Friday, May 30, 2008

Discuss: Blogs

Nation, this is the first of several "Discuss" posts over the next week or so... the object is quite simple: I'll write a brief introduction outlining what it is I'm looking for, and then the floor is open to you via the "comments" section.

These are generally items I'm looking for reader feed-back on, and I'd do them as a "Poll", except the Blogger poll application is too limited.

Today: Blogs

In an upcoming facelift for this site, I'll be including a "Recommended Blogs" area, listing some of my favourite Canadian political blogs. What I'm looking for from you is suggestions: What blogs do YOU recommend to people? I'm not looking for people who are my ideological match necessarily, just who write well and do good research. Suggestions?


Another area that will be included after the facelift is a "Best of E.S." section. What posts from the past would you like to see there? There are just about 300 to choose from...

Thanks, Nation. As I said, more of these coming soon.

Tomorrow, we "Discuss: Voter Engagement".

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

He's Baaaaaack...

Nation, my computer has been in the shop for the better part of a week. The exact details are unknown, but believed to be related to older model, blue vans.

There's content coming... it's good to be back.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Reforming the System without re-opening the Constitution

Constitutional reform is always a tricky issue, but even moreso when it's a Conservative Parliament or Prime Minister that's trying to do it. Being a fundamentally liberal society, we as Canadians always get a little bit nervous when a Conservative tells us they're re-opening the Constitution, and that "everything's on the table". This makes us nervous, rightly or wrongly, because we've heard many times over our lives that the Conservatives want to deny us certain rights and freedoms, and golly gee, might this be the time they'll actually do it?

Yet, it seems as though the only time a government wants to consider re-opening the constitution, which should be a living document, able to be adapted to reflect the changing realities of the world in which we live, it's a Conservative government. The Liberals, when they're in power, seem more than content to leave it alone, and wait for the next cocky Tory to try to fiddle with it, so the voters can get antsy and put the Grits back in charge.

The problem is, that the constitution is more than just a political football - it's a document that governs our society, in some ways, even more than those whom we elect to govern us. We change those elected representatives frequently, and yet the constitution remains virtually unchanged after nearly 30 years. It NEEDS to change... it SHOULD change...

And we won't let Stephen Harper touch it. Which is probably for the best, all things considered.

So... things need to change, we don't trust the guy in charge to get his fingers into the constitution, and even if we DO kick him out, the Liberals won't do anything... what does that leave?

Simple... instead of CONstitutional reform, we just need some INSTItutional reform.

Example (I've brought this up before): The Governor General. Canada's ceremonial Head of State. S/he has the power to, in effect, veto bills passed by Parliament by refusing Royal Assent. This never, ever happens... but it can. The G.G. is appointed, according to the constitution, by the Queen on the advice of Canada's Prime Minister. Now, what if we wanted to ELECT a G.G., as a separate head of the Executive Branch, to take some power from the PMO? Would we need to open up and change the constitution?


Through an Act of Parliament, we could allow for a ballot during the next Federal election, featuring the candidates for the Governor General-ship. The current G.G. would retain their position long enough to swear-in the newly-elected Prime minister, and then tender their resignation to the Queen. The Prime Minister would then "make their recommendation" to the Queen for the replacement, following the expressed will of the people.

Fundamental change made to the institution, without constitutional reform.

Now, to the issue at hand: the Senate.

Most of my Eastern Canadian readers should just stop reading now, because as we ALL know, Albertans have crazy ideas about the Senate, and just won't leave well-enough alone.

As for the rest of you - here we go.

Do we even NEED a senate?

I argue yes. For 2 reasons - one of them good, the other pragmatic.

Firstly, we need a senate as it stands now, to diffuse some of the power that the Prime Minister's Office wields with otherwise absolute impunity. It's more difficult to see with a minority parliament, but consider the kind of legislation that MIGHT have been flying out the doors of parliament in a Harper Majority over the past 3 years. Without a senate, and with an appointed rubber-stamp operator for a G.G., this legislation would become the law of the land the moment it occurred to Steve that it might be a good idea. Now, some would certainly argue that's the risk of a democracy - that the government that the people elects is the one they deserve, and we've all got to live with the results. But in our current system, WITHOUT a senate, there is no check on the power of a Prime Minister in a majority parliament - s/he controls the legislative branch, appoints the judiciary, and essentially appoints the ceremonial executive. I don't know if we need as many checks and balances as our friends to the South - but surely one person can't control all THREE branches of government in a democracy? A senate, in the absence of reform to the appointment of the G.G., offers at least some semblance of a check.

