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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

smith v. board of education (part 3).

This post is the third of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

June 22, 1999: After being forced to leave a meeting due to conflict of interest, it was decided that Liz LoVecchio, Jennifer Pollock and Judy Tilston needed to submit their legal bills to an arbitrator before they could have them paid by the Calgary Board of Education (CBE). The motion was passed unanimously by the four remaining trustees. The question for the arbitrator was whether the trustees acted as members of the board or as individuals when controversial letters written by a school board candidate were given to a reporter during last year's election campaign. If they acted as a board, their legal fees would be covered by the CBE, but if they acted as individuals, the CBE would not cover the cost.

While leaving the meeting, Pollock declared it to be a "travesty of fairness" because "the administration and CBE Chair [Teresa Woo-Paw] would not provide legal support on an action that was taken on behalf of this board and known by the chief superintendent." Smith said the CBE had already received a $12,300 legal bill from its own lawyer for the inquiry and wouldn't name a trustee who also submitted an $18,000 legal bill.

July 15, 1999: Despite calls for her resignation, Tilston declared that "couldn't care less" about the demands for her resignation by Danielle Smith and Peggy Anderson. Tilston told the Calgary Herald that she had been wrongly blamed for breaching provincial privacy laws by ordering former CBE trustee candidate Andrew Koeppen letters released to the media.

The matter was then investigated by Alberta's Privacy Commissioner. A hearing was scheduled for later that year to determine if the letters contained personal information. If so, Tilston and other trustees could have been liable for a fine up to $10,000, and a lawsuit.

July 29, 1999: After being told by CBE administrators that it would be too expensive to host on the CBE's official site, Anderson and Smith launched their own website to publish board reports, discussion papers and agendas. The two trustees drew the ire of their colleagues after not informing them of their decision to launch the website.

August 8, 1999: A collection of notes are discovered in a CBE trash bin and are published by the Alberta Report, the Herald, and the National Post:

- One of the notes is addressed to "Lizard," and another writes Ms. Tilston's name five times, as if someone was practising writing it.
- One note refers to Ms. Woo-Paw as a despot, and a second one says "TWP absolutely nauseates me."
- Another note accuses "DS"-- an apparent reference to Ms. Smith -- of having "crappy hair," while a fourth note has the authors conspiring to recruit people to oppose Ms. Smith politically. "I have to find a constituent to write a formal letter of complaint," the short missive says. "Any ideas?"
- A note in response includes the names of two potential complainants, each of whom "lives in DS's ward." But the note says the pair may be too high-profile, and so it may be better to recruit "someone more obscure."
- Saying "I've decided to apply for aides for DS and PA, as they appear to be slow learners."
- Questioning whether Ms. Anderson is wearing a "mood ring," and is "more distant and pissed-off than usual."
- Describing Ms. Pollock as looking like she has "stitches or a scar" on her face.
- Asking where "the FCD (an apparent reference to Ms. Woo-Paw) got her suit -- it sure is ugly!"
- Saying "the FCD is being decidedly pissy this evening, as is her sidekick."
- Asking "what's trustee-half-a- brain is doing?"
Woo-Paw reminded trustees to abide by their code of conduct, which prohibited malicious behaviour. Smith told the Herald that she had seen the notes and believed the hand-writing was Tilston's and LoVecchio's. "Judy and Liz pass notes back and forth all the time" at board meetings. It's a shame people are so petty when there is such important work to be done on the school board."

August 9, 1999: Reported in the Herald:
The Calgary Board of Education voted Monday to punish two members who've been writing nasty notes about their colleagues at public meetings.
But only one of the two has admitted responsibility, and neither has apologized to her colleagues, board chairwoman Teresa Woo-Paw said after the board met privately.
Woo-Paw said her colleagues voted to have her write letters of reprimand later this week to the trustees, telling them their behaviour breached the board's code of ethics.
Although Woo-Paw refused to name the two trustees, one acknowledged her role last week.
"The only way somebody could've got hold of these (notes) was either they ruffled through garbage and pieced them back together, or they stole them from me," Liz LoVecchio said.
All the notes are in two handwriting styles that some board members have said match LoVecchio's and trustee Judy Tilston's. Tilston has refused to comment.
This post is the third of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009, and Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

it's about the power grid: my thoughts on bill 50.

It is not difficult to understand why Bill 50: the Electric Statutes Amendment Act, 2009 has become a lightning rod for opposition to the governing Progressive Conservatives. The origins of the unease over Bill 50 can be traced all the way back to deregulation and the sale of TransAlta’s power lines, which led to the creation of AltaLink in 2002, but more recent politics have played a large role in the toxicity of the debate.

Transmission line towers and high tension lines that carry current generated at TVA's Wilson Dam hydroelectric plant, near Sheffield, Ala. (LOC)Towers Of Power
In June 2007, it was uncovered that a private investigator hired by the now dissolved Alberta Energy Utilities Board had posed as a landowner in order to participate in conference calls of groups opposed to major power-line projects and their lawyers. Premier Ed Stelmach defended the hiring of the private investigator, "Whether real or not, there was some people to insure there wasn’t any harm done to the members of the AEUB." In the same month, Edmonton-Calder NDP MLA David Eggen was barred from public hearings on the power lines. In Spring 2009, opposition to Bill 50s sister act, Bill 19: The Land Assembly Area Project Act, created a political stir that had not been seen in rural Alberta in recent memory.

The Lavesta Area Group, led by landowner Joe Anglin, have been the public face of opposition against transmission expansion, and they have been joined in their public opposition to Bill 50 by by Enmax, the Liberal Official Opposition, the NDP Opposition, anti-nuclear advocates from the Peace Country, and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier.

There are legitimate concerns about the construction of new power lines, but I have been less than convinced by many of the arguments raised by the opponents of Bill 50. For example, arguing that upgrades are simply a cash grab by the large energy companies on the back of the ratepayer appears to be an argument with political traction, but it doesn't address the more important debate behind the Bill 50:
'Corporate greed versus the ratepayer is not the discussion Albertans should be having...  they should be discussing whether the powers granted to the provincial government in Bill 50 are the most responsible manner in which to proceed with essential investments in our transmission infrastructure.'
In June 2009, the Alberta Electric Systems Operator (AESO) released their Long-term Transmission System Plan and recommended that an estimated $14.5 billion be invested in necessary upgrades to our provincial transmission system’s capacity. This includes the construction of new high-capacity power lines between Edmonton and Calgary, and connections to Fort McMurray and the Industrial Heartland (in parts of Sturgeon, Strathcona, and Lamont counties). The plan also recommends new transmission development in southern Alberta to integrate wind energy.

