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?