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Saturday, May 31, 2008

you say: order-in-council. i say: why are you so afraid of public debate?

An very abbreviated look at recent closed-door decision making in Alberta. With only 11 opposition MLAs in the 83 member Legislative Assembly, one has to wonder why the 37-year governing Alberta Tories are so afraid of being open and transparent with these decisions.

March 2007 - Premier Ed Stelmach introduces new conflict-of-interest legislation into the Alberta Legislature.

February 4, 2008 - In a closed-door cabinet meeting hours before calling an election, Ed Stelmach and his cabinet amend conflict-of-interest rules so that they won't apply to retiring or defeated Progressive Conservative Ministers and MLAs.

April 2008 - All MLA salaries are increased by 4.5% through a publicly indexed formula.

May 2008 - In a closed-door cabinet meeting, Ed Stelmach and his cabinet voted to give themselves nearly one million dollars worth of raises. payraise. Stelmach gives himself a 34% boost, increasing his salary by 54,000, to $213,450 from $159,450. Tory Ministers will now make $184,000, up from $142,050.

Kevin Liben described the salary increase issue well on his National Post blog:

Mr. Stelmach told reporters yesterday that the salary raise was justified to attract talented people to politics. “It’s something that we had to do and will continue doing in terms of attracting good people,” he said. But voters will be left to wonder why the current salary grid didn’t stop hundreds of Albertans from fighting tooth and nail first for a nomination and then a seat in the legislature just months ago, including some pretty impressive talents such as Allison Redford, the rookie attorney general, a renowned human rights lawyer who helped administer Afghanistan’s elections for the UN, and Arthur Kent, the former NBC celebrity reporter (he lost). Salaries never surfaced as an issue during the election among candidates, or voters.

Which is why many Albertans are probably more than a little skeptical of the Premier’s version of things, and are more likely to see this as just a convenient and juicy perk that he and his cabinet decided to award themselves after winning a landslide vote and demolishing the opposition. And judging by the size of the hike and way that it was snuck in, without the inconvenience of independent assessment or public consultation, they’re probably right.

Friday, May 30, 2008

alberta at the fcm.

City of Grande Prairie Alderman and blogger Bill Given is joining municipal leaders from across Canada (including Don Iveson) at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City this week. Luckily for us, Bill is blogging his FCM adventures. He's already written three posts on the conference, but be sure to check out his updates.

yeah, tax increases suck, but so do giant potholes.

After a decade of unsustainable growth (aka: urban sprawl) and artificially low-tax increases, the usual suspects are up in arms over proposed tax increases in Edmonton. Average tax increases in some Edmonton neighbourhoods are expected to range above 20% in 2009 (these neighbourhoods include Beacon Heights (21.4%), Bellevue (22.2%), Bergman (23.8 %), Beverly Heights (20.3%), Central McDougall (20.1%), Cromdale (20.2%), Highlands (20.5%), Montrose (23.5%), Newton (22%), Rossdale (24.2%), Rundle Heights (25. 6%)).

Yes, having to pay increased taxes really sucks. But anyone who is interested in improving the City of Edmonton - repairing delapetated roads, fixing transit systems that are a decade behind in expansion, improving Edmonton's quality of life through service backlogged expansion improving services, and compensating for a lack of a regional cost sharing formula for the capital region - will understand why this type of increase in the case (even if they don't agree with it). After Edmonton kept an illogically tight-lid on spending during Bill Smith's reign as Mayor, City Council is now facing the challenge of catching up with the growth that Edmonton experienced in those years, and property taxes are one of the only sources of income that a municipality has to turn to.

According to a 2004 Canada West Foundation report on spending in Edmonton:

Total operating spending in 2003 (measured in per capita terms and adjusted for inflation) was 9.8% lower than in 1990, and under-investment in capital has also unleashed a sizeable infrastructure backlog, which could be as high as $3.2 billion over the next ten years.
The report also states that property taxes in Canada only make up a small portion of the total taxes. Across Canada, all forms of property tax comprise less than 9¢ out of every tax dollar paid. Also interesting is a February 2007 Edmonton Journal editorial titled 'Low taxes, low quality of life' highlighted a study by Michael Petit for the U.S.-based Every Child Matters Education Fund:
...forms of social spending also tend to get cut when governments buy into the "gospel of wealth" and begin slashing taxes, the very kinds of programs that were targeted in Alberta budgets during the Klein era. Petit said child care, foster care, social workers, preschool programs and physical activity for young children are also critical in creating healthy, productive children. And where these programs have been cut by government, private and not-for-profit sectors have not been able to fill the gap.

"(The study) dispels ideologically driven myths that government-supported programs are ineffectual and that taxes are evil," Petit said. "It shows that some states do much better for children than others."
I don't see taxes as the demonic socialist wealth transfer scheme that some more less forward-minded political watchers do, but I do recognize that if Edmonton is to become the smart world-class city that it should be, turning to the outdated ideology of Ronald Reagan won't cut it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

valium, by-elections, and new political movements.

Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft returned to Alberta yesterday and dispelled rumours that he will be resigning from his Edmonton-Riverview seat. The prospect of a by-election led former Edmonton-Riverview PC candidate Wendy Andrews to marshal of her supporters into a pre-by-election tizzy. In response, Taft told Andrews to take a Valium.

Since it was created in 1997, Edmonton-Riverview has elected two Liberal MLAs. In 1997, Linda Sloan defeated Tory Gwen Harris by over 900 votes. In 2001, Taft defeated City Councillor turned Tory candidate Wendy Kinsella by over 1,500 votes. In 2004, Taft garnered the largest margin of victory in that election after defeated Tory Fred Horne (now Edmonton-Rutherford's MLA) by over 6,700 votes.

Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann is continuing to hold meetings to discuss the creation of a new political movement in Alberta. Notable attendees to the meetings include former Lacombe-Ponoka Green candidate Joe Anglin. After leading central Alberta landowners to a number of EUB hearings, Anglin received over 20% of the vote in Lacombe-Ponoka in the March 3, 2008 election. Gauntlet has some suggestions on how to start from scratch.

don iveson makes the best of edmonton.

Ward 5 City Councillor Don Iveson has made SEE Magazine's Best of Edmonton in two categories.

Best Local Politician
1. Steven Mandel
2. Don Iveson
3. Rachel Notley

Most Creative Edmontonian
1. Cadence Weapon
2. Ashley Andel / Don Iveson / Nick Kozub / Stewart Lemoine

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

regional transit a good idea for alberta's capital city.

I was encouraged to hear this week that St. Albert Mayor Nolan Crouse, the chair of a new sub-committee of the Capital Region Integrated Growth Management Planning Board tasked with creating a public transit plan for the capital region, that this could be the beginnings of a unified regional transit system.

As I've written in the past, I think a regional public transit service replacing the three current municipal transit services - Edmonton Transit Services, St. Albert Transit, and Strathcona County Transit - would be a great first step in fostering cooperation, eliminating expensive duplication in services, and could bode well for creating a more efficient transit service for the entire region. With Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County already proving that they can work together on important issues such as the Universal Bus Pass (U-Pass) for University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan College students, a future regional transit service doesn't seem that unlikely. exits

This is just quick note to let you know that is no longer a member of

It has been some time since I withdrew my support for the Liberal Party of Canada, so requesting to leave was a pretty obvious move on my part. For all of you out there who previously read this blog's posts through liblogs, you can still find them on the Progressive Bloggers aggregator and of course, through RSS.

Monday, May 26, 2008

alberta liberal leadership race 2008.

With Alberta Liberal leader Kevin Taft pondering his future abroad and expected to announce his future political intentions in the coming months, those interested in running for the subversive job of Leader of the Official Opposition are starting to gear up (for a potential November 2008 leadership selection). Sources in Calgary have informed me that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor is rallying his key supporters to prepare for a run. Taylor was first elected in 2004 after unseating high-profile Tory backbencher Jon Lord and was re-elected in 2008 by defeating Tory star candidate Arthur Kent. Before entering elected politics, Taylor was the host of a popular QR77 Radio call-in show.

Among Taylor's rumoured supporters is longtime Liberal organizer Donn Lovett. Lovett has been involved in Liberal campaigns since the 1980s (including campaigns of Sheldon Chumir, Joe Clark, Dave Taylor, Jennifer Pollock, and Craig Cheffins) but more recently, Lovett caused a bit of a stir after penning a memo to key Liberal organizers on the future of the party, including critiques on post-election MLA critic portfolios and party operations.

As Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann is publicly talking about forming a new political party in Alberta, I've had many Liberal supporters tell me that they would be more than happy to support a Swann leadership campaign (to also prevent a Taylor coronation). Also rumoured to be interested in a run is former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy. Elsalhy was elected in 2004 by defeating Ralph Klein-era Economic Development Minister Mark Norris, but was unseated by Tory David Xiao in the 2008 election. Though I haven't heard any stirrings on the front, I wouldn't be disappointed if veteran Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman threw her hat into the ring.

With the March 3, 2008 election results fresh in memory, the next leader of the Alberta Liberals will take on the arguably thankless job inheriting a 9-member caucus facing a massive 72-seat 37-year old Tory majority, a party with a massive financial debt, and nearly no support outside the cities of Calgary, Edmonton, and Lethbridge regions. The leadership race will also take place in a new geo-political dynamic in the Liberal caucus now that the majority of the 9-MLA caucus are from southern Alberta (five MLAs from Calgary & one from Lethbridge), rather than the traditional Edmonton base (which now has three MLAs).

Facing these challenges, I think I tend to agree with Swann. With none of Alberta's political parties successfully engaging Albertans, I would argue that it's time start from scratch.

insightful commentary from climenhaga.

Just in case you missed it, David Climenhaga had a pretty insightful column in last week's Saint City News (from St. Albert) on the new super mega health board centralization that went on last week across Alberta. You can read the column on his blog.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

a non-political saturday afternoon in alberta.

