Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Throw Another Shrimp On The Barbie!

Dr. Stephen Duckett, Alberta's new Health Honcho, comes to us from Queensland, Australia where he was the Chief Executive of the Centre for Healthcare Improvement. The Doctorate, by the way, is in economics.

How did he do while he was heading things there?

See for yourself.

EDIT: 9:18 am Jan. 29

Upon further research, Dr. Duckett's doctorate is, in fact, in Health Administration. My bad. He WAS a trained economist, before getting the doctorate and taking over the Centre for Healthcare Improvement.

(hat tip to eh - way to keep me in line)

What Iggy Wants

Well, after 25 minutes, they figured out how to plug in the microphones at the National Press Gallery.

Iggy starts off by pointing a lot of fingers at the Tories. Going to make it hard to justify propping them up.

He goes through a laundry-list of problems with the budget. Pay equity for women, and green spending come up.

Every thing in this budget that is good is something Harper was "forced into" by the Opposition parties. According to Iggy.

"This is a government more inclined to make commitments than to keep them".

He's going to amend the budget to try and force the Tories to hold to it. "We will require reports to Parliament in March, June and December. Each report will be an opportunity to withdraw confidence in the government."


Ignatieff says the Opposition is "putting this government on probation".

Is Harper going to go for that? I certainly wouldn't bet on it... but, it's his call now. Either the government falls because he won't go for what most Canadians would agree is a fairly reasonable attachment to a minority budget, and the coalition takes over, OR we're headed to another $300 Million election, because he won't go for what most Canadians would agree is a fairly reasonable attachment to a minority budget... or his government is on probation, and the Opposition can bring them down in March, June or December at their whim - claiming inadequate economic stewardship. It's a VERY smart play by the Liberals, aimed at staking out the middle ground as the "reasonable" party - which, by default if the impression takes root in the public consciousness, pushes the Tories into the role of "dogmatic" party. That's where the highly-paid PR hacks come in.

Check again, Stephen. Mate?


What IS it with the Liberals and technical issues ahead of widely publicized, scheduled events?

If they need a good sound and video tech., they can probably find one by contacting DJ Kelly...

What Will Iggy Do?

Nation, as I write this, we are about 15 minutes from an announcement from the Liberals as to whether or not they'll be supporting the budget.

68% of respondents to the blog poll suggest that the Liberals will, in fact, vote to pass the budget.

The budget has some good points, and some bad points. It helps some sectors immensely, and helps some other far less - if at all. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers have expressed their excitement at the measures the budget lays out to free up credit - so, I suppose that's relatively good news for Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland & Labrador.

I've got to be honest - I'm not exactly enamoured at the thought of tax cuts right now. I'm very aware of the fact that I'm probably alone on this, but the reality of our situation is that while those of us WITH jobs need relief, those of us WITHOUT jobs need much more. Government can't create jobs (unless they're in the public sector), but what government CAN do is make provisions to allow industries to create jobs to replace the ones that are being lost. I'd rather see that money go to that end - I'd rather see my neighbour holding down a job and paying income tax, after all, than see him collecting EI and me being able to afford a nice, big, Japanese television with my tax cut.

Now, don't get me wrong... when times are good, I want us to save for a rainy day, pay down our debt and do our best to get taxes down as far as possible. This is not that time, though... We don't want a multi-billion dollar hand-out, which is the route our friends down South chose to go. We want to apply a shock to the heart of Canada's economy, and hope that it keeps beating.

So, bottom line: What does Iggy do?

He says they'll support the budget, IF the Tories will allow a few specific amendments to plug a few perceived holes. I'm thinking the EI issue will likely be revisited, specifically. He'll deftly smack that tennis ball squarely back into Harper's court: "You say you want to work with us, and you'll take suggestions: PROVE it.".


Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Follow the link - then come back and comment. :)

Budget Primer

Here's your quick "table-setting" for the Harper/Flaherty Budget.

Harper: "We want to keep people employed, and let those who still have jobs keep more of what they earn."

Ignatieff: "Jack Layton's an idiot. We'll decide what to do after we actually READ the budget. No news until Wednesday."

Layton: "We don't care what the budget says, Harper's a lying jerk and he won't do what he says anyway."

Duceppe: "Harper is a jerk to the media and doesn't care about the arts and young offenders..." (huh? Gilles, do you even know what it is we're talking about?"

Monday, January 26, 2009

Speech From The Throne 2009

Honourable Senators,

Members of the House of Commons,

Ladies and gentlemen,

In these uncertain times, when the world is threatened by a struggling economy, it is imperative that we work together, that we stand beside one another and that we strive for greater solidarity.

