Thursday, January 25, 2007

Kobayashi Maru

So the federal Tories have put a nice new shade of lipstick on the pig that is their environment policy and trotted it out to show off to the public.

In fairness, this new policy isn't bad - not by a long shot. There are some good, solid morsels of policy in there.
The problem, of course, is that it doesn't matter if the Tories trot out a 5-year plan that would completely reverse the effects of global warming and terra-form the moon, they are in a classic "no-win" scenario.
The true geeks among the ES Nation will recognize the reference to that in the title of this post. No matter what policy they unveil, or how sincerely they mean it when they talk about the environment, the Tories will always be painted as "Johnny-Come-Latelies" on the environment portfolios. Nothing they do is going to be good enough for the environmental lobby, Jack Layton is never going to give them kudos for anything, claiming it was all "NDP-inspired" policy, and even Stephane Dion, Canada's least effective Minister of the Environment in years, perhaps EVER, was in that job long enough that people assume he knows what he's talking about.

So, what can the Tories do to gain themselves credibility on the environment? At this point, it doesn't matter if they are true believers or just paying lip-service to the issue, they're not credible to most Canadians on the issue (yet), and many Canadians list the environment as their number 1 concern.

Their first option, and the one they seem to be preparing for, is to swim against the current of malcontent, focus on quality policy, try to get some credible experts on-side, and then (if they don't get thrown into an election in the mean-time) go on the offensive, utilyzing the 1,2 punch of "Here's our shiny new policy or program that this environmental scientist of impeccable credentials loves, and oh, here's what Stephane Dion did about this when he was Environment Minister." This is actually an old Liberal trick, "defining the other guy's policy before he can". It works, and the best thing is that Dion's old policies and programs are all on-the-record, so it's not even that difficult to find them. They need to make sure to milk the disconnect between what Dion SAYS versus what he DID - there's still a slow-simmering public sentiment that Liberals aren't always as truthful as they should be.

The second option, which would certainly be a political coup, would be to form an official parliamentary alliance with the Green party on environmental issues. Photo ops with Elizabeth May, get endorsements from them on your environmental ideas, involve them in the portfolio... the rub, as they say, is that there's very little in this for the Greens. Sure, they get higher visibility, but public perception is a fickle mistress, and your first large-scale market visibility being as a lapdog to the governing policy is hardly good politics when your party's appeal is based at least in small part to the perception as "the underdogs fighting against the establishment". It hardly makes sense to announce you're on-side with the government on the single biggest issue your party has, then go out and try to fund-raise to run candidates against the government in 308 ridings across the country.

So, the best outcome for the Tories, an endorsement from the Greens, is only possible if Ms. May loses her political marbles. Every idea they come up with is going to be roundly criticized as inadequate, regardless of whether or not it actually IS, and their largest competitor, who did a crappy job as Environment minister, has done a masterful job positioning himself as the "voice of the environment", despite his on-the-record inadequacy on the issue.

Kobayashi Maru.

As the uber-geeks know, only one person ever beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario - and he did it by changing the rules. So the Tories need their own Jim Kirk to think outside the box adn find them a way out of this no-win, and they need him pronto. Otherwise, when the next writ is dropped, they're going to find themselves, deservedly or not, in a BIG heap of trouble on the biggest issue of the day.

- ES

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Happy Anniversary, Steve-o...

Well, as everyone who isn't living under a rock must have been told by now, today is the anniversary of the Conservative electoral win in the last Federal Election. I thought I'd do a quick overview of how the major parties have fared since then.

Bloc Quebecqois: Same old leader, same old message. They're having a hard time gaining ground, but nobody else is going out of their way to successfully woo Quebec votes, so they're still in the game. Won a moral victory with the "Nation notion", but don't seem to have gone to court to have the statement interpreted in their sovereigntist favour. Yet.

NDP: Jack is still Jack, only now he's Jack with a whole crapload of power... with recent Liberal defections and retirements, the NDP now hold the balance of power in the House. Layton still takes himself too seriously, but it's hard to throw a joke in when your speech is about how close to collapse our civilization is. The biggest nightmare for Jack Layton is if the trends continue along their current kilter and the Greens get some quality policy-wonks behind them going into the next election, cutting the NDP platform off at the knees.

