Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Don't Do It, Stephen!

Dear Steve (or, as I know you prefer to be called... The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, Member of Parliament for Calgary South West, Member of the Queen's Privy Council):

Don't Do It.

I know that there were lids basically FLYING off of tetra-packs of Apple Juice at 24 Sussex last night as the results from Quebec came in. Well into the night, the ADQ showing in the Quebec Provincial Election gave you reason to get excited about your chances there given the current climate. I'm sure you may have even heard numbers like "40 Quebec Seats" thrown around as estimates of what you might be able to capture the next time you hit the campaign trail in the quest for that elusive Majority. And, as the strategist you're known to be, I have little doubt that you had a different plan for virtually every possible permutation of popular support numbers coming out of Quebec's election, and will likely stick to that plan no matter WHAT I ask of you.

But I'm asking anyway: Steve, PLEASE don't touch the red button.

I'm not going to cite potential or active investigations against a former leader and current MP in your party, or of last campaign's chair. I'm not going to bring up that many of the ADQ votes were, in fact, cast by people who were sick of 30 years of being forced to either vote for crooked Liberals to run their province or Separatists. I'm not going to bring up the fact that the main-streak media is basically frothing at the mouth for an election, giving you all the reasons in the world not to have one. I'll avoid talking about the likelihood that you could do even BETTER in Quebec if you wait for Duceppe to resign in a quest for the leadership of the PQ. I won't talk about Caledonia, Afghanistan, Income Trusts, poll numbers that swing by huge margins in less than a week, traditional Liberal voters who feel their party has been sufficiently punished and will now vote for them again after holding their noses and voting Tory or NDP last time around, hockey playoffs, or anything else that might cause some of the millions that cast their ballots for the CPC to stay home this time around.

No, Mr. Prime Minister, I'm just asking you to think of one thing:


Stephen, *I* need you to hold off on this election.

I'm going to be frank with you: I need some time off. I know that as a hard-core Leafs fan, you might be unable to understand this, but last spring and summer, while my beloved Oilers were in what we call the "playoff hunt", and actually advanced to something called the "Stanley Cup Finals", I had what could charitably be called a LESS than productive work and home life. I'm PRETTY sure I still have dishes under the couch. After the playoffs came the busiest time of my year for one job, and the the busiest time of year for the other job. Then the Alberta PC Leadership race. And since that race prompted me to join the blogosphere, casting light onto the millions upon MILLIONS of desperate souls yearning for a beacon of enlightenment in their otherwise vacuous political lives, I've had budgets, cabinets, and all manner of issues come up.

Thankfully, my Oilers have made my burden lighter this year, for which I (and hundreds of thousands of other Oilers fans) am clearly and eternally grateful. Now I am asking the same favour of you... PLEASE, Stephen. On behalf of all of my undone chores, my 3 foot-long "To Do List", and my relationship crumbling under the weight of the fact that I LIVE for this stuff and she can't STAND it, I beg of you: Give me a few more months. Aim for autumn.

Don't do it to let the investigations blow over. Don't do it to sort out the First Nations mess. Don't even do it to improve your electoral chances by giving Duceppe a chance to bolt and Dion a chance to mis-step.

Do it for me. The Enlightened Savage.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Dion Expels Liberal MP; One Final Budget Thought

Just a quick one today, Nation...

Dion's expulsion of a Liberal MP for having the audacity to support the budget (and, perhaps even being so crazy as to READ the budget before deciding what to do about it) is ethically wrong, but politically necessary. This is another prime example of partisan games and political expediency trumping the common good - if MP's actually vote for or against the budget based on its CONTENTS, rather than along simple party lines based on who is introducing it, then we might (gods forbid) get a GOOD budget, instead of getting the budget supported by the winner of the numbers game.

ON the other hand... as a new leader, Dion needs to send a message to his caucus that there are, in fact, penalties for failing to tow the party line on issues he considers important. With his leadership in question anyway, this was an opportunity for him to crack the whip, and he wisely chose to do so. I don't agree with it, but it was a politically necessary move, and he made it.

A side note that I was thinking but somehow failed to mention in either of my budget posts is this: The Liberals and NDP get a bonus out of this deal in that, by virtue of the fact that they can vote against the budget without triggering an election, AND that they can claim (as they have in the past, but this time with evidence) that the Tories are being propped up by their "ideological brethren", the Bloc.

Further posts this week-end are unlikely, as I'll be in Edmonton, scouting out the parade route for my triumphant march through the streets of Edmonton upon my successful bid for the Premier's office. :)

Stay Strong, Nation! Only 6 more months until the municipal elections!

- ES

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Budget 2007 - The Day After

Nation, just checking in with a few sober second thoughts...

The Bloc supporting the budget was a god-send for the NDP and the Liberals. It gives them the chance to oppose the budget just on principle without forcing an election. So they'll moan about how awful it is, but the reality is that if the Bloc weren't voting for this budget, they'd likely HAVE to. The irony is that, by coming out right off the bat and saying they would NOT support this budget, they're staking their claim to the ideological ground but also disenfranchising their own voters by giving the Tories no reason to sit down, talk to them and come up with compromises. Once again, political considerations get in the way of doing what's best for Canadians.

