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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

iclei 2009 congress in edmonton.

On a similar topic as my post on Toronto Mayor David Miller's Tower Renewal presentation, you may be interested to discover that more than 740 delegates from around the world will be visiting Edmonton from June 14 to 18 for the 2009 ICLEI World Congress. ICLEI is an international association of over 1,078 local governments that have made a commitment to sustainable development. Alberta members include the Calgary, Edmonton, Didsbury, and Red Deer.

On June 16, Congress Delegates will have a chance to learn more about some of the innovative urban growth projects that the City of Edmonton is implementing, including the Local Motion/Eco-Mobility project in the community of Parkallen.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

rumble in strathcona: ryan hastman vs. rahim jaffer.

Ryan Hastman has launched a website and a facebook page in his bid to win the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in Edmonton-Strathcona. The riding is currently represented by NDP MP Linda Duncan, who defeated four-term Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer in the October 2008 Federal Election. Since his defeat, Jaffer has maintained a candidate-like website and has announced his intentions to seek the nomination.

Two of Hastman's notable facebook supporters include Calgary-North West MLA & Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett and Calgary-Bow MLA Alana DeLong.

UPDATE: Scott Abbey writes that Cathay Wagantall is also seeking the nomination. Wagantall is the President of the Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont Conservative Association and is MP Mike Lake's former Campaign Manager.

danielle smith strongly considering a wildrose alliance bid.

David Climenhaga was the first to write about it last week, and this week, Ontario blogger Stephen Taylor has posted a video interview with Danielle Smith where she suggests that her bid for the Wildrose Alliance leadership is very likely. Smith resigned from her position at Canadian Federation of Independent Business last Friday.

During the interview, Smith mentioned that a PC MLA had approached her to run as a PC candidate in a potential Fall 2009 by-election in Calgary. Over the past three months, a number of sources have indicated to me that Calgary-Glenmore PC MLA & Deputy Premier Ron Stevens may resign before the end of the year.

(h/t Dawn Walton)

bad timing award.

While last year's Unfortunate-timing in Alberta Politics Award undoubtedly went to then-Liberal leader Kevin Taft, for his unfortunate timing in announcing a policy to end natural gas rebates during a -40C winter spell, this year's winner is shaping up to be Premier Ed Stelmach.

Could you think of a worse time for an internal Health Department memo calling for a hiring freeze on doctors to be leaked?

(h/t to @journalistjeff for the video link)

Monday, April 27, 2009

small alberta magazine nominated for big award.

Congrats to the good folks at Alberta Views Magazine for the recent award nominations!

Small Alberta Magazine Nominated for Big Award
April 27, 2009

Calgary – Alberta Views is thrilled to be recognized by the National Magazine Awards Foundation with three 2008 nominations, among them the much-coveted Magazine of the Year Award. Two other magazines are nominated for the award – Spacing, a Toronto-based publication exploring public spaces, and Canadian Business, a weekly business affairs magazine.

Writer Chris Turner, of Geography of Hope renown, is shortlisted in the Best Essay category for his story about nuclear power, The Big Decision (October 2008). Raymond Biesinger is shortlisted for Best Spot Illustration for his artwork accompanying Alberta Views’ popular Numbers page.

“We’re proud to be an Alberta magazine,” said Evan Osenton, Alberta Views’ Associate Editor. “But our 2008 stories show that Alberta’s challenges are Canada’s—the oil sands, nuclear power, post-secondary education, public healthcare, support for the arts. We’re pleased to be able to contribute an Albertan voice to the national conversation.”

Former college educator Jackie Flanagan founded Alberta Views in 1997, initially publishing it in a room above her garage. The magazine has evolved from a quarterly to a monthly, and features the most interesting and original Alberta writers and artists. It is no longer published above a garage.

For inquiries please contact
Beth Ed
Circulation and Advertising Manager
403.243.5334 x 1

toronto mayor david miller talks tower renewal in edmonton.

This afternoon, I was lucky to attend a presentation by Toronto Mayor David Miller as part of the Sustainable Buildings Consortium’s Summit on Tower Renewal. Mayor Miller’s presentation focused on Toronto's Mayor’s Tower Renewal program currently being implemented in the City of Toronto.

Introduced by Deputy Mayor and Councillor Don Iveson, and attended by Councillors Jane Batty, Ed Gibbons, and Dave Thiele, Miller’s presentation focused on the challenges facing many of Toronto’s large apartment neighborhoods.