Greens: SPEAKING of Elizabeth May and her rag-tag group of tree huggers, they are, visably at least, in the same position they were in at around this time LAST year, stomping their feet, with very little mainstream media coverage and basically BEGGING to get into the debates. The difference now, though, is twofold: First, the Environment is now the biggest single issue for Canadians, which may be bad news for Harper but is far, far WORSE news for Dion and Layton if the Greens can put together a good policy platform to complement their environmental stand. This environmental "perfect storm" has the potential to reduce the NDP in the House to a shadow of its former self, as the Greens are poised, with some help, to almost completely replace the NDP in the minds of the voters on most issues (without neccessarily being seen as a leftist party, which also helps garner the environmental votes from the right as well).

Liberals: The Liberal party has gone through some upheaval since the last election - Paul Martin is nothing but a sour, lingering smell in the Liberal halls of power, and several MP's have quit altogether or defected to the Tories. Despite appearances, though, this speaks of party renewal rather than disintegration, and as such is a sign that the worst may be over for "Canada's Natural Ruling Party". Polling numbers put the Liberals and Tories in a dead-heat, and the Liberals don't have the fresh whiff of scandal about them, nor (one would assume) the idiotic team planning election strategy that they had the last time around. The Libs have a shot at unseating the Tories if they give it time, hammer the Tories on the Environment, let Harper's people shoot themselves in the foot, and stay away from scandal.

Conservatives: Well, in the past year they've done some politically smart things (GST cut) and some politically bone-headed things (income trust flip-flop). Their polling numbers have dipped, as outrage over the Liberal Sponsorship scandal died down. They've allowed their leader to be cast as a micro-manager, but he doesn't much care as long as he controls the message the MSM gets to hear, as he early-on realized he's not going to get a fair shake from them anyway, so why bother trying to kiss up to them and cause himself more trouble than it's worth? The big success story here is the fact that the Tories have managed to eliminate the biggest landmine in the electoral battlefield that they could have stepped on: "Angry, Scary Rednecks". Much of the country feared, and much of recent Liberal election advertising suggested, that the Tories were a party of "Angry, Scary Rednecks" who would irrevocably damage the country and its standing in the international community if elected. Instead, Harper's government has made substantive changes to government programs without burning down the house, and our status in the world has, if anything, gone up over our stand against human rights abuses in China. The Harper Tories have certainly made mistakes... but at the end of the day, many Canadians who weren't at all sure if there wouldn't be frightening changes to our way of life if we elected the Blue Party are now looking at the Tories and thinking that they are capable of governing without giving in to their dark, primal urges to do whatever it is us evil western conservatives really want to do. Something involving aircraft carriers, blowing up hospitals (because we like to watch people suffer) and taking away a woman's right to choose, if I recall the ads. In the final analysis, this change in perception across the country may be Harper's greatest accomplishment in the past year: Not as many people list him as their first choice as did a year ago, but far fewer people are scared to death of him than at this time last year. NOW, Harper can run FOR something, instead of running AGAINST the perception of him as the devil.

- ES

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hey, Buddy, Could You Spare A School?

First of all, my sincere apologies for the lack of recent updates. I'm going to have to champion a campaign to have charges brought against the producers of the computer simulation NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007, as they produce what will no doubt go down in history as one of the most insidiously addictive products in history... I'm no psychologist, but I believe the order of the top 3 most addictive products in the world is:

  • 1. NHL Eastside Hockey Manager 2007
  • 2. Sid Meier's Civilization-series of games
  • 3. Crack cocaine

Now then, good to be back.

There's talk, yet again, about the lack of schools (at least in appropriate locations) in the province of Alberta. The Miniser of Education has publicly pondered about the viability of building them using Public/Private Partnerships, so-called "P3's". The opposition has, predictably, come out against this plan, saying that in a province so awash in wealth, education should be a priority for full, public funding.

I agree with them.

Many Albertans moan about paying education taxes ("I don't have kids/my kids finished school long ago!"), and moan even louder about large government increases in payments to teachers ("they get 3 months off every summer!"), building schools ("put the kids of busses!"), etc. The short-sightedness of these arguments is apalling.

