Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Tale of 2 Leaders...

"All (the PC's) are interested in is retaining power at any cost... We've had enough of socialists and liberals masquerading as conservatives... This is what you get when you have a party that is more concerned about trying to be everything to everybody than it is about doing what's right. "

- Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance - June 25, 2010

"Basically I support ... what's written here," one member said during the firearm debate. "I'm just worried about how this may be received in the public and portrayed the media, so I'm voting no."

"You can't get any of your agenda implemented if you can't get elected..."

- Danielle Smith, leader of the Wildrose Alliance - June 26, 2010

Wow... way to stick to your guns, stand for what you believe in, and not water down your beliefs in a crass attempt to appeal to just enough Albertans to take power, Danielle.

I'm not saying you're wrong - your party made a lot of unexpectedly expedient political moves to try and appeal to the soft centre on Albertan voters. These moves suggest that if your party DOES win power in 2012, I might not have to move to Cranbrook as a result. Kudos on your political maturity.

Just do us all a favour, and stop trying to pretend you've got the moral high ground, as "true conservatives who won't sell out your core beliefs for power". Because it's clear, based on what went on this weekend, that the object isn't to bring conservative government to Alberta. It's to bring Wildrose government - at whatever the cost.

It's politically smart. It shows an understanding of political reality. It allows for the possibility of good governance.

And it's exactly what the Tories would do, and you criticize them for it.

You're no better.

So stop insulting our intelligence.

Stop pretending.

(Note to the Nation: Actual review of the policy decisions made at the WAP AGM and Policy Conference will be coming soon - this just serves as the appetizer)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

$1,000,000,000 > $4,700,000,000

Okay, Nation - sorry for the Blog-splosion today, but too much is happening all at once. I imagine this is how Ken Chapman feels when Stephen Harper does something embarrassing... or, really, anything at all. ;)

The THIRD post in the "June 24th Trilogy" is about the Fiscal Update released by the Government of Alberta today. The release, and supporting documentation, can be found here.

The long and short of it is, "the 2010 budget said the deficit would be $4.7 Billion, but in reality it's $1 Billion".

Which is GOOD. I would MUCH rather be spending $1 Billion more than we have, than to be spending $4.7 Billion more than we have.

The PC's rightly point out that we in Alberta were in a unique position to weather the economic storm, because PC Governments had the foresight to open a "savings account" to draw on during bad times. More happy news from today's report included the information that, due to the rise in the markets, the Heritage Savings Trust Fund earned $2 Billion - far more than the $711 Million initially forecast. As a matter of fact, with earnings of $2 Billion, and a budget deficit of $1 Billion, it looks as though the worst may be over, and it might be time to invest in black ink again. This is good news, right?

But... it's still not GOOD. It's BAD.

I'd understand if the deficit was 100% based on one-time infrastructure and education spending, to help Albertans in the skilled trades keep their families fed and help those "downsized" to find new vocations during the economic downturn. I'd be FINE with that - better than fine, in fact. That would be a sterling example of government being a force for good in the society.

The reality, though, is that we're in this situation because of program spending. There is fat in the system, make no mistake about that. We need to - ALL of us - sit down and have a real, adult conversation about what we're spending, and what we're spending it on, and how to do better. Press releases from the opposition demanding "More for Health!" or "Spend Less On Everything!" aren't helpful - they're exactly the opposite. Should we be funding chiropractic care? Let's talk about it. Should there be tax incentives for making healthy choices? Increased "sin taxes" on alcohol and tobacco? What about the funding model for our schools? Arts programs charge hundreds of dollars in fees at the high school level - is that okay with us?

Much of the reduction of the forecast deficit is as result of increased non-gas resource royalties. These are absolutely critical to our funding model - as we saw quite clearly when activity in the energy sector dried up recently. To this day, the Wildrose Alliance insists that moving the royalty rates upward was a near cataclysmic mistake by the Stelmach Tories, while opponents on the left say that we never would have RUN a deficit, had Alberta been getting a bigger share of resource revenue from producers.

Clearly, even with hindsight, the politicians can't agree.

We need to have these discussions, as a people. They're too important to leave to the politicians.

Because while they're going to be doing and saying what they need to in order to keep their own jobs, and support their own families in the short term - it's the only job in the world that you can be terminated, without cause, every 4 years and have your job given to someone else because they've got better hair - we need to think about what life is going to look like 10, 20, and 50 years down the line for us and our families and the next generation of Albertans... no matter WHO is sitting in the Legislature.