Here's some fun non-political links for a non-political Saturday afternoon...

- If you're looking for some good Americana/Country/Indie music, take a listen to Amy Honey. I saw her show at the Black Dog Freehouse a couple of weeks ago and she was some good fun.

- Last week's Studio 360 podcast was pretty good. The two segments in particular that you should listen to are on the topics of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and What I'd Say to the Martians.

- AGRDT posted on this already, but make sure to check out The World of Isaac.

- If you didn't get a chance to see it before CBC announced its cancellation (lame), you can now watch the entire series run of jPod online. It's a really good show.

it's a commuter challenge! go edmonton!

Thanks to the good folks in Councillor Don Iveson's office for passing along this message.

What is the Commuter Challenge? The Commuter Challenge is a national competition between workplaces and cities, encouraging healthier commuting practices by reducing the reliance on single occupancy vehicles for trips to and from the workplace.

Edmonton is competing for the distinction of being a leader in healthier commuting and we need your support. The Commuter Challenge is our chance to show how committed Edmonton is to sustainable transportation and share in some fun during Canadian Environment Week (June 1 to 7) and Clean Air Day (June 4).

All participating organizations in Edmonton will be recognized on the City of Edmonton website as well as the national Commuter Challenge website. Registration is open to organizations and individual Canadians can participate too.

During Canadian Environment week and especially Clean Air Day, employees are encouraged to register and submit their sustainable commute. Each person who walked, ran, cycled, rode transit or carpooled is counted as a healthier commuter. Employees who tele-work are also included. At the end of Canadian Environmental Week, the workplace with the highest percentage of healthier commuters is declared the winner.

Choices made by businesses, communities and individuals can lead to meaningful reductions in air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions. Become a leader in supporting healthier commuting and make a contribution to cleaner air and a healthier city.

Visit and Join the Challenge!

For more information on the Commuter Challenge contact Mary Modrovcic at or telephone 496-4013.

Visit for information about carpooling and finding potential carpool partners.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

qualico, portrait galleries, gravel pits in river valleys, and campaign donations.

At the same time as Qualico Developments is bidding to build Canada's National Portrait Gallery in Edmonton (which I think is a grand idea), Qualico Communities is asking Edmonton City Council to amend municipal by-laws to allow the excavation of gravel from Edmonton's River Valley. The proposed gravel pit site, located at the south end of 199th Street, has been designated as a Restricted Development Area by the Alberta government since 1974 and is protected by the City of Edmonton's North Saskatchewan River Valley bylaw, which prohibits natural resource extraction projects that are not deemed "essential." Approximately 21 times larger than New York City’s Central Park, Edmonton’s River Valley is the largest stretch of urban parkland in North America and one of Edmonton's greatest treasures.

Fearing that the site will make convoys of gravel trucks a regular occurrence in their neighbourhood, local residents of the are showing up in person and online to voice their opposition to the proposed development. Though opposition to the gravel pit is clearly a case of NIMBY, I don't believe (as Edmonton Journal columnist Scott McKeen suggests) that Qualico is the victim in this fight (I also don't blame residents for not wanting a gravel pit in their backyard). With the community residents mounting a well-organized advocacy campaign...

...campaign handouts, with suggested content for protest letters. They've got a printed target list of politicians, civil servants and media outlets. They've got financial resources and a fundraising goal of $50,000...
...I'm more interested in seeing whether Qualico's $5,000 donations to the re-election campaigns of Mayor Stephen Mandel, Ward 1 Councillors Karen Leibovici and Linda Sloan, Ward 2 Councillor Ron Hayter, Ward 3 Councillor Ed Gibbons, and Ward 5 Councillor Bryan Anderson were enough to influence Council to make an exception for Qualico.

The proposal, which will also need approval from Alberta Environment, will be presented to City Council in June 2008. In February 2008, Premier Ed Stelmach announced $50 million for the creation of the River Valley Alliance Park in the Capital Region.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

addicted to american politics.

As an open political addict, it's been hard not to pay attention to the politics and elections gearing up south of the 49th parallel. To get my fix, I usually check out one of my favorite American politics/elections blogs - Swing State Project.

My American politics addiction began in a two-fold manner...

The first was because of the White House of President Josiah Bartlett in The West Wing. I originally watched the first four seasons as they ran on NBC and later finished off Seasons 5-7 after making the wise investment of buying the West Wing Box Set in 2006 (a great investment).

The second was in the Fall of 2006 while I was enrolled in Dr. Greg Anderson's American Politics course at the University of Alberta. The main assignment for the course was to research and write a profile/report on one of the election races that were held during the November 2006 U.S. Mid-term elections. I profiled the Missouri Senate race which saw Democrat Claire McCaskill defeat incumbent Republican Senator Jim Talent (it was a lot of fun to watch McCaskill come from behind and knock off Talent on election night).

Also, my friend James L. is a Senior Editor on the Swing State Project and gives some great daily updates on polls, races, etc.

