Saturday, December 12, 2015

Blind Leading The Blind

I've written this blog post 3 times now.

The first time, I completed it, only to read back and realize I was casting aspersions on the motives of certain people. That wasn't my intention, but it happened early on, and soured the whole post. So I trashed it and started over.

The second time, I made some pretty big assumptions about the most likely power-brokers behind the scenes. I realized that wasn't what I actually wanted to write about, so I cleared the screen, and started over.

Here's the thing: I don't find writing as enjoyable as I used to. It takes a lot of time - a LOT of it - to get things written down just the way I want them. In that time, people have already used Twitter and Facebook to make up their minds on a given issue, and once they cross the line from "idea I favour" to "belief I hold", there's no point in trying to convince them otherwise. Beliefs are tricky.

Add to this that for the most part, I've been filling my time either with a) my family, which is absolutely where my focus belongs, or b) work, which in this economy is a blessing that can't be ignored, and it's a little more clear why I've only been able to rattle off a half-dozen blog posts in the space of a calendar year that included both a provincial election AND a federal election.

But, when something gets me REALLY fired up, I can't help myself.

There has been a lot of talk lately about "uniting the right" in Alberta. Wildrose Leader Brian Jean talked about it at his party's AGM, in the context that Progressive Conservative supporters should buy Wildrose memberships, and join the ascendant party. He changed his tone at a recent fundraiser, and left several other options on the table, whether it was a re-brand of Wildrose (along the lines of the Reform Party's evolution to the Canadian Alliance) or to possibly fold up both the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta AND the Wildrose Party, and create an entirely new entity out of the ashes of both.

Note: I'm not in favour. But that's a blog post for another day, and it's not the subject of this one. When that post comes, I'll be honoured to argue with all of you about the pros and cons until we need to consume all the scotch in Christendom.

We've also been hearing from former PC MLA's that this is exactly what they want to see. They argue that this is the right thing for Alberta, that we need to end vote-splitting on the right to keep Notley from winning a second term in 2019 or 2020.

I have come to respect some of these vocal former MLA's. Some of them are my friends.

And they don't know what the hell they're talking about.

If I can pull back the veil for a minute, as someone who has worked closely with MLA's, I want to share something with all of you that might not be readily evident:

MLA's are just people. That's it. They're not demi-gods. You don't find them sitting on top of a mountain dispensing wisdom (well, except for one - Hi Dave!). They're no more special than you or me. They're not necessarily smarter. Or more gifted. And I say that with all the love in the world. They're just like the rest of us - and they're SUPPOSED to be. That's the entire point.

"But, but, but... E.S., these people got ELECTED! Something that, BY THE WAY, you couldn't manage to do when you tried it. They live and breathe politics! Surely, they know what the right thing to do is?"

Let's step back.

What does it take to become an MLA, and get a beautiful Mace lapel pin?

First of all, you have to win a nomination race. Depending on the timing and the party, that may be as simple as being the only person to have stepped forward, or you may have to run in a contested vote. Or, in some cases (Hi, Jono!) MORE than one contested vote (ah, 2008...). But even if the race is contested, in some instances and parties a hundred to a few hundred votes will get you the win. Getting a hundred votes is hard. You need to be organized, and work hard, but it's not 10,000 votes.

AFTER you win your nomination race, and receive the blessing of your chosen party... you don't necessarily have to do ANYTHING. I mean, it can certainly help your chances if you go out to the community, knock on doors, attend the local barn dance, show up at PTA meetings and 4H meetings and the like, but ultimately (as much as I wish it were otherwise), your fate as a candidate has more to do with the performance of your party's Leader and central campaign staff than anything you're going to do.

Don't get me wrong - a great candidate and a great local team can - and do - work miracles from time to time. But for every great candidate who beats long odds, there are 20 candidates - be they phenomenally gifted politicians or just regular folks who had the courage to step forward - who work incredibly hard, but lose because they're running under the wrong leader, at the wrong time, in the wrong riding.

And we have only to look at the results from this past May to see exactly what I mean. We saw a lot of people elected as MLA's who barely campaigned, raised and spent virtually no money, but they were the local candidate for the party whose Leader had captured the imagination of the electorate. That's not a condemnation of them - not by a long shot. But let's call a spade a spade: The candidates who won - and the candidates they defeated - were not, in most cases, the masters of their own destiny.

