Thursday, January 28, 2010

How Far Should Free Speech Go?

Nation, I'm not sure where this is going to go, so please bear with me - it might be another in a long line of "pack a lunch" posts from the Enlightened Savage, or it might be a quickie. Either way, I really REALLY want to hear your thoughts on this issue in the "comments" section.

I've been thinking a lot lately about Free Speech... more specifically, about how far the protection of free speech should extend.

There's a part of me - a very large part - that feels free speech and the protection thereof should be absolute. That even if some idiot wants to stand on a milk crate and yell about a Jewish conspiracy or the "Gay Agenda", they should be allowed to do so - because free speech is a guarantee in our society, and (as we all learned in elementary school) "words can never hurt me".

But the issue, of course, is more complex than the rhyme I learned in 2nd grade. Words CAN hurt you - and the courts enforce laws against libel or slander. Even before we open the can of worms that is the Human Rights Commission, it's evident in our common law that words CAN and DO hurt people, their reputations, and their ability to earn a living. You can't just come out and say whatever you want. I can't say "Alberta Altruist drowns kittens in his bath-tub". He'll sue me. (He doesn't. I think. A.A. - DO you?)

So, there are already limits to free speech, that cover the malicious spreading of lies in order to hurt someone's reputation, or their ability to earn a living. What about hurt FEELINGS, though?

At its most basic, my argument to those who feel they've been personally offended by the statements of another is: Suck it up.

Look, some people will like you. Some people won't. Some people will decide whether or not they like you without even getting to KNOW you. When they share their opinions, this can be hurtful - particularly if they fall into the third category. We see this most often when you're being lumped in with a group ("artists are all whiners", "teachers are all lazy", "politicians are all crooked"). The fact that these assertions are almost always completely absurd doesn't make them a whole lot less hurtful. But there's not a whole lot you can do to hold the speaker accountable, except to offer up a rebuttal of your own.

Where this gets a LOT more complicated is in the area of what we call "inciting hatred"...

It's one thing, for example, for PETA to say that the Federal Fisheries minister is "aiding and abetting seal murderers". So long as they don't represent themselves as offering a legal opinion, I'm pretty sure they can get away with saying stuff like that. But when they say "she's aiding and abetting seal murder, and she must be held to account - one of you has got to stop her!", then when someone DOES something - as happened this week - what blame falls to the organization? Is there a line between "I'd like to see David Swann's face covered in whipped cream" and "one of you, my devoted followers, should go hit David Swann in the face with a Banana Creme Pie"?

The biggest area we see this fine line being debated is as regards to faith and congregations. It's lawful to read Leviticus 18:22 to a group of people... but when you say "The Gay is evil, and if you know of one on your street you should run him out of town", you are (as near as I, a non-lawyer, can tell) breaking the law.

So it seems like we're trying to have it both ways... we want the freedom of speech that forces, in practice if not in law, cities to allow "pride" parades with costumes (or a conspicuous lack thereof) and behaviours that even I, a professional musician, find over the top (think of an Adam Lambert video on Ecstasy) under the pretense of "free speech", but when someone wants to criticise those behaviours, then THEIR right to free speech is questioned as "hate speech" - which is odd to me, because when *I*, well-known among my peers as a strong advocate for full and equal rights for the GBLT community, criticise the kind of thing you'd see at a Pride parade, I'm not referred to as a "hate-monger" (perhaps because they know I'm not coming from a place of hate), but rather just as a "straight prude" (which is really quite hilarious if you knew me in high school).

I guess what set this off for me was a recent series of reader comments that I've seen popping up on the blogs, particularly on daveberta, talking about the "hidden Mormon agenda" of the Wildrose Alliance. And talk like that really, REALLY ticks me off.

I am NOT a Mormon. As we've established previously on these pages, I don't consider myself a person of any particular faith - but I have the fullest respect for people who ARE... and this kind of "hidden agenda" nonsense is absolutely preposterous.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints have beliefs that others might find peculiar. For that matter, so do Catholics, or Hindus, or members of any identifiable faith group you could name. If you're NOT a member of that group, it's very easy to look at a group's doctrine or traditions or teachings and find something that seems absolutely ridiculous to you.

To suggest, though, that the Wildrose Alliance is somehow being set up as the political arm of the Mormon Church is simply asinine. And to USE that assertion as an excuse to insult and belittle a church made up overwhelmingly of good, decent, hard-working people is simply WRONG.

Are there Mormons placed highly within the WAP? Yes, sure there are. There are also Catholics. Evangelicals of hundreds of different congregations. Muslims. And atheists. Is the suggestion here that the WAP is a front for a Mormon/Catholic/Evangelical/Muslim/Atheist conspiracy? What would THOSE policies look like?

