Friday, December 25, 2009

Yes, Virginia...

(as first printed in the New York Sun - September 21st, 1897)

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?
- Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Merry Christmas, Nation.
Never stop believing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Breaking News: NORAD Tracking Suspicious Sleigh-Shaped Object

Gather your children nearby, and click here for more coverage.

Protect yourselves, Nation - do you have your Survival Kits prepared?

  • 1 glass eggnog and/or milk
  • 1 plate assorted cookies (gingerbread and sugar cookies preferred)
  • 1 carrot - reindeer approved
  • 1 butter tart (2 if you're at the Savage household)
Gather your Survival Kits and hunker down - it could be a long night.

- E.S.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hot Err

Okay, Nation... I've heard just about all I can stand about the climate change issue, although I know I'll be hearing about it for the rest of my days.

On the heels of the Copenhagen conference, I figured I'd save everyone the time and trouble of holding another one of these gab-fests, and solve the issue right now.

So, here we go - the FINAL WORD on the climate change issue. There's no need for further debate.


If you don't think the climate is changing, you're an idiot.

If you think human industry can destroy the planet, you're just as big an idiot.

Everyone with me so far?

Let's review to this point...

The climate is changing. It is. Deniers will throw on a smirk whenever the mercury hits a new low and snarkily state to the nearest media-type "well, so much for global warming!" - but here's the thing: Nobody has called it global warming in 15 years. The reason nobody has called it that in 15 years, is because we now know the issue is far, far more complex than a simplistic "the world is getting warmer, everywhere" type of statement. It hasn't been "global warming" since Young MC was putting out cassette tapes. Clinging to the old, inaccurate, simplistic term formerly used to describe an infinitely complex system is a hallmark of a simple mind. FYI.

We're constantly learning new things about our planet, and the creatures that call it home. Not that long ago, we used to tell people to climb trees when being chased by a bear. Turns out, black bears can climb trees, and grizzly bears can just knock them over. We used to stock rivers with non-indigenous species of fish - and just about wiped out the Bull Trout in the process. We started putting out forest fires in this part of the world a hundred years ago - which has left us vulnerable to huge infernos and the Mountain Pine Beetle. Our understanding evolves, and our ideas have to evolve with it.

That's an important point: Our IDEAS have to evolve. Not our beliefs. We shouldn't HOLD scientific beliefs - that's why even the most accepted scientific laws - gravity, for example - are referred to as "theories" - because until our understanding of the universe is perfect, there is always room for improvement. Beliefs deny the evolution of understanding as accepted facts change, and turn a current understanding into an absolute and static one. Or, to borrow a quote from one of my favourite movies:

"I just think it's better to have an idea. You can change an idea; changing a belief is trickier. People die for it, people kill for it."
- Rufus, the 13th Apostle ("DOGMA")

We'll talk more about the science in a bit.

Human beings can not destroy this planet.

Greenpeace, take note.

We can pollute the air, we can dump toxic waste into our rivers and oceans, we can contaminate the topsoil - and yet, the Earth will be fine. Life will find a way to continue - it always does. Life will find a way to survive, and thrive, just as it has through countless mass extinctions in the past several billion years.

The problem is, we won't be here to see it. Because we humans will, without a change to the way in which we exist within our environments, likely cause our own extinction. With the Romans, it was lead plumbing, which poisoned the people, led to decreased intelligence in generation after generation, and ultimately contributed to the downfall of the mightiest empire the world had ever known. Now, though, we've evolved past the point where we're simply polluting locally, causing the local residents some problems - our pollution is global in scope, its effect will be felt by our entire population, and so too must the solution be global.

I'm talking about solutions, not gimmicks. Giving money to poor countries to pay for our environmental sins isn't a solution - it's a way to ease our guilty collective conscience. We need to take all that money we're using to purchase our environmental indulgences from the church of public opinion, and we need to give it to our best scientists, and we need to find better ways to feed, clothe, shelter and power our societies - and make those results available across the globe. Do you think anyone in Vietnam is going to care that the local power plant is hydro-electric rather than coal-fired, purchased with money paid by guilty Britons, while acid rain is falling from the sky because of heavy industry in China or India, who get off the hook as "developing nations" under most international environmental treaties?

Canada could turn off the lights tomorrow, go completely into the stone ages industrially, send every red cent in the treasury to Kuala Lampur, and it would not make one damn bit of difference to the issue of global climate change. The sooner we get that through our heads, the sooner we can talk about real solutions instead of symbolic gestures.

Are we causing climate change? Maybe. Maybe not. Are we making it worse? PROBABLY - but not definitely. But those doubting the ability of Twitter to get salient points across in 140 characters or less should consider this gem:

"Let's suppose climate change is a myth. Does that make pollution, over-consumption of fuel and unsustainable communities permissible?"
- Chris Henderson

Whether or not we're causing this problem is not as relevant as the opportunity that it gives us, to eschew ostentatious consumption in favour of a more sustainable lifestyle, not just for future generations, but for OURS - this isn't an issue we can just tell our kids they'll have to make sacrifices in order to deal with, this is an issue that WE can start making sacrifices to deal with, and set an example.

The Greatest Generation didn't blink when faced with an unenviable position - they didn't decide to wait for their children to grow up and do something about it. They went. As so many of them leave us every day, 70 years later, the very least we can do is show those who remain that we learned from their example what it meant to make sacrifices for the greater good - and for our own good, too.

The last word on our ability to destroy this planet goes to perhaps the greatest philosopher of the 20th century. He's got a bit of a potty mouth, so don't turn your speakers on at work, and get the kids out of the room.

Alright, so we've dealt with (read: enraged the supporters of) the 2 biggest myths of the ridiculous back-and-forth that is the climate change debate. To re-cap:

1. The climate is changing, although we're not 100% certain why.

2. We're not a threat to the Earth - we're a threat to ourselves and some of the other species on the planet.

These are facts, and anyone who wants to argue about them will lose.

Now, we hear a lot about "Greenhouse Gases" going into, and coming out of, the Copenhagen conference. So, let's deal with the next big argument in that vein:

Carbon dioxide is not pollution. It's plant food.

Carbon dioxide isn't bad for the planet. It's just not. Without it, plants can't grow, which means herbivores can't eat or breathe, which means I don't get my steak - or my oxygen. So, CO2 is GOOD, right?

Well, HALF right.

CO2 is good, so long as there are plants to consume it.

The CO2 output from the planet's surface over the past thousand years has increased dramatically. Heavy industry, internal combustion engines, the increase in human population, Rush Limbaugh - all of them are recent developments that have increased the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.

CO2 is NOT pollution.

This is where deforestation becomes an issue, though. With fewer trees and plants around to ingest that CO2, taking it out of the atmosphere and replacing it with oxygen, the CO2 drifts around in the atmosphere and contributes to the Greenhouse effect - which increases the temperature in parts of the world, while reducing it in others. At its most extreme, the Greenhouse effect results in Venus-like conditions - not at all comfortable.

We are nowhere NEAR Venus-like conditions. And CO2 is not pollution.

But if you think the only thing coming out of your tail-pipe when you let your engine idle for 30 minutes in the mall parking lot because "it's cold outside" is CO2, you need to have your head examined.

Weather and temperature changes, some of them drastic, are occurring.

The problem is, we've only been at this "science" thing, or anything resembling it, for a few hundred years. As a species, we've only had 10,000 or so years to notice what's been going on around us. Pretending to be able to recognize patterns that can give us a reasonable understanding of "regular" global weather based on our recorded scientific observations to this point is akin to watching Todd Bertuzzi take a face-off and claiming to understand hockey.

So we don't know what's "normal". That makes it hard to know if what we're experiencing is "abnormal", which is sort of the first step to determining if we're responsible for causing the abnormalities - which may or may not be happening.

What we DO know is that polar ice is melting, some parts of the world are getting colder, ocean currents are getting wonky, and we're getting more extreme weather events than we were getting decades ago. All of this is a change from what we're used to - and therefore, deniers, the climate, as far as we're concerned, is changing.

Whether it's changing the way it normally has, for billions of years, or it's changing in a unique way, possibly due to human influence, is not known. Using 10,000 years out of 4 billion for observation and prediction is like electing a national government based on a show of hands in the smoking section of your local Denny's.

To think that, at this point, we have the knowledge to "fix" this is arrogance personified. This MIGHT be normal. IF it's not, it MIGHT not be our fault. IF it is our fault, we MIGHT be able to do something about it. And IF we can do something about it, we MIGHT be able to figure out what the RIGHT thing is to do. But there are a lot of uncertainties there.

Science is supposed to help us clear up those uncertainties, right?

Wrong. The role of science, much like the role of the artist or court musician in medieval Europe, has become "to validate his benefactor".

