Thursday, December 20, 2012

#ABLegCares... it really, really does.

Oh, what a night.

Politicos, tweeps, MLA's, and just general decent folks from all over the place pledged $4,851 last night. The anonymous donor that Shane had rounded up committed to doubling that number, bringing the total donation to Inn From The Cold up to $9,702. Add all of the items that Shane has received as donations from across the political spectrum during December, and you get more than $10,000.

Nights like last night are why I fell in love with politics in the first place.

We had a New Democrat, a Liberal, an Alberta Party member, a PC, and a Wildroser sitting down together, committing gastronomical atrocities together in the name of charity. We worked TOGETHER, and in one night raised almost $10,000 for Calgarians in need. Truly a Christmas miracle.

For those of you keeping score, or who pledged and want to know what you're on the hook for, here was the final damage:

  1. Vincent St Pierre (Alberta Liberals) - 24 tacos (yes, seriously) 
  2. Joey Oberhoffner (Progressive Conservatives) - 15 tacos (14 hours later, I still have no interest in eating)
  3. Derrick Jacobson (Wildrose) - 41 chicken wings (at 3 wings/taco, we'll round up to 14 tacos)
  4. Marc Doll (Alberta Party) - 13 tacos (at $100 in pledges PER TACO)
  5. Stephen D. Anderson (NDP) - 10 tacos (before driving back to Edmonton)

You can make your donations directly to Inn From The Cold, through this link and clicking on "Donate Now".

The largest donations came from supporters of Derrick, the Wildrose representative, who raised $1,680. Of course, it's never too late to pledge, so if you want to make a donation through the link above, PLEASE do!

The real winner here, of course, is Inn From The Cold.

I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my fellow eaters, who spent much of yesterday haranguing their personal contacts into pledging for this enterprise, which really only took solid form in my mind at around 9:30 on Tuesday night. You put your stomachs on the line for a good cause, gentlemen - thank you!

Also, big props to our official Tweeters, Kirk Schmidt and Patty MacLeod. They were keeping track of funds raised on a taco-by-taco basis, and keeping the eaters motivated. We were the number one trending topic on Twitter in Calgary for much of the night.

Another big thank-you to the Blind Monk Pub, which was extremely accommodating for us. The service and food are top notch, and we truly appreciate their support in making this thing come together the way it did.

And most importantly, a huge thank-you to YOU: The donors. Those who pledged your hard-earned money, less than a week before Christmas, and helped support a fantastic local charity. You're the real heroes of last night - and you've most definitely made Santa's "Nice" list this year.

After Christmas, we can pick up the swords again. That's politics.

But as you spend the holidays with friends and loved ones, know that by coming together as a community of passionate civic-minded citizens and friendly rivals, you all did something amazing last night.

I'm honoured to know you.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put Your Money Where My Mouth Is

(edited to reflect new participants)

Politics is ugly. It's ugly, and it's nasty, and it's dirty.

But it can also be a noble and uplifting pursuit, when the right people are involved.

With the Christmas season upon us, I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to put the weight of our weekly pan-partisan Politweet events in Calgary behind something uplifting in time for the holidays. We certainly have a great time and learn a lot by putting away our swords and commiserating as real PEOPLE instead of as faceless partisan avatars retweeting our respective caucus communications trolls... but how do we do something that makes a real difference for someone who needs a hand up?

So here's what we're going to do...

My friend Shane over at Calgary Rants has been working this December to help raise funds and donations of items for the great charity Inn From The Cold. During the course of this process, he has also received a commitment from an anonymous benefactor that all donations will be matched dollar for dollar, up to $5,000. This would make a HUGE difference to the people who need to services that Inn From The Cold offers, especially at this time of year. And we're going to help.

At the Blind Monk (918, 12th Avenue SW) on Wednesday night, Kent Hehr is hosting his regular Pints and Politics night. And at 8:00 pm, taking advantage of the fact that at least 60 politicos, if not more, will be in attendance, we are going to have ourselves a chow-a-thon. Partisans and politically involved folks from all over the province can pledge their support to any one of our designated eaters - some will be downing chicken wings, while some - myself included - will be taking advantage of "South of the Border Wednesdays" at the Monk, and will be crushing tacos instead. In the end, though, it makes no difference: While we're competing for bragging rights for our respective parties, the important thing is that every wing or taco that gets eaten will be raising money - through your pledges - for Inn From The Cold.

We're going to try and get at least one "designated eater" to represent each provincial party, if you define your support as a partisan enterprise. Pledges can be made in the comments section of this post, on Twitter using the hashtag "#ablegcares", or in person at the Monk. Each eater will collect the pledges they earn, and pass them on to Shane to be matched by the anonymous donor.

Thus far, we have the following confirmed eaters - always room for more! Just email me at joey (at) dulcetmelodies (dot) ca to be added to this list! (Eaters will be picking up their own tab, unless someone volunteers to do it for them):

  • Derrick Jacobson (@AlbertaAltruist) - Representing the Wildrose Party. Will be eating wings.
  • Joey Oberhoffner (@oberhoffner) - Representing the Progressive Conservative Party. Tacos.
  • Vincent St Pierre (@vsp) - Representing the Alberta Liberals. Tacos.
  • Marc Doll (@dollhouseyyc) - Representing the Alberta Party. Tacos.

The object here, folks, is to RAISE MONEY THROUGH PLEDGES for Inn From The Cold. While we'll appreciate any cheerleading you can do in person or via Twitter, as well, we're only actually doing any good if you can pledge. Retweet the HECK out of this post, even if you normally disagree with 99% of what I post. There's already a commitment from Jane and Cory Morgan of $2 per wing eaten by Derrick. Surely, my PC friends can do better than that? We're not going to let the far right walk away with this thing, are we? ;)

And not to talk too much trash, here, but I'm going to win this thing. It's going to be April 23rd all over again. Don't believe the polls - I was BORN for this kind of a contest. So if you're looking at making a huge difference in the lives of some of Calgary's less fortunate this Christmas, pledge at least $2 per taco on Joey Oberhoffner's plate. I won't let you down. ;)

Come on, #ableg. Let's show everyone that when the rubber hits the road, we can do more than TALK about how to make things better. Put your money where our mouths are.

UPDATE 1: Where are you, NDP? Alberta Greens? Derrick has confirmed pledges of at least $3.75 per chicken wing. I'm sitting at $4 per taco - but even a skinny guy like Derrick can eat a lot more chicken wings than tacos. I'm going to need some more pledges to defend the honour of the PC Party. Of course, if more PC's want to EAT and raise pledges themselves, that's fine too - Inn From The Cold can use all the help we can offer!

UPDATE 2: Still waiting for the NDP and Greens to get in on the action. The pledges continue to roll in, with Marc Doll having wrangled FORTY-FIVE DOLLARS to Inn From The Cold for every taco he eats tonight.  My fellow PCs, we are getting CRUSHED in the pledge department - I'm going to have to out-eat Marc 3-to-1 just to keep pace! Open your hearts and your wallets - it's Christmas, after all!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

To Merge or Not To Merge? - Guest post by Marc Doll

Note: The following is a guest post written by well-known Calgary politico, realtor, and Bishop Grandin graduate Marc Doll. We don't agree on everything, but we do agree on most things, including the evils of blind partisanship. His text begins... now. - ES

[content edited at author's request - 10:45 am, Dec. 13]

To merge or not to merge... that is not the question.

Based on the Math that may very well be the question but math in human affairs rarely adds up. In my mind the question is to be a Partisan or not to be a Partisan.

Partisanship is the cancer of today's politics.

Partisanship leads to laziness from political Parties. People who vote for or support one particular party regardless of the candidate, or shifting ideas or ideals of the party leads to most of the problems in our political system.

Would Harper have run Crockatt in Calgary Centre if he didn't rely on the blind partisanship of a significant portion of the electorate? Would he have sent his cronies out to ensure the candidate that best reflected his position instead over the general consensus of the centrist Calgary Centre was chosen?

At the moment neither the NDP, Liberalberta or the Alberta Party have put forward a strong enough position or unifying candidate to earn the vote of the forward thinking in Alberta.

So long as we put Party before all else, this will never happen.

