Saturday, December 31, 2011

None For The Road

Nation, it's been awhile. I've been pretty busy - it turns out that running for a nomination is every bit as exhausting as I'd imagined. And then multiplied by 10 times. We've got a lot to talk about - and we will. But not today.

I posted the below message on Facebook. If you're in Calgary, I'd encourage you to take note of it as you plan your evening tonight. This isn't about politics. It's not about judgement. It's certainly not about teetotaling (I'm a scotch enthusiast - no scotch lover will EVER judge you for drinking, unless what you're drinking is bad scotch). It's about not driving after you've been drinking. It's about saving lives. Please plan ahead - we've got a big year coming up. :)

- JoeyO (original message appears below)

It’s New Year’s Eve – a great night to bid adieu to 2011, and welcome 2012!

If your celebration is going to involve alcohol, I implore you to NOT DRIVE tonight. Stay the night where you’re at. Take Calgary Transit (it’s free tonight). Arrange for someone in your group to be the designated driver. Or make arrangements through one of the local businesses below.

2012 is going to be a great year. Wake up on January 1st with a clear conscience, in your own bed rather than a jail cell, with your car and your life in one piece. Make the responsible choice.

Designated Driver services (you and your car get home safely)

• Drivers Choice Designated Drivers 403-216-2630

• Keys Please 403-255-4800

Taxi service (you get home safely, pick up your car tomorrow)

• Advance Cab 403-777-1111

• Alberta South Co-Op Taxi Line Ltd. 403-531-8294

• Associated Cabs Ltd 403-299-1111

• Black Top Taxi Company 403-735-3222

• Canadian Cab Co 403-777-1110

• Delta Cab Ltd 403-278-9999

• Checker-Yellow Cabs Ltd. 403-299-9999

• Mayfair Taxi Ltd. 403-255-6555

• Prestige Limousine Service 403-275-4163

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fixing Elections (at least, the dates thereof)

Hope everyone's had a good week. Mine was pretty uneventful. Except for that whole "announcing my intention to run for office and receiving hundreds of messages of support" thing.

I wanted to touch base on the recently released overview of the legislation to be debated during the fall sitting - in particular, Bill 21 (Election Amendment Act). In this Bill, as I understand it, the Lt. Governor will be asked to issue a writ of election every four years, between the dates of March 1st and May 31st, starting in 2012. The election period itself will be 28 days, as is the norm here.

Okay. Are we all on the same page so far?

Opposition to this news was fierce and as predictable as you might expect. Premier Redford (it IS "Premier Redford", Wildrose media copy writers, not "Ms. Redford") promised fixed election dates during the PC Leadership race. What we have, through this Bill, isn't a fixed date as they have elsewhere in Canada or in the U.S., but it is certainly a sign that the Premier is willing to give up at least some of her power to, in fact if not in law, call elections whenever she darned well pleases. You'll recall that there were many pundits who ruminated about a snap election call immediately following the post-leadership Cabinet shuffle in October.

This Bill would, as described, take the option of the "snap election call" off the table. For that matter, it would force the hand of a Premier who was otherwise disinclined to face the voters, as well. We've seen Premiers wait nearly the full 5 years in the past, and we've seen Premiers go back to the voters barely 3 years into their mandate. This bill would put the peg squarely at April 15th every 4 years, and give the government 6 weeks of "wiggle room" on the leash in either direction, in the event of natural calamity, budget deliberations or important matters of government not yet resolved, etc.

It's an extreme example, but serves the argument well: Can you imagine if, by law, an election had to take place on the third Monday of June each year, starting in 2011? On the third Monday of June this year, there was still smoke rising from the rubble of Slave Lake. How do you have a partisan exchange that anyone can care about when you have hundreds of Albertans watching their homes smoulder?

That writ would have been issued, under law, on May 23rd. One week AFTER the tragedy - so sure, you could "suspend" the law in an emergency, the same way the "no deficits" law was suspended. But if you're going to bring in a law that will be selectively enforced, you shouldn't bring it in at all. Laws aren't supposed to be flexible, or they'd be called "guidelines".

Is this the "fixed election date" that I, and many other political nerds, really wanted? Not really... we wanted a day - etched in stone. We wanted to be able to say "the next provincial election will be May 14th, 2012. The one after that will be May 9th, 2016. The one after that will be May 11th, 2020". The argument is simple: Fixed dates give Elections Alberta the chance to find people to work the polls and enumerate the voters. They give the parties time to find good candidates, and fundraise. They show a commitment to democracy, by taking the power out of the Premier's hands to catch the opposition parties unaware.

And while this Bill isn't the Bill that I wanted, or that I would have written...  it DOES accomplish those 3 things.

Elections Alberta knows it MUST be ready to go by March 1st, 2012. And again on March 1st, 2016. Although, admittedly, the fuzziness of the exact election period will make it harder to hire staff, since most people need to know when they'll be starting, or will find other jobs. The opposition parties know they have to be fully ready to go by those same dates. And, as the Calgary Sun put it in their editorial today, "... it's hard to believe any opposition party worth its salt could be taken by surprise after this 90-day election period is set in stone...".

Do many Albertans care about democratic reform?

I'd like to think so, but I'm a realist. *I* care about it. Deeply. But I'm part of a small minority on this issue.

This Bill isn't going to turn the balance of power on its ear, and it's not the first shot in a "democratic reform revolution".

But it IS the first step in an EVOLUTION of the way in which we elect our governments.

The first legislated, fixed provincial election date in Canada was held in British Columbia in 2005. We're behind, but we're not THAT far behind.

Evolutions are, by their very nature, slow and gradual.

But when the Biggest Dog in the Yard volunteers to be put on a shorter chain - that's progress.

It's not perfect.

But it's a start, that the Premier was under no obligation to make.

She CHOSE to give up this power, in the interests of a more transparent and democratic system.

And that's something I think we can ALL get behind.

Monday, November 14, 2011


This was never part of the plan.

When I started blogging – exactly 5 years ago, as of tomorrow – the idea was to help my fellow citizens understand what was going on in the political world. Nothing more.

I didn’t have any extraordinary connections at the time. I knew my MLA. That was it: That was all.

I didn’t have a degree in Political Science. I didn’t grow up in a family of political operatives. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first member of my family to ever belong to a political party of any kind. I didn’t have any exceptional qualifications that elevated me above anyone else.

All I had was a computer, time on my hands, and a desire to help people see through the fog and the baloney.

As time went on, and my readership grew, I realized that there was an appetite for the kind of plain-spoken, common-sense analysis that I was providing. People really liked that I was a Progressive Conservative who was willing to take his own party to task, and to call them out when they deserved it.

What’s more, though: I began to realize that there was an appetite not only for that kind of coverage, but for that kind of MLA as well. The kind that puts good ideas and good governance ahead of partisanship and the “theatre of the absurd” that politics has become.

When you look at the voter participation numbers in all of our elections, you see numbers that are embarrassingly low. And while there are no doubt many different reasons for this lack of participation in the most fundamental of our societal responsibilities, it’s not hard to imagine that one of those reasons is the often ridiculous way that many of our elected officials behave. They name-call. They shout at each other. They don’t tell the whole truth when asked. Ask 3 of them the same question, and you get 3 versions of “the facts”. None of these behaviours would be tolerated from our children, and yet when a politician does it, we not only TOLERATE it, we vote for them – sometimes for decades - and pay their salary.

Don’t we deserve better from our employees? Shouldn’t our leaders lead by example?

I came to realize that in order to force the kind of change I wanted to see, I could do one of two things: I could either write about it for the next several years, and see if anyone took up the challenge; or, I could dare to BE the change I wanted to see.

Better to light a candle than curse the dark.

As a teenager growing up in Bonavista Downs, I often wondered what it would be like to be a politician. I would see shows on television – usually on Access, as this was “back in the day” of 36 channels – of Peter Lougheed and John F. Kennedy, and I would imagine what it might be like to step up and serve your fellow citizens, like they did, and change the world in which you lived. I would wonder what could drive a person to do a job where half the people you were trying to help would hate you, all of the time, no matter what you were doing.

But the desire to serve my neighbours never went away. I started forming opinions. Opinions formed around the dinner table while watching how things were unfolding at the time. Opinions challenged by great teachers at St. Bonaventure Junior High and Bishop Grandin High School. When the facts changed, I changed my opinions. Politicians call this “flip-flopping”, to try to talk you out of voting for someone. The rest of us call it “learning”.

Over the past several years, politics in Alberta has taken a definite turn for the worse, in my opinion. The money that gets thrown around in exchange for influence is ridiculous. The personal attacks are disgusting. The way we are, as citizens, expected to accept this as “the way it has to be” is, quite frankly, insulting.

We deserve better than this.

They say that “politicians are like diapers; they should be changed often, and for the same reason”.

I don’t know if that’s true 100% of the time, but as I look around Calgary-Fish Creek, I see how drastically things have changed over the past 18 years.  Our communities are different. Our needs and values have changed. The people of this area – my home – have aspirations and visions for an Alberta 20 years from now that, in 1993, would have seemed unimaginable. And yet, that future is within our grasp. All we have to do is dare to talk about it. To talk, as equal partners in that future, about ideas freely and openly, without fear of being labelled by voices on the left as “rednecks”, or by voices on the right as “socialists”.

