Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Guest Blogger Kirk Schmidt on On-line Voting

Nation, from time-to-time it may become necessary to have someone else cover issues on this blog as their expertise dictates. Certainly, in the case of on-line voting, it's a much better idea to have someone who understands the technology involved to give their opinion than it is to have an Enlightened Savage who can just BARELY handle html try to tell you what is and isn't possible on the cutting edge of technology.

Today, we're going to hear from former candidate for the Parliament of Canada Mr. Kirk Schmidt. His text begins... now.

[this post has been updated, and is available at this link]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Proportional Response

Nation, the detractors of the Stelmach government in Alberta have been positively giddy over these past few weeks, with public miscues and sensationalistic headlines dominating the papers and the blogs.

From children-in-care committing horrifying acts (some writers, I suspect, had to stop themselves from grinning, so eager were they to take another shot at Minister Tarchuk) to continuing criticism of Bill 44 (rightfully so, in my opinion) to the past week's hullabaloo over remarks made by Minister Evans and Edmonton-Calder MLA Doug Elniski, critics of the Progressive Conservatives have found themselves in what could be described as a "target-rich environment".

Children committing murder is absolutely horrifying. The fact that there are pundits and politicos out there trying to turn it into a political issue is beyond heinous. The desire to find answers, to discover WHY something so tragic and needless happened is understandably strong. But for those with only partial information to jump immediately to a conclusion based more on personal political bias than actual evidence is intellectually lazy. We don't know WHY these children killed. To blame Janis Tarchuk, or her department, for the acts of a few extremely disturbed children at this point (all for political gain) is as ridiculous as if you were to hypothesize, based on the Lyle and Erik Menendez case, that all people who saw Michael Keaton as Batman went on to commit patricide, and so obviously the fault for those deaths rests squarely on Warner Brothers and Tim Burton.

WHY this happened is unclear. I'm just one voice, but here's a crazy idea: Before we start talking like these kids were all staying in Janis' basement in Cochrane, listening to her records backwards, why don't we - just for a lark - actually INVESTIGATE what happened? I'm a little old-fashioned that way, admittedly.

SPEAKING of old-fashioned... let's talk about what Iris Evans said last week. Everyone's entitled to their interpretation, and I'm sure I'll get the standard NDP and Liberal party lines showing up in this post's "comments" section, which I'll be happy to post (I've rejected fewer than a dozen comments in just about 3 years, most of them due to offensive language). When *I* first read Evans' comments, I thought she was making a comment about her own family. When she talked about "we", she was talking about her community. As Iris Evans, wife and mother and grandmother. Not as "Iris Evans, official spokesperson for the government and people of Alberta". Or, at least, that's how I think SHE thought of herself at that moment.

There is, however, a time and place to speak as an individual, and a time and place to speak as an employee of the Government of Alberta. AS an employee of that same government, I know this all too well: There are many times when my personal opinion on an issue is in stark contrast to government policy within my department. When the rubber hits the road, though, I have to use this general rule of thumb: If I'm speaking, and I'll get a paycheque for this time with the Alberta Government logo on it at the end of the month, then their opinion is the one that comes out of my mouth.

I imagine, should I be fortunate to sit as an MLA in the future, that personal rule will change somewhat to reflect the reality that I'd be getting paid to represent not the government per se, but rather specifically the people of the riding that elected me to represent them - so, OFF-THE-CLOCK, the opinions I express can be my own. ON the clock, however, a big part of my job is swallowing my own opinions in order to convey the message that my boss(es) tell me to.

Now, I'm a little unclear as to why, exactly, Iris Evans was at the meeting where this whole mess began. If she was invited to speak by organizers and was going to be paid directly by them, then she can say whatever the hell she pleases. If, in the Evans house, they call cribbage "backgammon", then she's perfectly within her rights to say so if she's speaking at a function as Iris Evans.