One of the most interesting points that Miller talked about during his presentation was the poor energy efficiency of many of the large concrete apartment blocks in Toronto. This lack of energy efficiency has contributed to an urgency to re-skin the apartment towers to prevent any further energy loss. I was also interested to learn about the community rejuvenation strategies that are being used to green the apartment neighbourhoods (including better use of green space and zoning commercial business space in dense residential communities). Other interesting points that Miller touched on included:

- Agenda for Prosperity - Toronto’s economic development strategy.
- Deep Lake Water Cooling - Reducing energy usage by piping water from Lake Ontario to cool downtown towers in the summer.
- Live Green Toronto - Innovative ways that Torontonians can individually contribute to the sustainability of their City.
- TTC Transit City Light Rail Plan - The construction of 120km of Light Rail Transit to link Toronto's apartment neighbourhoods to the mass transit system (part of the Ontario Government's recently announced $9 Billion investment in Public Transit).

While Toronto is facing different urban density challenges than Edmonton (Toronto currently has 2,047 concrete residential apartment tower blocks, whereas the majority of Edmonton's towers are commercial buildings), Miller's presentation provided a number of interesting strategies that other cities can learn from. Overall, Miller gave a very interesting presentation, and it was refreshing to learn that Canada's municipalities are leading the way when it comes to innovative growth and finding solutions for sustainability communities.

Friday, April 24, 2009

week in review: wildrose to northumberland clog dancing.

- Guards at Government House barred Official Opposition leader David Swann, NDP Leader Brian Mason, and Lethbridge-East MLA Bridget Pastoor from attending an announcement by Health Minister Ron Liepert this week. The Edmonton Journal's Trish Audette reports that Premier Ed Stelmach will be having a chat with Cabinet Ministers next week about that incident.

- David Climenhaga is speculating that Canadian Federation of Independent Business Director Danielle Smith could be the next leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Current leader and former MLA Paul Hinman has announced his intentions to leave the position in June.

- Aaron Braaten has written an insightful post on the recent AIMCo. investment in Precision Drilling.

- MLA Bridget Pastoor waded into the Edmonton City Centre Airport debate this week. While most of the debate to this point has depended on anecdotal evidence supporting the closing or continued operation of the airport, the City of Edmonton is expected to release a comprehensive report in June.

- Northumberland fact of the week: traditions include clog dancing.

edmonton arts writer missing.

From the Edmonton Journal:

EDMONTON — Friends and family of Gilbert Bouchard have organized a search for the Edmonton writer and broadcaster, who has been missing since Monday.

Bouchard is a freelance writer who covers visual arts and other cultural activities for the Edmonton Journal and is a frequent contributor to CBC Radio, among other media outlets. He was last seen at midnight on April 20 after leaving his south Edmonton home to go for a walk. No one has been able to contact him since.
If you have any information, please contact the Edmonton Police Service at 780-423-4567.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

honesty is the best policy.

After reading the ridiculous/hilarious comments by Tom Olsen (Premier Ed Stelmach's Press Spokesperson) in regards to the infamous Northumberland beach photos, I was dreading that I once again felt the need to write about the importance of our elected officials and their partisan employees being responsible and mature in how they communicate with citizens.

I didn't have much of a problem with the actual photo controversy. I can imagine that after sifting through thousands of photos, it wouldn't be difficult to make that kind of a mistake. My issue was with the immediate response that came from Premier Stelmach's spokesperson. Instead of using the honesty required to defuse what amounted to a non-issue, Olsen's response was to automatically attempt to spin the issue.

Earlier tonight, I was happy to witness a rare moment in Alberta politics. In a post written by David Sands on the Government of Alberta's $25 million re-branding blog, the Public Affairs Bureau admits to the photo screw up.

While neither the Government Blog writers or the Public Affairs Bureau are composed of the individuals Albertans have elected to fulfill the responsibilities of government (and to take responsibility for the actions that occur under their watch), it's important to recognize the significance of baby steps. As much as I enjoy the sport of lambasting the shady government communicators, I give kudos to the unelected officials in the Public Affair Bureau for taking responsibility where thier political masters did not.

Honesty is the most effective way to build trust, and both honesty and trust are something that we see too little of in our politics these days.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

name that albertan contest.

Along with their annual short story contest, Alberta Views Magazine is challenging Albertans to name as many of the people on the cover of their May issue as possible (see low-res to the left). The lucky Albertan who can name the most will win tickets to the summer festival of their choice (I'm betting on tickets to Sled Island 2009).

The May issue will helpfully include the annual the Festivals Guide - a list of all the festivals happening in Alberta - and will hit the newsstands on May 1st. The deadline for entering the contest is May 29th.

*In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn from the top entrants.