A number of opponents to Bill 50 have pointed out that power demands have dropped in Alberta. While electricity demands from certain sectors may have lowered during the recession, it would be irresponsible not to ensure that the grid will have the capacity to handle an increase when our economy starts growing again (for example, future projects such as the three proposed bitumen upgraders in Sturgeon County).

When reading Bill 50, I discovered that the amendments do not remove consultation procedures, but only provide the option to bypass the needs hearing and move directly to the second hearing where the exact placement of the power lines is determined.
41.1(1)  The Lieutenant Governor in Council may designate as critical transmission infrastructure a proposed transmission facility if it is contained in a plan that is prepared by the Independent System Operator pursuant to this Act or the regulations...
Bill 50 would give the provincial Cabinet more control over which power lines are built and when, and the Alberta Utilities Commission would retain control over where they are built. It is up to Albertans to hold their elected officials responsible for the decisions they make daily, including those decisions related to the future of our power grid.

It has been twenty-years since Alberta's power grid has had large-scale upgrades and as demand on the grid has increased by the equivalent of a city twice the size of Red Deer every year since 2001, the likelihood of running over-capacity has become closer to a reality. Over $200 million worth of electricity (the equivalent of power for 350,000 homes) was lost in 2008 through 'line-loss' that occurred when power lines were forced to transmit excessive levels of electricity. Upgrades are necessary and all Albertans will benefit from investing into a secure, effective, and safe power grid.

I can understand why some landowners do not want power lines constructed near or through their property. Joe Anglin and the Lavesta Area Group have been extremely effective at agitating their way into the media spotlight, but how long can Albertans reasonably allow localized pockets of NIMBYism stand in the way of essential investments in our electric transmission infrastructure?

In the immortal words of Mr. Spock, perhaps this is a case where "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one."

smith v. board of education (part 2).

This post is the second of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

December 22, 1998: Peggy Anderson and Danielle Smith publicly called on the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to drop its legal challenge to regain the right to tax collection. "I'm not sure that the power to tax should rest with the local boards," Anderson said. "I'm not very excited about spending my time trying to bully the province into giving us more money." The two trustees opposed the CBE decision to spend up to $100,000 arguing the board's right to collect taxes before the Supreme Court. Liz LoVecchio defended the legal challenge and compared the 1994 government amendments to the School Act to "constitutional change by stealth."

January 8, 1999: Smith introduced a motion to achieve 100% utilization in CBE schools by June, 2002. Officials had estimated that moving to an 85% utilization rate would require closing up to 30 schools. Smith told the Herald: "I am not doing this to be alarming, I want clarity, and communities deserve clarity." The motion was rejected in a 5-2 vote on January 12.

January 10, 1999: CBE superintendent of finances Don Dart informed trustees that "the chances are not good the board can have a balanced budget and meet contract demands" of employees without an increase in provincial funding. The public board has run a $34.6-million deficit in the previous fiscal year due largely to an early retirement deal that encouraged 465 senior teachers to leave. Smith objected to the board spending $6,000 to pay for newspaper ads advertising the meetings. Teresa Woo-Paw disagreed, saying newspaper ads are the best way to get the word out.

January 12, 1999: CBE trustees unanimously passed a motion introduced by LoVecchio that expressed alarm at the number of elementary schools who had stopped French instruction. LoVecchio and several other trustees argued the CBE had a duty to offer French language instruction. Smith said she was not sure parents want French forced on them at the exclusion of other options, such as music and art. Smith told the Herald:

"This is a cost issue. Feasibly, French can't be offered at every school and I don't think that parents want that, either."
January 26, 1999: Reported by the Herald:
Trustee Jennifer Pollock accused trustee Danielle Smith of deliberately leaving the boardroom before a vote, saying it was the second time such a thing had happened.
Pollock even briefly blocked Smith's path out and whispered a warning to her not to leave.
"I said `don't be unaccountable and leave the boardroom,' " Pollock said afterward.
Smith said she simply saw someone in the hallway she wanted to talk to.
"I got back in for the vote and that's the bottom line, isn't it?" she said later.
During Smith's absence of about five to 10 minutes, Pollock was livid.
"I personally find offence with trustees who choose to leave the room" before a vote, she said.
January 28, 1999: Following the January 26 confrontation between Pollock and Smith, CBE Chair Woo-Paw suggested that trustees "need to review how we work together from time to time."

March 10, 1999: Nominated by Smith, Lynn Nishimura was elected vice-chairwoman over Pollock in a 4-3 vote. LoVecchio had resigned as vice-chair after claiming that Woo-Paw had shut her out of important decisions.

April 13, 1999: Smith publicly states that the CBE needs to take action to plug leaks to the media.

May 9, 1999: In a letter to Premier Ralph Klein, Calgary businessman and Liberal organizer Donn Lovett accused Anderson and Smith of skipping three school board meetings in a row. Lovett's letter argued that the School Act provided for removal of anyone who misses three consecutive regular meetings. Anderson and Smith sought legal advice and Smith fired back:
"The allegation is that I'm breaking the law. I'm not breaking the law."
Smith and Anderson told the Herald that they suspected Pollock, LoVecchio and former chair Judy Tilston convinced Lovett to send the letter.

May 22, 1999: The CBE unveiled a plan to close 565 classrooms as part of its budget trimming. With the lights switched off and heat turned down, $1.5 million would be trimmed from the maintenance budget. The total maintenance budget was cut by $2.5 million.

June 14, 1999: A National Post editorial:
Political irregularities may be acceptable -- that is for the voter to decide. But financial irregularities are less easily excused. And the inquiries by Ms. [Peggy Anderson] and Ms. [Danielle Smith] revealed excesses that would make Livent blush. They found dozens of questionable expenses; one trustee had racked up $4,500 in cell- phone bills in one school year. That's tough to do -- being a trustee is a part-time job with an office and phone included. More than $25,000 was spent on travel -- on top of trustees' car allowances. Office expenses for the seven were grossly over budget. A $104,000 legal opinion on the "rights of parents" had been commissioned.

This post is the second of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 1 was posted on October 26, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

setting the tone.

It only took two days into the fall session before the offensive hyperbole started to fly and the rotten culture inside Alberta's Legislative Assembly is now out in full force. Sixth Grade students visiting the Assembly may easily mistake the men in dark suits as grown ups, but that description is harder to believe when you hear some of the words coming out of their mouths.

Health Minister Ron Liepert has mocked Edmonton-Strathcona MLA Rachel Notley, claiming that she doesn't understand the health care system. Premier Ed Stelmach has referred to the Liberal caucus as "these people" and even ridiculed the attendance at Liberal Party conventions. 

