Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Vote for Alberta's Election Hashtag!

The time has come, Nation. Use the Comments area of this post to make your arguments, and try to convince your fellow Web Denizens of the merits of your preferred hashtag.

The Poll is on the right-hand side of your screen. Choose wisely.

Voting closes the morning of Monday, Feb. 20th. A winner will be announced at that time.

- E.S.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Choosing an Election Hashtag

Nation, the Twitter is here to stay. Whenever I'm feeling particularly optimistic about the world, or about this species we call humanity, I know I can log on to Twitter and find all the spin, talking points, brainless repetition, paid retweets of months-old articles, and innuendo that it will take to cure me of my optimism.

And that's just from the Bieber fans. Wait until I search the POLITICS streams...

Social Media matters, and one of the battlegrounds in the upcoming provincial election in Alberta is going to be the virtual battleground of Twitter.  Candidates, parties, and their supporters are going to be trying to get the message out, change hearts and minds, or (at the very least) cast stones at their opponents.

But, how to FIND all of this political chum in the ocean that is the Twittersphere?

By using hashtags, of course.

The use of hashtags in your posts makes it easier for interested people to find you, and your posts. They help you get your message out. The problem with them, though, is that they eat into your 140 character limit...  consider that the Tweeps of Calgary voted to go with "#yycvote" rather than "#yycvotes" during the 2010 Municipal Election, because there was one fewer character in the former - giving them one more character to make their point with.

Indeed, your average Alberta Election tweet at this point is overrun with hashtags...  consider this gem from this morning:

RajShermanMLA wrote:
@ppilarski #ableg #pcaa #wrp #ablib #elxnpc I am just pointing out Corruption and Illegal donations received by PC's #donationgate
Dr. Sherman used 130 of his 140 characters - but 41 of them were used on hastags. The longest message he could type, and still use the hashtags he wanted, was 99 characters - putting him at a distinct disadvantage. But, without a clear convention or an accepted "general" hashtag for the upcoming election, Raj included the hashtags for Alberta's Legislature (the closest thing we have at this point to a generally accepted political "catch-all" hashtag in Alberta), the PC Party, the Wildrose Party (for some reason), the Alberta Liberals, the hashtag that has been used for PC Nominations and their Campaign College event this past weekend, and "#donationgate", an extremely creative and not-at-all-dated reference to what Raj's party was until recently calling the "Warlords of Alberta" issue.

Indeed, further scanning of the twittersphere shows hashtags in use related to specific constituencies, hashtags that double as slogans for supporters of certain parties, city hashtags, party hashtags, attempts at Election hashtags hoping they'll catch on...

So, long story short: We need to agree on a hashtag that will be the "General Election hashtag" for Alberta in 2012. One that the public, candidates, media and parties alike will use, so we know where to post, and where to look for information. Having to search 5 or 6 hashtags to get your election information is silly - and few people will bother, rendering the whole exercise futile and neutering Twitter as an effective campaigning tool for EVERYONE. #yycvote worked because ultimately ALL of the candidates were using it - so the general public knew they had to only search that term to find their information. And boy, did they ever engage.

I will list below, in no particular order, the hashtags I've seen being used for Alberta's 2012 election thus far. If you have other suggestions, please "Comment" on this post, and I will include them in a subsequent Blog Poll.

The nice thing about Twitter is that it's truly social - we have as much say as any backroom party strategist, and the majority will well and truly rule.

So... let's nominate some contenders, and elect a winner.

Thus far, I've seen:









If you have OTHER suggestions, please post them as a comment. Nominations will close on Tuesday, and voting will begin Tuesday night.

- E.S.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Baby Steps

One of my earliest political memories is the talk around our dining room table that surrounded the Senate.

Like many Albertans, my father was (and is) a strong proponent of what came to be known as the "Triple E" Senate - Equal, Elected, and Effective. The issue, pro and con, was debated at great length around our table, and I was encouraged to make my own judgements.

I decided, after much debate, that I was in favour of the "Triple E" concept, while knowing full well that the issue - while being championed by Alberta - was going to be ultimately decided in 3 cities in Eastern Canada: Ottawa, Toronto, and Quebec City.
The reality is, we can't formally and officially reform the way our Senate is built, the number of seats, the distribution thereof, or the way people end up in the Senate without the co-operation of BOTH Houses of Parliament. At the time, the notion of a House of Commons friendly to an Albertan cause was unlikely, to say the least. Likewise the notion of a Senate full of people willing to vote themselves out of a guaranteed, well-paying gig. But I'm the hopeful, optimistic sort...  so, as unlikely as it was, I could see this as a possibility.

