Thursday, February 26, 2009

How They Voted - Coming Soon!

Word this week that the House of Commons is finally going to have an on-line, publicly accessible record of how MP's vote on bills and motions put before the House.

You would think this would be a no-brainer. After all, in order to have transparent and accountable representative government, you need to have transparent and accountable representatives, right? You need to know HOW they're exercising your franchise, so you can either approve, disapprove and tell them so, or disapprove, tell them so and vote them out of office if they don't seem to care about your disapproval.

I'd applaud Libby Davies and Peter Milliken for their action on identifying this accountability vacuum and addressing it, however the fact that this has been going on unchecked for so long is quite frankly an embarrassment.

That said, even if it SHOULD have been addressed long ago - at least it's being addressed NOW. Now, it's time for all levels of government to follow suit. The fact that we, as Calgarians, can't readily see how our elected MLA's or City Council voted on particular motions or bills is preposterous (as is the city's penchant for hiding any controversial votes in the "in camera" part of council meetings, for which there is no record, written-or-otherwise, available to the public).

Readers from coast to coast to coast: Are you aware of any jurisdictions within Canada that already offer an on-line Voting Record?

We often see from our friends to the South statements such as "Senator Triggerhappy has a 98% pro-gun voting record", and to a lesser degree the special interest groups keep track of similar statistics here in the Great White North - through painstaking research and reading of council meeting minutes, Hansards, etc. And while *I* read the Hansard for fun, I'll readily admit that most people don't have that warped a sense of what constitutes "fun" - or, for that matter, even tolerable.

Now, the $64,000 question becomes: Which Member of Parliament will break with their party's voting line most often? Any bets?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

(Yet) Another One Bites The Dust

I'm hearing rumours that a dearly departed blogger, currently represented by a notch on my gun handle and a Blogger logo on my plane's fuselage, may be considering making a comeback.

Before he does something silly, he may want to consider the latest casualty of trying to elbow into The Enlightened Savage's world, - which appeared, burned brightly as a source of "insider information" regarding the new political movement in Alberta for a few weeks, stopped updating after the story got picked up by the MSM, and has now completely disappeared.

cb - we hardly knew ye.

Now... in the words of Walt Kowalski: Get off my lawn. ;)

Winter Blunderland

For those of you who need to set your clocks...

1. Snow falls.

2. Local media run the "fighting the good fight" snow removal story, complete with the same tried-and-true cliches they trot out EVERY time they run this story, which is 3-4 times per year:

"City crews have been on the road non-stop since before the white stuff began falling"

"Our crews are working around the clock on the roads"

"65 plow-equipped sanders and nine graders spent all of yesterday clearing Priority 1 and 2 routes"

"snow removal crews will continue to prepare for further inclement weather and will make sure extra crews are on overnight"

... and you know what? It's still going to suck, just as badly as it did in December and January. And people will still be driving into each other on icy roads, both major and residential, that they pay taxes to have cleared. There will be injuries, and deaths, and increased insurance premiums across the board, because even the insurers know that snow removal in Calgary is a bad joke (that's the snickering you hear when you call them to say you're moving to the city, right before they tell you how much your premiums have jumped as a result of your change in address). In about a week, we'll get in irate Bronco in front of a camera, telling us we're all bad people for complaining about the hard-working snow crews. A few days later, we'll get a tired looking head of that department telling us they're doing all they can, but the city administrators set the budget and the priorities, and their hands are tied. And do-si-do.

But you'll still get a ticket if you don't shovel your sidewalk. Which, by the way, is city property.

Meanwhile, back in the Bronco Cave, the most important question the mayor can ask in the face of this destruction, chaos, and loss of life and limb gets asked:

"How can we blame this on Ed Stelmach?"

Now THAT'S leadership.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen... meet your new Wards

Calgary City Council, quite quietly, passed a motion on February the 9th to amend the city's ward boundaries as follows.

Here are the Wards as they existed at the time of the last municipal election, when 4 dozen-or-so Calgarians came out to vote for City Council.

Here are the wards as amended.

A bit of a change? OH, yeah.

  • Ward 1 stays mostly the same.
  • Ward 2 gains a neighbourhood lost by Ward 1
  • Ward 3 loses its top-left half, fully 50% of its area, but gains a slice of Ward 5.
  • Ward 4 loses its bottom-right corner to Ward 7, but gains some of Ward 7's northern reaches.
  • Ward 5 swallows up much of what was formerly Ward 10, effectively doubling in area.
  • Ward 6 gains several small pieces of land from Ward 8.
  • Ward 7 changes pretty heavily - it gobbles up the northern "leg" of Ward 9, loses its OWN northern leg to Ward 4, and gains some of Ward 4's southeast fringe.
  • Ward 8 gains a tiny corner of Ward 11, and loses bits of its western edge to Ward 6.
  • Ward 9 gains a little at the expense of Ward 12 and loses a little on its southwest flank to Ward 11, it loses its northern leg to Ward 7, and then expands northwards to fill the space formerly occupied by Ward 10 that wasn't already gobbled up by Ward 5.
  • Ward 10 has been completely moved. It is now in what was formerly the top-left half of Ward 3.
  • Ward 11 loses a tiny bit of land just north of Woodbine to Ward 13, but gains what looks like Acadia and Southwood, among some other tracks of land to the east of its current boundary.
  • Ward 12 loses Riverbend, Willow Park, Maple Ridge, Acadia and a few others in its northwestern quadrant.
  • Ward 13 loses a parcel on its northeast corner, but gains a parcel of the same approximate size on the northwestern corner, both interactions being with Ward 11. It also loses a tiny slice on the far southern edge of city limits, to Ward 14.
  • Ward 14 gains said tiny slice from Ward 13, adding it as a western panhandle.

Now, the new ward boundaries typically aren't enacted until the next voting day, so you still live in the same ward you think you do, and are represented by the same Alderman you thought you were, until October of 2010.

It will be VERY interesting, though, to see where the incumbents who are most affected by this choose to run. The incumbent's advantage, familiarity in the community, doesn't necessarily apply in newly-added communities to the ward - and CERTAINLY don't apply if the entire ward itself has moved (good luck, Ald. Chabot).

Floor's open to you, Nation. If you're in Calgary, will your ward change? Are you happy about it? Getting a great new alderman, or moving from a real public servant to a seat-warmer?

