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Sunday, November 29, 2009

reboot alberta (8:25 am)

Dateline: Red Deer
After an interesting first day at Reboot Alberta (and a late night/early morning for some participants), a number of participants have put their thoughts together and published some initial reflections on the weekend thus far:

The weekend event wraps up this morning and I will have some more detailed insights into the weekend in a soon to come post.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

reboot alberta 2:11pm.

Dateline: Red Deer

What do you call a group of people who have decided to spend the Grey Cup weekend debating and discussing the future of Alberta? Passionate and weird.

Reboot Alberta has been an interesting experience thus far. It is hard to describe what this weekend has looked like, so I will try to articulate my thoughts deeper in a future post. Around 100 progressive thinking men and women are here from across Alberta - north, south, central, urban, and rural. I have had some incredibly meaningful discussions about what the future of Alberta should look like. The challenge is how to put these discussions into action.

There is a lot of talk about the future of Alberta politics. Many of the people here want to change the existing parties, some want to work outside the party system, and some want to talk about a new party. There has been a lot of talk around Renew Alberta and there is a lot of deep debate about whether a new political party is a solution. It is my opinion that Alberta is ripe for a new political movement. Starting a new political movement in Alberta is a risk. It can absolutely fail, but big things rarely begin without that risk.

Follow Reboot Alberta via Twitter at #rebootab. More updates coming...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

rebooting citizen engagement and democracy in alberta.

Earlier this month, when I asked what an empowered Alberta would look like, it became clear to me that the majority of Albertans do not see value in participating in the traditional liturgy of our established democratic institutions. I also made two reflections that have stuck with me since:

1) As our society has changed in monumental ways, we have seen very little change in our democratic institutions.
2) Creating value in citizen participation is key to re-engaging the millions of Albertans who have disengaged from our democratic institutions and the process governing them.

Because of these two reflections, I am excited to be attending Reboot Alberta in Red Deer this weekend. I have no clue what ideas the discussions at this weekend's event will produce, but I am excitedly anticipating meeting, debating, and sharing stories and ideas with other Albertans who are passionate about the future of our province. Bloggers Alex Abboud, Chris LaBossiereAlexander Muirthe Unknown Studio, and Ken Chapman (among others) have written passionately about why they are attending this weekend. You can follow Reboot Alberta on Twitter at #rebootab.

As I have written before, it is only a matter of time before we witness a big political shift in our province, but it will be up to Albertans to decide what this change will embody. I love Alberta and I am eager to continue participating in the debates that will shape this change.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

dave hancock sends trustees to the principal's office.

PC Education Minister Dave Hancock scolded members of the Alberta School Boards Association at their annual general meeting today in Edmonton for their participation in the Stop the Cuts campaign. Here is an excerpt of Minister Hancock's speech:
...the Stop the Cuts campaign is greatly exaggerating the impact to education.

I think all of you know how disappointed I was by this campaign.

In recent months, we have had many honest, informed discussions about what we must accomplish to improve learning in the future. Stop the Cuts has not contributed a single idea to this process.

Don't get me wrong — I truly value and appreciate advocacy. I certainly appreciate Albertans engaging in a discussion about education, its value to our community and society, and our current issues and concerns.

But Stop the Cuts is not aimed at constructive discussion — it really amounts to a digital march on the Legislature, and we're well beyond that.

Public appreciation for education can never be built on fear. Fear is no way to embrace our students' optimism, passion, curiosity and talents — especially when there are so many great learning experiences taking place around our province.

We build public appreciation for education by sharing these learning experiences with Albertans.

So I look forward to the ASBA, ATA and the ASCA putting at least as many resources into a positive campaign about how we are preparing Alberta's students for their future.
The motive behind this speech was likely an attempt to drive a wedge between the traditionally timid group elected school trustees and their coalition partners in the Alberta Teachers Association and the Alberta School Councils' Association, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the effectiveness of the Stop the Cuts message in eliciting this reaction.
Recent comments from Premier Ed Stelmach and other cabinet ministers about "tough economic times" have reminded many Albertans of the devastating cuts made by the PC government in the 1990s. In August 2009, Minister Hancock announced that $80 million would be cut from the education budget, including over $50 million from school boards. He is in a tough position, Minister Hancock is the most important ally that the education sector may have inside the PC Cabinet, but it is questionable how much political clout the urban Red Tory-esq Edmonton-Whitemud MLA has in a Cabinet dominated by rural heavyweights like Lloyd Snelgrove, Luke Ouellette, and Ray Danyluk. It is not hard to imagine that many of his PC MLA colleagues are not pleased that the three education groups put aside many of their traditional differences to jointly warn Albertans about the cuts.
During the 2006 PC leadership race, Minister Hancock branded himself as the education friendly candidate and reached out to educators, but his recent party solidarity-influenced defence of the controversial Bill 44 raises the question of how much political capital he still has at the Cabinet table. While Premier Ed Stelmach continues to push billions of taxpayers dollars into the unproven science behind the Carbon Capture Scheme and pro-budget cut backbenchers try to make a name for themselves, Albertans should be asking how many of the 70 PC MLAs are standing up against budget cuts for essential public sector services?