(Props to Beth Ed for the heads up on the contest!)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

all eyes on the opposition.

- On April 25, the Alberta Liberal Party will be holding its first Annual General Meeting since David Swann became leader in December 2008. After recently announcing the laying off of their two remaining party staff members, I've been informed that the Liberals financial situation stabilized in the short-term when a number of donors opened their pockets when the news became public.

With current President Grant Dunlop stepping down, I've heard that two three candidates, Calgary Liberal Tony Sansotta, former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy, and current Party Secretary Carrol Jaques [see: an email from Jaques to supporters] are intending to stand for the position. I've also heard that some members of the party executive are pushing time at the AGM to hold a discussion on changing the Liberal Party name.

- Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason was joined by Vancouver-East MP Libby Davies at that party's revitalization conference this weekend in Grande Prairie. While the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune reported only a dozen attendees, I was told by a conference attendee that there were nearly 30 attendees later in the afternoon (which still leaves the NDP with a lot of work to do).

The NDP haven't elected an MLA in the region for 25 years. Former NDP leader Grant Notley represented Spirit River-Fairview from 1971 to 1984, and Jim Gurnett was elected in a by-election following Notley's death in 1984 (Gurnett was later defeated by PC Glen Clegg in 1986). In 2008, NDP candidates Adele Boucher Rymhs and Nathan Macklin increased their party's support in Peace River and Dunvegan-Central Peace.

- Paul Hinman has announced that he will be stepping down as leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Hinman defeated PC MLA Broyce Jacobs to become the Alberta Alliance MLA for Cardston-Taber-Warner in 2004. Hinman was elected party leader in 2005 when Randy Thorsteinson stepped down. With the merger of the Alliance and Wildrose Party in 2008, he became leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Hinman was defeated in 2008 by Jacobs. According to Party President Jeff Callaway, members are also eyeing a name change.

- Meanwhile, the Alberta Greens may face de-registration by Elections Alberta for financial reasons...

Saturday, April 18, 2009

making it easier for albertans to read books.

On a weekly basis, elected official in Alberta provide a lot of material to write about, and because it's easy for politicians and politicos (and bloggers) to fall into a trap of constant negative criticism and partisanship, it's not hard to overlook positive changes and ideas that are contributed.

This week, a committee of three MLAs contributed to positive change when it recommended an increase in funding for public libraries for the first time in 20-years. While minuscule when compared to other government expenditures, the $9 million announced increase is an positive move and will increase current the budget for public libraries by 39%.

The MLA Committee on the Future of Public Library Service in Alberta, which included PC MLAs Jeff Johnson, Fred Horne, and Teresa Woo-Paw, made a number of positive recommendations in their final report that, if implemented, could strengthen public libraries in Alberta.

A strong public library system can play an integral role in creating healthy communities in Alberta.

rahim jaffer eyes a rematch with linda duncan.

Confirmed on last week's edition of CBC's The House, and today's Edmonton Journal, one of the worst kept secrets in Alberta politics is out of the bag - former MP Rahim Jaffer is gearing up for a third re-match with NDP MP Linda Duncan in Edmonton-Strathcona. After spending 12 years in Ottawa, Jaffer was the only Conservative candidate in Alberta to face defeat in the October 15, 2008 federal election. In a master plan drawn up by the authors of the now-defunct "Canadian Rebels" blog, it now appears that Jaffer's triumphant return to political-life has been in the works since early this year.

The Journal also reports that former Edmonton-Parkallen PC MLA Doug Main will be supporting Ryan Hastman for the Conservative nod in Edmonton-Strathcona. Hastman currently works for Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a Senior Special Assistant in Ottawa.

Since the October 2008 election, both the Conservatives and NDP have paid a lot of attention to Edmonton-Strathcona. The Conservative Party of Canada has used tax-payer funds to pummel Edmonton-Strathcona voters with pro-Conservative mail pamphlets, and a legion of NDP MPs have paid visits (including Jack Layton, Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and Dennis Bevington).

Friday, April 17, 2009

photo post: mckernan-belgravia and south campus lrt stations.

On April 25, 2009, the City of Edmonton will be opening two new stations on the south line of the LRT. I was lucky enough to join the contingent of Edmonton media touring of the new LRT stations this morning.

I've posted more photos on Flickr.

(A big thanks to Alex Abboud in Councillor Kim Krushell's office for arranging my media pass to the event)

mla jonathan denis provides an example of how twitter should not be used.

One of the most obvious strengths and weakness of social networks and micro-blogs like Twitter is the ability for users to communicate with a social network in live-time.