- E.S. (who gets to keep his Alderman)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Do We Need a Time-Out, Kids?

Holy smokes, Nation.

Just when I thought we were in for a nice, calm launch to the new session of the Alberta Legislature, all hell breaks loose in the Alberta Liberal Party.

There's some intense, sometimes heated discussion going on over at daveberta about what course the ALP should take, and whether Dave will be on board when it does.

Gauntlet continues some darn fine work, juggling both the soul-searching going on in the ALP, and touching on the new, oft-rumoured but hard to pin down "alternative movement" first reported by the long lost centrebloq (you can come out of hiding, Larry - we know it was you. ;) ).

Tiny Perfect Blog, meanwhile, seems to smell blood as a result of a mysterious inside source within the ALP and their revelations about the dynamics and plans of this new group.

The question that begs to be asked is, does any of this matter?

4 in ten Albertans bother to vote. Of those 4, how many actually cast an informed ballot, rather than voting out of partisan loyalty or habit?

All parties, be they the ALP, the PC's, the Wildrose Alliance or whatever this alternative eventually christens itself, need to be focusing on how to engage the majority of Albertans who stayed home last March. This blathering about left and right, blue and red, capitalist pigs versus socialists, belongs in the 1950's.

Anyone leading a political party currently, or sitting in a position to mold policy, or involved in top secret meetings that TPB has access to, read very closely what I'm about to say.

You want to win, and hold, government for a long, long time?

Figure out what the people think, and then SET YOUR POLICIES TO MATCH THE VOTERS.

That's how easy it is. Arguing over whether Albertans are "far-right bumpkins" isn't going to help you get elected. Trying to paint Stelmach alternatively as a pawn of the far-right fringe (if you're a lefty) or a liberal-in-pc's-clothing (if you're a righty) isn't going to get you elected in his stead. Whining that the NDP isn't included in this new alternative movement isn't going to change the fact that most Albertans have long ago written off the NDP as a complete and total non-factor, politically (involving them in the new group is literally a kiss of death, and it goes from "moderate coalition" to "united left, further out of the mainstream than the unpalatable liberals were before" in the pundit-and-public's view). Dismissing suburbanites as "pawns of oil and gas" isn't going to do it. Writing off huge swaths of land (rural Alberta) or population (city centres) because they're "hopelessly tuned out to your message" is no way to win election.

You want to know what it will take to get Albertans out to the polls to support you?


The opinions of myself, daveberta, Gauntlet, TPB, Ken Chapman, the gang at Alberta Get Rich or Die Trying, Allie, Phendrana, CalgaryGrit (in absentia), Shane at CalgaryRants, and Werner Patels account for 11 of a possible 2.5 million votes. What WE decide, in our email and Twitter-fests, is a good idea isn't necessarily so. It's Henry and Martha who decide whether or not it's a good idea. And you know what? Henry and Martha aren't stupid. They're not easily mis-led. They're not conservative, or liberal. They're intelligent, opinionated, and more than likely moderates. They have opinions that would fit in each and every party's platform.

Make a platform out of enough of those broadly-held opinions, come out with policy statements that Albertans will agree with, and you've got a shot at holding office, provided your name isn't "The Trudeau Was Right" party, or something similar.

Politics is marketing, and substance. Often, in that order. But if you build a party with enough substance, even if it isn't "sexy", the people will come. The hitch is, you have to come to THEM, first. And when you ask "what do you think about this issue?", you actually have to LISTEN to the answer, instead of spinning it.


I really liked what I saw from Dr. David Swann yesterday in his response to the Speech from the Throne, and also in Question Period (although some of his caucus likely needed to be reminded about the new code of conduct - which we'll call the "Swann Doctrine" - after the day's session). Dr. Swann looks like he wants to elevate the debate in the Legislature - and if he's successful in so doing, we will all benefit. As I hit "Publish Post", we're 5 minutes from today's QP. So let's see if he can keep it up (I certainly hope so - respectful disagreement and debate is something we've been lacking for far, far too long, and the voters will recognize the shift in tone if the Libs stick to it). Contrast Dr. Swann's statements and manner in the Legislature yesterday with some of the members of cabinet from before Christmas, and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alberta's Speech From The Throne 2009 - Now With Commentary!

Resurrecting a gimmick from our past, the comments of the mighty Enlightened Savage will appear in red.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Second Session of the 27th Alberta Legislature.

It is my honour to deliver the Speech from the Throne, as it is my honour to serve this province and its people as Lieutenant Governor.

Ours is a beautiful and blessed province. It has always attracted people of courage and determination — dreamers, who saw opportunity here and worked together to realize all the possibilities our land offers.

Together, the people of this province have faced many challenges over the past century. Tough times bring out the best in Albertans — we always pull together, and emerge from adversity even stronger than before.

In tough times, we have learned the value of self-reliance and hard work; the need to plan and prepare for the future; and what it means to stand together as a community that looks after its most vulnerable members.

These lessons will guide Alberta as it faces yet another challenge: the global economic uncertainty that is unfolding all around us. Our province is not immune from the turmoil. Far from it — Alberta will face its share of challenges, and government needs to make prudent and realistic decisions to ensure it delivers the things Albertans need at an affordable cost.
But despite the volatile economic times, Albertans can face the future with confidence and optimism. We will do what we have always done: adapt, set goals for the future, and move forward in confident pursuit of those goals.

Okay... so we've started with the touchy-feely, we're all in this together, ra-ra GO TEAM section. Fair enough. Now, on to the substance...

Prudent fiscal management has positioned Alberta well. Our province is debt-free, and has more than $7 billion set aside in the Sustainability Fund to help protect core programs from roller-coaster revenues.

A fair point. This government, though, is not immune from criticism about past fiscal management. The question that will be asked most often is "Why do we not have more saved - and what do we have to show for what we spent?". The fact that this question will be asked most often in the Legislature by the Alberta Liberals might make for an "easy out" response, but it's still a valid question for which the people of Alberta deserve an honest answer. "We've done better than THOSE guys would have!" is the answer of a politician. I'm hoping we hear from a Leader.

Tax changes, including the elimination of health care premiums this year, will save Albertans and Alberta businesses over $1 billion annually, putting extra money in the economy — a welcome stimulus at a critical time.