Pragmatically, the election of "senators in waiting", or the routine election of senatorial candidates for "appointment" by the P.M. every four years, followed by a required stepping down at the drop of the writ, is possible without constitutional reform. The abolition of the senate requires constitutional reform - and, seeing as how it's been 26 years and we still can't even get Quebec to SIGN the bloody ORIGINAL, what do you think the outcome of those talks would be? It's just, well, easier to keep the senate around, and reform it, than it is to eliminate it. I know, easy isn't always right - usually, quite the opposite. But in this case, easy may also be the wise course.

So, E.S. has established, to his own satisfaction, that we need a Senate. Further, to make the Senate an expression of the sober second thought of the people, the election of senators should be held separate from parliamentary general elections (oh, lord, here we go... MORE elections for people to not vote in?), approximately 2 years after the general election (the mid-point of a legislature's sitting, with 4 year fixed-term general elections). This way, the people can choose to either affirm the work the government is doing by sending senators friendly to its cause, or express their disapproval by sending senators to hold the legislature - which may be a majority and otherwise above reproach - to account.

The Senate should be equal (Oh, lord, here we go again on this "equal thing"), with each province represented by 9 senators, and each territory by 3. This would put the senate at 99 members, a reduction of 6. Now, the more populated provinces are going to scream bloody murder about the equality thing - "why should PEI have as much power in the senate as Ontario? Why should a Newfoundland voter's senate vote be worth as much as 15 Quebec voters?". There's already a house of parliament where the more populous provinces carry more clout. It's called the House of Commons. As was pointed out in the "comments" section of Daveberta's recent post on this issue, the math really does allow someone to get elected to a majority in the House of Commons just by throwing a big middle finger up at the Atlantic Provinces, or at the West, and running purely for Ontario and Quebec. Hell, we had a parliament not too long ago where the second biggest party in the house ran candidates in ONE PROVINCE ONLY - surely, a senate made up of equal delegations from each province isn't THAT much of a threat to Ontario and Quebec? After all, legislation - no matter from WHICH house it originated - would still have to pass through both houses, which would include Ontario's 106 MP's and Quebec's 75. So, the "Screw Central Canada Act", Bill S-1, passed by the senate 81-18, would still be defeated by the House of Commons 181-127 (provided the Liberals chose to actually vote).

The reality, though, is this: The constitution clearly states that senatorial seats be distributed as follows:
"Ontario by twenty-four senators;
Quebec by twenty-four senators;
the Maritime Provinces and Prince Edward Island by twenty-four senators,
ten thereof representing Nova Scotia, ten thereof representing New Brunswick,
and four thereof representing Prince Edward Island;
the Western Provinces by twenty-four senators, six thereof representing
Manitoba, six thereof representing British Columbia, six thereof representing
Saskatchewan, and six thereof representing Alberta;
Newfoundland shall be entitled to be represented in the Senate by six
the Yukon Territory and the Northwest Territories shall be entitled to be
represented in the Senate by one member each. "

So, that defeats the idea of either reducing the senate by 6 (or by 1, for that matter), or of redistributing seats. Either would require a constitutional amendment, which would need to pass the "7/50 test" (signed onto by at least 7 provinces, representing at least 50% of the population), which means either Quebec or Ontario would need to sign on, reducing their senators from 24 to 9. Unlikely.

Do we need reform? Yes. Can we GET senate reform, without re-opening the constitution? To a point. We can change how people get in (elected, then appointed). We can require them to step down when the time comes to run once again. But we can't change the number of senators, or their distribution, without a futile attempt at changing the constitution - thus rendering the senate a haphazardly-democratic and representative parliamentary tool, at best. Ultimately, Quebec and Ontario continue to hold the majority of seats in the House of Commons, and are JUST shy of doing so in the Senate as well (48 of 105).

Once again, some would say "that's democracy, buddy... they've got, combined, 20 million of the country's 32 million residents. It's only right they wield the most power."

I can't disagree.

However, rule by majority can often become rule by the mob, with unfortunate results. When the minority rises up and decides to take matters into its own hands - as Quebec separatists have tried, and likely will again, against us horrible Anglos - the results for us as a unified country can be devastating. By ceding some of their constitutionally-guaranteed clout, Ontario or Quebec can go a long way to ensuring the long-term viability of this country, AND its constitution, by allowing the reform of the senate to reflect the equality of every province in the Senate, while the House of Commons continues to reflect the distribution of the country's population.

I hate to use our friends to the South as an example, but... does anyone think that New York is REALLY happy about having as many senators as Rhode Island (2 each, as does every state)? Doubtful... but then again, in the House of Representatives, New York has 29 members, and Rhode Island has 2. So I guess New York can live with its "relative impotence" in the Senate.