That's the greatest responsibility we have as citizens. Not voting. Not shovelling your neighbour's walk. Not picking up after the dog in the park.

We are the stewards of the future of this place. It's time to talk about what we're going to do with it.

Not like politicians.

Like grown-ups.

Grains of Salt

Nation, polls are an occupational hazard of punditry, and of politics in general. There are a million ways to manipulate the data to come to just about any conclusion you want - and that's if the poll was fair to begin with.

No matter who does the polling, the side with the LEAST to brag about always calls into question the pollsters, or the sample size, or the questions themselves, or the methodology, or the organization or office that commissioned the poll in the first place.

All that said, though, what polls DO give us is a picture - a snapshot in time. Of the people who were talked to, at that moment, here's what they were thinking.

This is critically important, because - and here's where we'll lose some of the politician readers of this blog - the opinions of the electorate MATTER. Not just on election day, but EVERY day. You can't govern by poll numbers - Paul Martin proved that - but it's important to be reminded, and remind those that would govern us, that the opinions, thoughts and ideas of the citizenry matter much, much more than the thoughts, opinions and motivations of those who cast votes on our behalf in our legislative bodies.

So, with that said... I received in my inbox this week a copy of a poll done by Spotlight Strategies. The poll itself was conducted between May 19th and May 26th - and yes, that would include the long week-end. 804 Albertans were asked their opinions about the way in which they're being governed, their values, and their political leanings.

This poll is interesting to me, in that I'm seeing questions asked that I don't normally see. In particular, they've eschewed the usual "how important is this issue?" question, and instead asked "How important will each of the following issues be in terms of deciding which party you vote for in the next election?". To the average voter, this might be a small distinction. To me, however, it touches on a major flaw in many polls that use the "how important is thie issue" question: They assume that because an issue is important to you, it will affect your voting choice. Which is not always the case. Is the health of our oil and gas sector important to me? HECK yes. It's the heart that keeps the Albertan economy going. But only 14% of respondents to this poll indicated that "encouraging more oil and gas exploration and production" was a very important issue that would affect their vote.

The full poll is linked here.

The "Snapshot Question", the one that's going to get the press, is about voting intentions. These always make me cringe, because the party that "wins" in the polls - particularly if they poll at over 40% - thinks they're doing everything right. Absolutely NOT the case. And, as the poll itself is quick to point out, before they even get into the numbers - campaigns matter. Local candidates matter. A Liberal campaign collapse could drive those who polled "solid Liberal" to the NDP and the PC's on voting day. A great PC candidate could poach local "solid WAP" support, despite the performance of the provincial campaign or either party's leader (I'm counting on it). I mean, 5% of respondents identified as "solid" supporters of a party that ceased to exist over a year ago. So, as with ALL polls, and as the title of this post suggests... take this with a few grains of salt.

Voting Intention: Solid
PC: 25%
WRA: 15%
Lib: 10%
NDP: 6%
Green: 5%
Other: 1%
Undecided: 24%
Wouldn’t vote: 5%
DK/NR: 9%

Voting Intention: Solid plus Leaning
PC: 40%
WRA: 24%
Lib: 17%
NDP: 8%
Green: 8%
Other: 3%

Voting Intention: Second Choice
PC: 21%
Lib: 19%
WRA: 15%
NDP: 11%
Green: 7%
Other: 2%
Undecided: 11%
DK/NR: 13%

The upshot: This poll is reason for optimism for the PC's, and a warning to the Wildrose Alliance that they have to come out of their internal organization phase (having now founded 83 constituency associations, they can start to come out of the shadows a bit) and try to appeal to voters with their freshly-minted policies (to be determined this weekend). By NO MEANS should this signal to the PC's that everything is hunky-dory. Their position as the ruling party is fraught with potential disaster - whenever ANYTHING goes wrong, it's their fault. Likewise, if Danielle Smith gets into the Legislative Assembly and voters get a chance to see her face to face with the Premier, perceptions can change in a hurry - and in either direction, depending on the performance she gives (remember when Ignatieff was going to make Harper look like a bumpkin within a week of entering the House?).

So, an interesting poll to be sure. The real question going forward is: How will the parties respond to what it tells them?

BREAKING: Electoral Boundaries Final Report

Nation, you read it here first.

- E.S.