Today, in our democratic tradition, Canadians expect that their elected representatives will dedicate their efforts to ensure that Canada emerges stronger from this serious economic crisis.

Once again, the people’s representatives have gathered to consider the priorities of another parliamentary session.

Each Throne Speech is a milestone on the remarkable 142-year Canadian journey. Your predecessors, too, were summoned to this chamber at times of great crisis: as Canada struggled to claim her independence, in the shadow of war, during the depth of the Great Depression and at moments when great policy division tugged the very bonds of this union.

Today we meet at a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty. The global credit crunch has dragged the world economy into a crisis whose pull we cannot escape. The nations of the world are grappling with challenges that Canada can address but not avoid.

The Government’s agenda and the priorities of Parliament must adapt in response to the deepening crisis. Old assumptions must be tested and old decisions must be rethought. The global economy has weakened since Canadians voted in the last general election. In fact, it has weakened further since Parliament met last month.

Our Government has listened to Canadians who are concerned about how the worldwide recession is affecting their jobs, their savings and their communities. Our Government has reached out to Canadians in all regions, in all communities and from all walks of life. Our Government has consulted widely:

  • with those who work, those who invest, those who create jobs, those who build infrastructure and those who provide non-profit services;
  • with municipal, provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal leaders and representatives of communities;
  • in fact, with everyone whose input might help chart a course through the present storm.

Our Government approached the dialogue in a spirit of open and non-partisan cooperation. There is no monopoly on good ideas because we face this crisis together. There can be no pride of authorship—only the satisfaction of identifying solutions that will work for all Canadians.

Acting on the constructive thoughts and suggestions that have been received, our Government will tomorrow present Canada’s economic stimulus plan. The plan will protect our economy from immediate threat, while making investments to promote long term growth.

The economic stimulus plan will be a plan of action.

  • Our Government is stimulating the economy, both through direct government action and by encouraging private expenditure.
  • Our Government is taking immediate action to build Canada through new investment in infrastructure.
  • Our Government is acting to protect the stability of our financial system.
  • Our Government is acting to ensure access to credit for businesses and consumers.
  • Our Government is acting to support Canadian industries in difficulty―including forestry, manufacturing, automotive, tourism, agriculture―and to protect the families and communities who depend on those jobs.
  • Our Government is acting to protect the vulnerable: the unemployed, lower-income Canadians, seniors, Aboriginal Canadians and others hit hardest by the global economic recession.

These actions will be targeted, they will inject immediate stimulus while promoting long-term growth and they will avoid a return to permanent deficits.

These actions will protect the jobs of today while readying our economy to create the jobs of tomorrow.

Canadians face a difficult year―perhaps several difficult years. In the face of such uncertainty, our Government has developed a clear and focused plan. Our Government will spend what is necessary to stimulate the economy, and invest what is necessary to protect our future prosperity.

As Canadians expect, the economy will be the focus of our Government’s actions and of the measures placed before Parliament during the coming year. In pursuing measures to support the economy, our Government will also attend to the other important priorities that it set out in the Speech from the Throne to open the 40th Parliament.

The present crisis is new, but the imperative of concerted action is a challenge to which Parliament has risen many times in our history. What will sustain us today will be the same strengths of character that have pulled Canada through critical times before: unity, determination and constancy of purpose.

Honourable Members of the Senate,

Members of the House of Commons:

As you unite in common effort and in common cause, may Divine Providence be your guide and inspiration.

*** end speech ***

Thoughts, Nation?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Stop Me If You've Heard This Before... Wait... No, Me Neither, Now That You Mention It...

On the politicization of the Alberta oilsands (paying attention, Jack?)...

"The stupidest thing you can do (is) to run against an industry that is providing employment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, and not just in Alberta, but right across the country,"

On the clout that the Alberta oilsands give Canada with our Southern neighbours...

"We provide more oil to the United States than Saudi Arabia. That changes everything... It means that when the prime minister of Canada goes into the White House, he gets listened to, in ways that Canadian prime ministers have not been listened to before... We're not the nice little friendly northern cousin. They can't run their economy without us."

On playing regional politics with the economy:

"Alberta is a valued treasured part of our federation... Never pit one region of the country against the other when you develop economic policy."

The words of the Premier of Alberta? An Albertan MP? Our Prime Minister, who happens to hail from this neck of the woods? Embarrassing, out-of-context quotes from a current opposition energy critic in a speech from 15 years ago?

No. The words of Michael Ignatieff, speaking to an audience of business graduate students in Montreal this week.