Ontario... you're always trying to be like New York. Now's your chance - suck it up, take one for the team, and do it in the name of national unity. It costs you nothing but a little imaginary prestige by having more useless senators than the rest of us... and it gains you REAL prestige, as the province that stood up and helped us amend our constitution, for the sake of democracy and progress.

Any province can propose this change, and it needs to make it through the House of Commons, be signed off on by the 7/50, and be passed by the Senate (THAT'S going to be the tough part).

But, even if the senate or Central Canada WON'T let constitutional change happen, we should introduce a bill proclaiming elections for senators-in-waiting and setting a fixed date for said elections, and requiring senators to tender their resignation en masse every 4 years, in advance of said elections. Raise the pay of senators as part of the bill, to give them incentive to pass the bill and take a chance at losing their seat. Get the bill past the House, past the Senate, and get Royal Assent from the G.G., and you've made a real change to how things are done, without a constitutional kerfuffle.

And, if you can't get that done, then at least take a good, hard look at the Enlightened Savage's proposal to modernize and democratize the position of Governor General. SOME checks, oversight and democratic accountability is better than none (or, if not "none", at least "you don't like it then kick us out in 4 years - now, let's see how much damage we can do pursuing our own agenda, stacking the senate and Supreme Court with our parliamentary majority in the next 48 months").

AB Gov't Releases Draft Land-Use Framework

Link here.

Reaction from me later. From you? Whenever you want - that's what the "Comment" button is for. :)

EDIT: The full document and associated materials can be found here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Daveberta Knocks One Out Of The Park...

Nation, my deep-rooted malice towards Daveberta is well-known. Indeed, as the Godzilla to my Mothra in the battle for Albertan poli-blog supremacy, normally you'd only read his name here as part of a "colourful metaphor", as Mr. Spock might say.

Today, however, Dave got it right. It happens occasionally (I suppose you can't win "Best Political Blog", "Best Progressive Blog", "Best Blogosphere Citizen" and get personal e-mail from The Enlightened Savage to which you have yet to respond without being OCCASIONALLY right), and I encourage everyone to check out his post from today. My response after I get my keyboard fixed.

Hoping it's not the seeds of some Meech-esque snare for Harper, as we need to look at this issue as something to be truly fixed, not as an once-per generation Tory electoral death-trap.

- E.S.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dr. Ted Morton - Defender of Alberta's Environment?

Well, Nation - another May Long Week-end has come. Before too much longer (if it hasn't already), the insanity will begin with grad bush parties, drink-and-quad benders, impromptu monster truck rallies and small villages of "random campers" springing up that look like a post-apocalyptic nightmare. Think "Mad Max", but with more mullets.

We saw last Victoria Day Week-end the absolute havoc that was visited upon the Willow Creek area. The area Reeve even invited the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development, the Honourable Ted Morton, to tour the devastation via helicopter. Scant weeks later, Morton's department came down on the shenanigans in the area, HARD, with new regulations, stepped-up enforcement, and a designated trails system to stop Quads, 4X4's and dirt-bikes from ripping through sensitive areas and to protect the watershed.

The message? Behave, or you'll lose access.

And so now we head into another May Long week-end, and the focus shifts an hour North, to McLean Creek (about 10 km from the hamlet of Bragg Creek). With access to Waiparous limited by road work, McLean - always a popular spot for quadders, partiers and random camping - is bracing for a week-end filled with mud-bogging, parties... and Fish & Wildlife Officers.

Yes, Nation, it's not just the quadders who are focusing on McLean Creek, and other backcountry areas this week-end... it's Ted and his guys.

The man who would be Premier has instead been handed the Sustainable Resource portfolio, and by all accounts has made it his personal mission to run the tightest ship possible - no cost over-runs, no shenanigans, and no nonsense. Moreso than his tenure as a PoliSci professor and tall forehead of the "Calgary School" of political thought, Morton knows he is being judged for his next leadership bid by the job he does on this portfolio.

And so as the responsible random campers and quadders - most of them disgusted with the kind of crap they see on long week-ends - nervously eye the newspapers looking for access restrictions, liquor bans, and other crack-downs that would limit their enjoyment this long week-end, they have to ask themselves whom is REALLY causing these restrictions? Is it Ted Morton? Or is it these guys?

It's no secret that Morton and I disagree on just about everything, including the colour of the sky. But if he's going to put a stop to this kind of garbage, then for this week-end only, I can forget that he's THAT Ted Morton - the one who wants to preserve this area so his friends at Spray Lakes Sawmills can log it.