Once again, it bears repeating: This budget isn't going to save the world, and it won't get the Tories their majority. BUT, it does show the country that Harper is willing to piss off some of those groups his critics accuse him of pandering to at every step - Saskatchewan voters and Big Oil come to mind. Oil companies are BESIDE themselves at the regulation changes in store that affect oilsands production... predictably, the environmental lobby is claiming it's not NEARLY enough, but they wouldn't be happy unless Harper legislated that all gas companies shut down and their CEO's be assigned "cleaning oil-stained waterfowl with toothbrushes" duty.

So, the opposition and the government are once again going to give us less than what we deserve (also known as "good government", because the government is trying to get a majority and the opposition is more interested in opposing for the sake of opposing Harper than they are in offering credible alternatives), the special interests are ticked off (when are they not?), and partisans across the country are falling all over each other to fawn over their respective leaders for their "principles and beliefs" (or, more commonly known as "the opinions that our polling numbers tell us our voters want you to have") in supporting or rejecting outright this budget.

Sigh... the Greeks are rolling over in their graves.

- ES

Monday, March 19, 2007

Budget 2007 Analysis

View the Federal Budget here.

Now, analysis...

Before I begin, I should just go on the record as saying I really, REALLY don't want an election anytime soon... now that my beloved Oilers have taken steps to ensure I have a productive April, May and June (UNlike last year - so thanks for looking out for me, Oilers...), I'd really like to NOT be chained to a desk, typing away at this blog 6 times per day analysing every riding in the country.

Clearly, the government wants to avoid an election, at least immediately, as well. This budget has a little something for everyone - more for some than others - but doesn't break the bank, either, which was the big concern.

Of course, those with vested interest are going to do what they always do... The Bloc will say "It's good for Quebec, so we like it." while the NDP will say "It's bad for working families and working families are the backbone of Canada's economy and it favours the rich and the planet is dying and working families oh we love working families and where has our labour support gone oh maybe we lost it when we and Buzz Hargrove had that falling out but we love working families Tommy Douglas was in our party once you know immigrants are cool Stephen Harper is a madman we need more working families please vote for us... Working Families." (Apparently, none of the nearly 10 Million people who voted Tory or Liberal last January were from working families.) The Liberals will hem and haw and say the Tories made a few good moves, all stolen from the Liberal platform, but that it wasn't good enough and oh, remember when Stephen Harper hiked taxes on the lowest income earners? That has nothing to do with this budget, but we thought we'd mention it anyway. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation will cry about Quebec getting money from Ontario, BC and Alberta, and bemoan the fact that there is any income tax at all. Students groups will stage protests because they have to pay for their own educations. Environmental groups will stage protests because... well, because that's what they do. And at the end of the day... the budget will pass, with a few modifications that the NDPs and the Liberals will both try to take credit for, but they'll both complain about the overall budget, and likely pass it anyhow.

A few highlights:

  • Restoring fiscal balance
  • by providing $39 billion in additional funding over seven years, which will allow provinces and territories to better provide services and infrastructure that matter to Canadians—everything from roads, bridges and public transit, to better-equipped universities and colleges, improving health care, clean rivers, oceans and air, and job training that helps Canadians compete with the best in the world.

    Good. Some will complain it's not good enough... but they'll be drowned out by provinces and municipalities dancing in the streets, waiting for their cheque. Hard for the Liberals to comment on this one, since they refuse to acknowledge the existence of what they STILL call the "so-called" fiscal imbalance. So, for the hardcore Liberals in ES Nation, just consider this "39 Billion so-called dollars".

  • Further tax relief for working families
  • with the Working Families Tax Plan, which includes a new $2,000-per-child tax credit. Budget 2007 also helps parents save for their children’s education by strengthening the registered education savings plan program, and supports seniors by raising the age limit for registered pension plans and registered retirement savings plans to 71 from 69 years.

    Good. More money for working families (you just KNOW they put that particular term in there to see Jack Layton's hair catch on fire) is a good thing, although Canadians in major centres are getting more and more frustrated with the lack of child-care spaces - living in the GCA, I've got to get on a waiting list NOW, and we're not even going to conceive for 4 or 5 years!

  • Further debt reductions
  • resulting in savings for Canadians. After paying down $13.2 billion on Canada’s national debt in September 2006, Budget 2007 further reduces the debt by $9.2 billion. Thanks to the government’s Tax Back Guarantee, the interest savings on this year’s debt repayment will be returned to Canadians in the form of further tax cuts.

    Good. The Liberals may, and the NDP DEFINITELY will, paint this as "retiring debt on the backs of overtaxed Canadians"... but it's not as though we can take the surplus and blow it all because we need, or think we need, to buy certain things... we OWE this money to REAL PEOPLE... the "working families" that the NDP love to talk about. It is a moral and fiscal obligation to pay back the money that we owe - and, it just makes good sense. OVERDOING it, as we saw in Alberta, just to get the debt off the book, is a bad idea - hings get left undone, repairs and needed infrastructure don't happen. But if your pal owed you $100, got a $50,000 inheritance, and spent it all on home renovations, you'd be pretty bent out of shape at him. We owe, and we need to pay.

  • Investing in Canadians
  • by providing $550 million per year for the Working Income Tax Benefit and $140 million over two years to establish a Registered Disability Savings Plan.