This afternoon, following a question from Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood NDP MLA Brian Mason about H1N1 vaccinations, Stelmach responded:

"I'll take the word of this nurse [Minister Yvonne Fritz] over the word of a bus driver any day"
On April 30, 2009, Stelmach took issue with comments by Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and wrote a letter to Liberal leader David Swann, calling for "civil debate in the Assembly." Stelmach may have apologized for his comments this afternoon, but that doesn't excuse the negative tone that the the Premier has already helped set on the floor of our elected Assembly.

Monday, October 26, 2009

reboot alberta.

As the Second Session of the Twenty-Seventh Legislature re-convenes in Edmonton, I am finding it increasingly difficult to get excited about the kind of debates that we have become accustomed to witnessing on the floor of our elected assembly. With only 13 opposition MLAs in the Assembly, much of Hansard have unfortunately become an endless echo chamber for the chorus of backbench PC MLAs either reading pre-scripted soft-ball talking points or attempting to gain points with their political masters through flattery. Of course there are exceptions, but they remain far and few.

The debate outside the Legislature is a very different story. Over the past year, I have met an increasing number of engaged citizens who are intent on carving a new direction for our city and province outside the realm of traditional partisan politics. Evolving across the province - ChangeCamp Edmonton, CivicCamp Calgary, and even out at lunch - I have witnessed engaged citizens congregating to flesh out the next big out-of-the-box ideas to drive Alberta into the future.

I am particularly interested in attending the upcoming Reboot Alberta meeting to be held in Red Deer from November 27 to 29. Organized by Don Sherman, Michael Brechtel, former Cabinet Minister David King, and increasingly disengaged PC member Ken Chapman, the weekend event is billed as an opportunity for progressive-minded Albertans to work together to develop a vision for our province, and start to explore how to bring that vision to life (which is key).

Last week, Ken and I met for coffee and had a great discussion about the potential for re-visioning citizenship in Alberta and how to re-engage individual Albertans to participate in the way they are governed. Ken successfully pitched the concept of Reboot Alberta to me and I am excited about the opportunity that this meeting presents. While I am not convinced that a new political party should develop from this meeting (nor is it the ultimate solution to re-engaging Albertans), the leadership vacuum that our province is feeling presents an opportunity for change that Albertans haven't seen in a long time. 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.

If you would like more information about Reboot Alberta, please email Ken at

smith v. board of education (part 1)

This post is the first of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

Since the selection of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Alliance, a number of readers have suggested that I take a closer look at her time as a Trustee with the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) from 1998 to 1999. Not completely knowing what I would discover as I dug through the ProQuest archives, I uncovered what I consider to be a collection some of the most bizarre shenanigans that I have ever seen from Canadian elected officials. My sources largely included articles published by the Calgary Herald and the National Post.

In the first of a multi-part series that will be posted over the next week, here is a summary of what I found:

October 19, 1998: The face of the long-time Liberal-dominated CBE was changed with the election of two new conservative trustees. Elected on the joint platform “Campaign to Make Public Education Work,” Peggy Anderson and Danielle Smith advocated for fiscal prudence and more parent choice, including Charter schools. Both had strong ties to the Reform Party as Anderson was a constituency assistant to Calgary-Southeast Reform MP Jason Kenney and Preston Manning; and Smith, then 27-years old, had interned with the Fraser Institute and was the Executive Director of the Canadian Property Rights Institute (pdf).

Other trustees elected that year included liberals Jennifer Pollock, Judy Tilston, and Liz LoVecchio, and moderates Teresa Woo-Paw, and Lynn Nishimura. In their previous terms, incumbents Tilston and Pollock had publicly clashed with provincial government over school board autonomy and funding.

October 20, 1998: Following the election, a Herald editorial described the CBE as:

‘...a board coping with financial woes, ongoing feuding with the province, the allocation and utilization of scarce resources, the pressure from parents to provide more alternatives under the umbrella of the public system and the need to raise standards and improve the quality of education.

The Calgary public school board's new roster of trustees has a wonderful opportunity before it to set an example for the community at large by demonstrating an open-mindedness to look for alternative solutions while fostering an atmosphere of mutual respect and collegiality.’
October 27, 1998: Woo-Paw was selected as chair and LoVecchio as vice-chair. Former chair Tilston declined re-nomination. Smith told the Calgary Herald that:
"I look forward to a year of thorough debate . . . within a diversity of opinion."
December 4, 1998: Due to budget and resource pressures, Tilston suggested sharing space with Calgary’s Catholic Schools. Smith supported the idea of sharing space with community groups, but told the Herald that she though that "the Catholic board has some legitimate concerns," about "moral decisions" made by the public CBE.

December 6, 1998: Smith proposed the closure of up to 30 schools due to excess space in older, inner-city classrooms. Smith suggested that the money earned from selling or leasing older schools could be used to build new schools and stem the exodus of public school students to Catholic, private, charter and home schooling. Contradicting Smith, LoVecchio told the Herald that she didn't "know where she's getting her numbers," explaining that when a CBE facility is leased to a non-profit group or private school, the Department of Education excludes those students from the board's utilization rate.

December 7, 1998: Calgary Herald editorial:
'Trustee Danielle Smith's contention that the CBE will close schools and then lease the buildings is also fatally flawed. Even if such buildings are rented to day cares, private schools or other users, Alberta Education still applies the space against the CBE balance sheet, but not the students. Previous decisions to lease old schools instead of sell them has simply exacerbated the CBE's poor utilization rate.

No matter how hard trustees try to wiggle around it, there's only one solution -- some schools must close.'
This post is the first of a multi-part series that will be published over the next week. Part 2 was posted on October 28, 2009Part 3 was posted on October 30, 2009, and Part 4 was posted on November 3, 2009.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

authors worth reading: a recap of litfest 2009.

This weekend, Canada’s only creative non-fiction festival, LitFest: Edmonton International Literary Festival, was held in Edmonton. Over the past year, I have had the great opportunity of working with a group of talented local writers in organizing this festival as a member of the Litfest Programming Committee. This year's festival was dedicated to the memory of local writer, editor and connoisseur Gordon Morash. As a fellow Programming Committee member, Gordon and I talked books and politics on our many LRT rides from the University to the downtown Litfest meetings. His passion on the committee was reflected in the success of this festival.

Here is a recap of some the Litfest events that I attended this weekend:

Thursday: At CBC Centre Stage, Edmonton writer Myrna Kostash discussed her new book, The Frog Lake Reader, which offers some new objective perspective on the tragic events surrounding the Frog Lake Massacre of 1885 (you can listen to Kostash describe her book on mp3).

Friday: Dr. Gabor Mate, author of many books, including In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction, spoke to a sold out crowd at Zeilder Hall at the Citadel Theatre. I showed up late and unfortunately wasn't able to hear Dr. Mate's talk due to the sold out hall. I have heard that it was an excellent talk and I look forward to see him speak in the future.