It is my argument that those who identify themselves as Liberal, NDP, Conservative etc. are the source of the problem of a disjointed "left". They stifle discussion and do everything in their power to ensure other the other "teams", especially those relatively close to themselves on the spectrum gain no purchase. For decades the NDP has run harder against the Liberals than they did against the Conservative. The reverse can also be said to be true.

It's time we burn our banners and demand that the Parties earn our vote.

Naheed's election was our first taste of this post partisan world. Since Naheed, unlike Higgins and McIvor, did not cling or self-identify with any political brand he challenged us to do the same. He has proven by his 80% + approval rating that there is a large consensus in the centre in a post partisan world.

It is our flags and not our vision of Calgary, Alberta or Canada that divides us.

I believe there is a way to work within Partisan Politics to achieve a post partisan unified reality. The Alberta Party is an attempt to do this but to date it has not attracted the central unifying voice nor the right policy balance to be able to accomplish this. It is my hope that if any of the forward the forward thinking Parties are able to do this, we will be forward thinking enough to put down our Flags and look for consensus in the ballot box.

The Liberal President's letter that has spurred this current conversation is the manifestation of the aforementioned cancer. Defending the reinforcement of silo's and the reinforcement of walls and divisions does nothing but feed this cancer.

I'm sorry that a 22 year old blogger is fed up with this conversation. Some of us have been fighting for this post partisan conversation for longer than this blogger has been alive and will continue to do so until it comes to fruition.

There is no other path forward. 100 years of Liberal and to a lesser historical extent NDP electoral failure and bickering are the proof of this unfortunate reality.

The army of forward thinking engaged volunteers that was assembled under Nenshi and forged under Turner (and I could be convinced under Harvey) is in my view a possible game changer. For the first time in my life, I feel that there is a chance for people I generally agree with, to not only influence but decide elections in this once monolithic Conservative bastion that is Calgary. The upcoming Municipal election is a fantastic time to prove this thesis. If this army is able to identify and coalesce around 2 or 3 strong forward thinking candidates we can completely alter the composition of Council.

If we vote for or work for the candidates who self-identify under our "chosen banner" we will ensure that the DiCu's, Demongs, Hodges' etc. etc. will continue to hold our city back from where it needs to go.

The choice is ours. Partisanship or a coalition of the forward thinking.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr. Strangevote or: How I learned to stop surfing and love the paper ballot

(Guest Post by Kirk Schmidt)

TeH Interwebz are all the rage these days. The kids use the twitter. The facebook is where I go to find the people that my coworkers want to know more about when they find interesting people on eHarmony.

In an age where the Internet is such an integral part of our lives, and where democracy seems to slowly be losing a battle to apathy, it makes sense to look into online voting as a potential option. You know, the same way that the invention of the telephone brought in phone-in ballots. No, wait.

What is an online ballot?

I will assume, for the purposes of the post, that the following are true. However, I want to state some things to think about with these as well.

1)      Online voting is performed through standard software such as browsers. Utilizing other platforms introduces other issues, some of which will be similar, if not identical to using browsers. Others will be the fact that software can be deconstructed, reverse engineered, and rebuilt (this is common strategy by anti-virus companies when attempting to build virus definitions)

2)      Online voting does not require additional security parameters to be set up such as VPN tunnels. The more complex the setup to vote online becomes, the less it becomes a viable option.

How do online ballots work?

Most online balloting would work this way (give or take). You are given some sort of authentication protocol to log in. This is unique to you in some way. When the ballot is submitted, a cryptographic key is given to you – theoretically this is used to verify that you voted, and can sometimes even be built to show you who you voted for, assuming you have the proper keys in place. Some online voting systems will allow you to vote multiple times, and only take the last vote.

Tenets of the Vote

Here are the basic tenets of what I see as fundamentally important here.

1)      Votes should be verifiable. There should be a way to ensure that what I clicked for is what the computer registered.

2)      Votes should be counted. There needs to be an auditable way to see which ballots were indeed counted, and to prove that some were not lost, deleted, changed, etc.

3)      One vote per voter. This does not mean that a voter cannot vote more than once, but that at the end, only one vote counts (usually the last)

4)      The voter cannot be reverse-engineered from the ballot, or the combined information on the servers.

5)      A vote cannot be “listened to” or interfered with during processing, and secure from tampering.

Issue #1: Server uptime

Election after election, servers go down. There is normally at least one point in time where the place to look up where you go to vote goes down on election day. This is often because servers typically don’t handle the massive loads that come in during an electoral period.

Let’s assume that the ONLY people connecting to the server are potential voters. We can reasonably expect that most voters do not vote during “random” times during the day – the peaks will likely be before work, upon arriving at work, during lunch, just before leaving work, just after getting home, and within a time period prior to closing of the vote. Namely, 6:00-9:00, 11:30-1:30, 4:00-6:00, and then one hour before election closes.

Now, assuming people are trying to connect within the last few minutes of the vote closing, and the system goes down from a denial of service (too many connections), what are the odds that those people can get to the polls before they close?

The other peak times may very well cause other problems, unless the server infrastructure is made robust enough.

Then, this assumes that there is no value in taking down the servers regardless. Let’s say a party knows that its voters tend to vote early – is there value in taking down the servers later in the day? Possibly. So outside of merely voters, a distributed denial of service might be a great way for someone to purposefully suppress voters.

Where this could become even more dangerous is if online connection is required to verify whether someone has voted or not. Since the counterfoil is ripped off as a paper ballot is submitted, it is impossible upon counting of paper ballots to verify whether someone has voted both online and offline. As such, that verification would need to be performed in real-time, and the counting server will need to be updated as a person makes their vote (or we’ll all need to vote online), in order to ensure tenet #3. As such, a distributed denial of service could halt not only online ballots, but offline as well.

Issue #2: The secrecy of the ballot (or, I can bank and/or submit my taxes online – why can’t I vote online)

This is a very common question, so I want to attack this in three different ways. Way number 1 is target analysis. Way number 2 is our view of security. Way number 3 is the audit trail and secrecy of the ballot.

Way #1: Target Analysis

When it comes to hacking a target, value of the target needs to be taken into account. Think of this as the “club” effect. If there are two cars of exact make and model parked besides each other, and you intend to steal one, and one has “The Club” on the wheel and the other does not, it would make sense to try to steal the one without, as it is the method with potentially least problem.

When you submit your taxes online, you are effectively submitting your income and your deductions into a centralized system. I do not care about your line 150 – I can likely get that other ways, such as analysis of your LinkedIn profile versus standard salary charts, all through public data. The only possible thing of use to me is your SIN, which again, is easier to get through other methods such as phishing attacks.

Furthermore, you have a 3 month window to submit your taxes online (assuming you owe. If you don’t, you can submit your taxes after the deadline). This means that it’s far more difficult to pinpoint when an individual is going to submit those values.

This is similar with banking – I don’t know when you are going to bank online, so any attacks on the systems would have to be based on broader methods of attacking (think keyloggers) that are far more easily detected by anti- software.

Banking of course is a much higher target because of the financial movement, but I would argue still not as big a target as determining government.

Compare this to an electoral period – fixed times when one logs in, with the centralized systems capable of determining who will be elected and form government. When you consider that some of the biggest hacks are sponsored by government entities (outside of Canada), you can see where the government of the day could be a potential target.

Also consider the monies spent in an election. With around $100,000 per riding plus a central set of coffers worth almost $20 million per party, there is plenty of money and reason to effect change within our own country.

Way #2: Security

I hear a lot of “I bank online and that’s secure,” and have to hold back laughter. Most banks allow the following to occur:

1)      Mobile banking over the airwaves/wifi

2)      Nothing more than a username and password

Many of these usernames are card numbers. Many of the passwords are required to be 8 characters, at least one capital, at least one number, and at least one miniscule letter.

Now, there are all sorts of algorithms out there for passwords because people are predictable. You will find the majority of passwords will be dictionary words with a capital letter at the front, a number at the end (which rotates when people have to change password), and simple letter substitution on words such as 3 instead of E.

In fact, the standard 8-char model has a potential 52 alpha characters, 10 numeric characters, and for argument sake, let’s say another 2 punctuation (why, because that brings us to 64 characters).

64 is 2 to the power of 6. Multiply that by 8 characters, and you have 2 to the power of 48 potential password combinations.