    THERE'S the working poor and the vulnerable that Layton ties his wagon to... they'll say it's not good enough, but it's a heck of a lot more than "zero".

  • Preserving the environment
  • with a balanced action plan including rebates on fuel-efficient vehicles and efficient alternative fuel vehicles, an incentive to get older polluting cars off the road and a Green Levy on fuel-inefficient vehicles; by developing a new National Water Strategy; and by providing $1.5 billion to establish a Canada ecoTrust for Clean Air and Climate Change.

    The Liberals and NDP are going to skewer this as sub-standard... can we do better? Sure. Is it a start? Absolutely. A growing consumer base, with cash to spare and large distances to travel (pretty big country - not exactly Luxembourg), is going to buy vehicles. Likely these "horseless carriages" I keep hearing about. Giving rebates on fuel-efficient cars and hybrids and adding a Levy onto that HummVee will help encourage people to make the right choices... not everyone still WILL make the responsible choice for the environment, but what does Dion expect, a law against selling Hummers in Canada?

  • Improving health care
  • by investing $400 million for Canada Health Infoway to support the development of electronic health records and up to $612 million to support jurisdictions that have made commitments to implement patient wait time guarantees, and by providing the provinces with $300 million for a vaccine to prevent cancer of the cervix.

    Efficiency, wait-time guarantees, and a vaccine for cervical cancer. Is anyone politically suicidal enough to vote against those measures?

  • Supporting our troops
  • by providing $60 million to increase the field operations allowance, establishing five new trauma centres to help veterans and their families deal with stress injuries related to their military service, and creating the position of Veterans’ Ombudsman.

    Again, all good... you're not saying "we're increasing the budget to buy more bullets to kill people with", you're establishing trauma centres for injured soldiers... who's going to vote against THAT?

  • Supporting our farmers
  • by providing $1 billion in commitments for improvements to national farm income programs, including $600 million to kick-start contributory style producer savings accounts and a direct payment of $400 million to producers to help address high production costs.

    Some might ask why the Tories need to help farmers, as they've already got most of the Western ridings locked up. Hate to burst anyone's myopic view of things, but there are farmers EAST of Manitoba, too. And most of the country's farmers are in trouble, financially. Since I'm not crazy about the idea of importing beef or grain because Canada's farms started closing down, this is a needed and useful investment.

    As I said, this budget has a little something to like in it for everyone. Enough that if you were a die-hard Grit of Dipper you'd vote Tory? Not likely... but enough that if you were undecided, you'd consider keeping the Liberals on the opposition benches, and see what this Harper fella could do for you? Perhaps.

    To whit: Not a home run for the Tories, but at least a single, possibly a double. No election triggered over THIS budget.

    - ES

    CPC Membership Details

    As Requested...

    To become a member of the Conservative Party of Canada you must:

    • Be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada
    • Be at least 14 years of age

    To purchase a party membership ($10, as I recall), call 1-866-808-8407

    To be eligible to vote in a constituency candidate selection process, you must be able to prove residency in the constituency (a utility bill or driver's permit) and have been a party member for 21 days - so it's best to buy that membership ASAP if you're unsure when to expect a constituency race - it's good for a year.

    To contact the Calgary West constituency directly (about when to expect a nomination meeting), e-mail them at communications@calgarywest.com or get more information at calgarywest.com (they haven't updated the site since the judge's ruling).

    Saturday, March 17, 2007

    The Calgary West Clusterschmuck

    Nation, it looks like things are getting all whacky out here in whackyville... and when things get whacked, there's little doubt that Rob Anders is involved.

    Rob Anders (M.P. - Calgary West), for those of you drawing a blank, is the gentleman who blocked the honourary Canadian citizenship that the House of Commons was going to bestow on Nelson Mandela, on the grounds that he believed Nelson Mandela (yes, THAT Nelson Mandela) was a terrorist. He is also the most reactionary member of the Conservative Caucus and, before that, the most reactionary member of the Reform Party Caucus (now THAT is saying something). Let's just say that the vast majority of Canadians would find Mr. Anders a bit out-of-step with the mainstream. He wins his riding, though, and keeps the social conservatives within the party happy, so Harper keeps him around. He's considered such a loose cannon by party brass that, when it began looking in the last election that the Tories might actually win, they [ALLEGEDLY] shipped him out of town, as far from media microphones as possible, and kept him there until the night the ballots were counted...

    But this post isn't about Rob Anders - it's about the Calgary West nomination process for the Tories.

    A Court of Queen's Bench judge decided that the nomination process in Calgary West was unfair, because of perceptions of conflicts of interest and a lack of due diligence. He has ordered a new nomination process take place. Anders had argued that, as in internal party matter, this was outside the judge's jurisdiction. Perhaps, perhaps not - I'm not a lawyer, I wouldn't know.

    What I DO know, and have mentioned before, is this:

    "...the National Candidate Selection Committee has authority to disallow...
    candidacy on any grounds it sees fit..."
    (CPC - Updated Candidate Nomination Rules & Procedures, Jan. 4, 2007 -

    Now, of course this being politics, normally we'd be loathe to suggest anything approaching absolutism. That being said, though, either the above statement is TRUE, or it is FALSE. Clearly, the judge in the case of Calgary West believes it to be false, in which case the Party needs to re-write the rules.