Now, let's be 100% clear on this: If I am a brilliant scientist, with 20 years of education in my area of expertise, one of the top, if not THE top, scientific mind in my field - I deserve to get paid. VERY well paid. If my mind is improving the lives of others, and my knowledge and work is making other people millions of dollars, then I should be paid at least as much as a 3rd-line centre in the NHL.

The problem is, these scientists find themselves naturally leaning towards coming up with results that justify their continued employment. You don't often hear the words, in any language, "in my learned opinion, this problem is solved, and you can fire me and stop paying me $5 million per year."

The scientists on both sides of the environmental divide are guilty of this. I'm not saying they're fudging numbers, or purposely distorting facts... but, when you're hired by a lobby group or corporation that clearly has a certain expectation for a result, and you're extremely well-paid to do your work, at some point (if even subconsciously) you're going to start hoping that you get results that will satisfy your employer.

Of course, it doesn't help matters any that most of the best scientific minds in this field have been scooped up by one side or the other in the debate, to either "prove that climate change is real and caused by humans" or to "prove that climate change is a myth, and humans are just wonderful and should buy SUV's". I think a big part of my problem with this comes from my perhaps naive hope that there shouldn't BE 2 "sides" to the argument, because that presupposes that people have already made up their minds, and are looking to cherry-pick data to prove their presumptions.

This is far, though, from the first scientific field to be high-jacked by private financial interests. Remember when medical science was focused on research on how to cure debilitating and deadly diseases?

Remember THIS guy?

Q - "Who owns to patent to the (Salk) vaccine?"
Salk - "There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?"

Nowadays, the brilliant medical minds are all funded by private interests, and looking for ways to help you live with your condition. Not to CURE you - heavens, no. If you're cured, once and for all, we can only get money from you once.

In fairness to the doctors and scientists, they're controlled as much by market forces as any of the rest of us. If you've got the medical knowledge to cure cancer, but Pfizer offers you $10,000,000.00 per year to develop a treatment (not a cure, mind you) for male pattern baldness, what are you going to take? Decades of toiling in anonymity and squalor, hoping for your break-through and the immortality that would come from a cancer cure? Or bi-coastal homes, the best lab equipment money can buy, living in the lap of luxury, GUARANTEED, to solve a problem that a drug company wants solved because there's a market for the pills?

This is described by a contemporary of our above philosopher, who (come to think of it) looks a lot like the previously-quoted Rufus, the 13th Apostle - again, put the little ones to bed, and don't listen to this at work...

And it's not just drug companies, either... most of the people who belong to lobby groups for various diseases are there for noble reasons. They had a friend or loved one struck down by the disease, they truly want to help conquer this scourge or that scourge... but there are also people who are there because it's a job. And if you cure MS tomorrow, CURE it, then they're out of a job. So when advances are made towards curing the disease, they get "their" scientists to try and find flaws in the data. They're not trying to cure the disease, they're trying to keep justifying their jobs. You'll find people like that in every walk of life. Most people who deal with pain and suffering would love nothing more than to find their jobs obsolete tomorrow... but occasionally, you'll meet a cop, or a fireman, or a doctor, for whom the job is just that - a pay cheque. In a world without crime, or fire, or disease, they're out a job - and that's as far as they'd think it through.

When we allow science to be corrupted by economic interests, it loses itself. Science is supposed to shine light into the dark places, to help us understand our world and the things that happen within it. The economization of science, then, does just the opposite: It presents the public with impossible-to-understand data, both sides presented as "inarguable, peer-reviewed truth", and asks us laypeople to choose between 2 completely contradictory packages both labelled "the way things actually are".

So we don't know what the truth is. Even the highly intelligent and brilliantly-trained people who THINK they know what the truth is, don't know what the truth is. We might be causing climate change, and we might not. CO2 is good, except when it's not. Giving money to other countries is morally satisfying, but won't fix the problem. We're over-consuming, but don't know how to stop. Even if we DO stop, it might not make a difference in terms of climate change. Climate and weather are unpredictable, and we're not sure what's going to happen, or when, or where. Our scientists have been corrupted by the market forces that keep their labs stocked and their garages full.

Merry Christmas.

What can we do, in light of all of the above?

We can try to curb our consumption. We can help other countries skip the most environmentally damaging stages of their industrial growth. We can take the blood money that would have gone to pay for our sins, and put it towards advances in science that will help us grow more crops, deforest fewer areas, and burn less fossil fuel. We can find alternatives to power our civilization that will result in fewer - or no - emissions of any kind.

Will any of this help stop climate change?

I don't know. And neither do you. And neither do the scientists who argue for your point of view, no matter how certain the language in their published findings.

What it WILL help us do, though, is to do less damage to each other, and to our own habitat.

We can stop messing in our own cage.

It might not fix things.

Then again, it might.

If all it costs us to TRY is a little personal inconvenience, then I for one am willing to try.

After all... It can't be more inconvenient than extinction.

And if global climate change - which may or may not be our fault, which we may or may not be able to do anything about - doesn't get us, than overcrowding will. Famine. Acid rain. Drought. Disease and pandemics. War over non-renewable resources. Pollution of the groundwater. Over-fishing of the oceans. BSE. BPA. HIV. Hormones in our livestock. Chronic wasting disease. Cancer.

You know... things we CAN do something about.

If we decide they matter more than male-pattern baldness and erectile dysfunction.

Death is pretty inconvenient.

Even if it makes me a bad lemming, and a poor consumer - count me in for "life".

Thursday, December 17, 2009

By the Numb3rs

Pack a lunch, Nation. I'm making up for lost time today.

We all know that while I may sit at the head of the table, I am far from the biggest math geek in the entire ES Nation.

What I want to do today, though, is take a look at the significance of a lot of the numbers that I've seen thrown around since my return from the Savage Honeymoon.


The percentage correct that Mastermaq was when he pointed out recently that the "Ask Premier Ed" initiative was not, in fact, use of Social Media.

Social Media is something that Ed Stelmach should be absolutely brilliant at - because he's a nice man. The more people get to know him, the more they like him. But Q&A sessions are not real social interaction, any more than the Legislature Question Period as it stands is "real debate". Putting them online, or using YouTube, doesn't make them Social Media.

Tom Olson, in the linked story above, is reported to have likened the video responses to having coffee with Ed in a coffee shop. Which is a completely idiotic statement. Chatting over a cup of joe is intimate and completely interactive. Question-answer-rebuttal-point of clarification-segue-next question... If I had coffee with Ed in a coffee shop, and asked his handlers a series of questions, and they picked one that they liked, and passed it on to him, and he responded, and then walked out to go to the next coffee shop to answer the next hand-picked question, I'd think "that guy's a jerk, and this was a waste of my time".

Ed's not a jerk. And the "Ask Premier Ed" idea isn't a complete waste of time - but it needs to be fixed, like so much else in the Premier's communications office. I'm available.


The number of Albertans, from all walks of life and all traditional political stripes, who met in Red Deer for the Reboot Alberta session.

This is an event that I desperately wanted to attend, but was unfortunately unable to do so. The results of this meeting and the plans that sprang forth from it, though, will not be measured in months or in years, but in generations. The 4 approaches to changing our political reality in this province that were explored were a) a new party, beholden not to left-right dogma but to a vision for tomorrow's Alberta; b) creating new movements for change outside of the party system; c) working through existing initiatives for social change, and d) reinvigorating the existing system, including existing parties. I've made no bones about my intention to try and help drag the PC Party kicking and screaming into the world of 2010 and that big bump in the bell curve where most people find themselves politically, so while my own efforts lean more towards option d), each approach is a critical, and possibly successful, approach to explore and engage in.


In terms of support from within your own party, 77% is a good result for Premier Ed Stelmach. 77% from the public-at-large would be the kind of polling number that makes seasoned politicians dance a highland reel.

I've got to admit, the level of support for the Premier at the Progressive Conservative AGM caught me by surprise. Having gone 2 weeks without checking my email, I thought at first I was reading the news wrong. Now, I know and you know that while SOME of the delegates in attendance were voting in support of the Premier, some others were simply voting to avoid a messy leadership race. The proportions of those groups will forever be a mystery. However, the bottom line is that after the votes were cast and counted, Premier Ed had the support of 77% of his party's delegates.

Story over, right?

Oh, so, SO wrong.

We'll talk more about some of the numbers that have come out recently when we get to that end of the scale. Suffice it to say, though, that the worm in this particular story has turned - I only mention that in case some of you have been living under the rock next to the one I've been under for the past few weeks.


40 is not just the number that pollsters throw out as the level of popular support required to consider a majority government for a party - it's also the number that recent polls have put Wildrose Alliance support at, provincially.

As with the 77% discussion above, we know for a fact that some of the 40% support that the WAP is showing is made up of people who just want to put the fear of god into the PC's, but would never dream of actually marking an "x" next to their local WAP candidate come election time. For all we know, that describes half of the WAP respondents. For all we know, it describes 1% of them, and the WAP really IS on the cusp of governance.

