I go to find the people that my coworkers want to know more about when they find interesting people on eHarmony.

In an age where the Internet is such an integral part of our lives, and where democracy seems to slowly be losing a battle to apathy, it makes sense to look into online voting as a potential option. You know, the same way that the invention of the telephone brought in phone-in ballots. No, wait.

What is an online ballot?

I will assume, for the purposes of the post, that the following are true. However, I want to state some things to think about with these as well.

1)      Online voting is performed through standard software such as browsers. Utilizing other platforms introduces other issues, some of which will be similar, if not identical to using browsers. Others will be the fact that software can be deconstructed, reverse engineered, and rebuilt (this is common strategy by anti-virus companies when attempting to build virus definitions)

2)      Online voting does not require additional security parameters to be set up such as VPN tunnels. The more complex the setup to vote online becomes, the less it becomes a viable option.

How do online ballots work?

Most online balloting would work this way (give or take). You are given some sort of authentication protocol to log in. This is unique to you in some way. When the ballot is submitted, a cryptographic key is given to you – theoretically this is used to verify that you voted, and can sometimes even be built to show you who you voted for, assuming you have the proper keys in place. Some online voting systems will allow you to vote multiple times, and only take the last vote.

Tenets of the Vote

Here are the basic tenets of what I see as fundamentally important here.

1)      Votes should be verifiable. There should be a way to ensure that what I clicked for is what the computer registered.

2)      Votes should be counted. There needs to be an auditable way to see which ballots were indeed counted, and to prove that some were not lost, deleted, changed, etc.

3)      One vote per voter. This does not mean that a voter cannot vote more than once, but that at the end, only one vote counts (usually the last)

4)      The voter cannot be reverse-engineered from the ballot, or the combined information on the servers.

5)      A vote cannot be “listened to” or interfered with during processing, and secure from tampering.

Issue #1: Server uptime

Election after election, servers go down. There is normally at least one point in time where the place to look up where you go to vote goes down on election day. This is often because servers typically don’t handle the massive loads that come in during an electoral period.

Let’s assume that the ONLY people connecting to the server are potential voters. We can reasonably expect that most voters do not vote during “random” times during the day – the peaks will likely be before work, upon arriving at work, during lunch, just before leaving work, just after getting home, and within a time period prior to closing of the vote. Namely, 6:00-9:00, 11:30-1:30, 4:00-6:00, and then one hour before election closes.

Now, assuming people are trying to connect within the last few minutes of the vote closing, and the system goes down from a denial of service (too many connections), what are the odds that those people can get to the polls before they close?

The other peak times may very well cause other problems, unless the server infrastructure is made robust enough.

Then, this assumes that there is no value in taking down the servers regardless. Let’s say a party knows that its voters tend to vote early – is there value in taking down the servers later in the day? Possibly. So outside of merely voters, a distributed denial of service might be a great way for someone to purposefully suppress voters.

Where this could become even more dangerous is if online connection is required to verify whether someone has voted or not. Since the counterfoil is ripped off as a paper ballot is submitted, it is impossible upon counting of paper ballots to verify whether someone has voted both online and offline. As such, that verification would need to be performed in real-time, and the counting server will need to be updated as a person makes their vote (or we’ll all need to vote online), in order to ensure tenet #3. As such, a distributed denial of service could halt not only online ballots, but offline as well.

Issue #2: The secrecy of the ballot (or, I can bank and/or submit my taxes online – why can’t I vote online)

This is a very common question, so I want to attack this in three different ways. Way number 1 is target analysis. Way number 2 is our view of security. Way number 3 is the audit trail and secrecy of the ballot.

Way #1: Target Analysis

When it comes to hacking a target, value of the target needs to be taken into account. Think of this as the “club” effect. If there are two cars of exact make and model parked besides each other, and you intend to steal one, and one has “The Club” on the wheel and the other does not, it would make sense to try to steal the one without, as it is the method with potentially least problem.