The more unlikely requirement to effect constitutional change was, and remains, securing the support of the country's most populous - and, constitutionally, most powerful - provinces, Ontario and Quebec. The formula for constitutional change requires the support of these provinces - who, arguably, have more to lose than to gain from a change to the Senate that would put more seats in the West.

I don't really have any suggestions to that second end... to my mind, it's simple common sense to have the people elect their representatives. But what's common sense to me, may be backwards to someone who grew up with different values, and I won't presume to force my world view onto you.

The first sticking point, a co-operative Parliament, seems a whole lot more likely these days. While Parliament can't, by itself, make ALL the changes that I'd like to see in the Senate, what it CAN do is ask the provinces to hold elections for Senators-in-Waiting, as Alberta already does. And it can ask that the Prime Minister of the day fill Senate vacancies from those lists of duly elected individuals. It can even ask those Senators to commit to voluntarily step down after a term of 8 years, in order to run in their home provinces for another endorsement from their fellow citizens and a possible return to the Senate.

The majority Conservative House of Commons will support such measures. And it was only a matter of time before enough Senate vacancies were filled by Stephen Harper - Prime Minister for 6 years, as of this past Monday - to swing the balance of the Senate towards that view, as well.

Is this idea, as conceived, a full "Triple E" Senate?

No. It will not be equal. It will be populated by elected people, who were still appointed by the Prime Minister, as required by the Constitution. It will be effective, so long as Senators see their jobs as being on the line rather than guaranteed, lifetime appointments.

It's a baby step towards Triple E. And I can live with that, because it's progress.

My friend Jack Redekop is running for one of the PC slots on the Senatorial Ballot. Jack knows I don't do "endorsements" - I know you're all smart enough to decide for yourselves whom to support. But I know Jack to be a man of character and integrity, someone who doesn't sugar-coat his opinions, and calls it like he sees it. Most importantly, to me, he truly believes in the kind of fundamental, democratic reform that is needed to return the Senate to the people. If he's entrusted with a Senate seat in the future, I know he'll be a fine addition to the Upper House. Shane over at CalgaryRants did a write-up on Jack yesterday, if you're in the mood for some more reading after plowing through this post.

I know many of my readers will be present at the PC Campaign College in Edmonton this weekend, where the party's nominees for the Senatorial Election will be chosen by a vote. I encourage you to get to know the candidates - both inside and OUTside their hospitality suites. Do your research - their information is laid out on the party website, along with links to their own sites. I know and like several of these candidates - Doug Black is another good man who would represent our interests well.

As always, I implore you to cast an informed ballot. We're not electing the Prom King and Queen - ideas and character matter more than whether you'd sit down over a beer with these people, or what part of the province they live in.

At the end of the day, the voters always get what they deserve.

Choose well, delegates. Because your choices will be judged next by the voters of Alberta as a whole.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Alberta Budget 2012

BOOM goes the dynamite!

Analysis later.

- E.S.

The Saga of Calgary-West... No, the OTHER One...

Nation, there are a few areas of the city where small-c conservative politics are a messy, messy business. The reasons for this are unclear... it certainly doesn't seem to be tied to property values, however, as some of the most affordable homes in the city, those in the north-east, are in the fabled Ward 10 area of civic notoriety, and some of the most exclusive and LEAST affordable homes in the city are on the "'Burg on the Bow"'s western edge, within the federal and provincial ridings of Calgary-West.

What both areas share, though, is a history of conservative politics that could be charitably described as "somewhat questionable at times".

Calgary-West - the provincial constituency - is under the microscope at the moment, as the Nomination Vote that took place on January 21st has been ruled invalid by the PC Party.

This vote was notable for a few reasons: Firstly, it featured 2 particularly well-known candidates in Ken Hughes and Shiraz Shariff. Hughes had served in the past as a Member of Parliament, and was on Alison Redford's transition team as she moved into the Premier's Office after the PC Leadership Race last fall. He was also, very notably, the former head of Alberta Health Services, and stepped down from that role to seek what many thought would be a "shoo-in" nomination win, and eventually a cabinet position. Shariff was a 4-term MLA in Calgary-McCall, serving from 1995 to 2008. Prior to this, Shariff served as the President of the local PC Association in McCall, winning the seat in a by-election after the prior MLA had passed away.