A month ago, Twitter became an issue of contention in the Alberta Legislature when Ken Kowalski imposed a blanket ban on the use of electronic devices by MLA on the floor of the Assembly during Question Period. Shortly after his decision, I penned a letter to Speaker Kowalski, asking him to keep an open mind when it came to the limitless potential for Internet and social media as tools to be used to re-connect Albertans with our democratic institutions (I still haven't received a response). While I agree that MLAs should spend their time paying attention in QP, rather than playing on the Internet, the potential uses of these online communities should not be underestimated.

Yesterday afternoon, during a debate in the Legislature, Calgary-Egmont PC MLA Jonathan Denis (@JonoMLA) provided his colleagues with a perfect example of how Twitter can be misused on the floor of the Assembly. During a debate, Denis posted a tweet Twitter criticizing a colleague in the Assembly (it's safe to assume that it was directed to NDP leader, and former bus driver, Brian Mason):

Recognizing the ridiculousness of his comment, I posted a response to Denis:
@JonoMLA And the Finance Minister is a retired nurse and piano teacher. What's your point?
Hours later, when checking to see whether the Calgary-Egmont MLA had replied, I discovered that his comment has been deleted from his Twitter page:

To be fair, I don't actually believe that Denis has anything against bus drivers. His hyper-partisan comment was likely a knee-jerk reaction to one of the all too common rhetoric-laden statements in the Assembly (it should also be noted that the first-term PC backbencher was only 13-years old when Mason was first elected to Edmonton City Council in 1989).

If used effectively, social networks like Twitter can serve as tools to help engage Albertans with their elected representatives and democratic institutions. Grande Prairie Alderman Bill Given (@BillGiven), MLAs Doug Griffiths (@GriffMLA) and Kent Hehr (@CalgaryBuffalo), and Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson (@DonIveson) provide Albertans with good examples of elected officials who have begun to use these tools for the purpose of positive citizen engagement.

While the deletion suggests that Jonathan Denis recognized that his comment was in poor taste, it becomes small mistakes like these that make it increasing difficult when trying to convince the vast sea of traditional old-school political thinkers of the important role that these online tools and social networks play in the 21st century. Our elected officials will need to exercise some common sense and maturity if they are serious about employing social networks like Twitter to create an atmosphere of positive engagement with citizens.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

live tweeting ward boundaries.

I'm sitting in Council Chambers live-tweeting the City Council meeting discussing the proposed new ward boundaries.

Follow the tweets here

story time: a tale of two ($2 billion dollar) funds [ccs and public transit in alberta].

Let us all take a magical journey down to a sunny day less than a year ago. July 28 to be exact.

The bright yellow sun filled Alberta’s big blue sky and everything was right. Construction cranes filled the skylines of our cities as our captains of free enterprise filled their Hummers and Beamers with premium gasoline before driving their merry way to Calgary’s International or Edmonton’s City Centre airport to fly their private jets to a Las Vegas vacation or to their Okanagan hideaway. While they may have lost countless nights of sleep to nightmares of Pierre Trudeau’s poltergeist, they were warmed with by the thoughts of Stephen Harper warmly embracing soon-to-be United States President John McCain. Liberals and Socialists complained, but oil was aplenty and times were good.

Even better were the expected resource revenue surpluses in Alberta, which predicted to be larger than expected. That glorious summer, Finance Minister Iris Evans predicted a surplus of $8.5 billion, based on a estimate of $119.25 per barrel of Oil. Trumpeting the wonderful news, a Government press release announced the creation of two new funds that would come from the significantly larger than expected surplus.

Our glorious leader, Premier Ed Stelmach, had decided in his growing benevolence that he would bestow upon Albertans two generous monetary funds. The large sums of money that would fill these funds would help fulfill the dreams of millions of citizens, and make Wild Rose Country a better place to live. Times were good and people were proud.

For those who held the energy industry dear, $2 billion was dedicated to the creation and development of Carbon Capture Storage technology. If developed, CCS technology would allow companies to capture C02 and pump it deep into the cavernous underground of our Earth before it could reach the atmosphere.

For Albertans who held our urban centers dear, a second $2 billion fund was created to support innovative public transportation to connect Albertans both in- and outside of our growing cities. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs boasted that this Green Trip Fund would ‘promote the use of local, regional and inter-city public transit and will support new public transit alternatives throughout the province, significantly reducing the number of vehicles on Alberta roads and reduce greenhouse gas emission.’ A noble cause indeed. Alberta was getting smart with its approach to urban growth, and was backing their approach with serious money.

Times were good.

But, less than one year later, the fate of these two sister funds could not be more different.