That sound you're hearing? Thousands of socially moderate, centrist Albertans starting to wonder if, maybe, for the first time since the federal PC Party closed up shop, they're found a federal leader they can get behind, who will stand up for Alberta not just when they're passing through the 403 or 780, but also in front of audiences in Quebec and Ontario...

Be afraid, Stephen.

(h/t to CalgaryGrit)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Diversification: Not Just For Your Portfolio Anymore

Nation, we've seen all too well the effect that the precipitous drop in resource prices, particularly oil, has had on the Albertan economy.

In 2 years, we've gone from record surpluses to having to muse openly about running "technical deficits" and dipping into the Sustainability Fund.

Now, there's a temptation in this post to lash out on political grounds against the people who are using this as an opportunity to attack Ed Stelmach, who has been running this province for all of 2 years. Premier Ed, as the Man In Charge, is SURELY to blame for the economic situation we find ourselves in, right? On December 15th, 2006, he should have instituted a sweeping reform of the entire government in this province, to recession-proof us. The price of Crude was, at market's close that day, $63.43 per barrel. Remember that number.

Here's the rub - these people aren't attacking Ed Stelmach because of the economy. They're USING the economic slow-down as a pretense for attacking him, because they don't like Ed. They'd attack him if he bought ice cream for every kid under 14 in the neighbourhood, because "there are some 15 year-olds who really like ice cream".

Ed Stelmach didn't cause a global economic melt-down. He didn't do it, his cows didn't do it, the change in royalty rates - now officially 18 days old - didn't do it. The entire world is undergoing a polar shift in the financial sector, and that is trickling down through every industry the financial sector touches - which is ALL of them. Any industry that borrows, saves, spends or invests money, particularly credit, is feeling the pinch. In just about every country in the world.

Ed Stelmach didn't do that.

The problem comes in that these critics of Stelmach, as I said, are just using this crisis as a pretense for attack. When Ed announced that we may have to dip into the Sustainability Fund and run a technical deficit, the critics were falling all over themselves with barely-concealed glee. "SEE!", they screamed. "He's a bumbling fool, can't even turn a profit in the cash-cow of the provinces, and he's breaking his own government's anti-deficit law! We need the Liberals in power!"

But, what if the Stelmach government had announced that, rather than maintaining the public service and the public programs and investing in infrastructure, cuts across the board would be coming? Taxes and user fees going up, spending going down, mandatory public sector roll-backs, all with an eye towards keeping the bottom line "in the black", no matter what? THEN those same critics would be crawling all over each other to get in front of a camera to declare "Ed Stelmach is the new Ralph Klein! He's attacking the elderly, the young and defenceless, the working poor, and every man and woman in the province with his cuts! He values money more than human life! We need the Liberals in power!".

Critics, you're nothing if not consistent in your hypocrisy.

NOW... let's get past the politics, and look at the cause of Alberta's problem, in particular.

  • Price of oil, per barrel, Dec. 15, 2006: $63.43 USD
  • Price of oil, per barrel, Dec. 14, 2007: $91.27 USD
  • Price of oil, per barrel, July 4, 2008: $145.29 USD
  • Price of oil, per barrel, Jan. 16, 2009: $36.51 USD

Yes, Nation, the price of oil - this province's bread-and-butter, has dropped nearly 75% in the past 6 months.

If your only real asset, the only thing you fully owned of any significant monetary value, was your $400,000 home and the market dropped so steeply that 6 months from now your home was worth $100,000... well, you'd be paying a lot less in city taxes, but I think you'd have to ask yourself several very important questions:
  1. When did the Bloods and Crips move into the house next door?
  2. When did Alberta Tory move into my neighbourhood?
  3. Do I trust my realtor?
  4. Is it maybe just possible that I want to diversify my assets, and stop carrying all my eggs in this one basket?

THIS is the problem Alberta faces - 27.2% of our Gross Domestic Product is directly related to the energy sector, and much of the rest relies on the money generated BY the energy sector. Oilmen, after all, buy trucks, eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and go to movies - just like the rest of us. All of those industries suffer when an oilman gets laid off. Energy remains Alberta's Golden Goose - and yet, through no (or little) fault of own own, that Golden Goose has taken ill. What has gone wrong?

We're witnessing the power of the free market.

The global price of oil per barrel has dropped like a rock not because of something Ed Stelmach did or didn't do, but because the DEMAND has gone down... drastically. People are buying less oil, so the price goes down in the hope that they'll buy more now that it's so affordable. You'd rather sell it at a low price, making little or no profit than sit on it at high prices and suffer a total loss. It's basic economics.