Excellent. More money in our pockets is a good thing. Putting that money in the economy, though, suggests that we expect people to SPEND that money they're saving. If they put it in the bank, it's not really "in the economy", unless the bank becomes more inclined to open up to lending again. We need ATB to lead the way on this - not by lending recklessly, but by helping to nudge the financial sector along.

These actions are part of your government’s economic vision — steps that were taken long before the economic downturn began. They will serve Albertans well by helping our province weather the downturn, and positioning our province to be ahead of the curve of the next growth cycle.

Our plan as we navigate through these uncertain times will focus on protecting Albertans and the things that matter most to them, while preparing the way for growth to resume as quickly as possible.

Our commitment to core programs, such as health and education, will remain strong. And we will continue to implement the Strategic Capital Plan and other long-term initiatives that form our investment in the future, to ensure that Albertans will have the infrastructure and services they need for a return to sustained growth and an increasingly diverse economy.

Translation: We're going to be making some changes, but we're not pulling out Ralph's chainsaw, so everyone just settle down.

As a trading province, Alberta’s future economic success will be built on our ability to compete in a world marketplace. Your government will protect and nurture the business conditions that will allow Alberta companies and entrepreneurs to thrive in markets here at home and around the globe.

... do I foresee more "Team Alberta" trade missions in our future?

It will also continue to aggressively promote Alberta products nationally and internationally, and bolster Alberta’s reputation as a place that welcomes those who want to live, work, invest and trade with us.

Or, if you're a critic of this government, "recklessly spend on propaganda and re-branding". Potato - poTAHto. I'm kind of old-fashioned this way - I don't consider marketing the exclusive domain of evil-doers.

Alberta has advocated strongly for the elimination of interprovincial trade barriers, and led by example with our agreement with British Columbia, to improve competitiveness and bolster the national economy. Removing these barriers will make Canada more competitive and a more desirable place to invest.

Alberta is also developing a comprehensive new strategy to strengthen international relations with long-time economic partners, and identify new markets for Alberta.

A-ha! "Team Alberta" rides again!

Of course, our biggest international partner is also Canada’s closest friend, neighbour and ally, the United States. We will build positive relations with the new U.S. administration and support our healthy trading relationship. We will continue to help the U.S. meet its need for a stable and secure supply of energy to power a return to prosperity. And we will demonstrate our commitment to developing our resources in an environmentally responsible way.

"We've got more oil than the Saudis, with far fewer burnings in effigy on average. Also, we'll try our best not to make the Greenpeace folks hate Obama. Hey, Hudema - LEAVE BARACK ALONE!"

Alberta is blessed with world-class energy resources. These have provided broad, sustained wealth creation for Albertans, and they offer long-term energy security for Canada and North America.

The royalty changes introduced by government at the beginning of this year set the stage for a renewed partnership between industry and Albertans — the owners of our resources. It is a partnership in which both the rewards and the risks of this volatile industry are more equitably shared.

As outlined in Alberta’s first-ever Provincial Energy Strategy, opportunities for further value-added development in Alberta will be pursued in the oil, gas and petrochemicals industries.
This will include a review of Alberta’s competitiveness in the energy sector, comprising everything from the cost of materials to the efficiency and effectiveness of regulatory regimes. The goal is to ensure that Alberta continues to attract investment that diversifies the economy, creates good jobs for Albertans, and provides revenues to pay for important programs and services.

This is being portrayed by critics as the stage-setting for a flip/flop. In fact, I think it's a vital next step in the "Our Fair Share" process begun by Premier Stelmach shortly after taking office. We've reviewed the Royalty Regime, which was the most urgent item on the agenda, and now we have to finish analysing the rest of our operation in the energy sector. We need to know what's working and what's not, without waiting for the opposition to start screeching about it during Question Period.

The Aboriginal Consultation Policy and guidelines on land management and resource development will be reviewed this year, with input from First Nations and industry to ensure the approach to consultation is beneficial to all Albertans.

One area of significant government focus is the oil sands, North America’s most promising source of energy for decades to come.

While global economic uncertainty has slowed the pace of oil sands development, there is no doubt that this abundant resource will play a key role in building long-term economic growth and energy security for Alberta and Canada.

Consumers and businesses around the world will be looking for fossil fuels for generations to come, even as the search for alternatives intensifies. Our goal must be to provide the energy the world needs, with an environmental footprint that grows lighter and lighter over time.

If by "generations to come" you mean "one or two generations at most", then yes. But if anyone is planning on the oilsands being a major source of prosperity for this province in 2109, they're completely out to lunch. We went from the Wright Brothers to the moon landing in 66 years. The world is beginning to decide that oil isn't worth the costs - and the technology will change as a result.

Your government will release and implement a comprehensive plan that will responsibly manage the economic, environmental, social and infrastructure impacts and opportunities of oil sands development.

I'm going to go out on a limb, here, and suggest that Greenpeace already has their response drafted. Something along the lines of "foolish, not even remotely close to good enough, and a laughingstock".

The plan will set out strategies to optimize economic growth in the oil sands while reducing their environmental impact. It will increase coordination across all levels of government and stakeholders in developing the oil sands responsibly, and enhance accountability in the management of the oil sands. It will foster innovation in science and technology that can solve the unique challenges of oil sands development. There will continue to be an increased emphasis on planning in high-growth communities in the oil sands regions.

With these improvements in mind, we must recognize that no leading source of energy today, and no source of fossil fuel, comes without some environmental consequence. Our goal must be nothing less than to partner with our customers in meeting their energy needs and honouring our mutual commitment to protect the planet for future generations.

A few solid paragraphs. The government is making clear its commitment to steward the environment and the economy hand-in-hand, not as an either/or. I think we all hope they get it right.

Our province is blessed with forests that provide social, economic and environmental benefits for Albertans; they protect watersheds, provide fish and wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities, and support industries, jobs and communities.

Forest companies and the communities they serve have been hit hard by global economic uncertainty, the slowdown of the U.S. housing market and ongoing business challenges.

The Alberta government is working with the province’s forestry sector to implement recommendations from the Forest Industry Sustainability Committee’s interim report to improve global competitiveness, increase value-added opportunities, and pursue the evolving bio-industry.

Programs to promote healthier forests will include the Healthy Pine Strategy to manage the spread of the mountain pine beetle, use strategic harvesting to diversify the age of the timber, and lessen the risk of catastrophic wildfire and insect infestations.

