Saturday, November 27, 2010


Nation, it occurred to me quite suddenly earlier today that the best way to deal with the current situation in Alberta's public health system might be to deal with it in much the same way that a Doctor would deal with a patient who presented themselves at their office or ER.

  • First, you identify the symptoms and relieve them where possible.
  • Then, you follow those symptoms to their root cause. 
  • Then, you address the root cause, if possible.

Am I a doctor?  No.  But I DID stay at a Holiday Inn Express once...

Back to my point...  I think we're all aware of the symptoms that this particular patient is exhibiting: Over-crowded Emergency Departments, long waits to see specialists, staff working to - and, in some cases, past - the breaking point.  That's just to name a few.

The political response, and the response from the political media and bloggerati, has been predictable: Attack the government. This is all Ed Stelmach's fault, just like the global economic downturn was.  If we get rid of the PC's, all of these problems will be gone. Now, let's come up with a funny one-liner incorporating the word "cookie", and focus even more attention on a guy going through personal and professional hell in Dr. Sherman - hey, why not splash his marriage troubles all over the internet and talk some more about his father's impending death? I'm sure he'll LOVE that! (Note to the media: Sometimes, the moral thing to do is to shut off the mic and say "Thanks, I think we've got enough for the story.")  But first and foremost, let's solve every single problem in the system by getting rid of the PC's.

The problem with this simplistic approach is that it supposes that the health system is designed perfectly, and that the only problem with it is the people giving it political direction and setting the budget.  But I think if we're all being honest with each other, we can admit that Premier Smith would probably govern a RADICALLY different health care system than Premier Swann, Premier Mason or Premier Huff.  So, we've got to dig a little deeper for real solutions.

If we're all seeing the same symptoms, then what I want to know from you, the millions of members of E.S. Nation, is this: What do you see as the root causes of these symptoms? Is it board-level governance? A lack of financial resources? Low staff levels? Do we need more facilities, or a different sort of facility altogether?

There are likely as many answers to this question as there are people in this province, but if we're going to try and treat the disease rather than the symptom, we need to have an adult conversation about what the true root causes of these problems are - a conversation that's more nuanced and honest than "the PC's are the problem".

I've read with interest the health proposals from the Wildrose Alliance and from the Alberta Liberals. There are some good short-term and long-term suggestions.  I hope to read the proposals from others as well. But those are political parties, whose motivation can't be assumed to be pure any more than the governing party's can be by those in this province who oppose them. While I hope that all of these proposals are made from a place of genuine concern and a genuine desire to fix the system, I'm at LEAST as interested, probably MORESO, in what you - the public - have to say on these issues.

In summer of 2012, no matter WHOM is answering the phones in the Premier's Office, we're all going to be using this public health system. We've got to help fix it. But before we can do that, we've got to figure out what's truly WRONG, so we know what to fix.

So, I put it to you, Nation: What are the root causes of the distress on Alberta's public health system?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Paging Dr. Sherman...

Alright, Nation...  I want to start this post off by being as clear as I can:

The very notion of "party discipline" is distasteful, to me.  The notion that an elected Member of the Legislative Assembly can be punished for speaking up for his or her constituents is anti-democratic, at best.

What I want to do with this post, though, is examine a little deeper...  because, as much as newspapers and partisan hacks of all stripes might like the simplest, easiest-to-understand story, I give readers of The Enlightened Savage more credit than that. You can handle grey - you don't need everything black or white.

Raj Sherman sent an email badly in need of spell-checking to his caucus colleagues and to some of his fellow physicians, which was leaked to the media. In that email, he mentioned his lack of confidence in Alberta Health Services, and that he believed the Premier had "broken his promise not only to the ER doctors, but also to the seniors, the 1.8 million Albertans who present for emergency care and their 2 million family members, and to all frontline healthcare professionals".

Sherman, the Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health & Wellness, was not punished for this criticism of AHS and the Premier. He went into a 2-and-a-half hour meeting with Premier Stelmach the next day, and came out of that meeting committed to helping the government fix the issues that plague the system.

Let's review that last paragraph again: Sherman was NOT disciplined for his criticism of the Premier.  At least, not in any measurable, on-the-books sort of way.  Critics of Stelmach will insist, and I certainly can't prove them wrong, that dissenters are dealt with behind closed doors, their upward mobility is hobbled, they're denied committee memberships, etc.  But, in front of the cameras, there was no discipline for Sherman. Just as there was no formal and public discipline when Kyle Fawcett criticised the Premier. Or when Fred Horne criticised his own government. Or when Heather Forsyth suggested, during the 2008 campaign, that Stelmach was possibly going to cost her her own seat.  Criticism of the Premier specifically, or of the government-as-a-whole, seems to be fair game (as it jolly well should be, in my opinion).

Sherman even spoke eloquently in favour of a Liberal motion for an emergency debate on the ER crisis.  He was not disciplined - again, nor SHOULD he have been.

Where Sherman runs into trouble is the next day, when he tells CTV News "The previous minister, to be honest, was quite rude and offensive to all front-line staff".

NOW Raj is in trouble.  Because he has (more or less) named another member of caucus - one other than the Premier - and criticised that member publicly.  Which is EXACTLY what got Guy Boutilier tossed from the PC caucus.  Boutilier didn't get kicked out of caucus for speaking against the Premier, or standing up for his constituents. The "line" that Guy crossed, now in more stark relief as result of the Sherman incident, was when he accused the Health Minister publicly of "talking gibberish".
I'm not going to say that I agree or disagree with where the Premier has drawn the line - I can tell you that if it were ME, I'd probably draw it elsewhere. But it's not my call.  What's important, in ANY organization, is that there are clear lines about what is and is not acceptable behaviour. What is, and what is not, tolerable.  Clearly, we've seen that criticism of the Premier or of the performance of the government as a whole, or of departments WITHIN the government, are fair game.  We saw it with Forsyth, and Fawcett, and Horne, and (at first) Sherman.  What has NOT been tolerated is criticism of individual caucus members not named "Stelmach".