In his speech, Minister Hancock criticized the Stop the Cuts campaign for not offering solutions. This is not a completely unfair comment, but Minister Hancock has hardly given the education groups any reason to believe that another round of budget cuts are the real solution to the PC Government's fiscal problem. Minister Hancock is easily one of the brightest members of the provincial cabinet, so instead of scolding school trustees, he should step up and challenge his Cabinet colleagues to debate a critical question:

After years of record-breaking surpluses and unheard of wealth, why is Alberta still dependent on cyclically-priced natural resource commodities?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

alberta's political moment of the decade.

With the end of the first decade of the 21st century fast approaching, now is the perfect time to reflect on the past ten years in the politics of our province.

What I would like from you are nominees for the top Albertan political moment of the decade. I will leave the category fairly broad, but similar to Calgary Grit's top Canadian political moment of the decade contest, the point is to find a good balance between what was exciting at the time and what would make it into a Alberta Social Studies textbooks 30 years from now (when the next change in government is due to happen).

You will have a few weeks to suggest nominees in the comments section or via e-mail before I put it to a vote. Nominees could include:
- Elections and by-elections (federal, provincial, and municipal)
- Important policies (i.e. royalty review, Bill 44, no debt, LRT expansion)
- Scandals and missteps (Ralph Air, Lyle Oberg being kicked out of the PC caucus, Ward 10 scandal)
- Moments that made Albertans pay attention (ie: Ralph Klein's late night visit to the Men's shelter, Ed Stelmach defeating Jim Dinning)

Friday, November 20, 2009

which way to the high road?

This was bad judgement, but this is untrue:

“That said, [Premier Ed Stelmach] never resorts to the personal and is never pleased when others do.”
There are numerous examples of Premier Stelmach and members of his cabinet taking personal shots at Opposition MLAs and groups (and deceased Prime Ministers) outside of the Legislature.

In most circumstances, actually taking the high road is the best way to claim it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

neighbour power.

I attended the third of three evenings with Jim Diers - former Director of the City of Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods - hosted by the City of Edmonton. Over the course of the evening, Diers shared some really interesting ideas about successful community building and power of neighbourhoods. I am planning to write about some of these ideas in future posts on this blog.

Mack Male, Tamara Stecyk, and George Watts attended some of the evening events and have posted recaps.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

tuition tinkering in alberta.

Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner has said that he will accept and review requests from Alberta's Post-Secondary Institutions to increase their base tuition rates beyond what is currently allowed under Alberta's tuition policy. Whatever your thoughts on the cost of tuition - whether you believe in the strength of communities or individual investment (or a mixture of the two) - it is important to understand some of the context in which this posturing is occurring. This is not simply a result of tough economic times, the Government and Institutions have both attempted to and successfully tinkered with the tuition policy a number of times in recent years.

During very prosperous economic times in March 2006, the Presidents of the University of Alberta, Calgary, Lethbridge, and Athabasca sent a letter to Minister Dave Hancock proposing that tuition increases be based on Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation plus 3.5 per cent.

In the letter, the presidents warn Alberta is falling behind. "Alberta lags behind the national average in post-secondary spaces, a serious problem as we seek to provide the workforce needed for an expanding economy."

Students are also frustrated the presidents drafted a proposal without consulting them, saying they were under the impression a joint bid would be submitted to Hancock.

[University of Calgary Students' Union President BryanWest called the proposal a "backroom deal."

"We were all going to put forward one letter, with one profound and powerful voice," said West who sits on the steering committee with the presidents and other stakeholders. "We feel really hurt by this and wonder if they were playing us all along."
The day following my election as Chair of the Council of Alberta University Students in May 2006, I sat in front of the cameras with Liberal MLA Dave TaylorNDP MLA Raj PannuBill Moore-Kilgannon from Public Interest Alberta, and Jon Hoffman from ACTISEC to oppose the passage of Bill 40: Post-Secondary Learning Amendment Act.