UPDATE: Senator Hillary Clinton may be top dog in the Kentucky Democratic Primary, but Barack Obama beats Clinton and John McCain in Canada... even in Alberta and the West:

Even in the province where Mr. Obama was least popular — Alberta — respondents favoured him by a 28-point margin over McCain. Fifty-one per cent of respondents there supported Mr. Obama, and 23 per cent preferred McCain.

Mr. Obama was most popular in Quebec where 61 per cent of respondents favoured him, and was almost equally popular in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

the senate is just the start. canada now needs some serious constitutional reform.

Brad Wall’s governing Saskatchewan Party has announced that they will be introducing a Bill into that province’s legislature allowing for the election of Senators in that province. Similar elections were held in Alberta in 1989, 1998 and 2004, with only two Senators having been appointed – Stan Waters in 1990 and Bert Brown in 2007. Before I continue, let me preface my comments by stating that it boggles my mind that in 2008 – the 21st century – a 19th century style appointed Upper House of Parliament continues to exist. It also continues to boggle my mind that the Liberal Party of Canada – by their lack of action on an issue of democracy – continues to support the current-Senate style.

With 14 vacant seats in the 105 member Senate (and 29 expected by the end of 2009), the movement towards electing Senators is only one move that I believe should be taken towards reforming the Upper House.

Though some politicians are afraid of the reopening Canadian constitutional debates (something that the Federal Liberals are happy to call for now that they are in opposition), I think it is something that is needed, whether it be now or a decade from now. One only has to read Section 23 of the Constitution Act to see just how politics was done in 1867:

23: Qualifications of Senator

(1) He shall be of the full age of Thirty Years:

(2) He shall be either a natural-born Subject of the Queen, or a Subject of the or a Subject of the Queen naturalized by an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain, or of the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, or of the Legislature of One of the Provinces of Upper Canada, Lower Canada, Canada, Nova Scotia, or New Brunswick, before the Union, or of the Parliament of Canada after the Union

(3) He shall be legally or equitably seised as of Freehold for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Free and Common Socage, or seised or possessed for his own Use and Benefit of Lands or Tenements held in Franc-alleu or in Roture, within the Province for which he is appointed, of the Value of Four thousand Dollars, over and above all Rents, Dues, Debts, Charges, Mortgages, and Incumbrances due or payable out of or charged on or affecting the same:

(4) His Real and Personal Property shall be together worth Four thousand Dollars over and above his Debts and Liabilities:

(5) He shall be resident in the Province for which he is appointed:

(6) In the Case of Quebec he shall have his Real Property Qualification in the Electoral Division for which he is appointed, or shall be resident in that Division.

First of all, the idea that qualifications to being appointed to the Senate include owning property and being over the age of Thirty hurts my brain. What implications will this have for those running in Senate elections? As someone who is under Thirty Years old and doesn't hold over four thousand dollars of personal property, would I be excluded from participating as a candidate?

I support the move by Stephen Harper's Conservatives to allow for more elected Senators, but there is a broader discussion that is needed to be had. Does the constitution need to be reopened? Absolutely. The Canadian Constitution is a living document. This discussion should include discussing what purpose the Senate actually serves. Will an Upper House of elected politicians be any more effective than an Upper House of appointed politicians? (a cursory glance at the House of Commons would certainly have most Canadians asking this question). Is abolishing the Senate a more effective use of taxpayers dollars? Is there really a need for an Upper House?

How about the effectiveness of our current Parliamentary Democratic system of government? Would a change in the electoral system good enough? What sense does it make to still have the British Monarch as our Head of State? Does the Governor General actually serve a modern purpose? I'm not going to oppose current reforms, but as someone who sees an array of problems in the current political system, I'm having a hard time believing that anything less than a complete overhaul is actually going to make a real difference in the long run.

UPDATE: For more thoughts on the Senate debate, check out AGRDT, ES, and Wells.

Monday, May 19, 2008

some corb.

A bit of Corb for the long weekend Monday.

social networking map of le monde.

I thought this was pretty neat.

(From Le Monde via Azeem Azar on twitter, via Tim O'Reilly's blog and found on BoingBoing)

Friday, May 16, 2008

c is for centralization in health care.

Centralization seems to be the word of the day as Tory Health Minister Ron Liepert has disolved Alberta's nine-regional health authorities, as well as the Alberta Cancer Board, Alberta Mental Health Board and Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission, into one super mega health board - the Alberta Health Services Board.

What does this mean? Other than having a lot of former Tory patronage appointees looking for new jobs, it probably won't change a lot for most Albertans. The new interim board will be made up of six new appointees including former Tory MP Ken Hughes and Klein-era Minister Jack Ady.

I have a three mains thoughts on move:

- This mega superboard could potentially ease the flow of medical information across Alberta, making it easier for Albertans in rural areas to access medical facilities in urban areas and vice-versa.

- By removing regional authority over decision making, decisions affecting local health care provision could be affected by a far-removed board that may not be in touch with local needs.