Folks, you find people of faith in EVERY political party. And you find members of every political party in any congregation. The beauty of this "free will" thing is that we can CHOOSE what church to belong to, or what political party. Because of their grassroots-driven policy process, parties like the WAP and the PC Party of Alberta are particularly easy to "invade" for a politically-motivated group of any sort, whether they be religious in nature, or some other sort of special interest group. When you choose policies based on "one member, one vote" that vote, and the member who casts it, can come from any of a million possible motivations - some of them religious.

Now, I'm not saying that people don't have the right to say what they want about the Mormon Church. I think they do. I will simultaneously defend their right to say it, while also publicly shooting them down for being so utterly wrong in their assertions.

But here's the thing about "free speech" - it's not universal, which is what people often forget.

You have the right to say just about anything you want. This is true. What you DON'T have the right to do, though, is to say it WHEREVER you want.

You want to say that Homosexuals are sinners? Fine. I disagree with you, but you have the right to an opinion, and to express it. But you don't have the right to walk into the Legislative Assembly of Alberta, sit in Ken Kowalski's chair, and say it in the middle of Question Period.

You want to say that Mormons believe funny things? Fine. Again, I wouldn't agree with your statement, but you have the right to make it. You DON'T have the right, though, to say it in the Calgary Sun, or on a webpage with "The Enlightened Savage" on top. That's up to the people who determine content in those 2 publications.

If you want a place where your right to publish whatever opinions you might have is completely unfettered, then you're living in the right decade. Click the "blogger" logo at the top of this page, and start your own Blog, where the editor (you) will publish whatever you write, no matter how silly it might be.

That's what I did.

But at the end of the day, take care to remember: Your right to swing your fist ends the moment it meets up with your neighbour's right to not have his nose broken.

Try it - and ask the cops when they show up.


What say YOU, Nation? Is the right to free speech absolute, or should there be limits to what a person can say publicly?

Comments about the issue of free speech will be welcomed, and vigorously debated. Comments meant to make fun of any religious group will be deleted, as an exercise of MY right to not have idiotic, intolerant and hurtful comments about good people posted on a blog bearing my brand.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Keep 'Em Coming!

Nation, I can't predict the future - well, I CAN, but it won't be any more accurate than reading the entrails of a chicken (more comfortable for the chicken, though). We don't know if the PC's are going to deposit the WAP into the wastebin of history along with all the other challengers that came before them, or if the PC Party of Alberta in 2013 will be a memory itself, swept away on the winds of change.

What we DO know, though, is that the times are a-changing... and we have a real chance, through engagement with either (or both!) of those parties and through movements such as Reboot Alberta to effect real change to our society, and deal with some of the real issues that face us as a province - like primary education, economic diversification, the never-ending quest to inject sustainable business practices into the sacred cow of Canadian politics, the health care system...

There's a conversation going on out there... and there's one going on in here, too. If you look to the right, you'll see a section on this blog entitled "Perfecting Alberta". The hope is that, WHOMEVER is running this province is going to see some good ideas in the comments section of those posts. They're not the usual ES diatribes - it's a chance for YOU, the members of the ES Nation, to give your ideas about how we can make this province a better place for our children, and for their children. Please take advantage, and keep the conversation going.

Now, it's of opportunities for you that I wish to speak...

I get questions. LOTS of questions, via email, about a lot of topics. People who seem to think I have inside knowledge about a given subject, people seeking my opinions (sometimes in areas in which I have absolutely no expertise whatsoever), people who want to know about ME... well, here's your chance. And we'll even do this democratically.

Ask me ANYTHING that you think I can answer - about politics, policy, my opinions, myself - whatever you like. Put it in the "comments" section below. After a set period of time - say, 3 days - I'll take the questions and make a poll out of them. The Nation can vote, and the 5 questions that get the most votes, I will answer to the best of my ability - no B.S., no spin, no half-truths (there have been enough of those in my part of town lately).

So, Nation, this begs the question... what do you REALLY want to know?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Do The (underwhelming cabinet) Shuffle!

Nation, a little over 24 hours ago the new provincial cabinet for the Government of Alberta was sworn-in.

As I look up and down the list, I see some positive signs that things are moving in the right direction.

Firstly, the elephant in the room is Ted Morton. He'll be hanging his shingle as the Minister of Finance and Enterprise - and I think this is a good thing. It's been suggested that the REAL power over provincial coffers lays with the President of the Treasury Board, Lloyd Snelgrove, and that Morton's role will be to take the slings and arrows associated with the budget, and to collect revenues to hand over to the Treasury Board and let THEM decide what to do with the money.

The reality, though, is quite different. Morton may be moving into a position that had relatively little influence over the past few years, however he brings with him to this new job one thing that the previous minister lacked: Political cachet. Ted Morton is listed as third in the line of precedence, behind only the Premier and Deputy Premier. This means that if Ed and Doug are out of town during QP, questions put to the "Premier of Alberta" will be answered by the Honourable Ted Morton. Morton also carries with him the implicit title of "heir apparent", should Ed decide at some point that he's had enough of being the whipping boy for every special interest and political activist group in the province. So when Ted speaks, expect others around the table to listen very carefully.