Introduced during the (thankfully) short-lived tenure of Minister Denis Herard, Bill 40 removed Alberta's tuition policy from the Post-Secondary Learning Act, thus removing the insurance that Albertans had that any changes to the policy governing the cost of post-secondary education would need to be debated in a public forum.
“We’re prepared to wait until the next time the legislature meets to have a new policy implemented, so that the policy is embedded in an act of the legislature,” said David Cournoyer, chair of the Council of Alberta University Students (CAUS) and University of Alberta Students’ Union Vice President External. “If the tuition policy is not in legislation, it is no good to us.”
Universities and colleges in Alberta are currently limited to increasing tuition by CPI inflation (at a maximum), but because the tuition policy is now under regulation it can be changed in the privacy of a closed door Cabinet meeting. No public debate required.

Monday, November 16, 2009

alberta's energy beach.

I have always been fascinated by the debate over the proper name for the "bituminous sand" that spans across and beneath large tracks of Northern Alberta (I like to call them Alberta's Energy Beach). In an elongated public relations war, environmental groups have labelled them as 'tarsands,' while the energy sector and the Government of Alberta have remained strident in describing them as the more friendly-sounding 'oilsands.'

With the oilsands getting a rougher reputation on the international stage and the Copenhagen Conference around the corner, the residents of one of the larger beachfront cabins have coined a new term for their expensive piece of  real estate:

First they were tar sands. Then they were oil sands. Now? Enhanced oil projects. At least according to En-Cana Corp. and its oil-sands spinoff, Cenovus Energy

The pair want to distinguish their oil-sands operations, which employ the underground and more carbon-intensive steam-assisted gravity (SAGD) drainage method, from the more aesthetically offensive open-pit mining efforts that are accompanied by deadly tailings ponds. As a result, the two firms have ditched the term "oil sands" from their lexicon and replaced it with "enhanced oil projects" or just "oil projects."

new adventures.

As some of you know, until September I had the pleasure of working with a great team in the Corporate Communications department at Covenant Health. During my time with Alberta's Catholic health board, I developed an online communications strategy for the organization and hosted a series workshops on communications and social media with employees of Covenant Health, Alberta Health Services, and the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton.

This morning, I was excited to have started a new adventure as Communications Officer (New Media) with the United Nurses of Alberta. I am looking forward to the challenges ahead and to help guide the UNA to fully participate in the evolving world of social media. While this new position will likely not afford me the time to pump out two or three posts a day on this blog (as I have over the past couple of months), I am looking forward to publishing some interesting new multi-part series following in the footsteps of Smith v. Board of Education.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

joe anglin on bill 50.

I laid out my thoughts on Bill 50: Electrical Statues Amendment Act and upgrades to provincial transmission infrastructure late last month, but the issue continues to dominate much of the debate during the fall session of Alberta's Legislative Assembly. The Lavesta Area Group have been extremely effective at agitating their opposition to Bill 50 into the media spotlight and their leader, Joe Anglin, has been travelling across Alberta showcasing the group's opposition to Bill 50. Anglin's presentation is now on YouTube:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Loss Factors
Part 3: History and Legislation
Part 4: Time has run out!
Part 5: Reliability Issue and HVDC
Part 6: Costs and Bias
Part 7: EXPORT
Part 8: Hypocrisy –What they said
Part 9: The Vision and Plan

Thursday, November 12, 2009

yäger bomb.

Earlier this week, Danielle Smith announced that a task force co-chaired by David Yager and David Gray would develop an energy platform for the Wildrose Alliance. In April 2009, Yager and a group of oil and gas sector executives penned a fundraising letter for the Wildrose Alliance which lamented the plight of Alberta's oil and gas sector under the oppression of the new resource royalty framework. In the letter, the executives pledged their allegiance to the Wildrose Alliance. (PDF of the Fundraising Letter)

Watching the direction Alberta has taken since Stelmach became leader of the Tory party leaves us to conclude that the ultimate success of our industry is now political. Only when the government of Alberta supports and trusts its most important industry - oil and gas - will Alberta's future be truly secure.

Therefor, we have joined a group of like-minded oilfield service and junior oil and gas executives in supporting the Wildrose Alliance Party of Alberta to help it become the future government of this province.
The Progressive Conservative Party saw a decrease in the amount of donations they were receiving from the oil and gas sector after the introduction of the new resource royalty framework, and it is well known that many of these companies began throwing their financial support to other parties.

In her acceptance speech, the newly selected Wildrose Alliance leader declared that:
"People are looking for a party to step up and represent their interests, not the backroom lobbyists and political cronies"
It would not make sense to criticize a party leader for appointing supporters to internal policy advisor positions, but Yager's appointment brings Smith's statement into question. While this would not be a big issue if the party had not experienced significant gains in support, I am curious about how much money Yager and the group of executives listed on the April 2009 fundraising letter invested in Smith's leadership campaign? With Smith refusing to publicly release the list of donors who financed her campaign it is unlikely that Albertans will find out.