I'm not going to plead with you on some purely emotional level to "think of the children", because quite frankly most of the people who think education is over-funded are pretty much sick to death of the little buggers anyway. Let's talk about cold, hard reality.

"I've got no kids in the system, why should my tax dollars pay for it?" - the thing I love most about this question is that it's often asked by people who in the same conversation will complain bitterly about the fact that their doctor, lawyer, or nurse speaks with an accent, and is from "somewhere other than here". The reality is, supporting a public education system not only ensures that we will train Alberta's children to hold meaningful and important jobs to make Alberta even stronger, but it ensures that those children, as they grow, will make more, thus contributing more to the CPP, which is the only way you're going to get any money from the CPP if you're in the 45-60 range as you read this. Let's be honest, folks... that CPP money you contributed back in '75 is LOOONG gone... It's the money that 18-year old Johnny Johnson from PEI contributed on his cheque last week that is going to be appearing on your first pension cheque. If we deny children the best possible education, it directly affects your financial well-being down the line.

"Teachers don't need more money, they work 6 hours a day and get 3 months off!" - I hear this one all the time, especially on call-in radio shows. Usually, from the same people who get a call from the principal's office that little Joey has sworn at a teacher for telling him not to steal from the other kids, and then proceed to go to the school and swear at both Joey's teacher AND the principal, for not paying enough attention to their little darling. Those 2 charges, "6 hour work-days" and "3 months off" are both way off the mark. Let's review: The average teacher shows up to work about 45 minutes before the opening bell, spends 6 hours from (ballpark) 9 to 3 dealing with the students directly. No lunch hour for them, as they have to supervise either inside of outside the school in this age of schoolyard stalkers and liability lawsuits against schools and schoolboards. They'll then likely spend about 45 minutes to an hour at the school after the final bell, either working with students who need individual attention or attending staff meetings or doing some marking. Let's make the point again that this is the AVERAGE teacher - for every one that shows up 10 minutes before class starts and leaves 10 minutes after the final bell rings, there's one who shows up at 7:30 to coach handball and doesn't leave until the computers club is done at 6:00. They don't get paid any more or less than the other. So, thus far we've got a 7.5 hour workday for Jane Teachalot. Now Jane's going to go home and do another hour of marking, which is mandatory if she is to do her job well. She'll then spend about an hour and a half planning her next day's lessons and researching the subject matter to ensure she's got all the bases covered. Incidentally, spending an hour and a half planning 5 hours worth of instructional time is BARELY adequate - at least 2 hours is usually required. But, so far we've got Jane working 10 hours. She's been completely embroiled in her work from 8:15 in the morning until 6:30 at night, allowing only 15 minutes to get from the school to her home, and getting no breaks. And much of her Saturday is going to be spent marking and planning for the upcoming week... So, we're talking 50-to-55 hour work weeks. This is without any extra-curricular coaching or activities, by the way. 6 hour days? Hardly.

Now, do teachers get 3 months without dealing with students? Yes. 2 months in the summer, 2 weeks in Winter, and 2 weeks in Spring. True. But, in those OTHER 40 weeks of the year, Jane works between 2000 and 2200 hours, at a minimum. A 40-hour per week worker, who doesn't miss a single day of work all year and works every statutory holiday, 5 shifts a week, 52 weeks a year, will work 2080 hours.
So save me "they only work 9 months a year", because in those 9 months they work more hours than most of us work in 12.
And they're not answering the phone or re-stocking shelves - they're entrusted with the minds and hearts of our children, and we should make damn sure that we're paying well enough to attract only the best and brightest teachers to this lofty responsibility. At your worst day of work, you might drop your tray and break a plate and a glass - at Jane's, she might scar a kid for life or lead him to a life of crime. Whom should we pay better, to make sure we get people up to the task?

"Why do they need more schools in the suburbs, when they're closing ones downtown? BUS those kids!" - You know, I actually agree with this. If a building is structurally safe, it should be utilyzed. Needs are constantly changing as technology changes, and we'd all like to work in a new building, but if the money's not there, it's not there. 30 minutes on a bus isn't "cruel and unusual", and there are better things the money can be used for within the system. The $15 million to build a new elementary would bus those kids and pay for enough music or athletic gear for the whole school system... our schools need up-to-date computers, maintenance, supplies, reduced fees charged to the kids' families, etc. Use the buildings you already have, as long as they're safe. Not everyone can walk to and from school - there are more important things that need attending to first.