And if you think things are bad NOW, wait until they come out with the first commercially-available and practical, mass-produced and marketed fully-electric car for less than $15,000. Whether it be the "targeted for 2010 launch" Chevy Volt or something else entirely, when North America and its affair with the "open road" no longer require petroleum to consummate their love, we're going to be waxing reminiscent about the salad days of $36-per-barrel oil.

It's entirely possible that, within a decade or 2, the only places that will even be remotely interested in petroleum as an energy source will be heavy industry and the developing world. And don't assume that China and India are going to keep us afloat, either. If China is ALREADY so aware of their pollution problems, it's a lot more reasonable to assume that they'll continue to dam their rivers and go with a car running on electricity than to hope they'll get a billion people into SUV's to keep our economy running smoothly.

Demand is down, demand is going to fluctuate in the short term but continue to trend downwards as technology renders the resource increasingly obsolete. So, what do we as a province do to stay ahead of the curve?

Diversify. Diversify our economy, as quickly as is reasonable. Follow the lead of jurisdictions like Newfoundland & Labrador, which realised that economies that are completely dependent on one resource are doomed to fail when supply, or demand, for that resource dries up (of course, in N&L's case, they diversified by ADDING oil and gas, which isn't looking too good right now). Learn from the mistakes of jurisdictions like Ontario, who rely so heavily on one sector (auto manufacturing) that when it starts to fall, the rest of the economy follows like a line of dominoes. It's not too late, Alberta - but we need to start preparing TODAY for the eventual reality of an Alberta in which we can rely on the energy sector for 5-10% of our GDP, at most.

Medical technology; the next big thing in clean, possibly renewable, energy; desalination technology... THESE are the types of things we should be putting our collective energies into working on. Things the world needs and will continue to need, that our well-educated workforce can help invent, perfect, and manufacture.

There's been resistance to work too hard at alternative energy, because it's hastening the death of our Golden Goose. But I've got news for you, folks... the Goose is going to die anyway. If you're under 60, it's got a decent chance of dying within your lifetime. And by the time it does finally kick the bucket, it will be too late to start looking at these things, because this province is going to be a barren economic waste-land. A Ferrari up on blocks with no engine. Someone else will have made the "big discovery", and whether it's Manitoba, Mumbai or Mazatlan, that's where the money will be, the investors will be, and the jobs will be.

I'd rather they be in Morinville, Millet or Magrath.

So let's get to work.

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Nation, I've got a soft spot for small-town girls who end up transplanted into the Big City - my own mother was one such girl, as is the future Mrs. Savage. It's no surprise, then, that when the lovely Elle Bee of The [Mis]adventure of a Small Town Girl posted an interview meme a few days ago, I jumped on the chance to see what sort of great questions the devoted member of the E.S. Nation might come up with for your truly.

Elle Bee, you certainly didn't let me down. :)

This is supposed to be interactive, so if you'd like to participate with some questions conceived in the mind of the Enlightened Savage, Lord and Ruler of All Albertan Political Bloggers, just follow the rules below:

1. If you want to participate, leave me a comment saying, “Interview me.” (And your e-mail address, please.)
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions

Here we go!

1. How did you get interested in politics? What made you decide to get vocal about it?

I developed an interest from an early age. Politics, of all levels, were freely discussed around the dinner table at our home. While my parents had their own views, though, they always made sure to make allowances for the validity of the opposing viewpoint. As I grew up, I decided that I wanted to be involved in some way, to help make my community a better place for the people who came after me (not that it was bad when I was young- far from it. But the idea is to constantly improve, from generation to generation). My own MLA at the time inspired me by showing me that regular people, like her and like me, could make a difference through hard work and being honest with people. When I realized how few people were engaged in the political process, or were unaware of how the system even worked, I decided that, for now, the best way to contribute was to try and inform and entertain through my writing.

2. a) If you could give a piece of your mind, one-on-one, to any politician, at any level, from anywhere in the world, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you tell them?

I'd jump in the DeLorean with copies of the last 6 months of newspapers and economic statements, and visit Ralph Klein in 1993. Utilising all of my impressive powers of persuasion, and perhaps some of the old moves I picked up watching tapes of Ralph's dad as a pro wrestler, I'd encourage him to think very seriously about saving for a rainy day and stimulating diversification of Alberta's economy.

b) If you could have a chat with any politician that you adore (from the same categories as above), who would it be?

I'd have to say John F. Kennedy. To wake up every morning (next to whom, we're not sure) and see a "To Do" list on your mirror that read "1. Make the world a better place for future generations. 2. Don't get blown up by Russia." must have made for an interesting dichotomy.

