Friday, December 25, 2009

Yes, Virginia...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas, Nation.
Never stop believing.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Breaking News: NORAD Tracking Suspicious Sleigh-Shaped Object

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

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

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

- E.S.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hot Err

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

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

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


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

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

Everyone with me so far?

Let's review to this point...

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

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

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

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

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

Human beings can not destroy this planet.

Greenpeace, take note.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, HALF right.

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

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

CO2 is NOT pollution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember THIS guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas.

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

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

Will any of this help stop climate change?

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

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

We can stop messing in our own cage.

It might not fix things.

Then again, it might.

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

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

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

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

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

Death is pretty inconvenient.

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

By the Numb3rs

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Story over, right?

Oh, so, SO wrong.

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


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

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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

Too many

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Ebony and Ivory...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doug gets it - which is hardly surprising.

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

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


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

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

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

Power to the People.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nah, can't be.

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

Viva la Revolucion.


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

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

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

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