    Nation, between you, me, and the flies on the walls of whatever cubicles in which you're all reading this: I'd go so far as to suggest that IF a legitimate and respectable candidate came forward to oppose Rob Anders for the party nomination, they may just win it. Many people in Calgary West buy Tory memberships just to try and wrest their riding's mantle away from the guy who described Calgary West as "A Christian Constituency".

    Let's call a spade a spade: Calgary West is going to vote Tory, and they're going to elect a Tory. So this nomination process is, in fact, the battle for an M.P. position. One that's pretty much guaranteed - remember: Anders did virtually no campaigning last election, the Party [allegedly] hid him in a B.C. motel for weeks, and yet he still handily won the riding, without having knocked on a single door. So, the Tory candidate WILL be the M.P. And if those inside the riding who DO share Anders' somewhat skewed social views are so enraged by losing "their guy" as a candidate that they decide NOT to vote Tory, they'll either have to run someone as an independent (they'll lose), vote for another party (they'll lose), or start a new party for social conservatives (they'll lose).

    This decision has given the CPC, and its members in Calgary West (Not my riding, sadly) a chance to show the country that they are not, in fact, rednecks in sheep's clothing, and that they actually CAN move closer to that soft political centre that most Canadians number themselves among without selling out on their values of fiscal conservatism, small government, and democratic reform. THAT will have an impact on more than just the fortunes in Calgary West - it will send a message to the country that the Conservative Party practices what it preaches, and will no longer nominate M.P.'s to be ashamed of... after all, isn't openness, transparency, and showing the nation what you truly stand for all part of the blessed Accountability that we heard so much about in January of 2006?

    I don't believe that the Tories of Calgary West all drink from Rob Anders' Kool-Aid pitcher. If Anders' people were so confident that he DID have the majority of support, they wouldn't have bent the rules to make sure he won the nomination by acclamation. Here's hoping the National party brass step in and make sure this is done RIGHT, so the members of the Party can choose, for better or worse, who they want their M.P. to be.

    Who knows? Anders might still win... after all, it only took the Church a few centuries to realize that they owed Galileo an apology...

    Monday, March 12, 2007

    Who is Stephen Harper?

    Well, he's been our Prime Minister for 14 months now. And yet, the question remains: Who is Stephen Harper?

    Like so many other things, the answer seems to lie in the beholder. To some, he's an egomaniacal neo-con control freak, pretending to care about populist issues while holding the course on his long-held plan to decentralize power to the provinces, weaken Canada's place in the world, and pursue his agenda helping Big Oil and his friends in the evangelical movement. To others, he's a man of principle, politically savvy, unconcerned with the media and shifting his opinions as new information becomes available to him while sticking to his guns on issues that he feels matter to everyday Canadians.

    But who is he, really?

    I fear we may never know. The truth is, like so many current political figures, Prime Minister Harper is a polarizing force on the political spectrum. It's truthfully quite hard to even have a civil conversation about the man with someone who has a different opinion than yours.

    Left-leaning people tend to sneer even at the mention of Harper's name. They cite his "God Bless Canada" postscript at each speech as proof that he wants to a) be American, and b) be George Bush (a.k.a. "The Great Satan", at least to leftists) when he grows up. They bring up the child care allowance as proof that he's out of touch, and doesn't care about children. They point out that his lack of support for Kyoto proves that he's an idiot, incapable of understanding science, a dinosaur, and a puppet for Big Oil. He wanted a free vote on same-sex marriage, so he's a homophobe. He wrote the Firewall Letter, so he hates the rest of Canada. He cancelled a promised Liberal income tax cut to drop the GST, so he's a tax-hiker. He supports the military with increased funding and hasn't withdrawn them from Afghanistan, so he's a warmonger and (again) wants to kiss George Bush's ass. He flip-flopped on Income Trusts, so he's a bald-faced liar. These aren't just inventions of my imaginations, they're characterizations I've heard and read all over the place, including many blogs that claim to be non-partisan, or progressive - and despite those claims, they seem completely unwilling to accept that there is room for debate on the man and his charater. "If you don't agree with me that Harper is a neanderthal, you're as bad as he is". I've seen responses to pro-Harper blog postings such as THIS gem: "Why don't you join Blogging Tories, since you are one?" My god, is this how far the quality of debate has dropped? Calling someone a "tory" is an insult? Many of these people would condemn Harper for calling the Americans "our friends" in a speech... and then, if the Americans attacked us and Harper condemned them, they'd accuse him of "flip-flopping". If he said it was noon in Calgary, they'd say it was 7 pm Greenwich, just to avoid agreeing with him.

    People on the right, though, view Harper as the Great Right Hope. He's a "true blue" tory, someone who put his job on the line in a party merger that he pursued in order to give the nation an alternative to the Liberals. An absolutely BRILLIANT political tactician, Harper knows he won't get any help from the national media, so he doesn't even make an effort to woo them, instead strictly controlling his message and releasing it directly, via the internet and rigidly choreographed press-conferences. He's a man of principle, but open-minded enough to have those principles and ideas challenged when the information changes. He's someone who values "made-in-Canada" solutions to the problems that plague us, rather than accepting the pressure of foreign governments who really, couldn't care less about our economy or quality of life. He's a man of faith, but willing to accept the rule of law over the idea of theocracy. A champion of senate reform and a supporter of the military, he values keeping Canada's commitments on the international stage, so long as they are practical and logical. He's willing to take heat in the media to do what's needed for the common good (income trusts). Anyone who disagrees with Harper is a central Canadian elitist, arrogant, after provincial rights and steeped in the legends of Trudeaumania, so good luck discussing Harper's character with a "true believer".