If, however, she was at that luncheon speaking as a representative of the government - and, therefore, the PEOPLE - of Alberta, then she made a big mistake in using that platform to express a personal opinion that, quite frankly, many people don't happen to agree with.

For the record: My mother stayed home with us until her youngest was in Grade One, and then she re-entered the workforce, because that's what she thought was best for us. I agree, it was what was best for US - for our particular family, and the particular children involved. Your circumstances are your own - and what is best for you and your kids is your own business, not mine or the government's.

If you listened quietly to the uproar from the Opposition parties following the Evans comments, you can hear almost a tinge of regret. Admittedly, they're massaging and spinning the heck out of this - and good on 'em. Kudos to their communications teams. However, you detect a hint of regret from them that the comments came from a FEMALE cabinet member... I'm sure they had press releases saved in the "just in case" folder decrying "Minister (fill in the blank) is a sexist and misogynist and this attitude pervades the Tory caucus", and instead they lost the ability to call Evans a sexist and misogynist, and instead have to sadly shake their heads for the cameras since Iris is so brutally and obviously backwards...

Just like my mother was.

And hundreds of thousands of other mothers in this province. And hundreds of thousands more who WANT to stay home with the kids, but can't afford to.

If Evans was waxing philosophical about her personal views on the company dime, that was wrong of her. But to attack her for her views is wrong on the part of the opposition - their focus should be whether she was representing the people of this province and went off-script into personal opinion. Her message, whether the Liberals or New Democrats like to hear it or not, is one that resonates with a LOT of people - and by attacking it, rather than the circumstances under which it was delivered, they're attacking a group that (minority opinion or not) deserves respect, not ridicule.

The response to the Evans comments was nearly instantaneous... the response, though, to Doug Elniski's comments has been absolutely contrived to draw them out and keep them in the media cycle (again, to the credit of the opposition communications teams). He made his tweets from the Pride event in Edmonton on June 13th... this "Twitter" thingy delivered the comments straight to my computer, eliciting a "yikes! Doug - what are you THINKING!?!" response from yours truly. Both of those things happened on June 13th. BEFORE the Iris Evans speech. The media and blogger outcry to the comment, which was public domain, began a full WEEK LATER, AFTER the Evans statements made headlines, when a special interest group decided that it had been offended, and sent out e-mail notices to bloggers and media. At which point it became "Elniski season", and his blog and tweets were gone over with a fine-toothed comb for any other potentially embarrassing statements - of which there were at least a few.

Now, full disclosure: I've met Doug Elniski. Not that he knows it, but I have. I *like* Doug Elniski. Doug Elniski is not a caveman, a woman hater, a pervert, or a homophobe.

What Doug IS is a man who, like many (perhaps MOST?) men, tries to be funnier than he's sometimes capable of being. In MY position, people just shake their heads and walk away. In YOUR position, they probably do the same. But, when you're an MLA - it's like a smorgasbord of "inappropriate comments and behaviour" for the people who are trying to take your job.

Now, once again (as above with Iris) I don't want to spend a whole tonne of time on Elniski's comments - he's apologized for making them, and I don't believe he feels the way he's been characterized and vilified in the media as feeling and thinking. I honestly believe he was trying to be funny, and missed the mark.

Where Doug's BIG mistake was - he made these tweets, blog posts, and comments in his capacity as an MLA. Once again, as with the Evans situation: If Elniski said these things over a beer with a friend, or in an email to a cousin, or to his High School Reunion class, the story would be over. But his blog and his Twitter account both have "MLA" right there in the name... it's understood that what he says, on either, is coming not from Doug Elniski, private citizen, but from Doug Elniski, MLA. He exercised poor judgement, he got raked over the coals for it, and he's ready to move on. Like the co-worker who tries to be funny, makes an inappropriate joke, gets yelled at by the boss and gets sent to a mandatory "sensitivity training seminar". I suggest that we let him move on... and here's why.

