Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Leadership Candidate Profile - Jim Dinning

This one's going to be long... but, as the front-runner and expected winner, I'm going to analyze Dinning as closely as I can.

You can almost feel sorry for Jim Dinning... 5 years ago, it was a well-known fact that he'd be the next Premier of Alberta. Everyone knew it to be true. Even 2 years ago, it was the same thing. He was spending time in the private sector, doing good work, meeting the people he'd need to know to be an effective Premier. Then, Ralph announces he's stepping down, and all of a sudden... contenders started popping up. Not PREtenders, lambs to the slaughter, running just to get themselves some face time, but real people with real records, running to WIN, attacking poor little Jim, who's been out in the political hinterlands for the past decade. And now Jim looks at the polling numbers, and realizes that the job he's had "in the bag" for the past 5+ years may be slipping away... he's still the front-runner, but the votes haven't been counted yet, and ANYTHING can happen in politics.
Remember when that fat newspaper reporter got elected mayor of Calgary in the early 80's?

Plan. Jim has a plan. It's in the plan. Did we mention he has a plan? Jim Dinning's no idiot - he knows how Albertans perceive him. He's a bookish, stable, librarian-type. The accountant who lives down the block. He was a good Provincial Treasurer, cleaned up our books, got rid of the deficit. Albertans have had that image in the back of their minds the whole time we've been moaning and wailing about Ralph's lack of planning...
"If only we had a guy who was good with planning... hey, isn't Dinning on deck to be the next Premier? He'll know what to do with all this cash."
Jim's got a plan. It's on his website, and it's 48 pages. For a 48 page document, though, it's shockingly slim on details. Oberg and Hancocks' platforms put this one to shame. When it was written, I'm sure Dinning's team didn't think they'd have any real platforms to run AGAINST, so why commit to things in writing that you might not be able to do? Just be warm and fuzzy, use the word "plan" several thousand times, and be done with it.

In fact, you get the feeling that on the first day after Ralph handed in his resignation, someone walked into Dinning Headquarters, went up to the whiteboard, and wrote in big, bold letters, right across the top: "DON'T SCREW UP". The whole campaign for Team Dinning has been about counter-punching and pasting the word "plan" everywhere you can. Don't even TOUCH anything controversial, don't take a position in public, don't speak for Jim, don't commit him to ANYTHING, because he may not be able to deliver once he gets a look at the books. While other candidates have been running from town to town making promises (you know, like politicians are supposed to do), and committing themselves to positions, Jim's biggest commitment seems to be to not piss anyone off. And while that's a good, solid, stable way to govern, or to run unopposed, it's a rotten way to get elected when you're running against people who have positions, and either don't have anyone LEFT to piss off (Oberg) or don't particularly CARE about the people they piss off (Morton). Everyone's selling party memberships with one guy in their cross-hairs... "What do we need to do to beat Dinning?".

Here's where Jim Dinning stands on this issues...

Jim wants to have a council of constituency association presidents, to ensure that the Party leadership is getting the word straight from the horse's mouth on issues important to the constituencies. Good, grassroots policy. He also wants the leader of the party and the party president to do annual tours through the whole province, speaking to rank-and-file members and answering their questions/concerns. Good ideas, that should play well across the political spectrum. He wants lobbyist reforms, and a registry, publicly accessible, of ALL government contracts over $25,000. Transparency in government. He wants longer sessions of the Legislature (the current sessions are a joke of democracy), and fixed dates for Throne Speeches (FINALLY! What the public has been screaming for all these years - fixed dates for Throne Speeches! Not for ELECTIONS, mind you, just for the Throne Speech... that ought to get him another 2 or 3 votes).

Dinning will introduce the "Fiscal Sustainability Act", and institute a 10-year capital plan. Anywhere else, a 10-year plan would be seen as the height of arrogance, to assume you'll be in power for 10 years. In Alberta, if you're NOT in power for 10 years, then the guy AFTER you certainly will be - we don't elect governments, we elect dynasties. He also wants a "mini-plan" to address capital projects in the North, which will get priority. He wants to double Alberta's savings, to $50 Billion, in the next 10 years. 30% of resource revenues will go to this.

Jim wants to put an emphasis on the first 10 years of a child's life, so expect programs directed at child health, literacy, etc. He wants to create 50 new research chairs at universities and technical schools, and stimulate the migration of workers to Alberta by making it easier for them to get here (I propose carving a canal through Northern B.C., then we can bring 'em in by BOAT!) He also proposes more emphasis be placed on finding the "next big energy technology", and wants Alberta to be a leader in Clean Energy - although, he did mention that the Oilsands would need to be fuelled by nuclear energy, as opposed to natural gas, which they're currently using. He likened the current practice to "using gold to find platinum".

