Friday, October 30, 2009

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

Dear Brian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- E.S.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

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

Dear David:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 24, 2009

[knock] [knock] Housekeeping!

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2009

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

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

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

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

Dear Ed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- E.S.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

WCB Drama in Edmonton

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

Tune into your local media for details.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dear Public Sector Unions: You're Not Helping.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wildrose Alliance will get elected to govern.

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

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

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Way Forward - Premier Ed Stelmach's address

Good evening and thanks for joining me tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

There are four points to our economic recovery plan:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for joining me tonight.

You're Welcome...

... for the talking points, Bronco.

Does this mean I get to use the fancy gym?

- E.S.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Giving Thanks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks, Nation.

See you Tuesday.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Perfecting Alberta, Part 7: Democratic Reform

Nation, we've gotten some good comments on these posts. Before I go back to tilting against the windmills of inadequacy that are so symbolic of some of our elected officials, though, I want to make sure that everyone has carefully gone over the previous 6 entries in this series.

Especially curious, to me, is the fact that in the midst of an economic slowdown and rock-bottom natural gas prices, resulting in big government cut-backs, not one single comment has been posted on the Economics/Industry post. Interesting.

The last item on my initial "to discuss" list was, arguably, one of the most important: Democratic reform. It's one of the only issues that can give birth to new political parties, all on its own, in this province (Reform federally, Wildrose Party provincially). We've got voter turn-outs at ridiculous lows - which has as much to do with what and for whom we're asking people to vote than it does with the system or with voter malaise. If they're not voting, then it's OUR job - as the politerati - to figure out why, and FIX it.

Even a total overhaul of our system won't necessarily result in better results, or higher voter turn-out... but at this point, it can't really HURT, can it?

Items that spring to mind right away when we talk democratic reform in this province include, but are not necessarily limited to:

  • Fixed election dates
  • Synchronized elections (Municipal and Provincial on the same date)
  • Recall of elected officials
  • Term limits
  • (Re-)institution of a Provincial Senate (to balance regional concerns)
  • Rules regarding donations
  • On-line voting
  • Multiple-day elections
  • Lobbyist rules
  • Size of the Legislative Assembly
  • First-Past-the-Post versus Proportional representation
  • Mandatory voting
  • Public funding of candidates and parties

It's up to you, Nation... fix the system. How do we rule our rulers? How do we even CHOOSE our rulers? In the Perfect Alberta, how do you propose we go about this fragile construct that we call "democracy"?

Discuss... now.

- E.S.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Perfecting Alberta, Part 6: Environment

Nation, people like to fight about the Environment. I'm not sure WHY - it's something we all share in common, after all. But for whatever reason, we feel somehow compelled to either default to "planet-raping money lover" or "tree-hugging hippie".

The reality is, most of us fall somewhere in the middle. Unless we're talking to someone who disagrees with us.

The one thing we CAN'T dispute, though, is that the environment in Alberta is a huge asset to Alberta's people, both economically and from a quality of life viewpoint.

The land provides us oil, but it also brings forth crops, and a place for our kids to play. The air can power our turbines, but it also lets us breathe. Water can power our homes, and clean our dishes, host our fish, feed our cattle, keep our crops alive... but we also have to drink it, and have it be clean, just to stay alive.

We recreate in our Parks. We hunt on forest lands. We camp. We log. We farm. We try to preserve the sanctity of our watersheds, whilst also loving the thrill of riding a quad through a big mud bog.

We're a study in contrasts, we Albertans.

However, we're not talking about the Alberta of today. We're talking about the PERFECT Alberta, and how the people of that place deal with their environment. From tailing ponds to fishing ponds, from game trails to bike trails. National Parks, Provincial Parks, and City Parks.

So, Nation, you make the call: How does the Perfect Alberta deal with its environment?

Everything's an option, from higher density housing to emissions controls to carbon taxes to composting to increased provincial parks. Recycling and garbage. Building limitations to rainfall water collection to roof-top gardens to tax credits for ari-forming you lawn. Water treatment, hydro-electric power, hunting, fishing, ranching and farming (ranchers and farmers, by the way, are some of the best stewards of the land you'll find).

We love our environment, but we need a healthy economy. A healthy economy at the expense of a healthy environment, though, leaves us all wealthy and sick. Where's the happy medium? Where's the perfect balance?

No pressure, Nation. ;)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Perfecting Alberta, Part 5: Infrastructure

Nation, whether you're driving to your local health centre or just surfing the internet, the common thread that binds us all together is public infrastructure. Roads, schools, hospitals, the Supernet, LRT, public parks, public buildings... all of them built by our tax dollars, for the use of all.

It's no secret that we in the Alberta of the present are suffering from a significant deficit in public infrastructure. We have buildings in desperate need of repair, we have ring roads that need completion, and we have a need for a high-speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary (or DO we?). We need hockey rinks, community centres, and cultural spaces for the arts.

There's a lot to build. And of course, it all costs money. But, is there a way we can be managing our infrastructure BETTER? Is there a way we can better plan our cities, and better connect our citizens to one another?

One interesting idea I've heard that I'm hoping someone can touch on is the "multiple cores" idea, where in addition to your traditional "Downtown" area, you have a secondary urban core elsewhere in the city - a high concentration of office spaces, cultural spaces, and services that helps alleviate some of the pressure from the infrastructure of the Downtown core - good-bye, rush hour on MacLeod Trail into Downtown, hel-lo leisurely drive to the Sundance Commercial and Office Core.

So, I put it to you: How do we plan, build, and maintain the infrastructure of the Perfect Alberta? P3's? Full private? Full public? Toll roads and bridges? Sell naming rights?

It's all up to you, Nation. Build a province your grandchildren can be proud to call home. :)