Times were bad.

Alberta's bright blue skies remained, but as the winter thaw began, there were less construction cranes on the horizon, a son of Pierre Trudeau had returned to haunt us, a bleak future predicted an extra ten to twenty minute drive for our captains of industry to reach their private jets, Barack Obama was President of the United States, and Megan McCain had signed a major book deal. And despite the tough economic times, Liberals and Socialists continued to complain.

The short trip down green public transit lane ended as unceremoniously and abruptly as a flock of duck landing in a tailing pond, when a much less jubilant Finance Minister Evans unveiled a $4.5 billion dollar deficit. Evans declared that “Just as you do in a family, you see that your revenues aren’t going to be there, then you reduce your spending, and you try to look at other ways to make the dollar stretch. That will definitely happen here in Alberta.” Accordingly, the $2 billion Green Trip Fund was cut down to a mere $10 million in 2009 and $520 million over the following three years, creating an uncertain future for public transit development in Alberta’s major cities. Alberta's growing cities were left far behind their counterparts across the land.

Yet, the billions for Carbon Capture Storage remained largely intact as $100 million were allocated for 2009 and the remaining $1.9 billion over the following years. Even as major companies such as Suncor, Syncrude, and ConocoPhillips withdrew their plans for to bid for Carbon Capture funding and critics warned of boondogglery ahead, Premier Stelmach pushed ahead with his Carbon Capture dream, convinced that the undeveloped and unproven technology was the key to greening the sandy shores of Alberta’s vast Energy Beach.

So strong was his belief in the unproven Carbon Capture dream, that Premier Stelmach was willing to go much further than simply abandoning his promise to fund a proven public transit strategy that would actually remove vehicles (and carbon) from the roads of Alberta's cities. He was willing to break his promise to never again to put Alberta into a deficit position.

As Premier Stelmach quietly removed the anti-deficit emblem that had adorned the lapel of his suit jacket for fifteen years, it became apparent that the anti-deficit legacy was just as dead as the legacy of the $2 billion Green Trip Fund.

As our magical journey comes to an end, it appears that the mere daydream of a warm breeze in an uncertain and unproven carbon captured future may have been all it took for the these two $2 billion funds to meet two very different ends.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

quote of the day.

"It's a calendar with an agenda"

- Lorna Rosen, General Manager, City of Edmonton Asset Management and Public Works responding to a "Stop the Tarsands" Calendar.

Monday, April 13, 2009

the delayed fixed-election date debate in alberta [am i detecting a trend?].

Tomorrow, in the City of Victoria, the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia will drop the Writ for their second fixed-date election. Introduced in 2001 by Premier Gordon Campbell's BC Liberals, British Columbia became the first Canadian Province to implement fixed-election dates, removing the power of the Premier to arbitrarily decide when elections are held.

In April 2008, St. Albert PC MLA Ken Allred introduced a Private Member's Bill, Bill 203: Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates), in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta that would have created fixed-election dates in our province. The Bill received very little public debate in the Legislature and was opposed by MLAs in the PC caucus, including Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills MLA Richard Marz, who argued to the media that fixed-election dates would allow public sector unions to strike in conjunction with elections.

In May 2008, Marz introduced a motion that "Bill 203, the Election Statutes (Fixed Election Dates) Amendment Act, 2008, be not now read a second time but that it be read a second time this day six months hence." Marz's motion was passed when 36 PC MLAs (including Allred) out-voted 5 opposition MLAs.

Five months later, while Premier Ed Stelmach opposed calls for fixed-election dates by then-Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson, there was no public debate in the Legislative Assembly on Allred's Bill 203.

Ten months later, as Gibson was dismissed from his position by a PC MLA-dominated committee, there was still no public debate in the Legislative Assembly on Allred's Bill 203.

A year later, as British Columbians head to the polls in their second fixed-date election (and second STV referendum) on May 12, 2009, Albertans will celebrate exactly one year since PC MLAs voted for a six month delay on the debate about fixed-election dates in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

smart blogging for ward 5.

After a year-long hiatus from the blogosphere, Edmonton City Councillor Don Iveson is once again posting on his blog.

Iveson can also be found on twitter at @doniveson.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

proposed electoral boundary changes in edmonton.

Edmonton's new Ward Map for the proposed twelve-ward/single-member ward system have been released and will be discussed at the April 15, 2009 City Council meeting.

More commentary coming soon. Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

alberta budget 2009: tough economic times.