3. Man, are you ever informed about what's going on in the world around you. It takes a lot to keep up with all the news, especially during an election. If you only had time to get your news from one source, where would you turn?

From one medium it'd be the internet, hands-down. If I had to narrow it down to one website, though, I'd have to say I'd say CPAC during an election, but they're pretty thin on updates between elections. always seems to be the most frequently updated site, and they make really good use of their video player to give perspective to the raw news - which you can skip, if you'd prefer to form your own opinions (which I usually do, but then watch the video anyway, just to yell).

4. a) Where are your three top places in Calgary to visit for people who've never been to Calgary before?

I'm going to go for places within the Greater Calgary Area, because so many of my favourites are JUST outside the city. :)

1) Fish Creek Provincial Park.

2) McKay's Ice Cream Parlour (Cochrane)

3) Pengrowth Saddledome, during a Flames Game (the atmosphere is electric, even for an Oilers fan like myself)

b) Where are your top three places for Calgarians?

1) Elbow Falls, in Kananaskis Country

2) Calgary Stampede Grandstand Show

3) A stroll through historic Inglewood.

5. A recent poll says that 62 per cent of Quebecers believe that if the budget falls, the right to lead should be handed Bloc, the Liberals, and the NDPs' coalition government. What do you think?

I think the right to lead shouldn't be handed to anyone, ever - it should be earned. If someone wants to lead as Prime Minister, they should face the voters first, and be vetted by the people they hope to serve. Part of that vetting process should be answering the question "would you be willing to form a coalition with any of the other parties - and if so, which ones?". Someone elected under those circumstances would be well within their rights to form a coalition, and lead the government. I also think that governing parties should call an election immediately upon changing leaders to give the people a say in who leads their government. That said, that's not the system under which we operate. The successful local candidate gets your franchise, and can do whatever s/he wants with it.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Alberta PC Caucus Vaults into the 21st Century

The party of old, white men. The "Pretty Crusty" Party. We've heard them all before - stereotypes about the "natural ruling party" of Alberta. Like all stereotypes, they're at least partially based on truth (or, at least the truth as it once appeared, to at least one person).

The truth is, the Alberta PC's have been slow to embrace Social Media. After all: What's their motivation to do so? It's a forum in which you sacrifice much of the control you hope to have over your message (always dangerous for a party that sits in government over a multi-billion dollar economy), to appeal to a mainly younger demographic that is, let's be honest, at least as likely to vote AGAINST you as FOR you (youth, as has been noted before, has a notorious liberal bias). There are risks, for potentially very little reward, and you're already winning huge majorities in the Legislature. Why fix what isn't broken?

And then came Obama.

Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. Presidential Election was a game-changer, politically. Not because of the plethora of politicians who are, privately or publicly, drawing laughable and sad comparisons between themselves and Obama, hoping that just putting their name and his in the same sentence will somehow magically give them a charisma-transplant (I'm looking at you, Jack).

No, the genius of Obama's campaign, and the thing that has changed politics as we know it, was his use of the internet to get out his message. Through the use of Facebook, blogs, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, MySpace, and just about every Social Media application this side of ICQ (which I still miss), Obama harnessed the power of Web2.0 and created the new template for future political campaigns.

In short, Obama dropped the atomic bomb - and now everyone who campaigns for anything wants to make sure they have one of their own. And thus begins... the "Race to Social Media".

With this in mind, the Alberta PC's brought in some of the best and brightest to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the Social Media game. After several painstaking months, the end result went on-line this past Monday, with the launch of

The site itself isn't all that revolutionary - there's nothing on it that we haven't seen on a political party's website before. What's notable, though, is the fact that we almost NEVER see something like this from the GOVERNING Party of a province, state, or country. For this reason alone, it's an extraordinary site.

The site features polls, a description of what caucus is and what its role is, a calendar of upcoming events, news releases, and (my personal favourite) the Nine Commandments of Social Media. Most interesting, though, is the fact that there is a personal mini-site for every single member of the government caucus. Trivia, biographies, an ability to contact the MLA directly, and the option of supporting them on Facebook are but a few of the things that one can check-out on the mini-sites. In the future, there seems to be a "bulletin board" or "discussion" feature to be launched - which should be very, very interesting.

If there is one thing missing from the site that I wish was there, it's a statement of policies. Not that I can blame the caucus for not posting policies - the caucus doesn't HAVE policies of its own... The PC Party does - not that you'll find them on the Party website (in order to get them on-line, you'd need a Party V.P. of Policy who was actually interested in doing his job, or returning calls from the 403 area code).