Because we're going to have to get used to the idea that the politicians and others who serve us (the people), are going to eventually embrace this "social media" thing if they feel it's worthwhile. And the ability to actually SPEAK with your representative, rather than mailing a letter and getting a form letter back from their constituency assistant, is a fantastic advance made possible by this medium. If we expect them to consider Social Media a worthwhile risk, we have to be willing to forgive some mis-steps in the name of the learning curve.

Put another way: If Doug Elniski loses his job over Twitter and a blog, how likely do you think it is that we'll see more politicians using either?

How likely do you think it is that we'll see politicians bailing on Social Media like rats off a sinking ship?

If they disengage from the masses so as to avoid being "Elniski'd" by their opponents, then any advances we've made in these past few years in trying to re-connect the people with their elected representatives will have been lost.

If the people of Edmonton-Calder decide to toss Elniski out on his rear end because they've decided, after 4 years, that he's not their cup of tea, then that's politics. But the current frenzy, by non-constituents, over his tweets and his blog and his speeches and something he said in line at a Mr. Sub and a note a dry-cleaner found in his pocket - this is all contrived, artificial rage being gleefully drummed up for partisan reasons because the man sits in an "in-play" riding, and his opponents smell blood in the Tory waters.

Doug made a mistake. Not out of malice, but out of ignorance. He learned from it. And if we don't want to lose Social Media access to our politicians altogether - if it's not too late already - I think we need to move past this, no matter what our political stripe, for the greater good - instead of crucifying this man in the name of party politics, and costing ourselves a chance at truly responsive and engaged representation and governance.

... or should we start hiring party staff to catalogue drunken text messages sent by the respective parties' Youth members at conventions, just in case they end up as MLA's someday? Keep them on-file in case the "wrong" person wins election, and then try to compel them to resign mid-term?

Wow. If this is where we're heading, maybe I DON'T want to run for office someday...

Friday, June 19, 2009

One (Glen)more Time!

With the resignation of Ron Stevens as MLA for Calgary-Glenmore, anticipation is building among bloggers, politicos running the gamut from wannabe to has-been, and supporters of all stripes in the City of Calgary. The recent stamping out of a potential summer federal election means that this by-election, likely to be scheduled for late autumn, may be the only outlet for partisan rancour for the foreseeable future.

With that in mind, I thought I'd take a quick look at the riding, the candidates both confirmed and rumoured, and the by-election itself.

Calgary-Glenmore has been an active constituency in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta since 1959, when "social media" was something they were hoping could be cured with penicillin. In that time, it has been represented by 4 Progressive Conservative MLA's (one of whom, Ernest Watkins, was Leader of the Progressive Conservatives for a period of a few years) and one member, Bill Dickie, who served as a Liberal for 6 years before crossing the floor to join a tiny, 6-member Official Opposition under Peter Lougheed's PC banner (things got substantially more comfortable for Dickie from 1971 to 1975, when he stepped aside).

Until the by-election is held and the new MLA sworn in, Jonathan Denis, MLA for Calgary-Egmont (and most definitely NOT the Enlightened Savage) will be representing the constituents of Glenmore.

44% of the riding's voters are over the age of 45 years. 46% of the riding's residents were born in the province of Alberta. 77% of the homes in the riding are occupied by the owners, and the average home value is $348,000. Only 16% of the homes in Glenmore are less than 30 years old. 43% of voters have completed Post-Secondary education, with the lion's share of those being in architecture, engineering, business, management, and administration. Average household income is $96,000. To whit: Your average Glenmore resident is middle-aged, educated, was born somewhere else but chooses to live in Glenmore, gives a lot more orders than s/he takes while on the job, and lives in a nice, albeit older, home.

Now, some candidate talk...

Eric Carpendale has been announced as the NDP candidate in the Glenmore by-election. Curious, though, that some New Democrats have been complaining that there didn't seem to be any sort of nomination race or process - interesting tactics, for a party with "Democratic" right there in the name...