And it's always been this way. It's the unavoidable result of the Party system, where voters focus on the Party Leaders and barely pay any attention to the local candidates. As a result, we have to accept that the candidates who are elected won't necessarily be the best local choice - rather, they were (in many cases) the candidate representing the correct Party for a plurality of their local voters. But whatever they ARE, we have to accept that they're NOT better than we are. They put their shoes on one foot at a time.

And they make mistakes.

Here's a fun fact: Of the 43 sitting PC MLA's who ran for re-election and lost in 2015, 39 of them endorsed Jim Prentice for PC Leader. Some of them went further, and actually helped the "draft Jim" movement that changed Prentice's initial "no" to a "yes". If you accept - as many do - that Prentice and his pals and their campaign strategy were what sank the Battleship Tory, then you have to accept that those 39 former MLA's - some of them among the most vocal of the "unite the right" crowd - exercised TERRIBLE judgement in throwing their unequivocal support - not to mention their livelihoods - to a guy who would leave them unemployed and defeated 243 days after winning the party leadership, and barely 4 months after absorbing most of their Official Opposition in the Legislature (a move those defeated MLA's also publicly and enthusiastically endorsed at the time).

They bet on Prentice as the guy to appeal to Martha and Henry. They bet on him to bring some of that "Harper Magic" back to Alberta where it was born. They bet on him to get pipelines built, save Alberta's economy, and also (incidentally) their jobs. They backed his early election call. They backed his backroom deal with the Wildrose defectors. They gave him everything he wanted, in the hopes that people would forget most of them were elected as enthusiastic candidates for the Alison Redford PC's in 2012.

In short: These defeated former MLA's screwed up. BIG time.

This doesn't mean that everything they say is automatically wrong, any more than everything *I* say is automatically wrong. But what it DOES do is show that the fact that you used to be an MLA doesn't make your political judgement unassailable. It doesn't mean that everything you say should be taken as 100% inarguable truth, because you used to sit on the government side of the Legislature, or even in the front row. Maybe this former MLA or that former MLA DOES think a merger is a good idea. I've spoken to dozens of PC members myself over the past month, and I've heard 2 people in favour. Call it 2 in favour, 34 opposed. Does your voice drown out those 34, because you used to have an Edmonton office? Does your vote count more than theirs? Speak directly into the microphone, please.

If these former PC MLA's want to join the Wildrose so badly, they can buy a membership. Here's the link. They may want to consider, though, that under the current PCAA Code of Conduct, they can't be PC candidates in the future if they hold a membership in another provincial party. Or maybe they've already considered that, which is why a merger is so damned important to them.

Power's addictive. Being an MLA - especially a government MLA - is a position of power and influence. It's a chance to make your community, and society, better. Whatever that means to you. I can completely understand why someone would want the job. And I completely understand why someone who LOST the job - maybe through little fault of their own - would want to do whatever they could to remove barriers to them getting it back in the future.

I totally understand.

But just because you WANT it, doesn't make it "what's best for Albertans".

And even if you really believe, in your heart of hearts, that a merger IS what's best for Albertans, let me tell you: you're wrong.

Just like you were wrong about Jim.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

When You're A Jet...

When you're a Jet, 
You're a Jet all the way 
From your first cigarette 
To your last dyin' day. 

When you're a Jet, 
If the spit hits the fan, 
You got brothers around, 
You're a family man! 

You're never alone, 
You're never disconnected! 
You're home with your own: 
When company's expected, 
You're well protected! 

Then you are set 
With a capital J, 
Which you'll never forget 
Till they cart you away. 
When you're a Jet, 
You stay a Jet! 

 - Sondheim, West Side Story

Nation, as the 42nd Federal Election winds down, I've found myself thinking a lot about the state of democracy in this country.

To say that this has not been an uplifting campaign full of respectful exchanges of ideas would be akin to saying I found Star Wars Episode One "a tad underwhelming".

We humans are social creatures. We seek each other out. We want to build and belong to social constructs. Even the introverts among us (myself included) feel a need to BELONG to something larger than ourselves...

A family.

A religious organization.

A political party.

A gang.

We feel driven to BELONG to something, and what we want more than anything is to feel safe when we're there. We want to feel accepted, and protected. Sometimes, though, this results in something a bit more dangerous: It leaves us feeling that we are more righteous than those who don't choose to follow our path. 