These tough economic times have presented the Government of Alberta with a tougher fiscal reality from which to draw the 2009 provincial budget than what has become usual. Our new $25-million provincial slogan may be "Freedom to Create. Spirit to Achieve," but I felt there was little evidence of the new slogan in this status-quo budget. Some funding cuts, some funding increases, no substantial tax-cuts or increases (with the exception of increases in property-tax and alcohol tax...).

Tailor made to avoid attracting sensational headlines, Alberta's first deficit budget in 15-years included a deficit in creativity and achievement (if you exclude amending the Fiscal Responsibility Act to allow for deficits). While I don't believe this was an awful budget, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the current government does not have a serious long-term vision to guide Alberta through these tough economic times.

Here are some of my thoughts:

Diversification. In these tough economic times, government resource revenues have dropped from $12 billion in 2008 to $6 billion in this budget. As a province that has decades worth of dependence on collecting resource revenues, it shouldn't be a shock to anyone that we need to be smarter about how we plan and finance our government spending. Surprisingly, I actually believe that Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Iris Evans somewhat understand this (which is probably one of the reasons we aren't seeing across the board massive spending cuts in this budget). The Alberta Ingenuity Fund was a good start, but I would like to see the government focus on and put serious funds behind the development of new Research & Development and Innovation strategies in areas like renewable energy (if you're looking for ideas, check out the Pickens Plan).

Educate. Educate. Educate. Funding levels remain constant in post-secondary education, including the continuation of the promised 6% annual increase, which will continue to allow annual tuition increase to be indexed to CPI. One of the keys to finding our way out of tough economic times is education. As our unemployment rates rises due to slowing economic growth, one of the smartest moves our political leaders could make is to invest more in education. Since the beginning of the year, there are many un-skilled workers who have been laid off, and by giving them the resources to earn an education, whether it be in a skilled trade or University degree program, the province with be better off with a more skilled and educated workforce.

Carbon Capture & Storage (aka, the Environment). During her speech to the Legislature, Minister Evans compared the Government of Alberta to a family, who, when facing tough economic times, needs to tighten the household budget. If Evans' metaphor actually applies, I guess it includes a $2 billion fund for trips to the casino. This year, the PC government plans to gamble $100 million on Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) research, and $800 million over the next two years (and a remaining $1 billion over the next 12 years) on the technologically and economically unproven CCS. In recent statements to the media, both Stelmach and Energy Minister Mel Knight may have admitted that CCS would be more effective in capturing carbon from coal-burning power plants than capturing carbon from the oil sands. Other than promised future funds for CCS research, this budget does very little to address many of the larger environmental issues facing us in these tough economic times.

Public Transit. Will these tough economic times lead more Albertans to park their Dodge 4x4 (with a Hemi) and wait at the corner for the bus? The Green Trip Fund will distribute $10 million this year, and $520 million over the next three years into public transit initiatives. Investing in Alberta's urban centers, but this a far cry from the originally promised $2 billion fund. Paired with a decrease in the Municipal Sustainability Initiative (from $450 million in 2008 to $100 million in 2009), and it becomes increasingly apparent that serious investment in municipal development is needed to get municipal infrastructure in our cities where it needs to be.

Perspective on Economic Growth. Alberta's economy has depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for decades and has seen much worse economic times. After years of unsustainable growth, no one should be surprised that Alberta's economy has slowed down and now is facing a 1.8% contraction. With +$50 barrels of oil and 2% projected economic growth next year, Alberta is in a much better position than it was during previous economic recession. Let's please try to keep some historical perspective in mind when we're talking about these tough economic times.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

reading the budget.

Budget commentary coming soon. Until then, I will leave with the word cloud from Finance Minister Iris Evans' budget speech.

photo post: alberta budget 2009.

Finance Minister Iris Evans.

Official Opposition Liberal leader David Swann.

Edmonton-Strathcona NDP MLA Rachel Notley.

Wildrose Alliance leader Paul Hinman.

Lindsey Telfer from the Sierra Club and Mike Hudema from Greenpeace.

Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel.

Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett.

My favorite: Sustainable Resource Development Minister Ted Morton and fan Neil Waugh.

2009 alberta pre-budget playbook.