Corey Hogan, a young and well-connected Liberal workhorse, will be running for the Liberal nomination against perennial also-ran Avalon Roberts, in a race sure to stir up some good, cross-generational dialogue within the ranks of Liberal supporters in Glenmore ("So, they tell me you can talk to voters on this 'inter-webs' thingy... do I have to join in on the 'twooter' thingamajig?").

Diane Colley-Urquhart, Alderman for Ward 13 on Calgary's City Council, was acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate. Colley-Urquhart is by far the most well-known of the potential candidates, and has been a popular member of city council, with a reputation for being progressive socially and conservative fiscally - handy, considering the party she's representing, and the riding in which she's running.

Paul Hinman is the only declared candidate for the Wildrose Alliance Party. Hinman is the former MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner, and former leader of the Wildrose Alliance - which might not give him huge name or face recognition in the riding, but certainly makes him a recognized figure to the more politically involved within the riding. The WAP will be looking to capitalize on discontent with the PC's handling of the economy, the deficit budget, and energy royalties. The nomination deadline for the WAP nomination is June 23.

Premier Ed's "drop dead" date to order a by-election is November 19th - which doesn't mean that the by-election needs to HAPPEN by then, it just means that it needs to be SCHEDULED by then. My money's on October - if for no other reason than October's going to be a very busy month for me, and that's just my luck. The Premier is said to be willing to wait as long as the PC team in Glenmore feels is necessary to get their candidate out to every part of the riding - and, should she win, there's talk that Colley-Urquhart could find herself elevated to a minor cabinet role (Tourism, Parks and Rec?) right off the bat in a late fall shuffle, to fill the Calgary-shaped hole left in cabinet by Stevens' departure. Other Calgary MLA's rumoured to be on the short list include the affable and able Len Webber (Calgary-Foothills) and the aforementioned Jonathan Denis (Calgary-Egmont, NOT the Enlightened Savage).

Thursday, June 18, 2009

So THIS Is What "Responsible Governance" Looks Like...

Nation, the brinkmanship that's been floating like some heinous grey cloud over Parliament Hill over the past week or so has lifted somewhat, with the revelation that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Official Opposition Michael Ignatieff have actually come up with some sort of accord to ensure the survival of the current parliament through the summer.

Prime Minister Harper is quoted as saying this shows "willingness of the government and the Official Opposition to work together on an important public policy matter" - which is a good thing. My question is, shouldn't the government and the Official Opposition ALWAYS be willing to work together on important public policy matters? Isn't the public good absolutely, 100% of the time SUPPOSED to trump petty partisanship and political manoeuvring?

I'm not naive enough to believe that things work that way. Don't get me wrong. But, the bigger question is: SHOULDN'T they work that way?

I was recently nominated to address the issue of what makes a great opposition member. It's a task I'll be undertaking shortly, and I'll try not to re-tread any ground I'm about to cover here.

However, both the government and the opposition DO have an obligation to work together, to find common ground representing the vast majority of Canadians, on issues of importance. That's true whether the government has a rock-solid majority or a razor-thin minority. If the opposition is being honest and earnest in its pursuit of honest, accountable and transparent governance and policies that will make life better for Canadians, and if government is acting likewise, then there simply HAS to be room, time and an appetite to sit down and talk as statesmen, rather than as politicians.

This is something that Jack Layton, by most accounts a good guy, seems to have forgotten. His obligation to the people of Canada is not to "oppose Stephen Harper on all fronts, on all issues, without even bothering to read bills, budgets or reports". It is to hold government to account by reading EVERYTHING, and opposing where it is warranted and justifiable, and supporting where it is warranted and justifiable. Layton and his proxies do all of us a disservice by playing coy political games to try and win votes in the next election ("71 confidence votes and counting!") when we need statesmanship. (Not that Jack has been alone in these games - far from it. All of the parties have been guilty of this - his is just the most recent to irritate me. They ALL do, eventually.)