    The reality of the man is somewhere in the middle... the only universally accepted Harper fact, on both sides of the aisle, is that the man is good at the political game. He knows how to play, and knows how to play dirty when necessary.

    The bottom line here, is that Stephen Harper is many things, to many people. The only people who may TRULY know the man and his innermost thoughts, beliefs and opinions are those closest to him. What he thinks, and why, are open to interpretation by individuals - and, on both sides of the spectrum, they're not shy about expressing themselves. But at the end of the day, we need to be able to have discussions about the man's policies without exchanging insults. The bottom line, Nation, is that we need to talk about IDEAS without being IDEALOGUES.

    Then, and ONLY then, will we be able to have a meaningful dialogue about anything political, be it Stephen Harper, Justin Trudeau, Stephane Dion, Kyoto, Income Trusts, Afghanistan, Tax Cuts, Child-care, Senate Reform, Greenhouse Gases, Ed Stelmach, Equalization... too bad we have so little of import to talk about.

    - ES

    Thursday, March 8, 2007

    Alberta first province to legislate greenhouse gas reductions

    Yes, that's right... not the tree-huggers in BC, not the oh-so-morally superior Ontario government, not the self-appointed guardians of the environment in Quebec - Alberta.

    First, the statement. Then, the analysis.

    Alberta is the first province in Canada to introduce legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emission intensity from large industry.

    Bill 3, Climate Change and Emissions Management Amendment Act and its accompanying Specified Gas Emitters Regulation state companies that emit more than 100,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases a year must reduce their emissions intensity by 12 per cent starting July 1, 2007.

    The move reflects Premier Ed Stelmach's priority to manage growth pressures in Alberta. "This government is committed to tackling the issue of climate change, and this is just one of many ways we are responding,'' said Ed Stelmach. "We can embrace economic growth and also be good stewards of our environment, of our province."

    The Specified Gas Emitters Regulation details how companies can reduce their emissions intensity. These compliance options include making operating improvements, buying an Alberta-based offset to apply against their emission total or contributing to a new government fund that will invest in technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the province.

    "I believe technology is key to delivering on Albertans' vision for emission management. By dedicating a technology fund right here in Alberta, we are able to draw on our own renewable resource of innovation," said Environment Minister Rob Renner.

    Projects that qualify as offsets must be located in Alberta and spending from the technology fund will occur in the province. The technology fund could be used to further the development of carbon capture and management- an option which has great potential to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide.

    "This legislation once again affirms that Alberta is a leader on this important global issue," said Renner. "Albertans are very responsible people. We are proud of our majestic province and quick to take practical, thoughtful and innovative action to protect it."

    Alberta was the first province to introduce specific climate change legislation in 2002 and the first to require large industrial facilities to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

    Okay... so the government knows how much these large facilities are emitting, and they're expecting them to reduce by 12%. I'm a little foggy on whether the reductions need to be AT 12% by July 1, or whether they need to START the reductions by July 1. Either way, reductions are a good thing. Those who can't reduce will be held to task, and can make up for it by donating to or investing in clean energy alternatives, etc. in a similar vein to the "Carbon Neutrality" being championed by David Suzuki, among others.

    Is 12% a huge deal? Not really. It works out to approximately 8% of Alberta's total emissions (the companies required to reduce their emissions account for roughly 70% of Alberta's total emissions), and that's only IF all the required companies made their reduction targets, which is a pipe-dream. The environmental lobby will be all over this, saying it's piss-poor and inadequate, no good, terrible, and a sign of the apocalypse. What they will FAIL to mention, no doubt, is that Ed Stelmach, the Premier of Alberta, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he of "No Green Bones" (as described by a Doctor, so it must be true), were the men who announced the first provincial legislation to reduce emissions.

    Let's be frank, here... the reduction level is small. The total impact on the environment will be negligible, and will likely not be noticed in the lifetime of anyone old enough to read this blog. But it's SOMETHING... it's a START. And it's more than anyone else has done so far. Alberta's PC Government, with the help of the evil, tree-hating Conservative government in Ottawa, has announced legislated emission reduction targets. And although the environmentalists will bitch and moan (what they do best) about how inadequate it is... it's still 100% better than anyone else in the country. So they can go to the 9 other provinces and 3 territories, get reduction targets into legislation in THOSE jurisdictions, and THEN come back to Alberta and tell us our targets aren't good enough. Until then... our targets might not be great, but they're still better than anyone else's.

    - ES

    Wednesday, March 7, 2007

    Speech from the Throne - Analysis

    Alright, kids, here's how this'll work... actual Throne Speech segments will be in quotes

    like so

    And my insightful, witty, and sometimes funny analysis will be in regular format.

    Ready? Here we go.

    Alberta is fortunate. But Albertans have made good use of the resources that nature has bestowed upon our province. And they have made wise choices…

    Including the bold and often difficult decisions made during the past decade.

    Many of those decisions were made with a thoughtful eye on the future.