Saturday: Paul Tough, editor at the New York Times Magazine, spoke a couple of times throughout the festival about the challenges facing Americans in education, poverty and politics (and the Harlem Children's Zone), and his role as a writer. Tough joined Erika Ritter on Saturday afternoon in a Writer Jam session, where they both gave some excellent and very valuable insight into their experiences as non-fiction writers. I found his perspective, especially on the challenges of staying creative while researching drier subjects, to be particularly astute. I purchased a copy of his book, Whatever it Takes: Geoffrey Canada's Quest to Change Harlem and America, and plan to read it over the next month (and to write about it when I finish it).

Did you know that Shock Troops: Canadians Fighting the Great War is the only two-volume history collection documenting Canada's involvement in the First World War? As a historian at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, author Tim Cook has spent years pouring over personal letters, reports, and descriptions from the Great War, and it shows. During his talks this weekend, Cook succeeded in painting an subtle image that went far beyond what we were taught about in Social Studies class by presenting the personal stories of the real men who fought for King and Country in the trenches of Europe between 1914 and 1918. While being conscious not to downplay their efforts, Cook did talk briefly about Canada's role in Afghanistan and especially the need to keep in perspective that, while our contribution to the ISAF mission is nearing 3,000 soldiers, a far larger number - over 600,000 Canadians - served in World War I. Shock Troops was awarded the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction: Winner 2009 (watch the YouTube video below).

Sunday: I was privileged to host a session Sunday afternoon that included two authors: John Geiger and Russell Wangersky. Both are accomplished Canadian writers and are also notables in the world of newspapers (Geiger, who was raised in Edmonton and St. Albert, is the Editorial Editor for the Globe & Mail and Wangersky is the comentary editor at the St. John's Telegram).

Wengersky discussed his latest book, Burning Down the House, which tells the story of his eight-year career as a volunteer firefighter. He powerfully described the narcotic appeal that the intensity of firefighting grabs individuals - the sound, smell, heat, and emotion - and how the weight of unknown factors can tear down even the strongest and most experience firefighter. Geiger discussed his latest book, The Third Man, which tackles the belief by some people that an unknown presence has helped guide them to safety in extreme circumstances. Geiger recounted many 'third man' accounts, including the remarkable story of Canadian Ron DiFrancesco, who when trapped on the eighty-fourth floor of the south tower of the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001, believes that he was guided to safety through a burning stairwell by an unknown force. I purchased a copy of Geiger's book and plan to write about it when I finish reading it.

Litfest 2009 was an excellent experience. Similar to last year, I was able to spend hours listening to and talking with passionate Canadian readers and writers, and ended the weekend with a little less space on my bookshelf.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

new liberal ad: don't vote for fiscal conservatives.

Via Capital Notebook comes news that the Alberta Liberal Caucus has released a new political ad-style YouTube video trying to tie Premier Ed Stelmach and Danielle Smith to Ronald Reagan, Brian Mulroney, George W. Bush, Don Getty, and Stephen Harper.

Communications Director Neil Mackie described the motivation behind this video:
"Conservatives in this province get a free pass on being fiscally responsible. They don't have to do it. This is an attempt to address that misperception."
I've long been an advocate of Alberta's opposition parties becoming more creative with their message delivery, but I'm not sure what to think about this video. First, round numbers are nice, but it is a little disingenuous to round up Alberta's projected deficit from $6.9 billion to $10 billion. Second, beyond 'the ominous music means that these fiscal conservatives are bad people,' I'm really not clear what the message is supposed to be (I'm sure it won't take long for someone to create a video showcasing David Swann with Liberal Prime Ministers and Premiers who have run deficits).

It will probably generate the media, blog, twitter, and water cooler chatter that it was produced to create, but unless there are sequels, I'm unsure of what the objective of this video is.

(h/t Trish Audette)

Monday, October 19, 2009

a wake up call for alberta's political establishment.

As the new leader of the Wildrose Alliance, I believe that Danielle Smith could be a game-changer in Alberta politics. Why should you care if you're not a conservative? The potential of an insurgence by an non-traditional opposition party should be a wake up call to the other two opposition parties in the Alberta Legislature: the Liberals and NDP.

Danielle SmithElections Alberta investigating Liberals' complaint against Hinman
(Photo of Paul Hinman by K-Ideas)
Hope for the Liberals and NDP?

I know many self-described centrist, centre-left, independent, and progressive-minded Albertans who are engaged in their communities, but see little value in joining and contributing to these two parties. Both the Liberals and NDP have had challenges in growing their ranks since peaking both electorally and in support in the 1980s (for the NDP) and 1990s (for the Liberals). After attending the most recent Liberal and NDP conventions, I am convinced that both parties are stuck in neutral and have become too comfortable in their default positions as Alberta's legislative opposition.

The recent by-election in Calgary-Glenmore was an important electoral test for the Liberals. With an experienced candidate and campaign team, a leader from Calgary, and their not so distant by-election victory Calgary-Elbow, the Liberals should have won in Calgary-Glenmore. Liberal support held steady on election day, but their opportunity was usurped by Paul Hinman, whose insurgent campaign saw Wildrose Alliance support quadruple since the 2008 election. The NDP candidate barely registered with 148 votes.

Following the 2008 provincial election, the Democratic Renewal Project has promoted the merger of the Liberals and NDP in an effort to defeat the governing Progressive Conservatives. While I don't believe that their proposal is viable or will lead to the solution they desire, I do think that they are on to something far more valuable than the current parties are offering Albertans: Out of the box thinking.

Where do the Greens go?

With the disappearance of the Alberta Greens, where will the 43,563 Albertans who marked an X beside a Green candidate put their votes in the next election? Many people incorrectly label the Alberta Greens as a left-wing fringe party, but much of their strongest support comes from traditionally conservative areas in central Alberta and Calgary. With no Greens on the ballot in the next election, the party that exerts itself as a non-traditional alternative to the PCs may benefit from much of their support.

What about the PCs?

It would be foolish to underestimate the role that the element of 'power' plays in attracting people to our province's natural governing party, the Progressive Conservatives. There are many reasons why citizens gravitate to political parties, but much like past carnations of the Liberal Party of Canada, a large factor is the desirability of being on the winning side.

Elections in Alberta have become less about which is the best to slate of candidates to govern our province, and more about whether or not to renew the mandate of the natural governing party (which leads me to believe that it may be more effective to have a 'none of the above' choice on the ballot). Given near unlimited financial and organization resources, and facing minimal opposition, you don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand how the PCs have continually formed large majority governments. The rare existence of real electoral challengers has led to a festering institutional mediocrity that was demonstrated by Premier Ed Stelmach's pre-produced televised address.

After nearly 40 years in office, it is sometimes difficult for even an objective person to decipher what actual principles drive Alberta's natural governing party.

