Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 31 Days to the First Ballot

I don't know what to tell you, Nation.

On the one hand, it seems to all the world as though the 6 candidates for PC Leader are just floating placidly on the pond of public consciousness, not making any waves and waiting to drift into the sun.

As anyone who knows ducks (or political campaigns, for that matter) would tell you, however, there's some absolutely FURIOUS paddling going on underneath the surface of that pond.

Here's what you may have missed this week, in the race to crown Alberta's next Premier...

Klein endorses Mar, Getty endorses Horner
Neither former Premier mentioned particular policies in their endorsements, instead making them endorsements of the men themselves. The Klein endorsement will likely carry more weight than that of Don Getty, however the actual real value of endorsements is very much open for debate. I have a lot of friends holding PC memberships. I have yet to hear one say "I didn't have any idea for whom I was going to vote, but if Gary's good enough for Ralph, he's good enough for me".

The Dangers of Twitter
Rick Orman got into a bit of a tough situation this week on Twitter, when he started trading shots with fellow PC Leadership candidate and Twitter Ninja Doug Griffiths over what he imagined (emphasis intended) was Griffiths' advocacy for a provincial sales tax. The exchange can be found here, courtesy of Stuart A. Thomson transcription services. What's touched on is the simultaneous exchange that was going on between the 2 and Walter Schwabe of Fused Logic, who had offered space for both men to debate on live-to-the-web streaming video. Orman refused repeated efforts by Schwabe to confirm if he would be willing to take part in the debate, leaving Griffiths without a dance partner and leaving Schwabe a little hot under the collar.  In light of Orman's clearly expressed belief that leadership forums and debates are a waste of time in a race where memberships sold - not policy, or popularity, or public events - will be the biggest determining factor of success - his reluctance to "waste his time" debating another candidate on internet video makes sense. My response would be that getting televised on the web is better than getting televised NOWHERE, but Rick disagrees, as is his right. I'd just remind him, though, that Twitter isn't about broadcasting, it's about conversation. When you ignore the people who are trying to converse with you, you alienate them. And when they run web media companies...  well, remember the old adage: "Never get into a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel". Electrons are the new ink.

The Dangers of Twitter, continued...
Rick just had a bad night. He really did. At one point during the evening's Twestivities, the Orman/Griffiths repartee was interrupted by this tweet, from Alberta Party President Chris LaBossiere:

@Rick_Orman I would love to hear a couple examples of "innovation in the tax system" that would help us balance our budget. Help me out.
Now, at this point as a PC Leadership contender, your spidey-senses have to be kicking in. "Innovation in the tax system" certainly sounds like one of those political euphemisms designed to say something without actually saying it - like "increasing revenues" means "hiking taxes". And Orman said as much in response:

@ChrisLaBossiere not a language I understand. "innovation in tax system". What is that code for?

The problem, which Labossiere made clear in his next, incredulous tweet, was self-evident:

@Rick_Orman Umm... it wasn't a trick question. This is YOUR wording from your website.  

And indeed, that's exactly where it IS from. LaBossiere didn't pluck the wording out of thin air; he was quoting Orman's website, and asking for clarification. Orman has not, to my knowledge, explained why he thought a term from his own website, under the heading "Rick's Commitments", was unfamiliar to him. It certainly couldn't be that the candidate didn't know what was on his own website - that'd be unfathomable.

Mar comes out in favour of private healthcare
The only thing shocking about this position, long-held as Daveberta outlines on his blog, is that Gary felt the need to go there. It could be that his internal polling is giving him some ugly numbers - in fact, that's the only reason I see for the perceived front-runner to voluntarily wade into the private health care debate. Rest assured, this position is going to get Gary some headlines for the next while - but are they really the sort of headlines that he needed? Or is this a case of "there's no such thing as bad press"?

Senate Elections on the near horizon
All 6 leadership candidates have come out in favour of holding Senate elections by 2012, in anticipation of filling upcoming vacancies in Alberta's representation in the Upper House. Candidate Doug Horner, however, wants the Alberta senate elections held in conjunction with simultaneous senate elections in BC and Saskatchewan, turning senate elections - and duly elected senators - from an Alberta-exclusive phenomenon into a regional one and putting senate reform back on the federal map in a big way.