    Fellow Albertans, that future is now.

    Now, more than ever, the government must work with Albertans to ensure the good fortune we enjoy today is not squandered. We must respect and build on the work and the sacrifices that were made in the past.

    We must plan ahead to ensure the prosperity this province enjoys today is secured for our children and grandchildren.

    This means making the right choices so that Alberta’s economic growth remains sustainable, and that the world-class quality of life Albertans enjoy includes a clean and healthy environment.

    Good opening... reflective of the priorities and current feeling in much of the province. IF the legislative agenda delivers on this premise, it will be a resounding success. The environmental reference is especially important, considering the "major announcement" coming from Edmonton tomorrow with Premier Stelmach and Prime Minister Harper.

    At this unique time in our history, Albertans expect their government to have a clear plan, and to deliver tangible results.

    Darned skippy we do. WHERE'S THE BEEF?

    The government will act thoughtfully and decisively on behalf of Albertans. The Government of Alberta will:
    • govern with integrity and transparency;
    • manage growth pressures;
    • improve Albertans’ quality of life;
    • provide safe and secure communities; and
    • build a stronger Alberta.

    Five priorities. Not as cut-and-dried as Harper's, but they give a good idea where we're headed.

    Government Transparency is nice to say, and makes it seem like you're a less-crooked-than-most politician (useful comes campaign time), but at the end of the day, it can only go so far. Truth be told, most Albertans didn't even MIND the planned leaks and controlled media strategy of the Klein years - school and roads and hospitals matter more in our day-to-day lives.

    "Manage Growth Pressures". We can safely assume that physical and social infrastructure are going to benefit from this priority.

    "Improve Albertans Quality of Life"... this COULD mean anything. We'll see what it means in a bit.

    To provide safe and secure communities is politics-speak for a crackdown on crime - always a popular move in Alberta.

    "Build a Stronger Alberta" is something you've got to say, but again, it could mean anything. Any of the other 4 priorities helps build a stronger Alberta. Unless we're buying tanks with that surplus, I won't put too much stock in this one.

    Governing with integrity and transparency is the first priority of this government — for a deeply fundamental reason. Albertans put their highest trust in the women and men elected to represent their best interests.

    That trust will be honoured and respected.

    Your government will introduce legislation to establish a lobbyist registry. Bill 1, the Lobbyists Act, will give all Albertans public access to information regarding individuals and organizations seeking to influence government decisions.

    It will also take measures to improve information provided to the public about who has contracts with government.

    These measures will increase transparency, openness and accountability, and will enhance public trust in the institution of government.

    Your government will also review the way agencies, boards and commissions are governed, to ensure greater accountability.

    As I said, these measures are probably overdue, and politically, you always score points by telling everyone you're going to clean up the mess upstairs, and make everyone more accountable, but at the end of the day there are more pressing issues facing Joe Albertan in his day-to-day life than his all-consuming need to know who is lobbying the government.

    Your government recognizes that adequate housing is essential for all Albertans to share in the prosperity of their province. It has created a provincial task force to find ways to make affordable housing more accessible to Albertans. It will focus on solutions for homelessness and the provision of affordable housing.

    Of course, nothing gets a proud Albertan's blood flowing more than a provincial task force... This will win votes in Fort Mac, but everywhere else in the province, the people who are feeling the housing crunch wouldn't vote Tory if they got a cheque and a limo ride from Ed himself. Make the province a better place? Eventually, perhaps. Help the Tories politically? Unlikely.

    Your government will develop a long-term capital plan that will address infrastructure needs and inflation costs while exploring options to fund new capital projects.

    It will also place great emphasis on controlled spending, to ensure Albertans get the best possible value for their tax dollars.

    Read "P3's" - which is fine. If it helps in the long run, great. But there'd better be extremely good uses in store for that surplus. What we need now is a good plan and then ACTION, not another few years of planning followed by inaction.

    The Government of Alberta will continue to build on its solid record in environmental management with some of the most progressive legislation and action-based strategies in the country.

    Working with Albertans, the government will turn current environmental challenges into new opportunities. This will enhance Alberta’s standing as a leader in practical, innovative and sustainable environmental policies.

    Your government will encourage all Albertans to take personal responsibility for energy efficiency and reduced consumption…

    Let's see what's unveiled tomorrow... if it lives up to the hype, it's something to get excited about. If not, they're just meaningless platitudes to play to the environmentally-aware crowd. Myself included.

    Your government will introduce strategies and provide new funding to respond to growth pressures related to the development of Alberta’s oil sands.

    As a first big step, the Government of Alberta has committed almost 400 million dollars in new funding over the next three years to complete new water and wastewater treatment facilities, develop 300 affordable housing units and address health pressures in the Wood Buffalo region.

    It will also create an Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat to better plan and coordinate delivery of services as this important resource is developed.

    In addition, the Oil Sands Multi Stakeholder Committee will complete its work and recommend strategies and policies, based on Albertans’ input, to guide future development.

    Well, again this is an issue of particular concern to about 300 people who don't live in that particular area. We hear a lot about the Oil Sands, and how important they are, but the bottom line is that one day in the not-ridiculously-distant future, we're going to be out of oil, including in the sands, and we're going to need to have something to show for it. A meaningful review of the royalties would make a lot of people "down South" feel better about that $400 Million.