We know "the truth".

We're better and smarter than they are. 

We're good. And if we're good, and they choose not to join us, then they, as "the Others", are bad. 

This exclusionist way of thinking can take us to some pretty dark places. Some of them have been on full display during this 4,871-day campaign (or maybe it's just felt that long to me). The place I want to cast a little bit of light on, though, is our political parties themselves.

Whether we belong to a particular party ourselves, or just tend to lean more in one direction than the other, it's the easiest form of politics to use labels to describe ourselves, and "the Others". We're conservative, and everyone who isn't one of us is a "tax-and-spend liberal". We're progressive, and anyone who is opposed to us is a "neanderthal social conservative". The reality, though, is that people are NOT labels. Labels are simple, and people are complex. When we try to apply a simple black-and-white worldview to the wide range of opinions a person can have on a particular issue, it just doesn't fit - leading us, naturally, to apply the simple binary standard: Does this person agree with me, or are they one of "the Others"?

Part of the problem - a big part, in my opinion - is that we identify ourselves as holding political BELIEFS, rather than political IDEAS. I'll leave the explaining to the Chris Rock character "Rufus the Apostle", written by Kevin Smith for his film Dogma:
“I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea.  Changing a belief is trickier.  Life should be malleable and progressive, working from idea to idea permits that.  Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth.  New ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.”
If I have the IDEA that the Earth is stationary and the Sun revolves around it, then it's easier for me to change that idea when presented with contrary evidence. If I BELIEVE that the Sun revolves around the Earth, then Galileo ends up locked in a tower, despite the fact that he's ultimately going to be proven correct. Because he's challenging my BELIEFS, and has to be defeated and destroyed. He's a heretic. An "Other".

Once we've identified - to our own satisfaction - that someone isn't WITH us, our inclination - at least in politics - is to go on the attack. We've seen this recently when a member of a provincial party in Alberta which has tended to lean to the right in past publicly came out in support of a former colleague running for the centre-left Liberal Party in the federal election.

"This is terrible!" went the hue and cry from those on the right, within her own party and others. "How can a person call themselves a conservative if they'll support a liberal!?!"


It goes like this:

"I worked with this person. I like them, and respect them, and they're my friend, and they have some good ideas, and I think they'd make a good Member of Parliament. And also, you don't get to tell me who I'm allowed to be friends with."

That last point is key.

I believe, in my heart of hearts, that people get involved in politics for the right reasons. Almost without exception. They want to raise the level of debate. They want their fellow citizens to be informed about issues that matter to them. They want to make their community a better place. They want life to be better, for themselves and for others.

What we end up with when we adopt this exclusionary, gang-mentality "my way is the only true path!" way of looking at our politics, however, is quite different.

Stephen Harper is NOT happy that First Nations women are missing and being killed. He is also not pleased that people are assaulting women in niqabs.

Justin Trudeau does NOT want to make a brothel mandatory in your neighbourhood. He is likewise not planning to sell crystal meth in your child's school.

Tom Mulcair is NOT planning to send all our jobs to France as result of his dual citizenship. Neither does he want to see Toronto attacked by terrorists.

Are we clear?

The problem is, we're NOT clear. We're not clear at ALL. Because the people who are really, REALLY into politics - people who, as I said above, almost without exception got into it for the right reasons - are stating the above points as truth. They're telling their family and friends this stuff, and the general public starts to buy into it.


Well, at the end of the day politics in Canada is a pursuit where one person wins, and everyone else loses. One party is in government, shaping policies and making laws, and the others are on the outside looking in, opposing the government but unable to affect much change.

It doesn't HAVE to be this way. But this is how it is. "Win at all costs". It leads to gerrymandering. It leads to dirty tricks. It leads to sign vandalism. It leads to trolling. It leads to stunts. It leads to on-line witch hunts. 

Everyone wants "their team" to win, and "the Others" to lose. Because if MY team wins, then we're special. We've got The Truth. The policies and ideas that I support will be made law. And I feel warm and fuzzy knowing that my fellow citizens have validated my choice. And if I have to get a little dirty to make that happen, then so be it: the end justifies the means.

But why did I get into politics in the first place?

To raise the level of debate.
To inform my fellow citizens.
To make my community a better place.
To make life better.