It is probable that many of these donors will contribute to the Wildrose Alliance now that Smith is the leader, but it will be another four or five months before the Albertans will be privy to the names of those of donors. According to the Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act, annual financial statements from political parties must be filed with Elections Alberta on or before March 31.

what would an empowered alberta look like?

One of my favourite bloggers, David Eaves, has recently published a two-part series addressing a question raised by the Australian Government’s Web 2.0 Taskforce:

"...imagine for a moment it was your job to create the guidelines that will help public servants engage online. Although you have the examples from other organisations, you are given the rare luxury to start with a blank sheet of paper (at least for this exercise). What would you write? What issues would you include? Where would you start? Who would you talk to?"
This question made me think about many of the issues facing Albertans and the challenges facing our provincial government in engaging and interacting with citizens. The Government of Alberta holds frequent traditional style consultations on many issues, but are they generating the kind of discussions that our system of governance needs in order to create value for citizen participation? I would encourage all the readers of this blog who work in Alberta's public service to take a look at some of the innovative ideas for citizen engagement that are being implemented in other jurisdictions. I believe that creating value in citizen participation is key to re-engaging the millions of Albertans who have disengaged from our democratic institutions and the process governing them.

In 2007, the Government of New Zealand took an innovative step to engage citizens by creating a wiki to allow public input in the redrafting of their Police Act. More recently, the Government of New Zealand has launched a website to host government datasets. Similar decisions to open data to citizens have happened in Toronto and Vancouver. Open data was a hot topic at ChangeCamp Edmonton and Councillor Don Iveson has submitted a formal inquiry to the City Administration on the topic.

I have had conversations with many friends, family, and associates who have expressed a general feeling of disempowerment and distance from their elected officials and the decisions they make on our behalf. We elect our fellow Albertans to represent us in our democratic institutions, but as our society has changed in monumental ways, we have seen very little change in our democratic institutions.

Premier Peter Lougheed understood the need for our democratic institutions to evolve with mainstream society when in the early 1970s he created Alberta's Hansard and allowed for the televised recording of Assembly debates. Both Hansard and Video of the Assembly are now available online, but nearly forty years later, do our provincial democratic institutions reflect the needs our society? Is it important to preserve the current form of parliamentary democracy where the Executive Branch (the Premier and Cabinet) holds sway over the Legislative Branch (the elected Assembly) or is it time to rethink how we allow ourselves to be governed? Why? Is it possible bring the backrooms of the political establishment to the living rooms of Albertans?

With the New Zealand example in mind, I wonder what the outcomes would have been had citizens been empowered to play a real role in shaping legislation like Bill 44, Bill 19, or Bill 50. How different would our province be in twenty or fifty years if regular Albertans were allowed to play a sincere role in helping shape the future of our resource royalty structure, our health care system, or how our abundance of natural resources are developed?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

lest we forget.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields. — Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

myth-building 101.

PC MLAs Jonathan DenisDoug GriffithsRob Anderson, and Kyle Fawcett are coming out of backbenches and labelling themselves as the 'Fiscal Four.' In an interview, Anderson told the Calgary Herald:

"There's a group of people in caucus who are genuinely concerned about the state of our province's finances," said Anderson, MLA for Airdrie-Chestermere. "The basic consensus (of the group) is we need to get our spending under control and have a savings strategy. The general direction is that we need to have a strong fiscal framework, and right now that doesn't exist."

The group will use question period and members' statements-- as well as their own caucus meetings--to drive home the message. "There are others in caucus who feel as we do," he added.
It is not difficult to imagine that a significant element of the 'Fiscal Four' production is a staged exercise in PC Party myth-building as public criticism from MLAs is not normally welcomed (as former Cabinet Ministers Heather Forsyth and Guy Boutilier discovered). In September 2009, Fawcett publicly apologized and was quietly penalized for pointing out the obvious after his party's high-profile candidate was thumped in a Calgary by-election. I do not doubt that these four PC MLAs picture themselves as the very models of modern fiscal conservatives, but until now they have either remained largely silent or have risen in the Assembly to praise their party's fiscal leadershipI have been told that a similar tactic of external criticism only after internal permission was adopted by the Deep-Six, of which Premier Ed Stelmach was a member.

Premier Stelmach told delegates at the recent PC annual general meeting that his biggest challenge was the not the economy, health care, the environment, or the budget, but the media. A lot of recent media attention has been generated around the Wildrose Alliance, who have been the main beneficiary of the PCs recent drop in public support, and this past weekend leader Danielle Smith spoke to a sold out crowd of 200 Calgary oil and gas sector heavyweights at a breakfast organized by FirstEnergy Capital. Last Friday, Liberal leader David Swann hosted a Calgary fundraiser that drew over 530 attendees (note: that is a lot for a Liberal event in Calgary).