Another good step in the shuffle was the move of Ron Liepert to Energy. The job of Minister of Health and Wellness is one of the most thankless jobs on the planet, and Liepert was vilified at every turn by anyone who had a distant relative in nursing, or who had to wait more than 30 minutes to see an E.R. doctor about a headache - but overall, Liepert did a decent job at Health. He was given a mandate by the Premier to seek out inefficiencies, and he did just that. The regional health authorities, who were spending millions of taxpayer dollars to hire governmental relations firms to lobby the government for more taxpayer money (if that seems ridiculous as you read it, it's because it IS ridiculous) were disbanded, in favour of a central board that could focus more money on patient care rather than administration. Liepert began the long and thankless task of trying to figure out how we, as a province, can clean up the money pit that our health system has become: No one spends more to get less than we do. The logical step is to expect to pay less, expect to get more, or both. And let's not forget that underneath the gruff exterior, Liepert showed moments of deep compassion, without the media around to play to.

Ron Liepert will bring a new vitality and feeling of movement to his new portfolio - something much needed these days. The competitiveness review - which doesn't exclusively deal with energy, by the way - will give Liepert a chance to "reboot" the royalty structure, and perform CPR on the Golden Goose. He's been told he can set up an office here in Calgary, which is shocking only in that it hadn't already been done previously... and, if he does his job well, then we can expect not only to see oil money flowing back into the provincial coffers, but also into the PC party once again.

The addition of notorious Red Tory Jonathan Denis to the cabinet is also a big, positive step. Adding a young voice to the mix may give cabinet some perspective that they didn't have before, and Denis has shown himself to be an asset to the party in Calgary, most notably in being the party's point-man on the recent defections and as "Buddy MLA" for the PC Party in Calgary-Currie, where Egmont constituent Dave Taylor sits as the MLA for the Liberals. Denis is a well-known fiscal conservative, and I predict he'll have little trouble keeping his own ministry's finances in order - and these days, with a $2 Billion deficit to kill, every ministry led by an able minister is one less thing to worry about.

That's the GOOD news.

The BAD news, I can only start with one possible criticism:

WHY on EARTH do we still have 24 Cabinet Ministers? In a time of economic uncertainty, when the government is spending $2 Billion more of our money than it's taking in, why do we need 24 full Cabinet Ministers, plus 11 Parliamentary assistants, giving political direction to the bureaucracy that actually runs the departments of government?

Ministries can, and SHOULD, be combined to limit waste and control spending. A case in point is the ministry in which I work, the ministry of Tourism, Parks and Recreation: This could have been 2 separate ministries: The ministry of Parks, and the ministry of Tourism. The 2 are combined, though, under a single minister (in this case, Cindy Ady), who then gives political direction to Deputy Ministers and Assistant Deputy Ministers, who actually run the various functions of TPR. This is a good, responsible use of taxpayer dollars, as by eliminating the need for an Executive Assistant for the Minister of Tourism, eliminating the cost of an office and staff for that same minister, eliminating a separate travel budget, and car allowance, and of course the extra $64,000 per year in pay that "MLA Smith" gets paid to be "Minister Smith", you're saving the taxpayers of Alberta a sizable amount. This could have, and SHOULD have, been done across the board, to several other ministries. And the kicker is, to do so would not have affected front-line service levels one iota.

Of course, the reality is that for every chair you take away from the cabinet table, you have one fewer riding full of voters who feel that they're "special", and will therefore reward your party with another seat come election time... cabinet seats are often handed out based on political considerations, rather than on the basis of merit. Instead of "who is the best person for this job?", the question asked is "who can I give this job to that would benefit us the most in the next election?" - and, at that point, we taxpayers are denied the chance to see people like Doug Griffiths - one of the most popular, able, and loyal MLA's in caucus - run government ministries, based on the fact that "we've already got too many rural males in cabinet" - which is ridiculous.

There are a few other questionable moves in this shuffle, including the move of a "lame duck" minister who won't be running again to the department responsible for the huge and long-term task of instituting the Land Use Framework. The leftist blogosphere is crying foul about the failure to add any new female ministers, but I go back to my point above: If you're adding women to cabinet just so you can say "I added women to cabinet", without any thought as to whether or not the people you're adding are capable of the job, then you're playing politics when you should be governing.

Overall, for me, the biggest disappointment here was the number of familiar faces who stuck around. Now, don't get me wrong: I think a lot of these cabinet ministers have proven themselves capable or running ministries. Many of them, however, have NOT done so, and the fact that they remain in cabinet would be mind-boggling, if not for the obvious reasons of political advantage and loyalty to/from the Premier.

This team has NOT done well since 2008. They clearly have had a losing record since then. And if you've got a hockey team of 23 players, and the coach (Ed) isn't going anywhere, then you've got to make some big moves to turn things around.