When you submit your taxes online, you are effectively submitting your income and your deductions into a centralized system. I do not care about your line 150 – I can likely get that other ways, such as analysis of your LinkedIn profile versus standard salary charts, all through public data. The only possible thing of use to me is your SIN, which again, is easier to get through other methods such as phishing attacks.

Furthermore, you have a 3 month window to submit your taxes online (assuming you owe. If you don’t, you can submit your taxes after the deadline). This means that it’s far more difficult to pinpoint when an individual is going to submit those values.

This is similar with banking – I don’t know when you are going to bank online, so any attacks on the systems would have to be based on broader methods of attacking (think keyloggers) that are far more easily detected by anti- software.

Banking of course is a much higher target because of the financial movement, but I would argue still not as big a target as determining government.

Compare this to an electoral period – fixed times when one logs in, with the centralized systems capable of determining who will be elected and form government. When you consider that some of the biggest hacks are sponsored by government entities (outside of Canada), you can see where the government of the day could be a potential target.

Also consider the monies spent in an election. With around $100,000 per riding plus a central set of coffers worth almost $20 million per party, there is plenty of money and reason to effect change within our own country.

Way #2: Security

I hear a lot of “I bank online and that’s secure,” and have to hold back laughter. Most banks allow the following to occur:

1)      Mobile banking over the airwaves/wifi

2)      Nothing more than a username and password

Many of these usernames are card numbers. Many of the passwords are required to be 8 characters, at least one capital, at least one number, and at least one miniscule letter.

Now, there are all sorts of algorithms out there for passwords because people are predictable. You will find the majority of passwords will be dictionary words with a capital letter at the front, a number at the end (which rotates when people have to change password), and simple letter substitution on words such as 3 instead of E.

In fact, the standard 8-char model has a potential 52 alpha characters, 10 numeric characters, and for argument sake, let’s say another 2 punctuation (why, because that brings us to 64 characters).

64 is 2 to the power of 6. Multiply that by 8 characters, and you have 2 to the power of 48 potential password combinations.

Now, let’s say that my password system only allows 32 characters – perhaps only miniscule and 0-6 (2 to the power of 5). By forcing that, and enforcing a password length of 10, and my password combinations are 2 to the power of 50 – effectively, my method is more secure. In fact, it’s 4 times more secure than the other method (because we multiply the complexity by 2 and by 2 again).

Furthermore, a number of these systems require you to enter answers to standard questions, but are a number of items that can be phished out of people (or investigated). In fact, it is for that reason that NONE of my answers to questions have ANYTHING to do with the question itself, and my passwords are often keyboard-smashes.

These systems are not as secure as we are often led to believe. While they do provide some level of security, it should be noted that some European banks require you to have physical RSA keys, and that there are far more complex password methods out there than what is granted to us in the seeming standard North American method.

Even if you were not to listen to me, look at the target list of Anonymous. As said by Marc Garneau, “First, who is this group called Anonymous? Put simply, it is an international cabal of criminal hackers dating back to 2003, who have shut down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the F.B.I. They have hacked into the phone lines of Scotland Yard. They are responsible for attacks against MasterCard, Visa, Sony and the Governments of the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.

Not a bad rap sheet, and I would venture to guess that some of their successful attacks had far better security teams than municipalities or Elections Canada.

Security on the internet is far less than it seems.

Way #3: The audit trail

Voter suppression is a real problem. Between the alleged robocall scandal to the slashing of tires in Toronto when some voters had certain signs on their lawns, knowing who will vote for whom is going to be big business. We can assume so much from social media and other public sources, but KNOWING who votes, who doesn’t vote, and who voted for whom is key data.

Now, when I go submit my taxes and work on my bank account, I WANT those entities to know who I am. I WANT the banks to audit my trail, and CRA to continually verify that I am, indeed, me. Why? If someone were to defraud me, there’s a trail. IP addresses, usernames, passwords, etc., are all built around this system to ensure that liability is minimal for the banks and that we can audit everything.