"Read My Lips..."
5 of the 6 PC Leadership candidates have pledged they will consider no increases in taxes, no new taxes and no changes to the energy royalty structure. The black sheep, Doug Griffiths is leaving everything on the table, citing the gap between the $12 Billion we collect in income and business taxes versus the $39 Billion we spend each year. "We don't pay for the services we get. We rely on royalties and then we wonder why we ride this rollercoaster?... Maybe we should review the tax system and pay for what we get. That's all I'm saying. That's why it's part of that whole big fiscal discussion we need to have." Griffiths said to the Calgary Herald. If that chorus sounds familiar, it's because it's a call for a discussion that was also made this past May by none other than Saint Peter, Peter Lougheed, when he suggested the new PC Leader would have to take a good close look at the tax base to determine how to fund programs and infrastructure for the long-term, preparing for the day that the Golden Goose (the energy sector) stops laying eggs (my words, not his). If, in light of this, 5 of the 6 candidates are pledging no new taxes and no increases, it would seem that Griffiths was the only leadership candidate listening when Lougheed was speaking.

The next PC Leadership Forum takes place this Thursday at 7 pm, in Medicine Hat. The event will be live-streamed via the web through the PC Party website. I'll be watching from the friendly confines of Enlightened Savage World Headquarters. Since the winner of this contest will become the Premier of Alberta, I'd urge you to watch, as well. They're YOUR tax dollars, after all - no matter WHICH party you're inclined to support.

Shoulda Carried the "1"...

Nation, typos happen. We've all zigged linguistically or mathematically when we should have zagged.

When politicians do it, however, it's a bit more of a problem. Because, quite simply put, we don't know whether or not we can trust a lot of them. They're up there with lawyers and used car salesmen in our public esteem, as "people who very probably would lie to my face if it would help them earn money/win". So, when a politician gets something wrong, we don't know if it's because they honestly made a mistake, or because they're trying to intentionally mislead us.

This problem reared its head this week when Wildrose Party candidate Richard Jones, of Calgary-Acadia (nee Egmont), posted the following on his Facebook page (click on image to enlarge):

Now, Jones' indignance - which is quite possibly linked to his future career prospects, let's remember - is based on the absolutely brutal statistic that he gleaned from the National Post column listed underneath his comment. In said column, Lorne Gunter quotes a report from the Fraser Institute in which the "$10,204 per capita" number appears.

The gist of the column - and the report - is that Alberta has a spending problem. Spending has increased nearly 40%, adjusting for inflation, since the Golden Age of King Ralph in 1996. That's certainly a discussion I'd be happy to have with anyone. But there's something about the figure that Richard quoted that just seems...  off.

Let's see...

"Today, the PC Government spends $10,204 per person each month"... and he's obviously committed to that number, because he then extrapolates that, for his family of 6, that works out to over $720,000 per year. A solid and meaningful number. Those Tories must be out of control. I mean, let's extrapolate that number further, and see what those PC jerks are spending in TOTAL each year!

  • $10,204 per person, per month.
  • 12 months per year.
  • That works out to $122,448 per person, per year.
  • There were 3,609,319 people living in Alberta in 2010, according to provincial figures.
That means the Tories are spending...

$441953892912 per year.

That's a big number. Let's add some commas.




The PC's are spending $441 BILLION per year?

No wonder Richard's so angry...  Now *I'M* angry, too!  Let's get rid of those free-spending morons!

Of course, a look at the budget would tell you that Richard's math is off, by a bit. $402 Billion, to be exact. Which is a lot of money. It's about 17 months worth of total FEDERAL spending, actually.

In fairness, it could be that Richard simply misunderstood the figure he was looking at. In particular, this could be true if he took Lorne's word for it and didn't actually read the Fraser Institute report which Lorne linked to from his column (it can be found here). Page 28, Figure 5. The truth is, the Government of Alberta spends $10,204 PER YEAR per capita, not "per month", as Richard asserted. The total amount that Ed Stelmach spends on Richard's family of 6 is $61,224 each year, over $33,000 of which is for those silly frills "health care" and "public education".

I'm trying to give Richard the benefit of the doubt here, because if he DID understand the true figure, the only other conclusion we could come to is that he was intentionally misleading us. Which, of course, I'd never accuse him of. In fact, I'd be happy to post his clarification in this space.

