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.

Campaign Website:
“Like” us on Facebook:
“Follow” JoeyO on Twitter: @oberhoffner
Email your questions and comments to JoeyO at:

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.