- Having not been mentioned anywhere in the Alberta PC election platform two months ago, you really have to wonder kind of mandate the Tories think Albertans gave them for the next four years. 72 seats = blank cheque.
In the medium-term, I don't think this will produce any large changes for Albertans who need access to the health care system. By dissolving the regional boards, the provincial government looks like it's taking some direct responsibility over health care, rather than hiding behind the decisions of hand-picked appointed boards.

See AGRDT and the Edmonton Journal for more.

UPDATE: Bill Given has some thoughts on how this change could affect cities like Grande Prairie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

what good political commentary looks like.

Calgary Sun columnist Rick Bell shows-off his superior skills as a political writer in this debate with veteran reporter Mike McCourt on CityTV Calgary:

Watch out Craig Oliver and Mike Duffy! Rick Bell is gunning for your jobs!

UPDATE: Someone with far superior political observation skills than I suggested that you take the following into consideration as you watch this video:
1. Rick Bell's superior use of "air quotes" every "two seconds"

2. Rick Bell quoting some guy who was pr obably drunk and pissed off on election night as representative of the Alberta Liberal Party.

3. Rick Bell claiming he was "proven right" when he was equally critical of Stelmach. It's easy to be "proven right" when you make every prediction possible.

subversive elements across the floor.

It was never my intention to turn this blog into an "embarrassing things Ed Stelmach said today" blog, but our Premier really isn't doing a good job deterring me.

Last week, Alberta Tory Premier Ed Stelmach lashed out the United Nations for unfairly targeting Alberta as Canadian soldiers are serving in Afghanistan, this week Stelmach lashed out at Liberal Opposition MLAs for being "subversive" and not having pride in Alberta for questioning the government's $25-million oilsands rebranding campaign during a budget debate.

Myself, I have lots of pride in my home province of Alberta. That's why I'd rather my government spent the $25-million on figuring out how to clean up the oilsands and 50 square kilometers of toxic tailing ponds in northern Alberta, rather than spend it on a $25-million international advertising campaign. I guess that makes me a subversive too.

Here's the debate from Alberta Hansard:

Mr. Hugh MacDonald: Interesting.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I would remind the hon. Premier that in a democracy the Official Opposition has a role to make sure that the government remains accountable. Whenever you see govern-ment spending increase at such a dramatic rate as it has, there have to be questions asked. Why is it necessary for this budget to be the way it is? You may not like it, but it’s a function of democracy, and it’s worked quite well.

Now, on page 70 of the fiscal plan Executive Council is again listed. We have the 2008-09 ministry expense by function, and there are many different functions here. There’s a breakdown for health, education, social services, environment, general government. I’m surprised that some of your Public Affairs Bureau money wouldn’t be under this title because so much of it is going to be used for the greenwashing program. Specific to economic development, if you look, for instance, at Agriculture and Rural Development, it has a billion dollars set aside in that function, but there’s none for Executive Council. It’s just the $ 30 million. Why?

The Deputy Chair
: The hon. Premier.

Mr. Ed Stelmach: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. The earlier comment with respect to the role of opposition is exactly right. The role of opposition in a democratic government is very important, but it’s not to be subversive. There’s a big difference. It’s a big difference. Once again, you hear comments made that are not just critical of government, but they lead to innuendo. Unfortunately, this kind of behaviour extends past this Assembly, which has a tremendous history, more than a hundred-year history. If you want to play that game, I can play it.

In terms of the $ 25 million, that will be invested in the Public Affairs Bureau to rebrand the province. It will be there, and I will defend it no matter how much the opposition wants to degrade the province of Alberta, and I’ll continue to do it because I am very proud of my province. I share the pride of every member in this Assembly. If they don’t have that same pride, well, that’s up to them, but I do, and so do my colleagues.

Mr. MacDonald
: Certainly, no member on this side of the House degrades Alberta, and for the Premier to suggest that is completely off base.

Now, getting to the national Portrait Gallery, on page 113 of the fiscal plan. Is the Premier’s office involved in this $ 40 million budget amount, and what will happen to this money if neither Calgary nor Edmonton are successful? Where will this $ 40 million go? Will it go into another propaganda campaign?

Mr. Stelmach
: We don’t have a propaganda campaign, so I don’t know what he’s saying about another one. I’m not clear.

Mr. MacDonald
: Okay. Thank you very much.
I think the most interesting thing is that these types of comments by our Premier probably do more to undermine the $25-million oilsands rebranding campaign than any opposition party could.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

alberta to present wetland and duck protection award.

Wouldn't it be ironic if the Alberta Government were to hand out an annual award to the group that does the most to preserve wetlands for ducks?

Oh, wait... that's exactly what they're doing tomorrow...

Lieutenant Governor Presents Award to Innovator of Municipal Wetland Conservation Plan

Awarded annually and sponsored by Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC), the Alberta Lieutenant Governor’s Greenwing Conservation Award recognizes individuals or groups who have demonstrated leadership in a project or activity which has contributed significantly to the public awareness of the value of w
etland ecosystems and their benefit to the waterfowl, wildlife and people of Alberta.
You'd think they would have reschedule the ceremony for a few weeks given recent events...

ad populum in alberta.