Albertans need to have a serious, open and frank discussion about taxes and about spending. These are adult conversations, requiring the utmost care and detail because they affect so many people in so many serious ways. We owe it to ourselves, to our fellow Albertans, and to future generations to get it RIGHT, rather than to throw soundbytes and factoids at each other to try and "beat the other guys".

Is spending "out of control"? I don't think so. I think it's higher than it should be. I think we're making up for the deplorable lack of program and infrastructure spending in the mid-90's for the most part, but there's also fat to be cut, and inefficiencies to address.

But let's do it with the real facts on the table, and calculators in hand.

Like grown-ups - neighbours, friends - trying to make the province better.

Not like politicians trying to win a job.

Our next generation deserves better than that.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Race to the Premier's Office - 38 Days to the First Ballot

Hello, Nation...

As panicked school children wonder where their summer holidays have gone, we take a gander at the calendar and realize we need but tear off one more page for the long-awaited PC Leadership election to be upon us. Political watchers are divided about whom the eventual winner might be, but few are proving foolish enough to predict a first ballot victory.

The race seems to have picked up some steam over the past couple of weeks, as Albertans digest the implications of recent polls suggesting that the winner of the race to replace Premier Ed Stelmach won't just be holding the job for a few months, but very likely 5 years or more. It's a real race, to select a real leader who's going to have a real impact.

Game on.
Here's what you may have missed since last we spoke...

Gary Mar took a swipe at Alison Redford in a statement he made referencing Edmonton's tragically high murder rate for 2011. His suggestion that the provincial government, and Redford as Justice Minister, didn't follow through on funding the Safe Communities initiative was met with swift rebuttal by Redford, who in turn criticised Mar for (I'm paraphrasing, here) using tragic and senseless crimes to score political points. The 2 took their argument to the airwaves, appearing on the Rutherford radio program last Friday. Both campaigns, not surprisingly, felt their candidate won that showdown. Redford ended the discussion telling Mar "Next time, let's do this on Health Care". Mar's campaign took some heat shortly thereafter when it was alleged a junior team member had called into the program under a false name to lob a softball question at Mar. The campaign, for their part, says nothing like that was ever suggested or authorized, and if it DID happen, it would have been a volunteer who took matters into their own hands.

Later that same day, Redford was endorsed by the Calgary Police Association, which represents almost 2,000 Calgary Police Service members. The organization will not be donating money to Redford, but will encourage members to buy PC Party memberships in order to vote in the leadership race.

Earlier this week, Gary Mar gained the endorsement of current Minister of Education Dave Hancock. This brings the total number of former Ministers of Health on Team Mar to FOUR, with Gary himself, Hancock, Ron Liepert, and Iris Evans. It's enough to make Raj Sherman lose sleep.

Just last night, Rick Orman hosted a reported crowd of several hundred at Wurst Restaurant & Beerhall, a much celebrated new addition to Calgary's dining scene for those of us with "Ober" in our names. ;)  The big news coming out of that event was Orman's call for a full operational review of provincial government expenditures. His argument was that the province doesn't have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem (an argument that worked for Ralph Klein when running against the record of the free-spending Getty cabinet, of which Orman had been a member for 7 years).

The candidates all attended the Alberta Teachers' Association Leadership Forum this morning. The reviews were generally positive, though the most muted, polite applause seemed to be directed at former University of Calgary Professor Ted Morton. The OTHER professional educator in the race, former junior high school teacher Doug Griffiths, received boisterous applause and cheering at several points, particularly in his closing statement when he pointed out, in response to an ATA table placard, "...the future, it's why teachers teach... it's also why they run to become Premier".

The 6 candidates will square off again in Ft. McMurray this Thursday, starting at 7 pm. I expect it's a safe bet that Energy and Royalties will be popular topics, and that the Mar/Redford and Orman/Mar jabs of the past few weeks may continue. The forum will be live-streamed on the PC Party Website.  I'll be watching the event from Gary Mar's Calgary HQ, and talking to his team for reactions afterwards.

NOTE TO CAMPAIGNS: This (undecided) PCAA member, who writes a blog that a few people read, is only available to watch 2 more forums from your Calgary HQ's - the Medicine Hat and Edmonton forums. The others - Lethbridge, Calgary, and Red Deer - I'll be live-blogging from. You know how to reach me to extend an invite. First-come, first-served. ;)