We’re better than that. And we deserve better than the divisive politics of yesterday.

Politicians always tell you they want to “represent your interests to the party”. They say they want to be “your voice in Edmonton”. But what do they do once they’re elected? They tow the party line. They echo whatever their party leader says. The people of Calgary-Fish Creek, if you believe the voting record, agreed with absolutely everything Ralph Klein ever did. And then they agreed with everything Ed Stelmach ever did. Until 2010, when they started agreeing with everything Danielle Smith said.

Where is your chance to have your voice heard in between elections? Politicians make big decisions in the 4 years between elections – sometimes, they even change their mind about which party they belong to. But do they ever ask you? Do they vote against their own party, when it’s what the people who elected them – their BOSSES – want them to do?

The TRUTH is, our elected officials don’t work for their party, or their party’s leader: They work for you. And if they forget that, even for a minute, you should fire them.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my days arguing about which ideas are “left wing” and which ones are “right wing”. I don’t believe in convenient labels that hide the truth. The truth is complicated, and something that the politicians of yesterday have trouble understanding is that voters aren’t dumb: We can have mature, adult discussions without a politician in the room. We can even make decisions without a politician in the room. We can handle “complicated” ideas.

I want to work with people from all parties, and from no party. I want to work with people whose backgrounds are as varied as the languages that you can hear while you walk through Sikome Lake on a July weekend. I’m not going to pretend I know more than you do about healthcare – I probably don’t. If you’re a nurse, or a doctor, or a patient, I need to hear what YOU think. I’m not going to pretend I know more than you about energy policy – again, I probably don’t. But whether you work on the rigs, or you own a mid-sized producer, I need to hear what YOU think. We can only face these challenges of vision and ideas when we hear ALL the ideas, and not just the ones the person at the front of the room already agrees with (or, that their party leader agrees with).

It’s time to move past the politics of immaturity and divisiveness. It’s time to stop pretending the voters whose candidate didn’t win don’t matter in between elections. It’s time to demand better of our elected officials. It’s time to take back our voice from the special interests and big donors who drown the rest of us out with their big donation cheques and special access.

The people in Calgary-Fish Creek have always stood up for what is right, and for what makes sense.

We need change, as a province, as a government, and as the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.

Yesterday is done. Some of it was great. Some of it, not so much. But it’s in the past. We can respect it, and learn lessons from it, without repeating it.

The future is today. It’s now. It can’t wait, and it won’t be held back. If we don’t embrace change as a party, Albertans will force change at the ballot box. And they’ll be right to do so.

I believe in our party, and the people within it. I believe they see the need to change. And I believe that we, in Calgary-Fish Creek, can lead the charge by sending an Agent of Change to Edmonton, to let them see that “politics as usual” isn’t good enough any more.

And so, it is with humility and a great sense of purpose that I announce my intention to seek the nomination for the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta in the constituency of Calgary-Fish Creek – to serve my neighbours in the way they deserve to be served.

There goes the neighbourhood.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Be Yours To Hold It High


Simple - yet, for some, oh so hard.

It's more than a poppy. It's more than a day off of work, or school.

Everything that we have - EVERYTHING - we owe to those brave enough to put on a uniform, to stand in front of the enemy, and to die so that we might live.

Every political quabble we have. Every election - whether we choose to vote, or not. Every difference of opinion across partisan lines. None of these things happens without the bravery and sacrifice - past, present, and future - of our men and women in uniform.

Those whose lives are marked by a simple white gravestone or cross are forever to be remembered as heroes. Those who came home, whether from Germany in 1945 or from Afghanistan in 2010, have sacrificed for us again and again every night, when they close their eyes and relive the horrors they saw while defending the defenceless.

Remember them. All of them.

The video is of a Vancouver men's chorus performing a Stephen Chatman arrangement of the seminal poem "In Flanders' Fields". I have performed this work in the past, and it absolutely rips your guts out to sing it in a room full of Veterans. Powerful.

Friday, October 28, 2011

We Get It

Sorry for the relative silence of late, Nation - those of you following me on Twitter will have seen a lot of activity, but I haven't made it back to the Mothership at for a couple of weeks.

I am happy to announce, though, that I've taken on a couple of exciting new projects. One with the Calgary Herald - you'll get more information about that in the coming weeks. The other, though, is with OpenFile, a community-powered online news organization. In effect, they assign writers to cover stories suggested by you. I've already written 3 articles for them, and I'd encourage you to go check out the site!

What I wanted to write about today, however, was the "Occupy Calgary" movement - or, more specifically, about their "occupation" of Olympic Plaza.

I don't really have a lot to say about Occupy Calgary. There are people involved with the movement who I know and respect. Those people, I can say with absolute certainty, are involved for all the right reasons. They see injustice, and they want to do something about it. I applaud their devotion to their fellow human beings, and even if I don't necessarily agree with their proposed solutions, at least they're proposing SOMETHING. There are a lot of people involved with the movement who are, by contrast, just hangers-on. And you see that in every group, including political parties. So the fact that the Occupy folks have some "whack-jobs" (according to the local press) with them doesn't negate what they're trying to do. We've all got "whack-jobs" around us. Sometimes they even make it onto the ballot.

For the past 2 weeks, the Occupy Calgary folks have camped out in Olympic Plaza. And by most accounts, they've been exceedingly well-behaved for the most part. We, the people of Calgary and our elected leaders, have shown the protesters that they do, in fact, have the freedom to assemble. Those who showed up expecting to be martyrs to "The Man"'s oppressive black-clad shock troops, pepper sprayed and hauled off in chains on television went home sorely disappointed.

Those who remain are protesting inequality. They're protesting inequity. They're protesting concentration of power in the hands of a few. They're protesting the injustice that they see when they look at our system - and though I don't agree that things are as bleak as they see them, I've been perfectly content in knowing that the same system that allows me to live my life free of fear from intimidation by the state also allows them the right to protest the condition of the system as they see it. That's what great grandpa came here for. That's what grandpa went back to Germany and shot at his cousins for.

Your right to swing your fist, however, ends at the point of my nose. Exercising your rights at the expense of the rights of others is one of the things that the well-intentioned Occupy Calgary protesters are trying to fight against. And now, in terms of the Olympic Plaza occupation, they're becoming part of the problem.

It's been 2 weeks. We've noticed them. We get it: They're unhappy, and they want the system to be better. But by remaining in this public park as long as they have, they're now infringing on the rights of others to enjoy this public space.
If they're committed to staying out there as long as it takes - winter-be-darned - then I'd suggest they move to another downtown park for a week. And then another. And then another. Make one of your "moving days" on November 11th, and plan your route to go past the cenotaph, so everyone can see you walking past, paying your respects to the men and women who died to protect the rights you're exercising. Or head over to the "main camp" at St. Patrick's Island. If that's how they want to try to work for change, then power to 'em. I have my doubts as to the effectiveness, but they're not asking me for strategic advice.

What they ARE asking me to do is to give up my right to make use of Olympic Plaza indefinitely. And, with respect, that's not something I'm willing to do any longer. It's not a huge park, but it's ours: ALL of ours. They've had their 2 weeks. They've been exercising their rights. It's not an issue of being "allowed" to do it - it's their right. But it's my right to access the park as well. And yours. And your neighbours. And if the past 2 weeks have been about Occupation, then we should - ALL of us - act to Liberate our park. Call your Alderman. Call 311. Tell them we'd like our park back. Take no aggressive action whatsoever against our fellow citizens in that park, exercising their rights - we're all in this together. But if 80,000 of us show up next Tuesday, and fill every square inch of that plaza with laughing Calgarians, enjoying their public space... well, we'll be exercising our rights too. And if there's no room for the occupiers at that point, that's unfortunate for them. But that's democracy.

We're the 99%.

We'd like our park back, please.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cabinet Calls

Nation, Premier Alison Redford told her caucus late last week that the new cabinet would be notified on Tuesday of this week, the day before being sworn in. Her instruction to all was to "Not worry about it, and enjoy your weekend with family".

Well, I hope everyone had a good time, because it's about to get all political up in this piece. As we say in the 'hood, yo.

I've spoken now with several very reliable sources, as well as making my own judgement calls based on geography, history, performance, gender balance, etc.  MLA's whose names have come up will be divided into one of three categories: NOT IN CABINET (no chance), ALMOST CERTAINLY IN CABINET (80% or higher), and LIKELY IN CABINET (50 to 80%).

Here we go...

6 members of the current cabinet are heavily rumoured to be in for a bad week:
  • Cindy Ady - Backed Mar, but served ably as Minister of Tourism, Parks & Recreation. A surprising omission, if true.
  • Lindsay Blackett - One of Doug Horner's big supporters, Blackett was the point man for the disastrous Bill 44. If Redford is going to revisit this bill as is rumoured, she can't have its principal sponsor on the front bench.
  • Iris Evans - Iris was so integral to the Mar campaign she actually served as his proxy in a Calgary forum. Not expected to run again, she was rumoured to be strongly considered as Mar's replacement in Washington D.C. had he been successful.
  • Yvonne Fritz - Surprising to see a third woman from the current cabinet being shown the door, if accurate.
  • Ron Liepert - Gary Mar's right-hand man during the leadership, Ron's remarks since the conclusion of the race have shown he's unwilling to accept Redford as his leader. There's a line between disagreement and insurrection.
  • Lloyd Snelgrove - "If she offered me a job, I would say no". 'Nuff said.