Tomorrow: Stephen's First Anniversary

- ES

Friday, January 12, 2007

Shirley, $5000 Receptions, and Ken Chapman

Well, we’re certainly not lacking for topics today, are we?

Firstly, Shirley McClennan announces she is done with provincial politics. Although not unexpected, this certainly is a touchstone moment for our political history, and is a sign perhaps of a trend to follow. How many other Klein loyalists, many of whom backed Dining, are going to follow suit in the days and weeks to come? This brings to 2 the number of by-elections that have to be held to replace outgoing MLA’s (Klein and McLellan). If enough MLA’s follow suit, it may be apropos to call a general election, which is the LAST thing the government needs or wants right now. Ed needs time to establish his style and form a solid imprint on the public consciousness, and the party needs a policy convention to give Stelmach a platform to run on… expect Stelmach’s people to be working the phones like mad to “Dead MLA’s Walking” like Denis Herard, asking them to stay on just a year longer…

Stelmach’s people. That beings us to our second issue of the day: Which staff member, in charge of supervising the set-up of fundraisers, has the brain cramp necessary to allow the establishment, and the PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT, of a $5000 “private access to the Premier reception” at his Edmonton and Calgary fundraisers?

Don’t get me wrong… this is certainly business as usual, and most, if not all, politicians in power hold similar functions, with similar “tiers” of access… $50 for dinner in the same room as Mayor Sixpack, $200 for one of the 50 spots at the cocktail reception, $1000 for a private meeting of 10 minutes and a photo… it’s how business is done, and it’s unlikely to change as long as sitting politicians are thinking about their next election campaign, with visions of advertising expenses dancing in their heads. That being said…
for a newly-minted Premier whose entire campaign was based on honesty and transparency, and who vowed to do away with the “back-room boys”, the optics on this are TERRIBLE…
Ed did the right thing by coming out and offering up a Mea Culpa – but I talked before about first impressions, and he needs to make sure absolutely EVERYONE working on something with the brand name of "Ed Stelmach" attached to it understands the reality of his position: PC Party members have given him their trust. Average Albertans are still trying to decide if they trust him or not – and although the immediate apology, and canceling of the $5000 access, will help with that, not screwing up in the first place would have gone a whole lot farther.

Working on a piece about political “fan-boys”. If you recognize the term, or have attended a convention any time in the past 4 years with your jaundiced eyes installed, you’re going to love the piece.

Met with Ken Chapman while he was in Calgary had a delightful chat, if any discussion approaching 2-and-a-half hours can be categorized as a “chat”. Not often I run into someone whose opinions and stances run the gamut as much as mine – refreshing, really. Had some very constructive discussions about revitalizing te concept of citizenship and the participatory nature of our democracy.
Keep an eye on this Chapman kid, ES Nation – he could go places. ;)

- ES

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Floor Crossing

Well, once again the dance of spin-doctoring is in its full pageantry and pomp as an MP elected for one party crosses to another. In this case, it's Wajid Khan, elected a Liberal in the Greater Toronto Area and crossing to the Tories.

Predictably, the spin is going exactly according to the manual.

Party being jilted: "We're disappointed in his decision, and trust that he will be held to account by the voters of [insert riding]."

Party gaining a member: "We're pleased by his principled stand, have been impressed with him for quite a while, think he'll fit right in with our inclusive, big-tent party, and look forward to working with him to make life better for the people of [insert riding]."

NDP: "He should sit as an Independant MP, this is awful and can't be allowed!"

The political winners in this are, obviously, the Tories, who can show this defection as a shining example that not only are they and their policies appealing to Ontarians, and immigrants, and Muslims and visible minorities, but this all came about because "Darth Dion" was playing hardball, old-style politics and putting partisanship ahead of statesmanship. Home run for the Tories.

The hew and cry, from the predictible sources, is still the same: "This thwarts the democratic process!"