At this point, you've probably heard that the CBC has been banned from embargoed government lockups for a year. The ban comes after a CBC reporter leaked information in an interview before the recent Tory Budget release. Though I don't have an issue with the government responding to the CBC (as one of their reporters broke the agreed embargo), it becomes even more interesting when you look at the recent relationship between the CBC and the Alberta Tories.

During and since the March 3 provincial election, CBC reporters Kim Trynacity and John Archer have been taking a more critical and investigative tone than the Tories are used to seeing in the mainstream media. At times during the provincial election, Trynacity seemed like more of a thorn in Premier Ed Stelmach's side than the opposition parties as she didn't rest in investigating the supposed 300,000 jobs that Stelmach claimed that Kevin Taft's Liberals' environmental plan would cost Alberta (Stelmach later changed his statement).

But the 300,000 jobs incident is only one example of a string of not-so-factual "arguments" that Stelmach has bandied around since becoming Premier in 2007.

In an underreported statement last week, Stelmach lashed out at the United Nations for their insisting that Alberta follow through on Canada's Kyoto Accord commitments. Stelmach seemed to claim that the United Nations was unfairly targeting Alberta due to Canada’s Alberta’s contribution to the United Nations mission in Afghanistan (it's actually a NATO-led mission that Canada volunteered to join after September 11). Stelmach suggested that because Canadian soldiers from Alberta have died in Afghanistan, his government shouldn’t have to comply with Kyoto targets.
"Does it bother me a bit? Yes it does," Stelmach said Thursday. "We´re in Afghanistan and just lost another soldier.
As someone who isn't the biggest fan of the United Nations, I can think of close to 1,000,000 legitimate criticisms as to how the United Nations and the Kyoto Accord are flawed, but none of them include invoking the memory of a fallen Canadian soldier for pure political reasons.

Latching on to Stelmach's argument that the United Nations was out to get Alberta was conspiracy enthusiast and Edmonton Sun politics/fish & game columnist Neil Waugh. Waugh’s column highlights the stark difference in the investigative tones of Alberta's media. Rather than being interested in the accuracy of Stelmach's statement, Waugh seems more interested in backing up Stelmach’s argument by making fun of United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s name – aka: the Great Moon Pie. I think Waugh's argument may have been non-existent had Ban Ki-Moon's name been Joe Smith - aka: the Great Smith Pie (?).

And Alberta has an international image problem? I wonder why that could be?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

the tailings are toxic, but the people are generous.

Alberta may get a well deserved bad rap for the extreme environmental consequences of the oil sands and tailing ponds, but it's important to recognize that, like anywhere, most of the people who call Fort McMurray home aren't all that bad...

Local giving tops in Canada again

Today staff
Thursday May 08, 2008

Fort McMurray has once again been named Canada’s most generous community, topping the United Way of Canada’s list of cities on a per capita basis during the 2007 United Way campaign.

In Fort McMurray, residents contributed $58.62 per capita to the United Way, a 25 per cent increase from 2006. During that campaign, local citizens gave just under $4 million.

Calgary trailed Fort McMurray with $46.28 per capita raised, followed by Toronto at $43.18 and Ottawa at $38.55. The city of Estevan, Sask., rounded out the top five with $28.51 raised per capita.

United Way executive Rod McDonald is pleased with the news.

“We really pulled away from the pack this year with our 25 per cent rise from 2006, which I think is just unheard of,” McDonald said during an interview. “I’m proud of our citizens who care so much about the social fabric of our community… We’ve certainly built up a sizeable lead between first and second.”

In the past, according to McDonald, Fort McMurray often closely trailed larger centers like Calgary and Toronto on the annual list. But in 2005 the community placed first, though the numbers were close.

But the good news is certainly welcome to more than those at the United Way office: the organization funds 24 social and health services agencies in Fort McMurray directly, according to its website.

Maj. David Bray and his wife Elaine have been working for the Salvation Army in Fort McMurray for almost five years. The Salvation Army Emergency Shelter, just one part of the operations Bray and his wife oversee in the community, received $250,000 from the UWFM in 2007. And for 2008, Bray said he would be surprised if the same or a slightly higher amount isn’t offered.

Bray said the UWFM money is “fundamental in funding our Community Response Unit and the Family Services Department.”

As of last Monday, for example, the Army's Community Response Unit is serving meals in the evening to the homeless population in Fort McMurray previously taken care of by the Mat program.

Bray said the United Way's first-place standing for money raised in Canada “makes you feel good and excited because Fort McMurray is a great place, and the residents and companies out here of course have an interest in helping the more vulnerable in our midst.

“To see them come through for our United Way campaign is just fantastic,” he said.
Gayle Phillips, executive director of the Fort McMurray Boys and Girls Club, also said the news is very positive.

“It shows that Fort McMurray has very caring and giving people… It puts Fort McMurray on the map.”