Also on the bubble (might be in, but odds are less than 50%) from the current cabinet:
  • Hec Goudreau
  • Mary Anne Jablonski
  • Heather Klimchuk
  • Mel Knight
  • Luke Ouellette
  • Rob Renner
  • Len Webber
  • Gene Zwozdesky

For those of you keeping score at home, that's as many as FOURTEEN current cabinet ministers who would not be sitting around the table on Wednesday afternoon. That's some serious, whole-scale change.

  • Manmeet Bhullar - the current Parliamentary Assistant for Municipal Affairs, Bhullar is a good MLA who might be making the jump to the Big Leagues. His campaign volunteers are among the most visible in the city of Calgary, and as one of the Legislature's youngest MLA's, Manmeet certainly helps make the case that "this isn't your grand-daddy's PC Party".
  • Jonathan Denis - one of the unlucky ministers whose ministry will almost certainly be folded into a new Ministry of Human Services, Denis nonetheless proved his mettle as Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs, achieving tremendous results while simultaneously cutting spending in his own ministry, seemingly with a chainsaw. It'd be a terrible oversight to not include him.
  • Doug Griffiths - the former Leadership Candidate won a lot of respect with his campaign for the party's top job. His willingness to talk about the tough issues would make him an asset to Redford in a position where he could implement some of the changes he was talking about on the hustings. His support of Mar (instead of Redford, as expected) on the 2nd ballot might keep him out of a "top 5" spot on the depth chart, but his work ethic, enthusiasm and image as an agent of change should get him a fairly visible portfolio.
  • Thomas Lukaszuk - The current Minister of Employment and Immigration, Lukaszuk has managed to stay out of the limelight while still delivering on the priorities of his boss. Which is exactly what you look for in a safe cabinet pick. He's said to be under consideration for the new Human Services ministry.
  • Greg Weadick - the Minister of Advanced Education & Technology, Weadick is a parent of 2 post-secondary students and a very popular political institution in his hometown of Lethbridge. Weadick supported Horner in the leadership, but did so respectfully. If he moves ministries, he's considered a good fit for Infrastructure as well.

  • Ray Danyluk - Current Minister of Infrastructure backed Horner, but has a good relationship with Redford and has a tremendously active membership base in his home riding.
  • Dave Hancock - The dean of Red Torydom, Hancock is one of only 4 PC MLA's with a Law degree who isn't busy being the Premier right now. He's rumoured to be moving to Justice.
  • Fred Horne - The current Parliamentary Assistant for Health and Wellness will be moving down the hall, to assume the full Minister's job for Health. Hope he's developed some thick skin - his friend Raj is going to be calling on him quite a bit in Question Period.
  • Doug Horner - Will likely be in charge of the Treasury Board, in addition to his job as Deputy Premier.
  • Jeff Johnson - The MLA for Athabasca-Redwater is rumoured to be getting the call as Minister of Sustainable Resource Development.
  • Art Johnston - Defeated for the PC nomination in Calgary-South East, Johnston may try again for the nomination in Hays. Redford's only first-ballot MLA endorsement came from Johnston, who as a former cop would be ideal as a Solicitor General.
  • Diana McQueen - One of the rising stars in the PC Caucus, McQueen has been talked about as a potential Minister of the Environment or Tourism, Parks and Recreation. Even if she doesn't end up with either of those posts, she's almost universally expected to end up SOMEWHERE in cabinet.
  • Ted Morton - The 4th-place finisher in the Leadership contest will need a pretty plum job to come back to the party that has twice rejected him and agree to play nice and run again for the good of party unity. He's expected to be named Minister of Energy.
  • Frank Oberle - Oberle is a natural fit for Sustainable Resource Development, however the scuttlebutt is that the current Solicitor General is in line for a big promotion - perhaps Finance?
  • Verlyn Olson - Currently the Minister of Justice, Olson is expected to stay in cabinet - if Hancock doesn't take the justice portfolio, Olson will stay where he is.

There are some names notable by their absence in any of the above categories... Evan Berger is the current Parliamentary Assistant for SRD, and may or may not get a phone call tomorrow. Robin Campbell will, in all likelihood, remain the Government Whip. Likewise, expect Ken Kowalski to stay on as Speaker. Cal Dallas from Red Deer is another Parliamentary Assistant whose name has come up a few times. Doug Elniski from Edmonton-Calder and Dave Rodney from Calgary-Lougheed both supported Redford on the second ballot, and sources are split on whether or not they get in. One specific rumour had Rodney taking over at Tourism, Parks and Recreation. He's an avid outdoorsman, and (if you haven't heard) climbed Mt. Everest. Two times. You could do a lot worse than a Parks Minister who poses for photo ops on top of mountains that he just climbed up, while the camera crew took a helicopter. Former Solicitor General Fred Lindsay is said to be on the bubble, and likewise with former school board trustee and Danielle Smith nemesis Teresa Woo-Paw. It could go either way for them.

If you take a look at the cabinet that would be constructed using just those people listed as "Likely in Cabinet" and "Almost Certainly in Cabinet", here's what you get as a demographic break-down:

  • 16 members, of which only 2 are women (Redford & McQueen). This will obviously not be the case, for political reasons. Expect cabinet to be 20 or 21 members - it will absolutely have more than 2 women.
  • 4 from Calgary (5 counting Morton), 3 from Edmonton, 8 from the Rest of Alberta. Again, obviously, this can't be the final break-down for reasons of political survival.
  • 6 would be first-time cabinet ministers. 10 would have prior experience.
  • 7 would be under 45 years old.
  • 8 - fully half of them - would be first-term MLA's, elected for the first time in March of 2008.

Is this the final, be-all-and-end-all listing of exactly who is going to be in, who is going to be out, and where they'll end up?

Of course not.

Some of these predictions are going to be flat-out wrong. That's the beauty of prognostication. That's what makes it fun - if Daveberta and I both had the exact same lists, one of us could just take the week off (it'd be me, just for the record).

Let's not overlook the possibility that some of the ministries named above might not even EXIST after Wednesday. Departments get moved from ministry to ministry, new ministries are formed while old ones get swept aside... I've done the same job for 6 years, in the same office, and I've worked for 3 different ministries. So I know full well how it works.

But, as a fun exercise in politics - this has definitely been worth staying up until 3 am.

And if you think *I'VE* had a late night...  ask one of the MLA's on the bubble how well they're going to sleep tonight.

Reminder, MLA's - set that cell phone to ring at highest volume. "Silent Mode" is not your friend this Tuesday.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Meet the New Boss

... most emphatically NOT the same as the Old Boss.

Alison Redford is the newly-elected Leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. As a sitting MLA, when Redford takes the reigns of the Party upon Ed Stelmach's formal resignation in the next few days, she will become the 14th Premier of the Province of Alberta. The first of those 14 to be female, red-headed, or a meat-itarian. Guess which of those 3 "firsts" is receiving the most attention today?

Alison has a lot of work ahead of her as the transition period begins. And, let's not forget, she's still got some mourning and healing to do over her recent very personal loss. So we may have from a few days to a couple of weeks to wait before we start to see whole-scale change on a level that would satisfy the poor, (metaphorically)ink-stained wretches of the 5th Estate (and their silly blogger cousins, who do this all for free).

I wanted to talk a bit about the process used to select the new leader last night, look at what happens now going forward, and then run over some numbers with you today. Tomorrow I'm taking a "personal day", and I'd suggest you do the same (just not for the same reasons I am).

The Process:

The PC Leadership selection process is how it is so that no one can ever be elected Leader of the Party without the support of at least half of the voting membership. I've heard it suggested numerous times this week that a better idea would be to hold a third vote, rather than allowing anyone to get stuck with the "second choice" stigma - and I certainly appreciate the logic. However, the problem with having just 2 people square off for a week or 2 in the campaign to win a Third Ballot is that you end up with an EXTREMELY divided party membership afterwards. Even moreso than 2006. Remember the last time this "head-to-head" scenario happened was 1992 - and the 2 final candidates (and their respective supporters) hated each other so much by the end that the loser left the party and became Leader of the Opposition.

Why the HELL did it take so long to get the results?!?

There are a lot of places in which the system can log-jam. Anyone who's been on Glenmore Trail during rush-hour knows, it just takes one collision to plug up the entire roadway for everyone, no matter how well the rest of them drive.

At the Local Constituency Poll, the ballots are counted by hand. A volunteer must, in the presence of witnesses and scrutineers from the campaigns, pull out each ballot one at a time, read the vote aloud, and present it so that all can see the vote is marked appropriately for the candidate they indicated. At any point, a scrutineer can challenge the validity of a ballot. The judgement rests with the Deputy Returning Officer, a local volunteer who has the final say. After every vote is counted and the totals announced, scrutineers can ask for a recount. If the total number of votes counted doesn't equal the number of ballots given out at that polling station, a recount can take place. If the total number of votes cast doesn't match the number of voting cards presented, a recount can take place. And even if everything goes off without a hitch, you're still counting hundreds of ballots, one at a time. Having many volunteers does NOT make it any faster - it's one ballot at a time, in front of everyone, until you run out, and then hopefully your numbers add up. The polling station I was working at rejected a very small number of ballots, there was no recount required, the turn-out was less than 1,000 voters, and it STILL took almost an hour and 45 minutes to get to the point where we could call in our results to the party office. And that was with an experienced DRO, an experienced Assistant DRO, and an Accountant in the room.