He'll expand the Alberta Family Tax credit (a winning idea for young families), and add 60,000 Post-Secondary spaces. He supports MacEwan College and Mount Royal College (GO COUGARS!) in their efforts to become fully accredited undergraduate Universities. He'll assume full control over Student Loans in Alberta, making it easier to get your loans administered and paid off. He will lessen the Interest Rate (to Prime), and reduce the expected Parental Contribution, as Post Secondary students are, in his words, "independent adults". He insists student loans will also take into account not just tuition, but the other costs associated with post-secondary, such as the real costs of books, living expenses in the major centres, etc.

Dinning will build more libraries, more affordable housing, take similar steps to the Hancock campaign re: volunteers and community groups, and send a message to the petroleum sector: "If you mine it here, you upgrade it here". A Dinning Government will offer training to disabled Albertans to allow them to fully function in our booming workforce, and establish an Alberta Aboriginal Education Council to deal with grade school and vocational training for First Nations. He also supports biofuels.

Folks, if it seems like these policies are all over the map, it's because they are. This is exactly the order they're being presented to me on the website, so I hope that someone has an Excel spreadsheet of these policies and can "Tool - Sort - By Ministry" this list, because I'm having a hard time keeping track, and I'm TYPING the bloody thing.

Dinning will "develop a permanent funding solution for municipalities". This is what I mean when I talk about low on details. Other candidates have dollar figures, or percentages of the education tax, or gas tax, and Frontrunner Jim has "develop a solution". Easier promise to keep, harder promise to sell to an electorate hungry for detailed plans - especially when you've sold them your candidate BASED on his ability to plan. He supports a fully public-funded health system. He thinks the system doesn't need more CASH as much as it needs more INNOVATION. I wonder who he thinks has time to sit down and come up with innovative ideas in the health system, while women are miscarrying in our E.R.'s?

Jim supports the Water For Life strategy, and will implement a province-wide Land Use strategy, including a comprehensive plan for the South Eastern Slopes - although, he doesn't say where those slopes ARE, so no idea if they're anywhere near Calgary, or if it's just Pincher Creek - south. He wants to make sure the "last mile" of the Alberta Supernet is finished... most of the cable is laid, and MOST Government buildings throughout the province are on high-speed internet. There are tens of thousands of homes, though, that have no access to this high-speed internet, even if the cable runs 15 feet off their front porch. This is because the government hasn't arranged for private companies to access the hubs that have been built, and offer customers all over rural Alberta high-speed internet. THIS is the "last mile", and it's long overdue. Dinning will also double the funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.

Dinning isn't playing to win, he's playing NOT to lose. Oberg, Morton, Hancock, Norris and the others are going for the jugular, as well they should - they're behind, and they know it. Dinning's ahead, he's been ahead the whole time, and HE knows it. The object of the campaign has been to "Don't Screw Up", and he's done a good job of it. No major (or minor, now that I think of it) stumbles, unlike Dr. Oberg. No loose lips sinking ships. No flip-flops... but then, you need to take a position to flip-flop on it. Dinning's campaign has been water-proof, and a near-perfect example of how to run a campaign when you've all but won months before the vote. The others are catching up, but let's be honest, here... something BIG has to happen for Dinning to lose. Every Evangelical in the province will have to buy memberships and vote Morton, or Hancock and Oberg will have to throw their support behind Norris... otherwise, Jim's got this thing won, as he's had for the past 5 years.


For someone who has put so much focus on his plan, I am flabbergasted at the lack of specificity in his on-line documents. You've had TEN YEARS to write this plan, so I hope there's a really specific, point-by-point plan hidden somewhere in your desk, or you're in for a world of hurt when you take office and we realize that What We Saw is All We Got. The documents are full of statements about Alberta, followed by "problems that need fixing", and then commitments to fix them, usually in vague and reassuring terms including lots of meetings and co-operation. So, at the very least, we know that Jim is AWARE of a lot of the problems - he's been paying attention, and listening to our griping. That's something.
But to be the "Candidate with a plan", and then have a platform that is at BEST the 3rd most detailed of the 8 candidates, is damn near unforgivable.
It's not enough to cost him the vote, in all probability... but it IS enough to make you wonder how much of a plan there really is...