Now, let’s say that my password system only allows 32 characters – perhaps only miniscule and 0-6 (2 to the power of 5). By forcing that, and enforcing a password length of 10, and my password combinations are 2 to the power of 50 – effectively, my method is more secure. In fact, it’s 4 times more secure than the other method (because we multiply the complexity by 2 and by 2 again).

Furthermore, a number of these systems require you to enter answers to standard questions, but are a number of items that can be phished out of people (or investigated). In fact, it is for that reason that NONE of my answers to questions have ANYTHING to do with the question itself, and my passwords are often keyboard-smashes.

These systems are not as secure as we are often led to believe. While they do provide some level of security, it should be noted that some European banks require you to have physical RSA keys, and that there are far more complex password methods out there than what is granted to us in the seeming standard North American method.

Even if you were not to listen to me, look at the target list of Anonymous. As said by Marc Garneau, “First, who is this group called Anonymous? Put simply, it is an international cabal of criminal hackers dating back to 2003, who have shut down the websites of the U.S. Department of Justice and the F.B.I. They have hacked into the phone lines of Scotland Yard. They are responsible for attacks against MasterCard, Visa, Sony and the Governments of the U.S., U.K., Turkey, Australia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Iran, Chile, Colombia and New Zealand.

Not a bad rap sheet, and I would venture to guess that some of their successful attacks had far better security teams than municipalities or Elections Canada.

Security on the internet is far less than it seems.

Way #3: The audit trail

Voter suppression is a real problem. Between the alleged robocall scandal to the slashing of tires in Toronto when some voters had certain signs on their lawns, knowing who will vote for whom is going to be big business. We can assume so much from social media and other public sources, but KNOWING who votes, who doesn’t vote, and who voted for whom is key data.

Now, when I go submit my taxes and work on my bank account, I WANT those entities to know who I am. I WANT the banks to audit my trail, and CRA to continually verify that I am, indeed, me. Why? If someone were to defraud me, there’s a trail. IP addresses, usernames, passwords, etc., are all built around this system to ensure that liability is minimal for the banks and that we can audit everything.

This is something that we specifically do NOT want in an election situation. We want the system to both be able to authenticate me, but not store how I voted. We also need to attempt to make sure that someone cannot vote on my behalf (so sending out simply a key to every house without other login information is not viable).

So how do you audit this? Without IP addresses to verify location, without usernames attached to ballots, it is possible, but difficult. However, it can only audit within itself, and even that is dangerous.

What do I mean by that? I can audit that a particular key was used to make a particular vote, but all that information exists within a number of servers that are not… supposed… to talk to each other. But as a Database Admin, I would look at it this way: There are normally some few hundred people to a single poll. Now, by getting timestamps of the authentication server versus usernames, and getting a timestamp of vote with electoral district and poll, the likelihood is that internally I can reverse engineer (to some degree) who voted for whom. Add to it only a 50% turnout and a time distribution over hours, and the likelihood goes up.

Then, if someone were to claim that they did not vote, but they have a vote in the system, how is it disproven? Is it marked as invalid? Do we have to accept it? What are the protocols? All we know is that *someone* with those credentials voted and it was accepted by the system, but to ensure secrecy of the ballot, more information cannot be readily available.

So the likelihood is that we will have to give up the potential right of the secret ballot to ensure auditability. This puts tenets #1, #2, and #3 at odds.

Issue #3: Centralized systems

Paper ballots are not perfect. This is also a common argument. “Well, if paper ballots are not 100% secure, why do you worry about online ballots?”

My experience is with Elections Canada, although most voting is the same within different government levels in the country.

When you go to vote, you are marked as having voted and a counter foil number is put beside your name. You mark your ballot, fold the ballot, and the counter foil is ripped from the ballot. The ballot is then placed in the box by you (never give it to someone to put in! I’ve seen this many times as a scrutineer). Oh, yes, scrutineers – every candidate can send scrutineers to the polls to watch the vote take place, and can identify problems to the Deputy Returning Officer.

When the ballot boxes are opened, the scrutineers watch the opening, the dumping, and the counting. The counting is done by NO LESS THAN two volunteers, and up to two scrutineers PER candidate are allowed to be there.

This is a decentralized system. This happens at every polling station. It is difficult, though not impossible, to influence this system, but in order to influence an election, the election either has to be close enough that one polling station is required, or they have to perform at multiple. This decentralization provides security.

Furthermore, the counterfoils are counted and compared with the number of ballots. There are a number of checks and balances to ensure that numbers align. Anyone can ask for judicial review of the ballots (although often at a cost), but it is possible.

While the voting system online may exist on multiple servers, that does not make it decentralized. In the end, it’s one internet at play. One set of servers to attack. What makes it even scarier is that an attack on these systems, if performed properly, might still show a proper auditable trail – number of votes cast = number of votes counted. But who cast the votes?

This centralized nature adds risk.

Issue #4: Personal computers and social attacks

This is the biggest fear of all. A voting system may be secure in a black box, but there are systems at play that are not the voting servers. Your computer, your browser (or application), your router, the DNS servers, the certificate agents; These all have to be trusted in an online system.

These “trust systems” are where the risk lies. This is because phishing attacks are a proven social attack, and the attacks in between can be just as problematic.

Consider this. The SSL certificate is based on a header and a leaf, with multiple parts in between. It is possible to provide a certificate in the middle that reads the information in between. Your data is encrypted, but because of the way SSL works, it might be encrypted to me, and then re-encrypted when it goes to the Elections Authority, with my ability to see all of your data in between. Now, this requires more than simply setting up a certificate; It requires redirecting you. But how would you do this?

DNS servers. DNS is the service that tells me that is at What happens is my computer then talks to and says, “I want” Being google’s servers, google has it set up that when I type “” it handles it in some way.

Now, let’s say my server is Let’s say I make my server handle, and send it to a site. Now, when I type in, it will not direct to unless I have set up my DNS service to redirect that way. And if it does, and I have set it up to handle, then your browser will still show, even though I’m not officially on Google’s servers.

This is a trust system, and while new technologies are coming out such as DNSSEC that are supposed to alleviate issues, in the end, attacks will continue to be viable.

So consider this. Most often your computer is set to use the router’s DNS. However, your computer can be set up to use another DNS. What if I created a DNS that pointed to my server and set up a site to look exactly like Elections Canada. Would most users know that their DNS was comprised? Probably not.

Or consider this – in a DEFCON talk a hacker talked about changing DNS settings by using the user’s gullibility (See “How I met your girlfriend.”) So what if I changed the router’s DNS? Would people know to check?

I add a security certificate to my system. I create a voting system. You enter your information, vote, and I even give you a key that you can enter to verify that you voted. Except you didn’t vote – you merely sent all information needed to log in to me.

Or what if, not using DNS, I send you an email from Elections Canada the morning of the election, and I tell you to vote “here”. I then send you not to “” but to a subdomain on my own server – a subdomain called
Now when you look at your address bar, you see, but miss the part that it’s actually a subdomain of another server. Same deal, I take your information.

Then, with appropriate control of your router, or your computer, I then log in with your credentials, through your network, into the real elections Canada and vote on your behalf.

A few months ago there was panic over a massive DNS virus that laid dormant for years and was set to change values at a certain time – this is the type of attack I would expect on an election. Change the DNS on election day, and perhaps even change it back once you’ve voted, removing evidence.

The possibilities are endless here. These are attacks that don’t even require imagination. I would hate to see what some of the world’s best hackers could come up with.

Issue #5: Undue Influence

Let’s get away from technology a bit and talk about the social aspect. When I was scrutineering in 2012 for the provincial election, a man with Downs Syndrome came in to vote. The Returning Officer was asked to help him vote. The RO has to take an oath before being able to do this, and cannot influence the vote – they may only assist in the process.

This check and balance is gone. A person could be subject to undue influence at home, at work, etc., based on their vote. Whether through physical or emotional abuse, a vote may be made without being a free vote.
There is safety and security behind the screen at a polling station. Nobody monitors you, nobody tells you how to vote. Your ballot is secret. I could say I voted NDP but really voted Conservative, and you would not know. This is not necessarily true when one could vote at home.

What is security?

In online ballots, what do we consider to be secure? Is it that the infrastructure itself on the voting end has the latest firewalls and virus security? Do the people working on it have the highest level of clearance? Has the code that accepts the vote been properly vetted?

In India, they opened up their voting systems to hackers for a brief period of time. When hackers could not break it, they declared the systems secure. When hackers figured it out later, they were hushed and some people thrown in jail.