The Final Report

Edit at 10:12 am - the EBC seems to have moved the file, so I've fixed the link and you'll be looking at the copy I downloaded this morning right before posting this initially. So you STILL read it here, first. (Thanks to Christopher and Oatmeal for the heads up!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Boutilier to join the Wildrose Alliance caucus...

... and in related news, water is wet and the sun sets in the west.

Nation, the eventual marriage of convenience between Guy Boutilier and the Wildrose Alliance is probably the second-worst kept secret in Alberta politics (behind only my eventual run). I won't go into the gory details of what led to Boutilier's ouster from the PC caucus, as it's been covered ad nauseum already. Both Boutlier and his former boss Ed Stelmach did things that I don't like to get to that point, and both did things that I respect.

Boutilier will join the Wildrose Caucus when next the Legislative Assembly sits, giving the Wildrose Alliance 4 seats and an iron-clad argument for caucus funding, recently denied in a rather disheartening show of a lack of understanding of the spirit of our democratic institutions in favour of the letter of the rule book.

Let the above paragraph be noted as probably the only time in the history of EVER that Rob Anderson and I will agree on anything, likely including the time and colour of the sky.

In joining the Wildrose Caucus, Boutilier will join the aforementioned rookie MLA Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere), Klein-era cabinet minister Heather Forsyth (Calgary-Fish Creek), and the party's deputy leader Paul Hinman (Calgary-Glenmore - Leigh Patrick Sullivan, you told me so).

Of some concern to the party's right wing, and some of the founding members from the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Party rolls, is that of that 4 member caucus, 3 of them were PC's a year ago. Oilpatch-destroying, deficit-running, democracy-disrespecting, Bill-44-supporting PC's. For that matter, the party's leader Danielle Smith and the party's new president Hal Walker are also both expatriate PC's with deep roots in the Progressive Conservatives - so, those same oilpatch-destroying, deficit-running, democracy-disrespecting, Bill-44-supporting, out-of-touch and arrogant PC's we keep hearing about from the Wildrose Alliance - ARE the Wildrose Alliance.

Albertans can be forgiven for wondering what, exactly, this party stands for that is so opposite the PC's that they can accept just about any member of the PC Caucus or braintrust into their tent, so long as they promise to say bad things about Ed Stelmach.

Which brings us back to Boutilier... Boutilier was never considered a right-wing radical within the PC Caucus. He was a steady centrist. A bit of a loose cannon, but that trait wasn't so frowned upon that the former mayor of Fort McMurray couldn't get himself a higher profile, having served in the Klein cabinet AND in Stelmach's first cabinet. The falling out between Boutilier and Stelmach was public, and it was ugly, and it left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths - but none moreso than Guy himself, who has since been waiting for the right moment to finally plunge the knife into his former leader.

Politically, the timing of this move makes sense. With Boutilier boosting their caucus to 4 members, the WAP can spend the summer agitating for the caucus funding they know they've got coming to them, while at the same time repeating over and over the mantra that the Stelmach Tories denied them funding, with 3 members, that they had granted the 2-member NDP caucus. "The Tories are scared of democracy, but we out-smarted them". The formal addition of Guy to their caucus also gives the WAP more media attention going into their AGM, and makes them the talk of the summer BBQ circuit. "What skeletons will Guy bring out of the closet? Who will be the next PC to jump ship? Will the PC's allow the WAP caucus funding? Do we have by-elections in our future?". At the VERY least, this move is going to occupy the headlines of our provincial political consciousness until the final report and recommendations of the Boundaries Commission are released, expected to be late July.

As I've said before, I'm not a big fan of labelling this party as "Scary", because we haven't yet seen what the membership of the Danielle Smith-led Wildrose Alliance thinks that their party stands for. A lot of party memberships were sold during the leadership race that saw Smith crowned as leader. A lot of people and companies made donations to leadership candidates, expecting that they were buying access for their ideas and issues.

The Wildrose Alliance holds its AGM and policy convention this weekend in Red Deer. Coming out of that event, we're going to know a LOT more about the Wildrose than we know today.

We're going to know what policies their membership thinks are important enough to give their stamp of approval to. We're going to know whether the "shift to the centre" proposed by political strategists in order to win the WAP a chance at governing this province is something their party membership is interested in supporting. We're going to know whether the "recommendations made by caucus" in the policy document released to party members hold a lot of weight, or whether the membership is holding true to its founding principle of "we, the members, tell you, the caucus, what to do - NOT the other way around".