Alberta's 2009 Provincial Budget will be unveiled at 3pm today, but before you sit down to attentively soak up Finance & Enterprise Minister Iris Evans' every word, here's a short pre-budget playbook:

- How have Alberta's financial and economic prospects been, according to Premier Ed Stelmach? Good, really bad, not as bad as I told you 24 hours ago, rosy, depending on which month of the year it is.
- A report from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy (pdf) warns that the province could return to a 1980s Getty-style fiscal situation. According to the Calgary Herald, Premier Stelmach reportedly dismissed the report (which was written by two Government Finance and Economics experts) as "nonsense."
- Both the Liberal and NDP Opposition are tackling the budget from an outreach angle. The NDP launched a roundtable consultation months ago, and the Liberals recently launched a website where Albertans can suggest questions for the Official Opposition to ask during budget debates. It would be nice to hear some constructive criticism from the opposition on the budget, but prepare for some railing.
- On April 2, 2009, the Capital Region Board (comprising the municipalities in the Edmonton region) unveiled the Capital Region Growth Plan: Growing Forward. With this report, municipal leaders have taken an important step in guiding the future development of the Capital Region, but like any major development plan, it will need to be backed up with funding to become a reality.
- Iris' shoe collection. Alberta's Best Dressed Woman MLA will be shelving her expensive designer shoes (from last year's budget) in favour of something more modest.
UPDATE: Twitter is #FAILWHALE today, but if it gets fixed, you can follow #ableg for live tweets.
I will be in the Public Gallery for the Budget Speech, and after I make my way through the post-budget scrums, I will report back.

2009 mayor's celebration of the arts.

The turnout was excellent turnout at last night's Mayor's Celebration of the Arts at the Winspear Centre in downtown Edmonton. Hosted by the Professional Arts Coalition of Edmonton (PACE) and MC'd by CBCs Peter Brown and CTVs Carrie Doll, the 22nd annual event was an entertaining reminder to Edmonton's business and political elite that there is more to life than profits and balanced budgets (though we'll hear more about that soon). Notable political attendees included Mayor Stephen Mandel, Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett, Environment Minister Rob Renner, MLA Laurie Blakeman, and City Councillors Ben Henderson, Jane Batty, and Amarjeet Sohi.

The evening included performances by Jeremy Spurgeon, The Be Arthurs, The Raving Poets, Chris Craddock and Nathan Cuckow from Bash'd, Ann Vriend, John Cameron, the KO Dance Project, and Bomba!.

There were many nominees, but this years award winners were:

Mayor's Award for Innovative Support: CIBC
Mayor's Award for Sustained Support: SEE Magazine
John Poole Award for Promotion of the Arts: Ellis Brothers Photography
ATCO Gas Award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement: Tim Ryan
Molson Award for Innovative Artistic Direction: Shelley Switzer
Northlands Award for Emerging Artist: Kristy Trinier
Stantec Award for Youth Artist: Roydon Tse
Telus Courage to Innovate Award: Rising Sun Theatre
City of Edmonton Book Prize: Imagining Head-Smashed-In: Aboriginal Buffalo Hunting on the Northern
Jack W. Brink, Athabasca University Press

Like previous years, the final act (Bomba!) ended with a giant audience dance-off on stage, and while he may have tried his hardest, Mayor Mandel was clearly out-danced by Minister Blackett.

MORE: Mastermaq has a posted pictures and a review of the event.

Monday, April 06, 2009

alberta budget 2009: 15-year deficit special edition.

I was lucky enough to get a ticket to watch tomorrow's provincial budget announcement from the Public Members Gallery in the Alberta Legislature, and as previous years (2008, 2007, 2005), I will be reporting back with my thoughts, critiques, and analysis of the 2009 Alberta Budget soon after the announcement.

Also, in a pre-budget action, Greenpeace has buried $600 on the grounds of the Alberta Legislature to protest the $2 billion that the provincial government is spending on Carbon Capture Storage.


a test of the emergency trudeau alert system.

Lock up your daughters and seal the oil wells, Trudeau is coming to Alberta.

On April 26, Justin Trudeau, the Honourable Member for Papineau will be speaking at a fundraiser for delegates to the federal Liberal Convention in Vancouver.

Tonight (April 6), Michael Ignatieff will be speaking at a GRAND EVENING fundraiser in Calgary for the Michael Ignatieff Leadership Campaign (sic).

On April 14, Edmonton-Strathcona MP Linda Duncan will be hosting a Town Hall forum on Health Care with guest speakers David Eggen (Executive Director of the Friends of Medicare & former MLA for Edmonton-Calder) and Winnipeg-North MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

On Saturday, April 4, Matt Altheim announced his intention to run for the Conservative Party nomination in Edmonton-East. Current Edmonton-East MP Peter Goldring has spent 12 years in Ottawa since defeating Liberal MP Judy Bethel in 1997.

Friday, April 03, 2009

solidarity through intimidation?