AFTER the vote totals get called into Party HQ, they need to be confirmed. The Party goes over the numbers of ballots handed out, cast, spoiled, recorded...  they want to make sure that no constituency has made a simple math error that results in the nightmare scenario of a candidate giving a concession speech only to find out 4 days later that the DRO in Leduc forgot to carry the "4", and the candidate who conceded actually won.  If they can't make the numbers work - or if the DRO needs help - the Party needs to get ahold of someone in the field and have them physically go to the polling station to assist. Not a big deal in the city, but in some of the larger, rural ridings you're talking about a 45-minute drive just to GET there. At which point, you might need to do a re-count to figure out the discrepancy.

Is it time-consuming? OH, yes.

But it's democracy, on the "pay to get into our private club and you can vote for stuff" level. The party knows what's at stake. Every one of those ballots is treated like a sacred object, just as they would be in a general election. It's worth taking the time to make sure you got it RIGHT.

The Party did that last night, and as a result, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the party membership did, indeed, choose Alison Redford to lead them.

The Future:

Alison needs to put together a cabinet as quickly as is feasible. She committed to shrinking the size of cabinet, so the GOA public service will be restructured as a result (don't worry, we're used to it). The REASON she needs to put together a cabinet is partly political, and partly practical: Firstly, she ran as an agent of change. Running the machinery of government using Ed's model isn't really going to fly for very long if she wants to maintain her "change cred". So if she wants to do anything, she'll need her own cabinet in place. And she NEEDS to get some stuff done, pronto. She committed to restoring the education cuts within 10 days. The clock is ticking. She also set timeframes for reviews of government operations and spending, which is going to require political direction within the departments, from people whom Alison trusts. The most experienced MLA to support Alison (on the second ballot) was Dave Rodney of Calgary-Lougheed. I expect he'll end up with a cabinet job, along with Doug Horner and perhaps Ted Morton and Doug Griffiths. Gene Zwozdesky might be safe, as he stayed neutral in the leadership and hasn't done a bad job. As for the rest of cabinet: Alison's been sitting around that table for 3 years. She knows how they operate. The ones she has respect for - regardless of who they backed in the leadership - will be on the short-list. The ones who don't make the cut will be on the outside. What she WON'T do, though, is blindly reward her own supporters and backers. Even if you backed Redford, if you're not qualified to serve in cabinet, she won't be putting you in a position to make her look foolish. She has committed to constructing a cabinet based on merit rather than favouritism, although factors like regional, age and gender balance always creep into cabinet-building, at any level of government. Voters want a front bench that they can relate to. If all your best MLA's are 60 year-old men from Edmonton and you put them all in cabinet, they - and you - won't be there for long. All bets are off for Deputy Premier. It can't be Horner, for political reasons - he's too closely tied to the old regime. But it will probably be someone from north of Red Deer.

The Numbers:

First and foremost, the total numbers of votes cast should be VERY worrying for the Tories. 78,176 dues-paid members voted yesterday. Which is THREE TIMES the membership of the Wildrose Party. So no worries, right? Wrong. Here's the catch: On January 1st, 2012, the odometer re-sets at "zero". A lot of those 78,176 people will not be renewing their memberships. Their guy (whoever that was) lost. And while the PCs can brag that they've got a huge lead over their closest rival in terms of members, they historically have a membership of at least TEN TIMES the size of their closest rival. So, three-fold is nothing by comparison. They need to ask themselves "why?". Gary Mar was going to put Doug Griffiths on the case. It remains to be seen what Alison is going to do about it, but she certainly recognizes it as a problem that needs addressing - if possible, BEFORE the next election.

SPEAKING of voter turn-out, the turn-out for the second ballot was down 46% versus 2006. In '06, the gap between the first and second ballots was 1 week, and the total number of voters increased by over 46,000. In 2011, the gap between the first and second ballots was 2 weeks, and the total number of voters increased by just over 18,000.

35% of Doug Horner's voters didn't indicate a "second choice" on their ballot. Almost 51% of Horner's voters, though, chose Redford as their #2. And that was the ballgame. Those votes pushed her past Mar and into the Premier's Office.

In the first round of voting, Gary Mar had 40.76% of the popular vote. He gained endorsements from Ted Morton (11.73%), Rick Orman (10.12%) and Doug Griffiths (4.10%), yet on the second ballot his share of the popular vote (as a first-choice candidate) increased by only 1.75%. By comparison, Horner's share increased by almost 6%, and Redford's by 18.35%. In real numbers of votes cast, Mar gained 9,038 votes in the 2 weeks between the first and second ballot. Horner gained 7,315. Redford gained 17,866 votes - more than the other 2 finalists, combined.

And remember Ed Stelmach, "the man who nobody REALLY wanted"? The "Accidental Premier" the media keeps telling us about?

In 2006, his second-ballot "first preference" vote total was 51,764. After adding in the "second preference" votes from Morton's supporters, Ed had 77,577 votes.

That's almost as many as Gary, Doug, and Alison combined last night.

Time to find a new narrative.

Radio Silence

As I mentioned earlier, I will not be around on Monday - not on the blog, not on Twitter, nowhere. I suggest you take some time to recharge your batteries, as well. When Alison starts making changes, it's going to be fast, and thorough. The spin will be intense from all parties. The implications will be far-reaching. You're going to want to be well-rested.

See you on Tuesday, Nation.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

On MLA's "Greeting" At The Polls

Nation, much has been made about the fact that incumbent MLA's, many of whom have very publicly endorsed and campaigned for one of the 3 remaining PC Leadership contenders, are "greeting" party members at the local constituency polling stations.

What do you mean, "greeting"?

Well, if you believe the MLA's in question, they're just saying hello, and thanking people for being involved with the party. After all, these party members are that MLA's built-in volunteer and donor network leading into the next provincial election. It would be sheer insanity to expect those MLA's not to come out and try to shake the hands of these people.

If you believe the reports leaking out of the various campaigns, however, the MLA's are there to advocate for the candidate they've endorsed. A handshake, a wink, a button hidden under the jacket lapel, flashed for a quick reminder. "Hi, how ya doing, thanks for coming, remember who 'our guy' is..."

I don't know who's telling the truth. So let's go to the guy who enforces the rules.

Says Chris Warren, Chief Returning Officer for the PC Leadership Election:

MLAs should not be “greeting” people within 50 m of the entrance to a polling station... We have told this to the Caucus liaison and he has sent emails to his colleagues. MLAs may volunteer at a polling station, but they need to be actually working (not campaigning) at the polling stations.

DROs have been told they may bar an MLA from the polling station where they are directly, or indirectly, campaigning.

Frankly, MLAs need to understand that when they are “greeting” people, they are not doing either themselves, nor the candidate they support, any favors. We have had members phone us to tell us they were upset to see their MLAs engaging in this type of behavior and were planning to vote on the second ballot for another candidate, not endorsed by their MLA, solely because of how the MLA conducted themselves at a polling station.

The above was the statement on September 24th.

The problem, it seems, is a communications issue.

Caucus liaison Cal Dallas sent a memo to all of his caucus colleagues a few days before the first ballot, informing them that greeting of members and volunteering at the polling place was perfectly acceptable for MLAs (who are also dues-paid members of the party, and have as much a right as anyone else to volunteer, with the local DRO's approval). The caveat was that there should be no campaigning, no wearing campaign clothing, nothing meant to affect the result. This was the practice in 2006 as well, and also in 1993 for that matter. Many MLAs offered to volunteer at their local poll as back-up Commissioners of Oaths (for statutory declarations), at the discretion of their local Deputy Returning Officer.

The problem is, Deputy Returning Officers never saw this memo from Cal Dallas. He's not supposed to talk to them, he's supposed to talk to Chris Warren. Local DRO's didn't know what Cal said to the MLAs.

Or, at least, that's ONE of the problems.

The other one being...  Cal was wrong.

Cal is the Caucus liaison to the party. But he doesn't make, or interpret, the rules surrounding MLA involvement in the leadership vote. Chris Warren does. And Chris Warren said: "MLAs should not be 'greeting' people within 50 m of the entrance to a polling station." But he didn't send that info to MLAs - he sent it (as he should have) to the Caucus liaison. Cal Dallas.

So the Caucus liaison says it's okay. The Chief Returning Officer says it's not.

It's a party election, not a caucus election. CRO wins. It's not okay.

So IF the local Deputy Returning Officer - who in my experience is sitting at the polling place from open to close, making sure everything runs smoothly - feels the MLA is overstepping or otherwise breaking the rules, s/he can kick him out.

Odds of this actually happening?

Buy a lottery ticket.

DRO's take their jobs seriously, and that's to their credit, but at the end of the day it would take GROSS misconduct for a local DRO - who is also a loyal local party member and likely a member of the constituency association board, along with the MLA - to bar the party's local MLA from the poll. Tomorrow, all of these people have to work together under the new leader and try to win their local riding.
Are there shenanigans going on?

Ultimately, it comes down to trust. Do you trust your local MLA to do the right thing today?