They traded 3 underperforming players for 3 who might be able to make some noise - but when you're getting your butt kicked repeatedly (a scenario which, as an Oilers fan, I'm quite familiar with), unless you're adding players of a superstar calibre, you're not likely to affect too much other than team chemistry with a 3-player move. This shuffle was a chance to make a dramatic impact on the public perception of this government as stagnant and rudderless, and show that the message of change so clearly articulated by the voters of Calgary-Glenmore had been received loud and clear. Instead, we got minor tinkering, with the majority of the faces, voices and skill-sets around the cabinet table remaining the same. It's a big disappointment to people within the party, and I suspect it is just as big a disappointment to the people of Alberta - excepting, of course, the opposition parties, who are in their glory.

I expect that the biggest single issue for this government going forward is going to continue to be communications - even with the changes announced to the inner circle of the Premier's Office, we've already had a trademark communications blunder, with freshly-minted Energy Minister Ron Liepert saying something might happen, only be "corrected" by the Premier, via the media, that it was not, in fact, going to happen. The government of Alberta was also NOT going to be donating to Haitian relief efforts, and then they were. At the end of the day, we Albertans have no idea what is actually correct, because we've got lots of noise, but no clarity. So, either people in and around the Premier's Office are having a hard time adjusting to the changes, and things will eventually get better, or they won't get better - which is a scary thought for those who call this party home.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

72 Hours Later - Fall-out

Nation, 3 days ago, I woke up to find a flurry of messages waiting for me on Facebook and Twitter telling me that my political mentor and friend was crossing the floor to the Wildrose Alliance.

2 hours later, I was on a plane back to Calgary. By the time I landed, the press conference was already over.

I'm going to have a lot to say about how this was done - and about how it affected me personally. Later. I'm still not in a place where I feel I can address, in a coherent way, what I'm feeling.

What I can and will do, however, is talk about the political ramifications of what has happened, and what should happen next.


The Liberals have seemed to be at a loss ever since the now-infamous Angus Reid poll came out in mid-December. Dr. Swann, normally a pretty articulate guy, suggested at that point that a 25% support level meant the end of the Progressive Conservatives. Someone apparently neglected to tell him that his own party polled at the exact same number. Since the defections, Swann has been quoted as saying Ed Stelmach's days as leader of the province and the PC Party are numbered.

Obviously, Dr. Swann is doing everything he can here to try and convince moderate PC's that their only hope is to start supporting their local Liberals. The problem with that is twofold: Firstly, if Swann wants people to desert the PCs due to Ed's leadership, he should probably avoid predicting that Ed will be gone any day now - If Ed's on his way out, where's the incentive to give up on the PCs and switch?

Secondly, even if people WANT to support their local Liberal organization - they probably can't FIND it. The Grits need to take a page out of the WAP playbook, and get themselves organized on the ground, with 83 (soon to be 87) fully functional and easy-to-find riding associations and candidates (not that WAP is there, yet - but they clearly recognize that their efforts in that area are of paramount importance to their long-term prospects for success. So too must the Libs).


Mason is calling for by-elections. It may, in fact, go down in history as the first time that Brian Mason has agreed with the majority of Albertans on... well... ANYTHING. The stance that Mason is taking does his party no favours, politically - the NDP can't possibly win either riding. For that reason, I give Mason full marks here for putting what he perceives as the public good - a couple of by-elections - ahead of what is best for his party's political fortunes - avoiding a couple of embarrassing by-election beat-downs.


No such party. Sadly.


Premier Ed is on vacation - and if you think the timing of the floor-crossing was entirely co-incidental to that fact, I have a bridge to sell you (no, not the Peace Bridge - Mayor Dave tells me I love that, and bad people on council are trying to make it political, but I digress). In the meantime, we've had the embarrassment of the rescheduling of the announcement of the new cabinet (nobody in Edmonton knows how to use Google Calendar, I guess), which LOOKS, to the public, like a reaction to the floor-crossings. We're going to get 3 or 4 days of reaction from the Premier before he heads off on his trade mission, and then when he gets back it will be the end of January, and cabinet shuffle time.

If I hear one more "we're not worried, everything's fine, we just won a huge majority" I'm going to throw myself off some tall and scary. Every time the Premier's spokesperson or a party spokesperson says something like that, the general public think that the PCs are either stupid for not KNOWING they're in trouble, or stupid for not knowing what to do to get OUT of trouble while also being dishonest about being there in the first place.

What the PCs have to do is respond - not anything knee-jerk, like "purifying" the party by driving out moderates and lurching blindly to the right, but rather by coming out with a clear plan to eliminate the deficit that doesn't involve praying for natural gas prices to rise. Getting the financial house in order HAS to be Job One. Healthcare restructuring, social tinkering, everything else needs to either be an attainable goal that will help with Job One, or be taken off the table. No 5 points, or 10 pillars, or anything like that. "I'm Ed, we screwed up and I'm going to fix this. Here's how." The lack of focus draws comparisons to the days of Paul Martin as leader of the federal Liberals, when everything was a "high priority issue", and nothing ever got done. When everything's a high priority, nothing is.