What we WON'T know, though, is how the party rank-and-file feel about their party being run and represented by people who were, until recently, the same folks they were trying to kick out of office. We won't know about that until the private conversations start to go public.

The repercussions for these decisions to be made by the party membership-at-large are huge. If they steadfastly refuse to shift to the centre, and ratify far-right policies, will moderates like Boutilier and Forsyth stay? Would the PC's take back any moderates who jumped - MLA's and constituency-level volunteers alike? If the WAP DOES shift to the centre, will that drive away the conservative ideologues? Will they start yet another party?

All of the Wildrose membership, expat PC's and dyed-in-the-wool Wildrosers alike, see Ed as the enemy.

But is "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" enough to keep this party together? And what happens to the 2 solitudes of the WAP when Ed really IS gone, and they lose their common enemy?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Guest Blogger Trina Hurdman, on Inspiring Education

Nation, during the course of my reaching out to candidates in this October's municipal election, I found myself having a discussion with Trina Hurdman, a candidate for Calgary Board of Education Trustee (Wards 1 & 2).

We got onto the topic of the recently released Inspiring Education report, and Trina mentioned she had some thoughts that went beyond the initial panicked reaction that most media focused on relating to the mention of governance in the report. I offered her a chance to speak about the report and its vision on The Enlightened Savage, and she graciously took me up on my offer.

I want to make it clear that this opportunity is a standing offer, to anyone running for office in Calgary this year. Anyone who wishes to run against Trina - or for any office whatsoever - will have the same chance to engage in a discussion with me, and see if we can get their ideas or vision onto this space for the voters to see, via text or (as was the case with mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi) through audio (I won't, however, be re-posting anyone's campaign flyer verbatim).

Appearance by a candidate on this site does not constitute an endorsement on my part. You should all know by now, I don't do endorsements. You're all grown-ups, and you can make up your own minds.

Trina's text begins... now.


As many of you don't know, last week, Alberta's Ministry of Education, unveiled a report entitled, "Inspiring Education." It was the result of a three year long conversation with over 4000 Albertans on what the future of education in Alberta should look like. The 51 page report presents a vision for education and deals mainly about how we need to shift from content to competencies within our classrooms. However, there is one sentence within the 51 page report that deals with the subject of governance and states, "Governors could be elected, appointed, or recruited from the community," which, not surprisingly, journalists took to mean that the province was going to replace locally elected trustees with a super-board, as they did with our health regions. Despite Stelmach's and Hancock's firm denial of such an idea, and the fact that the next sentence is, "Governance should be less top-down," the media has pounced on this subject of governance and the rest of the report has largely gone unnoticed.

I think it deserves better than that. Our children are in the classroom, not the boardroom, and we need to focus on how this will affect them. Education is changing and too many people fear those changes because it is so different than what they experienced in their own youth. This is why this report is so important. It presents a vision that 4000 Albertans have created together. If we can agree with this vision, then the shortcomings of our current system will become more apparent and we will be much more likely to support change. Without support from all stakeholders, this vision will never become a reality, and that would be a pity.

So, what exactly is this vision? I will attempt to condense the report down to what I believe are the essentials. At the forefront are specific qualities and abilities that we want our children to possess by the time they graduate from high school. They have been summarized as "the Three E's" of education. They are (and I quote directly from the report):
  • Engaged Thinker: one who thinks critically and makes discoveries; who uses technology to learn, innovate, communicate, and discover; who works with multiple perspectives and disciplines to identify problems and find the best solutions; who communicates these ideas to others; and who, as a life-long learner, adapts to change with an attitude of optimism and hope for the future.
  • Ethical Citizen: one who builds relationships based on humility, fairness and open-mindedness; who demonstrates respect, empathy and compassion; and who through teamwork, collaboration and communication contributes fully to the community and the world.
  • Entrepreneurial Spirit: one who creates opportunities and achieves goals through hard work, perseverance and discipline; who strives for excellence and earns success; who explores ideas and challenges the status quo; who is competitive, adaptable and resilient; and who has the confidence to take risks and make bold decisions in the face of adversity.