An online ballot might be a long con. It might not be the first, nor the second vote that is attacked – those might be for watching and creating trust. Then, when it is known how the process works, the attack happens.
Do we know it happened? The inability of a full audit is scary. It might look like the election was secure, and that it happened without incident, but was subject to a massive changing of votes through social engineering and phishing attacks. How would we know?

What is the long term risk?

We have one of the most secure systems in the world. Is it perfect? No. Do you trust that who you voted for will be counted? Generally, yes.

If that faith is destroyed, where does our democracy go?

Who is Kirk Schmidt?

I don’t have a long chain of credz after my name. It’s Kirk Schmidt, B.Math. Most of my experience in online security is, well, experience.

I am also a political hack. I follow politics like Toronto follows the Leafs.  I was an independent candidate in a federal election in 2008 – and not a single-issue independent candidate. I ran a near $20,000 campaign and gained 3% of the vote.

Does this all make me an expert? Seemingly, no. But what I do have is a range of computer skills that I have developed for almost 30 years, a degree in mathematics, and I am well-versed in politics. Hopefully from the post above you can see that I have some knowledge and experience in these areas.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jim McCormick for PC Party President

Nation, in response to the open invitation issues in this space last week, I got a call from Jim McCormick, who is running for the presidency of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta at their upcoming AGM this week-end.

The conversation appears below.

More information on Jim can be found on his website.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Open Invitation

Nation, Alberta's 2 biggest political parties - the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta and the Wildrose Alliance Party - are holding their Annual General Meetings this month.

The PC AGM runs November 9th and 10th, in Calgary.

The Wildrose AGM is November 23rd and 24th (Grey Cup weekend? Really???) in Edmonton.

At both meetings, those eligible to do so will be electing new Executive Committees to run the daily operations of their respective parties. Election readiness, fundraising, grassroots organization, outreach, growth...  all of these, and much more, can be balls that are carried over the goal line by a good Executive Committee... or, dropped by a bad one.

This blog is therefore issuing an Open Invitation to any candidate for the Executive Committee of either the PC's or Wildrose. If you want a chance to get your message out, drop me a line - joey (at) dulcetmelodies (dot) ca, and I'll be happy to arrange an in-person or on-line interview.

Act fast - the clock is ticking. ;)

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Zero to Hero

Nation, by now most of you are no doubt aware of the story of Edmonton high school teacher Lynden Dorval, who was fired for violating the "no zeroes" policy set forth by his school's principal. The firing was upheld by the Edmonton Public School Board in a decision last month, quoting a history of insubordinate behaviour.

Dorval - whose cause was, at one point, touted by well-intentioned but unintentionally ironic t-shirts, had his case trotted out again this week during debate about Alberta's Bill 3: the Education Act.

The Wildrose Opposition, which would oppose sunshine if Redford came out in favour of it, argued that an amendment ought to be adopted which would entrench, in provincial law, the rights of teachers to give students a grade of "zero" for work that was not completed or turned in.

And you know what? Teachers SHOULD give zeroes for work that isn't turned in. *I* got the big goose-egg a few times. There's nothing to mark - therefore, the merit of the work the teacher is marking is completely lacking. There IS no merit, because there's no work to mark. Zero.

I agree that teachers should be able to give zeroes. I think MOST Albertans agree that teachers should be able to give zeroes.

And you know who is responsible for making sure that teachers can give zeroes, without fear of getting fired by their principal?

School boards.

Remember them? The people who run the schools? The people you elect every 3 (soon to be 4) years? The folks to whom the principals answer, on behalf of the parents, students and voters of your area?

We have to let these people do their jobs. If the people want teachers to be able to give zeroes, they should elect School Board Trustees who support that position.

We spend GOBS of cash electing these people to run our school systems. In most cases, they're pretty well paid, too. Shouldn't we let them DO it?

You know... the "local decision making" we heard so much about from Wildrose in the election 6 months ago.

Government legislating on this issue would be like government legislating, through an amendment to the Highways Act, that your pizza has to arrive in 30 minutes or it's free.

Not getting the service you want from your elected school board? Don't like the policies the board is endorsing, allowing, and putting forth under their watch?

Fire them, and elect new ones.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Politics is a show.

I think, by now, that's something we all know. At least, those of us who are engaged enough to pay attention between elections - which is a small, SMALL minority of us. (Lucky for me, most of the people who read this blog would fall into that category, so the hatemail should be minimized)

It's a carefully scripted dance, played out for us in front of the cameras to inspire us to cheer for the "good guys", vilify the "bad guys", and - most importantly - convince us to put our cash and our ballot towards our favourites.

Don't get me wrong - the acts of governance and opposition DO matter. When the lights are on and the cops are still doing their jobs, that's a sign that the system is working, despite the fact that the way we CHOOSE our leaders is akin to the way we choose the next Canadian Idol winner - with the notable exception that a lot more of us tend to get much more excited about and more interested in the Canadian Idol contestants. The jobs these people do matter - just ask the Greeks.

But the scripted interplay and faux outrage in the political game is still just that - scripted, and put-on for the cameras.

Take one incident this week, when Danielle Smith, Leader of the Official Opposition, publicly agreed with a Twitter user who had wondered aloud why XL Foods would throw out beef that it wasn't allowed to sell, rather than cook it thoroughly and donate it to shelters and food banks.

The response - which you've no doubt heard by now - was almost immediate.

"Wildrose leader suggests feeding tainted meat to the poor!"

"'Let them eat (tainted) beef!', cries Danielle Antoinette."

"Feed the poor the meat that rich people like Danielle wouldn't touch with a 10-metre pole - what a snob!"

... and the list goes on.

The thing is...  Danielle didn't mean that at all. And nobody - not even her ideological opposite, NDP Leader Brian Mason, ACTUALLY thought she meant that. Mason started the outrage and backlash on Twitter, and other New Democrats picked up on it before it took on a life of its own, but even Mason would admit he knew exactly what Smith meant.

But this isn't about what she MEANT. It's about the APPEARANCE of what she meant. Because politics is a show, and Mason saw an opening, and he took it.

Nobody I've talked to, of any political persuasion, actually thinks Smith wants to feed tainted meat to Alberta's poor. But of course, those admissions are all off-the-record. ON-the-record, she's a reckless right-winger who doesn't understand the poor in this province. Because politics is a show. It's a game, and the object is to score points with the uninformed majority which decides elections.

The really appalling part of this for me, though, isn't that representatives of the other parties aren't willing to stand up and get Smith's back on this. It'd be the HONEST thing to do, but that's not the way politics works, and I get that (though, it SHOULD be how politics works). After all, if the shoe were on the other foot, and it had been Brian Mason or Raj Sherman or Alison Redford making the PR gaffe, the Wildrose twitter warriors would have been screaming to high heaven, with Smith at the front of the line.

The part that disturbs me the most about this is that, if the shoe WERE on the other foot, a lot of the Wildrose folks criticizing Redford would actually believe they were telling the truth.

Not ALL of them, to be sure. I'm lucky to call several long-time Wildrose members friends, and they're perfectly rational people who honestly want what's best for Alberta. I'd like to think the majority of their fellow party members are the same way.

But SOME of them - hopefully, none of the ones who successfully won election in April - honestly believe that Alison Redford wants to destroy Alberta. I've talked to some of these people, too. They actually believe that she intends to embezzle public funds, and funnel them to her friends. They believe she wants the province to take your children away, and brainwash them. They believe she wants to spend the Heritage Trust Fund on a provincial gun registry, before taking away all guns completely. They believe she wants to force your kids to attend gay weddings, and raise taxes to 60%, and that she wants to HURT Alberta so she can run for the Federal Liberal Leadership.

I don't know how you deal with someone who has so completely committed them self to drinking the kool-aid.

These are the talking points you throw at undecideds. They're the comments you post at the bottom of an article on the Sun's website. They're the toss-away lines you include in your phone call to Rutherford when you know you're the last caller and it's the top of the hour and the subject is changing after the news.

I get that. It's part of the game. And the PC's played that game just as well as - if not better than - anyone else during the provincial campaign.

But to actually BELIEVE this stuff...

THAT is the tragic inevitability of this show.

When you get so used to spewing bullcrap that you can't remember what the truth is anymore.