HERE'S where it gets tricky, though... the media coverage of the poll results usually included a line such as "40% of Albertans would vote for their local WAP candidate were the election to be held tomorrow". There are 2 problems with that scenario: Firstly, there won't be an election tomorrow. Secondly, there aren't 87 WAP candidates ready to go. There aren't 87 PC candidates ready to go, for that matter. And let's not forget that, come election time, candidates MATTER. Especially BAD ones.

The majority of the current support for the Wildrose Alliance, in my opinion, stems from one of 2 things: Either dissatisfaction with the Progressive Conservatives and Premier Stelmach, or an embracing of freshly-minted WAP leader Danielle Smith - not necessarily the party or its policies. Danielle is smart, savvy, and doesn't tread into dangerous ground, socially - the perfect approach for her at this point.

As any established party leader can tell you, though, once you have 87, or 300+, people with your party name after theirs at the bottom of the television screen, all bets are off. There are radicals and mouth-breathers in every party - but how you handle them when they're candidates, ostensibly speaking FOR your party, is another. If the WAP attracts 85 more Danielle Smiths to be candidates, the PC's are done like dinner. If the WAP polling numbers, though, convince the party's fringe elements to come out from under the porch and bask in the sunlight of mainstream attention, convinced that they're being embraced (it's not you, it's Danielle) - they're in some trouble.


The percent of a chance, in my opinion, that the much-rumoured cabinet shuffle is going to involve more than 2 of the "top 5" ministries (Treasury Board, Education, Finance, Health and Energy) changing hands. You just can't blow up the administration of too many of those big departments a month before budget time - can you? Can you switch the Minister of Finance 4 weeks before a budget's release?


The number of cabinet ministers I expect to see in the Alberta Legislature come January 11th. Currently, the cabinet numbers 23, plus the Premier. Given the economic and political climate, I fully expect that the Premier will likely trim the cabinet at the same time he's shuffling it, by combining some ministries in a cost-cutting move (fewer ministers to pay, combination of resources, etc.). The smart money is on ministries at the bottom of the food chain being combined with those higher up (e.g. Housing and Urban Affairs with Municipal Affairs, Infrastructure with Transportation, Tourism Parks and Recreation into Culture & Community Spirit (Tourism) and Environment or Service Alberta (Parks and Rec.).


The number of months that Shane over at CalgaryRants has been smoke-free. Congratulations, to the soon-to-be-Daddy and 2009 Canadian Blog Awards nominee.


The number of years, as of November 15th, that I've been plugging away in this little corner of the blogosphere. It's been a blast, and I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon. Through this blog, I've been able to meet some fantastic civic-minded people. I've also been privileged enough to have been asked to help with in-studio analysis of the 2007 municipal election on CBC Radio One, talk snow removal on CHQR AM770, and do a quick recap on election night 2008 for the Alberta General Election for CityTV. I'm no Naheed Nenshi - but, "baby steps". ;)

For those of you inclined to send me an anniversary gift, the third anniversary gift is "leather".


The number of people by which guest blogger and FOES Kirk Schmidt's family grew while I was away. Congratulations to the Captain, and to Yeoman Robyn, on the arrival of their little bundle of joy. ;)

Too many

The number of people rumoured to be considering a run at the Calgary Mayor's chair in October 2010.

Dave Bronconnier, you'll notice, has suddenly started talking a lot of sense. He does this every 3 years, when the clock starts to wind down towards the next municipal election.

The logic is quite simple, really: From the time of your election until the 2nd anniversary mark, you can speak and act on behalf of the people who put you there (by which, of course, I mean developers and other donors - you thought I meant VOTERS?). For the last year, though, you have to judge which direction the wind is blowing, and then stand up and declare that you're on the side of the working man. Works just about every time.

Bronconnier being ridiculously well-funded (and now suddenly favouring finance reform) and a smooth political operator, then, the one thing he wants more than anything else is a crowded ballot. With Mayor Dave on stage with 8 or 10 contenders, they'll all be so focused on trying to differentiate themselves from each other that they'll lose focus on what is one of the most difficult tasks in all of politics: Defeating a well-funded and entrenched, smart incumbent.

So, to Ric, Diane, Joe, Alnoor, and anyone else thinking of taking a shot at the Big Chair: Get together over some beers, figure out who it's going to be, and ANNOUNCE your candidacy, already. If you ALL run, you'll all lose, and we'll all be worse off for it. I guarantee it.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ebony and Ivory...

Nation, I was in the middle of writing (in my head, Mozart-style) the "What Would E.S. Do - WAP Edition" post for this blog, when I stumbled across 2 news items that blew my mind...

Mind-blowing point number one: Two politicians who probably couldn't agree on the colour of the sky, are agreeing about the most fundamentally important value in our democratic system: That the PEOPLE are in charge, as opposed to the elected few.

Mind-blowing point number two: One of them is Brian Pincott, who I wrote about just 3 days ago in relation to his "dog park user fee" brainwave.

I'll have a lot (a LOT) more to say about the notion of private, PC-only cabinet advisory committees with no published minutes being paid taxpayer money at a later time. But for now, the "take of the day" on the issue goes to Doug Griffiths, MLA for Battle River-Wainwright, member of the "Enlightened Eight", snappy dresser and all-around good guy:

"I completely understand why people are concerned... if that role is an internal PC caucus function, why should we be paid?"

To whit: If it's not a public function, but a private one, then why should public (aka "MY") dollars be paid to the participants?

Doug gets it - which is hardly surprising.

What I found a little more surprising - but very pleasantly so - was the about-face by Alderman Brian Pincott on the dog park issue. Brian initially floated the idea of a user fee for dog parks, and then - in what could only be an attempt to discredit the last few paragraphs on this past Wednesday's post on The Enlightened Savage - he came out yesterday and said:

"... I have heard from many people who, like you, have asked that I vote against a user fee, even if council is told that it would be possible to administer one... I will do this. Should council be told that we could levy a maintenance fee to off-leash users (and I must stress that we have not been told that we could) I will not support such a fee."


This shouldn't be newsworthy, but it is - which speaks, I think, to the low expectation that we have of our elected officials - a low expectation that, sadly, is usually well-earned. In this case, though, Pincott is showing that he understands that the people calling his office are actually the decision-makers, rather than the ones who sit in the funny-looking council chamber.

YES, Nation, I also couldn't help but notice that the next municipal election is less than a year away. Why so jaded? ;)

The bottom line is, whether a politician is a Progressive Conservative or a raging lefty, when the time comes to cast a vote, a politician who understands that their own, private opinions matter not a whit in the context of this job they're elected to do is okay by me. I can be ably represented by a person who shares NONE of my views, so long as that person realizes what Griffiths and Pincott understand: The opinion of the voters is what counts.

Power to the People.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before...

Wednesday: "Snow is in the forecast for this week-end..."

Thursday: "City roads department says it's prepared for the upcoming weather."

Friday: Weather hits. City roads department caught unprepared. Half a THOUSAND collisions on city roads. E.S. takes 3 hours to get home, spends 2 of them on 16th Avenue North, sees a total of... wait for it... ZERO sanders or city trucks of any kind.

Saturday: "We did the best that we could... just stay off the roads, and buy winter tires."

Monday: "We couldn't have done any better. But we've learned something, and we hope to improve..." (huh?)

Wow... good thing we boosted the snow removal budget by a whole $1 Million.

The excuse, as always, is that "in order to boost spending on snow removal, we'd have to increase taxes". Which is, of course, total bull. We could find that money by cutting somewhere else, and have a net impact on taxpayers of ZERO.

Bronco at least had the political survival instinct to come out on Monday and say (contrary to just about everything he's been saying for the past few months) that the snow removal efforts weren't good enough on Friday. Whether it's a long-term conversion or a sudden change of opinion during an election year is anyone's guess (if you're betting money, bet on option "b").

Jeremy had a really good take on this over at his blog - which I've become very impressed by in recent weeks. While I was gone, he MORE than picked up my slack - I'm just trying not to get lapped at this point. :)

You can tell it's an election year, because all of a sudden, civic politicians who are going to be running (declared or not) next October are front-and-centre on just about every imaginable issue. Consider that normally, issues like instituting user fees for dog off-leash areas would be a perfect opportunity to trot out "Bylaw Boss Bill Bruce", the only unelected man in Calgary who gets more airtime and print than my friend Naheed Nenshi (seriously, why do I hear more from Billy than I do from Calgary's Chief of Police?). Now, though, it's Brian Pincott who brings the issue forward at Council, and dog owner and all-around good guy John Mar who slaps down the suggestion in the papers.

Full disclosure: I'm a dog owner. Or, at least, I'm married to a dog owner.