Now, the Alberta Liberals and the Alberta New Democrats have had caucus websites for some time, although the NDP haven't updated some sections of their site in almost a year. Both parties have made mumbling reference in the past week to the fact that if they had the resources of the PC caucus, they'd have much better caucus websites (the NDP website, for my money, is far better than the Liberal one - and the NDP gets far, far less than the Liberals in public funding - it's designated on a per-member basis). I'm sort of curious how the New Democrats can cry about the funding their caucus receives for staff and communications - is it even possible to HAVE a official caucus with designated funding when you don't have official party status in the house? Aren't you just "a couple of members who hang out together" at that point? Can Jonathan Denis (Egmont) and Heather Forsyth (Fish Creek) apply for caucus funding and form the "Acadia Drive runs through my riding" caucus? How about a Snelgrove - Danyluk - Cao - Bhullar - Horner power caucus getting funding for their group, "Tories with Beards"?

In the greater scheme of things, is this website going to help the Tories? Yes, I believe it will. It shows that they're capable of change - of evolving with the times. It makes their elected members more accessible - which certainly has its potential draw-backs, as well, depending on the members involved. But in the end, it helps the Tories in a very important way: 30 years from now, it is their fervent hope that the Liberals and NDP will be griping about "nearly 70 years of consecutive Tory rule!". And while they're door-knocking in the riding of "Calgary-Gaetz Avenue", before they jump on the high-speed rail line to get back to headquarters for the Election Night celebration, the Tory MLAs of 2039 are going to be counting on the 65 year-olds to send them back to office.

Those 65 year-olds are 35 today. And you'd better believe they're members of the E.S. Nation. Computer literate. Net-savvy. And surfing to right now, to see if their local Tory is someone they can get behind.

Congratulations to Troy Wason and his team on the launch. Now, about that front-page link to The Enlightened Savage... ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

City Hall to Calgarians: We Know You're Pissed. Get Over It. (p.s. Thanks for all the taxes!)

Nation, the 1-ring circus at City Hall is getting so bad I accidentally found myself agreeing with Rick Bell earlier today.

Yes, the duly-elected City Council has torn itself away from micro-managing the choices you make every day (paper or plastic?) to give us THIS gem:

The City is receiving a high volume of 311 calls about snow clearance on residential streets. We are aware of the condition of residential roads as a result of both melting and falling snow. The City of Calgary's snow and ice policy states residential streets are not plowed.

The City has analyzed 311 data regarding road clearance requests and have a full picture of what is occurring in the city. We would like to thank Calgarians for their patience during this time and ask that 311 is only contacted for emergent situations where their road is impassable.

Since Monday, graders have been removing ice and snow along gutters and in front of catch basins; sandbags have been stockpiled in all City maintenance districts; and areas susceptible to flooding are being monitored.

Well, great... paragraph 1: "We're aware of the situation. The situation is: screw you, we don't plough residential streets."

Paragraph 2: "We get it, we know the roads suck, stop calling - we're not interested."

Paragraph 3: "We're watching for flooding". Great... in 2 weeks, will we get a press release that the city's policy is "residential streets are not sandbagged from potential flooding"?

Yeah... the flood-waters aren't the only thing getting sandbagged around here.

The city uses as an excuse to not plough the streets a couple of polls, from 1997 and 2004, that indicate Calgarians were opposed to tax increases to pay for snow removal. Calgarians are also opposed to tax increases to pay for police, firefighters, curb-side recycling, a transit system they don't use, schools, fitness centres for city hall staffers, and single-source non-bid "world class" pedestrian bridges.

News flash: Calgarians are opposed to tax increases. In related news, water is wet and the sun rises in the East.

If the polls had been phrased: "On a scale of one to ten, with one being the least important and ten being the most important, how important do you think it is that the city fully plough all major roads and your residential streets", I suspect we'd be having a different conversation. Likewise, if the polls had been done in, oh, say January or February.

The total price tag, they tell us, to get down to bare pavement, all over the city, is $40 Million per year. That's if all the staff and equipment are on the city's books. Right now, they're spending in the ballpark of $25 Million.

So... for $25 Million you can have snow removal that sucks and is completely inadequate, or for $15 Million more you can have bare pavement all over the city within 24 hours of a snowfall ending - all year long.

Hmmmm... tough call...

The lost productivity and insurance premiums ALONE would more than cover the extra cost of setting up a REAL city snow and ice removal program... and that's not even considering the "contractor" solution.