One of the great successes of the Alberta PCs have been their ability to maintain a big tent that includes a broad range of political ideologies and beliefs. Demonstrated over the past 40 years since Peter Lougheed welcomed Liberal MLA Bill Dickie into the PC caucus in 1969, even the current PC caucus includes Red Tories like Dave Hancock and Janice Sarich and social conservatives like Ted Morton and Rob Anderson. In between these two camps includes a large group of MLAs who have very likely chosen to wear the PC brand because it affords them a seat in the government benches.

A number of former PC MLAs and insiders have already joined the now Smith-led party, but will it translate into the kind of migration that led Preston Manning to crush the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1993?

A new party?

I am convinced that it is only a matter of time before a new political movement of independent progressive minded Albertans emerges in our province.

Some political watchers have suggested that the rift on the right is an opportunity to draw progressive Albertans together under a new political banner. Far from a new idea, the prospect of a new political movement in Alberta is something that I am hearing increasingly from friends and associates who have been both politically active or never affiliated with a party or candidate. Their reasons are vast - Bill 44, cuts to health care, the environment, the record deficit - but the underlying message that I continue to hear is that the current government is out of touch, arrogant, and has squandered long-term opportunity for short-term gain.

In the last election, the PCs earned just 501,063 votes, or roughly 22% of the total eligible vote, which suggests that while their vote may be a mile wide it may only be an inch deep. Perhaps a 60% voter turnout is an unreasonable prediction for a modern liberal democracy, but if a new political movement could earn its support by increasing the popular vote by 20% without disturbing the earned votes from the last election, it would be able to challenge the PCs hold on government.

Will apathy win?

Of course, there is the very real possibility that new found support for the Wildrose Alliance will simply flame out, our electoral environment will remain uncompetitive, no new political movement will emerge, and Albertans will once again avoid the polls in droves.

As an Albertan, I have been told that manifest destiny is in my blood. I have little doubt that 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.

5 items from changecamp edmonton.

On Saturday October 17, over 180 engaged citizens converged to participate in the first ChangeCamp Edmonton.  Here are five items that I found to be the most interesting parts of the day-long event:

5) Diversity: Participants came from many diverse backgrounds and I was pleasantly surprised that there were many people who I didn't recognize from other political events. The large majority of participants were non-partisan (which was extremely refreshing) and sincerely interested in changing the way citizens interact with their governments (and vice versa). I would like to see future ChangeCamps reach out more actively to new Canadians and underrepresented communities in our city who face very unique challenges to participating in governance. Increased outreach will be important for any sequels to this event, but overall I was very impressed with the range of citizens who gave up their Saturday to participate in re-imaging citizenship.

4) A little help from our friends: Videos from ChangeCamp Ottawa and ChangeCamp Toronto welcomed participants to a growing pan-Canadian ChangeCamp community.

3) Equal participation: The politicians weren't introduced. I give full credit to the elected officials who attended ChangeCamp Edmonton, but unlike many other events, they weren't confered a special status through introduction at the beginning of the day. They were equal participants, and I believe set a positive tone for the day. Many elected officials may have had legitimate reasons not be in attendance, but I will full give credit to those who did participate: Public School Trustee Sue Huff, Councillors Don Iveson and Ben Henderson, MLAs Laurie Blakeman and Doug Elniski, former MLAs David King and Don Massey, and past and present candidates for office Brendan Van Alstine, Andrew Knack, Wendy Andrews, and Mary MacDonald.

2) Opinions are easy, ideas are hard: There were some great discussions ranging from open data, the evolution of media and technology, but it felt like much of the debate around revitalizing citizen engagement and the de-polarizing of community discussions was re-hashed from previous discussions. I had the distinct impression that almost all of the participants who were engaged citizens, were simply bringing up ideas that they had heard elsewhere. On this topic, I believe that is past the point of talking. Get your friends and neighbours engaged. It starts on the community level.

1) It was organic: The organic elements are what I found to be the most powerful part of this un-conference. The steering committee that met at the beginning of 2009 was largely connected through Twitter, which helped coalesce a group of people who might not normally find themselves working together to organize a project like this. Word of ChangeCamp was largely spread through the internet (twitter, facebook, blogs, etc). The underlying concept of an unconference - an organic "facilitated, participant-driven conference" - was demonstrated at the opening of ChangeCamp, when anyone had the opportuntity to pitch an idea and add a session idea to the grid.

Related and Recommended:
Alex Abboud: ChangeCamp Edmonton: Evolution, not revolution.
Chris Labossiere: A great day for the Future Democracy
Sirthinks: The empires of the future are the empires of the mind

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

alberta electoral boundaries commission: written submissions highlights.

Written submissions to Alberta's Electoral Boundaries Commission have now been posted online. After a quick scan of the submissions, here are some of the highlights (feel free to post others I've missed in the comments section):

- Municipal leaders including Nolan Crouse, Melissa Blake, Donald Johnson, Stephen Mandel, Dave Bronconnier, and Lloyd Bertschi submitted in full force (to name a few). Among the municipal leaders, there appears to be a clear urban-rural split between urban municipal officials who wish to see their representation increased, and rural municipal officials who wish to see the current rural representation respected.

- Along with the numerous submissions from political riding associations, written submissions were made by MLAs Laurie Blakeman, Hector Goudreau, Peter Sandhu, Frank Oberle, and former MLAs Rick MillerMo Elsalhy, and Nick Taylor. Miller wants to see Edmonton-Rutherford renamed Edmonton-Wickman after former MLA and Alderman Percy Wickman. MP Devinder Shory thinks that adding four new MLAs is not a good use of taxpayers dollars, and MP Earl Dresheen responded with a form letter.

- Bloggers and engaged citizens Joey Oberhoffner, Duncan Wojtaszek, and Brian Dell all wrote excellent submissions.

- The Edmonton-Riverview Liberals want to keep their riding together while the Edmonton-Riverview PCs want it split at the North Saskatchewan River.

- The Calgary-West PCs want their riding split into two, with the new riding to be named Calgary-Olympic Park or Calgary-Hart (after former Stampede wrestler Stu Hart).

- The Alberta NDP has proposed new electoral maps for Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer. They also wish to change the name of Dunvegan-Central Peace to Central Peace-Notley in the memory of former NDP leader and area MLA Grant Notley. Other ridings named after former politicians include Edmonton-Decore, Edmonton-Manning, Edmonton-Rutherford, Calgary-Lougheed, and Calgary-Hays. The Edmonton-Manning NDP also recommend the name change.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ed stelmach's pre-recorded televised address [take 2].