All in all, I'm not impressed with the documents, or the campaign, of Team Dinning. I think he did a great job as Treasurer - 10 years ago. I think he has the right stuff to lead this province today, if for no other reason than he readily acknowledges what's WRONG with our current situation, and that's more than most politicians not sitting in opposition can do. If I was a new transplant to Alberta, knew nothing of Dinning's past, and was a member of the PC Party, I'd watch this campaign and say "he's got no fresh ideas, and I've got no good reason to vote for him". There's also a fear that, much like Paul Martin, Jim's had so long to think about what'll happen when he gets to sit in the "big chair" that when he finally does, he'll find himself paralyzed, then try to do so much that nothing will get done, and a smart opposition will destroy him for it. But... all of that aside... Jim's done a good job for us before. He's a smart man. He says he has a plan, and even though we can't see it, he's never lead us wrong before. Over 30 current PC MLA's support him, Premier Lougheed supports him, and he's centrist enough to get this party elected for the forseeable future, provided he doesn't do anything to drastically screw up the party's electability as Premier. We need a bean-counter to keep us from blowing our energy bucks on shiny toys when there are more important things to spend it on, and Jim's the best we've had in a while. If you're a betting man, take Dinning to win, on the second ballot. And hope to god there's a better plan than the one available on-line.

Jim Dinning's website is


Anonymous said...

I appreciate your fair analysis on the candidates and it is a pleasure to read your work. Finally, someone with no appearance of an agenda -- how refreshing.

However, please review your comments regarding the Alberta SuperNet. It is not entirely accurate. Everything is not what it appears to be on that project. Believe me I know first hand and it has cost me everything in life.

Again, thank you for your analysis. I'm sure it is with pleasure that other's read your comments.

Enlightened Savage said...

Thanks for your feedback - I try to be as balanced and fair as I can.

As for the Alberta SuperNet, I am familiar with the project on a passing basis, and not much more in depth than that. I know that it was scheduled to be completed in 2001, and yet the government office that I work in was only connected this summer - and there are other offices and government facilities still waiting to be connected, 5 years after the initial "due date".

The IDEA of the project was to connect ALL public buildings in Alberta - government facilities, schools, libraries, hospitals, etc - to a high-speed internet connection by 2001, and to use that infrastructure to allow private ISP's to offer commercial high speed service to the vast maority of the province. That was the idea - it's still not a reality. What we've got is better than what we had, but it's still not what we were promised.

That's all I know about the SuperNet.

Thanks again, and sorry for your loss!

- ES

Anonymous said...

Nice come back. Actually, the Alberta SuperNet was announced in 2000 and took a year + in negotiation to conclude the original contract. The announcement was in February of 2001 (regarding the build) which can be confirmed by reviewing press releases Two primary contracts were established one with AXIA SuperNet Ltd and Bell. Rocky start but a start no less. There is 10,000 k of fibre optices and 3,000 k of wireless. The project was to be completed by 2004 and was extended by one year. As far as connecting GOA facilities, yes it took longer but the initial network was built quite rapidly (that was the promise made by Ralph's team). Promised made and promised kept. If you were in the urban areas you were connected last since the rural areas were to be connected first (4,200 facilities). Also, all of the First Nations Schools (95 of them) were connected. Not only a first in Alberta but a First in Canada. That can go in the history books! British Columbia has a similiar project but are suffering some of the same but different challenges. Anyhow, this article is to be about Jim -- so I will leave it at that.

So I guess Jim, if elected will save the day. Oh, the web we weave!

Thank you for your kind comments. Now to look forward to the future.

another35 said...

I've read an article lately saying Dinning people support the man. As one of those people I would say that's accurate. Dinning knows exactly what has to get done and knows how to do it. On the issue of "don't screw up" I would like to note one exception. He is the only candidate not to support cancelling health care premiums. Why is that? It's so popular. It's because he knows, and I trust the rest of them do too, that soon health care will be half the budget. It's not free and we can't be giving away money when we have an elephant in the room as big as the one we're sitting with right now.

Anonymous said...

Another 35:

You're right, health care is going to be half the budget and that is with health care premiums included.

But examining your man's policy platform and costing document, I see no reference to health care beyond some platitudes towards preventative care on June 21, 2006, but NO SUBSTANCE!!!! Status quo is not a serious option, Another35.

And Dinning told the National Post, that health care is an issue that can be dealt with later, not during a leadership campaign.

Kim Campbell said something similar about social policy during the 1993 federal election campaign and she ended up with 2 seats.

I guess this is another one of those, I'll have to wait to see the most open and transparent books in all of Canada, before I make any decision.

Please tell me Another35 that Jim Dinning actually has a plan for getting a grip on health care costs. And please share it with Albertans.