“It’s one of those good news stories people say they never hear,” McDonald said. “The spirit of giving is alive and well in Fort McMurray, and here’s the proof.”
(h/t to BR for the story)

Friday, May 09, 2008

good on stephen harper.

You probably won't see me write this very often, but good on Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his response to Stéphane Dion and Gilles Duceppe's questions about Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier's ex-girlfriend.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed concerns Thursday pertaining to the past relationship between Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier and a woman formerly linked to the Hells Angels.

Julie Couillard, Bernier's former girlfriend, was once married to a biker and lived with another.

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion and Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe want to know whether the relationship was a security risk.

On Thursday, Harper called the two opposition leaders "a group of gossipy, old busybodies."

"It's none of my business, it's none of Mr. Duceppe's business, it's none of Mr. Dion's business," he told reporters in Ottawa.

Maybe it's just a slow news day in Ottawa, but I find it hard to believe that the most worthy issue that the Leader of the Official Opposition and the Bloc Québécois had to raise was about the Foreign Affairs Minister's ex-girlfriend. Really, guys?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

how about 'make politics relevant?'

In his column yesterday, Graham Thomson wrote about a plan proposed by the Alberta Federation of Labour to forge a "United Alternative" between the Alberta Liberals and NDP to battle the 37-year old Progressive Conservative regime in Alberta. A friendly reader emailed me a copy of the AFL memo proposing this a couple weeks ago, so I wasn't surprised when it hit the mainstream media.

The AFL plan proposes that:

1) The Liberals, NDP and Greens would "divvy up" all Alberta ridings and agree not to run candidates against each other.

2) The parties would maintain their autonomy and run their own election campaigns but would agree on a list of "core priorities to act upon if they are able to form a government after the next election."

3) If they form government, the parties would look at major electoral reform, possibly adopting a system of proportional representation for future elections where political parties would receive a percentage of seats based on their percentage of votes.

If you're interested in a plan that theoretically might help the currently existing opposition parties win a handful of more seats in Edmonton, this plan is for you. I'm interested in a plan that will make politics relevant to people, which this plan doesn't accomplish. Without relevant politics, it doesn't really matter who has how many seats, and it is clear that the three current parties in the Alberta Legislature aren't making politics relevant to Albertans.

With 42% voter turnout, it is clear that no candidate, MLA, or political party successfully engaged Albertans in the last election. This is what needs to be changed. As long as parties are more interested in winning seats than actually accomplishing good, I can hardly see anyone getting excited about electoral democracy. This is why I was interested to hear the work that Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann has been doing since the election.

Calgary Liberal MLA David Swann has been quietly meeting with MLAs and other interested people about starting a new party based on green politics, accountability and democratic reform.

Swann has held two meetings in Calgary over the past months that have attracted around 25 to 30 people, mostly Liberal and NDP supporters and some Greens, including rural land activist and Green candidate Joe Anglin. Swann has also held individual meetings with other interested people.

The purpose, for now, is to simply start a discussion among those who feel left out of the process of governance.

"How do we re-engage the citizens of Alberta?" Swann asked. "If the issues with the citizens of Alberta are not being reflected in either of the mainstream opposition parties, then we have to talk about the possibility of forming a new party. "

Swann said he plans to meet with former Reform Party leader Preston Manning to talk about his experiences starting a new party and about green politics and democratic accountability, favourite issues of Manning's.

Now this sounds more like a plan to me.

Monday, May 05, 2008

time for some straight talk on alberta's tar sands.

Syncrude Canada President and CEO Tom Katinas has offered "a heartfelt and sincere apology" after the nearly 500 ducks were killed after landing in Syncrude's Aurora north tailing ponds. Syncrude's apology is fine, but it doesn't address the real problem of the tar sands and tailing ponds.

The tar sands are driving Alberta's economic engine, and in a time of continental economic insecurity, Alberta's can play a central role in providing some economic stability. This said, the future environmental costs of how the tar sands are currently extracted are too high for my liking.

It's time that Albertans took ownership of this debate and brought it in to the kitchens and coffee shops of the province. The real debate around the tar sands isn't about money or power, it's about Alberta's future.

The death of nearly 500 ducks and their contamination of the food chain is just the tip of the iceberg and opens an opportunity for Albertans to engage in a wider debate on the issue, much like they did during the resource royalty debate of 2007.

The effects of current tar sands extraction can be seen in a number of areas. Tar sands development has caused the rapid decline of indigenous animal species such as Woodlands Caribou herds, to name one. Some groups have suggested that the government compensate this loss by designating new protected areas to protect the species in the area.

Current tar sands operations also use an unsustainable amount of water from the Athabasca River basin - it currently takes up to 4.5 barrels of water to extract and upgrade a one barrel of bitumen from a tar sands mine. Companies extracting the tar sands are currently allowed to continue extracting water from the Athabasca River, even when river levels are at sitting at dangerously low levels.