Ken Chapman likely has a lot more to say about this - let me just say that much of the mess we're in these days comes from an incomplete understanding by experts and the forestry sector of the intricacies of the biosphere. While we now know what we were wrong about in 1910, to suggest we fully understand the complex system NOW is foolish. We're playing catch-up, and need to accept that.

Alberta’s agriculture and agri-food industries are key economic drivers of our province. However, Alberta’s livestock industry continues to deal with many challenges that threaten its sustainability.

Your government is working closely with all sectors to implement the Alberta Livestock and Meat Strategy, a long-term plan that will lay the foundation for a profitable and competitive future.

Alberta has already provided significant support to this valuable industry, more than any other jurisdiction across the country. It is important that we uphold the reputation of Alberta beef, pork, and other meat and livestock products, as the best in the world. To do this, we must meet the demands of our customers for food safety, public safety, and animal health and welfare.

It's the "uphold the reputation" that has me scratching my head a bit, here... While most in Canada will readily admit that Alberta has the best beef, in general, in this country, I've never eaten at a restaurant in any of the 12 foreign nations to which I've travelled where the server didn't insist that the best beef in the world was from the local area... and those places don't even include Argentine or Texas beef, both of which have huge marketing muscle.

Modern, well-maintained infrastructure plays a vital role in our province’s economic success and in supporting the high quality of life Albertans enjoy.

Infrastructure projects support essential services, and represent important economic activity that encourages employment and business across the province. Unlike many jurisdictions that are going into deficit with infrastructure stimulus packages, Alberta has more than $6 billion in its Capital Account to continue an aggressive infrastructure program that began years ago.

We, on the other hand, are going into technical deficit - but not over infrastructure spending.

Your government will follow through on its commitment to make significant investments in hospitals, schools and other public infrastructure to strengthen our communities and help municipalities address growth pressures.

Funny story - you know the new expansion they've done on the Rockyview Hospital? How many people do you suppose they actually have on those new floors, in those new units? Something to ask local health officials. Sometimes, it's not enough to pay for the brick and mortar - you need staff to work inside the buildings.

In today’s economic environment, now more than ever, this means investing strategically and building responsibly.

Keeping a close eye on project scope and budgets, we will work with stakeholders to ensure that facilities are appropriate for the needs of the community and delivered in a timely, cost-effective and efficient manner.

Albertans live in one of the most spectacular, diverse, beautiful and healthy natural environments in the world. Generations of Albertans have grown up with an appreciation of and respect for the environment. Our province is a place of many blessings, including landscapes that are both extremely productive and incredibly beautiful.

With the increasing demand for resources, felt from all corners of the globe, Alberta’s landscapes face increasing pressure for habitat protection, housing, recreation, jobs and economic growth. To address these pressures, Alberta is pioneering planning tools and new environmental management approaches that consider our province’s landscapes across entire regions.

The Land-use Framework will help promote environmental priorities alongside social and economic goals. Cumulative effects management, already being used in Alberta’s Industrial Heartland northeast of Edmonton, will be applied next to the oil sands area in conjunction with the Land-use Framework.

Alberta is pioneering planning tools and new environmental management approaches that consider our province’s landscapes across entire regions.

The Land-use Framework affects everything else in terms of planning in the province - including the soon-to-be-mentioned Plan for Parks. Right now, the framework is simply a Plan to start the process of making a Plan. Until it becomes more than that, it's something we can brag about without actually affecting anything other than paper consumption.

Among Albertans’ most cherished spaces are our province’s parks and protected areas. Like the rest of the province, these areas are also impacted by a growing population and increased use.
A new Plan for Parks will be introduced this year to ensure the long-term sustainability of our natural landscapes, enhance recreational opportunities and help to improve the quality of life for Albertans. We want to ensure that Alberta’s parks inspire people to discover, enjoy and value the natural world.

Our parks system suffers from a split personality - in many cases, we can't decide whether our provincial parks are supposed to be playgrounds for the public, or protected oases meant to preserve the natural beauty of this province and fragile animal habitat. Until we make that determination, we'll be spinning in circles while proposed new parks - like the Elbow Valley Provincial Park 30 minutes West of Calgary, which could be created by Order-In-Council later this week, if it were a priority - sit in limbo.

In 2003, Alberta’s Water for Life strategy became North America’s most comprehensive water management strategy. Five years later, this province has changed — more people, more buildings, more business, and more demands on our water resources.

The renewed Water for Life strategy addresses those changes and provides clear direction for addressing some of the water challenges facing our province. It will ensure that Alberta’s precious water resources are the focus of thoughtful, long-term planning and stewardship.

Insert "tailings pond" reference here.

Your government will redouble efforts to ensure that as we meet the needs of energy consumers here and around the world, we provide them with products that are made with environmental care. We will maintain a long-term focus to invest in clean, low carbon technology, reduce emissions from industry, and support energy-wise choices for consumers.

Alberta pioneered North America’s first regulatory system to reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions. Our system has already generated more than two and a half million tonnes of real reductions. But this is only a first step to regulate and reduce emissions.

We will continue to learn from our actions, adapt and grow. And we will continue to work with the federal government to support a cohesive national framework to limit greenhouse gas emissions and do our part as a responsible, sustainable North American energy leader.

Now, this statement evokes one of 2 reactions: Either hope, or a disdainful snort. I vote for option 1 - but I've always been more of a "hope" fan.

This spring, the Government of Alberta will introduce legislation to facilitate the development of technologies that will help not just Alberta, but countries around the world meet the challenge of climate change.

Your government will redouble efforts to ensure that as we meet the needs of energy consumers here and around the world, we provide them with products that are made with environmental care.

The Carbon Capture and Storage Implementation Act will establish a $2-billion investment in carbon capture and storage. Funding for between three and five projects will be announced this year, resulting in greenhouse gas emission reductions of up to five million tonnes annually in Alberta, the equivalent of taking a third of Alberta’s vehicles off the road.

Even more importantly, these initial projects will set the stage for technological developments that will make carbon capture and storage — real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions — possible in other jurisdictions, including those whose emissions are substantially larger than Alberta’s.

Capture and storage is important. Just as important, though, is being able to make USE of that carbon. In much the same way that "capture and storage" of our solid waste certainly beats the alternative, yet eventually we found it necessary to start re-using and recycling some of that waste, rather than just "storing" it at the local dump. A dual approach is preferable here.