These are flawed humans honestly trying to improve the province. They disagree on details, and how to manage things, but they're all trying to make things better. Alison, Danielle, Raj, Brian... ALL of them.

If you're so wrapped up in the show that you start to believe what you're hearing is REAL... then you've got "Dome Disease", as Ralph called it, and you need to focus on more realistic shows.

Like professional wrestling.

And even in THAT, the performers, and most of the fans, know it's a "work".

And if you DON'T understand it's just a show, they have a word for you, too...

It's "mark". An old carny term for "sucker".

Don't be one.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thank-you, Peter.

Edgar Peter Lougheed - husband, father, Premier, statesman, Calgarian, Albertan and proud Canadian, has died at age 84.

Few people living today were so responsible for crafting the world in which they live. The modern vision of Alberta - energetic, entrepreneurial, independent, and metropolitan - was the vision articulated by Lougheed nearly half a century ago.

His creation of Kananaskis Country, including the provincial park that now bears his name, was but one of countless initiatives during his term as Alberta's Premier that helped build this place that we are so lucky to call home. Also on the list are the creation of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the role he played representing Alberta in the constitutional discussions of 1982, the creation of AISH, and quietly giving loans to our other sister provinces so they could meet their own aspirations.

His impact will never be forgotten - not by those who knew him, nor by those who benefit even today from his vision, wisdom, and foresight.

Sleep well, Mr. Lougheed. You certainly earned it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


It should come as no surprise to anyone that I have no patience whatsoever for the politics of the separatist Parti Quebecois.

Their success is an affront to the country that I love.

With this in mind, you can imagine that I was less than enthusiastic about last night's election results.

Apparently, I was far from the only one.

Folks, the reason we HOLD elections in the first place is because the decisions about who should be governing us should NOT be left to people holding loaded weapons.

Incidents like the one in Montreal last night damage our democracy. They make our elected leaders and politicians harder to access. And the less accessible they are, the harder it is for them to do a good job for us.

No politician, no matter WHAT their politics or how odious, should have to fear for their physical well-being.

I have nothing but sorrow and sympathy for the person killed in this atrocious attack last night. Likewise for the person injured by the gunman, and to the families of those affected. I congratulate the security and police details for their professionalism in the handling of a potentially catastrophic situation. And Pauline Marois should be commended for her composure afterwards. Television footage shows what appears to be a bullet hole appearing in the backdrop behind her - at head level - seconds before she is whisked off stage. If that was ME, I'd be a blubbering mess afterwards.

I don't like Marois, her party, or her politics.

But violence against politicians - ANY politician - is inexcusable, and weakens democracy for all of us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Who's Running Against Nenshi?

On October 21st, 2013, Calgarians will elect a new City Council.

That's 414 days from now.

There will, no doubt, be some new faces on council. Some new titles, too: Gone will be the "Vote John for Alderman" signs, replaced either by "John for Council" or "John for Councilor". Without a doubt, no matter how many new faces we see on Calgary City Council, the critics who get paid to sneeringly deride those in power will cry from the rooftops about poor voter turn-out keeping terrible councilors in office, using the word "sheeple" as often as they feel their editors will permit.

The big question going into this race, though, is clearly "Who is going to run for mayor against Naheed Nenshi?".

Nenshi, after all, is Canada's 2nd most popular mayor according to a late 2011 poll. He finished only slightly behind Mississauga's "Hurricane" Hazel McCallion, who celebrated her 34th year as mayor with a 78% approval rating.

It begs the question: Will ANY serious contender step forward to challenge Nenshi for the Chain of Office? Or will he be left to cruise to an easy win, as possible opponents focus on local Ward races instead?

After all, the Mayor, while having a bully pulpit upon which to stand and put forward grand ideas and visions for the city, is ultimately only 1 of 15 voices on council. As was laid bare for the world to see in the recently-aired Nenshi documentary "@nenshi4mayor", Naheed heads into council meetings knowing that he needs 7 other councilors to agree with him.

So, if you're a conservative politician (sitting Calgary mayors don't get defeated, as a rule, and if they DO face serious challenges, they never come from the left) whose great goal is to neuter the Nenshi platform, do you take on a guy who has the approval of 3 in 4 Calgarians, on a city-wide stage? Or do you play it safe, win your Ward, and hope to obstruct him with ideologically-motivated "No" votes until he loses interest in a deadlocked system or runs out of time to do anything (we call this "The Boehner Manoeuvre")?

Let's look at the current council, and see who might have the political cajones to try and meet the Purple Army in the open field:

Dale Hodges, Ward 1: Hodges has been on council for 28 years. While some might consider him a possible challenger for Nenshi, he has stated on multiple occasions that he intends "to die in office". Which might be taking the continued endorsement of his fellow citizens a bit casually. At any rate, he won't be putting his decades-long career on the line in a winner-take-all electoral rumble with Nenshi.

Gord Lowe, Ward 2: Lowe has been one of Nenshi's most vocal and oft-quoted critics on the current council. They've butted heads on the budget, and on the Airport Tunnel. Lowe, though, had a tough race in 2010 against Joe Bagliocca, winning by just over 1,000 votes. That's too close for comfort for someone who went into that election with 9 years on council. He'll probably want to feel secure in his own ward with at least another win before looking at the Big Chair.

Jim Stevenson, Ward 3: Jim's got money, but little profile outside of his own ward. See "Joe Connelly". Jim's no fool - he'll stay where he's safe.

Druh Farrell, Ward 7: Druh might be popular in Ward 7, but she's positively REVILED in the suburbs, and she knows it. Plus, as with Lowe, the bottom line is that sitting Calgary mayors don't get unseated by challengers coming at them from the left. Druh will stay put and run for her current job - though challengers for her Ward 7 council seat are already coming on strong, more than a year in advance of the vote.

John Mar, Ward 8: Mar is well-connected and he has shown a willingness to raise and spend a LOT of money to get elected, but he's not enough of an ideologue to put his job on the line to unseat a popular mayor. If he HATED Nenshi, he'd be a formidable opponent - but he's just as likely at any given time to vote alongside the mayor as he is against him. He's got no reason to risk his job.

Andre Chabot, Ward 10: Chabot, like Mar, has deep ties in the conservative establishment and a lot of friends with deep pockets. He's become one of the 2 "go-to" fiscal conservative voices on this council, always ready with a soundbyte for the press. The question is, does he have the city-wide profile to mount a serious challenge to Nenshi? And if not, does he have the charisma to BUILD one over the next year?

Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward 13: "Big Red" has tried to move up to higher office before, in 2009. After Ric McIver's unsuccessful bid for mayor, Colley-Urquhart inherited his position as council's ranking fiscal hawk. She's had some high profile spats with Nenshi, and maintains good relations with a lot of highly-placed federal Tories in Calgary. She's got connections to money, and she can work a room like few politicians I've seen. The question is, does she want to be Mayor badly enough to risk her council seat?

This isn't to say that a challenger can't come from somewhere OTHER than council, of course...  but a well-organized campaign, a good history in the private sector, and gobs of money can't make up for the "profile gap" between a potential dark-horse challenger and the man who has been called "Canada's Mayor".

The best place to gain that profile, and show yourself as a viable replacement, Ready-for-Primetime and possessing the knowledge of how our local government does its job (hi, Barb!), is from inside Calgary's Council Chamber. Look for one of the 14 sitting Aldermen to draw the same conclusion.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Leaders We Deserve

French diplomat Joseph de Maistre once famously opined that "in a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve." Taken alongside the more esoteric "decisions are made by those who bother to show up", it's clear that if we elect poor representatives or a poor government, the fault doesn't lie with those public servants alone - it's also the fault of the people who marked an "x" for them, and the people who stayed home and didn't vote at all.

The reason our elected leaders don't perform better is because we don't demand it of them.

Let's think about that.

The reason we often have to choose between "the lesser of 2 evils" on whichever ballot we're marking, is because WE DON'T DEMAND BETTER.

Oh, we try to, in our typically passive/aggressive Canadian way. We just stay home, and hope the politicians will take the hint. But of course, they won't. Because "You're all rubbish, I'm staying home" sounds identical on the tally sheet to "America's Next Top Model is on and I can't be bothered to vote".

Why do we do it? Why do we support candidates or parties that we KNOW aren't good enough?  

"I think the candidate's a jerk, but that's the party I support, so I'll hold my nose and vote for him."  