And, if you don't... why have you been voting for them in the first place?

Friday, September 30, 2011

The 13th Premier of Alberta

Nation, in the middle of all the hubbub and fanfare and spin that is going on as PC Party members head to their local polling stations to elect a new leader of their private club and, by extension and parliamentary precedent, a new Premier of Alberta, I want to take a moment to thank Premier Edward Michael Stelmach for his years of service to his community, his province and its people.

I'm not going to write a biography of the man. I'm not going to eulogize him - he's beginning a well-earned retirement, not dying.

But I *am* going to extend my sincere thanks.

Since 1986, Ed Stelmach has woken up every morning to serve others. To reprise a phrase that will force a smile onto the face of anyone who was at the PC AGM in Calgary last year, "it's what gets him up in the morning". For 25 years - a quarter of a century - Ed has committed his time and energy to making things better for other people.

He wasn't volunteering all those hours. He was being paid to do a job - first as a member and later reeve of the County of Lamont's council, and then as an MLA, cabinet member and later Premier. I'm not nominating him for sainthood. The job of a politician, though, is demanding no matter WHAT the pay scale. I've heard it suggested, by sitting officials, that the rate of divorce among elected politicians is near 75%. The job that Ed was doing is hard on ANY family - and he would be the first to tell you that. This is why, more than any other politician in recent Alberta memory, when the PC's celebrate an accomplishment or milestone in Ed Stelmach's career, they always - at Ed's insistence - put Marie on that same pedestal. Ed and Marie are a package deal. His wins are THEIR wins. His losses are shared as well. That's what love is. And his devotion to his wife, his children, and to his grandchildren, are the stuff of legend.

Ed is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Not just in politics - anywhere. He's just a decent and down-to-earth guy. Funny, in a self-deprecating way. Quick with a joke or a witty retort. This is the man Ed Stelmach is, behind closed doors where he's out of the spotlight. They say that "character is the person you are when nobody is looking". If that's the case, then Ed Stelmach has a stellar character. It was long a source of frustration for the party hacks who get paid to worry about such things that Ed, despite his personal charm, came across on television or in the glare of the media spotlight as awkward. "If only THEY could see the man WE see..." went the refrain. But even when the editorial press decided that Ed wasn't "their guy", even when the poll results showed that Albertans were thinking the same thing, even when those within his own party were working to show Ed the door, he remained the same: A good, decent, down-to-earth man. A man with the kind of character we all wish more politicians had.

When he was first elected as an MLA at age 42, Stelmach was an unrepentant fiscal hawk. He even refused a government vehicle, as he didn't feel the expense would be justifiable. A member of the so-called "Deep Six", Ed advocated for deep cuts of wasteful spending under Premier Ralph Klein. Ed held a special place in his heart for fiscally conservative rookies for the rest of his career, as evidenced by the special attention given to MLA's like Jonathan Denis and Rob Anderson (before he crossed the floor after not being advanced into cabinet) during their first term.

Ed Stelmach was an able cabinet minister, in 3 portfolios. He wasn't flashy, but (hard as it may be to believe) "flashy" was never really Ed's style. "Flashy" doesn't get the cows into the barn. He got legislation passed. While he was Minister of Infrastructure, he made sure things were getting built, on-time and under budget. But "flashy" never came into the picture. When he decided to step up and run for the PC Leadership after Ralph announced he was stepping aside, being the first Klein cabinet minister to do so, a lot of people in Alberta responded "Ed who?".

The PC Leadership Election system works in 3 stages. It is designed in a way that the eventual winner will absolutely, positively HAVE to have over 50% of voting party members mark their ballot in favour of that eventual winner. On the first ballot, voters simply choose their preferred candidate. The ballots are then counted. If any candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, they are the leader. If not, then the top 3 finishers have some more time to keep campaigning, and another vote is held with only those 3 on the ballot. This time, members can indicate their first and second choices from among the 3-person field. If any candidate received more than 50% of the first-choice votes, they are the leader. If NOT, then the 3rd-place finisher from the 2nd ballot is dropped, and their ballots are redistributed among the remaining 2 candidates according to the stated 2nd choice of the voters (if a second choice is indicated).

In the race to replace Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach finished 3rd on the first ballot, with just under 15,000 votes. 5 other candidates were dropped off the ballot. One week later, the second ballot was held, and Stelmach increased his vote total to 51,764. He WON the second ballot (are you paying attention, lazy media-types? He WON the second ballot - FIRST PLACE), with Dinning finishing second and Morton third. None of the candidates had the required 50%, however, so Morton's voters were redistributed among Dinning and Stelmach, with Ed picking up 25,000 Morton voters to Dinning's 4,000.  Stelmach, already ahead of Dinning before the Morton votes were even redistributed, was the new Premier of Alberta.

During the leadership, one of Ed's big promises was that he would take a look at the Royalty Rates that energy companies paid to the Government for the resources they took, developed, and sold - resources that belong to the people of Alberta. Despite the expectation by many Albertans that he was, like many politicians, especially full of hot air when running for office, Stelmach actually struck a Royalty Review Panel to take a look at whether or not Albertans were getting their fair share. The panel came back with a report recommending significant increases in the royalty rates. Ed DID raise some of the rates, but nowhere near the levels or to the degree recommended by the report. One of the report's authors is now involved, ironically, with the Wildrose Party - much to their energy company donors' delights, I'm sure.

Nation, you know the rest of this story. The global economic slowdown hits. The oilsands grind to a relative halt. Stelmach's "draconian royalty rates" - lower, mind you, than those suggested by the panel - are blamed for the slowdown of energy production. Corrections and tweaks are made to the formula in an effort to strike the right balance, but they only frustrate the energy companies, who are desperate for cost-certainty. Many companies go elsewhere, like Saskatchewan, where labour is cheaper than the super-heated northern Alberta labour market. The Wildrose Alliance surges in popularity, as they trumpet slogans like "Bring Back the Alberta Advantage!" and "Send Ed a Message!". Stelmach's Deputy Premier steps aside to take an appointment as a judge, and his PC-safe Calgary riding elects Paul Hinman of the Wildrose. Alberta dips into its savings to cover program costs. The knives start to come out inside of the PC Party.

On January 25th of 2011, Ed Stelmach shocked the Alberta political world by announcing that he was going to step aside at the end of the Legislature's business that year. Many of his commitments hadn't been fully realized. Many things he would have liked to have done, remained undone. But the grind, the battle, the never-ending struggle against forces outside of his control, against political opponents both outside of his party and inside of it, had taken their toll. He was going home to Marie.

When the history books eulogize Ed Stelmach, I don't know what they're going to say. I don't know whether they'll say he was a careful planner, or a ditherer. I don't know whether they'll say he was a steady hand in rough seas, or whether he was the reason the seas were rough in the first place. History is written by the victors.

What I *do* know, is Ed Stelmach is a good man, and has been a dedicated public servant for a quarter of a century.

When his time comes - as it comes for all of us - and Ed is called to his Final Home, politicians and Albertans will line up to talk about what a great guy he was. About how dedicated he was to his province and to his family. About how his work ethic inspired them to public service. There will be compliments paid, grudging statements made by politicians who wouldn't have crossed the street if Ed was on fire and they had a bucket of water. The sort of people who don't even show up on Ed's last day in the Legislature to grit their teeth and thank him for his service.

I don't want to wait. I don't want my thanks to go to Marie and his children and grandchildren.

I want to say it now, to the man himself.

Thank-you, Ed. For everything. Even the stuff we disagreed on.

Enjoy your retirement. God knows you've earned it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Convince Me: Alison Redford (part 2)

Nation, I committed to posting your messages as you try to convince me - and the millions of members of the E.S. Nation - to vote for your candidate of choice on October 1st.

The second message I got today was, like the first, from a backer of Alison Redford. That's the way it's worked out. If the next one is ALSO from a Redford backer, I'll post it just like I would a message from a Horner or Mar backer.

This is your chance to make your case. Step up on the soap-box that is The Enlightened Savage's blog.

Submitted text begins... now.


As I thought about what to write you, I remembered something that Alison said months ago at a Calgary event "the PC Party today will never elect me as their leader, but the PC Party that we need to be - will".

I think that this speaks a lot to where Alison has been trying to move the conversation. The focus has been less on existing Party members and more on engaging new Albertans to join the Party. This entire leadership race should have been about nothing but party renewal and proving that the new Leader of the PC Party can listen, respond and speak on behalf of all Albertans - not just the traditional base of PC Party members. After 40 years in power, we need to prove that we are still relevant.

Working in government for the past three years I have had the privilege of being part of Safe Communities and seeing real change being made not only with respect to gangs and crime but on the root causes of addiction, mental health and work with at-risk youth. I also though saw just how much things needed to change. There is a mentality that “well, we’ve always done it this way” stifling new, creative and bold ideas that could actually mean better government and services for Albertans. And not just with respect to the nine departments connected to SafeCom, but across all areas in government.

The only reason that we made progress was because of who was leading Safe Communities – Alison Redford.

The exhaustive list of policies that Alison has released rely heavily on employing the Safe Com model. Forcing departments to work together, engaging in actual consultation to develop public policy and looking at the outcomes we want to achieve will be core principles in Alison's govenment. I know that this works. Alberta is leading the agenda of cross-ministry work across North America. We even had people from Obama's team come up to ask us how we were able to do something of this scale as there is such a gap in cross-department work in all governments.