Secondly, the vote was noteworthy for the sheer volume of votes cast. I don't have access to the exact totals, per normal PC nomination procedures, however I have heard the votes cast were in the 3,000-to-4,000 range, and that the Shariff victory was on the third ballot, indicating that the preferential ballot system had to be used as no candidate won a majority after the first count.

After Shariff's surprising win on the 21st - which was even a topic of discussion at the Calgary-Fish Creek nomination poll, where voting was underway when the news broke - Mount Royal University's David Taras was quoted in a Calgary Herald article on-line indicating that Shariff's ground-game had carried the day.

Not so fast, though...

The PC Party received complaints after the fact about the eligibility of some voters. It's unclear who made the complaints, however Party President Bill Smith said in a statement that "The PCAA does not hold any one candidate or campaign responsible for the unfortunate situation." The Party has declared the vote invalid, and has asked the Calgary-West PC Board of Directors to supply a list of 3 names to Party Leader Alison Redford, who will then choose whom from among those 3 will be the party candidate in Calgary-West.

I don't have any inside knowledge as to exactly what the complaints were, or who lodged them. I can tell you that my own nomination contest, in Fish Creek, was run with near-military precision. There was no doubt and no debate as to the outcome being a fair and accurate reflection of the will of those with 2012 PC Party memberships who lived in the riding. We had a tremendous Nomination Chair, and an experienced and wise Returning Officer: There was no room for any shenanigans, and I didn't hesitate for a second in signing off on the results, regardless of how close they were. It's worth noting, though, that these were both roles filled by local volunteers - and, had 2 other people been in the roles and not been suited to them, the resulting race and vote might very well have been a whole different kettle of fish.

Whatever the reasons for the complaints, clearly the Party received enough of them to cast the result in doubt (had the margin of victory been 500 and 2 complaints been received, we would likely not be having this conversation). The PC's felt they had to act, and threw out the result. The campaigns of Shariff, Hughes, and others are out the time and money that were thrown into securing the nomination for the constituency, which opened after the surprise announcement that Finance Minister Ron Liepert would not be seeking re-election.

Shiraz, of course, is not going down without a fight, and took his case to Facebook yesterday, posting:

"The nomination process for Calgary West was credible and set out by the constituency Board, comprised of committed and competent volunteers, such as Doctor Ryan Carter, brother of the Premier’s chief of staff. Other strong leaders in our community for whom we have high regard, were managing key processes, such as the credentials desk, which ensures the legitimacy of the voters casting ballots on nomination day.

I maintain that my campaign was run fairly. It was run with integrity and we followed the process. Other candidates in the Calgary West nomination had also stated their acceptance of the process, the fairness and the outcome. Most importantly, security on the day of the vote ensured that no one could cast a ballot without first proving residency in Calgary West with two pieces of identification. This process was undertaken in the same way for all other constituencies."
It remains to be seen what 3 names will be submitted by the Calgary-West PC Board for the Party Leader's approval, however it's safe to say that it would be a political nightmare for her if either Shariff's name or Hughes' name appear on that list. Whoever is appointed as the candidate will have to be able to WIN the seat in the upcoming election, and the voters of Calgary-West are notorious in their conservatism, and would likely give a rough ride to a candidate hand-picked by the Premier if they were parachuting in from elsewhere.

On a related note, I guess I should have checked and made sure my name wasn't on the "List of 3" before typing that last sentence. Oh, well...

The bottom line here, is that the Party found it necessary to, in the words of the President's release, "Disallow the nomination". That's a pretty big step, and one that they wouldn't take lightly. The complaints they received must have been pretty significant, for the embarrassment of proactively disallowing the nomination to have been lesser than the embarrassment of not acting and letting the complaints go public. It creates a political headache for a Premier who went into the winter break being criticised for a perceived lack of commitment to democratic principles, and who will at some point likely have to curtail debate on the Budget in order to pass it and move forward with an election call.

The PC's would NOT just be going through this exercise because they don't like Shiraz, or to get Ken Hughes on the ballot.

The exact details, we may never know. But let the conspiracy theorists rejoice!

The thousands of PC's in Calgary-West, who took time out of their lives to vote in their nomination contest, are watching closely to see what the Premier does to restore their faith in the party and the process.

As are the other 3.64 million of us.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

No Regrets

Hi there, Nation.

2 weeks have now passed since the nomination meeting for the Alberta PC's in Calgary-Fish Creek. As most of you are no doubt aware, I was unsuccessful in my attempt to win the party's nomination, and will therefore not be appearing on the ballot for this spring's provincial general election.