The party needs to get control of its communications problems - which are so beyond obvious, they don't need repeating in this space. More than anything, though, the PCs need to be seen as a party that is LISTENING, instead of just TALKING.

Even the Wildrose website hearkens back to days-gone-by, with the oft-repeated slogan "Bring Back the Alberta Advantage"... the PCs can seize upon this, and the addition of one (at the time of this writing) or 2 (if Guy makes it official) or MORE (after the cabinet shuffle) Klein-era cabinet ministers can be shown as an example that the Wildrose Alliance, while itself a new party, is the party of yesterday's ideas - old, tired, and too simple for complex times. There are still a lot of PC loyalists who remember Lougheed as a pup - and while these people sit on constituency boards and shout all the time about how "Ed works for us, and needs to do what we say!!!", the reality is that the reality of modern politics has passed a lot of these old lions by. They have good viewpoints, lots of experience and ideas, and should be listened to - but not necessarily obeyed (the default position for many party members) by virtue of their age or seniority in the party. "The way it's always been done" clearly isn't working today.

The PCs can renew themselves with new ideas, elevate people like Jonathan Denis and Doug Griffiths to cabinet, and attract fresh young members and ideas, tempered by the experience of these elder members. The contrast between Danielle Smith and Ed Stelmach couldn't be more pronounced. If the contrast between a room full of surly 65 year-olds wearing WAP buttons and enthusiastic 35 year-olds waving PC flags can be put to the public eye, it will play as well here as it did "down south" when that Obama guy did something similar.


I'm of 2 minds on the next play for the Wildrose Alliance.

On the one hand, this seems like a major coup, masterfully played: Nobody saw it coming, the PCs couldn't respond, you got several days of media coverage talking about the impending death of the governing party, and you've added a pitbull who's not scared to break china (Anderson) and someone who's been in government for 16 years, and served in 2 cabinet positions without managing to mess anything up in Forsyth. You're appealing to young neo-cons, the religious right, suburban soccer moms and people who remember "the good old days" under Ralph. You're fortifying your base in Calgary, where the PCs have been slipping since the day Ed was elected leader.

On the other hand, though - is adding disenchanted PCs really what the party membership had in mind when they formed this party? If Ed stays on for the next 5 years, and all 67 PC MLAs and their supporters cross the floor to the WAP, haven't the PCs just taken over the party?

Consider the next Question Period in the Legislature: The lead questions are being put by Paul Hinman. On the attack is Rob Anderson, and hitting at the soft middle on issues like health care and children's services is Forsyth. Two thirds of your team were sitting on the government side of the house when these problems were created. They were sneered at by your party faithful as "Phony Conservatives". You ran candidates against them, who were attacking their records, less than 2 years ago. You've now inherited those records, and those on-the-record statements in support of the budget and Bill 44 - both of which your party opposes. Have you become a shiny, new branch of the same old establishment that's been running the province for 60 years?

Remember, the PC Party was joined, en masse, by thousands of SoCreds after Lougheed swept to power. In a grassroots organization like the Wildrose Alliance, where the party membership and democratic votes determine everything, a mass influx of former PC supporters, following the MLAs they supported under the PC flag, is going to radically change the kind of policies and values this party comes forward with - which, while certainly fair, might not be what the founding members of the Wildrose Alliance had in mind.

On floor-crossing itself, I think most of us by now understand that there is absolutely no legal reason that Anderson and Forsyth should not have crossed the floor. Vote go to candidates in our system, not to parties. In a legal sense, if you had elected Rob Anderson while he was a member of the Kinsmen Club, and mid-term he quit that club and joined Rotary instead, you'd have just as much a leg to stand on in insisting he step down - which is to say, none. Political parties are private clubs. People join, people leave, people get kicked out. The voters who blindly cast a ballot for a candidate based on which club they belong to are blindly throwing their franchise to the wind.

That said, though, the larger question becomes a moral one: Are the defectors MORALLY obligated to take their choice to the public? If you believe what you've been hearing from the MLAs, both Forsyth and Anderson were being urged by everyone from visitors to their constituency offices on down to the drive-thru guy at McDonald's to cross the floor. Which seems on the face of it to be reasonably unlikely, since if there was such an obvious sentiment afoot in the riding, it wouldn't have come as such a total shock when they DID cross.

Anderson says he believes in the right of citizens to recall, and so if 30% (could be wrong on that - the WAP website lists 20% under its Policies section) of his electors call for it, he'll step down and run in a by-election. I like the notion of recall, but in order to meet the threshold of 30%, virtually every single resident in Anderson's riding who voted in 2008 would need to sign the petition (Airdrie-Chestermere had 38.5% voter turn-out).