Let's examine that... first, for those who are unaware: The Conservative Party of Canada has a policy in place at this time that states that sitting MPs shall be declared, by acclaimation, the candidate for their riding in preparation for the next Federal Election. This is only true in a minority parliament, like we currently have, but what it means is that Tories in Khan's riding have no choice but to accept him as their candidate in that riding for the next election. Even though they were running against him not 12 months ago. So, if you live in a Conservative riding and are a party member, don't hold your breath waiting for the announcement of the candidacy process - there won't be one. Your incumbent IS the candidate. This is practical, and politically expedient, but hardly democratic.

Which beings us to our hallowed democracy that critics claim is being gutted every time someone crosses the floor...

The fact is, in Canada, you don't get to vote for a party. In fact, the average Canadian gets no say in directly electing their Prime Minister. Elections Canada records your vote as a vote for Candidate X, who at this time is representing the Purple Party. Whether you walked into that voting both intending to vote for the Liberals, or to elect Paul Martin as Prime Minister, you accomplished neither... your vote went to Mr. Wajid Khan, and if he wants to cross the floor and join the Marxist-Leninist Party or the Greens or the Marijuana Party, there's nothing you can do about it until the next election - your vote follows him, not the party he was with at election time, and not the leader he was representing.

At the end of the day, the Party with the greatest number of elected MPs who agree to ally themselves with that Party gets to form a government, and that Party's leader, elected internally by members of the Party, becomes Prime Minister. End of civics lesson.

So you see, many people feel betrayed by Khan's crossing. Just as many felt betrayed by Emerson's defection, or Belinda-gate. But at the sun's setting, who those people represent and take orders from is their own decision. Once the votes get counted, they can go wherever they choose and take the votes with them. It might not be scrupulous. It might not be right. And, personally, I think they SHOULD sit as Independant (for all the good it would do, supporting the Party they intend to join at every opportunity) until a byelection can be held, and the people of the riding can pass judgement on the move.

But keep this example in mind, especially as we get nominations out of the way and head for the inevitable election to come in the not-so-distant future: Ask yourself if you trust and believe in the PERSON you're voting for, in your riding... because you don't get to vote for a party, and you don't get to vote for Prime Minister. The person whose name is next to the "x" on your ballot gets to make that decision, and you're trusting THEM with your franchise. So spend less time worrying about the other party's leader, who lives 6 provinces away, and focus on the people running in your constituency - because one of them is going to represent you directly, however they best see fit - even if it's as a member of a party other than the one paying for their lawn signs.

In the words of the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: "Choose Wisely".

- ES

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Shuffle Up & Deal - Analysis

First off, ES Nation, I've been asked to comment on the windstorms and snowstorms that continue to ravage the Lower Mainland of BC. As you might guess, I'm chalking it up to a wrathful, Old Testament God trying to wipe clean the soils that He hath wrought. That's what you get for voting NDP, Vancouver. ;)

Also, you may have heard that MP Wajid Khan has crossed the floor to join the Conservatives from the Liberal ranks. I'll be commenting on this tomorrow, so y'all come back, hear?

Now, on to the cabinet shuffle... I'll only be analysing the changes, from a pragmatic (can they do the job?) and political (can they help Harper win the next election?) point of view. On with the show!

John Baird, Environment - Pragmatic: John Baird has no experience in dealing with the environment. At all. Not federally, and not in his 10 years as an MPP in Ontario. But then, the minister doesn't need to be the smartest person in the room, or know the most about the subject: that's what those highly-paid experts and government support staff are for. If he can communicate government policy to a level even approaching how bad his haircut is, he'll do a fine job. Political: IF he does a good job, it's a feather in the cap of the Tories in a portfolio they need to do well on, and a capable minister from a province they need to do well in. A win/win.

Rona Ambrose, Intergovernmental Affairs - Pragmatic: Rona has worked in Intergovernmental Affairs in Alberta, behind the scenes. This post is definitely a demotion, although her additional duties (eg, President of the Privy Council) soften the blow. Most of the negotiating the public sees between governments happens in the papers and on television, and it's between various local and provincial leaders and the Prime Minister himself. This is a good place to put Rona and let her get her sea-legs back before moving her to a higher-profile portfolio in the future. Political: Rona was a disaster in Environment and had to be moved. Much of it wasn't her fault, and to take her out of cabinet completely would have not only upset Edmontonians, who have shown they'll elect Liberals when they feel a need, but it would also have upset some of the caucus, many of whom are fully aware it could just have easily been THEM in her shoes. This is a safe move, to a portfolio that's hard to mess up in.