    Your government will also complete its Land Use Framework, which will guide the way to balancing the economic, environmental and social needs of Albertans.

    "We'll complete the framework, so we can begin the planning process." Wonderful - you can feel the winds of change blowing at hurricane strength. :) This is a huge issue for me, and having the government's word that it's going to forge ahead is good - but we need that framework completed, and we need measurable results. Not in a few years - now.

    Your government will also increase access and quality in post-secondary education while strengthening its support for community education and literacy programs.

    Good idea... there's a problem here, though. The political reality of life is that most students will vote for a leftist party, no matter WHAT the party on the right offers them. So no matter what you do, you likely won't get a payoff in subsequent votes. However, if you're doing it to improve the province's quality of life, as you claim, then there's a very real and important thing to keep in mind, that most governments who mention "access to post-secondary" seem to forget: Access doesn't just mean more chairs and desks, it means making it more affordable. The University of Alberta can have space for 100,000 students, but if it costs $50,000 per year to attend, that's not access.

    It will work to improve high school completion rates and increase access to post-secondary education with an emphasis on the Campus Alberta approach.

    Two points here... the current economic climate makes it harder, not easier, to keep kids in school when there are jobs out there with promises of fast cash and "adventure". Second point is that the Campus Alberta approach is a great idea, and needs to be fully supported. Used in conjunction with Alberta Supernet (which was the original intent), it can make a huge difference to not only Rural Albertans, but those who are holding down jobs that make traditional 9-to-5 classes unfeasible.

    A sustained focus on wellness, injury reduction and disease prevention, combined with efforts to improve productivity and accountability in health care delivery, will provide the framework to ensure a sustainable public health care system.

    Failed PC leadership candidate Gary McPherson had better be involved in this, his ideas in this area were brilliant and far-reaching.

    Building the health workforce of the future will be a top priority. Albertans will see stronger emphasis on primary health care and self-management of chronic diseases through the provision of information, resources and support.

    Partly the same old song-and-dance ("Need more Doctors, need More Nurses"), but the information, resources and support part sounds as thought it may be promising.

    A new pharmaceutical strategy will capitalize on opportunities to improve the range of drugs available, and to reduce or avoid costs.

    A fully-funded PharmaCare program would both immeasurably improve our provincial quality of life AND be a boon to the government's political fortunes. I won't hold my breath, and that's not what they're promising at this point, but...

    ... your government will work with community leaders to establish a Crime Reduction and Safe Communities Task Force that will consult with Albertans on how to reduce crime and improve public confidence in the justice system.

    ALL RIGHT! Another task force... VERY exciting. That should capture the imagination of Albertans.

    It (government) will conduct an open and transparent review of the resource royalty system through an independent committee recently established.

    At the end of the review Albertans must be confident that the right system is in place… one that is fair to both industry and to Albertans, who own the resources.

    Complicated, drawn-out, and hard to fathom... yet it needs to be done. Here's hoping they do it right.

    Your government is taking action by developing a surplus management policy that reflects Albertans’ long-term priorities. Details of this policy will be announced with the 2007 provincial budget.

    We look forward to it.

    Your government will build on Alberta’s traditional strengths, which include energy, agriculture, forestry, tourism and the people of this province. It will build on these strengths to develop a robust knowledge-based economy to compete in world markets.

    The Alberta government will develop a long-term strategy for technology commercialization and economic diversification.

    It will continue to focus on research in priority areas of energy, information and communications technology, and life sciences.

    In addition, it will place an increased emphasis on nanotechnology — the “science of small.” Research in this field has the potential to impact every sector of our economy and to diversify and sustain Alberta’s prosperity for generations.

    Led by world-class researchers at the National Institute for Nanotechnology in Edmonton, our province is positioned to become an international leader in this field.

    Sounds good... not sexy, probably won't win a bunch of votes, but we need to diversify our economy as surely as we need oxygen and water, so this benefits all of us. Sure would like to see a plan, though.

    Fellow Albertans, the Government of Alberta is making a solemn commitment to you: In all that it does, it will reflect your values and act on your priorities.

    It will conduct itself with the recognition that it is an honour and a privilege to serve as government — not a right — and that it must continuously earn that privilege.

    Your government will listen to, and work with Albertans. Because together we can do great things.

    We are faced with a unique opportunity to build for the future, and to secure the long-term prosperity of our great province.

    Your government has a solid plan to accomplish these goals. It will take full advantage of that opportunity.

    A cynic would say "yeah, right". I've been accused of being a cynic before. And yet, I've got to believe Ed Stelmach for now. He hasn't lied to me, and I firmly believe that he deserves the benefit of the doubt. He'd better follow through on these priorities, though - as a relatively unknown entity in Albertan politics, Ed will be judged by this speech and the action that follows. When Albertans make up their minds, he will either be rewarded, or punished, accordingly.

    The truth of the matter is, this speech is big on vague statements of values, but extremely short on details. I saw more detailed plans in the leadership race - particularly from Dave Hancock, Premier Stelmach's Minister of Health. The proof is in the pudding, and we'll soon get a chance to take a look as we get closer to a budget, but still... as an initial throne speech, the promises are good, but some beef would be better. A for effort.

    - ES

    Ed is Reading the Enlightened Savage!