With the internal resources available to them, the 'Fiscal Four' have the potential to protect Premier Stelmach by shifting media headlines away from criticism by the opposition parties and his more vocal external critics.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

the alberta a-team.

The Premier's Office should seriously consider hiring Jeremy to produce their next pre-taped televised address. Less b-roll helicopter footage and more A-Team could go a long way to improving their public image.

ed stelmach gets 77.4%.

Ah, the morning after. As Progressive Conservative convention delegates in Red Deer begin to experience the after-effects of last night's hospitality suites, a lot of people are probably wondering what the results of Premier Ed Stelmach's leadership review means for Alberta politics? Well, other than being lower than I had anticipated, Premier Stelmach had the support of the majority of delegates at this weekend's convention.

Boasting over 1,000 delegates, the PC Party unquestionably remains the largest partisan force in Alberta, but it also remains to be seen just how disgruntled the 22.6% of delegates who did not support Premier Stelmach are and if they will remain in the PC Party. Recent polls have shown the near 40-year governing PCs significantly dropping in public support with the Wildrose Alliance as its greatest beneficiary.

On Friday night, when answering a question from a convention delegate, Premier Stelmach told delegates that his biggest challenge isn't the economy, health care, crime, or the oilsands, but the media

"I really do feel that the policies we have are the right ones for Alberta, but it's difficult to get it through the present media that's available to us."
This follows the trend that began after the third place finish by PC candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart in the recent Calgary-Glenmore by-election - the belief by Premier Stelmach's administration that they have the right message and if Albertans aren't buying it, then they just need to say it louder. It seems to me that this was a challenge that was supposed to be addressed when Premier Stelmach hired four former reporters (Paul Stanway, Tom Olsen, Mike Jenkinsen, and David Heyman) to run his communications offices in Edmonton and Calgary as he stepped into office in December 2006.

Liberals: Leader David Swann hosted his first major fundraising dinner in Calgary on Friday night. The event drew over 530 attendees, the largest number at a Calgary Liberal fundraiser in recent memory. While the ticket prices were lower than in previous years (down to $250.00 from $350.00), the Liberals have fallen into third place in recent polls and it is critical for them to rally their troops to prove that they are a relevant force in Alberta politics.

Wildrose Alliance: Supporter Ezra Levant spent a decent amount of time criticizing the PC convention yesterday via Twitter (hastag #pcagm). Levant is a supporter of Danielle Smith, is a Reform Party alumni, and has lately been a strong critic of Stelmach's PCs. Smith commented on the results in a media statement last night:
The outcome of tonight's vote was exactly what we expected, but it goes against what I am hearing across the province. Albertans are upset with this government... Tonight's decision by the Alberta PC's doesn't change a single thing that the Wildrose Party will do in the coming months. We will work hard to show Albertans that we are the alternative to the PC's and that we will give Albertans the kind of government they expect and deserve."

Friday, November 06, 2009

what's going to happen at the pc leadership review?

Barring a stealth insurgency campaign, I anticipate that around 85% of Progressive Conservative convention delegates will support Premier Ed Stelmach in the leadership review vote this weekend. Why so high, you ask? Because this is a vote by dedicated partisans from Alberta's PC Party. Premier Stelmach has his detractors, but I expect that the kind of party members who would pay hundreds of dollars to spend two days in Red Deer will predictably rally around the PC Party brand.

Seeking to revive fond memories a past era, the slogan chosen for this convention was also the PCs 1979 election slogan. Now... more than ever, which was chosen thirty years ago over the wrath tempting 79 in '79, is meant to remind party faithful of the glory days and to put aside their feelings about more recent political baggage. 

With at least two or three years until the next election, Premier Stelmach has at least twelve months to pull his party's support up again before he faces the kind of internal opposition that forced Don Getty into retirement. Similar to Getty's time in office, Premier Stelmach is governing during an economic slowdown under the shadow of a popular predecessor. Getty's administration was marred with scandals and internal dissent and so far, Premier Stelmach has demonstrated an ability to avoid taking personal responsibility for his government's missteps. Getty retired in 1992 as Laurence Decore's Liberals were riding a wave of discontent that mirrored the rise of the Reform Party on the federal stage. While they are currently rising in recent polls, it remains to be seen whether Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance can sustain their support until the next election. It also remains to be seen whether David Swann can re-energize the Liberals to take advantage of a potential split on the political right.

Also uncertain is who would contest a 2010 leadership race if PC delegates voted to sack the Premier. Ted Morton, Brett WilsonJim Prentice, Dave Hancock, Jonathan Denis, Ray DanylukAlison Redford, and Doug Horner are names that I have heard bandied around, but it is too soon to tell who is actually prepared to step up to the plate.