Instead, the debate is lowered - to the lowest possible level. The citizenry is confused by 2, 3 or more sets of conflicting "facts". The community is torn asunder because everyone who's not WITH us, is AGAINST us. Neighbours are destroying signs being put up by their neighbours, and shouting at each other at candidate forums that become a contest in "who can get more supporters to fill the seats meant for undecided voters?". And life isn't better - it's a meaner, darker place where the party that wins rubs it in the face of those who lose, and the losers spend the next few years resenting the winners, resenting everything their government does, and trying to think of new ways to stick it to them when next they get a chance.

There are ways out of this mess our parties have created, fed, and allowed to grow.

There are ways to be better. To actually raise the level of debate. To inform our fellow citizens. To make our community a better place, and to make life better for everyone. 

We can do all of this, if we truly want to.

But first, we have to lose the gang mentality. 

We have to decide that the way it is now isn't good enough, and that we want to be better than we've been.

We have to decide that the object of this pursuit is NOT to "win", if it means that everyone who isn't with us must "lose".

The fine details of how we're governed, and the policies that guide our lawmakers, are not simple black-and-white. There's a lot of grey.

There ARE no "Others".

There are no Jets. No Sharks.

There's just all of us, out here, trying to make the world better according to the best ideas we've heard so far.

We're all in this together.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Open Challenge

Nation, as a resident of Calgary Shepard, which is a new federal constituency on the city of Calgary's southeast edge, I find myself in a fairly unique position: I have no incumbent Member of Parliament.

There are, of course, many ridings where the incumbent is not running for re-election. But in the case of Calgary Shepard, there has NEVER been an M.P. Most of this riding had been previously represented by Jason Kenney (who was first elected when my entire neighbourhood was a farmer's field), however with the riding split following the boundary adjustments, Mr. Kenney is running in the riding of Calgary Midnapore.

This creates an opportunity for someone to step forward and plant a flag, as the first ever Member of Parliament representing the riding of Calgary Shepard in the House of Commons. To their credit, as of the writing of this post, 4 people have done just that, and stepped forward. They are:

Dany Allard, IT professional
Graham MacKenzie, Teacher
Jerome James, Engineer
Tom Kmiec, Human Resources professional

Here's my challenge: Tell me why I should vote for one of these people.

A little background, first: You will no doubt notice that I have not included the political parties of the candidates. This is because, quite simply, it doesn't matter. Many of my political friends and long-time readers will argue this point with me, but they'll be wrong. There's no guarantee that, the day they're sworn in as M.P., any of these 4 candidates will still belong to the same party they did on the day of the election (ask any of the 20,062 Vancouver-area citizens who voted for Liberal David Emerson on January 23rd 2006 and saw Conservative David Emerson sworn into cabinet on February 6th 2006).

So here are the rules of the challenge:

  • I want to hear reasons why I should support your candidate of choice that do not include the names of any parties. My vote can't go to a party. It can only go to an individual, and like I said in the paragraph preceding this one, parties can change. So I don't want to hear that I should support such-and-such because the Liberals believe yadda yadda yadda... doesn't matter. Tell me about HIM, and what HE thinks.
  • I don't want to hear about party leaders. Period. There are no party leaders on my ballot. It doesn't matter who Mulcair hates, or whether or not Justin is ready. They're not on my ballot.
  • I want to hear about why I should vote FOR someone, not AGAINST the others. This is a riding where in hiring someone to be the first ever MP for the riding, I don't have to fire the person who's already in the job. So I don't need to know why the current MP needs to be turfed in favour of your candidate - there isn't a current MP on the ballot. Likewise, don't talk about the other candidates and why they SHOULDN'T get the job - talk about your candidate, and why he SHOULD.

That's it. 3 simple rules. If your comment on this post follows them, I will seriously consider your argument as to why my vote should go to your candidate. If it breaks any of the 3 rules, I will disregard the entirety of your argument.

My vote is up for grabs, folks: EARN it.

p.s. Apologies for the recent silence, Nation - I was on a good tear there, getting my rhythm and mojo back in form, and then had a bit of a medical issue (since resolved, thankfully) pop up that kept me flat on my back. Good to go now.

I wanted to put this blog post out a little earlier, but with over a month to election day, now's as good a time as any.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Running Scared

Nation, the numbers don't lie - nobody raises more money in Canadian politics than the Conservative Party of Canada. It's not even close.