Nation, the idea of "user pay" as a means of funding our infrastructure certainly has merit. But where do we draw the line? My taxes go to pay for roads that I will never, ever use. Should we erect toll booths all over the city, to pay for maintenance of those roads?

My parents, who are way, WAY past having children in school, still pay school taxes. Should they be allowed to opt out, and we just bring in school tuition fees, so the users pay for their own services?

My best friend hasn't set foot in a provincial park in over 15 years - should he be allowed to opt out of that portion of his income taxes, and have the province set up park gates and entry tolls for Kananaskis, like the Feds do for national parks?

I know for a fact that my taxes pay for snow clearing in Mount Royal - because they sure don't pay for snow removal in Woodlands. Should we let community associations pass the hat, and hire their own plow companies?

At some point, we have to come to some sort of consensus on what is in the best public interest, and find a way to fund those things appropriately.

Now, I'm all for having the discussion. Alderman Pincott should be applauded for being the catalyst for this conversation. But it's we, the PEOPLE, who should get the say - not the tall foreheads in City Hall.

On a side note - did you ever notice that, when an elected (or, sometimes, UNelected, such as a Canadian Senator) official has a stated opinion on an issue, they'll often be able to throw the weight of "thousands" of phone calls and letters behind their opinion? I wonder if any politician, in the history of EVER, has stood up and said "Mr. Speaker/My Fellow Council Members, as you all know, I'm in favour of banning the scourge of black licorice from our convenience stores. I have here 35 letters of support, and a listing of 42,000 phone calls and emails calling me an unqualified dupe. So I will be voting AGAINST the motion I brought forward earlier

Nah, can't be.

That would be downright democratic. Can't let the PEOPLE get the last word... they'd start to think they had actual power.

Viva la Revolucion.


Sorry, Nation - the peaceful transfer of power after my return didn't go QUITE according to plan - I wasn't getting the e-mail notification that there were comments to moderate.

The people good enough to comment on November 27th have had their comments posted, and I have re-set the filter to allow for unfettered comments - as you have, for the most part, proven that you can handle the responsibility.

... too bad none of you could handle the simple task of nominating me for a Canadian Blog Award, though... 2 years in a row, now? Come on, Nation - you're going to make me seriously consider getting my "democracy fix" by putting my name on some other type of ballot (I'm open to suggestions)... ;) Where are Lance and Clarke when I need them?!?

Huge congratulations, though, to the FOES (Friends Of Enlightened Savage) who find themselves on the lucky and deserving list of nominees this year. Be sure to vote for DJ, Dave, Ken, Shane, Dan, and... the newest member of the FOES roster, the good folks over at Capital Notebook. Give 'em hell, guys. :)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Daddy's Home

Quick, time to refill the vodka bottles with water and hide all the empties... E.S. is back in the house...

Hello, Nation.

Anything interesting happen while I've been gone? ;)

It's good to be back, although I certainly could have gone for another week or two in the beautiful Mayan Riviera. Mrs. Savage and I dodged a meteorological bullet, having Hurricane Ida pass right by our resort, and then enjoyed a week of blue skies and temperatures that are just plain unnatural for a born-and-raised Albertan and his Yukoner bride to be experiencing in November. All that said, though, I can't recommend the resort more highly - if you're planning on heading that way, look up the "Valentin Imperial Maya" - you'll be glad you did.

I want to thank Jane Morgan, the "Acting Savage", for holding down the fort while I was gone. She did a great job, as there are no e-mails from lawyers waiting in my inbox, so she definitely kept you all in line. I know she wanted to post more that she actually got to, but I understand that things have been rather... interesting... in WAP-land over the past week or 2, so the fact that she was able to post at ALL is very much appreciated.

I'm going to be doing my best over the next few days to respond to most of the major issues that cropped up during my absence - I'd do one of my patented "quick hitter" posts, but these issues deserve more than just a passing reference.

I WILL try to break a little news, though, so remember that you read it here first: With the "Fiscal Four" growing to the "Magnificent Seven" after adding MLA's Alana DeLong, Doug Elniski and Raj Sherman, the group will soon be able to bill itself as the "Enlightened Eight" with the addition of another veteran Calgary MLA to the mix. They might not be able to bill themselves as the under-40 "young turks" of the caucus any longer, but with over 10% of the PC caucus on board (and 5 of the 8 from Calgary-area ridings), it will certainly make for an interesting spring session - and some interesting discussions heading into a rumoured January cabinet shuffle... can you actually promote some of these "rebels" into full cabinet positions, or does that diminish their ability to publicly use QP to question cabinet members about spending?

Of course, you have to ask the question... if these 8 are the real "fiscal conservatives" among the PC caucus... then what does that make the other 62?

If the PC's want this group to keep its credibility among fiscal conservatives, they have to tread carefully... what, dear reader, would YOU do? Pull a "Ralph", and promote almost all of them to cabinet to show how seriously you're taking them? Or let them maintain their "outsider" image, so they can be seen as an in-caucus alternative to casting a vote for "the devil you don't know" with the "WAP" after his/her name on the ballot?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Can you hear me now???

Well here it is the long overdue blog entry by the “Acting Savage”. I am sure by now the Enlightened Savage (ES) and the Mrs. have had a chance to take in some sun and should be in full relaxation mode.

For those of you who don’t know me, I normally blog over here. ES gave some very kind introductory words about me here and here. I will endeavor to make sure those are not the last kind things he has to say about me.

In those comments he mentions I am the Executive Director of the WAP; well that was true…until the day he left. In the interest of being completely open, I will share with you that I am now the Director of Operations. I still do all the fun things as before, plus some. One of my new tasks is constituency development. A quick look at our calendar will reveal just why I have not had time to blog regularly. As such, this will be more of a recap of the past week.

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking to Jim Campbell, Executive Director of the Alberta PC’s. I was asking him about observers attending their convention this past weekend. I was surprised to learn that they don’t allow this and never have. They had already refused requests from the Libs and NDP; and now the WAP.

I found this a bit odd. In June this year when we (the WAP) held our AGM we allowed both academic and political observers; including the leader and president of another party. Just last month I was welcomed as an observer at another political party’s AGM. In both situations members of other parties were allowed to sit in on all events of the day; including policy formation.

Whether it’s the results of elected positions or policy passed at AGM’s; they will be reported either in the media or via party members’ blogs. It would seem to me the more open and transparent you make the process; the more likely you will achieve accurate and consistent messaging.

During the convention though it appears political observers from other parties are not the only group they blocked out; the media was also subjected to the brush off.

On the Friday Don Braid Tweeted
“Tories are pouring in; media are poured into a tiny room - no power bars, just 8 chairs.”
Then three hours later;
“We now have 10 chairs and two tables; media gulag improving.”
By Saturday;
“Tories now have 19 reporters stuffed into a broom closet. We expect the air to be sucked out shortly.”

And if that was not enough the Premier himself had this to say of the media;
“This is the biggest challenge we're facing as a government. I really do feel that the policies we have are the right ones for Alberta, but it's difficult to get it through the present media that's available to us."
Huh, say again? You stuff them into a tiny, ill equipped room, ban them from being present when the results are announced, change your mind at that last possible moment; and then claim it's their fault that they are not available to you???

Rob Breakenridge delivers an excellent summation of this stance of blaming the media.

While the current government is not communicating very well with Albertans, the media is the last group that should be taking any heat for this. They (the government) are now trying unique ways to getting their message out; I predict that this will still ultimately fail. Here's why.

Communication is not just about being able to craft a message and deliver it to the masses. The key to communication is listening. Successful relationships; be they personal, business or even adversarial negotiations; are built by listening and understanding. Through that one can mirror their responses (messaging / policy) to reflect the needs of the other. If you fail to listen (in this case to Albertans); you will always fail in developing your policy and delivering your message.

Few governments and politicians have figured this out; but those who do will be successful and their message will be spread quickly and efficiently. After all, isn’t that all we really want at the end of day; to know we have been heard and understood; to know we are not being ignored and will not be taken for granted.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu...

Nation, this will be my last post until Monday, November 23rd as I am on my honeymoon with the beautiful Mrs. Savage in the Mayan Riviera.

In my absence, the "Acting Savage" will be the democratically-elected Jane Morgan. Jane has very kindly agreed to help me out, and is going to be blogging in this space, bringing a refreshingly different take on things (you can't have Prime Rib every night, after all - spoils the palate. Mix in some Filet Mignon). She's been given full administrative control of the blog while I'm gone, so knuckle-heads and trolls will have their comments deleted just as quickly as they would if I were around.

If everyone who reads this blog AGREES with everything that's written here, regardless of who authors it, I'll be disappointed. But I hope we can all DISAGREE without being disagreeable.