Yesterday’s pre-recorded televised address by Premier Ed Stelmach left a lot of room for criticism. I admit that it is sometimes easy to fall into the trap of only criticizing, and with the many vague platitudes that were presented yesterday evening it is also very easy to become highly cynical of the people that a minority of Albertans elected as our representatives in the Legislative Assembly.

Last night, I stated via Twitter that I was:

“Waiting for the opposition leaders to come up with a plan that is more than criticisms.”
After a good night sleep, I realized that as I was criticizing the opposition leaders I was not holding myself to the standards that I was expecting from others. Prolonged exposure to an institutionally mediocre government has made it very easy for me to fall into the trap of prolonged cynicism on this blog, but I have and will continue to try and put my cynicism aside and provide a more nuanced opinion on the politics of Alberta. Last night, I was not practicing what I was preaching, and therefor, I decided to re-write this blog post.

Following the announcement that over 6,500 public servants would be the subject of a two year pay freeze, many Albertans (including myself) likely responded with the normal cynicism towards a politician not practicing what he preaches. In 2008, Premier Stelmach and Cabinet Ministers were unrepentant after they voted themselves a 34% pay hike in a closed door meeting.

Viewers of last night's edition of Alberta Primetime, who will remember Edmonton-Castle Downs MLA Thomas Lukaszuk's questionless defence of the Premier's choice not to take a pay cut, will be suprised by a morning media release announcing that Stelmach will be taking a 15% pay cut ($12,196) and that Cabinet Ministers will be taking a 10% pay cut ($6,391 per Minister). According to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, the pay cuts are actually 5.4% and 3.2% when you factor in the tax-free portion of their salaries, but the message this action sends is not literal, it is political. Announcing the end to the annual one-third tax-free allowance that MLAs receive would have been a more meaningful move, but I will give the Premier and Cabinet Ministers credit for the pay cut that they did announce.

In the spirit of providing ideas, here are some things that I would have liked to have heard in last night's pre-recorded televised address:

Auditor General: In an effort to weed out Government inefficiencies, I would have liked to hear the Premier commit to increasing funding to the Office of the Auditor General. In March 2009, Auditor General Fred Dunn announced that his office would be canceling or deferring 27 of 80 planned financial or system audits due to lack of funds.

The mandate of the Auditor General of Alberta is to 'identify opportunities and propose solutions for the improved use of public resources, and to improve and add credibility to performance reporting, including financial reporting, to Albertans.' Ensuring financial and systematic efficiency through these audits is one of our government's most important responsibilities to the hardworking citizens and taxpayers of this province.

Energy Innovation and Diversification: The Governments of Alberta and Canada have recently announced multi-billion dollar subsidies to energy companies like Shell and TransAlta to research the Carbon Capture scheme.

Coal fired power plants are incredibly dirty. Instead of investing billions of public dollars into finding new ways to hide old pollution, I would like to see our governments think outside of the box and recognize the role that Alberta can play in developing new and innovative energy sources. I would like to see our government focus serious funding into the development of new research and development and innovation strategies in areas such as renewable energy. I would like to see more than a new take on an old scheme. I would like the Government of Alberta invest the funds we currently receive through our gift of natural resources into generating new Alberta-based companies that will have the ability to compete around the globe by providing Alberta-based renewable energy ideas and solutions.

Legacy of bad budgeting: Alberta's economy has depended on revenue from cyclically priced resource commodities for over sixty years and has seen much worse economic times. After years of unsustainable growth, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that Alberta's economy has slowed down. In the past year, the Alberta Government has gone from a projected $8.5 billion surplus to a projected $6.9 billion deficit. I have no doubt that Alberta is in a good position to recover from the economic slowdown, but I would like to see some evidence that after nearly 40 years in office, the elected members of the current governing party have learned how to handle this type of budgeting cycle.

Health Care: While describing that "difficult but necessary improvements” will be made through “innovation and the leadership of our health-care professionals,” Stelmach remained vague in describing what changes to the health care system will look like. Earlier this week, Health Minister Ron Liepert admitted faults in his governments communications strategy around health care. I would have liked to have seen the Premier give Albertans some clear indication as to the changes his government plans to make in our health care system.

Childrens Services: This has less to do with the economy and more to do with the integrity of government. I don’t hold Minister Janis Tarchuk personally responsible for the mismanagement inside the Department of Children and Youth Services, but it is time that a new Minister was appointed to this portfolio with the explicit mandate to clean up the mess inside this Department.

Bold Leadership: I am 25 years old and don't believe that I have experienced it in my lifetime, but I am a big fan of bold leadership from my elected officials. Growing up, I remember listening to my parents talk about the bold leadership while they were growing up - Pierre Trudeau and Peter Lougheed - but I remain waiting for the kind of leadership that I have only read about in the history books (or seen in the movie theaters).

Related and Recommended:
Alex Abboud: Rapid Reaction: Premier Stelmach's address
Chris Labossiere: Do as I say, not as I do
CalgaryLiberal: Well, that's "Steady Eddie" for you
D.J. Kelly: Why Stelmach looks disingenuous today
Kevin Libin: Ed Stelmach's TV show is a rerun
Susan O: Keep it Real, Ed

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

pre-recorded commentary on premier stelmach's pre-recorded televised address.

In twenty minutes, Premier Ed Stelmach will join Albertans from across the province by sitting down with a bag of popcorn and watching his pre-recorded, edited, and scripted dinner hour television address. Hyped as a talk about the provincial budget and economy, Stelmach's 18-minute slot has been billed as "The Way Forward" (I guess the Premier is a Ford guy).

Kind of like the ShamWow...

The pre-recorded production is expected to include shots of Stelmach talking about a four point plan to respond to the record provincial budget deficit on-site from numerous locations, including his family farm near Andrew. He's been Premier for over two years, but many Albertans still don't know who the real Ed Stelmach is, and it shows in the polls. If he actually takes off his funeral director suit and dons something more comfortable and familiar (perhaps a little plaid?), it may first time Albertans have been allowed to see a glimpse of Ed the Farmer.

He actually has to say something. 

Stelmach has a difficult time articulating himself when speaking in public, so it is possible that this kind of pre-recorded, edited, and scripted production could allow the Premier to present a message that is understandable without the help of a decoder ring. On the other hand, the pricey production value could decrease the believability of the message (Stelmach's 2007 pre-produced TV address cost taxpayers $145,000). David Climenhaga and Don Braid both have some interesting pre-recorded commentary on Stelmach's pre-recorded, edited, and scripted address.

Will it make a difference?

At its core, this is an expensive PR stunt. It is difficult to imagine that even in an 18-minute pre-produced, edited, and scripted television advertisement that the Premier will be able to ease the public tension and discontent that has grown around the record budget deficit, confusing messages around changes to health care, a new resource royalty framework, Bill 44, Bill 50, and hefty staff payhikes and bonuses (to name a few).

