Agent of Change.
Doug Griffiths has been called a lot of things in this race. My favourite, though, has to be "Weapon of Mass Discussion". Griffiths, the 9-year MLA from Battle River-Wainwright, will talk to anyone, about any issue, without any fear at all. He was one of the first MLAs in Alberta to make direct use of social media - no staffers filtering his account or writing for him - and he remains one of the best at it. But through the entire campaign, one question has dogged the Griffiths campaign: Who IS Doug Griffiths?
He's a family man, first and foremost. This blogger has been in attendance at speeches where Griffiths has, when speaking about children and family, had to pause to collect himself. He has missed his 2 young sons and his wife terribly during this leadership campaign. He's also a renaissance man, and a study in remarkable contrasts: A University of Alberta grad in Philosophy and Education, Griffiths was an award-winning teacher - a job he took to, in his words, "support my ranching habit". He still maintains that ranch. He's one of the few people you'll meet who drives a pick-up because he needs to, has cowboy boots that get worn over 250 days per year, and can also type a Tweet without looking at the keys. He's an author, so passionate about communities that his speech, "13 Ways to Kill Your Community", which started on the back on a napkin, has been delivered in every corner of the province over the past 10 years and came out in book form recently. He defies being pigeon-holed as "left" or "right" - talking about equality of opportunity and how government can be a force for good while at the same time standing firmly in favour of personal responsibility for our actions. His campaign - 100% staffed by volunteers - has also been the most "blog-friendly", making sure that at every turn, from Day One, bloggers get invited to every event, to spread the message without wastefully spending donor money on ads - a nod to Doug's fiscal conservatism.
Griffiths is a man who doesn't shy away from having difficult discussions on account of political expediency. He famously raised the subject of a consumption tax - a provincial sales tax, in other terms - only to have it dismissed summarily by Premier Stelmach last year. If all provincial goods and services were paid for by sales tax revenue, and the trade-off was that you could eliminate the provincial portion of your income tax - the money you work to earn - wouldn't that be a discussion worth at least having? Current political dogma doesn't even allow the conversation, which was exactly Griffiths' point. Good governance doesn't have room for dogma. When Doug talks about the need for long-term planning - "if we want more doctors 10 years from now, we have to start training them yesterday" - it strikes a chord with his audience. When he speaks of his vision for an Alberta of 20 years from now, he has been favourably compared to Peter Lougheed, who at 38 - ironically, the age at which Griffiths is often dismissed as "too young" - was elected leader of the PC Party with no experience in the Legislative Assembly. Aged 38, Griffiths has been around for nearly a decade already, and is consistently left out of cabinet due to, according to insiders, his penchant for being outspoken in his belief that an MLA's loyalty to the voters and the truth is more important than loyalty to the Premier or the government.
Each of Griffiths' policy releases has been accompanied by a very impressive video of the candidate laying out the argument and the vision. They're among the best videos I've seen, from anyone, running for anything, anywhere. Definitely worth taking the time to look at. Some of the policy highlights:
- Reengineer government, reducing regulatory burden on business/industry and on government employees.
- Turn the power of the legislature back to Members of the Legislative Assembly and accordingly back to Albertans.
- All health professionals can be used to their full scope of professional practice.
- Every health dollar allocation will have a performance measure associated with it to ensure value for money and quality service for the patient.
- Personal responsibility for your own health will be re-introduced into the system.
- A new focus on healthy living and preventative medicine rather than simply treatment of illness.
- Continue the development of Land Use Planning Initiatives that blend local planning, global best practices, accurate environmental information, provincial long term objectives, and protection of property rights.
- Increase the acreage of parks and protected places in the province for environmental reasons, and also to meet the growing demands of those who wish to enjoy those spaces.
- Support the University of Lethbridge Water Research Institute in research and development to ensure our global leadership on best practices in all aspects of water
- Encourage sustainable transportation around our urban centers that encourage emission reductions which will improve our air quality
- Alberta must work to remove the administrative and regulatory burden and cost of local food production and distribution.
- Adopt policy and regulatory structures that support local and national food security.
- Municipalities are critical to building better communities. We must clearly identify roles and responsibilities of the various levels of government as it relates to community issues. Once the roles and responsibilities are identified, appropriate funding levels and performance measures can be set, enabling the delivery of services that build better communities.
- Once roles and responsibilities have been clearly defined, revenue issues can be settled. Just as the province needs a stable revenue stream, so do the municipalities need steady, secure revenue sources to provide services and to build strong communities. Municipal government is a mature level of government, accountable to its electorate, and if communities identify a need for specific infrastructure, they should have the ability to levy taxes to pay for it when their citizens agree.