There will be plenty afoot in the next week or two - the PC AGM, the fall-out from the H1N1 vaccination program, Premier Stelmach's reaction to the leadership review vote this week-end... it's an exciting time to be a political participant in Alberta. I'm (almost) sorry to be missing it.

Handing the ball off to the Acting Savage, walking off the mound and heading straight for the beach...

- E.S.

Friday, October 30, 2009

What Would the Enlightened Savage Do? - Part 3 (NDP)

Dear Brian:

Wow. Imagine my surprise this morning when I received your offer to come in and rebuild Alberta's New Democratic Party from a caucus of 2 into an electoral juggernaut. I'm humbled by your faith in me - and to answer your question, no, I was NOT the person behind TPB.

Especially telling was your insistence that I "pull no punches", and that nothing was off-limits. Politics is a blood sport, and getting elected is a tricky business. I'm glad you decided to take this big step - and I think you will be as well, in time. :)

One of the biggest problems with the NDP as it stands is the perception that it is a "protest group", or a social justice club. You're a registered political party, Brian. It's time to start playing the game like you intend to win, instead of being happy that they let you onto the televised debates.

Without any further pomp and/or circumstance, here is your course of action:

1. Call Your Shot. You went into the last election insisting that you had a chance to be the Official Opposition, and you blew it. You blew it, because you automatically and pre-emptively dismissed any chance of forming government, and people don't go to the polls to elect an opposition - they go to elect a government. When you announce ahead of time that you want to be the first runner-up, people dismiss you. "Even HE doesn't believe he can govern - what if I voted for him, and god forbid his party WON?". Tell people you're running for Premier - and tell them NOW, not when the writ drops. If they think you're serious about winning, you'll attract members, volunteers, and quality candidates who can convince people to vote for them.

2. Take to Rachel. Seriously. There are only 2 images the average Albertans has of Brian Mason, because there are only 2 soundbytes that ever make it to air: Brian Mason talking to 30 supporters at a union hall (we'll talk about that later), and Brian Mason speaking in the Legislative Assembly with a sneering Rachel Notley staring at the minister being questioned. 90% of communication is non-verbal - while you may be making a perfectly good point, most of us can't take our eyes off the look of total contempt that your caucus-mate is directing towards the government benches. Contempt doesn't play well. Especially since it's pretty clear that Rachel's contempt isn't just reserved for the Tories themselves, but for the half-a-million voters who cast a ballot for them. Ask Kevin Taft how well the "stupid Tories and their stupid voters" strategy worked for him in 2008.

3. Move Past the Unions. We know they're your bread-and-butter, but the political influence of unions in Alberta is way WAY overstated. I belong to a union, Brian. They send me a newsletter - printed with my own money - to inform me of what they're doing to improve conditions in the workplace. But if anyone with the union thinks they can tell me how I should be voting, they've got another thing coming. This is case through much of the province. You need to reach out to normal Albertans and engage them DIRECTLY, rather than through their unions. A call from the UEW or AUPE urging me to support the NDP is a non-starter. Brian Mason appealing directly to me for my support? That's something else. That's something worth at least listening to.

4. Come Up With a Vision. Get it vetted by some conservative voters, fix it so it will appeal to your vetters, and then publish it. Do this in the next 6 months. If you want to distinguish yourself as a party, don't do it by fighting these battles you know you can't win, so you die in some pyrrhic defeat on the moral high ground. GET ELECTED. Articulate a vision for the province, and distinguish yourselves from the others by outlining a plan to get us there - and make sure that normal Albertans will get behind that vision. You've got to come and talk to those Tory voters that Rachel keeps sneering at, because some of them *could* be convinced to vote for you, if you have the best plan for the province. If the Liberals don't reach out and shore up their voters, than many of THEM could be had, if you come up with good policies and are seen as a contender - Remember, a lot of the people voting Liberal these days voted NDP in the 80's, when the Liberals were routinely getting crushed - they're not stupid, they know a losing horse when they see it. They can be brought back. You can also reach out to the silent majority of Albertans who don't even BOTHER to vote, IF you can make an argument as to why they SHOULD bother. They WON'T vote for you if your argument is "the Liberals suck, and we need to protect Albertans from themselves and their chosen government".

5. Change the name. I know Jack's NDP talked about this briefly and then shut it down, but hear me out... if you change the name, reach out to normal Albertans, put out policies that appeal across the political spectrum, and attract quality candidates... then the voters who pay attention might give you a chance. Just as importantly, though, the voters that DON'T pay attention - who get just as much a say as anyone else - will hear what you have to say, check their "never vote for the following parties" checklist, see that the "Progressive Party" isn't on that list, and decide to give you a chance.

The bottom line, Brian, is that your party has to fundamentally change in order to appeal to enough voters to make a difference.

This doesn't mean you have to sell out your fundamental beliefs. Here's a bit of a shocker for you, though - most Albertans SHARE your basic, fundamental belief in social justice and a tolerant society. Where you lose them is with nanny state policies that most of them will NEVER support, and the high tax rates that would have to accompany them. Their distaste for those 2 things is never going to change - and so, to get elected, you must. The further you can get from that political legacy, the better - because being "remotely related to the party of Tommy Douglas" isn't doing you any favours at this point.

You want to make this province a better place, Brian?

Then follow the steps above. And make it a better place, by governing it.

- E.S.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

What Would the Enlightened Savage Do? - Part 2 (Liberal)

Dear David:

I want to thank you for contacting me and making me the outstanding offer that you did to "come in and clean up the mess" within the Liberal Party of Alberta. I do love a challenge.

I know you've had a rough go of it in the time you've been leader - there's only so far you can take a group of people when some of them are trying to start a separate party, or merge your party, or second-guess just about every move you make.

With that said, I wanted to list a few of the steps you can take to get you from where you ARE - an opposition party with 9 seats - to where you WANT to be - sitting on the government benches.

1. Build from the bottom-up. I live in a Tory-held riding. I have never - EVER - heard of a Liberal riding association fundraiser in my riding. For that matter, outside of election time, I've never even heard of a Liberal riding association in my riding. You've got to build 87 strong local board to wave the flag BETWEEN elections, when you can strategically build the party. The 28 days of a campaign aren't long enough to build a solid foundation, and half of the circumstances you'll face are of someone else's making. Take charge of your destiny, and build party infrastructure during peacetime. Those are your soldiers in the election - start training them on the ground today.

2. Move past your health advocacy instincts. I know your background - we ALL know your background. Health is an important issue in the province, and we need knowledgeable people holding the government of the day to account on how the system is run. But with the notable exception of the H1N1 debacle, health-care doesn't "stick" to the public consciousness. Closing beds, or shuffling patients between facilities, doesn't lead to the downfall of a government here. Hell, Ralph blew up a hospital (ask Rick Bell about it sometime, when you have a few days) and his support went UP. The Alberta Liberals are seen by alot of Albertans as nothing but the political arm of the Friends of Medicare. The point is to win government, David - focus on issues that will get people out to vote (for YOU) on election day.

3. Embrace the future. Youth has a natural bias towards the Liberal cause. You have a lot of eager young members who want to fight for you - so LET them, and encourage more to sign up. The never-ending stream of recycled 2-and-3 time candidates in their 50's or over isn't going to inspire the youth of Alberta to rise up, Obama-style, and kick the PC's out of office on election day. Use of on-line social media, encouraging young people to vote, having local constituency presences for them to cut their teeth on (see point 1 above), and making sure that they're not just hanging out in a separate "youth wing" but actually sitting at the "Grown-ups Table" will help attract the youth who will take you to the promised land today, and keep you there for the next 50 years of their voting lives. Imagine, David, if those talented liberal Alberta youth who went to work for Obama during and after the US election came up here and worked for YOU.

4. Position yourself properly. Most Albertans, as I've said before, are socially moderate and fiscally conservative. If you want them to elect you, that's where you need to set your political feet. JUST as important, though, is to make sure that the public KNOWS that's where you stand. Not just once the writ is dropped, but at every step. Can you imagine the reaction if you were to come out at a press conference and make a suggestion on how to save money on health administration, freeing it up for front-line services? Now, do it every day. Whether you change your party's name or not, if the public sees you holding the government to account on spending, they'll start to wonder why they haven't looked at you more closely.

5. Business is your FRIEND. Resist the urge to fall back on the tired old "corporations are evil" liberal mentality, and tell the white collars in Alberta that you want them to do well. Craft policies that illustrate that commitment - a business-friendly Alberta is an employed Alberta, which I think we can all agree is the better option. You might even lure a few of those white collars to run for your party: If Albertans see CEO's and successful small business owners coming over to your side, then - once again - they'll start to wonder if maybe THEY should take a look at David Swann's party.