Rob Nicholson, Justice - Pragmatic: Nicholson has served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice in the past, so he has experience with the portfolio. Also, as someone who was first elected to Parliament in 1984, he has the vital ability that many Tory MP's lack, namely to recognize, as someone who has sat in government before, what bills are well-crafted and which ones will be torn to ribbons. This skill is especially important in a Minister of Justice. Political: The number 2 man in the Harper government is from Ontario. Anyone who's surprised, put up your hand - this is how it had to be, especially with polling numnbers so low in Quebec, an Ontarian was the only logical choice to sit at Harper's right hand. Making it even smarter is that Nicholson is a moderate, and a former PC member. This choice will appeal through policy to small-c conservatives, and by virtue of pedigree not scare aware centrist voters and disenfranchised blue liberals. A great choice for Justice.

Vic Toews, Treasury Board President - Pragmatic: Vic's pedigree is all about Justice, where he (until Thursday) served as Minister. His socially conservative views weren't a problem in that capacity, and should be even less of a concern in his new role as holder of the federal purse. He has no experience in the role, but with much of the planning likely already completed, the hardest part of Vic's day might be remembering where he put his "yes" and "no" stamps. Political: A valuable Manitoba minister, Vic needed to be kept at the table to satisfy Manitobans and old Canadian Alliance voters. He's in a harmless ministry, and shouldn't hurt the Tory electoral fortunes any.

Peter Van Loan, House Leader - Pragmatic: This appointment raised a lot of eyebrows. The House Leader's main job, in a minority House, is to make sure that the Government doesn't fall due to the numbers game. Ask Joe Clark. It's a huge job, and arguably the most important one on the Government side - and Van Loan has been an MP for 30 months, and a minister for less than 8 weeks. That being said, Van Loan's strong suit is his ability to organize people and campaigns. If he keeps his eyes and ears open, he should do fine at not letting the government fall unexpectedly. Political: Van Loan is Progressive Conservative through-and-through, which will please the old PC's, and yet he also led the campaign for the "yes" side on the party merger into the Conservative Party of Canada in Ontario, which makes him "good people" to the old Alliance members. He lacks in Federal experience, but makes up for it in pedigree and geography, being another minister from Battleground Ontario. A decent choice.

Monte Solberg, Human Resources - Pragmatic: Monte has served as critic for Human Resources while in opposition, so he's somewhat familiar with the issues and the department. That being said, there's a lot of real estate between criticizing the minister and BEING the minister, so we'll see. He's managed not to make too many blunders in the 13 years he's been an MP, so don't expect that cautious approach to change now. Political: Monte hails from Medicine Hat, which is probably as safe a seat as the Tories have anywhere in the country. A Human Resources minister from labour-starved Alberta also shows that Harper is keenly aware of our situation out here... not that many Albertans are likely to vote Liberal because their Big Mac takes a bit longer to come and they can't get a cab. Medicine Hat is Reform heartland, and a notch on the Alberta Bible Belt... keeping Solberg around keeps your core supporters happy, and while it may not win you more seats, turfing him just to make room for someone from BC or the East would have been foolish. He doesn't make mistakes, and keeping him around doesn't smell like one either.

Diane Finley, Immigration - Pragmatic: Diane has a lot of background in administration. As anyone can tell you, no department seems to have more red tape, for better or worse, than the immigration department. Finley won't have to run the department single-handedly, of course - but it always helps to have a boss who understands the sometimes infuriating stacks of triplicate forms that need to be filled out before you can requisistion a new toilet seat. Political: Another Ontarian, which helps Harper. This department also run itself in good times, which will take some of the pressure off Finley while she deals with her recently diagnosed Graves' disease. Of course, when things get bad in immigration they generally get REALLY bad, so Finley's ability to take the heat may be in the spotlight if something goes wrong in the immigration department.

Note: Secretaries of State are not full ministers, but act as Parliamentary Secretaries to the Ministers of their departments.