- Recognize the benefit and the importance of infrastructure investments to support quality of life needs and economic growth in every corner of the province to ensure the long-term success of all Albertans.
- Search for opportunities to use public infrastructure to maximize community benefits and address community needs, such as schools, hospitals, seniors’ complexes, and so on.
- Encourage and support arts, culture, recreation, and heritage. These activities are part of our community infrastructure and directly impact the quality of life in a community. Arts and culture activities thrive in communities with a positive attitude and outlook, without additional government funding.
- Balance program spending and tax revenue. A Griffiths government will focus on long term planning so Alberta is prepared for the next boom with an established foundation, so any surplus energy dollars flow into the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.
- Albertans are proud and want to pay their share as long as their money is not wasted. Alberta can no longer afford to have politicians try to “out-bid” each other with Albertans’ own tax dollars, as it is not government’s money, but Albertans’ money. Non-essential programs should be funded privately through alternate revenue sources such as personal service fees or corporate donations.
- Albertans and their government need to be open to reforming the province’s tax structure to maintain Alberta’s competitive advantage.
- To make the appropriate financial decisions, Alberta must have a long term plan first. The province must get value for the money spent and the best way to do this is to first understand what its long term goals are. If Albertans and their government know the long term goals, government is able to do a cost benefit analysis to ensure the province’s money is spent wisely.
- Select professional service providers based on qualifications, not cost.
- We must review all ministry budgets and identify efficiency targets. Government is not 100% efficient. A 10% improvement in government efficiency or priority re-allocation for the current $39 Billion annual budget will yield an overall savings of $3.9 Billion in the 2011/12 fiscal year. This improvement in efficiency will take Alberta from a deficit budget to a surplus budget, and start the province on the path of saving for the future.
- Ensure all students are successful in literacy and numeracy by grade three.
- Focus on education, not school fees. School fees should not be a barrier for education, particularly those who are less fortunate and more vulnerable. Basic school requirements should be included in our public education system.
- Reward excellence in teaching and recognize the profession for the value they contribute to our society. Establish a teaching reward system based on merit and outcomes.
- Ensure arts and fine arts are available in our basic education system – helping to build the creative thinkers and creative leaders to handle the dynamic and rapidly changing global economy.
- Encourage growth of programs similar to the Registered Apprenticeship Program (RAP) and the International Baccalaureate Program (IB) that addresses the challenges of providing unique programs in high school that match the individual student’s interests and the needs of society.
- Reform the student loan / bursary program to ensure Alberta students who require funding assistance have access to it.
- Increase the capacity in our post secondary institutions in order to leverage provincial and federal research and development project grants and private investment making Alberta the most attractive place to conduct research and facilitate innovation.
The Long & Short Of It:
It's been suggested that Griffiths will be a great premier someday, but that it's not his "turn", as the premiership must return to Calgary this time. Despite the fact that he's younger than the other candidates, though, Griffiths has a great deal of experience as an MLA. The problem, though, has been that he collects legions of devoted followers one room at a time - and other candidates for the leadership are much better known. Whispers around the Legislature before Premier Stelmach announced his departure earlier this year were that Griffiths was done being kicked around and ignored by his own party caucus and leadership. He was widely expected to choose not to run again for the PC's, go home, teach and tend to the ranch, and eventually run for Reeve in Paintearth County, where he could put his community building theories to use, parlay his immense local popularity into holding the job as long as he wanted it, and try to build the area as a "Shining City on the Hill". He still might, if the party rejects change, and chooses a "status quo" candidate as leader. I know, from talking to many of my contacts within the various campaigns, that Griffiths would be FAR from the only party member to leave the PC's if the status quo wins the day.
His performances at the PC Leadership Forums have been outstanding. His jokes hit the mark, his body language shows his sincerity, and his messages - while not the comfortable pablum that party members expect - resound with Henry and Martha. He's a social media giant - by leaps and bounds the most active and followed on-line. But will any of that make a difference? Or will the PC Party pick a "safer" candidate - one better known, less likely to do something radical and potentially cost the party its 40-year grip on power?
"He'd be a great choice, next time" goes the line from supporters of other candidates.
But as Griffiths himself points out: Albertans are bold, and the PC Party might be out of "next time's".
"This is our moment... this is not 'next time country'."
Doug Griffiths campaign website
Calgary Herald profile and video for Doug Griffiths