This is something that we specifically do NOT want in an election situation. We want the system to both be able to authenticate me, but not store how I voted. We also need to attempt to make sure that someone cannot vote on my behalf (so sending out simply a key to every house without other login information is not viable).

So how do you audit this? Without IP addresses to verify location, without usernames attached to ballots, it is possible, but difficult. However, it can only audit within itself, and even that is dangerous.

What do I mean by that? I can audit that a particular key was used to make a particular vote, but all that information exists within a number of servers that are not… supposed… to talk to each other. But as a Database Admin, I would look at it this way: There are normally some few hundred people to a single poll. Now, by getting timestamps of the authentication server versus usernames, and getting a timestamp of vote with electoral district and poll, the likelihood is that internally I can reverse engineer (to some degree) who voted for whom. Add to it only a 50% turnout and a time distribution over hours, and the likelihood goes up.

Then, if someone were to claim that they did not vote, but they have a vote in the system, how is it disproven? Is it marked as invalid? Do we have to accept it? What are the protocols? All we know is that *someone* with those credentials voted and it was accepted by the system, but to ensure secrecy of the ballot, more information cannot be readily available.

So the likelihood is that we will have to give up the potential right of the secret ballot to ensure auditability. This puts tenets #1, #2, and #3 at odds.

Issue #3: Centralized systems

Paper ballots are not perfect. This is also a common argument. “Well, if paper ballots are not 100% secure, why do you worry about online ballots?”

My experience is with Elections Canada, although most voting is the same within different government levels in the country.

When you go to vote, you are marked as having voted and a counter foil number is put beside your name. You mark your ballot, fold the ballot, and the counter foil is ripped from the ballot. The ballot is then placed in the box by you (never give it to someone to put in! I’ve seen this many times as a scrutineer). Oh, yes, scrutineers – every candidate can send scrutineers to the polls to watch the vote take place, and can identify problems to the Deputy Returning Officer.

When the ballot boxes are opened, the scrutineers watch the opening, the dumping, and the counting. The counting is done by NO LESS THAN two volunteers, and up to two scrutineers PER candidate are allowed to be there.

This is a decentralized system. This happens at every polling station. It is difficult, though not impossible, to influence this system, but in order to influence an election, the election either has to be close enough that one polling station is required, or they have to perform at multiple. This decentralization provides security.

Furthermore, the counterfoils are counted and compared with the number of ballots. There are a number of checks and balances to ensure that numbers align. Anyone can ask for judicial review of the ballots (although often at a cost), but it is possible.

While the voting system online may exist on multiple servers, that does not make it decentralized. In the end, it’s one internet at play. One set of servers to attack. What makes it even scarier is that an attack on these systems, if performed properly, might still show a proper auditable trail – number of votes cast = number of votes counted. But who cast the votes?

This centralized nature adds risk.

Issue #4: Personal computers and social attacks

This is the biggest fear of all. A voting system may be secure in a black box, but there are systems at play that are not the voting servers. Your computer, your browser (or application), your router, the DNS servers, the certificate agents; These all have to be trusted in an online system.

These “trust systems” are where the risk lies. This is because phishing attacks are a proven social attack, and the attacks in between can be just as problematic.

Consider this. The SSL certificate is based on a header and a leaf, with multiple parts in between. It is possible to provide a certificate in the middle that reads the information in between. Your data is encrypted, but because of the way SSL works, it might be encrypted to me, and then re-encrypted when it goes to the Elections Authority, with my ability to see all of your data in between. Now, this requires more than simply setting up a certificate; It requires redirecting you. But how would you do this?

DNS servers. DNS is the service that tells me that google.ca is at What happens is my computer then talks to and says, “I want google.ca.” Being google’s servers, google has it set up that when I type “google.ca” it handles it in some way.

Now, let’s say my server is Let’s say I make my server handle google.ca, and send it to a site. Now, when I type in google.ca, it will not direct to unless I have set up my DNS service to redirect that way. And if it does, and I have set it up to handle google.ca, then your browser will still show google.ca, even though I’m not officially on Google’s servers.