"I don't like that party, but I REALLY hate that party, so I'll vote strategically for the guys I don't like just to keep the guys I hate out of office."  

"I like him as a candidate, but I don't like his party leader. So I'm voting for the other guy."  

"I always vote for that party. I have since the 60's."  

"What can you do? You've GOT to vote, and those are the only names on the ballot."  

This is how we get stuck with bad governments and bad local representation. Those are just some of the thousands of different reasons you'd hear if voting was something we felt comfortable talking about in public. Dave Chappelle did a really funny bit once on "White people talking about voting", which I'll let you find yourself. I think the same stereotype applies to most Canadians, regardless of skin colour. We just tighten up whenever the issue of voting comes up. DID you? For WHOM? WHY? We'd rather give intimate details about our relationships than talk publicly about that kind of thing.  

This silence is the fertile soil in which inadequate politicians take root.  

Can you imagine a world in which we could get a "None of the above" box on the ballot? Where every single voter was an educated voter, who knew the issues and where their local candidates stood on them? Where we understood, as voters, that YOU CAN'T VOTE FOR A PARTY IN OUR SYSTEM, only for an individual whose name appears on your ballot?  

You know what would happen in that world?  

In dozens of local races, the results would come back, and "None of the above" would be the winner. Which is of course why we'll never be allowed to HAVE that box on the ballot: It would humiliate the people in power. But you know what? The NEXT time the people came out to vote, they'd have a bunch of new names on the ballot. And fewer ridings would elect "none of the above". And so on, and so forth. Because politicians, of all parties and of no party, from the local council to Parliament, would start to understand that winning a nomination, or submitting your paperwork on time, isn't enough. It's not enough to get involved in provincial politics 2 weeks before parachuting into a riding that needs a candidate for the ruling party, or to sign on to run as a hopeless cause, go to Vegas and hope your party leader morphs into the next Jack Layton on the hustings. 

 You think Joan Crockatt wants to spend even 30 seconds talking about Federal Health Transfers or fighter jets during the Calgary Centre By-election? No freaking way. Her strategy is going to be what has ALWAYS worked for Conservatives in Calgary: Smile for the picture, keep your yap shut, and get elected because you're on the right team. It works, because we as voters, aided by a permissive media, ALLOW it to work.  
I'm NOT saying, in ANY way, shape, or form, that we don't have some truly great public servants and candidates for office in this city, this province, and this country. We do. We have many incredibly qualified, passionate, caring individuals who could be making a LOT more in the private sector, who work 18 hour days trying to serve their fellow citizens. I'm proud to call some of these people my friends. I've talked to dozens of candidates for municipal or provincial office who, if you needed help, would give you the shirt off their back not because you're a voter, but because it's the right thing to do. But this isn't about the good ones - they're fine. This is about the times when you've turned on the tv to watch a debate, or stepped into your local voting station, looked at the ballot, and said "God, REALLY? THESE are my choices?"
If we were able, and WILLING, to point at all the people on our ballot and say "Not good enough"...  if we were able and willing to do that to the political parties, or their spin doctors, or their anointed private-sector broadcaster lapdogs... if we were willing and able to do that, they'd give us better candidates. They'd give us better policies. They'd stop talking to us like we're a bunch of yokel idiots, stop spinning every press release like we're too slow to notice, and they'd start treating us the way we deserve to be treated.  

The way we DEMAND to be treated.  

Because right now, today, we don't demand better.  

And we get the leaders we deserve.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Fresh Air

Hello, Nation.

I have to confess, I don't really know how I want to begin this blog post. After all, I'm a little out of practice. The provincial election was held 130 days ago, and I've written one - one - political blog post since.

It's not as though I haven't been paying attention. I have been. I've been talking politics with friends - though not nearly as much as I used to. I've been getting together with the #yycpolitweet crew now and again for wing nights, or just to poke and prod each other a bit. But to sit down and actually write has been very hard for me.

The truth is, I think I needed a break from it all. I didn't really take the break that I needed after running in the Calgary-Fish Creek PC nomination and finishing 2nd. There wasn't time... races needed covering, I was trying to provide analysis and content for 3 political websites, I was volunteering on multiple campaigns (all of them winners, incidentally)... I didn't have the time I needed to step back, and fall back in love with politics again on my own terms.

After the low of losing the nomination, and the high of helping some good people get elected, and the exhaustion of trying to cover all the races I wasn't actively a part of, I needed to take some time to focus on myself. One of the questions I had to ask myself was, "is this something you can still get excited about?".

So there I was: Joey Oberhoffner, The Enlightened Savage, the eternal political optimist... trying to find his mojo. Trying to figure out if I still had a passion for this thing that has driven me since I was a teenager, dreaming of having a chance to respectfully debate a worthy opponent about an issue of local importance in front of a room of my fellow engaged and open-minded citizens.

I still had opinions... but did I have the passion?

A lot of long walks and quiet contemplation later, I have the answer.

Emphatically, it's a YES.

I will stay involved.

I will keep writing.

I will keep holding these people to account - these people who I tried to serve alongside - because dammit, we DO deserve better than we've been getting from the people we elect.

And if I seem a bit more Savage than you've gotten used to... blame it on the fresh air.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Thank-you for calling Redford Cabinetry, Alison speaking..."

Nation, with every reason to believe that the new provincial cabinet will be announced this coming Monday or Tuesday, it's a good time to take a look at how Premier Alison Redford will be constructing her cabinet, the considerations that have to be taken into account, and whom is likely to be on the inside - and on the outside, looking in.


When Redford ascended to the PC Leadership last October, the cabinet had 23 members. She proceeded to trim it to 20 members. Opposition parties in the provincial election had pledged to keep cabinet at 16 members. And while the cost of having 5 or 6 more cabinet members than your opponent would propose is - quite literally - drops of water in the swimming pool of government spending, the political optics can't be ignored. Particularly on the heels of a report outlining how much cabinet members should make as opposed to rank-and-file MLA's. Redford has 60 MLA's to choose from, other than herself. The safest bet is that cabinet stays at 20 members, but don't be shocked if the final list has as few as 18 names on it.


Redford's caucus has 18 women, and 43 men. 30% of the PC caucus is female. That said, though, it's not the proportion of the governing caucus that Albertans look to in order to see themselves reflected in cabinet, it's the proportion of the population as a whole. Alberta has never even come CLOSE to a 50/50 gender split in the provincial cabinet. In the previous cabinet, her first as Premier, Redford was joined by only 2 other women. Clearly, as far as Alison is concerned, gender is not a major factor in cabinet eligibility (is there ANY job where it's okay to hire a less qualified candidate because of gender?).


Ah, the classic conundrum... a cabinet seat plants the party's flag on the parapet, and says to all who walk by that "the governing party is here, and proud to support the local MLA, who is one of our stars!". So, WHERE to plant those flags? Edmonton and Calgary are traditionally close to equal in terms of cabinet spots. Rural Alberta has been well-represented in the past as well, however once you leave Calgary - unless you're driving west - you're going to be on the highway for at least 90 minutes before you enter a PC-held riding again. So the pickings are slim in terms of non-Calgarian potential cabinet ministers from the southern end of the province.


These aren't typically HUGE factors in selecting a cabinet, but it's often useful when a government can choose members from its cabinet to send to events and know that the public won't necessarily perceive them as the "party of old, white people". A babyface or high melanin content shouldn't get you a cabinet job over someone more capable, but in the event of a tie, it might be a factor.


The last thing that a government wants to deal with is a cabinet minister who has gone "off the rails". Musing about legalizing prostitution, talking about a provincial sales tax, flapping their gums about issues that distract from the government agenda...  these are all possible drawbacks if going with a "loose cannon" in the cabinet. Some leaders like people who think outside the box... but if a government is going to stay focused on the issues of the day, it can't have a lot of Question Periods that start off with calls for this Minister or that Minister to resign over this statement or that scandal...