The stuff you're seeing in these videos is happening in Calgary's water supply. Most of the creeks and streams in the McLean area run into Fish Creek or the Elbow River. And you'll notice that most of the chaos isn't being caused by quads at all, but by big 4X4 jeeps and trucks.

If temporary restrictions and crack-downs DON'T happen, or they don't WORK, the next logical step is a complete shut-down of the areas to off-road access and random camping - in which case the responsible users are denied access, permanently, to pay for the sins of the idiots.

What can you do, to help keep access open for the responsible users? Follow these simple rules...

  1. Don't be an idiot.

  2. If you see someone being an idiot, report them to a Fish & Wildlife Officer

  3. If you can't find a Fish & Wildlife Officer, try to get the offender's plate number, or (even better!) a photo or video with their plate in it.

  4. If you see a mess, clean it up - even if it isn't yours.

Following the above rules will help ensure that Ted's guys stay off your back, and your favourite forest recreation areas stay open. But if the idiots take hold and wreck their alcohol-and-testosterone-fueled havoc on the backcountry, don't be surprised to wake up Tuesday and find out your quad is now as useful as the Alberta NDP's election readiness fund.

It's not ALL bad news, though... some users are not only responsible when they ride, they're responsible by coming in afterwards to clean up after the idiots.

Just to address a couple points brought up in the above clip:

@ 1:20 - No, it's NOT a park. Provincial Parks don't allow any off-road vehicle use whatsoever. McLean Creek is an Off-Highway Vehicle Forestry Land-Use Zone.

@ 2:20 - Gooseberry campground is under the jurisdiction of Alberta Parks, and also contains a staffed Parks Visitor Centre open 7 days a week. McLean Creek OHVFLUZ is under the jurisdiction of Sustainable Resource Development (Ted's guys)- 2 different ministries, with different staff, covering different areas.

One last point, and this one's purely from an educational perspective.

  • Sustainable Resource Development is responsible for Fish, Wildlife & Forestry on public, non-parkland, and fighting Forest Fires throughout the province. Their officers are either "Forest Officers (or Guardians)", or "Fish & Wildlife Officers".

  • Alberta Parks is responsible for public safety, resource management, wildlife and enforcement in Provincial Parks and Provincial Recreation Areas (like actual, government-built campgrounds, or picnic spots like Elbow Falls). Their officers are called "Conservation Officers".

  • Parks Canada is responsible for everything within, well, National Parks. Their officers are called "Park Wardens".

Alberta has no "rangers", and hasn't for years. But if you're being an idiot this week-end, no matter whether you're stopped by a Park Warden, Conservation Officer, a Fish & Wildlife Officer or a Forest Officer, rest assured you're in trouble.

Take care of yourselves if you're going out this week-end, Nation. I'll talk to you on Monday.

- E.S.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Memo To The Alberta Liberals

To my friends in the Alberta Liberal Party:

It's been a while since we spoke. At first, I was just avoiding you because of the glazed-over look in your eyes after the butt-kicking of monumental proportions that the interested voters of Alberta gave to your party in early March. I know, it's hard to get over rejection... but it gets easier the more it happens (take it from me - I know). That being the case, I'd think that, having been rejected in the last 23 consecutive elections, you'd be used to it by now. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Generals are better at losing.

Indeed, before we get off the topic of rejection, I wanted to take this time to express my condolences to you on the fact that even your own MLA's are rejecting you... I mean, the Tories have certainly had their share of maverick MLA's and candidates, but to have a sitting MLA holding public discussions about forming a new party, while still sitting in your caucus? THAT has to hurt... even if I'm not privy to the morale level in the Liberal caucus meetings (we saw more people at my last poker game) or your internal polling, Swann certainly is - so don't tell me I'm imagining it, or making it up.

What I'm writing to you about today is your alleged "subversive" nature. I heard about it while reading Hansard, and just felt compelled to offer my two cents.

See, the thing here is, the Premier and Mr. MacDonald actually agree on the role of the Opposition. What I find unnecessary, on BOTH sides, is the sniping that's going on, ON THE RECORD, between these 2 political parties - and then we wonder why Albertans have given up on politics.

Exhibit A: Mr. MacDonald
"... You may not like it, but it’s a function of democracy, and it’s worked quite well..."

First of all, Hugh... did the Premier say "I don't like the fact that we have an opposition"? I read the Hansard, and I didn't SEE him say that... so you're putting words in his mouth, which sucks and is juvenile. Don't be juvenile - the people of Alberta pay you to Oppose in a respectful manner worthy of your office, and worthy of my tax dollars, so don't act like a twit.