Until the last three years, Alison's experience is almost entirely international. And actually international - like there are bodies of water involved. These continents are our future markets and Alison knows how to work with governments and stakeholders amongst different cultures. It's another area that people can put a "checkmark" beside when they think of what our future Premier needs to be able to do.

On top of all of this, I really think that Alison has laid out policies that matter. My sister is a teacher, my sisters and I all have auto-immune diseases and require a lot of contact with the health-care system, my grandparents are in their mid-80's and about to be seperated after 63 years due to varying health care needs and both my parent's careers rely on the success of the energy industry. I think that her policies speak to what Albertans are asking for and I think that is the mark of a good leader.

I think that Alison, as a mother, wife, daughter, also allow her to bring a different lens to government. She wears her heart on her sleeve - which is both good and bad! You know how's she's feeling and she'll always fight for what she believes is right. I would hazard a guess that at about 75% of our SafeCom announcements, Alison had tears and hugs for all of the participants. She cares and connects with people in a way that makes me feel like I'm the Tin Man! I've also seen her in meetings with energy leaders - she's focused, smart (which they love!) and not afraid to tell it like it is. I've also heard people call Alison a "bitch". You know, I think I'm ok with my Premier being labeled a "bitch" every now and then if it moves Alberta forward. If she was a guy she'd be deemed strong and deliberate but c'est la vie!

Anyway, I think that Albertans are ready to give the PC Party one last opportunity to prove why we should remain in power. And unless we seize this opportunity and actually elect a candidate that will govern differently, encourage new dynamic community leaders to run for MLA and inspire Albertans to believe that change is possible - I believe the opportunity will be lost. The window is open for 8 more days.

I hope you'll consider giving Alison at least one of your votes on October 1.


[name withheld]

Convince Me: Alison Redford

Submitted text appears below. - E.S.


Many of you probably know that the party I have long been involved with, the Alberta PC Party, is about to choose a new Leader who will ultimately become Premier of this province. And I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I’m involved in helping to elect one of those candidates.

But I wanted to share some of the reasons that I think Alison Redford should be our next Premier, because they’re very different than you might expect.

Over the course of my political involvement, I have come to work for a number of candidates because they were friends or I had friends working for their campaigns. Normally I have a horse picked in any given race long before it starts. Not this time, though.

A few weeks before Premier Ed Stelmach announced his resignation and launched us into a leadership race, my wife and I found out that we were expecting our first child. I share that not to politicize my first-born, but because it very much changed the perspective I had when trying to decide who I wanted to be our next Premier.

Gone were my bachelor days when fancy logos and a good hospitality suite at party functions would go a long way in swaying my vote. All of a sudden I was about to become someone’s father – responsible for their well-being and success – and I wanted to use my involvement in the political arena to choose someone who would do the right things for my kids’ future.

So instead of thinking of the usual party politics, I started asking myself what was important. Health care and education were rarely policy topics that I spent much time on before, but they were suddenly front-and-centre as an expectant father.

The biggest area of public policy that someone who is about to have a baby comes in contact with is our health care system. As someone who hadn’t previously spent much time in doctor’s offices or hospitals, I was suddenly introduced to a world of specialists, referrals, hospital protocols and so on. It is a delicate patchwork of a system that confuses many. One of the first things that struck me about Alison Redford was her proposal for province-wide public Family Care Clinics open from 7am to 9pm. Anyone who’s been through an emergency room recently know that there are far too many people who have to rely on emergency as an access point for basic care. This is a tremendous waste of resources and, I think, can be drastically reduced through these proposed Family Care Clinics. Putting the parent-to-be hat on, I’d sure rather avoid taking my child to an emergency room if I can.

As someone who just built a house in a new neighbourhood that doesn’t yet have a school nearby, I also wanted someone who was focused on improving outcomes AND access to education. In Alison Redford, I saw someone who listens to the teachers like the ones I talk to when they say that the Provincial Achievement Exams for Grades 3 and 6 are a burden on kids with no correlating benefit to the education they receive. And I saw someone who was committed to predictable funding so that we don’t have to wonder if our son or daughter’s teachers would have jobs the following year. As much as my wife and I joke that we don’t want to become “those parents” who micromanage their kids’ education, I do want the system that educates our kids to be properly funded and managed so that our kids are ready to go out into the world when they graduate.

The other thing that struck me about Alison Redford is her global, big-picture perspective. Being able to think about Alberta beyond its borders will be important for the next Premier as they work to diversify our energy and agricultural economy and to improve and defend our reputation abroad. When I say I want someone with a global perspective of Alberta, I don’t mean “What do people in Washington think about us?” We need a leader who truly understands how interconnected our world is and can talk about Alberta not just in the context of the United States but also in the context of places like Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. Alison Redford has worked in almost every corner of the globe as a legal advisor and election administrator with the United Nations. I am confident she is best suited to represent Alberta to the world and, just as importantly, bring the world to Alberta. That’s the kind of province I want my kids to grow up in.

I was lucky enough to sit next to Alison at a dinner a few weeks ago in Edmonton. The conversation between her, myself, and another Redford supporter who is also expecting soon, varied back and forth between our forthcoming kids and the politics that surrounded us. At one point, talking about what Alberta might look like 20 years from now, I stopped the train of conversation and said “You know, that’s really what this is about. The Alberta that Jess and I are going to live and work in is already coming down the pipe. We’re all doing this for our kids.” It was an absolutely true statement, and exactly the reason I want Alison to be our next Premier.

If any of this has stuck a chord with you, my non-political Alberta friends, you can actually have a say in the outcome. For $5, you can buy a membership in the PC Party of Alberta and join me in electing this incredibly thoughtful and intelligent woman as our next Premier. Election day is Saturday, September 17 (advance polls today, September 13!) and there are voting locations in every constituency in Alberta. You can read more about Alison and how and where to vote at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Convince Me: Gary Mar

The following comes via a Gary Mar supporter who took me up on my offer to post arguments in favour of a writer's preferred candidate.

As always, this should not be construed as an endorsement by myself.

Their text (with abbreviations edited to their full-length) begins now.


I have known Gary since the mid 90s. We met when he was Seniors Minister and I was a reporter in Olds. I watched him speak with a group of irate seniors and bring them onside regarding cuts to seniors' programs. He can connect with people of any stripe in a very sincere and real way. I traveled with him a lot when he was Education Minister and that view was only solidified. Gary is smart enough to understand the issues in a comprehensive way and pragmatic enough to find consensus.


I will continue to post there as I get them. As a reminder, they can be emailed to me at oberhoffner (at) facebook (dot) com.

- E.S.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Convince Me: Doug Horner

Nation, yesterday I challenged my IRL friends and contacts within the PC Party and the various leadership camps to write me and explain why their candidate was the best choice to lead the party and the province.

You didn't let me down - responses started coming in almost immediately.

I'm not going to analyse or critique these arguments. I've read them, and I'm posting them one at a time for the rest of you (with the sender's names removed) to see for yourself what the arguments are.

We're all smart people, in a mature democracy. You don't need me telling you who to vote for. But below is someone else's opinion on PC Leadership candidate Doug Horner.


Hi Joey,

Here is my pitch for Horner- I am not going to reiterate his policy, but rather why I think he should lead. In our shop we are quite concerned that the other candidates only glaze over economic diversification and do not understand its importance or what it takes. That is not the case with Doug. I have three items I want to share with you, a letter, a bit more background on diversification and then some thoughts on Doug as the most experienced leader. My great concern with lawyers as positions is they are trained to persuade people to accept other people’s positions. I want a leader with on the ground, practical experience and who has their own views. Views they developed in dialogue, of course, and which they have come to make their own mind up about. Policy is one thing but in the end we are electing someone to make the best decisions on the margin. I believe that leader is Doug. He is in it for all the right reasons.

A letter to Albertans

The future prosperity of Alberta depends on our ability to broaden our economic base (see below). Our new Premier’s top priority must be this goal.

The Premier’s job description necessarily includes knowledge of and commitment to economic diversification. This involves broadening the economic base, stimulating innovation and technology commercialization, and spawning the creation of new Alberta companies producing new products in new industries. From this perspective in the Party’s decision making, the experience of the three candidates is relevant. The choice should be obvious—Horner is clearly the most qualified of the three candidates.

In addition to his previous business experience and his tenure as Minister of Agriculture, his five years at Advanced Education and Technology has forged Horner’s qualities as a leader and shaped him for the job ahead as Premier. The importance of this is not significantly acknowledged.

As Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, Horner was responsible for 26 post-secondary institutions and the entire provincial research cluster, recently reorganized into Alberta Innovates. Doug created the Value Added and Technology Commercialization Task Force, whose mandate was to direct the diversification of the Alberta economy over a 15 year time frame. The Task Force resulted in the creation of Alberta’s Action Plan for Technology Commercialization, which focused on entrepreneurial support, innovation assistance and the creation of the Alberta Enterprise Corporation. The AEC serves as a catalyst for venture capital activity, which is a priority of the Alberta capital market.

Doug’s department conceived the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy (PCES). The PCES released its report, referred to as the Emerson Report after its Chair David Emerson, prior to the leadership campaign. It includes five major recommendations intended to diversify and strengthen the Alberta economy within a 30 year time frame. The vision which the foregoing represents is central to Doug policy platform in the leadership race.