Redford's first cabinet didn't really have a whole tonne to DO, as far as legislation went. She brought them in after Thanksgiving, they served until March, and the people of Alberta decided to give this government 4 more years. So, they clearly weren't a disaster. That said, though, 5 of the previous cabinet minister won't be back, either as result of their own decision, or that of the voters. Of those who remain, here's who I feel (taking into account the 5 Considerations posted above) is the most safe:

Alison Redford - safe to say she won't be firing herself.
Doug Horner - will hold a key ministerial responsibility, as well as Deputy Premier
Dave Hancock - Minister of Everything, Kingpin of Edmonton, poster boy for the party's Progressive wing
Verlyn Olson - Rural, lawyer, reliable - he'll likely stay as Attorney General.
Diana McQueen - Great background, popular, capable. Rumours of a move to Energy, though that job is traditionally held by a Calgary-area MLA.
Jonathan Denis - Steady performer, young, a rock-solid Conservative voice in cabinet. If not as Solicitor-General, Denis has been rumoured to Energy or Finance, both good spots for a true blue Calgary MLA.
Doug Griffiths - Rural, young, a real passion for his current portfolio, and a big wheel in the party's renewal process.
Manmeet Bhullar - Solid performer, locally popular, young, a rising star in caucus.

Some of the new MLA's have resumes that make them hard to ignore when talking about cabinet potential. Among the rookies who could find their way to the cabinet room:

David Dorward - former candidate for Mayor of Edmonton, Dorward is an experienced accountant and community organizer. He could find himself in a junior cabinet spot as a stepping-stone to Finance or the Treasury Board in future cabinets.
Stephen Khan - won a landslide victory in St. Albert. Would be a good fit with Advanced Education & Technology.
Linda Johnson - Knocked off the Wildrose Deputy Leader, Paul Hinman, in Calgary-Glenmore. Personable and well-liked within caucus from her time as a PC Regional Office director. Could wind up with a junior posting and as Calgary's "political minister".
Donna Kennedy-Glans - As close to a shoo-in as you can get, Kennedy-Glans is a Calgary lawyer and former VP at Nexen Inc. Her name has been used in sentences including the word "Energy" in recent days.
Ric McIver - Popular mayoral runner-up in 2010, McIver would add another strong Conservative voice from Calgary to cabinet.
Ken Hughes - The former head of Alberta Health, Hughes has long been rumoured to be in the running for the Health portfolio.
Ron Casey - the popular former mayor of Canmore would be a natural fit in Tourism, Parks and Recreation. He's also the only "rural" PC MLA south of Red Deer, so that should help his chances.

There are a lot of current and former cabinet ministers in the PC caucus who would LOVE to have their phones ring on Sunday night. Among the ones most likely to get a call:

Greg Weadick, Lethbridge-West
Len Webber, Calgary-Foothills
Thomas Lukaszuk, Edmonton-Castle Downs
Heather Klimchuk, Edmonton-Glenora
Jeff Johnson, Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater

Of course, there are some who haven't served in cabinet, and who aren't rookies, who are eyeing a promotion as well. Among those more likely to get consideration is Cal Dallas - The Red Deer-South MLA has been rumoured for a promotion to Finance, where he previously served as parliamentary assistant.

Okay, so I cheated and listed 21 names. Rest assured, the final list will no doubt look VERY different than this. Some of the people I listed will NOT be given cabinet positions, and some of the cabinet will catch me completely by surprise. Any pundit who tells you different probably believes polling numbers, too. But, just for a lark, let's take a look at the "E.S.-designed cabinet" demographically:

  • Consideration 1: Size. 21 members. This is an INCREASE over the last cabinet, FAIL.
  • Consideration 2: Gender Balance. 5 women, 16 men. 2 more women than the first Redford cabinet. 50% of the province is female. 28% of the women in caucus get cabinet jobs. 37% of the men do. Still not good enough. FAIL.
  • Consideration 3: Regional Balance. I've got 8 Calgarians, 4 Edmontonians, 1 from Lethbridge, 1 from Red Deer, 1 "Rural" South, and 6 "Rural" North. Decent. Calgary can't outweigh Edmonton by THAT much, though there ARE 19 Calgary MLA's in the PC Caucus compared to 13 from Edmonton. MARGINAL PASS.
  • Consideration 4: Other Demographics. 7 of the 21 could be argued as "young". That's not bad. Only 2 visible minorities, though - there are certainly more than 2 qualified candidates for cabinet from that demographic category (at least 10 members of the PC caucus are visible minorities), so that number should really be higher. MARGINAL PASS.
  • Consideration 5: Reliability. There are a few names listed here that took political flack over legislation, but the potential for scandal is pretty low here. Hughes would be highly scrutinized during the Health Quality Council discussion on the health system. Lukaszuk had some campaign publicity. Griffiths and the AUPE had a pretty public spat over perceived political impropriety. But I don't see a Maxime Bernier-level implosion waiting to happen here. PASS.

Overall: 2 Fails, 2 Marginal Passes, 1 Pass. We've done far, far worse in our history than that. Call this cabinet a "win", with a few minor tweaks required.

Alison, Farouk: You're welcome. ;)

And a reminder, just in case you're truly stuck: Cabinet Minister don't HAVE to be elected MLAs - It's just tradition.

I'm available. :)

- E.S.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Race for Calgary-Greenway

Calgary Greenway is a new constituency formed in the redistribution, from sections of the former Calgary-Montrose as well as slices of Calgary-Cross and Calgary-McCall. It includes Applewood, Taradale, Coral Springs... just about everything north of 17th Ave. SE and east of 68th St. as far north as 80th Avenue N. The largest slice came from Calgary-Montrose, which was represented by PC Cabinet Minister Manmeet Bhullar, who is seeking election here. This part of the city has a history of political upheaval, with representation from most major parties in the past, and the area is not without its notable political controversies. The best campaign machine usually wins.

The Candidates
Iqtidar Awan (LIB)
Manmeet Bhullar (PC)
Al Brown (NDP)
Ron Leech (WRP)

Iqtidar Awan was originally nominated as the Liberal candidate in Calgary-Northern Hills, but shifted to Greenway. He is an experienced volunteer with the Liberals, but this is his first foray as a candidate. The political scientist and writer lists health care and fiscal responsibility as his 2 main issues. Awan has listed his personal cell phone number on his campaign literature - so he's definitely not insulating himself from voters (a former cabinet minister used to do the same thing - blows my mind. In a good way.)

Manmeet Bhullar was elected in 2008 straight out of law school to represent Calgary-Montrose. At dissolution, he was the youngest MLA in the house, and is the Minister of Service Alberta (ministers hold their portfolios until a new minister is sworn in - even during elections, the bucks needs to stop with an elected official). Bhullar lists the economy and health care as the biggest issues for his community, and in a terrible injustice was named to Avenue Magazine's Top 40 Under 40 in 2011 (over your humble scribe).

Al Brown is an experienced campaigner, having run for the NDP in the 2007 Calgary-Elbow By-Election (3.3%), the 2008 General Election for Calgary-Montrose (6.7%) and in the 2011 Federal election in Calgary-East (14%). The journeyman electrician is hoping that his party's stance on electrical bills will play into his wheel-house, and is a vice-president of the Alberta New Democratic Party. He has run against both his PC and Wildrose opponents before, in Montrose (2008).

Ron Leech was elected the PC Candidate in Calgary-Montrose in 2008, in a race the Party later threw out over allegations of wrongdoing on the part of the local board. Under a cloud of confusion, Leech ran as an Independent in the riding, falling 617 votes shy of victory. The Wildrose Alliance received over 800 votes in that election, so combine those votes with the ones Leech got himself, and Leech is looking like he's a contender in 2012 as the Wildrose candidate. The former pastor has drawn sharp criticism during the campaign for his strong stance against marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Race for Calgary-Fort

Created in 1997, Calgary-Fort has only ever been represented by one man: Wayne Cao, of the PC Party. A largely industrial part of the city, residents of this section of town are among the hardest-working in Calgary, and also the proudest. Even when they have the chance to move elsewhere, many choose to stay because of the unique character of the neighbourhoods. In the redistribution, it gained the downtown communities of Ramsay (from Egmont) and East Village (from Buffalo).

The Candidates:
Said Abdulbaki (LIB)
Wayne Cao (PC)
Janice Dixon (EVG)
Jeevan Mangat (WRP)
Don Monroe (NDP)

Said Abdulbaki may be better known to some readers as "The Sheik" - a character he portrayed on Stampede Wrestling. The businessman and pizza impresario was a Wildrose regional director for southern Alberta and ran for the party in Calgary-Montrose in 2008. After failing to secure the Chestermere-Rockyview nomination last year for Wildrose, he switched to the Liberals, listing Pierre Trudeau as a political hero of his (I'm sure that was a popular view in his former party. In wrestling, they call that a "heel turn").