The PCs are screaming for a by-election in both ridings - and let's be honest, they would very probably lose both, and badly. The WAP argument against by-elections, as near as I can tell, seems to be legal and mathematical: "These 2 people won those ridings, and can legally sit with whomever they choose, and besides by-elections cost a lot of money". The first point is correct. The second point is correct, but irrelevant. Elections ALWAYS cost money - and they're always worth it, because the alternative is to let someone else decide whether or not to grant you, the citizen, the right to be heard - and that right is inalienable in this country. Hell, using that logic, the PCs could have argued that they had a majority of votes cast in Calgary-Glenmore in 2008 (50.7%), and thus a by-election was unnecessary and expensive and they'd just name a new MLA from the membership of their Glenmore constituency association. Which I imagine the WAP would have had an opinion or two about.

See, here's the thing about the Wildrose Alliance: It was founded not to impose right-wing theocracy on Alberta (I don't believe they will) or to run all the coloured people and "the gay" out of Alberta (I don't believe they'll do that, either) - it was founded to address a democratic deficit in this province. A feeling that the powers-that-be in the PC Party had grown so arrogant that they had started to view the citizens of Alberta as servants of the party, instead of the other way around. They came forward with statements about fixed election dates (I'm in favour), donation limits (I'm in favour), and transparency (I'm in favour). They talked about the right of recall (I'm in favour), and how politicians hiding behind what the current rules ALLOWED them to do rather than doing what was RIGHT was counter to basic democratic principles (I agree).

Since then, though, we've seen this group of idealists morph into a political party - which means compromise. We weren't going to be allowed to know the vote total in their leadership race - until they were leaked. We're still not allowed to know who donated to the leadership campaign of their party leader - that translates as "we don't know who she's beholden to". Rather than accepting all comers, like a truly democratic party, and letting the full membership determine the party's direction, their membership seems fixated on allowing only "true believers" who will tow the line (admittedly a hard choice: fully open, and risk letting the PCs take over, or closed off, and just ACTING like the PCs). And we have people crossing the floor and declining to put their decision to the voters (who, again, would very probably endorse both Anderson and Forsyth strongly).

Now, here's the clincher, so WAPpers, hold off on clicking "add a comment" for just a second: ALL of those issues, with the exception of the first (leadership vote tallies), are also very much present with the PCs. We don't know who donated to Ed's leadership race. The PCs, who until recently had been on a witch-hunt for progressives, are now checking under the bed for possible defectors. They've happily accepted floor-crossers in the past without putting the issue to a by-election vote.

But the Wildrose Alliance tells us they should be put in power because they're BETTER than the Tories. To this point, they look just like more of the same - and now, they look like more of the same with a former PC party member (Smith) and 2 former PC MLAs sitting for the party.

If you're going to grab for the brass ring, and ask the consent of Albertans to serve on the basis that you're better and more democratic and more transparent than the tired, old PC Party, then you have to BE better, more democratic and more transparent. Because if you're NOT - if you're just a carbon copy of the PCs with a few different policies and a more photogenic leader, you know what the tired, old PC Party becomes?

It becomes Coke.

"Yeah, we screwed up with New Coke. Yeah, we rot your teeth. But you know us, we're familiar, and those other guys at Pepsi had Pepsi Clear and they rot your teeth just as much. Hey, have you tried our new aluminum bottle?".

Wildrose can crush the PCs by sticking to their original plan - or they can copy the PCs through their actions, and give people no reason to move their vote to a party they're less familiar with.

They say Albertans deserve better than what the PCs are giving us right now. That may be true. But for that to translate into electoral success, the WAP has to BE better, in every way - not just a copy of the PCs with a more charismatic leader and a grumpy, elderly membership base that longs for the days of Lougheed and Klein - when they themselves were PCs.

In that regard, this move probably hurts the WAP more than the PCs. It shows they're just another political party trying to win power and a legislative budget, instead of a real movement for democratic change, trying to make Alberta a better place.

It's not too late for the Wildrose Alliance. For that matter, it's not too late for the Progressive Conservatives. The decision, as always, is going to be made not by party leaders, or by policy hacks, or by partisan bloggers. It will be made by the voters who bother to show up - and by the members of whichever party are most willing to hear and act on what the voters are demanding.
What they're demanding, by the way, is BETTER.

They're not getting it today.


Stay tuned.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Guest Blogger _________________ Checks In

Nation, I received the kind offer from a friend and political thinker whom I respect very much to come into the ES Nation today and throw down some thoughts while I keep trying to master my deep breathing. I'm indebted to this person for the effort they put into the post, and for thinking of me at this difficult time. They've asked to remain anonymous - and no, I don't know if that means they donated to Danielle's leadership campaign (or to Ed's, for that matter).

Their text begins... now.

Hello Enlightened Savage readers!