Albertans want to do their part to conserve and be energy efficient. Your government will develop an energy efficiency policy framework to help Albertans be wise energy consumers. A consumer rebate program will be introduced to encourage individual actions and energy-wise decisions.

The freedom to create our own future and achieve our dreams so often rests on our enthusiasm for education.

This year, we will reach out to Albertans to explore their hopes, dreams and aspirations for their children, and learn how we can enable each child to reach his or her full potential. This conversation, called Inspiring Education, will create a long-term vision for K-12 education in Alberta and develop better ways to offer educational opportunities to our children.

Got to be careful, here... despite politically-motivated criticisms, Alberta's K-12 system is consistently ranked among the best in the world. Tinkering is okay, but drastic overhaul simply isn't needed.

Your government will help innovation flourish in Alberta. Our province’s international reputation is increasingly linked to our commitment to technology, as Alberta becomes known as one of the world’s preferred destinations for turning ideas into value-added products and services.

New technologies will set the pace of our competitive success, and will both harness and fuel our imaginations. We must be prepared to compete with and win against the best in the world when it comes to matching education, capital and ingenuity to make better products, solve bigger problems, and create a better quality of life.

The Alberta Research and Innovation Act, to be introduced this session, will strengthen and align the entire research and innovation system to help Alberta researchers and entrepreneurs, especially new entrepreneurs, better realize their potential as creators of world-class discoveries and products.

This sounds like it's been lifted straight out of Victor Doerksen's leadership platform. It was a good idea then, and it's still a good idea now.

As part of Alberta’s Action Plan for Bringing Technology to Market, entrepreneurs will have access to a new suite of innovation services this year, including more efforts to help spur new product development and match young talent with experienced technology development advisors.

A new connector service will help bring companies and international partners together with the many outstanding innovators and organizations in the province. And the Alberta Enterprise Corporation will encourage and leverage international investment.

Our new Campus Alberta philosophy will help nurture this culture of innovation by expanding young minds through our exceptional post-secondary institutions. A revised funding approach will better align resources with learner and labour market demand, focusing on areas that support Alberta’s strategic advantage and long-term plan to win in the next generation economy.

Mount Royal University and Grant MacEwan University will help with that, no doubt...

Alberta’s outstanding education system and trades and technology excellence will be showcased to the world at the September WorldSkills Competition in Calgary.

Alberta’s labour force has a long history of adapting to a changing business environment.
Working from the past success of the Building and Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce strategy, government will set the future direction for investing in our workforce. We will develop a long-term strategy that will look ahead, anticipate growth and take the steps needed to ensure that Alberta has the talents and skills to create value-added activity, increase innovation and expand and diversify the Alberta economy.

Diversify. Diversify diversify diversify. Do it now, do it right, and don't look back.

Your government is also committed to working with First Nations and M├ętis leaders on a government-to-government basis to increase labour market participation and economic opportunity.

This summer, the Government of Alberta, in partnership with Treaty Seven First Nations, will present a first-of-its-kind international symposium that will bring together Aboriginal and business communities to share and encourage indigenous economic development strategies.

The event, called Gathering For Success, will feature over 500 community, business and Aboriginal leaders and high-profile speakers from around the world.

Your government recognizes that Albertans want and deserve an excellent health care system that will be strong and sustainable for the future.

Alberta has developed a forward-looking, five-part plan for health called Vision 2020. This plan is about meeting the needs of individual patients, their families and communities, in a way that recognizes the role of all Albertans in maintaining their health, and improving the way health services are organized, delivered and used.

Oh-oh... they used the word "delivered" in reference to health. That sound you hear is the Friends of Medicare and Brian Mason building up a righteous froth.

Under Vision 2020, a Primary Health Care Strategy will be introduced to promote the use of interdisciplinary health teams and more flexible workforce arrangements. The strategy will also focus on recruitment and retention of the health workforce needed to deliver high quality and accessible care.

Rural health care will be enhanced through the integration of ambulance and emergency medical services with other parts of the provincial health system, effective April 1, 2009. This will result in improved access to high quality care in rural areas.

In De Winton? Absolutely. But what "big city" is High Level going to piggy-back onto?

Your government will pursue a three-year action plan on children’s mental health — a partnership among government, schools and communities that will support services and resources for optimal mental health and well-being.

A new Drug Programs Benefit Act will be introduced during this session to support the Alberta Pharmaceutical Strategy. It will make drug coverage more accessible and affordable for lower-income Alberta seniors and other vulnerable persons.

VERY good - if this doesn't mean that those of us who aren't considered "vulnerable" are in fact paying MORE.

The Public Health Amendment Act, also to be introduced this session, will lay a solid foundation for improving public health by strengthening the role and authority of the Chief Medical Officer of Health in protecting and promoting Albertans’ health.

A Health Research Strategy will be developed and implemented to guide Alberta’s investment in health research, and ensure that research focuses on innovation and improving health service efficiency and effectiveness.

Alberta is made up of vibrant, inclusive communities: places of opportunity, culture and belonging, where families and children are supported, where the vulnerable are cared for, and where people feel safe.

Strong and sustainable municipalities are a key ingredient of strong communities.

To foster strong communities throughout the province, your government will provide significant funding to Alberta municipalities through programs like the Municipal Sustainability Initiative.

Nurturing a culture of creativity and inclusiveness in our province will give Albertans the edge we need to remain competitive with other jurisdictions in Canada and around the world — for residents and visitors alike.

Last year, Alberta hosted its first ever Arts Day, with events held in communities across the province to celebrate the arts in all its forms. This year, the celebration will be expanded to a three-day event called "Arts Days," between September 18 and 20. A province-wide campaign will also be launched to promote Alberta’s creativity and artistic excellence.

I suspect DJ Kelly will have more to say about this - but if our Arts are how we define ourselves as a people, then an increased focus on them can only be a good thing. Kudos to Minister Blackett for this announcement.

Your government will support children and families through improvements in high quality, accessible and affordable child care options.

The Government of Alberta has made a commitment to support the creation of 14,000 new child care spaces in our province by 2011, and it is well on the way to reaching that goal. More than 5500 spaces have been created so far.

This year, accreditation will be extended to out-of-school child care programs to raise the standard of care these programs provide. Accreditation will provide operators with access to grants and wage top-ups to help recruit, retain and develop staff. It will also help families find quality care for their school-aged children.