I'm going to warn you now that this is going to be an intensely personal post. I don't plan these things out - I just write what pops into my head - so I can't be sure, as I type this, that I'll actually even hit "publish" at the end. But just in case, I want you to know that this post is not normal, run-of-the-mill "Enlightened Savage" fare.

There is nothing - nothing - in this world that I have ever wanted more than to run for office. Other kids dream about being a policeman, a millionaire, or a war hero, or a rock star, or an NHL player... but not me. The first sign, I guess, that I'm "not normal".

I have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy, the jobs that I do have. I'm incredibly blessed to get paid to do things that I love - and would do for free. Every morning when I wake up, I say "I GET to go to work today", instead of "I HAVE to go to work today", as so many do. This blessing is not lost on me.

And yet... I've always felt the desire to serve. I've always felt CALLED to serve. When my Firmware was installed, I was clearly wired for this role. To serve my neighbours with a smile on my face, representing their interests and opinions. Engaging them in the process. Speaking truth to power. Trying to leave the world a better place than it was when I got here. Setting the table for future generations to do even better. Showing that a life spent in politics can be a noble pursuit, and that government can be a force for good. Elevating the level of debate, and making campaigns about ideas and vision, instead of personality, dirty tricks or who can shout the loudest.

People who came into my life intent on changing me would tell me this was a foolish dream. An unworthy pursuit. An exercise in futility. I refused to give up the dream, and those people left my life when they realized that my dream to serve wasn't a passing notion - it was hard-wired into me. As much a part of me as my big German cheeks or my impish grin.

I wanted to stand for election, with every fibre of my being. So I prepared. I planned. And I waited.

On November 14th, 2011, the waiting stopped. I jumped into the pool with both feet, and declared my intention to seek the PC nomination in Calgary-Fish Creek, a geographically-large constituency in Calgary's suburban south in which I grew up, went to school, and worked.

After a 69-day campaign, the vote was held on January 21st, 2012 - and I narrowly lost the nomination contest. Wendelin Fraser, former Dean of the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University, will represent the PC's on the ballot in Calgary-Fish Creek this spring. I congratulate her on a hard-fought victory, and will do all that I can to ensure that she is successful in the election.

This is not the end of my dream, however... it is just the beginning.

While I am disappointed in the final result, I do not despair: Far from it. My team of supporters and volunteers - the "O-Team", as they came to be called - ran a campaign based on ideas and vision. We knew all the dirty tricks, and chose to employ NONE of them. We decided that we were going to appeal to people's better angels, instead of trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator. We ran a campaign on a shoe-string budget - we were outspent by a VERY significant margin - and yet, despite all of what experienced political operatives would call "these handicaps", we very nearly WON.

This is what gives me hope for the future. This is what gives me hope for politics as a whole. We engaged the voters - both those who had held party memberships before, and those who never had - with ideas, positivity, and vision instead of the tried-and-true tactics of platitudes, attacks and innuendo. And the voters ENGAGED with us. They bought in. They came out to vote. All of the self-styled "experts" were WRONG - you CAN run a campaign without dirty tricks or piles of cash, and appeal to voters.

Not by being angry. Not by operating in a sleazy manner. Not by mud-slinging, or name-calling, planting questions in a forum or by outspending your opponent.

You can appeal to voters by being genuine. Articulating your vision of the future. Asking for their ideas. Engaging with them, on their level (which is, by the way, always much easier to do when it's the level you live on 365 days of the year anyhow). Asking them about their hopes, and their dreams for their kids, and how government can help - even if the best way for government to help is by getting out of the way.

I have SO much hope, and SO much to be thankful for, coming out of this campaign. The voters showed me that they're ready for a change in how politics is done. My team showed me that a dedicated team of good people can, and WILL, change the world for the better, without resorting to dirty tricks or selling out their principles.

The winds of change are blowing. Not against any one party or candidate, but against the "politics as usual" that permeates EVERY major party, and so many candidates. The voters know it's not good enough any more, they know there is a better way that some of us are just crazy enough to try, and they're willing to do something about it.

If the politicians don't embrace that change, they're going to be blown away by it.

In my speech, delivered on January 21st, I spoke the following line:

"Today, the people of Calgary-Fish Creek are going to choose to light a candle, rather than curse the dark".
I've got a truck-bed full of waterproof matches. Let's do this.

Hold on to your hats, kids - it's about to get windy in here.

And as for Joey O.?

I have not yet begun to fight.