Billed as a policy convention, a quick look at the policy booklet reveals a fairly dry agenda for debate. It is likely that the liveliest excitement of the weekend may come from outside the convention where the AUPEthe Friends of Medicare, and other public sector groups are busing hundreds of supporters from around the province to a huge Stop the Cuts rally only blocks away from the convention.

On Saturday night, PC archetypes will herald the convention as a success of the grassroots, but I expect that little will change after the convention concludes. Regardless of potential icebergs on the political horizon, a strong showing of support in the leadership review will certainly solidify the resolve of Premier Stelmach and his supporters that they are steering their party, and the Government of Albertans, in the right direction. "Rearrange the deck chairs..."

Recommended Reading: 
Alex Abboud: State of Alberta: At a Crossroads
Calgary Grit: This week in Alberta - All good things...
Ken Chapman: Is Alberta about to enter an empire illusion stage politically?
Chris Labossiere: Run up the middle... to right of centre
Duncan Wojtaszek: Red Deer
Live Gov: PC AGM

2010 city council candidates start their uphill climb.

With Edmonton's municipal election less than a year away, I thought I would take a quick look at the non-incumbent candidates who have declared their intentions to seek election to City Council in October 18, 2010. The election will be the first held under the new one-councillor per ward boundaries.

Brendan Van Alstine (@bvanalstine): The first candidate out of the starting gates for 2010, Brendan is seeking election in the new Ward 7. A social worker, he currently works for Edmonton's Pride Centre as the Youth Program Coordinator. I have known Brendan for a couple of years and I continue to admire his passion for public transit issues in Edmonton (he was a founding member of the Transit Riders Union of Edmonton and was a regular columnist on public transit issues for Metro Edmonton). He will be officially launching his campaign this weekend (more details).

Andrew Knack (@AndrewKnack): Declared candidate for the new Ward 1. Knack placed third against incumbents Karen Leibovici and Linda Sloan in 2007 and is also out of the gate for 2010 early. Along with Van Alstine, Knack participated in ChangeCamp Edmonton on October 17, 2009.

Hana Razga: Placed sixth in the hotly contested Ward 4 election in 2007. Razga declared her candidacy in the new Ward 8 on September 15, 2009 and this will be her eighth attempt at seeking elected office.

Dave Loken: On September 27, 2009, Loken informed me via email that he would be seeking election in Ward 3. Three years ago, I wrote that Loken (who was then running against Ward 2 incumbent Councillors Ron Hayter and Kim Krushell) was on my list to watch for 2010. He placed third in that election.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

stelmach tories diving.

In December 2008, Environics released a poll showing Premier Ed Stelmach's Progressive Conservatives with 62% support across the province.

One year later, after Bill 44, Bill 19, Bill 50, a record budget deficit, a by-election loss, visions of Northumberland, and Danielle Smith's entry onto the political stage, a new poll from Environics is showing the Stelmach led-PCs in a very different situation.

The telephone poll, conducted Oct. 19-31, finds that 34% of decided voters would cast a ballot for Mr. Stelmach and his Progressive Conservatives if an election were held now, compared to 28% for the fledgling Wildrose Alliance and new leader Danielle Smith.

The Liberals are in third with the backing of 20% of voters, followed by the NDP at 9% and the Greens at 8%.
The poll places the Stelmach-led PCs in second place in Calgary with 30% compared to 34% for the Wildrose Alliance, the Liberals at 20%, and the NDP at 8%. In Edmonton, the PC have the support of one-third of voters, followed by the Liberals at 27%, the Wildrose Alliance at 17% and the NDP at 13%. Outside the two major cities, the PCs hold 38% support, while the Wildrose Alliance has 32% and the Liberals are in third with 15%.

I am sure that this is not the kind of news that Premier Stelmach was hoping for only days before he faces a leadership review from his party's delegates.

brett wilson keynote speaker at auma convention.

Calgary energy entrepreneur, television personality, and philanthropist Brett Wilson was the keynote speaker at the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention that kicked-off this afternoon. Mr. Wilson is rumoured to getting ready to step forward as a leadership candidate if Premier Ed Stelmach fares poorly at the upcoming Progressive Conservative leadership review. I have remained skeptical about this rumour, but according to Wilson this afternoon:

" Mr. Mayor, I'm not running for mayor. But... Mr. Stelmach..."
If Mr. Wilson is actually serious about jumping into politics, being the keynote speaker at a convention attended by over 1,000 municipal politicians from across Alberta would be a good place to start.

(h/t @BillGiven, who is blogging from the AUMA convention)

albertans deserve clarity on h1n1.