Harper and Ignatieff have a lot in common. Chief among those similarities is their unmistakable, avaricious pursuit of power and accolades. They both know that only one of them can be Prime Minister, and both also know that they can only trust the other up to the point at which their interests diverge, and not a millimetre past. Both men, however, are smart enough to recognize that they have too much to lose to be seen as the person responsible for an unnecessary election. A more jaded politico would suggest this is likely the one and only reason that the Liberals will not bring about the government's fall this Friday.

I have hope, though, that while this political survival instinct may be the primary motivation for the current detente, it might not be the ONLY motivation. Perhaps Harper and Ignatieff understand that, by working together collectively on an issue as critical as the economy, they can pool their efforts and make a real difference. That by putting aside their own interests and working to make our lives better, they can earn the accolades they so covet.

At least until one or the other feels they're in a majority position. Then the 40% of voters who will support them on Election Day are the only ones that matter.

Political theory, getting slapped upside the head by political realism.

"A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman of the next generation."
- James Clarke

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

It's My Party, And I'll Cry If I Want To...

Nation, there's been much afoot as late, and I'll be all over it like delicious frosting on one side of a Mini-Wheat...

However, the first order of business today is dealing with one of my pet peeves.

You know what REALLY irks the Enlightened Savage?

I mean, REALLY irks him?

People who parrot criticism of politicians or political parties, without bothering to do their own research.

It's simply intellectual laziness - and, to my mind, it automatically makes anything else you have to say immediately suspect. After all, if you can't be bothered to form your own political opinion, what OTHER short-cuts are you taking to seem worldly and informed?

2 particular cases in point have raised my ire in the past several weeks, and both relate directly to 2 of Alberta's political parties.

Case One: "The Wildrose Alliance is no threat to the PC's"

Nation, let's make one thing perfectly clear: Nobody, and I mean NOBODY, with any political common sense is disregarding the WAP as a potential threat to the Alberta PC's and their thirty-year dynastic rule over Alberta's political landscape. The truth is, the Wildrose Alliance has some of the brightest and best-connected political minds in the province working with them. They've got people who were involved in founding what started as a "meaningless western protest movement rump of a party" called Reform - so they know what it takes to go from obscurity to a real political force. They've got a clean slate, as a party, with a leadership race underway. They've got the ability to raise huge sums of money - ask the Liberals how important that ability is.

But perhaps the greatest reason that the Wildrose Alliance may, in fact, present a clear and present danger to the Tories is the fact that it is a populist movement - every-day members feel as though their opinions are valued, and that they make a difference - because they are.

People who disregard the Wildrose Alliance do so at their own peril. This is folly, because the reality is that nobody yet knows what the policies of this party will be - beyond a somewhat safe assumption that there will be a focus on a business-friendly agenda. This party could end up being a business-friendly socially moderate party much like the Lougheed PC's, for all we know. There's a leadership race under way, as well as policy shaping taking place. With the WAP being designed specifically as a "bottom-up" organization, there's a real opportunity for well-organized people of ANY slant - be they moderate, progressive or conservative - to shape this party in their own image.

Now, the WAP-haters out there delight in pointing out that there are extreme, reactionary elements within the party. I hate to have to point this out, but there are extreme and reactionary elements in ALL political parties. There's no rule against allowing knuckle-draggers to buy party memberships. It's when they become the MAJORITY within a party that it's time to worry.

So, not knowing who is going to be leading the Wildrose Alliance, or what their policies are going to be, there are nevertheless political parakeets who insist, because they heard someone smart say it once, that the Wildrose Alliance will never get off the ground. I don't know, for a fact, that they will. But I know for a fact that they CAN. And I know for a fact that in 1965, Peter Lougheed (a former Edmonton Eskimo) gave up a lucrative Calgary law practice to take over a political party with 13% support and that hadn't held more than 3 seats in the Legislature at the same time for over 30 years. Hardly an Ignatieff-style "sure thing" of a career change. 2 years later, they won 6 seats. And 4 years after that, they won a majority - and have been in power ever since.