'Tiny Perfect Alberta NDP' drew a lot of interesting discussion in the comment section, but the most revealing comment was posted by New Democratic Youth of Alberta Co-Chair and blogger Denny Holmwood:

This evening Lou Arab, former Chief of Staff at the NDP Caucus and husband of Rachel Notley sent me a Facebook message criticizing me for daring to critique the party here. He also messaged the party's table officers.

Apparently Lou does not feel that I should be expressing my opinion about the NDP. He asked the table officers to ask me to retract my posts, or for me to voluntarily do so.

It will be interesting to see if the table officers do in fact ask me to retract my comments, or take other actions against me. If they do, they will be proving the points that I was attempting to make earlier about voices of members being stifled.

I will keep you all posted. Sadly the state of democracy in the party may be worse than I initially thought.

UPDATE: I've frozen the comment feature on this section, please click here to read my explanation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

mla laurie blakeman on alberta liberal staff layoffs.

Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman answered questions this morning about the recent decision to lay-off the entire staff at the Alberta Liberal Party:

This morning's media conference held to launch the Official Opposition's website, which asks Albertans to submit questions for Opposition Liberal MLAs to use during the budget debates in the Legislature.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

alberta liberal party laying off remaining staff.

Because of financial reasons, the Alberta Liberal Party has delivered layoff notices for April 30 to its two remaining staff members.

The ALP and all of its 83 Constituency Associations have registered their 2008 financial returns with Elections Alberta.

(This is not an April Fools Day joke)

tiny perfect alberta ndp.

MLAs Brian Mason and Rachel Notley don’t have a hard time getting media attention during legislative sessions, however, one of the biggest challenges facing the Alberta NDP is to become electorally relevant outside of Alberta's capital city (it has been twenty-years since the NDP elected an MLA outside of Edmonton).

In 2008, the NDP broke 20% support in only six Alberta constituencies (Peace River and Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview, Calder, Highlands-Norwood, Manning, and Strathcona) and earned 34,339 of their total 80,578 (or 8.2%) province-wide votes in Edmonton's 17 constituencies. With the defeats of former leader Ray Martin and superstar MLA David Eggen (Eggen is now the Executive Director of the Friends of Medicare), the NDP dropped from 4 to 2 MLAs in the Legislature.

Last year's election was a disappointment for all of Alberta's opposition parties, but the third-place NDP have been busy in the year since. While I wouldn’t yet predict an NDP breakthrough in the next election (and by 'breakthrough,' I mean a handful of seats), they have been increasing their outreach by holding a number of regional ‘revitalization conferences’ showcasing speakers Matt Hebb (Nova Scotia NDP campaign manager), Libby Davies (MP for Vancouver-East), and Doug O'Halloran (union boss). The NDP are also reaching out to communities of new Canadians, including Edmonton's decently-sized Somali Community. This may not result in immediate electoral gains, but it will likely boost morale among members and local constituency associations. The spill over effect could also help the federal NDP boost their voter support in the next election to take advantage of the per-vote public funding program.

Mason has declared his intentions to lead the NDP into the next election, which will be his third as leader. Will Mason face a leadership challenge? I have been aware of a growing frustration among some NDP members over the control that a small number of individuals hold over the party's infrastructure and decision-making process. The fight against the internal status-quo went public when young NDP activist Anand Sharma solidified his position in the inner circle by defeating incumbent Steve Bradshaw for the NDP Presidency in 2008.

Another source of continuing tension within the NDP exists between the environmentalist camp (who want to shut down the tar sands and stop the development of nuclear power plants) and Union camp (whose membership depend on the energy sector for employment). Denise Ogonoski left from her job in Notley's Edmonton-Strathcona office in 2008 after taking part in a Greenpeace action at a fundraiser for Premier Ed Stelmach. During that year's convention, delegates from Peace River proposed an anti-Nuclear Power policy, which according to an NDP insider, was widely expected to face opposition from the newly NDP-affiliated IBEW Local 424. The policy was adopted, but as an affiliate member, the IBEW Local 424 exerts sizable financial leverage over the party (affiliate member-Unions donate 15-cents per member per-month to the NDP). Though a major showdown has been avoided, it does have potential to create tension in the future.

While I fail to see a strategic advantage for the actual Union members, the addition of new affiliate Unions (including the IBEW 424 and UFCW 401) gives the NDP a more secure monetary stream than their Liberal Party counterparts. The NDP now have eight party staff members, numbers not seen since the party formed official opposition in the 1980s.

As the Alberta NDP improve their financial and organizational capacities, the global collapse of capitalism could give the left-wing party a perfect opportunity to electorally capitalize on the economic situation. Whether they achieve this will largely depend on if they can successfully give Albertans a compelling reason to trust them with responsibility during the economic downturn.