This is a trust system, and while new technologies are coming out such as DNSSEC that are supposed to alleviate issues, in the end, attacks will continue to be viable.

So consider this. Most often your computer is set to use the router’s DNS. However, your computer can be set up to use another DNS. What if I created a DNS that pointed elections.ca to my server and set up a site to look exactly like Elections Canada. Would most users know that their DNS was comprised? Probably not.

Or consider this – in a DEFCON talk a hacker talked about changing DNS settings by using the user’s gullibility (See “How I met your girlfriend.”) So what if I changed the router’s DNS? Would people know to check?

I add a security certificate to my system. I create a voting system. You enter your information, vote, and I even give you a key that you can enter to verify that you voted. Except you didn’t vote – you merely sent all information needed to log in to me.

Or what if, not using DNS, I send you an email from Elections Canada the morning of the election, and I tell you to vote “here”. I then send you not to “vote.elections.ca” but to a subdomain on my own server – a subdomain called vote.elections.ca?id=123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789123456789.
Now when you look at your address bar, you see vote.elections.ca, but miss the part that it’s actually a subdomain of another server. Same deal, I take your information.

Then, with appropriate control of your router, or your computer, I then log in with your credentials, through your network, into the real elections Canada and vote on your behalf.

A few months ago there was panic over a massive DNS virus that laid dormant for years and was set to change values at a certain time – this is the type of attack I would expect on an election. Change the DNS on election day, and perhaps even change it back once you’ve voted, removing evidence.

The possibilities are endless here. These are attacks that don’t even require imagination. I would hate to see what some of the world’s best hackers could come up with.

Issue #5: Undue Influence

Let’s get away from technology a bit and talk about the social aspect. When I was scrutineering in 2012 for the provincial election, a man with Downs Syndrome came in to vote. The Returning Officer was asked to help him vote. The RO has to take an oath before being able to do this, and cannot influence the vote – they may only assist in the process.

This check and balance is gone. A person could be subject to undue influence at home, at work, etc., based on their vote. Whether through physical or emotional abuse, a vote may be made without being a free vote.
There is safety and security behind the screen at a polling station. Nobody monitors you, nobody tells you how to vote. Your ballot is secret. I could say I voted NDP but really voted Conservative, and you would not know. This is not necessarily true when one could vote at home.

What is security?

In online ballots, what do we consider to be secure? Is it that the infrastructure itself on the voting end has the latest firewalls and virus security? Do the people working on it have the highest level of clearance? Has the code that accepts the vote been properly vetted?

In India, they opened up their voting systems to hackers for a brief period of time. When hackers could not break it, they declared the systems secure. When hackers figured it out later, they were hushed and some people thrown in jail.

An online ballot might be a long con. It might not be the first, nor the second vote that is attacked – those might be for watching and creating trust. Then, when it is known how the process works, the attack happens.
Do we know it happened? The inability of a full audit is scary. It might look like the election was secure, and that it happened without incident, but was subject to a massive changing of votes through social engineering and phishing attacks. How would we know?

What is the long term risk?

We have one of the most secure systems in the world. Is it perfect? No. Do you trust that who you voted for will be counted? Generally, yes.

If that faith is destroyed, where does our democracy go?

Who is Kirk Schmidt?

I don’t have a long chain of credz after my name. It’s Kirk Schmidt, B.Math. Most of my experience in online security is, well, experience.

I am also a political hack. I follow politics like Toronto follows the Leafs.  I was an independent candidate in a federal election in 2008 – and not a single-issue independent candidate. I ran a near $20,000 campaign and gained 3% of the vote.

Does this all make me an expert? Seemingly, no. But what I do have is a range of computer skills that I have developed for almost 30 years, a degree in mathematics, and I am well-versed in politics. Hopefully from the post above you can see that I have some knowledge and experience in these areas.