Alderman Andre Chabot - one of the few reasonable voices on council - has proposed hiring private contractors when the city's crews can't keep up. In other jurisdictions, tow truck operators, gravel truck operators and even just plain old Ford F-350 owners have easily-mounted ploughs that can have them out clearing residential roads and feeder routes within 30 minutes, leaving the big city crews and trucks for the major routes. Anyone who has ever shovelled a sidewalk knows that once you get MOST of the snow off, a lot of the time the sun will take care of the rest, even if it's below zero. The nonsensical reply from detractors on council: "We can't pay those contractors to have men and equipment standing by when there's no emergency situation".

Ummmm... no, guys, you can't. That's why you're not hiring them as full-time city employees. That's not how the "Contractor" thing works...

Even Alderman Brian Pincott - not exactly a favourite of my more conservative readers - is on-board with the idea of contractors. It's what they do out East when things get out of hand. And BELIEVE me, things are very much out of hand. Even BRONCO'S street is reportedly a nightmare. Pump Hill, where you can't buy a closet for less than a million (don't forget, the city gets its tax from your property value!) is completely impassable. The only reason nothing's been done to this point is because elections in this province are held in October. If they were held in February, council would happily be spending $70 Million or more on a snow and ice removal program.

And of COURSE people don't want their taxes to go up to pay for it... but if Bronco and his cohorts on Council are so hell-bent on us earning a reputation as a "world class city", maybe they'd better rip their eyes away from their beloved bridges and take a look at what pet projects they can cut so our "world class citizens" can actually make use of our "world class roads system" to get to their "world class jobs" without getting "world class stuck in the snow" or "world class t-boned" in a residential intersection.

Otherwise, we all might HAVE to use Bronco's Pedestrian Bridge to Nowhere, and his beloved Transit System that none of us feel safe on after 5 pm... because none of us will be able to drive in this city.

Calgary Gang Forum Tonight - January 15th!

... Not a moment too soon, either.

Part of the Safer Communities Lecture Series put on by the Calgary Police Service and Calgary Community and Neighbourhood Services, experts in the field will be discussing the perils of organized crime, how to "gang-proof" your kids, and strategies the community can use in dealing with escalating gang activity.

7:00 pm
Rundle Community Centre
2409, 50th Street N.E.
Admission is Free

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Taking Back The Streets

Well, here we are again, Nation. The new year isn't yet a fortnight old, and we've already got drive-by shootings, gangland-style killings straight out of the Godfather, innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire (well, THAT aspect, at least, is new)... Happy 2009.

The Mayor, as predictable as always, is demanding more money from the province to hire more police officers. Not that this should surprise anyone - Bronco has made such a habit of begging Edmonton for money over the past few years, he probably does it in his sleep. I can't help but wonder what MRS. Bronco thinks when she rolls over at night to hear Dave muttering "more, Ed, give me more...", but perhaps that's best left undwelled upon.

The Chief, reading from the company playbook, is convinced that his force is doing the best they can with what they have. Lacking any real, forceful leadership from anyone directly accountable to the voters, the CPS continues to muddle along, looking good for the daily crime scene photos that grace the dailies all the while avoiding the inconvenient questions like "with bullets flying all over the city, why do we think we need 40 constables and 5 sergeants trying to catch speeders on the off-ramps from Deerfoot Trail?".

While Aldermen like Ric McIver and Diane Colley-Urquhart try their best to get some idea of what, exactly, is going on down at police headquarters, some others (like John Mar, the ex-city cop elected on a law-and-order platform) find themselves lost in the never-neverland of debating recycling and talking about how wonderful Bronco's Bridge to Nowhere is going to be (John, we haven't seen a lurch to the left this sudden since the Titanic tried to dodge the iceberg).

Now, I'm not going to pretend to know exactly what needs to be done to fix the problem of escalating crime and gang activity in Calgary. If I knew how to fix this, right now, today, I'd apply to be on the Calgary Police Commission. Or I'd run for Mayor. Hmmmmm... interesting thought, that...

But I digress. While I don't know, with 100% certainty, what will immediately fix Calgary's unique problems, I *do* know that there are 2 COMPLETELY different approaches that have worked elsewhere in the past.

Approach 1: Giuliani's "Broken Window"

In 1993, Rudolph Giuliani, a former prosecutor, was elected Mayor of New York City. NYC, as you can imagine, has its fair share of "major crimes", like murder and drive-by shootings (not to mention alien invasions, Godzilla, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, etc.), so you can forgive the denizens of Gotham for their initial incredulity at the announcement that their newly-elected Mayor was going to be spending valuable police resources prosecuting litter-bugs, petty vandals, and aggressive pan-handlers.

