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.