This is something that will help the space crunch, which is good. Now, how do we keep this affordable enough that people can actually make USE of these spaces?

Your government recognizes that economic uncertainty is putting pressure on Albertans, and some are worried about their futures. We will be there to help Albertans through tough times.
Alberta will deliver on its commitment to develop 11,000 affordable housing units by providing capital funding assistance to municipalities, non-profit organizations and the private sector. With more than 5600 affordable housing units supported since 2007, we are on track to meet this goal.

Alberta Works programs provide a hand up to employment, and these programs will become both more visible and more important in the year ahead. People with barriers to employment will receive information, advice and assistance.

People facing layoffs will receive help in identifying their options, looking for work, or moving into other careers. People wanting to take occupational upgrading will get help to learn new skills for a changing workforce. And new Albertans will be supported as they settle into community life and move into the workforce.

This is hidden near the end of the speech, but may be one of the biggest announcements, going forward. How well we weather this economic storm will be determined by the world price for crude oil, which we cannot control - and by how well we retrain and re-deploy our workforce, which we CAN control.

Your government recognizes and appreciates the contributions seniors have made, and continue to make, to our province. Alberta will ensure that seniors who need support, persons with disabilities, and others who are vulnerable or in need, are well cared for.

Alberta will continue to pursue its new Continuing Care Strategy to help Albertans to age in the right place by increasing access to home care and providing more choice in supportive living options. It will upgrade the physical and functional condition of long-term care facilities. We are committed to improving quality, supply and client choice in the continuing care system.
This session, the Supportive Living Accommodation Licensing Act will be introduced. This updated legislation will improve the quality of care and monitoring of standards in supportive living facilities.

The Protection for Persons in Care Amendment Act will also be introduced to better protect adults who receive care and support services from government-funded agencies from abuse by improving prevention, monitoring, and follow-up when abuse has been reported.

Albertans value the tremendous sacrifices Canadian military personnel make to protect our freedoms. Along with leaving family and friends when they are called into active service, those in the reserves also leave their civilian jobs. Your government believes those who defend our security should have job security, so they can continue to support their families.

In order to ensure that Alberta reservists are properly protected under the Employment Standards Code, the government will introduce the Employment Standards Amendment Act to provide job-protected leave. The legislation would require the reinstatement of a reservist into the position he or she held prior to the leave or into a comparable position.

Well, this is going to be Bill 1. It's really hard, as an opposition MLA, to look into the camera and say "yeah, but we don't believe reservists on a battle rotation should be guaranteed of a way to provide for their families upon their return". This one is a slam dunk.

The Government of Alberta will push forward on its commitment to strong communities. We will continue to advance initiatives that respond to and build on the recommendations of the Safe Communities Task Force.

In the year ahead, Safe Communities initiatives will focus on families in crisis, mental health services, immigrant support programs and addiction and recovery projects.

A new framework for law enforcement will be developed to ensure equitable police funding across the province; improve service delivery; and enhance police governance. Negotiations with the federal government will continue to ensure that the RCMP remains our provincial police service.

Well, there goes THAT particular make-work project...

Your government is taking a hard look at the impact organized crime is having on Alberta, including the tremendous pressure it puts on the police and the courts. Alberta will host a gang summit this year to address the problem of gangs and gang activity and the impact on our justice system.

Your government will introduce a legislative package to disrupt and dismantle organized crime activity. It will include amendments to the Gaming and Liquor Act to give police another tool to help bar owners and staff deal with gang activity.

It will also consider tightening the rules around vehicle modification methods used by gang members, such as armour-plating and installing bullet-proof glass and surveillance cameras.

A key aspect of the work Alberta is doing requires changing legislation at a federal level. Alberta will continue to take the lead in advocating for changes to federal laws to ensure that those who commit serious crimes, including youth, do serious time.

Because, as we all know, Alberta kicking up a fuss about young offenders, in the current political climate in Ottawa, will DEFINITELY give the feds a reason to tick off Quebec with "draconian attacks against children gone awry".

These are certainly challenging times, but Albertans can — and should — face the future with confidence.

Your government remains committed to implementing its plan to support a bright and prosperous future. That plan builds on the steps Albertans and their government have already taken to put our province on a sound footing.

It’s a plan that goes beyond weathering the current global economic storm, to build a springboard to sustainable, diversified long-term growth.

It’s a plan for education and employment, public health, strong communities, and a culture of innovation.

It is a plan that will position Alberta as a committed partner in providing consumers here in Canada and around the world with the energy they need, while respecting the environmental values we all share.

Your government will undertake these actions, knowing that even in tough times — especially in tough times — it is essential to keep investing in our province and its future. We must continue to welcome people to Alberta to pursue their dreams, and build our communities. We must continue to share Alberta’s story with people all over the world.

Government must do these things, all the while recognizing that its role, while important, is limited. As always, the real authors of our province’s success — those who will carry our province forward to an even greater future — are hard-working and innovative Albertans.
It is Alberta’s people that make our province unique. People who are dynamic and genuine, optimistic and open-minded. People who share the freedom to create, and the spirit to achieve.

It is Albertans who have made our province great. And together we will continue to build our province for those who will inherit this land that we love.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, and may God bless you all.

God bless Alberta. God bless Canada. God save the Queen.

Overall, I see a lot to like in the government's upcoming legislative agenda. There are areas that we can improve - and hopefully, by having reasonable discussions in the public sphere and the blogosphere, we can urge our representatives to consider some of those improvements. But, overall, a "steady as she goes" Throne Speech from a government that is trying to walk that thin line between "reacting to the crisis" and "OVER-reacting to the crisis".

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Evolution of "Write a Letter to Your MLA"

Nation, those of you who can't get through a day without reading my humble little blog (do I have any other kind of devotees than rabid?) will recall a piece from a few weeks back about the debut of the Alberta PC caucus' shiny, new "". In it, I mentioned the possibility of a "Discussion" feature being added.

Well, guess what's been added?

That's right... as even more proof that the reach of The Enlightened Savage extends into the halls of power in Edmonton, sure enough now includes a "Discussion" feature. And while the discussion itself is a little thin right now, I expect that with the Throne Speech, and an impending budget, things are going to start humming over there quite soon.

