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

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