Wayne Cao was elected MLA here in 1997, and the popular myth is that you can't build a garage in your back yard in Ogden or Dover without Cao showing up to cut the ribbon and celebrate (and sing). The IT Professional previously had a long career with Shell Canada before being elected. He lists healthcare, the economy, and social assistance as key areas of importance for the riding. His political hero is Abraham Lincoln - wonder if he's going to see this?

Janice Dixon is a graduate of the University of Toronto, where she majored in political science and international development. The well-travelled Dixon feels that redevelopment and urbanization are big issues in Calgary-Fort, which includes the soon-to-be-overhauled East Village area.

Jeevan Mangat is a graduate of Lord Beaverbrook High School in Calgary - but nobody's perfect (Go Grandin!). He went on to earn a civil engineering degree from U of C, and also ran a family restaurant. He is currently a commercial property manager, and places heavy emphasis on fiscal discipline being required in Edmonton. He won the nomination here that was triggered when the previously nominated candidate, Bob McInnis, withdrew in mid-2011.

Don Monroe is a City of Calgary employee and union organizer who fosters people with special needs in his home. An active member of the Metis Association of Alberta, Monroe lists health care access and public funding as his biggest issue. His roots are in Forest Lawn.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Free Votes

Nation, I love the idea of free votes. I think every vote in the Legislature should be a free vote - if a bill or motion can't pass on its own merits, it shouldn't pass. If a government can't win a confidence motion without invoking party discipline, it should fall. It's that simple - MLA's should serve their constituents first, and all Alberta second, and their private, members-only club we call a "political party" not at all. (I also think every vote should be recorded, but it's only 2012 - we don't yet have the technology, apparently, to write down who voted "yes" and who voted "no" on every question. We're busy people.)

However, a Twitter conversation this morning about free votes spurred me to do a bit of research...

A notable PC MLA in south-east Calgary stated, in the Legislative Assembly while in defense of the bill they introduced targeting drinking & driving:
"It is clear that more can be done to address this problem and stop unnecessarily placing the lives of Albertans at risk. If this were Utopia, the federal government would have invoked a zero tolerance in the Criminal Code long ago... This Assembly cannot change the Criminal Code. It is out of our jurisdiction. What we can do is write our own traffic laws in the interest of public safety. This is what my bill does. It prevents drivers who blow over .05 BAC to the legal limit from driving for 24 hours. It is very simple. It is a reasonable request, and it is the right thing to do."
Later on:
"(the bill) is not going to take drivers with a BAC of .05 to .08 and lock them away and throw away the key. It simply takes a driver who is a danger to public safety and removes his or her driving privileges for 24 hours. What (the bill) is saying is that drinking and driving hurts everyone involved, so just don’t do it. Having a 24-hour suspension is certainly going to make anyone think about it before they drive having had a couple, because in fact many impaired driving accidents happen after only a couple. This legislation will work in keeping drinking drivers off the road, making our roads safer for all Albertans. Having a licence suspension for 24 hours for drivers in that range is a small initiative that will pay huge dividends by saving the lives of Albertans."
Pretty standard fare, coming from Solicitor General Jonathan Denis in defence of Bill 26, the "0.05 Law".

Only problem is: Those words aren't being spoken by Jonathan Denis.

They're being spoken by Heather Forsyth, the PC MLA for Calgary-Fish Creek, on November 15th, 2000 to support her Private Member's Bill 210: The Traffic Safety Amendment Act (2000).

If you replace "24 hours" with "72 hours", it's the same Bill that Denis and the PC Government passed last December to curtail drunk driving.

One wonders how Forsyth feels about this piece of literature being distributed in Calgary-Acadia, just across Anderson Road from her own constituency, by fellow Wildrose candidate Richard Jones.

If a Wildrose Government will, as Jones contends, "overturn the 'one-drink-no-driving' .05 law... that turns every day Albertans into criminals", I expect that, as the Wildrose advocates for free votes, Forsyth would oppose this step in the Legislature. After all... 11 years ago, she didn't just SUPPORT a 0.05 law - she INTRODUCED it. It was HER BILL. It was "the right thing to do", and was going to "save the lives of Albertans".

On December 6, 2011, Bill 26 came up for Third Reading, the final step before a Bill gets sent for Royal Assent (when it becomes law).

Forsyth, now the Whip for a Wildrose Party that says it believes in free votes, voted against.

I guess the people of Calgary-Fish Creek told her that the extra 48 hours of suspension was too high a price to pay to save lives.

Jones says that the Wildrose believes you should be allowed to drive without repercussions at 0.05 BAC.

Forsyth said in 2000 that taking drivers at 0.05 BAC off the road would save lives. Which seems to fly in the face of what Jones says is the policy of a Wildrose Government.

And in 2011, given a chance to prove her commitment to take what she had labelled life-risking drivers off the road and show her commitment to the principle of free votes, Forsyth instead voted along party lines and against Bill 26.

Actions speak louder than words.

So much for the Wildrose commitment to free votes.

p.s. - And YES, Wildrose supporters - I know the PC's are just as bad a lot of the time. But "Vote Wildrose - we're no worse than the PCs" isn't the slogan I've been hearing. If you're going to campaign on the notion of being better, more noble, and more democratic - you have to BE those things.

The Race for Calgary-Elbow

First formed in 1971, Calgary-Elbow has had 4 MLAs in the past 40 years - and 2 of them became Premier. One other became Deputy Premier. Pretty good odds, by any measure. Formerly held by PC's David Russell and Ralph Klein, the constituency elected Liberal Craig Cheffins in a by-election to replace Klein before electing Alison Redford narrowly in 2008. The redistribution has seen significant changes to the boundaries, with many communities leaving the constituency, and some new ones added from Calgary-Currie. The large-scale changes to the make-up of the riding and the close result in 2008 are making some wonder if Redford, now PC Leader and Premier, can hold onto her own seat.

The Candidates:
Beena Ashar (LIB)
Greg Clark (AP)
James Cole (WRP)
Craig Coolahan (NDP)
William Hamilton (EVG)
Alison Redford (PC)

Beena Ashar ran unsuccessfully for Alderman in Ward 5 in 2010, finishing 3rd. The community fundraiser and prolific volunteer has been active on political campaigns for quite some time. Her issues include public safety and fiscal responsibility. Ashar was the final candidate named by the Alberta Liberals for this election. At this time, she does not have a campaign website.

Greg Clark is an entrepreneur born and raised in Calgary-Elbow, and a founding partner at C3 Associates, one of Alberta's fastest growing companies for several years running. Clark - who also teaches Business Management at the University of Calgary - is all about vision: Long-term planning over short-term political promises. He has a series of 10 videos on his website, featuring his opinions on everything from health care to conscience rights to democratic reform.

James Cole moved his family from Ontario to Alberta in 2006 to follow his love of politics and to capitalize on the Alberta Advantage. The Chartered Financial Analyst is the treasurer for the local Calgary CFA Society (it's got to take serious stones to be the treasurer for a group of CFA's). Cole is a firm believer in fiscal discipline, something he says the current government lacks.

Craig Coolahan is a technical writer and union activist for the United Utility Workers' Association. A New Democrat running where New Democrats are routinely thrashed, Coolahan is an advocate for affordable child care and affordable housing. He became a new father last December.

William Hamilton is a communications consultant and founding partner of Principia Communications Strategies. He's also the only candidate (from anywhere in Calgary) to routinely send press releases to bloggers such as yours truly. William had a bit of fun on April Fool's Day, issuing a release that he had appointed an Ent as Campaign Manager (Ents, naturally, are far too methodical to last long on a 28-day campaign). He ran for the federal Green in 2011, capturing 11% support in Calgary-Centre. His major issues are sustainability and public transit.

Alison Redford was elected here in 2008 by a margin of 419 votes. The lawyer and mother to 10-year old Sarah was elected Leader of the PC Party in October of 2011, and sworn in as Premier of Alberta a week later. Alberta's first female Premier, she is a graduate of Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary - but nobody's perfect (Go Grandin!). You may have heard her name a few times during this election. I interviewed Redford, a noted carnivore, at a local BBQ restaurant during her bid for the PC Leadership - follow this link to hear said interview.