"... I’m surprised that some of your Public Affairs Bureau money wouldn’t be under this title because so much of it is going to be used for the greenwashing program."

Secondly, I read the budget also, and didn't see reference to the "Alberta Greenwashing Program"... is this something that only elected MLA's got a memo on? Or are you deliberately mis-representing the government's position or actions by offering up your SUBJECTIVE, partisan view as factual and objective? Are you, in fact, using taxpayer dollars (your salary) to re-brand the government's efforts for your own partisan means - EXACTLY what you're accusing them of doing? Or did the money that you were paid while thinking up this question come the "pay-Hugh-MacDonald-to-act-like-a-twit fund" of the Liberal Party?

What, no such fund?

Sucks when people make stuff up in order to make an attacking statement under the guise of a "respectful budgetary inquiry", huh?

"...Where will this $40 million go? Will it go into another propaganda campaign?"

Lastly, Hugh... regarding "propaganda campaigns". One man's propaganda is another man's truth. I don't suppose you decried the "No Plan" campaign during the election as "propaganda", did you? How about the millions spent trying to make Kevin Taft look like something other than an out-of-touch elitist? That was money spent of "disseminating the truth", right? Hypocrisy is beneath the public service, Hugh, and it should be beneath you... if you're going to make a career of throwing rocks at other people's glass houses, you should probably avoid living in one yourself.

Exhibit B: Premier Ed Stelmach

"The role of opposition in a democratic government is very important, but it’s not to be subversive. There’s a big difference..."

I agree, Mr. Premier. I disagree that they're being subversive, though... or, at least no more subversive than Jon Stewart... they're making fun, or being petty for the sake of appearing to be a viable opposition. One's childish but occasionally entertaining... the other one's just sad. But neither is all that "subversive" - they're not telling Albertans to avoid filing their taxes. My advice? You're going to be the Premier for 4 more years, probably 8 or longer... develop thicker skin.

"... Once again, you hear comments made that are not just critical of government, but they lead to innuendo."

Not to overstate my last point - but ALL partisan criticism of government leads to innuendo. It has, sadly, replaced real debate as the weapon of choice, on both sides of the aisle. Hell, even *I* use it - but at least I'm aware of my own hypocrisy on the issue. It's not going to change until politics changes, so get used to it... the opposition is ALWAYS going to suggest that you're evil, hate children and ducks, and in the pocket of the oil companies who of course loved you so much after the Royalty Review... just as those on the government side will ALWAYS suggest the Liberals are bitter elitists with secret plans to destroy Alberta's economy and give the oil to the federal Liberals to fund their next federal campaign. That's the political reality we live in - get used to it.

"... I am very proud of my province. I share the pride of every member in this Assembly. If they don’t have that same pride, well, that’s up to them, but I do, and so do my colleagues."

Speaking of innuendo... there we go.

So, my Liberal friends, I think it's important that you understand that I share your frustration with Tory hypocrisy, and dirty partisan games. What it is critically important you understand is that if you're going to, as the Opposition, hold the Tories to a standard above those things, you must first hold YOURSELVES to that higher standard as well... the only real currency in the political sphere is credibility. Either the voters believe you'll do what you say, or they don't. You'll know which one is true about 3 hours after the polls close.

What you're doing right now? NOT helping your case. At all.

It's hypocritical. It's childish. It reeks of bitterness and churlishness. And Albertans can see right through it.

Pick a new leader, pick a new strategy, and move on. Because you're not GAINING votes for 2012 doing what you're doing right now, you're LOSING them.

Now, to reply to the comments I'm about to get:

  • 1. Yes, I'm aware I called on the Liberals to stop being childish, in the same post that I said Hugh MacDonald was acting like a twit. The difference here is two-fold: Firstly, the taxpayers of Alberta aren't paying me to write this. Secondly, I'm not asking for people to vote for me (yet), and then acting like a petulant child.

  • 2. I know full well that the PC's have access to more funds with which to research the opposition, come up with slick memos and commercials, etc. Some of that is through government expense - and the voters chose to put the PC's in a position to access those funds. 4 years from now, we'll see if the voters approved of their use. The rest of it is through private donations, which the Tories rake in more than anyone else - and if you expect them to stop accepting donations to level the playing field, I want to know what you're smoking.

  • 3. I agree whole-heartedly that we need to hold politicians on ALL sides to a higher standard of conduct, in public, during elections, and in the House. If that means holding ourselves, as bloggers, to a higher standard first and waiting for the politicians to take the hint, then I'm willing - provided I'm not the only one to do so.