Commentary 2.0.

In the spirit of tonight's pre-recorded, edited, and scripted piece of dinner theatre, you can follow my pre-recorded, edited, and scripted commentary on twitter at @davecournoyer and others commentary at #ableg.

canada's 2008 federal election: 365 days later.

One year ago today, just over 50% of Albertans made their way to the polls to vote in the 2008 Canadian Federal Election. While just over two years since the previous election, last October saw some Edmontonians (and Strathconans) paint their electoral map with a little more diversity of colours (even if it only resulted in one actual change in electoral representation). A year out, here is a look at some of the more interesting ridings from 2008 and what the electoral races may shape up to look like in the next election.
2008 results
Laurie Hawn, C - 22,634 (49%)
Jim Wachowich, Lib - 12,661 (27.4%)
Donna Martyn, NDP - 6,912 (15%)
David Parker, G - 3,746 (8.1%)
Peggy Morton, ML - 203 (0.4%)

I expected closer results in this riding during the last election, but if only one thing were clear about the 2008 election, it is that the Liberals under Stephane Dion had zero momentum in western Canada. After narrowly defeating Liberal MP Anne McLellan in 2006, a low voter turnout allowed Conservative Laurie Hawn to widen his margin of victory into a comfortable lead in 2008 when facing off against consumer advocate and Liberal candidate Jim Wachowich (the total voter turnout dropped by over eleven thousand votes and over 9,000 Liberal voters stayed home, dropping that party's support by over 9,000 votes between 2006 and 2008).

This riding has been the focus of both Reform/Canadian Alliance/Conservative and Liberal resources since 1993 and the prospect of three strong candidates in the next election could make this Edmonton riding a centre of attention once again. Hawn is a strong campaigner, but he is now facing two hard working challengers who have already began campaigning door-to-door. Liberal Mary MacDonald is a lawyer, Ph.D., former Deputy Chief of Staff to McLellan, and former provincial Liberal candidate. New Democrat Lewis Cardinal is an educator, activist, and former candidate for City Council. Some people will inevitably bemoan the potential for vote-splitting between the two main challengers, but I am looking forward to watching three strong candidates make this riding competitive in the next election. If Edmonton-Centre becomes home to a serious three-way race, I would wager that anything could happen.
2008 results
Peter Goldring, C - 21,487 (51.3%)
Ray Martin, NDP - 13,318 (31.8%)
Stephanie Laskoski, Lib - 4,578 (10.9%)
Trey Capnerhurst, G 2,488 (5.9%)

This riding could be one to watch in the next election. With the collapse of the Liberal-vote in 2008 (likely caused by the previously mentioned Dion-factor and the last minute withdrawal of candidate Jim Jacuta), former MLA Ray Martin was able to capitalize and boost the NDP vote by 13% to a solid second place finish. The riding has been represented by MP Peter Goldring since 1997, but the eclectic collection of citizens in this riding supported NDP MP Ross Harvey in 1988 and Liberal MP Judy Bethel in 1993.

Although Goldring has perfected the art of invisibility as a backbench MP, he still hold an incumbency advantage and I wouldn't underestimate Martin, who has once again been nominated as the NDP candidate in the next election. A seasoned elections veteran, Martin's political drive has led him to be elected the MLA for Edmonton-Norwood from 1982 to 1993, Edmonton Public Schools Trustee from 2001 to 2004, MLA for Edmonton-Beverly-Clareview from 2004 to 2008, and Leader of Alberta's Official Opposition from 1986 to 1993. I have also heard that along with Edmonton-Strathcona, the NDP are planning to focus much of their resources on this riding, which was their second strongest Alberta finish in 2008.
Edmonton-Sherwood Park
2008 results
Tim Uppal, C - 17,628 (35.8%)
James Ford, Ind - 15,960 (32.4%)
Brian LaBelle, NDP - 6,339 (12.8%)
Rick Szostak, Lib - 5,575 (11.3%)
Nina Erfani, G - 3,678 (7.4%)

In 2008, Independent conservative James Ford rode a strong wave of Strathcona County-concentrated discontent after a shady Conservative nomination process chose former Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont candidate Tim Uppal over local favorite Jacquie Fenske.

Ford's strength led this riding to the second closest results in the province, but I wonder whether a second run by Ford would result in the same level of discontent. This has been a strong conservative riding and includes areas that are represented on a provincial level by Premier Ed Stelmach and Finance Minister Iris Evans. If the voters in this riding are now less offended by the internal party shenanigans than they were a year ago, I would imagine that they will return to a traditional Conservative voting pattern.

2008 results
Linda Duncan, NDP - 20,103 (42.5%)
Rahim Jaffer, Con - 19,640 (41.6%)
Claudette Roy, Lib - 4,279 (9%)
Jane Thrall, Grn - 3,040 (6.4%)
Kevan Hunter, ML - 147 (0.3%)

A year ago today, NDP candidate Linda Duncan edged out long-time Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer in a close election race. Initially planning a comeback, Jaffer is now dealing with some personal issues in Ontario and the Conservatives have nominated Ottawa insider Ryan Hastman as their standard bearer. Both candidates and their teams have been busy canvassing door-to-door over the summer months in this extremely geo-politically polarized riding (as you can see by the poll results from the map above).

Since the last election, a number of people have noted to me that Duncan has become somewhat of a ghost in Edmonton. I will give Duncan the benifit of a doubt that she is still mounting the learning curve that all elected officials face during their first couple years in office, but I am sure that Hastman's campaign will focus on this point.

Expect a flood of resources and high-profile MP visits to the riding from both the NDP and Conservatives to continue before the next election (NDP leader Jack Layton has visited this riding at least 4-5 times since October 2008). The collapse of the Liberal vote helped vault Duncan to her victory, but it shouldn't be underestimated how strong her organization and her campaign momentum were in the last election. If she is successful in her next election, she will be the first NDP MP to be re-elected in Alberta's history. The Liberals have yet to announce a candidate in this riding, but Michael Ignatieff spent the Canada Day long weekend in the riding.

(Thanks to Jordan C. for the map)

round up: podcasts, post-partisanism, open data, and new polls.

- In the spirit of transparent & innovative government (and just in time for ChangeCamp Edmonton), Edmonton Councillor Don Iveson submitted an Open Data inquiry to the City Administration. This is a really positive step for our city.

- Duncan Wojtaszek and I were guests on the latest podcast from The Unknown Studio. Topic? Two former PC and Liberal activists talk Post-Partisanism and the Perils of Politics. Take a listen and let me know what you think of the podcast!

- The Unknown Studio podcast co-host Adam Rozenhart has a great new post on partisanship and what a real statesman looks like: 'Dave? I'd take a bullet for ya'.