Larry Pratt warned of the overuse of water and the resulting tailing ponds in the tar sands in his 1976 book, The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil:

Another severe problem – as with most synthetic fuel projects – is that the existing technology will consume and pollute enormous volumes of fresh water from the Athabasca, only a portion of which can be treated and returned to the river. Disposal of the liquid wastes or tailings left over from the hot water extractions process constitutes the worst single ecological problem in the operation. At GCOS the plant draws in from 6,000 to 9,000 of fresh water the Athabasca every minute, but it returns a good deal less – the difference being stored in the steadily growing tailing ponds. The magnitude of this problem can be grasped from the fact that the tailings ponds being planned for Syncrude. Shell and the other plants will each cover nearly ten square miles of land. The tailings stream is composed of sand, hot water, unextracted oil, fine mineral and clay particles, and some highly toxic chemicals used in extraction. The water is so contaminated that much of it can neither be reused nor returned to the river. Another problem is that the clay particles take a very long time to settle and linger in a state of suspension, thus delaying recycling and reclamation. The result of this could be a truly massive accumulation of oily, polluted waste in large lakes on every developed lease. The GCOS tailings pond sits precariously on the edge of the river, and any serious break in a dyke or seepage underground could cause the ecological ruin of the Athabasca River – a major tributary of the whole Mackenzie system. Whether these oily, heated waste ponds will constitute a hazard to migrating birds is open to speculation. What is certain, however, is that the tailings problem will put pressure on the fresh water supply of the Athabasca: twenty plants would consume up to forty percent of all the river’s monthly flow. The planned in situ steam injection plants will also consume immense amount of available water and have an unknown effect on the groundwaters of the region.
Over the month of May, in hopes of generating some constructive debate on the tar sands, I will be writing about some of the important challenges facing Albertans on this issue. If we are going to allow our tar sands to be extracted, it shouldn't be too much to ask that it be done in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Don't hesitate to join the debate.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

are you up for the challenge?

The Alberta Views Magazine blog has launched their May challenge...

1. Create your ideal Albertan cabinet out of non-politicians. Feel free to include biographies, mandates, portfolios or justifications in your cabinet announcement. (You can see Alberta's current cabinet online here.)

2. Take a photo that can be titled either "Why I Voted" or "Why I Didn't Vote".

3. Write an ode to your favourite Albertan festival or your ideal festival (imagine the activities, lineup, location, etc.)

I will be sending in my submissions within the week.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

go and see what gives? and revenge of the south sea bubble.

If you're looking for a good show, put What Gives? and Revenge of the South Sea Bubble on your list. I saw this latest run from Stewart Lemoine's Teatro La Quindicina at Edmonton's Varscona Theatre last night and it was a lot of fun.

It's playing from May 1st through May 17, so check it out.

(Read the Vue Weekly preview by Paul Blinov)

Friday, May 02, 2008

how to save alberta's tarsands from the ducks.

Who needs tarsands reclamation? All Alberta needs to save our valuable economy and natural resources from mother nature are cyborg ducks...

Chinese scientists experiment with remote control of animals

Chinese scientists said they have succeeded in an experiment to remotely control the flight of a pigeon with electronic technology.

Scientists with the Robot Engineering Technology Research Center of east China's Shandong University of Science and Technology say they implanted micro electrodes in the brain of a pigeon so they can command it to fly right or left or up or down.

The implants stimulated different areas of the pigeon's brain according to signals sent by the scientists via computer, and forced the bird to comply with their commands.

(link from Wired)

ed stelmach: a victim of responsibility.

As the realization that over 500 ducks had died in one of northern Alberta's tarsands toxic tailing ponds hits home, there was a big contrast in how two of Alberta's political leaders handled the heat.

In Edmonton for the opening of the Mazankowski Heart Institute at the University of Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper didn't hesitate in saying that this loss of wildlife should not have happened and that it was a "terrible tragedy" that is unacceptable to Canadians.

In contrast, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach came out swinging against environmental and northern community groups by positioning himself as the victim of a "David and Goliath" battle against environmental and public interest groups in Alberta.

If you think it's a little rich that the victim card is being played by a Premier who's government just 1) won a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election, 2) released a $37-billion provincial budget, and 3) launched a $25-million advertising campaign to "rebrand" Alberta's tarsands, you're probably right.

Stelmach also tried to downplay the real victims of this incident - the over 500 tailing-pond-marinated dead ducks - by claiming that 30,000 birds get killed by wind turbines each year (which isn't true).

As hard as Stelmach tries to play the victim card, whether he likes it or not, he's the Premier of Alberta and the buck stops with him. He has a responsibility to Albertans to deal with disturbing incidents like these ones without complaining or pointing fingers. Occupying the Office of the Premier brings great responsibility, not victimization.

Alberta's government has stood idle as the economic boom in the tarsands have dotted northern Alberta with tailing ponds - giant lakes of toxic chemical water. This week's tragic incident highlights to Albertans and to the world just how damaging current tarsands practices are to Alberta's environment and it is time for Alberta to put a real stop to this type of nonsensical practice.

The responsibility to lead usually falls to the Premier, but if Ed Stelmach's not up for the job, there are no shortage of others who are interested.