The argument that Giuliani used was based, in large part, on the "Broken Window" philosophy, which (at the risk of over-simplifying) argues that petty crime and disrespect for the law begets more crime, and more disrespect for the rule of law, which begets chaos. Giuliani instructed the police, and area prosecutors, to go after these "minor crimes" as intensely as they would if they were splashed all over the front pages - and it worked. The crime rate in NYC plummeted, as everyone from the shoplifters to the gang leaders learned that in New York City, if you so much as jaywalked or looked askew at the law, you were going to meet the good folks at Night Court. "Zero Tolerance", they called it. And while the civil rights advocates were beside themselves (which would be even moreso the case in Canada, a place arguably more predisposed towards civil rights), the bottom line is that it WORKED.

New York City police-officer-to-citizen ratio: 1-to-223.
Calgary police-officer-to-citizen-ratio: 1-to-642.

Approach 2: Rick Hanson's "I Know Where You Used To Sleep"

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, who says that Calgary's 2 biggest gangs (the FOB and the FOB Killers) have been escalating their war on the streets of Calgary for 6 years, has apparently decided that enough is enough. Members of the gang unit are apparently knocking on the doors of known gang members, their parents, associates, friends, and telling them that if Junior strays off the straight-and-narrow, then they're coming to take not just Junior's car, but also mom's car, dad's car, and the house while they're at it.

Empowered to do so by the Victims Restitution and Compensation Act, the police would essentially take the battle from "we want Junior to behave" and change it to "we want him to behave, and if we think you're helping him misbehave, we're coming for you, too". It's an escalation of the stakes - one that will either work, or flame out spectacularly when the gangs decide that the city declaring war on their families is across the line.

Ironic, isn't it, that nobody asked the family of Keni Su'a if they thought that having gang members open fire in a public restaurant was "over the line"?

Well, nobody ever accused gangs of having high ethical standards.

Do I think Hanson's plan will work? I don't know... I've heard of it working in American cities, so it's at least as likely as Giuliani's approach. It's just as possible, though, that neither plan is any good for our particular situation, and it's something altogether different that will be required to clean up our city.

What I DO know is this: Innocent bystanders are now among the tallies of the dead in Calgary's gang wars. We can no longer afford to, as Calgarians, stand off to the side content with the knowledge that "at least they're all just shooting at each other". Keni Su'a wasn't making a drug buy, or behind on payment to a loan shark - he was having lunch. And now he's dead.

A similar tragedy played no small role in costing Paul Martin his job a few years ago. Only, in that case, it was a young girl (Jane Kreba) who was tragically killed in the crossfire.

And while the mayor fiddles, pretends to be blameless and begs Ed for more money, we have to ask ourselves: Are we really and truly willing to do what it takes to take this city back? Are we prepared for harsher laws, harsher sentences, and a harsher approach to organized crime, and to crime in general? Restoring respect for the law means instilling a sense in these criminals that to BREAK the law is not worth the potential consequences. Because let's face it, folks... coddling the criminals in the name of understanding and "getting to the root causes of crime" (poverty and poor self esteem and not getting enough hugs as a child) isn't really getting us anywhere.

Ask the 32 Calgarian men and women who were alive on December 31st, 2007, and dead on December 31st, 2008.

Hell. Ask the 4 who were alive on December 31st, 2008, and dead 24 hours later.

We need a plan.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Still Alive!

... but only barely, thanks to the miracles of penicillin.

There's much afoot to be discussed, from a local, provincial and federal perspective in the very near future. (Jim Flaherty obviously has the budget well at hand, since the P.M. has seemingly been at every hockey game played in this country in the past 3 weeks - I swear I saw him at the Mac's AAA Midget tournament in Calgary).

I sincerely hope everyone had a very happy and safe holiday season, and that this inaugural post of 2009 finds you in good spirits. We've got about 2 weeks of this touchy-feely stuff until the House of Commons comes back, and then it's back to the trenches.

I wanted to bring to everyone's attention a new blog that's garnering a lot of attention, and even some (indirect, due to lazy reporting) press. The writer seems to have inside information on the Alberta Liberal party, and writes as a supporter of said Liberals, yet blogs anonymously (no, it's not me - that was an April Fool's prank). It seems the Grits now have their OWN "Enlightened Savage" to make the PC's lose sleep at night, wondering whom it might be (I have my theories, but I'll keep them to myself - post YOUR theories as comments, if you have any).

Whether you agree with the editorial slant of the writer or not, it's a well thought-out, interesting and well-written blog, and I'd encourage everyone to check out Alberta's OTHER anonymous political blogger (a title which, at the relative rates of posting on their blog versus mine, might soon be how people describe ME):