Nation, this just goes to further illustrate the divisive nature of partisan politics, and why the party system itself is fundamentally at odds with the basic concept of democracy... in the pursuit of power, the parties polarize the electorate and forsake what is RIGHT for what is politically expedient. How, then, can we EVER expect good governance, when all sides are focused mostly on seizing and retaining power through partisan games and promising us what we WANT rather than providing us with the leadership that we NEED?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, Indeed

Nation, you first read about the story of young Trevor Pare here. A follow-up came here, by which point the mainstream media were kind enough to pick up the story as well. Lastly, an update came a few days later when the Minister of Health for Alberta, the Honourable Ron Liepert, stopped by the Pare home - unannounced, and without fanfare - to visit with and reassure the family, Trevor and his devoted mom Linda that he was personally "on the case".

Today, on Mother's Day, Linda received word (that she passed on to me) from Ron Liepert that Alberta Blue Cross would be covering Trevor's Myozyme treatments in the future, ensuring that Trevor gets to live a full and active life and, someday, gets to incur my wrath as the General Manager of my beloved Oilers.

Bravo to everyone involved in this story. From the Honourable Ron Liepert, to his staff, to the good people at Alberta Blue Cross... You are all very deserving of praise, and on this day, I can say with absolutely certainly that ALL of you have or had mothers who would be very proud of you.


Happy Mother's Day, to Linda and to moms (and single dads) everywhere.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Green Around The Gills...

Nation, I've made no bones about the fact that I am a dyed-in-the-wool, small-g "green". I'm a believer that sustainability is no longer an option in our public policy, but rather is an urgent necessity. After all...
"We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children".

Why, then, has a political creature like The Enlightened Savage, long a "true believer" in the most central of Green Party tenets, never voted for a Green Party candidate, at any level, in his life? For this answer, we have to look at the Greens themselves...

The Green Party as we know it in Canada bases its policies on the "Six Principles" agreed to in the "Global Greens Charter" of 2001. These principles are: Ecological Wisdom; Social Justice; Participatory Democracy; Nonviolence; Sustainability; Respect for Diversity.

The Green movement was born in the early 1980's, and candidates first officially ran for the Greens here in 1983. Currently led by Elizabeth May, the party has polled as high as the mid-teens at times, federally. The Alberta wing of the party, led by George Read, recently received around 4.6% of the votes cast in Alberta's 2008 General Election.

Greens have been elected all over Europe, in Australia, and in New Zealand - but never in Canada, on either a federal or provincial level. Why? Is it that Canadians don't care about the environment? Are we bad people?

Far from it... the problem lies not with the voters, but rather with the Green Party of Canada itself.

There are 2 types of people who get active and want to get their face on-camera come election time: Politicians, and Activists. Now, while the end goal of these two types of people are in fact pretty similar (namely - changing policy), the means by which they hope to achieve them are in fact quite different.

A Politician will run for a nomination, build a platform that s/he feels the voters will support which addresses society's needs, and make speeches to win support. They'll put themselves out there for public criticism, take punches, throw punches, and (in most cases) do whatever it takes to make sure they get elected, so they can go forward with their policies and bring forward the changes they feel are in the best interests of society.

An Activist, on the other hand, will identify a need that society has, and then print leaflets, start a webpage, and make speeches. They'll call radio call-in shows, start a blog, and go on the offensive against the "Powers That Be" which they feel are causing the need. If attacked or rebutted, they'll scream about repression and the unfairness of it all - after all, they're not politicians, and should be above reproach. It's the ISSUE that matters. They'll push elected officials for their issue to be resolved, and will keep pushing until it is.

Here's the problem... a Politician who behaves like an Activist won't be taken seriously, and an Activist who tries to run for office as a Politician won't be elected.

Voters are many things... however, contrary to the beliefs of the leader of the Alberta Liberals, "stupid" isn't one of those things. The voters of Alberta, and of Canada (including THIS voter), routinely say they respect and sympathize with the Green cause, but then go and vote for someone else. WHY?

Quite simply, it's because we don't see the Greens as a political party. We see them as a group of Activists. And it's their own fault.

If the Greens were broadcasting, far and wide to everyone who would listen, a solid and comprehensive platform dealing with many of the day-to-day issues that vex Canadians, we'd listen. If they made an announcement immediately after every government announcement, critiquing (or lauding) the government's action, and (where appropriate) presenting their own policies as alternatives, we'd take an interest. If they presented us with a slate, full or not, of eminently qualified and electable candidates, we'd consider voting for them.