    That's the only reason I can see that he would announce the Throne Speech, to be read at 3:00 pm Mountain Time today.

    Analysis later tonight.

    Stay strong, Nation!

    - ES

    Thursday, March 1, 2007

    An Open Letter to Ed Stelmach

    Mr. Stelmach:

    We've never met, but I want you to know that in the recent leadership campaign, there was a number beside your name on my ballot. I am a member of your party, and in all my voting life have always cast my vote for the Progressive Conservative candidate in my riding in provincial elections. Some of this was party loyalty, but most of it was a reflection of the esteem in which I hold the character of my local PC candidate.

    I am writing to you using this method in the hope, however forlorn, that you might actually read it. Having worked for a time in a constituency office, I have little doubt that the vast majority of correspondance to you is in fact read and responded to by your staff - it's only practical. There are far too many letters to read and respond to each one personally, and I'm sure that your staff are clear on your priorities and you wishes to make each letter writer feel important.

    However, it is of your staff that I wish to speak. Mr. Premier, in a short phrase: "They are letting you down".

    I'm not "on the inside" of the inner workings of your office, so I won't pretend to know what's going on. As a member of the public at large, though, I can tell you what SEEMS to be going on: nothing. In politics, it is often the PERCEPTION of reality that counts as much as the reality itself: It's not really all that important to BE honest or trustworthy, so long as you APPEAR honest and trustworthy, you'll be the person elected. Your integrity is highly spoken of by all those who know you, so I have little doubt that, on the "honesty and trustworthiness" front, the perception of Ed Stelmach and the reality of the man are one and the same. However, the perception of PREMIER Ed Stelmach, to the common voter, is of a Premier who is doing nothing.

    Mr. Premier, you and I both know that's simply not true. I'm certain you're working at least 12 hours per day, getting up to speed on virtually every aspect of governing the runaway train that is Alberta and its economy. But the public doesn't SEE that work happening... they don't see the late nights, the seven-day work weeks. They see that, since being elected Leader of the PC Association of Alberta, and Premier of the province, their government has seemed to grind to a halt. I have heard it said on several occasions that Premier Klein, in his last few months as a "lame duck" Premier, did more than you have since receiving your mandate from the members of the PC Association of Alberta.

    Again, Mr. Premier, you and I know that's not the case. But Albertans are longing for a sign of your intentions - they want to know where you're going to take us. They don't need 50 pieces of legislation passed upon the first 50 days of the next Legislature sitting, they don't need any barn-storming speeches, they just want SOME idea as to what's going on. Your political opponents and detractors aren't sitting back and waiting, either: Already, Mr. Taft has begun defining you and your policies, whether accurately or not. In the absence of anything from your office to the contrary, people are going to start believing what they hear. I don't know if the problem is with the office's communication strategy, or if your advisors have told you that Albertans want some peace and quiet, but I'm telling you, as one of those Albertans: What we want is to hear from you about what path you intend to take us down. So far, all we've heard is that we have a $7 Billion surplus. And yet, despite this surplus, we shouldn't look forward to any additional money for schools, or hospitals. We have a $7 Billion surplus, and across the page from that announcement is a story about expectant mothers sent to Montana to deliver due to a lack of hospital beds.

    I have little doubt that running a government is more complicated, more time-consuming, and more complex than anything I will likely ever TRY to do in my life. But Albertans, rightly or wrongly, expect that with the debt dragon slain and with record profits coming in, that the massive infrastructure debt that has piled up over the past decade will be dealt with. At this point, all we've heard is that local authorities are musing over whether they will have to borrow money, and put us back INTO debt, to build these much needed roads and facilities. While we as a province post a surplus of $7 Billion. Enough to build and staff 7 full hospitals. Or hundreds of schools. Or 100 major interchanges.

    Mr. Premier, my Grandfather taught me the value of showing trust in your staff. He had plenty of hands working for him on the farm (near Athabasca), and he often made the point that the trust you show in your people returns to you in spades through their hard work. Sometimes, though, Grand-dad had to let people go because, despite their best efforts and intentions, they just weren't meant for the farm-life.

    Ed, someone (or several someones) in your office is making you look bad. It's not necessarily their fault, but it's still happening. And if you don't do something about it soon, then Albertans are going to assume that the problem's not with the office, it's with the man who sits in it. And that will surely be a bad day for our Party, and for yourself.

    Please, Mr. Premier - show us some leadership. Stand up and tell us where you're taking us. Don't let bad advice or poor communications allow Kevin Taft or Brian Mason to tell us what the Stelmach Government stands for - tell us yourself. We need to know what the plan is, or we'll be forced to conclude that there ISN'T one - while Kevin Taft spends all day telling us HIS plan. It doesn't sound like the greatest plan ever, but it's still more than we're hearing from our Premier's Office these days. If the plan is to HAVE us borrow money to build hospitals and schools, then fine - but TELL us, give us the rationale behind the decision. Every day that passes without a new hospital or new school is made worse by your silence on these issues - and by that $7 Billion sitting in the bank account while people sit in emergency waiting rooms, and kids ride buses an hour each way to school.

    One last piece of country wisdom, sir: You only get one chance to make a first impression.

    Someone in your office is squandering that chance. I urge you not to let them squander it completely.

    - ES