If this week had a title, it could be called Ron Liepert under fire. Alberta's Minister of Health has succeeded in shifting the media focus away from Premier Ed Stelmach's upcoming leadership review as the mixed messaging around the H1N1 vaccination plan have continued to dominate the headlines.
"We're not asking only those high-risk groups to get the vaccine first. It's open to all." - Premier Stelmach (October 30, 2009)
"We encouraged all Albertans to get vaccinated. They absolutely took it up by the thousands immediately," - Minister Liepert (October 30, 2009)
After spending weeks urging all Albertans to get an H1N1 vaccination, all vaccination clinics were suspended on October 31 due to low supply. On November 2, Minister Liepert wrote a opinion editorial in the Calgary Herald. The opinion editorial contained a number of factual errors, including claims that other provinces had yet to start implementing their vaccination plans. As of October 28, all ten provinces had begun the implementation of their vaccination programs.

Minister Liepert has described Alberta's H1N1 vaccination program a success, but in the process, he has blamed the shortage on low-risk Albertans who went to the clinics after being told for weeks that they needed to be vaccinated.
"The message has been consistent from Day 1. We have asked only the high-risk Albertans to attend the clinics. That has never changed." - Minister Liepert (October 31, 2009)
As Opposition Liberal leader David Swann and the editorial board of the Calgary Herald called on Liepert to resign, PC MLAs have begun rallying around Premier Stelmach in an attempt to downplay the effect that the H1N1 vaccination issue could have on his upcoming leadership review.

Four hundred thousand Albertans were vaccinated in one week, this is an impressive number, but it does not appear that Minister Liepert had approved any plan that was beyond 'first come, first serve.' After watching a recent video  interview with Minister Liepert, I cannot help but think that he just might be making it up as he goes along.

As Naheed Nenshi recently said on CBC Radio's Wildrose Forum, the problem is that Minister Liepert is reacting as if this were a political problem, rather than a public heath issue. Minister Liepert has allowed Chief Medical Officer Dr. Andre Corriveau to take the blame in the media, but the buck has to stop with the Minister. It was Minister Liepert's job to clearly communicate with Albertans and to show leadership in this situation. He has failed and should resign. If he does not resign, Premier Stelmach should fire him.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

smith v. board of education (part 4).

This post is the fourth and final of a multi-part series that was published over the past week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009, and Part 3 on October 30, 2009.

August 14, 1999: In a complaint to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, Calgary Board of Education (CBE) Trustee Peggy Anderson accused Judy Tilston of getting John Lovink to file a privacy complaint against her. She also publicly speculated that Tilston, Liz LoVecchio and Jennifer Pollock encouraged the filing of Lovink's complaint to embarrass Anderson and Danielle Smith. From the Calgary Herald:

Smith and Anderson have called for Tilston's resignation after it was learned that Tilston had leaked letters dealing with a different issue that resulted in a complaint to the privacy commissioner. Tilston had initially denied leaking the letters which resulted in a taxpayer-financed probe into the matter. The privacy commissioner said Tilston leaked the letters.

Commissioner Bob Clark is investigating a complaint by Lovink who had a $120,000 contract with the CBE for an 18-month period ending after last October's municipal election.

Calling Lovink a "$500-a-day spin doctor", Smith, a rookie trustee, earlier this year released Lovink's invoices and criticized veteran trustees for spending money to boost their image. Lovink said he provided "strategic communications" when the board was trying to get more money from the provincial government.

In Saturday's story Pollock denied encouraging Lovink to complain to the privacy commissioner but did say she had friends who asked her to encourage him but wouldn't identify the friends. LoVecchio and Tilston denied they had anything to do with Lovink's complaint. "I accept their word on that," said Anderson.
August 16, 1999: After being advised by Chair Teresa Woo-Paw that the CBE had become "completely dysfunctional" due to internal bickering, Learning Minister Lyle Oberg dismissed the CBE Trustees. Woo-Paw said in a statement that the decision represented "a failure of adults to act in an adult manner." Following the decision, LoVecchio told the Herald that "the atmosphere is so poisoned that I don't believe this board could work together." The CBE, which was responsible for 100,000 students, had accumulated a deficit of $55 million in 1999.

George Cornish, Calgary's chief commissioner under Mayor Ralph Klein, was appointed as interim trustee until the results of by-elections scheduled for November 29, 1999. Angus-Reid reported that 7 in 10 Calgarians agreed with the decision to dissolve the board.

August 22, 1999: Anderson and Smith declared their intentions to seek re-election in the by-elections.

August 24, 1999: From an Edmonton Journal column by Lorne Gunter:
Within minutes of Oberg announcing his intention to dismiss the seven elected trustees and replace them with one government- appointed trustee until byelections can held, a senior staffer in his office was on the telephone to Danielle Smith and Peggy Anderson, the board's two right-wingers, encouraging them to run again.