But they do NONE of these things. They're seen, rightly or wrongly, as a single-issue party - an image, by the way, that they do nothing to combat. They're deathly silent on all issues except the environment. And they'll run almost ANYONE who wants to be a candidate, provided they're in Liz May's "good books" (otherwise, she'll personally show up to make sure they don't win the nomination - allegedly). The party runs a full slate at election time - but that slate is mostly full of students, retirees, and dyed-in-the-wool hippie activists. And the party is asking us as Canadians to elect this motley crew as Members of Parliament, representing us to the world. When former leader Jim Harris put the Politicians in charge of the party's political machinery, trying to get an electoral break-through, he faced a revolt from the Activist-heavy left wing of the party.

Even Ms. May herself contributes to this perception of the Greens as a group of Activists pretending to be a party of Politicians, by running not on Vancouver Island, or in the mainland riding of West Vancouver - Sunshine Coast - Sea to Sky Country (which includes the town of Whistler, which elected a Green as Mayor) or in the riding of Wild Rose (the retiring Myron Thompson's riding, which includes Banff) - all places where she could likely win a seat, and actually make a difference for the country and for her party, but instead in Central Nova - where she'll more than likely get destroyed by Peter "I wish The Enlightened Savage remembered how to spell my last name" MacKay.

She's not running to get herself elected, she's running to get attention for her cause, knowing she's going to lose. That's not a Politician's thinking, it's an Activist's. A Politician will tell you the important thing isn't to "fight the good fight", it's to WIN. A speech made about your issue in the House of Commons is a victory. A speech made on CPAC when they profile your riding for a half hour on a slow Tuesday afternoon,
mid-campaign? That's just filler.

The mind-blowing thing about this whole situation is that not only are the Greens AWARE of the public's perception of them as unelectable, they're apparently PROUD of it - they're allegedly purging the party of Politicians, instead opting for "true believers" (Activists). They're quite literally killing their hopes of EVER getting someone elected, because the very people who can help make that happen - strategic thinkers and unsavoury "Politician" types - are being kicked out of the party. So they'll continue to be denied a podium at the Leaders' Debate, because they're perpetually unable to elect any MP's. Which will further prod the Activists to cry about the grand conspiracy, which will further alienate voters disinclined to vote for whiners or conspiracy theorists... it's a vicious circle, and one of the party's own making. At this point, there's very little difference in public perception between the Green Party of Canada - a political party that hopes, one would think, to be elected to govern - and Greenpeace, an activist organization hoping to influence governments, but with no interest whatsoever of being elected to anything.

At this point, both organizations have the same chance of being elected to govern Canada.


Other Green Parties, in other countries, have seen the necessity of involving the Politicians. Further, they're not just "involved", but they often run the party. A successful and electable Green political party needs a brain (the Politicians), and it needs a heart (the Activists). The Green Party of Canada is, at this time, the Scarecrow - it has a heart, but is desperately in need of a brain. And they're purging all the brains from their midst - great move.

At the end of the day, when Canadians are casting a ballot, they need to feel confident that they're contributing to the solution for what ails us. They need to feel confident that the party for which they're voting (or for which they THINK they're voting - a topic we've discussed here before) can take power, run the day-to-day operations of government, and fix the problems that exist. We don't think we're electing an opposition MP, we think we're electing a government MP.

Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, thinks that the Greens are ready to govern this country. That's why we all like what they stand for, but can't in good conscience mark our "x" for them. "God, what if MY vote is the one that makes Liz May the Prime Minister? [shudder]" It's why they'll never be a successful political party in their current form.

And they have nobody to blame but themselves.

(For more on the Green Party, check out Lex Luthor at No Longer a Green in Alberta. He's a former party big-wig, and knows what's going on in Green-land much better than I.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

If It Quacks Like A Duck...

Nation, I've returned from my exile to the Land of the Lotus Eaters, and found myself incredibly disturbed not only by a recent turn of events, but also by the small-l liberal response to it.

Frequent readers of this blog (are there any other kinds?) will know that I self-identify as a "red tory" - I favour fiscal conservatism, whilst being to the left socially. A more appropriate label, however, might be "christmas tree tory" - a fiscal conservative who is red on social issues and whose primary value is green. The environment is my biggest single issue - and while having never voted Green in my life (a topic for another post, coming very soon), I am a big believer in the overwhelming need for our leaders and citizens to embrace the issue of sustainability. As in, right now.

Imagine my dismay, then, upon my return to read that 500 ducks had died after landing in a Syncrude tailing pond filled with toxic waste.