Doug’s platform is important to Alberta, as it supports the development of the province as a venture capital centre. We know that deals come to the money and tend to stay where the money is managed. Silicon Valley, and its Sand Hill Road, is the best example. As the oil sands and conventional fossil fuel related industries mature, Alberta can transcend the hydrocarbon economy by developing as a financial services centre including energy finance and venture capital.

The top three candidates are each strong in their own way, all will likely be in cabinet. What we have to ask ourselves is who we want to lead. For us, it is the leader with the most relevant experience, the boldest vision and the most realistic action plan. That leader is Doug Horner. Visit his site, check him out, and make the right decision for Alberta in October 1st. Vote Doug Horner.

The future prosperity of Alberta depends on our ability to broaden our economic base

In December 2010, the Alberta Competitiveness Council released its first annual report. It compares Alberta to 15 other jurisdictions on 45 indicators. Of particular concern was Alberta ranking in innovation and venture capital, the only section in which Alberta ranked in the bottom quintile; consider the following indicators:

· Gross expenditure on R&D, as % of GDP: 14/15
· Business expenditure on R&D, as % of GDP: 13/15
· Employment in high-tech manufacturing: 13/14
· Employment in knowledge intensive industries: 13/14
· Venture capital investment, as a % of GDP: 14/15
· Venture capital deals, per 100,000 people: 9/13

This comparison showcases a significant strategic weakness in Alberta economy. It represents a classic case of Dutch disease, whereby the presence of a major export market crowds out the development of a more diversify economic base. A strong and growing industrial base is foundational to a successful society. Given the competitive advantage of large, low-cost economies such as India and China, maintenance of our economic base requires continuous innovation. This innovation should be both in the extraction, processing and transporting of commodities but also in the development of capabilities in new markets such as clean technologies. One of the major components in bridging this gap is further development of the junior capital markets. Alberta already as a good start in financial services and expertise and it should be nurtured and encouraged to focus some attention to non-energy related financing. This growth of junior financing activity is one of the mandates of the Alberta Enterprise Corporation (AEC). The formation of a vibrant market requires an understanding of the potential participants, their needs, and the ways in which they interact.

Horner as a leader

· Doug recognizes that the oil and gas sector and oilsands development are paramount to our province today, but he also has a vision for a more diversified Alberta, critical to the long term expansion of our economic base. Alberta today stands at a crossroads which will determine the type of province our grandchildren inherit. To degrees, this vision is not being similarly demonstrated by the other candidates—but Doug gets it!
· As Minister of Advanced Education and Technology from 2006-2011, he was responsible for 26 post-secondary institutions, Alberta’s research and innovation programs, and the Task Force on Value Added and Technology Commercialization. Doug was the only candidate present at the release of the Premier’s Economic Strategy Council Report, a plan for Alberta 30 years hence. He is one of the few politicians who really understands the importance of our post-secondary institutions in relation to culture, innovation, venture capital and entrepreneurship.
· His working background includes significant banking, international and entrepreneurial business experience, ten years in government, including 3 years as Minister of Agriculture, and a solid, on-the-ground understanding of the entire province. Doug has the perspective required to lead!
· As we’ve introduced him to small groups around Calgary, Doug’s grasp of the issues has become very apparent. He has depth and breadth. There is nothing shallow about Doug, once people have a chance to know him their support follows.

I am available to talk more about any of this and I hope it has spur some thinking with you about what Doug brings to the table.


I want to thank to writer for his thoughts, and his passionate argument for Doug. He's given me a lot to think about. I hope it has been in some way useful to the rest of you, as well. I'll keep posting the best of these for the 3 candidates - more than one for each candidate, if I can keep the numbers balanced - between now and next Saturday.
- E.S.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Convince Me

Nation, as I indicated in my most recent missive, I'm conflicted about this second stage of the PC Leadership race.

One of the big sticking points for me has been my awareness - seemingly rare among politicos - that I do not, in fact, know everything about everything.

Not to worry - I still knew MORE than enough to inform a Wildrose candidate on Twitter earlier today that his calls for "transparency" rang hollow, coming from someone whose party leader didn't release the list of donors to her own campaign. He accused me of innuendo, and informed me (as the well-informed candidate for an MLA job that he is) that all donations were posted on the Elections Alberta website. They're not, and that's not the rule. Leadership races are voluntary disclosure because you're donating to a person, not a registered political party. Oops. Might be something you want to know before throwing around words like "transparency" or running for office to re-write laws that you clearly don't understand.
But hey, this isn't about the ignorance - willful or otherwise - of a candidate for public office. That time will come. This is about MY blind spots. The things I don't know, or can't see, about the 3 remaining contenders for the leadership of the PC Party.

As I've mentioned before, there are people I know and respect who are backing each of the 3 finalists. What I want from them in this last 8 days of the campaign, then, is a little help. Not press releases or retweets from the official campaign account - I've seen more than enough of those.

I want to hear from people I *know*, in their OWN words...  why is your candidate the best choice to unite the party? To renew it? To reinvent the way the PC Party relates to Albertans? To make the party relevant again? To govern justly and with empathy and wisdom?

Convince me, Friends. Why should I, and my readers, support your candidate? Don't tell me he's got an "inspiring vision" - tell me what the vision IS. Don't tell me what she's done - tell me what she's GOING to do.

Send your pitch to oberhoffner (at)  A sample of the best ones advocating each candidate - with the names of the senders removed - will be posted on the blog, to convince the Nation.

I await Enlightenment.

Stepping off my soap-box, to make room for you and YOUR candidate...

- E.S.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 9 Days to the Second Ballot

Nation, by now you've no doubt heard the results of the first ballot to replace outgoing PC Leader and Premier Ed Stelmach. For those living under a rock, though, here they are again:

Gary Mar 24,195 (40.8%)
Alison Redford 11,127 (18.7%)
Doug Horner 8,635 (14.5%)
Ted Morton 6,962 (11.7%)
Rick Orman 6,005 (10.1%)
Doug Griffiths 2,435 (4.1%)

Total eligible votes cast: 59,359

We're going to be going back to those numbers quite a bit, so pack a lunch.

First impressions: HUGE blow to Ted Morton, who was generally accepted as a shoo-in for a second ballot. He missed the cut by just under 1,700 votes. More on Ted later.

The obvious outcome of this result is that, as the title of this blog post would suggest, we are headed for a second ballot. On October 1st (advance polls on Tuesday, September 27th) the top 3 finishers - Mar, Redford, and Horner - will go toe-to-toe trying to secure the 50%+1 result required to win the PC Party Leadership and, by extension, the Premier's Office. Party members will be asked to indicate a first and, if they wish, a second choice. If none of the 3 reaches the 50%+1 threshold when the ballots are counted on Saturday night, then the 3rd-place finisher will drop off the ballot, and the ballots indicating them as a "first choice" will be recounted and moved to the column of the indicated 2nd choice.

It's far from a perfect system, but it DOES have the advantage of ensuring that the PC's will always - ALWAYS - have a Leader who was supported, as a first or 2nd choice, by over 50% of the party's voting members.

I had the chance to debate this system with my fellow charter member Shane Byciuk of CalgaryRants on Monday, courtesy of CBC Radio One's "The Homestretch". Click here to hear Shane get pWned.

Turn-out has been a big story, as it should be. The turn-out versus the first round of the 2006 leadership race was down by 38,331 - that's a LOT of people who voted in 2006 and stayed home in 2011. The PC's owe it to themselves to try and figure out why. Honestly. The "farmers were working in the fields" spin isn't going to fly.

It's not ALL doom and gloom when talking turn-out, however. Membership sales, while not at historic levels, aren't historically LOW, either. The 60,000+ dues paid memberships puts them at well past double their closest competition in Alberta.

Of course, many of those members will dry up and blow away once the leadership race is over, never to be seen or heard from again. Such is the nature of leadership races, and of nomination races for that matter: people show up who have never been political and will never be political again, they vote the way they've been told to by friends or family, and that vote - cast in pure ignorance - has as much weight as anyone else. That's democracy.

So what of the vanquished?

Morton and Orman threw their support behind front-runner Mar earlier this week, with Griffiths following suit on the following day.

But why?

Morton was crushed by the first ballot results. He ran arguably a better campaign than in his run for the leadership in 2006, yet at the end of the night he received 19,000 FEWER votes than in 2006. Losses to the Wildrose? Some of them, certainly. Losses to Rick Orman? Some, perhaps. Lingering hard feelings towards Morton over his perceived palace coup against genuine nice guy Ed Stelmach? Some, sure. But Morton - who tried like hell during this race to show his fiscal conservative bona fides and stayed away from controversial social issues - expected to make the 2nd ballot, timed his campaign accordingly, and never crossed the finish line. The best he can hope for at this point is to again serve as Minister of Finance under Mar or, perhaps, to stand for his old job as a Senator-elect in the promised upcoming senatorial elections and maybe someday get the call from Stephen Harper to take a seat in Canada's Upper House. Either would be made more likely by currying favour with the sitting Premier.