Marjory LeBreton, Secretary of State for Seniors - Pragmatic: You need a Senior looking after Seniors. The long and short of this job is, you need someone Seniors can complain to who can listen and make them feel like they count and you can relate to them. Marjory can do this, so she's a good choice. Political: Seniors are motivated voters. If they feel you're paying attention to them, they'll come out in droves to keep you around. If they feel ignored or unimportant, they'll come out in droves to kick you to the curb. Harper's aiming for option A, and Marjory can help deliver it.

Gerry Ritz, Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism - Pragmatic: A nine-year veteran of the back-benches, this SecState position gives Ritz and Harper a chance to test the waters and see if Ritz is the right fit for a full cabinet post later on. Political: A old-style Reformer with a good sense of humour and a Saskatchewan voice at the table, Ritz could find himself a full minister before too long if he does well in this new job.

Helena Guergis, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Trade - Pragmatic: Helena doesn't have a whole lot of experience in this regard, so the learning curve will be quite steep for her. She's a good addition to the team, though, as she's being given a chance to prove herself and earn a full cabinet seat after the next election. Those who feel a need to prove themselves generally work pretty hard, so expect her to make the curve. Political: The Conservatives have taken a beating over their perceived attitudes towards women, and the appointment of another female face, even to a minor position, helps dispel this. The hope is that Helena earns a full cabinet seat and becomes a foil to Belinda, so whenever Stronach waxes poetic about the barbarian misoginysts in the Tory party, Helena can bring her exceptionally (EXCEPTIONALLY) photogenic self out to a podium and cut down Belinda's arguments as sour grapes.

Christian Paradis, Secretary of State for Agriculture - Pragmatic: A Quebec Lawyer hardly seems a natural choice for SecState Agriculture, but as with many of the SecState appointments, it's not the experience of the MP that determines their assignment, but rather their ability to learn and thrive with added responsibility that is being tested. It's sort of a "minister-in-training" program, and Paradis is noted for his analytical and strategic abilities. If he learns quickly and well, he could see himself elevated quickly. Political: Harper needs Quebec ministers, and what better way than to train them from within? This is a good gamble, with Chuck Strahl still running Agriculture to keep the Western farmers happy and a sidekick from Quebec to recognize the farmers along the St. Lawrence and their completely different concerns.

Jay Hill, Secretary of State & Chief Whip - Pragmatic: Hill has been an MP for 13 years, earning the respect of his colleagues first as a Reform MP, then through all the incarnations of the party up to today's Conservatives. His primary responsibility will be as Chief Whip, which just requires that he be able to enforce party discipline - a big priority in this "loose lips sink ships" approach that the Harper Tories have, out of necessity, taken. If Hill can keep some of his old running mates from the Reform days under wraps, he'll excel here. Political: Jay Hill is the MP for Prince George, which (if we believe Hedy Fry) has crosses burning on lawns "as we speak". A BC voice at the table helps in one of the only provinces to elect Liberals, NDP members and Tories. One can't help but wonder how much longer Hill will stick around, but this seems like a reward rather than a chance to prove himself capable of ministerial responsibility.

Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Canadian Identity - Pragmatic: Nothing says "multiculturalism" more than a guy descended from Irish immigrants who lives in the West and went to a french-immersion catholic boarding school (and hockey factory) in Saskatchewan (Notre Dame - Never Lose Heart, You Hounds!). In truth, this surprised me, as Kenney had been performing well as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister. This very well could be an audition for a bigger post later on, but Kenney's social conservatism limits the number of ministries that Harper could safely put him in. Political: Want a lifetime job with the Liberal party of Canada? Get a microphone, a table at a local restaurant, and invite one of Jason's immediate relatives in particular to lunch. You might ensure a Liberal majority with the ensuing recording, as the family member in question has social views on multiculturalism and inclusion that make Rob Anders look like a Nobel Peace Prize winner. This keeps the Tories strong where they were already their strongest, Alberta, and Jason himself, as one of the brightest bulbs on the Tory tree, isn't likely to do ANYTHING to embarass the party in this position. A safe pick.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Shoe Drops...

Harper names new cabinet. Analysis to follow.

- ES

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Federal Cabinet, PC Alberta Fortunes, and Ed's Media Strategy

Alright, so moving day has come and gone, and with it my excuse for a lack of timely updates.