No doubt, most of that money is being studiously squirreled away for the upcoming election. However, there are expenses that a party has to incur BEFORE an election: Advertising, platform development, branding, polling - the list is long. But it's that LAST one - private polling - that really gets the attention of a party's movers and shakers.

I've been in meetings where the platform was a 5 minute conversation, and internal polling took just about an hour to go over. "How are we doing overall? How are we doing regionally? In urban areas? In rural areas? Who do voters find the most appealing as a leader? Who do they trust? Are they happy with the direction we're going, or proposing?"

The truth of the matter is, nobody is polling more than the CPC, because nobody has more to spend than the CPC. And while most of us mere mortals will never have a chance to take a look at those polling numbers, we can ascertain what they're indicating by watching what the Tories choose to spend their money on... and right now, the answer is pretty clear:


You can't turn on the tv or the radio without hearing about how Justin Trudeau is "not ready". Over the past few months we've been treated to commercials featuring Justin stripping, talking about budgets balancing themselves, and pandering to pot activists. Never in the history of Canadian politics has the party in power in Ottawa spent this much time and money attacking the leader of the THIRD party in the House, and so completely ignored the Leader of the Opposition.

As a result, we can safely draw the conclusion that the Tory campaign braintrust are seeing poll results that point towards their chief competition being not Tom Mulcair, but rather the Dauphin himself, the Scion of He Who Shall Not Be Named, Justin Trudeau.

There are, of course, other indicators that the Tories aren't polling as well as they'd like. They've actually found themselves facing the intolerable, unthinkable burden of having to campaign in Alberta. As in, make promises so as not to lose seats. In Alberta. ALBERTA., who just like any pollster or poll aggregator are far from perfect (but are still right WAY more often than they're wrong) show a good likelihood that if the election were held today, the NDP would increase its seat count in Alberta from 1 to 4 (yes, all in Edmonton). More unthinkable, though, is the notion that 3 Liberals - LIBERALS - would be elected, with 2 of them coming from Harper's adopted hometown of Calgary.


Canada's energy capital.

Electing the party that brought in the NEP.


That sound you just heard was Ezra's head exploding.

Now, we don't know if the CPC internal polling shows these same numbers, or if the picture is better (or, even worse). What we DO know, is that the Conservatives are poised to lose their majority, if the current polls bear out on Election Day. It would be a crushing defeat, humbling, and almost certainly spell the end of the Prime Minister's career. The snipes passing back and forth between Mulcair and Trudeau in recent weeks make it unlikely that the 2 men would form a legislative coalition government in the minority scenario, even if the benefit was the removal of the CPC from power.

The conventional wisdom is this, however: Stephen Harper has no desire to finish his term as Prime Minister the way he started it - at the mercy of a minority parliament, out-numbered and unable to pass legislation without compromise. He needs centrist voters, who can traditionally swing Liberal or Tory without compromising their core values either way, to abandon Trudeau and vote Tory. Appealing to likely NDP voters won't work - their values won't let them vote Conservative. The best he can hope for is that those voters stay home on Election Day.

The Liberals. Trudeau. That's who Stephen needs to target. And he's doing it.

Will it work?

Joan Crockatt and Devinder Shory, the Conservative candidates in Calgary Centre and Calgary Skyview, certainly hope so. Because if the polls hold, those ridings will be coloured red after Election Day.

Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies...

Rivers and seas boiling...

Forty years of darkness...



The dead rising from the grave.

Human sacrifice. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.

The Conservatives know who they have to target. The question they need to be asking themselves, and answering honestly, is this: Is it working? Is saying this guy's name at every opportunity turning voters off of him?

Or does it just look like we're running scared?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

A Rising Tide

Nation, we're now over 10 weeks into the reign of terror known as "NDPocalypse 2015", and I thought I'd take a break from hoarding food and stashing cash in my mattresses to discuss one of the key planks of the NDP platform during the spring election: Raising the minimum wage.

Indeed, the minimum wage issue was one of the pieces of fruit that was so low-hanging that the new government moved in its shortened Spring sitting to take immediate action on it. Phased in over several years, the minimum wage in Alberta will move from the level it has been ($10.20/hour generally, $9.20 for liquor servers as it's assumed they receive gratuities) to the NDP's "fair minimum wage" of $15/hour, with no distinction for liquor servers.