Growth in a party like yours isn't measured in year or elections, David - it's measured in generations. That said, I think you're reasonably well-positioned to drag this party, kicking and screaming, into the mainstream of Alberta politics. You've got a handful of tremendous MLA's, you've got a good organization, and you've got a thoughtful leader (otherwise, you never would have hired The Enlightened Savage as your own, personal Bruno Gianelli).

The trick is going to be in convincing people to give the party a look. That's where your local boards come in, spreading by word-of-mouth the gospel of a socially progressive, fiscally conservative Alberta Liberal party. Cashing in on discontent with the government is easy, in the short term. People get mad, or scared, and they want to complain about "those jerks who run things up in Edmonton". But to keep the interest of the electorate, you've got to convince them that your team can actually do a better job of RUNNING things than the PC's, rather than just opposing them.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

[knock] [knock] Housekeeping!

That's not just what this blog post is about - more importantly, it's also the sound I'll be hearing on November 4th when the beautiful Mrs. Savage and I arrive at the not-quite-as-beautiful-but-still-not-bad Valentin Imperial Maya for 14 days and nights of all-inclusive bliss in the Mayan Riviera.

To that end, you'll notice a poll up to your right - asking who should mind the blog while I'm away (I've been told, in no uncertain terms, that accessing the internet for any reason whilst on our honeymoon will be considered a capital crime). There are a lot of things that will be going on - or MAY be going on - while I'll be away, so I'm going to need someone to cover the federal scene as well as the PC AGM and any potential fall-out from the leadership vote (assuming, of course, that the Premier doesn't solidify his leadership numbers by following my simple plan, posted below this note).

You'll also want to check with the creme-de-la-creme of Alberta's political bloggerati as this stuff goes down. To that end, I've added a few notable blogs to the "E.S. recommends" area over on the right, and added a separate section for blogs I read that (mostly) don't talk politics - in ellebee's defence, she'd talk more about politics, but I seem to keep stealing her opinions. ;)

So, in no particular order, welcome to:
  • Brian Dell - we don't often agree, but Brian's arguments are always well made, and he tolerates dissenting opinion. He's good by me. :)
  • Jeremy at PolitiCalgary - Jeremy was a breath of fresh air in the 2007 mayoral race, and now he's trying to hold this council accountable for the decisions they make. A novel concept - check him out.
  • RebootAlberta - Ken Chapman's new project,t o try and make this province a better place - the fact that we're not BAD doesn't mean there's no room to make it better. Be the change you want to see - visit this blog (and comment on the "Perfecting Alberta" series to your right!)
  • Searching for Liberty - Extremely articulate view from Lethbridge. Lest we forget, there are political minds at work outside of the Calgary-Edmonton Corridor.
  • The Alberta Altruist - Anonymous (mostly), good analysis, a stated bias but also willing to see other sides. He's the WAP version of The Enlightened Savage - only (obviously) not nearly as handsome. Or humble.
  • The Sinocanadian - A former colleague of mine, who has DEFINITELY gone places. China, specifically. If you're looking for the poop on Canada/China relations, especially as relates to the environment, this is your hook-up.
  • Up Close and Personal with Jane - The Executive Director of the WAP, Jane is good people. She's very much about talking WITH people rather than AT them - which makes her a huge asset to her party, and a great read.
  • fOrMerjourno Rants and Raves - A good friend and colleague, formerly a member of the evil "Mainstream Media", now he's allowed to have his OWN opinions - which he'll share on any number of things, in particular those dastardly Calgary Flames.
  • The Next Chapter - A dear friend and co-worker (and fantastic photographer!), blogging on her journey to Mexico in search of good health. She's been dealt a bad hand, but she's determined to come out on the other side - and with her adorable puppy Valentina (a dachshund trained to respond to commands in Italian), too. She'd love to hear some positive feedback, and stories of people overcoming the odds.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What Would the Enlightened Savage Do? - Part 1 (PC)

Nation, I'm going to take a look over the next week or so at the 4 parties in Alberta with sitting MLA's as we go into the Legislature's next session.

Primarily, I'll be putting on my "Partisan" hat, to look at how the parties can bolster their fortunes - if their respective leaders were taking advice from me (I'm available, FYI).

We'll work in order according to the number of seats a party has... so, without any further ado...

Dear Ed:

Thank-you for the chance to contribute to righting the Good Ship PC. I know it's been a while since last we talked, and I don't want to get off on the wrong foot by repeating something I said the last time, but it simply has to be repeated:

The people around you are letting you down, Ed. And they're letting down the PC Party as well.

The ones who suggested you roll out the "wage rollbacks" for yourself and cabinet, thinking Albertans weren't capable of using Google and/or calculators? The ones who told the production company responsible for "The Way Forward" not to make it "too slick looking", and almost gave you a video disaster of Dion-esque proportions? The ones who told you to bring up the spectre of "vote splitting" last week? They're all doing way, way, WAY more harm than good. You've got to get rid of them...

The unelected gurus in your office aren't the bosses, Mr. Premier - YOU are. The Speaker made that point a while back - it's time to take it to heart.

And, of course, now that you have The Enlightened Savage in your corner, you're set for the long haul, anyhow. ;)

Anyways, Ed, I'm writing this memo to list for you a few of the ways in which you can stop the bleeding, and (with any luck) really shore up the party's fortunes, so that when I myself run for the leadership, we'll have a 70-or-more seat majority. So, let's call this "motivated self interest".

1. Stop with the nonsense. Let's call a spade a spade, alright? Vote splitting on the right is NOT going to turn the keys to the Premier's Office over to David Swann. Nothing short of an asteroid striking the Earth or 2 million of Swann's family members turning 18 and moving to Alberta is going to get the Liberals into power - and everyone in this province knows it. When you talk about that sort of thing, you look desperate (not a good look for you), or clueless - I know you're neither.

2. Say it with me: "We screwed up". People loved Ralph. Up until he lost his mojo, he had most of the province in the palm of his hand - because he knew how to apologize. Probably because he got so much practice at it. The bottom line, though, is that when the party started to take a course of action that the majority of Albertans wouldn't support, Ralph would stand up, say "we screwed up", and then move on to fix the situation. You're fixing most of these situations behind-the-scenes, but that's not enough for politics in Alberta - the voters want to see and hear you eat some crow first.

3. Shuffle the Cabinet. There are a few obvious changes that have to be made, Ed - whether you wait until after the AGM is up to you. If you shuffle BEFORE, it'll look like you're doing it out of panic. Afterwards, it'll be seen as a forced move - damned if you do, damned if you don't. Firstly, you've got to get Janis out of Children's Services. The well is poisoned for her there - it's going to keep getting worse unless you move someone else in there. Secondly, name Alison Redford as Deputy Premier. This has many benefits: It'll tick off Rob Anders. Also, she's qualified, and it shows Calgary, and women, that you value them both - which can't be a bad message to be sending, given the fact that a) it's TRUE, and b) a Calgarian woman was just named leader of one of the opposition parties. Thirdly, and this is going to surprise a lot of my regular readers: promote Ted Morton. Promote him all the way up the ladder, to Minister of Finance. This isn't a reflection on the job Minister Evans has done - far from it. But we're in a deficit position, seen to be lurching away from the conservative fiscal policy that had been this party's hallmark - and yours, as one of the "Deep Six". Socially, we're not too far from the Liberals. Fiscally, we HAVE to be seen as markedly different from them, or we'll be setting the plate for a "Liberal, Tory, same old story" campaign coming at us from the right in 2012. Which brings us to...

4. Put the "Conservative" back into "Progressive Conservative". Most Albertans - contrary to popular opinion - sit in the soft middle, politically. We're fairly progressive, socially, and we're fiscally conservative. We want the best government we can afford, and we want government to stay out of our lives as much as possible. Now, for the most part, the PC's have done a fair job of establishing themselves as reasonably progressive, socially. We do NOT need to become a more socially conservative party - we sit socially where most Albertans do, in the middle. Where we've strayed, though, is on the issue of fiscal conservatism. We need to get back into that electoral sweet spot, and fast, before someone else (WAP) jumps our claim. You can start this process with 2 easy steps: First, agree to implement the recommendation at the upcoming PC AGM to freeze spending increases to the growth of population plus inflation. Second - and stay with me here, Ed - implement advice point #2 above ("We screwed up") in front of the nearest television camera, and fully fund the Auditor General. We need to know every dime that's being wasted in government, so that when we come out and say we're going to cut spending, we know WHERE it can be cut without negatively affecting service levels... the "cutbacks" debate becomes a "we said/they said" where nobody can back up their claims. A full audit of a department, printed and bound, is a hell of a prop when talking about cuts - because you have areas of waste, written down on paper, that can be cut - with dollar figures attached.