Stephen Harper is reported to have called the Cabinet to Ottawa, presumably for the “pre-Christmas shuffle” we were promised. Any moves beyond Environment are in “all bets are off” territory, while Environment is rumoured to be going to Jim Prentice, as covered in earlier posts. I don’t have a problem with Rona Ambrose or the job she’s done, but given the awful communications strategy by the government when it came to the Environment portfolio, they definitely need a new face to present their policies, and get a “mulligan”. More on this if and when anything actually HAPPENS.

I recently read a newspaper piece suggesting the Ed Stelmach’s Tories were doomed to defeat at the hands of an Alberta Alliance featuring BOTH Ted Morton and Jim Dinning in key roles. This is about as likely as my sprouting an extra head. Ted and Jim are unlikely to be found in the same ROOM together, let alone on the same ticket. Ted may yet find his way to the Alliance camp, but Jim is likely done with politics altogether and is fundamentally out-of-step with most of the Alberta Alliance principles – that dog just won’t hunt.

Another recent newspaper report suggested that the PC’s were going to be in some serious trouble in the next provincial election. This is a very real possibility, but the winds need to blow JUST right to take it from possibility to reality. The Alberta Alliance is not the threat that its backers make it out to be – yet. The reality is that although the fiscal policies of the Alliance are keeping in step with the values of most Albertans, the social policies of the party make it unpalatable enough to most Albertans, even self-identified small-c conservatives, to keep the Alliance off the benches of power. Social conservatives, however, are VERY motivated voters, and the general malaise that sets in over time with supporters of the status quo will keep some PC voters away, while those who want to see a change, and a re-shifting of our provincial priorities to the right, will come out in droves for the very reason that they KNOW it’s going to be hard to unseat the incumbent party. The Alliance’s real power to affect the election, though, lies not in taking seats from the Tories for themselves, but in splitting enough of the vote on the right to allow the Liberals to come up the middle and take enough seats from the PC’s in the cities to put the Tories in a minority situation.

Mind you, this will only happen if the Liberals and Alliance do EVERYTHING right in the next election, which is hardly plausible. In all likelihood, if an election were held tomorrow, we’d likely see similar numbers to those we see right now, with maybe one more seat for the Alliance, and one or two Calgary seats falling to the Liberals. The end result would still be a large Tory majority. But, as my farming ancestors used to say, there’s a lot of hay to pitch before the sun goes down, so we’ll see what kind of public sentiment prevails when the time comes. For now, the Tories need to work hard at delivering on Ed’s promises and priorities and let Albertans see that they are a party that is still focused on delivering good governance, not just on being able to cling to the reigns of power with no idea where to steer the horse.

One other thing that needs to be brought up is Ed’s media strategy. As reported on Larry Johnsrude's blog, Premier Stelmach is already making friends in the media. Now, I understand that we all have a right to some modicum of privacy, and Ed Stelmach is no different. But in the business of politics, image isn’t everything, but it’s darned close… chasing off reporters with Alberta Sheriffs sure doesn’t contribute to the image the party wants Ed to have: that of the everyman, the humble farmer. I understand that it was Ed's "Security People" who made the call on how to deal with the trespasser, and in matters of imminent security unknowns, their authority supercedes his. Fine. But he needs to talk to them very seriously about how to handle situations like this in the future. Dealing with the media monkeys in such a heavy-handed way will only contribute to an image of a party that has lost touch with the average Albertan - a party that has grown decadent and arrogant over its 30 years in power. The Liberals and the Alliance would be very wise to strike on this while the iron is hot – first impressions last the longest.

This isn’t the Ottawa Tories, where the media has been so blatantly ANTI-your party for so long that you need to, excuse the expression, “build a firewall” between yourself and the media, to control the message and let them know you won’t be intimidated. This is Alberta – most of the Alberta-based media are at least fair, if not outright biased TOWARDS the PC party. Granted, the reporter in question was from MacLean’s, which is hardly Alberta-based. He hadn't even identified himself as media, so at the time he was just a trespasser on the farm, taking pictures and who knew (at the time) what else... But the details will escape most casual news readers and viewers. The bottom line, politically and image-wise, is that this incident illustrates and helps build a sense of a guy who maybe is a bit too big for his britches, which is exactly the OPPOSITE of the image the Tories are wanting, and needing, to sell to Joe Albertan if they intend to remain in power.