Now, full disclosure right off the get-go: I agree with the NDP that the minimum wage has historically been far too low in Alberta. The purchasing power that minimum wage earners have to contribute to the economy and to better their chances at climbing up the socio-economic ladder through continuing education is VERY low in Alberta, where a red-hot economy has in past meant that rent is higher, food is more expensive, and pretty much everything you buy is - relatively-speaking - a bigger bite out of whatever you have left after you pay for the essentials. Sure, the income tax is lower than in some places... but if you're working a minimum wage job, you aren't paying a lot of tax to begin with. And the fact that you're not paying provincial sales tax helps, but when your monthly income is $1632 (gross, pre-tax), saving that extra 5% or so at the till is a difference of $81 if you were to spend every dime you earned - and darned sure the extra cost of living in Calgary swallows up those $81 right quick.

I'm not deaf to the assertion that minimum wage earners should "get an education and increase their earnings potential" - but with what money are they supposed to pay for tuition? And with what time can they go to school? Even assuming they got student loans that covered the full cost of tuition, AND all books and supplies, the fact remains that in order to afford to live, they're still going to have to work a full-time schedule. And god help them if they have children.

The bottom line is that minimum wage earners aren't all "kids in high school working at McDonald's" (50% are aged 25 or older). There are 38,000 Albertans in the workforce who earn minimum wage - they're not on welfare. They're TRYING to help themselves. But the nature of our economy dictates that in order to live anything resembling the life that so many of us take for granted, they have to work 50 or 60 hours per week - and that's just to avoid having to live 2 to a room in a run-down, borderline-condemnable apartment. We're not talking about driving an SUV, vacationing in Cancun and sending little Johnny to Electric Guitar Camp. They're stuck in a situation that - by their own making, as result of their own choices, or because of external factors such as a failed marriage or a pension plan that took a bath over the past decade (nearly 12% of minimum-wage workers are over 55 years old) - by its very nature makes it almost impossible to escape.

ALL of that said, I'm uneasy about increasing the minimum wage by 47% in 3 years. And here's why:

"A rising tide lifts all ships"

Rare (bordering on the non-existent) is the case of the business that saw a government-mandated increase in their cost of doing business and said "well, there's nothing we can do but absorb the hit to our bottom line".

In the case of the minimum wage increase, we are going to see the impact reflected first in the two-pronged approach of price increases at the till and reduced worker hours (whether shorter hours of service or job cuts). You'll pay more for your coffee, and your meal at the restaurant. The drive-thru will be closed. Your movie ticket will cost more, and there will be longer lines at the concession stand because only 2 registers will be open while the other 10 sit unattended.

That's the first thing we'll see, and the first that many people will notice that this policy - meant to help people who in many cases are just barely treading water - has repercussions.

Good business people know they have to tread a fine line when it comes to charging for a good or service. You can only charge what the market will bear, or you'll drive away business - which is bad for your bottom line, and therefore your workers. If Albertans aren't willing to pay $18 for a movie ticket in the world of Netflix, the theatres can't charge $18. So they'll charge what they think we WILL pay - say $15 - and make up the difference another way. That might mean your large diet coke goes up fifty cents. Or it might mean Myrna (72 years old, widow, pension was wiped out by the market in 2009) and Stephanie (23, single mom whose ex moved back to Oman 6 months ago and left her and the baby in the lurch) are going to be let go, or will have to work 40 hours BETWEEN them, instead of 40 hours EACH.

Think about that - stop obsessing over the cost of your diet coke for a second (yes, I KNOW it's already highway robbery - FOCUS!), and think about Myrna and Stephanie. If they were each earning $1632 per month (again, PRE-tax) under the old system, now they're earning $1200 per month - with the 50% reduction in hours. They *might* be able to get another part-time job to cover the shortfall, but then again, there are fewer jobs out there. Those who can't find jobs at all, because employers have to be choosier about who they're hiring with their limited staffing dollars, end up on social assistance. You and me get better service once we get up to the register (maybe), but it comes at a cost to us in terms of our time spent in line, and our taxes going to help the people the theatre had to let go who couldn't find other work in a suddenly VERY chilly job market.