- It's a busy week in Alberta politics and common sense conservative Chris Labossiere has offered his thoughts on the Wildrose Alliance, Premier Ed Stelmach, and the upcoming PC convention.

- Via David Climenhaga, I've discovered a link to a new polling company: Return on Insight. The company was set up by Bruce Cameron, who is known to many political watchers as a supporter of former Finance Minister Lyle Oberg. Cameron is less known as the man who got a nasty reaction out of former Calgary-Egmont PC candidate nominee Craig Chandler in 2007. Poll results released by Cameron's new company were reported in today's Edmonton Journal:

A telephone survey of 802 people conducted last week by Cameron's firm show 22 per cent of Albertans strongly disapprove of Stelmach's performance, compared with 16 per cent who did so in a January 2008 poll.
The Government of Alberta will be airing an 18-minute pre-taped and edited television address by Stelmach this evening.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

stelmach chats in medicine hat.

After months in apparent seclusion, Premier Ed Stelmach recently emerged for a rare interview with Medicine Hat's CHAT Television (an interview that was a much less scripted production than what is expected in his upcoming pre-taped televised address). The interview doesn't give any new indication to the direction that the Premier would like to take Alberta, but he did touch on the topics of of Education, the Wildrose Alliance, the provincial deficit...

..., and Health Care.

While poorly communicating changes in Alberta's Health Care system has more recently become the exclusive domain of Health Minister Ron Liepert and Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Stephen Duckett, it now appears that Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne is the new third wheel in the group. After vocal public pressure emerged against Duckett's announcement that he was closing mental health beds at Edmonton's Alberta Hospital, Horne was appointed to co-chair the "implementation committee" that will now oversee a slower closure of the beds.

I expect Horne to be a competent appointee, but I am curious what his elevation to this committee means to the internal politics of the PC caucus. Given that Edmonton-Meadowlark PC MLA and parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Health Raj Sherman has a unique insight into the medical world and has been very honest about his past challenges with mental health, I find it very curious that he wasn't chosen to be the "Premier's eyes and ears" on this committee.

remember michael ritter?

He's back.

Former Legal Counsel to the Legislative Assembly of Alberta Michael Ritter has been released from prison after serving 18 months of a 10 year sentence at a minimum security prison in Grande Cache, Alberta. Three years ago, Ritter pleaded guilty to stealing $10.5 million from one client (who had stolen $43 million from Merrill Lynch) in a deal to avoid extradition to the United States for helping another client revive a $270 million Ponzi scheme that victimized more than 6,500 American investors.

The 6,500 American investors may be interested in reading a recent Globe & Mail feature to learn that Ritter has returned to his lavish home in Edmonton, and according to his Facebook status has:
"finally got his Jaguar running again after not driving it for over three years!"
Federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson recently announced his intentions to introduce legislation to help combat white-collar crime.

Friday, October 09, 2009

save the date: alberta politics in fall 2009.

October 14: Premier Ed Stelmach will deliver a televised address on CTV and AccessTV.

It is no surprise that Stelmach has a difficult time articulating himself when speaking in public, so these kind of productions will allow the Premier to present a message that is pre-produced, edited, and heavily scripted. The address is being pitched as a talk on the economy titled "The Way Forward."  This avenue presents Stelmach with the opportunity to make bold announcements, but I expect that while making numerous references to tough economic times, he will focus on the government's legislative agenda, economic agreements with neighbouring provinces, public service salary freezes, the recently implemented lobbyist registry, and the international role of Alberta's oilsands. It is also difficult to imagine Stelmach not mentioning that the Governments of Alberta and Canada have provided a $865 million subsidy for carbon capture projects to Shell, one of the largest and most profitable oil companies in the world.

Stelmach's 2007 televised address cost taxpayers $145,000, and with internet ads already popping up, I wouldn't be surprised if the total cost was closer $200,000 this year. The Premier has already been booked on the Rutherford Show for the next morning, so expect a full court press.

October 17: Riding high in the polls, the Wildrose Alliance will announce the results of their leadership contest after over 11,000 members vote to choose either Danielle Smith or Mark Dyrholm as their new leader. It was first rumoured that ten, and now four PC MLAs are interested in chatting with Smith if she wins the contest. Since outgoing leader Paul Hinman was by-elected in Calgary-Glenmore, a number of former Progressive Conservative MLAs, including former cabinet minister Ernie Isley have joined that party.

Also on October 17 is ChangeCamp Edmonton, an event that invites Edmontonians and Albertans to re-imagine government in the age of participation. As citizens, we have a responsibility and opportunity to start redesigning the way that we participate in government. Interested? Register online for free and join the conversation on October 17!

October 26-December 3: The Alberta Legislature will sit for the first time since the spring session ended with widespread opposition to Bill 44. I anticipate the first two weeks of the fall session to be about positioning Stelmach and his cabinet in a positive light before the PC leadership review. There continues to be talk of a cabinet shuffle, and with the retirement of Ron Stevens, Stelmach has been left without a designated Calgary Lieutenant. Justice Minister Alison Redford appears to be a natural fit for this position, but with rumoured leadership ambitions herself, she may be cautious to how tight she tethers her horse to Stelmach's buggy.

I foresee the building conflict over Bill 50, the mess inside the Department of Children Services, staff pay hikes and bonuses, cuts to health care and education, and continuing anger over Bill 44 to dominate the debate. With the Copenhagen Conference happening in December, expect Greenpeace hold another round of oilsands actions. Also, with new allies (including Enmax and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier), landowners rights advocate Joe Anglin will be out in full force against Bill 50.

November 6-7: Premier Stelmach will face delegates at the PC leadership review in Red Deer. There is a lot of talk about how unhappy some PC supporters are with Stelmach and I don't doubt it. Former PC insider Hal Walker has publicly dismissed the Premier, Ralph Klein has mused that the Premier should step down if he receives less than 70% support, and Calgary-North Hill PC MLA Kyle Fawcett has publicly said that Stelmach has "done very little" to convince Calgarians that he's capable of leading the province. There is also a rumoured behind-the-scenes campaign to draft Calgary philanthropist and media personality Brett Wilson to save the dynasty that Peter Lougheed built.

The critics are vocal, but when push comes to shove I believe that the delegates to this convention will heed to the party brass and rally to protect the brand by giving Stelmach the support he needs to continue to occupy his current office.

November 6 and 26: The Alberta Liberals will be hosting their annual leader's dinner in Calgary and Edmonton, the first since David Swann became leader of the Official Opposition in December 2008. While some Liberals remain optimistic, that party has been tied down by debt since their disasterous election campaign in 2001. The ticket sales and fundraising numbers from these two dinners will be a key indicator of the financial support that the Liberals are receiving from their traditional larger donors.