Oberg, the staffer explained, did not want to get rid of the pair, but his hands were tied. The School Act permits him only to fire all or none of the trustees. Oberg, it seems, wanted to purge the board's three avowed Liberals and weak chairwoman, and in order to discard the bath water had to dispose of the baby, too.
August 30, 1999: Declining to seek re-election, Smith accepted an editorial writer position with the Calgary Herald. Nishimura told the media that she "respected the way in which she [Smith] was able to tackle the tough issues."

September 14, 1999: Nishimura declared her intentions to seek re-election.

September 24, 1999: Herald columnist Don Martin wrote that Premier Klein's former Chief of Staff Rod Love was exploring the possibility of running against Tilston. Love's previous forays as a candidate included running unsuccessfully against Lee Richardson for the Calgary-Southeast Progressive Conservative nomination in 1988 and as the PC candidate in the Calgary-Buffalo by-election in 1992.

October 7, 1999: Pollock declared her intentions to not seek re-election.

November 1, 1999: At the nomination deadline, only three incumbent trustees filed papers to seek re-election: Woo-Paw, Nishimura, and Anderson. Love did not file papers to run in the by-election. 50 candidates filed nomination papers, a leap from 17 in 1998 and 27 in 1995.

November 29, 1999: Nishimura was the only incumbent Trustee re-elected. Woo-Paw was defeated by David Pickersgill and Anderson placed third in the race that saw Sharon Hester elected. Current CBE Trustees Gordon Dirks, a former Saskatchewan MLA and Cabinet Minister, and Pat Cochrane were first elected in these by-elections. Total voter turnout was 9.3%.

November 2, 2009: Where are they now?

Danielle Smith is the new leader of the Wildrose Alliance.
She has announced her intention to seek election in Calgary-North Hill in the next election.

Teresa Woo-Paw
was elected as the PC MLA for Calgary-Mackay in 2008. She currently serves as a member of the Private Bills Committee, the Public Accounts Committee and the Standing Committee on Public Safety and Services.

Jennifer Pollock is the nominated Liberal Party of Canada candidate in Calgary-West.
Pollock previously sought election against Conservative MP Rob Anders in 2006 and 2008. She garnered the most votes of any Liberal candidate in Alberta in the 2008 Canadian federal election.

David Heyman, the Herald reporter who wrote many of the articles covering the CBE in 1998 and 1999, is now the Calgary Communications Manager in the Office of the Premier of Alberta.

Bill Smith was narrowly defeated by Danielle Smith in the 1998 CBE election in Wards 6 & 7. Bill Smith is now a member of the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary and is the incoming President of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta.

This post is the fourth and final of a multi-part series that was be published over the past week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009, and Part 3 on October 30, 2009.

Monday, November 02, 2009

mla public disclosure statements should be available online.

In a media release this morning, the Office of the Ethics Commissioner announced that it has released updated copies public disclosure statements from MLAs. The statements are currently available to be viewed by the public at the Office of the Clerk of the Legislative Assembly on the 8th Floor of the Legislature Annex. Under the Conflicts of Interest Act, the Clerk may charge reproduction costs for providing copies of the statements.

These disclosures play an important role in determining the integrity of the decisions made by our elected officials. It would be a positive move for Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson, in his role as an independent Officer of the Legislative Assembly, to have these statements published on the internet to allow all Albertans to have access to them.

This kind of change would fit into a number of the categories discussed by participants at ChangeCamp Edmonton and I will be writing Commissioner Wilkinson with these recommendations.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

ron liepert sending mixed messages on h1n1.

I was hesitant to write about the Government of Alberta's organization of H1N1 vaccinations because I did not want to make light, or political, of an important public health issue. Tonight, after reading and listening to Health Minister Ron Liepert's mixed messages on the H1N1 vaccinations, I cannot help but think that he might just making it up as he goes along.

I suspect that a large part of the communications problem may be Minister Liepert himself. The man is a blunt instrument and his track record of irrational confrontation probably does not make him the best person to be the public face of the fight against H1N1. I would suggest that a gentler face, like Urban Affairs and Housing Minister Yvonne Fritz, a former nurse and veteran MLA, would probably make a better public face for the Government of Alberta's handling of H1N1. I was impressed with how Fritz's handled the H1N1-related questions she was asked in Question Period last week.

I want to have confidence that our government will be prepared to deal with the H1N1 situation if it becomes worse. I have confidence in the health care professionals who are implementing the vaccination plans, but Minister Liepert's mixed messaging is making me believe less so of our elected officials.

(ht to Chris Labossiere, who has also written about Alberta's H1N1 situation)