Absolutely inexcusable.

The province requires that sound deterrents be used to keep fowl away from ponds such as this one - and with great success. In this particular case, the devices had not yet been deployed, and the province is already taking steps to lay charges against Syncrude which may result in a fine of up to $1 Million.

That's $2000 per duck. You don't even pay that for duck in Paris.

Now, as I said above - this is absolutely inexcusable. I will grant that this is the first time in the 30 years of oilsands development that something like this has happened. Further, I'll admit that freak accidents sometimes occur despite the best safety precautions being taken. But that isn't what happened here... the best safety precautions were NOT taken, and as a result 500 ducks landed in a pool of toxic waste, and (quite predictably) died.

Nearly as disturbing, though, has been the reaction of the political left.

You could see the smirks from miles away... instead of offering up workable solutions on how to avoid catastrophes like this in the future, the capital-L Liberals, their friends in the blogosphere and their "Big Green" lackeys have insisted on showing us pictures of dead ducks (the ducks died, we get it) and saying the only way to stop this from happening is to stop oilsands development completely, and vote Liberal.

Neither of those is going to happen, and they know it, so they lock in their expressions of smug moral superiority and fire back with a "then you're getting what you deserve". You almost get the impression they want you to believe that Ed Stelmach and Mel Knight went on a bender one night, and snuck around poisoning the ponds themselves.

"There is no correct way of doing things or seeing this issue but OUR way. Suggestions to the contrary are obviously being made by intellectually stunted, inferior people." Sounds vaguely like it belongs in the late 30's, wouldn't you say?

Also sticking in my craw about this is the suggestion, mainly in the blogosphere, that the Tories have spent $25 Million to "re-brand" the projects as "Oilsands". The argument I'm reading is that they're supposed to be called "Tarsands".

Guys, with ALL due respect - remove your heads from your rectums.

The only re-branding going on here is your continued insistence, against all evidence to the contrary, that these projects have EVER been popularly called the "Tarsands" by anyone with any public credibility prior to very recently, when you all decided that sounded dirtier, and more likely to cause public outrage. For 30 years, the undisputed public "brand" for the areas being developed today has been "The Oilsands". The first time I ever heard the projects referred to as "Tarsands" by someone I considered credible was on a CityTV debate between 2 bloggers in Edmonton during the recent provincial election - and the blogger who used the term was quite clearly doing his damnedest to "re-brand" the projects as "tarsands" for his own political reasons.

I don't want to lose sight of the main issue, here... Syncrude screwed up, and had a major impact on the environment. But this wasn't due to a LACK of government rules, it was due to their CONTRAVENING of government rules. If the Liberals, or the liberal blogosphere, has practical suggestions on what to do to avoid this in the future, then by all means fire away. But "close the tarsands" and "vote Liberal" are NOT practical solutions (because they're NOT going to happen at this stage), and every time you make them, you just further cement the public perception of you as not credible. Making good suggestions for the public good NOW rather than holding them close to your vest for the next 4 years so you can "debut" them at election time at least makes the "vote Liberal" more likely.

The oilsands are a dirty, dirty business. There's no getting around that. There are many, many tailing ponds just like the one in question, full of toxins and poisons that will kill animals, plants, and people if they're not properly contained. If it were MY call, I'd be working on alternative energy sources right NOW - because the higher petro-energy costs go up, the more likely we are to wake up tomorrow and find that Ford or Honda has mass released a fully electrical car, because nobody can afford to buy gasoline. When we finally reach that tipping point, and the value of the oil in those oilsands bottoms out, if we as a province don't have something else, ready to pick up the multi-BILLION dollar slack in terms of royalty revenue, residual economic impact and job losses, we are going to be SCREWED.

That's the whole point of sustainability - relying so totally on one resource, which poisons our environment, for our economic well-being puts us at the mercy of our own largess and the world market for that resource. Once the oil runs out - or the demand for it dries up - we'll wake up to find ourselves broke, unemployed, and living in a poisoned environment. That's right - we'll be Toronto.
We have GOT to diversify our economy, and if we decide we want to be an energy powerhouse for the 21st century like we were for the last half of the 20th, then we'd better start working on alternative sources for that energy - because in the year 2105, when this province celebrates its bicentennial, crude oil is going to be as relevant as music recorded on wax cylinders is today.

So liberals, environmentalists: I'm with you, without reservation, on these points: This sucks, it should never have happened, and we have to do something.

I'm open to CONSTRUCTIVE suggestions.

Blaming Stelmach for Syncrude's failure to follow the rules? NOT constructive.