One of the earliest rules you learn when you begin dating is that you never, EVER tell your partner they have to choose between you and someone else. It's not just dirty pool - it almost never ends the way you were hoping.  Whether you SAY "choose me or your friends", or whether you just force that choice through your actions, the person who forces the choice to be made, almost never ends up being the one chosen.

When you, as a PC caucus member, force the Premier to choose between you and someone else in the caucus, it's probably not going to go very well for you.

Ed can take a punch. He's done it before, and he'll likely do it again.  But he's clearly shown that you can't take swings at other members of caucus in public.

I'm not saying I like what's happened. I LIKE Raj. He's a good guy, and a good MLA.  He will remain both of those things - but he'll be those things OUTSIDE of the PC caucus, for now.

But it's consistent.  We know where the line is, and he crossed it. He's not being punished for speaking out on health care - he's being punished for publicly criticising a fellow member of caucus.

If Raj truly wants to fix the system, from the inside - he should take his medicine, learn his lesson, apologize for crossing the line, and get back in the trenches with the rest of caucus to offer his expertise to fix a broken system.

The PC's need Raj.

The question is: Does Raj think he needs the PC's?

Monday, November 15, 2010

2,103,840 Minutes...

Nation, exactly 4 years ago as of the publishing of this post, The Enlightened Savage was born.

I've spoken before on the anniversary of this blog about the people who have inspired me in this pursuit, and the thanks that I owe them as just as real and vital today as they were the first time I saw their encouraging words.  To Ken, Duncan, and all the people who have piled into the Savage Sidecar since - Thank-you.

This has been a banner year for The Enlightened Savage.  It started off (the Savagian Calendar beginning in November) with the 2009 PC AGM, at which a leadership review was voted upon (and ultimately voted against).  That was a little bit interesting, but the TRUE drama of the season was occurring at the headquarters of the E.S. Nation, as former Wildrose Alliance Executive Director Jane Morgan was holding down the fort while yours truly and his blushing bride cavorted on the beaches of Mexico whilst on their honeymoon.  Jane did yeoman's work, and managed not to get me excommunicated in absentia. ;)

In December, of course, I settled the global climate change debate once and for all (you're welcome). Luckily, the world has seen fit to let my take be the final word on the issue, and all debate has since ceased.

January saw a democratic sucker-punch with 2 PC MLA's crossing the floor to the Wildrose Alliance, and the long-rumoured-but-finally-realized cabinet shuffle that, among other things, saw not-at-all-Red Tory Jonathan Denis (Friend Of the Enlightened Savage) elevated to Cabinet.

February brought unexpected news, with Dave Bronconnier shocking many, this blogger included, with his announcement that he would not be seeking re-election as Calgary's mayor.  This blog post proved prescient in 2 regards: It first introduced the idea of the Best Political Team in the Blogosphere (tm) - which eventually morphed into - and it mentioned a chap named Naheed Nenshi as a potential candidate to replace Bronconnier.  So, using the "Conan-Stewart-Colbert-Norris-Huckabee" equation - I got Naheed Nenshi elected mayor.  You're welcome, Naheed. ;)

In March, I got to opine on the Reboot Alberta 2.0 event held in late February (it was an awesome experience, and I can't recommend it highly enough), and Ann Coulter was kind enough to give us all a thing or two to talk about.

While a slow month for blog postings, April saw a plea from yours truly for school board trustee candidates (we eventually got many candidates, to my delight) and provincial news with the departure of Dave Taylor from the Liberal caucus.

May, in addition to being the month of my birth, was noteworthy for, among other reasons, the entry of Kent Hehr into the Mayoral race, and the resolution (for now) of the Calgary-West Conservative Party of Canada EDA civil war.

In June, this blog gained some mainstream attention with 2 "scoops" - the leaking of the final report of the Electoral Boundaries Commission (I posted the report several hours before it appeared on the Commission's own website), and an interview via Skype with freshly-minted mayoral candidate Naheed Nenshi (perhaps you've heard of him?).  The Nenshi interview was a great conversation, notable for Nenshi's thoughtful answers AND for the absolutely brutal audio quality.  He expressed an interest in a "re-do" at some point - I'm ready when you are, Your Worship. ;)

July saw a lot of noteworthy posts, but none moreso than the royal Savaging that Alnoor Kassam earned when he tried to re-write history during his announcement of a mayoral run.  The gist? Don't say that you haven't announced anything, when you've typed the words "I am running for Mayor" into Twitter.

Since August, this site has seen a LOT of activity. The coverage provided by this blogger as a contributor to was posted here.  In early August, we got a shiny new look.  September continued with a regular stream of election coverage.  In October, things went off the hook, with the actual election, a nomination for the Canadian Blog Awards in the "Best Political Blog" category both as an individual and another as part of the CalgaryPolitics team, mainstream media appearances, the move of the blog to the custom domain "", and - most recently - the Progressive Conservative AGM, where I was able to help facilitate the PC Party's embracing of Bloggers with full media accreditation (with the first 2 passes going to Jane Morgan and Alex Muir of "The Roundhouse").

So...  yeah. It's been a busy year.  My first full year as an "outed", non-anonymous blogger.

How do you improve on a year like that? Where do we go from here?

Without giving too much away...  let's just say you're going to want to keep your eyes on this space, and follow "@oberhoffner" on Twitter.  Especially if you live, or KNOW people who live, in south-east Calgary.  There are some pretty big announcements coming in the next few weeks.

It's time to crank it up to 11.

- E.S.