5. Give the Power to the People. A lot of people disengage from politics altogether - or join other parties - because they feel the PC Party doesn't respect their opinion. It's one of the only "top-down" conservative organizations I can think of... "put in countless hours working on policy ideas, Mr. and Mrs. PC Volunteer... and if you can get them through the gauntlet of obstacles, we'll put it to a vote at an AGM, at which point the 70 people in caucus can arbitrarily decide to ignore it, and it doesn't become PC policy - because heaven forbid we endorse a policy as a party that the PC government doesn't implement for political reasons. It makes us look foolish". Yes, it does. But not for the reason you'd think. 2 things you can do to address this right away, and take some of the wind out of the opposition's "PC's are undemocratic" sails: Set fixed election dates (which costs us almost nothing as a party, yet gives us back some of our conservative credibility), and pass a law (and follow it!) requiring all political entities in the province - that's anyone, running for anything - to make public the names and amounts of each and every donor to their party/leadership campaign/mayoral campaign/whichever. Most companies donate to multiple parties anyway - so the assertion that you'll be mad at someone for donating to Danielle is ridiculous. I'm more likely to get fired from my public service job for calling you "Ed" in print than BP or Suncorp are to face gov't sanctions for supporting Danielle for the WAP leadersh - ERR, perhaps I've said too much. ;)

Ed, you're a good man, and a capable manager. I've never talked to ANYONE who met you and didn't like you. Your polling numbers right now aren't a judgement about Ed Stelmach the man, they're a judgement on the performance of your government. We're not stupid, we Albertans - we know the whole world's economy went into the crapper, it wasn't just ours. We're not blaming you for that. But a growing number of the voters are seeing you as the leader of a government thrashing around, trying to put out fires with gasoline. We've got a public perception problem - and some of the people around you, giving you bad advice, are to blame.

Which isn't to excuse you 100% either, sir. At the end of the day, you're choosing to follow this bad advice. But it isn't too late to take a stand, tell those advising you to pipe down, and do the right thing - the SMART thing - for the party, for your own leadership, and for the province.

Because if you do the right thing for the province, it makes people happy, even if they're a bit inconvenienced. They'll support you for making the tough call, as long as it's the RIGHT one. And if it's NOT the right one, admit it, and THEN fix it.

It's not rocket science. After all, if RALPH can do it...

- E.S.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WCB Drama in Edmonton

News outlets are reporting a hostage situation at the Edmonton WCB office.

Tune into your local media for details.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Public Sector Unions: You're Not Helping.

So, it's been an interesting week in Alberta politics, Nation.

As predictably as winter following autumn, or a Flames first-round playoff exit, the knives have started coming out for Premier Stelmach after the one-two punch of a poorly-received television address and poll numbers showing the Tories at 40% (or lower) popular support.

Those people most emboldened by the image of the Premier "on the ropes", though, haven't been the whispered leadership contenders waiting in the wings... it has been the public sector unions. In particular, 3 of them: The AUPE, the United Nurses of Alberta, and the Alberta Teacher's Association.

AUPE's head honcho has been quotes as saying wage roll-backs are not even worth discussing, as the union won't accept them. He's also leery of a wage freeze, noting that the "jobs ahead of raises" argument was used by Ralph in the early 90's - and that job cuts happened anyway.

United Nurses of Alberta have been on the warpath since the summer, when Stephen Duckett asked them to have a grown-up conversation about how nurses are used, and in what roles (they described the merest suggestion of changes as "bullying"). They haven't rejected the call for a wage freeze yet, as they're waiting to see how the health care system will be run before deciding their bargaining position. Rest assured, though, they'll be right there, standing side-by-side with the Friends of Medicare protesting every single paperclip order that gets cancelled due to budgetary concerns.

Then there's the ATA. They started protesting BEFORE Ed's announcement on Wednesday night, launching a website and a campaign that has made it very clear that they're against ANY cuts to education funding. There's not a single unnecessary worker, no redundant offices, nobody orders extra crates of photocopy paper from Grand & Toy that end up not being used... there's no fat to be trimmed in the education system, at all.

(This brings to mind the argument I have yet to fully articulate regarding why I am in favour of fully funding the provincial Auditor General. More on that some other time.)

We spent $36.4 Billion as a province this year. 36.2% went to Health. 25.7% went to Education. Since 1999, government spending on Education has increased by 87%. To say this government doesn't value those programs is as ridiculous as the assertion that there is absolutely no way to reduce spending in these huge bureaucracies without affecting front-line service delivery.

We are not in a sustainable position, here, folks. Health Care, Education, the 60,000-member public service (of which I'm a member, you'll recall)... these are all HUGELY expensive items in the provincial budget. And we can't just wait for the price of natural gas to rise again, and then everything will be hunky-dory...

This is the highest-spending government in the nation, per capita. A fact that our friends in the Wildrose Alliance are always more than happy to bring up. And do you want to know what's going to happen to these unions and special interest groups if costs AREN'T brought under control?

The Wildrose Alliance will get elected to govern.

Is that REALLY an outcome you'd prefer over wage freezes and manageable budget cuts, unions?

I dunno... it seems to me you're more likely to get a fair shake from Ed Stelmach or Ron Glenn than from Mark Dyrholm or his "outreach guy". But maybe that's just me.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Way Forward - Premier Ed Stelmach's address

Good evening and thanks for joining me tonight.

These are challenging times for our province, and I want to share what your government is doing to address those challenges and to achieve the goals we share as Albertans: A world-class quality of life, opportunities for the future, and core public services—like education, health and seniors' benefits—things that we can all be proud of.

Aiming high is never easy, particularly during the worst global recession in half a century. Economies around the world are going through major changes and readjustments. In the U.S. we've seen bank failures, the collapse of the real estate market, and in the U.S. and Canada, massive bailouts to the auto sector.

Here in Alberta, businesses are hurting. Our natural gas producers in particular, have been hit hard by a double-whammy of falling demand and over-supply—and that's also meant a serious hit to government revenue.

There's no question these are difficult times, and I know many Albertans are concerned about their jobs, paying their bills, saving for their kids' education, and planning for their retirement and old age.

But I also know that Albertans remain confident in the future … and with good reason. Alberta is blessed with the energy, food and forestry resources the world will need to power a return to economic growth. So our goals for the immediate future are clear. We'll tighten government spending. We'll protect seniors and low income Albertans. And we'll position our province for a strong recovery. Alberta will be ready when growth returns.

There are four points to our economic recovery plan:

First, we'll take firm action to deal with the fiscal challenges we face. We'll limit government spending and live within our means. And we will have Alberta back into a surplus position—saving for the future—in three years.

To help accomplish this, salaries for Civil Service Managers will be frozen for two years. And we will be asking the entire public sector to share in this effort. For a short while, we must all share in the goal of putting jobs before raises.

Second, we'll use our cash reserves—the Sustainability Fund—to cover our revenue shortfall. Our savings during the good years were substantial. We socked away 17 billion dollars to help us with times like these. We'll use it to protect key programs now … and in three years we will once again begin replenishing that account.

Third, we'll continue to invest in public infrastructure—to get value for the taxpayer, to support jobs and to prepare for a return to economic growth. And in a few minutes I'll explain how individual Albertans can participate in building Alberta's future.

Fourth, we'll make sure that our energy and other industries are competitive and attract the investment we need to develop Alberta's resources.

At the core of this four-point plan is a deep faith in Albertans' community spirit and in the values we share. We will tackle these problems together. And as I've said before… this plan will not increase taxes. You cannot tax your way out of recession. That would only hurt the fragile recovery that's starting to emerge.

Projects like this one—all over Alberta—are keeping tens of thousands of Albertans in work and underlining our commitment to a strong recovery.

I believe in planning and building for the future—that's how I was raised, and I believe it's the right approach for governing this great province. That's why we're not going to give up on our long-term goals. One recession, no matter how serious, isn't going to derail Albertans' hopes and dreams.

The economy will recover, people will continue to move to our province … and as we emerge from this recession we'll face increased demand for everything from schools, to hospitals, to roads and public transit. So we must continue to make the necessary investments in the public infrastructure we know Albertans will need when growth returns. Taking these steps today will help grow our economy tomorrow.

And now that construction is less expensive—up to 40 per cent in some cases—we're getting more for each taxpayer dollar. It's just common sense to take advantage of that.

We're able to do this because we were well prepared going into this recession. We paid off the provincial debt—23 billion dollars—and we saved money during the good years. Since 2003, we've saved 25 billion dollars. Most of that—17 billion—went into a Sustainability Fund—Alberta's cash reserves. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of Albertans—even though we're predicting several difficult years, we have substantial reserves to help see us through.

We've also kept taxes low. Alberta has the most competitive tax rates in Canada, and the lowest taxes on families.

There's no question our past actions have positioned Alberta well. And that's good news.
We also know that Alberta is not immune from this recession. We all know families and businesses have been hurt. Natural gas, agriculture and our forestry sector are all having a tough time. We've also taken a big hit to the government revenues that pay for public services.