There's another issue that pops up as result of this change, however, and it's one I have yet to hear discussed in the media releases from opponents to the move: This inflation of the minimum wage creates a situation where prices on just about everything rise. Which means that the $15 per hour you'll be earning in 2018 will NOT buy what it would have bought in 2014. Because the price of eggs, and milk, and formula have gone up due to wages in the grocery store. The cost of living has gone up, because landlords can now charge more as the minimum-wage earners have more money (those who were able to maintain a full-time schedule, anyhow). The subsidy for the monthly transit pass has been sharply reduced, or gone away entirely. Student loans are now harder to get, because your income has gone up by 47%, gross (again, assuming your hours of work weren't reduced). Other wages have gone up in the public and private sector, because for those who DO live with family and don't have to be the primary bread winner, why would I take your incredibly stressful office job for $16 per hour when I can do something I enjoy that's a 5-minute walk from my house with little responsibility for a buck less? And the price of just about everything else has gone up, too: Because wages have gone up, and people have more money, and the businesses want that money to cover their rising costs (remember: their expenses have gone up with the minimum wage, either directly to staff or indirectly for services and products they need to carry on business).

I don't pretend to know what the solution is, here... I'm not an economist. I don't even play one on tv. I'm not suggesting we set the minimum wage at $1 per hour so everyone can have a job, and bread will cost a nickle per loaf. The fact that these changes are being phased in over several years is a positive step that gives businesses a chance to do the math and figure out what they're going to do in order to deal with the changing reality. But I have to wonder if, in THIS particular case, the reality of a $15 minimum wage might actually do more to HARM those who earn the minimum wage than it will to HELP them. If their hours are reduced, or they're let go, and the price of just about everything goes up, are they better off?

I'm not the sharpest knife in this particular drawer: there's math involved. I'm counting on you, folks, to have this discussion... discuss below in response to this post, discuss on social media, discuss with your neighbours, and discuss with your MLA. Helping people is good. But this policy might not actually do that - then again, it might. Maybe I'm 100% wrong, and my fears are unfounded. Let's do the diligence. Let's start today, and maybe by Fall Session we'll be able to have an informed discussion about precedents and make sure our government is working from the best available information. Because policy made with fact, rather than dogma, as its foundation is typically much better for everyone.

Including Myrna and Stephanie.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Own It

Nation, it has now been just a shade over 2 months since the end of civilization as we know it NDP was elected to govern Alberta. We're going to talk about our new government a LOT over the next while, but today's post is about a particular reclamation project that has been off-and-on for many years now, which with this new government running things might actually (finally) get off the ground.

I'm talking, of course, about the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta, which traces its lineage back to the founding of our province in 1905. You might remember them more recently as "The Natural Governing Party of Alberta (TM)".

The reality of the election result this spring was that Albertans had finally had enough of the crap they had been seeing from the PC's for years. In the age of social media, where any jerk with a keyboard can get a message out to hundreds or thousands (case in point: this blog), the dirt was starting to come to the surface, and Albertans didn't like what they were hearing or seeing.

At a certain point, it doesn't even matter whether allegations are true or not. Once you reach a tipping point, where the public no longer trusts you, the response goes from "that's probably not true" to "I could see them doing that". And at that point, the battle is over: In politics, once you've lost the people, you don't have anything left.

To govern, you have to win a popularity contest first. And people won't vote for someone they don't trust.

The PCAA, as the third largest caucus in a majority legislature, is in a perfect position now to do something they should have been doing LONG ago, but couldn't due to fears it might hurt their chances at fundraising and re-election: They can finally own their shit.

I'm not suggesting they dig through files going back 110 years and trot out Ric McIver for daily sessions of self-flagellation on the Legislature steps. Trust me - NOBODY wants to see that.

What I *am* suggesting, though, is that for the first time in nearly 20 years, the PC's have an opportunity to have their Leader, or President, or Managing Director, stand up in response to a question about a past transgression and say "on reflection, we've looked into this and what happened was in violation of our Principles. It was wrong, and it won't happen again."

Not since Ralph Klein have the PCs had a Leader who was willing to stand up and publicly say the words "I made a mistake". Not the passive "mistakes were made", but a straight-up mea culpa. Klein felt free to do it primarily because he didn't have much viable opposition in his heyday, and also he was just GOOD at apologizing. It's a skill that comes from years of practice, making lots of mistakes and being able to admit - to yourself and to others - that they were mistakes. At any point in the last several years, did you get the impression that a PC Leader was humble enough to admit - even privately - when they were in over their head? Yeah. Me neither.