It's important for people to make themselves heard to their elected officials - and even moreso if those officials are part of the governing party. There's a feeling among some that their comments are largely ignored - that might be, depending on the type of MLA you have in your riding. I can guarantee you, though, that EVERY MLA, from EVERY party, ignores 100% of the correspondence that they don't receive.

So, this new feature on the Tory caucus website is going to make it easier to have a conversation, not just with the caucus itself but also with other Albertans. Provided that all users follow the rules as set out on the website, it should make for some very interesting discussion. I've heard from some that the rules are somewhat heavy-handed, but one only has to go as far as some of the political messageboards in Alberta to see what can happen if the expectations for what constitutes "respectful dialogue" aren't made CRYSTAL CLEAR. The object of this feature on the website isn't to make one's self a messageboard celebrity - it's to help shape a better province through respectful conversation and debate, in full view of the public and the caucus that turns "ideas" into "laws".

As far as the other parties go, this feature - or anything remotely like it - is utterly unavailable on the Liberal caucus website. The NDP site allows comments and discussion on individual news items - which I understand may be coming to the Tory website soon as well.

In all, it's an exciting time to be a politically-minded or involved person in Alberta these days. There are some great, and very important, discussions that we need to be having as a populace. Congratulations to the Tories (and to the NDP) for giving us a forum where we can have those conversations with each other, and with our elected leaders.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Leadership versus Politics

Nation, politics is a game.

Every blogger knows this. It's why we take the cheap little shots at each other on Twitter or Facebook, we make snarky comments about the other guy's party leader, and then we all sit down cordially and have a beer together (well, or we WOULD, if people knew our true identities).

The current economic climate, though, is far too dire to allow the usual "game playing" to go on unabated. Our usual bait-and-whammy tactics; the "criticize at all costs, yet commit to nothing" approach of opposition parties; all of it is, at this point, meaningless. It's akin to debating the merits of the 2-point convert while there's a player laying on the field with a possibly broken neck. We've got far, FAR more important things to do than talk about the "game". Real lives are being affected.

So, what's my point? Shut the blogs down? Turn off the cameras and put all the elected folks in a room until they solve this crisis?


First of all, we NEED the blogs, now more than ever. "Real" capital-M Media companies are cutting just like every OTHER business sector in the country right now, and there are fewer people, beholden to more, supplying the "newsworthy items" to the masses. Blogs can help to pick up that slack - but there's a catch. Bloggers are going to have to, as a whole, step up their game a few notches.

Now, there are some bloggers out there already who do a marvelous job at this (I'm looking at you, young Mr. Chapman) - Bloggers who talk about issues, ask questions, and offer potential solutions while trying to stay as above the partisan fray as possible. However, as a group we become somewhat too entrenched in our partisan habits to do a lot of good sometimes. We're too interested in scoring cheap points, or digging up old quotes to make a politician look like an idiot because we disagree with their position. This is not the time to make fun of John Baird's hair, OR to make fun of John Baird's opinions. THIS is a time when we, as Bloggers, can help to shape public opinion by putting forward real, tangible suggestions about the issues, and let the public force John Baird through their applied political will to MAKE those changes. At the end of the day, do you want better public transit, or do you want to be the Blogger who "schooled John Baird"?

There's one group, though, who needs to step up their game even further. And it's the politicians themselves.

If there's anyone out there who lives and breathes politics more than your average political Blogger, it's your average elected politician. They live it and breathe it because they LOVE the parry-and-thrust, because it's what pays the bills, or both. As such, it generally doesn't take very long for your typical first-term elected MLA, MPP or MP to become the stereotypical, heckling, spin-doctoring government hack/opposition attack dog. Let's remember, the object is to make the other guy look bad, and to make yourself look good - this is one of the only jobs in the world that you have to re-apply for every 3 to 4 years.

This old "wipe 'em out" mentality that so many of our elected officials show, however, is long past its expiry date given our current precarious fiscal situation. In a time when our politicians should be LEADERS, they're still stuck in the mind-set that they have to be POLITICIANS - don't answer the question, spin it into an attack on your opponent's record, and get out of the scrum without messing up your hair. They're so busy trying to position themselves for the next election, they forget that they're actually being paid a pretty reasonable salary by the people of this country or province to actually do some substantive work to make the day-to-day lives of citizens BETTER.

And that doesn't just go for the governing parties and their members, either... in fact, it's even MORE obvious a lot of the time when you listen to opposition politicians attacking the government that their object isn't to turn the government towards the people, it's to turn the people AGAINST the government. Jack Layton isn't trying to get Stephen Harper to change his policies to improve the lives of the people sitting around Jack's imaginary "kitchen tables" - he's trying to get the people around those tables to repeat his new mantra: "Stephen Harper doesn't care about me, the only job he's interested in saving is his own, and he's attacking women's rights to equal pay". In Jack's mind, the only way things can get better in this country is to get Stephen Harper out of office, and Jack Layton INTO office.

But what then? Where are Jack's ideas for what's to be done to fix our current mess?

And I don't mean your usual opposition garbage...

"What will you do if put into office? What will be your first task?"

"We're going to undo the damage that this Prime Minister has caused to the country..."

"But what, specifically?"

"We're going to focus on stablizing the economy."

"Through what means?"

"By undoing the damage caused by years of Tory mismanagement."

You can certainly understand why many full-time political reporters constantly look like they'd rather be going home to Peggy Bundy than showing up to work every day. The long-and-short of this is, though, that opposition politicians who steer away from the specifics of a plan to FIX something as crucial as the economy do it for one of a very limited number of reasons:

  1. They've got no idea whatsoever how to fix things, but still want to score points against the other side,
  2. They think they know how to fix things, but don't want the other side to ACTUALLY fix things using their idea, because then they'll never get elected to govern,
  3. They think that if they stay vague, and wear a knowing, grim visage in front of the cameras, people will get desperate enough to vote them in, plan un-seen, and then if things get better on their own they'll seem like geniuses.

Nation, this is simply NOT the time to be playing the game of politics when what we need as Canadians is actual, honest-to-goodness LEADERSHIP on these issues. If an opposition party has a good idea about something that can help to stabilize things, then as a taxpayer - and hence, as their boss - I don't think I'm out of line in insisting that they share that idea with the governing party, which can actually implement those changes. Likewise, the governing party simply HAS to give the idea due consideration, regardless of where it fits on the "political dogma" spectrum. Failure to do so is a failure to do the job for which I, and you, and the guy down the block, is paying them.