And we know that even after the recovery arrives, it will take a while for those revenues to catch up.

So it's important that government does what many families are doing in these difficult times—making adjustments and living within our means. That's why in the Budget earlier this year, we launched a solid plan to return our province to sustained growth and balanced budgets. It's a practical response to the recession that tightens spending while at the same time continues to build for the future.

We will meet the commitments we've made—when we're able to afford it.

In the meantime, we'll balance the province's operating budget—the dollars we spend on public services. And we'll focus on helping the vulnerable … supporting the programs and services Albertans need most, like health care, education and support for seniors.

Albertans are optimistic about the province's future - and with good reason. We have the resources the world will need to make a strong recovery.

This is a good time to bring back Alberta Capital Bonds—so you can invest directly in our future and help build Alberta communities.

This fall we'll announce a list of public projects to be financed by Capital Bonds. Backed by the province's Triple-A credit rating, these bonds will offer a competitive rate of return—but most importantly you will know which hospitals, schools and other public projects you are helping to build. This will be a real way of showing your support for our communities and our faith in the future.

It seems not a day goes by without health care being a lead story in the news. Second only to Newfoundland—which has a smaller population—Alberta spends the most per capita on health care. Yet by many measures we get only average results.

Albertans expect value for their tax dollars, so we must raise performance, improve access, and shorten waiting lists. We've been talking about these issues for years … yet we've failed to act on the improvements we know are needed to a health care system that was designed in the 1960s.
The foundations of our publicly-funded system are good … but there are things we must improve … or the system will not meet the needs of a growing and aging population.

I understand that people fear change. But what we should fear more are the consequences of not changing. Because if we don't make improvements … the results will be longer wait times, constant shortages of staff, and a system that fails to meet our needs. We cannot let that happen.
I believe our province will lead the way in improving access and delivery of public health care in Canada. Through innovation and the leadership of our health care professionals, we will make the difficult but necessary improvements to the system … and get full value for the very significant taxpayer dollars we spend.

I know that seniors want to be assured that our health care system will be there for them. Our plan shows the way forward by ensuring we all receive medical care when we need it. And I believe Albertans have the courage to create the health care system we all want … one that will be there for us in the future.

In the 21st century, countries that have clean, dependable energy will have prosperity and security—and those that don't will be at a huge disadvantage.

Canada is rated as the most energy-secure nation in the world!—largely because of Alberta's oil sands, the second-largest proven oil reserve on earth, enough to meet Canada's energy needs for hundreds of years.

The oil sands are a game-changer—for Alberta, and for Canada. They represent the future prosperity of our province and our country. It's an advantage we'd be foolish to give up.

We know the potential of the oil sands comes with a great responsibility—one Albertans willingly accept—to manage oil sands development wisely over the long-term. That's why Alberta has led the way in setting limits on greenhouse gas emissions by large industry. And we're still the only jurisdiction in North America to put a price on carbon. Industries that fail to meet their emissions reduction targets pay into a fund to develop technologies to lower emissions even further.

It's why Alberta is leading the way in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technology—CCS—which offers the best option for making a dramatic reduction in emissions. If we don't demonstrate leadership on these issues, our ability to export our oil and maintain our prosperity could be seriously harmed.

We also need to invest in new power transmission—to support a growing population and expanding economy. I know you're hearing conflicting messages about whether we need additional transmission. The fact is no major new lines have been built since the 1980s, while our population and demand for power has grown substantially. From 2001 to 2008, the growth in demand has been the equivalent of adding a city twice the size of Red Deer—each year!
Our system is aging, congested and inefficient. We wouldn't tolerate that situation with Alberta's highways … and we cannot accept a second-rate transmission system.

Education and science will lie at the heart of our future prosperity. And institutions like our new Mount Royal and Grant MacEwan universities will play a key role in developing Alberta's greatest natural resource—our people.

Albertans are hard working and highly motivated; they want to succeed. That's why we will continue to strengthen education and workforce training—investing in the skills Alberta will need to compete in the 21st century, and sustain our prosperity in an increasingly competitive world.

In today's global economy, improving our competitiveness is just as important as managing our finances. The Competitiveness Review that government will complete by the end of the year will focus on our upstream oil and gas industry—making sure there's a level playing field for our exploration industry and exporters. It will point the way in reducing the cost of doing business in our province, and remove barriers to prosperity.

Alberta went into this recession as an economic leader, and I'm determined that we'll come out of it as an economic leader. Together we'll work to attract investment, create thousands of new jobs … and exert our influence on the national agenda to reflect our contribution as the engine of the Canadian economy.

Like so many Albertans, I'm deeply proud of our province—its unique heritage and landscape.

This is the land my grandparents first homesteaded when they came to Canada, and where Marie and I have raised our family. My grandparents came here for the very same reason many choose Alberta—they see it as a land of opportunity, a place where you can achieve your dreams.
Those dreams weren't so different from what Albertans dream of today: a place where you can set your own path … where hard work is rewarded … where you can be a part of a safe community and raise a family.

These are not easy times—but Alberta is still that land of opportunity, and its potential is undiminished.

There will be some difficult decisions to make in the coming months, as we work on next year's provincial budget. But Albertans can rely on their government to make those decisions—with an eye on our future prosperity and quality of life. We'll be guided by common sense, and listen to good ideas. We'll protect seniors and low income Albertans. And we'll make the most of the opportunities Alberta provides … building for the future … without leaving the tab for future generations.

That's the Alberta I believe in—The Alberta this government will defend.

Thanks for joining me tonight.

You're Welcome...

... for the talking points, Bronco.

Does this mean I get to use the fancy gym?

- E.S.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Giving Thanks

Nation, it's at this time of year, and on this day especially, where the mind turns to those things for which we're most thankful.

I want to take a moment to tell you all some of the things that The Enlightened Savage is thankful for at the moment.

Firstly, and most importantly, I'm thankful for my blushing bride. 8 days ago, she said "I Do" in a room full of our family and friends - and we've enjoyed 8 whole days of wedded bliss since. I'm looking forward to no less than 29,000 more such days - be warned, Mrs. Savage! :)

Which brings me to family... I remain in awe of the family I've got, and am very blessed by the family I've gained over the past year. With both myself and BOES (Brother Of Enlightened Savage) getting married this year, I've suddenly found myself with 2 sisters and 4 new parents... and they're all fantastic. I couldn't be happier. Our dog has even stopped going #2 in my office. :)

I'm thankful, as always, that I am one of the blessed few who get to call this beautiful country of Canada my home. I've travelled the world, and there's nowhere I'd rather call my home and native land. This nation, for all its imperfections and flaws, is a beacon to the world of what a pluralistic and democratic nation can and should be - and while we are far from perfect ourselves, we should never hesitate to take pride in this place and in its people. No matter which party sits in government, or what scandal or policy is causing people to wrinkle their noses at the headlines, this is a beautiful place filled overwhelmingly with good, decent and hard-working people - and I am thankful to call myself Canadian.

None of that would be possible, however, without the sacrifices of our men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces - and I am thankful for them. They are the best among us - the bravest, and the most worthy to live under our flag. When they suffer, we all suffer. When they triumph, we all triumph. They risk everything they have to bring light to the darkest corners of the world, to free the opressed from the tyranny of dictators and poverty... none of what I have would be possible without them, and there will be an empty seat at my table today in their honour.

There are a great many other things I am thankful for, Nation, and to write them all would be ridiculous... but the last one I want to write about is you. You, right there, reading this. I am thankful for you. I'm not going to call you a "reader", because that doesn't do you justice. You might be a frequent commenter - an active participant in the conversation. You might be a blogger yourself. Or a member of the media. I am thankful for you, because you give these words meaning by taking the time to read them. Taking the time to comment of them, or even to think about them for a while. You are the reason I do this... and I love what I do. When I "came out" awhile ago, you rallied behind me, and you kept coming back. When I went off on my little rants, you agreed or disagreed, but you always kept it civil with me, and with each other. When I wrote something you found interesting, you called and booked me onto you bosses radio show, or asked me to come in and participate in a blogging round-table. You might support the Alberta Liberals, or the Wildrose Alliance, or the NDP, or the Progressive Conservatives (I hear there are a few left who haven't crossed the floor yet), but you come here and you contribute to the discussion we're having in a meaningful way. You take what you read here and send it to a friend on Twitter, or via e-mail, or on Facebook... you talk about it at the dinner table, or at the water cooler. Even if your final conclusion is that I'm full of unmitigated crap - you seek out these writings, and the comments that accompany them, and by your participation in the greater dialogue you work towards making this Calgary, this Alberta, this Canada, this world, a better place. I'm thankful that you take the time. Future generations will be, as well.

Thanks, Nation.

See you Tuesday.