I want to make it clear that focusing on the "Three E's" by no means implies that the "Three R's" (reading, writing, and arithmetic) will be tossed out the window. In order to develop critical thinking skills, communicate effectively, or explore ideas, students must have certain basic skills that will not diminish in importance. What will change is how those skills are developed and used in the classroom. Those skills will become a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

In order to create an educational system designed to foster these "Three E's," the report identified six values that should always be considered when making any decisions about education. These are (and again I quote):

  • Opportunity - Learners are exposed to rich learning experiences that enable them to discover their passions and achieve their highest potential.
  • Fairness - Learners have access to the programs, support services, and instructional excellence needed to achieve desired outcomes.
  • Citizenship - Learners have pride in their community and culture. They have a sense of belonging and work to improve both the community and the world.
  • Choice - Learners have a choice of both programs and methods of learning.
  • Diversity - Learners’ differing needs, cultures, and abilities are respected and valued within inclusive learning environments.
  • Excellence - Learners, teachers, and governors achieve high standards.

Sounds good so far, doesn't it? How could anyone have a problem with any of that? High standards, rich learning environments, more choice. Great! However, many people don't understand what changes will need to take place in order to actually make it a reality. Some areas where change could occur are presented throughout the Inspiring Education report and include:

  • Assessment practices: the "Three E's" are pretty hard to measure using standardized multiple choice tests, or any sort of grade, and will need to be replaced.
  • Role of the teacher: teachers will oversee learning activities rather than transmitting facts.
  • Curriculum: should be less restrictive in order to allow students to pursue their passions.
  • Technology: needs to support innovation and discovery and should not just be a teaching aid.
  • Governance: should have a greater representation of stakeholders responsible for decision-making.
  • Personalization: students learn in different ways and at different speeds and should not necessarily be grouped by age and grade.
  • Credentialing: required hours of study may lose relevance as we focus more on whether or not the competencies have been mastered.

Starting to feel a twinge of doubt now? Change is hard. It is especially hard in the field of education because it's our children's futures that are at stake. But, change is needed. With so much information available at our fingertips, who are we to judge what information is most important for children to memorize and at what age they should be exposed to it? How much of what you learned in your high school classes do you use in your daily life? How much of it is still even relevant? The world is changing faster than ever before. We can no longer stand still while doing the same things as always, and expect our children to be prepared for what lies ahead.

If our educational system can succeed in creating engaged thinkers and ethical citizens who have a true entrepreneurial spirit, we will have truly made the world a better place for everyone. I encourage you to read the report and share this vision with others, so that when these new ideas are presented, you will know what we are trying to achieve. A better education for our children, and a better future for all.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Coming on Monday: SAVAGEvision!

Nation, just a few short days ago you all the the pleasure and privilege of hearing the seamless, smooth and EXTREMELY professional-sounding audio of an interview I conducted with mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi.

This marked my first foray into the realm of non-text political analysis since my "coming out" party of last fall.

Well, mark your calendars - because the devastatingly handsome visage of The Enlightened Savage will be gracing your computer screens this Monday, June 7th when the geniuses at FusedLogic foist me on an unsuspecting public at 7:00 pm, Mountain Time.

I'll be participating via Skype from my palatial estate home in south Calgary, in a show talking about the upcoming municipal elections in Calgary, Strathcona County, and in that other city, north of Red Deer...

Also on the broadcast will be blogger Alex Abboud, as well as special guests who might be appearing on a ballot near you. You'll want to tune in - once we get finished with the political analysis, Abboud and myself might get into a bicep flexing contest, so you won't want to miss out on the impromptu "gun show".

As the clock strikes 7 on Monday, click here - and brace yourself for some SAVAGE commentary!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Conversation With Naheed Nenshi

Nation, I downloaded Skype for the first time 2 days ago. Tonight, I used it to interview a mayoral candidate who was 2 time zones away.

Now, my mother always told me not to apologize for something until people notice it's badly done - but my inability to take my mother's advice is legendary. Just ask her. So, I'm going to apologize in advance for the quality (or general lack thereof) of the audio. Likewise, I'm aware that I overuse the "umm" non-word to segue in between an answer and the following question. To paraphrase everyone's favourite doctor: "I'm a musician, not a radio interviewer!"

All that said, though, I wanted to put the interview up, in its first and only take, without editing. I think it's important that everyone know the answers that Nenshi provided were off the cuff, without practice or warning. After all... the object is not to make ME sound good, the object is to hear what Naheed has to say. He's running for Mayor - I'm just the Benevolent Ruler For Life of the E.S. Nation.

And heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeere's Nenshi!