Orman did surprisingly well - narrowly missing out on a 4th place finish. After the votes were counted, he indicated he was returning to "private life", however the Mar endorsement might indicate a change of heart for the Getty-era cabinet minister. Orman - who spent much of his campaign throwing punches towards Mar - mysteriously endorsed him after the first round of voting. It MAY have something to do with his strong showing in the Calgary-McCall poll, which Orman won with an astounding 79.9% of the votes cast. At 1,668 votes, none of the 6 candidates received more votes in any poll than Orman did in McCall. And that INCLUDES the Advance Polls. The votes he received for PC Leader in McCall were about half of the votes it would take for him to win the seat in a general election, currently held by Liberal Darshan Kang (and with no nominated Progressive Conservative in the constituency. Hmmm...)

Griffiths' endorsement of Mar came as a complete shock to many, myself included. The Griffiths campaign - which was made up completely of volunteers, from the campaign manager on down - was all about the need for change, and for discussions that the Old Boys weren't interested in having. Doug made his points, time and again, and while they were applauded and well-received, at the end of the day the party's voting membership gave him just over 4% support. Hardly a ringing endorsement. So why would the "agent of change" support Gary Mar, the candidate with the backing of 30 other sitting MLAs and half the cabinet? In short - because there's only so much you can do from the outside looking in, and Griffiths clearly feels Mar is going to win. If Griffiths ever wants to be at the table where the decisions are made, and push for the kind of change he's talking about, he's got to BE the Premier, or he's got to have the Premier's ear.

I hate that this is how it is. I think it shouldn't be this way. But that's how it is, and it'd be disingenuous for me to pretend I didn't understand. I do. I'm just not happy about it.

Of course, MLA endorsements - even those of your fellow leadership candidates - don't mean everything. In the case of all 3 defeated candidates, their campaign managers are NOT supporting Mar. Likewise with many of the campaign volunteers. And, lest we forget, Ted Morton had 10 MLA endorsements, and finished 4th. Alison Redford had one - Art Johnston of Calgary-Hays, which she didn't win anyhow - and finished 2nd. So it's not enough to have the MLA or candidate, you need to have a team under them, selling memberships and mobilizing voters.

Since the vote, Mar has acted every bit the "pending winner", talking in glowing terms about the candidates who have come over to his side, staying on message, and playing coy about a possible snap election call. Upon being sworn in as Leader and Premier, Mar will either need to authorize over 40 nomination races to take place with 2 weeks' notice, appoint candidates, or both, in order to call a fall election with his slate filled. Whispers have put a possible date for a general election as November 21st, under this scenario. If he instead chooses to hold a by-election in order to take a seat in the Legislature, suggestions are that Iris Evans has offered her Sherwood Park seat for Gary to run in.

Redford has come out guns blazing, trying to capitalize on the influx of talent and support from the Orman, Griffiths and Morton camps. She's been appealing to teachers. She's talking about health care. She's taken clear aim at Gary, drawing comparisons to 2006 when first ballot runner-up Morton went on the offense against front-runner Dinning, allowing third-place finisher Ed Stelmach to focus on selling memberships and ensuring that he was the second choice of both Dinning AND Morton supporters - a dual strategy that, ultimately, guaranteed Stelmach's victory, and wouldn't have been possible without the acrimony between the Morton and Dinning campaigns. The narrative has been "change versus the status quo".

Horner has scoffed at reports he might step aside, clearing the way for a Redford/Mar showdown at high noon. And who can blame him? He's in the "Stelmach position", drawing no fire, throwing no stink bombs, and free to campaign quietly and effectively without having to take time out of his day to deal with the opposition. Horner's campaign, which was virtually non-existent in Calgary and not much better in Edmonton, has added only one new PC caucus member, the incomparable Carl Benito of Edmonton-Millwoods. Carl has promised to deliver the goods for Horner on voting day, and if there's one thing we know about Carl: When he gives his word, it's good.

I'll re-post the voting information when we get closer to the advance polls and October 1st, as well as the candidate profiles.

As for MY reaction to the first ballot results...  I'm conflicted.

First of all: I don't know what the hell has happened to my friends, but I want it to stop, and I want them back. The name-calling, allegations, slick partisan jabs directed at each other... it wasn't this bad during the municipal election last October, and THAT was *bad*. I've gotten to the point where I've stopped logging onto Twitter, or at least started ignoring the #pcldr hashtag. It's an echo chamber now - you couldn't find un-spun truth in there with a polygraph hooked up to a Cochrane warp engine. When Twitter becomes a one-way broadcast medium for campaigns and re-tweeting campaign volunteers rather than a 2-way conversation medium, it loses its effectiveness.

Secondly, I've started second-guessing myself. It was clear to me earlier in this race that with the support of 26 MLAs, Gary Mar was the candidate of the status quo. He HAD to be - you can't get 26 politicians to agree on anything, EVER, unless it's directly related to them keeping their jobs.

But then, I started wondering - what if these endorsements aren't about cabinet spots and social climbing? What if they're about something else?

What if these MLA's - all of whom got their jobs the hard way, by running for office against real people and winning - know something that I don't? What if they know that Gary Mar really IS the guy to unite the PC's, has a genuine drive to evolve the party into its next iteration, and is the best choice to beat Danielle, Raj, Brian and Glenn? Don't they know better than me? I'm interested. I'm involved. I'm even - from time to time - a little smart about this stuff. But their mortgages get paid by what they know. Their entire lives are funded by their ability to see the direction the wind is blowing. If they're all seeing this...  can they ALL be chasing cabinet jobs?

I've got friends supporting Gary. I've got friends supporting Alison. I've got friends supporting Doug. At the end of the day, I hope they can all be friends with each other again. But there's a real, seismic shift happening in the PC Party right now. And no matter WHO wins the leadership, there are going to be some pretty serious fault-lines that need dealing with, pronto. Will social or fiscal conservatives decide to leave and join the Wildrose? Leave and just stay home from now on? How about progressives - which is NOT a euphemism for "liberal", as neocons would have you believe (there are a lot of progressives in today's Wildrose)? Will they leave the party after what they might perceive as a victory of the "status quo"?

If change from WITHIN isn't possible, the only way to effect change is from WITHOUT...

I don't know what to think. If you held a gun to my head and forced me to bet on a likely winner, I think it's clear who I'd bet on. The math is pretty compelling. But memberships are for sale again. And in 2006, the smart money was on Dinning. And I don't bet against Stephen Carter candidates.

What I *do* know, though, is this: Every part of me is sick of this. I'm not just physically exhausted, I'm tired of this. And I'm a political wonk. This is like me deciding I'm sick of the Stanley Cup playoffs, a few days before the Finals start.

Is it the process? The antics of the campaigns? The behind-the-scenes machinations?

I don't know.

But I'm NOT a happy PC today. And I don't know what's going to change that.

Or if anything can.

- E.S.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

It's Time To Play The Music... It's Time To Light The Lights...

Nation, after what seems like a 16-year long campaign, the time has come to cast your vote for a new leader of the Progressive Conservative Party and, by extension, for Premier of Alberta.

My thousands (millions?) of PC-inclined readers are no doubt already on their way to the polling stations scattered across the province. I don't need to tell you how important this choice is.

However, I know a lot of people who read this blog are not normally inclined to support the PC's. That might be a recent development, or they might be life-long haters of the PC brand and all it stands for in their eyes.

I want you to buy a membership and vote anyhow.

Sitting on the sidelines and criticizing the decisions and choices that other people have made is easy.

But Albertans - of any political stripe - are not the type to take the easy road.

Want to change this province for the better?

But a membership. Go vote today. Vote again on October 1st. Pick a new leader for the PC's, who will chart a new direction. You KNOW that not all PC's are the same. You know that a different leader can change things dramatically. Look at Peter Lougheed. Now look at Ralph Klein. Same party, two TOTALLY different governments.

And, after all is said and done, if you STILL hate the PC's, then volunteer for your local Wildrose, Alberta Party, Liberal or NDP costituency association. Stand for election yourself. Make a difference.

ALL of you, PC and otherwise - make a difference. Because oh MAN, do we need difference-makers in this province.

It starts with voting, today.


WHO CAN VOTE? Eligible voters shall be:

  • Canadian Citizens
  • Of the full age of 16 years
  • Ordinarily resident in Alberta for at least six (6) months immediately prior to the voting date
  • Members in good standing of a Provincial Progressive Conservative Constituency Association (this just means you've paid for your membership)

HOW DO I BECOME A PC PARTY MEMBER IN ORDER TO VOTE? You can buy a membership for $5 at your local polling station right up until the polls close at 7 pm.

WHERE DO I VOTE? Click on this link, and then on the name of your constituency.

HOW DO I DETERMINE IN WHICH CONSTITUENCY I LIVE? Click on this link, select "Postal Code" and enter yours. Easy as pie. Or cake. Whichever's easiest.


Each person must present their membership card and two pieces of Identification, one of which should be a picture ID, acceptable to establish residency within the constituency. Eligible identification includes but is not limited to:

  • Driver’s license
  • Passport
  • Citizenship Card
  • Social Insurance Card
  • Student ID
  • Utility bill
  • Property tax bill
  • Automobile insurance card

Voters whose eligibility as Canadian citizens is challenged will be required to show evidence of Canadian Citizenship such as:

  • Citizenship Card
  • Birth certificate
  • Passport
  • If challenged, proof of age.