I bet - if you asked one of the parakeets around Ernest Manning's office in 1964, they would have told you that the Progressive Conservatives were absolutely no threat whatsoever.

I doubt Manning felt the same way. With Lougheed's elevation to PC Leader and the reforms, energy and policies he and his supporters brought to the party, Manning saw the writing on the wall after the 1967 election, and retired in 1968. The SoCreds lost power in 1971, and haven't elected a single MLA since the 1979 election.

Again, it bears repeating: I'm not saying, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the PC's are going to fall to the Wildrose Alliance - in 2012, or ever. But I AM saying that, with the right leader and the right policies (both of which are member-driven) on the part of the WAP, it COULD happen. And anyone who thinks otherwise is foolish.

Case Two: "Stelmach and the Tories are in the pocket of Big Oil".

The only thing I REALLY need to say in response to this statement is: "Do you KNOW anyone who works for a big oil company? ASK them how their management team feels about the Alberta Government."

Chances are, they're not exchanging Christmas cards.

The truth of the matter is, the Tories and the big oilsands companies are barely on speaking terms - and CERTAINLY not on "friendly terms". Stelmach has been criticised - again, by people with no understanding of political reality - as "the best premier that Big Oil can buy"... and yet, despite this assertion, he raised royalty rates and pissed off nearly every energy producer in the whole province as a result.

In reality, big oilpatch players like EnCana donate just as much to the Wildrose Alliance - and even (gasp!) the LIBERALS as they do to the Tories.

The lefties criticise the Stelmach Tories for being in the pocket of Big Oil, yet royalties were raised against the VOCIFEROUS objections of the oilpatch - which, the far left insists, is the group that bought and paid for the same Alberta Government which raised the rates in the first place. Even given the current economic climate, and the chill that low energy prices has had on the Alberta economy as a whole, the opposition parties on the left advocate raising royalties even HIGHER - because what stimulates long-term economic growth better than taxing companies so heavily on production during a recession that they stop doing business in your province altogether? (I believe this approach is referred to as "the final nail" economics)

Meanwhile, critics on the right criticise the Tories for raising royalties in the first place. Whether their argument is that Albertans were already receiving their fair share, or that Albertans aren't entitled to being compensated for the resources that belong to all of us, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever it is, though, we're led to believe that the world economic crisis and $40 per barrel oil was the fault of Ed Stelmach, 13th Premier of the Province of Alberta. It had nothing to do with OPEC, or a precipitous drop in world-wide demand. Nope - it was Ed and his damned royalty hike. Ed wrecked the world energy markets - and those darned PC members, who elected him leader after he promised to review royalty rates, are all accomplices. The PC's, we're led to believe, are "anti-business, and anti-energy producer".

Okay... so, the PC's are simultaneously in the pocket of Big Oil and have an anti-business, anti energy-producer bias.

Neat trick.

Any other brilliant observations, parakeets?

Saturday, June 6, 2009


65 years ago today, on June 6th, 1944, thousands upon thousands of young men threw themselves into the meat grinder of the Atlantic Wall in an attempt to breach the impregnable Fortress Europe of Hitler's Nazis.

It wasn't glorious. It wasn't exciting. It wasn't the sanitary, shiny stuff we see in most hollywood depictions of war. It was brutal. Death and horrifying dismemberment were everywhere. The worst kind of hell could be found on the beaches of Normandy that day.

To the men who left their friends, their brothers, and parts of themselves on those beaches - we owe you an immeasurable and irreconcilable debt. How can you repay a man for 23,741 nightmare-filled nights? For 23,741 evenings when they laid down to sleep knowing that they were about to experience the horror yet again?

You can start with a thank-you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bill 44 Passes Third Reading

Nation, the time is 1:33 am on Tuesday, the 2nd of June. As of about 10 minutes ago, the Legislative Assembly of Alberta essentially passed Bill 44 into law (there are still some i's to dot and t's to cross before it's official).

Analysis on this later today. In the meantime - what do YOU think?