This is not your regular Savage speaking. Rather, I’m someone who calls the ES my friend and the general label of “conservative” my political home. As you all know, our buddy the Savage was politically blindsided on his way back from the land of the midnight sun. I offered up a guest post to keep his readers entertained while he collected his thoughts for what will surely be a substantial post down the road. I’ll admit that part of my offer was a bit selfish. I don’t really have an outlet of my own and I wanted to express some serious concerns and offer some advice to the powers that be in the PC party/government – one that I have been a supporter of for some time. Nonetheless, my offer was graciously accepted.

The Stelmach government has been in declining fortunes for well over a year now. Between poor communications, a return to deficit budgeting, and a myriad of other woes, things are not looking good in PC land these days. Fundraising is at a near-standstill and voters, as well as volunteers, are considering their options.

I can be described as one of those volunteers considering their options. I still support my MLA and think there are folks who are doing, or at least trying to do, some good work in government. But I also think that the way of doing things needs to change - some big gaffes in the past few months have made that pretty clear. And unfortunately for the PCs, I’m part of a growing number of Albertans whose attention has been captivated by Danielle Smith… not totally sold on the Wildrose Alliance, but not scared of them, either.

I have been questioning my political allegiance for a while now and there are a number of causes for this. As I put my pen to paper (or, rather, finger to keyboard), there were five fairly recent things that came to mind when I thought of sources of my political frustration. And so, here is my rant:


The upcoming shuffle has already been botched in some ways, which is pretty unfortunate. Although there is often speculation in advance of a cabinet shuffle in any jurisdiction, it is almost unheard of for a leader to confirm an impending shuffle… much less give it a timeline. Yet, that is exactly what Premier Stelmach did in December when he told us to expect a cabinet shuffle in mid-January and unleashed a 6-week frenzy of cabinet speculation that included the Gaming and Liquor Commission shutting down an online bet on the makeup of Alberta’s next cabinet. As if this wasn’t bad enough, we have recently been told that this shuffle is now on hold until the Premier is back from Dubai at the end of the month. Seriously? Did you not consider that maybe it was a bad idea to shuffle cabinet and then leave the continent? This is a prime example of why you don’t tell people when a shuffle is coming. Plans change and when they do, it only fuels the sentiment that it’s amateur hour down at the Legislature.

Thankfully, all hope is not lost. By the time the cabinet IS shuffled, almost two months will have passed. In these two months, Albertans will have been told repeatedly that the new cabinet team will play a big role in setting the new agenda for the Stelmach government between now and the next election. People’s expectations have been raised but good: you MUST deliver on them.

And by deliver, I mean grab the axe and start sharpening. No fewer than 4 Ministers need to be sent to the backbench, namely: Ray Danyluk, George Groeneveld, Janis Tarchuk, and Fred Lindsay. All four are poor, uninspiring performers who can easily be replaced with brighter talents in caucus. Iris Evans should also be shown the door, but it is often said that she’d do more damage outside of cabinet than in, so perhaps a simple demotion will have to do.

Ron Liepert has to be moved from Health. He’s stubborn and argumentative, two qualities that also embody the unions representing most of his department. They don’t get along and that’s bad, period. Punt him to Energy so he can placate the boys at the Petroleum Club in Calgary. There are a number of other changes that can be made, but it’s important for this shuffle to be big. Very few, if any, Ministers should retain their current portfolios (Rob Renner comes to mind as one who could and should stay put).

And don’t be afraid to put capable backbenchers in big jobs. Fred Horne and Diana McQueen are must-haves at the cabinet table and can easily handle major portfolios. Lethbridge MLA Greg Weadick would bring an important southern Alberta voice. Remember that Alison Redford can’t be Justice Minister forever and Hancock has already had the job, so maybe look at the other two lawyers in caucus: Jonathan Denis and Verlyn Olson. And, if you REALLY want to show you’re serious about changing the way business is done, stop punishing independent streaks and reward the smartest man in the Legislature by putting Doug Griffiths in cabinet.


Stop calling for Forsyth and Anderson to step down and run in by-elections as Wildrose candidates. It’s a stupid idea. Let’s say they actually went ahead with the suggestion and DID step down to run again a-la Sheila Copps: what would that accomplish? If you’re the PCs, not a damn thing.

Not only would a pair of by-elections serve to draw attention (every day for an entire 28-day writ period) to the fact that two government MLAs left government to sit in opposition… they would both win their seats back - quite handily, too. A month of anti-government press (almost guaranteed in Calgary these days) capped off with a couple of Wildrose blowout victories will only legitimize the notion that the good ship Tory has already hit the iceberg and is on her way down in spectacular fashion.


Enough with the notion of vote-splitting electing a Liberal government in Alberta, already. Even the most uneducated voter knows what a ridiculous statement this is. Alberta has had two “conservative” parties on the ballot in a number of elections and not once has it resulted in the election of a Liberal government.