The only way we're going to get out of this in one piece is if smart people of all political stripes and all walks of life come together and put us on the right track, instead of the "politically expedient" track. NOBODY won a mandate in the last federal election to screw up the economy in the name of political ideology.

That goes to provincial politicians, as well... here in Alberta, we spend 1 of every 3 dollars on health care, and yet when you hear an exchange between an opposition politician and the Minister of Health, rather than respectful, detailed suggestions and tempered, considerate replies, it sounds like a couple of 3rd-graders on a schoolyard. There's heckling so bad that the newly-elected leader of the Alberta Liberals and the Premier actually saw a need to make a gentlemen's agreement to have their caucuses tone it down - don't get me wrong, it's not as bad as the British Parliament, but it's still nothing you'd want your kids emulating.

It's no wonder so many people look down their noses at politicians - and I've got be honest, here - I'm getting more than a little sick of that fact.

  • People don't vote, because they think all politicians are just interested in cashing their paycheque and acting like children.
  • People don't take an interest in politics, because for every issue they're presented with 3, 4, or 5 completely different sets of "indisputable facts" by the parties and special interest groups, complete with their own economists, legal experts, studies, polls and scientists - and then expected to come up with some sort of "informed opinion".
  • You need to speak fluent bullcrap to understand what's being said on CPAC half the time.
  • The CBC and CTV political shows are almost exclusively spinspinspinspinspin.
  • The closest thing to a sane political opinion we see on our airwaves is actually preceded on screen with the title "Rant".
  • I tell people I want to someday serve as an elected official provincially, and they look at me like I just admitted to smothering kittens in my free time.

The problem isn't with the public... these problems are coming from the politicians themselves. They're so busy, most of them, being politicians that they can't stop, take a deep breath, and occasionally, even once in a while, do the right thing and be LEADERS for us.

We need better.

Hugh MacDonald worked in the oil & gas sector, and has been a small business owner. Why can't he contribute meaningfully to the discussion, and make a suggestion that Mel Knight or Hector Goudreau can implement, for the betterment of all Albertans? Is it because Hugh's too busy trying to dig up scandal in the PC government, because he's too focused on his NEXT job to do his CURRENT one? Is it because Mel and Hector wouldn't return his calls, even if he MADE them? Or is it both?

Libby Davies has expertise in trying to help get low-income and unemployed people back on their feet. Why can't she be making substantive suggestions to Diane Finley, instead of attacking Stephen Harper for wearing a blue sweater vest on television? And if she IS calling Finley with suggestions, and they're GOOD suggestions, why aren't they being implemented?

Folks... THIS is the environment in which the wheat is seperated from the chaff. We see who of these elected officials, pulling in six-figure (or very near to six figure) salaries is actually one of our LEADERS, and who is just one of the multitude of namesless, faceless POLITICIANS whose one and only job seems to be "get elected, stay elected, don't screw up our party's chance of getting more seats next time".

We have a lot of elected officials in Alberta making suggestions, from all sides of the aisle, on how to make our world a better place. People like Jonathan Denis, Kent Hehr, Heather Forsyth and Harry Chase all advocate in specific terms, going so far in some cases as to bring private member's bills forward, for things that will improve the standard of living and quality of life for all Albertans - not just cravenly attacking their political opponents trying to win re-election in 2012. None of them are cabinet ministers. 2 of them are opposition members, and not technically "government" at all. But they're all acting like LEADERS. We need more Leaders like those 4, at ALL levels of government.

The old-world, win-at-all-costs style of politics is still alive. It's still alive, because it WORKS. There are hundreds of people across this country drawing paycheques from the public treasury because of that. But we as a society need to start demanding more, and better, of those people whom we elect, and PAY, to represent us.

Consider your city, your town, your province, or this country as a corporation. There's income, and there are expenses, and important decisions to be made that affect both. You, dear reader, are the shareholder. And your elected officials sit as members of the Board of Directors. Now, that board is going to have factions that want to expand. It's going to have factions that want to merge with another company. It's going to have factions that want to cut jobs to keep the company in the black. And so on and so forth. At the end of the day, however, that board is making decisions that in a very real way affect the value of your stock holdings. And if the members of that board are so focused on internal politicking, and getting "their guy" elected as Chairperson that they neglect to properly manage the company, and the value of your stocks begins to drop... well then, that board has some explaining to do, doesn't it?

Demand better, Nation. Demand Leadership. Politics as usual isn't good enough anymore.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


Just a quick welcome to those who are now "Following" me on Blogger (which I hope is far less insidious than it sounds) and also to the new occupants of the "E.S. Recommends" gadget on the right -hand side of your screen, a few inches down.

I'm not sure why, but Blogger seems to think Ken Chapman hasn't updated his blog in about a year. TRUST me - he's updating it. Don't let the gadget tell you otherwise.

- E.S.

From the "Talking Points in Need of Revision" File...

Remember all the charter members of the H.A.S. (Harper As Satan) movement who were insisting that Harper and the Tories were absolutely CRIPPLING Canada's International Reputation due to their stance on (insert your own pet issue here)?


Turns out we've got the second-best reputation in the world, overall, with 57% saying Canada has a "Mainly Positive" influence on the world (Germany is first, with 61%). The United States was seen by 40% as having a Mainly Positive influence, and by 43% as having a Mainly Negative influence - and the poll, folks, was taken AFTER Obama was elected (but, admittedly, before he took office).

Now, Liberals will point out, and I agree completely, that a reputation isn't built in a week, or a year, and that much of Canada's international reputation was built under the stewardship of Liberal federal governments. However, you can't pat yourself on the back with HALF of a truism, and ignore the other half.

"A reputation takes a lifetime to build, and a moment to ruin."

Guess our Stephen isn't the international pariah that so many of his critics wish he was, or claim that he is. He's had 3 years plus a day as Prime Minister - and our international reputation is still the envy of every country on Earth that doesn't hold an Oktoberfest. Wait until they realize that, on most substantive policy issues, he's to the LEFT of Obama...

p.s. In case anyone's forgotten - I really, really don't like writing stuff like this - I'm not a "Harper fan". But facts are facts, and the critics are wrong on Harper in this instance (the same way the Tories are wrong on Climate Change being "junk science" - see what I did there?)...