Over the course of at LEAST the next 4 years researchers from both the government and opposition caucuses, MLAs, Committees, and the general public are going to scour every record they can get their hands on, to try and put a stake through the heart of the PCAA for good. They might well succeed. But the absolute best, sure-fire way to ENSURE that they succeed is for the PCs to refuse to own it. When something comes out - and make no mistake, things WILL come out - it is incumbent on the Leader of the PCAA to step up to the mic and own it, even if it didn't happen on their watch.

And if the Leader isn't willing to do that, then it's incumbent on the PCAA President to do so.

A failure to own up to mistakes and be honestly embarrassed at having made them, and a lack of a clear statement that such behaviour will NOT be tolerated on a go-forward basis is the death knell for the PC Party in Alberta. Albertans showed with Klein that they would be willing to forgive almost ANY transgression, so long as the violator showed honest remorse. For the past decade-plus, "remorse" has been a dirty word in the PCAA. But pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Even now, some well-known party members advocate for a "no rear-view mirror" policy, where the only discussion that can be had is "how positive the future looks", and any reflection on how they got to this point is "too negative". Nobody's suggesting that you have to sit in the corner for the next decade and do nothing but mull over your failings - but you have to reflect on what you've been doing wrong, in order to ensure it doesn't happen again, and a big part of that starts with the PCAA coming to terms with the "cult of personality" it has built around its Leaders for decades now.

Let's keep in mind that the President is the "Executive Head of the Association" (per the PCAA Constitution) and the Leader is the "Chief Public and Political Official of the PCAA". I'm not saying that when the 2 disagree they should battle it out American Gladiator-style, but for the past several years the practice has been to let the Leader have whatever the hell they want, almost without exception. Votes have been whipped by Leaders using their MLAs to get local delegates to elect the President they wanted - so obviously, the position must have some authority, or why go to the trouble? If the Leader is stepping out of line with the Party that put him or her in that position, the President needs to be able to pull the Leader back in line.

MLAs and Leadership Contenders are always careful to note when talking to members of the Party that the Party and the Caucus are 2 separate, yet equally important things. I agree that they're separate. Where you lose me, though, is the "equally important" part. The PCAA caucus just shrunk from 70 seats to 9. There is still a Party. If the Party had folded up camp and taken the volunteers and money with it, how many of those 70 would have won re-election? Probably fewer. The Caucus, in MANY cases, owes their jobs to the fact they're running as members of the Party. The people who spend dozens or hundreds of hours volunteering to get that candidate an MLA job could just as easily spend those hours volunteering at a soup kitchen, or playing with their kids or grandkids and be none the poorer.

The insinuation has been, of course, that if Caucus or the Leader doesn't want to do something that the Party does, it won't happen. If the Caucus doesn't feel like something should be a PCAA policy, it won't be. And if they feel like something SHOULD be a PCAA policy, it *will* be - no consultation with the membership required. This position completely disenfranchises rank-and-file members of the party. During the "re-building" phase, people are absolutely right to be asking "what is the actual VALUE of my $10 membership - what do I get with that?". And if the answer is "a chance to volunteer and be asked for more money to attend expensive cocktail receptions and events through the year" rather than "a chance to put forward and work on policies that we'll run on in 4 years and will make this province better", it is going to be a looooong rebuild. And I know long rebuilds - I'm an Oilers fan.

This idea that the Leader or Caucus sits aside and above the Party is ass-backwards, and 100% wrong. It's that kind of thinking that leads the Party Leader to decide they want to hire a new Executive Director for the Party, even though the Party already HAS an E.D, and the job of hiring and firing that person belongs to the Party Board of Directors. Or leads a committee loaded with loyalists to decide who is and isn't eligible to be a nomination contestant based on the Leader's wishes rather than objective standards. Just as a couple of purely hypothetical examples, you understand.

The bottom line for any potential candidate or leader of ANY political entity is this: The party membership is the people who raise you money and knock on doors and put out your lawn signs and convince their neighbours to give you a chance. If you think for one second that they are NOT the ultimate authority in the organization, enjoy your next career, because THIS one is ending sooner than you think.

The Leader isn't the Party - the MEMBERS are the Party. And they're in charge.

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 "" 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...