In Calgary and rural Alberta, the battle will be for conservative voters and, in the vast majority of constituencies, one of the two conservative (PC or Wildrose) candidates will win. The threat of vote-splitting is somewhat legitimate in Edmonton, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The centre-left deserves a voice, too, and Edmonton is by and large where those voters reside. Besides, have you taken a look at the PC’s Edmonton caucus? Not exactly a stellar class of bright lights. Save for 2 or 3 of them, Edmontonians would be better served by new MLAs… even if they were Liberals or New Democrats.


A lot of people, myself included, don’t really know much about this members services committee at the Alberta Legislature (I had to do a fair bit of reading to bone up on this for this guest post). Turns out they’ve got a fair bit of power. Knowing what I know now, I have a plea to the PC MLAs who sit on the committee: Do not even remotely consider denying caucus funding to the Wildrose Alliance MLAs.

People are just waiting for the government caucus to wield their majority in an abusive manner. This happens fairly often, but no one ever really pays attention because the decisions usually go against the Liberals. Now, it’s a different ball game.

I don’t really know the numbers, but let’s say allocating caucus funding for the Wildrose Alliance would cost $1 million annually including the funding they already receive as MLAs. That’s $2 million until the next election. Yes, everyone is trying to practice budgetary restraint, but that’s not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things. There will be a few arguments against extending caucus funding to the Wildrose Alliance, but they don’t really hold up.

Argument #1 against providing caucus funding to the 3 Wildrose Alliance MLAs would be that they are not an official party based on the standing orders. This could also allow the committee to terminate the exception and, thus, the funding provided to the NDP citing a change in the makeup of the Assembly. If the committee does this, not only does it look like the PC caucus is wielding its majority to hamper opposition to the government, it will also make the committee and, by default, the PC caucus look very foolish if and when more defections take place and the Wildrose Alliance is a duly-constituted caucus of 4 (or more) MLAs and entitled to caucus funding without exception.

Argument #2 would be that there simply isn’t enough money in the Legislative Assembly Office budget to fund another caucus. There are so many holes in this, both real and perceived, that it shouldn’t be given any serious consideration. First of all, most Albertans don’t understand the difference between the Executive and Legislative branches of government… all they know is that their tax dollars go to pay for all of it. With announcements of spending gems such as $7 million to paint a train and run it back and forth from Vancouver to Whistler for 2 weeks, it’s a little hard to believe you’re not able to can’t come up with relative chump change to properly fund the opposition. The aforementioned bit about looking foolish if and when the Wildrose Alliance caucus hits 4 MLAs applies here, too… tough cheese if you weren’t planning on spending it, the standing orders say they’re entitled to that operational cash once they’re at 4.


Communications has not been a strength of the Stelmach administration – even they admit it. Under the normal circumstances of Alberta politics (i.e.: boring and uneventful) this wouldn’t be a big deal since no one would be paying attention anyway. That’s not the case anymore, and the Premier’s office, the PC caucus, and the party apparatus need to come to grips with this quickly using more than an automated e-mail system and the occasional scripted video on youtube.

It’s really unfortunate that Paul Stanway is hitting the road in a few weeks. With him leaving, the task of spin master theoretically falls to Tom Olsen. If reaction to this week’s defections is any indication, Tom shouldn’t be the spokesperson on this file. It’s clear that neither the Premier’s Director of Media Relations, nor the Premier himself will be the lead speaker on this issue. That’s fine, but a dozen different people saying a dozen different things is not fine. Pick a spokesman or two, maybe a loyal and respected cabinet minister like Doug Horner, and let them be the defender of all things Eddie. No more of this “great leader” and “amazing visionary” stuff, though… people don’t really buy it and it makes the man sound a bit like Kim Jong-Il. Pay some consultant to come up with a clear set of messages that will resonate with folks – it’s pretty clear that nothing developed in-house has done the job so far – and keep your spokesmen on script. This will serve to eliminate (or at least attempt to eliminate) conflicting messages and, if it’s really well done, might actually give you a bit of traction.

One more thing: if the plan was to send an e-mail from “Premier Ed” every time his leadership is called into question, drop that plan now. The Premier Ed e-mails creep people out as much as they engage supporters and, more importantly, sending out a message every time someone leaves caucus or a scathing editorial is printed makes the Premier and his team look weak and insecure.

And so ends my rant. A little blunt and kinda pissy? Yeah… but I think you’ll find that attitude if you scratch the surface of a lot of PC supporters these days. The next few weeks and months are going to be some of the most interesting we’ve seen in Alberta politics for a generation. As frustrated as I am, I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel. I, and a lot of PCs in the same position, still believe that things could turn around for the party – but we need to see some major changes. We’ve made our objections known and, I hope, have provided important feedback those who should have influence with the powers that be.

It might be taken, and it might not. This has been the ebb and flow of the PC party for more than a generation. The difference now? If we don’t like the direction we see – we have somewhere to go.

Monday, January 4, 2010

You Leave Town For 5 Days...

... and all hell breaks loose...

Nation, I'm still digesting today's news. Those who know me know why this is such a personal shock to me. You'll get my take - as coherantly as I can provide it - tomorrow.