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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

year in review 2009: alberta mla edition.

As is tradition here at, I have created an annual list of Alberta MLAs who have caught my eye over the past year (see the 2008 MLA review). Due to a large grouping of MLAs who through sheer numbers appear almost indistinguishable as they sit in the backbenches of the 72  70 MLA Progressive Conservative caucus, this list focuses on the handful of MLAs who caught my attention for various reasons:

Kyle Fawcett: (PC Calgary-North Hill) I am really puzzled by this one. In February 2009, backbench MLA Fawcett was one of Premier Ed Stelmach's proudest cheerleaders, evangelizing the Premier on the floor of the Legislature as:
…a man of extraordinary vision, someone who fails to fall into the trap of regressive thinking during challenging times. He is a steady hand at the wheel of the ship in turbulent times. When others retreat, he has the optimism to search for the light at the end of the tunnel, the beacon of hope that all Albertans aspire to. He has the dogged determination to push forward to establish this province’s place in the new world paradigm when the negativity of others is enough to stop progress dead in its tracks.
Eight months later, Fawcett took a complete 180 degree turn and criticized Premier Stelmach for doing "very little, I believe, to instil confidence in at least people in Calgary that he has the leadership capabilities to lead this province." He soon after apologized and was quietly punished for his outspoken behaviour. It appears that Fawcett wants to be the class rebel and the teachers pet at the same time, but has ended up wearing the dunce cap instead.

Doug Griffiths: (PC Battle River-Wainwright) A year of lateral moves from being shuffled from parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development to parliamentary assistant to the Solicitor General makes me wonder if the PCs are blind to talent. Griffiths knows how to use social media effectively by actually providing value and allowing citizens outside the Legislature to get a peek at what personal beliefs and driving motivations have led him to seek office. With alternatives to the near 40 year governing PCs gaining support, independent-minded Griffiths may be in a position to decide whether he wants to stay in the backbenches or join something new.

Ken Kowalski (PC Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock) As Speaker Kowalski celebrated 30 years as an MLA, he also demonstrated his political vintage by outright banning MLAs from using social media such as Twitter and Facebook during Question Period. While I agree that MLAs should respect the institution and proud traditions of the Legislature, rather than outright banning the medium, Kowalski had the opportunity to explore how new technologies could be used to reconnect citizens to their democratic institutions. I offered to help Speaker Kowalski better understand the uses of social media, but I did not receive a response.


Ron Liepert (PC Calgary-West) Minister Liepert is a blunt instrument. He and Premier Stelmach have continued to defer much of their public responsibility for health care restructuring to the unelected CEO of Alberta Health Services, Stephen Duckett, but it has not stopped the Minister from planting his foot firmly in his mouth. PC MLAs are growing weary of this political arrangement and the Calgary Herald called for Minister Liepert's resignation after he blamed Albertans for the administrative mishandling of the H1N1 vaccinations. Odds are favouring Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne to replace Minister Liepert early in the new year.

Hugh MacDonald (Liberal Edmonton-Gold Bar) Last year, I characterized MacDonald as "obsessed with discovering scandal," and this year I say the same, but with a slightly more endearing tone. While he does come off as a little nuts, MacDonald is easily one of the hardest working MLAs in the Legislature - spending countless hours digging through files in the Legislature Library and as Chair of the Public Account CommitteeAIMco, AHS, and PC MLA extra pay and bonuses have been among MacDonald's targets in 2009, but I am still not sure if he would know what to do if he uncovered a scandal that stuck.

Len Mitzel (PC Cypress-Medicine Hat) Haven't heard of Len Mitzel? Not surprising. The backbench MLA has found his niche as the PC caucus' designated American conference attendee. Over the past year, Mitzel has attended conferences on behalf of the Government of Alberta in Montana (again and again), San AngeloLaredo, Denver, and Boise, meaning that he likely understands more than most MLAs the important economic relationship that our province has with the western United States.

Rachel Notley: (NDP Edmonton-Strathcona) Notley has proven to be a consistently good parliamentarian. She is intelligent, articulate, and has worked hard to provide a clear voice for her constituents on the floor of the Legislature (on a wide range of issues). Lord only knows why NDP members have not demanded that she become the leader of her party.

Kevin Taft (Liberal Edmonton-Riverview) Freed from the burden of leading Alberta's Liberal Party, Taft has returned to a more familiar role as Official Opposition Health Critic. Having written and researched extensively about public health care in Alberta in his pre-political life, Taft has proven to be a formidable opponent to Premier Stelmach and Minister Liepert over the past year.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

merry christmas.

Things will be slowing down on this blog for the next week as I take some time to read some books and enjoy the spirits of the season. Tune in next week for some pre-packaged posts, including the annual review of Alberta MLAs (see 2008 version).

Thanks for reading, commenting, linking, forwarding, voting, and re-tweeting this past year, it has helped make 2009 a continued success for this blog. I am looking forward to writing about all that 2010 has to offer!

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

tis the season to crack down on democracy.

As a friend of mine put it, "When you open your Chinese-made Christmas presents this week, take a moment to remember how fortunate we are to be able to tell our governments to get stuffed."

Prominent Chinese Dissident Is Tried
Published: December 23, 2009

BEIJING — In a two-hour hearing that was closed to the public, Liu Xiaobo, one of China’s most prominent advocates of democratic reform, was tried Wednesday on charges that his calls for open elections and free speech are a threat to the ruling Communist Party.

Mr. Liu, a poet and social critic who has spent more than a year in detention, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of charges legally defined as “incitement to subvert state power.” His lawyer said a verdict would likely come Friday, Christmas Day. Read more...
Here is the 'subversive' document that Xiaobo helped write.

the top 3 alberta political moments of the decade.

The masses have spoken and after 1628 total votes from this blog's readers, the top political moments of Alberta's past decade have been chosen. After being chosen from the final group of ten, these three moments made it to the top of the list:

3) 2001: Premier Ralph Klein's visit to the Herb Jamieson Centre in Edmonton. Long-known for his enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, Premier Klein's late night visit that night changed how many Albertans viewed the Premier's vice. Shelter residents claimed after Premier Klein and his chauffeur stopped in front of the Men's shelter, the Premier began slurring, swearing, and yelling at the men to get jobs. Witnesses told reporters that Premier Klein then threw money at them. In a statement released soon afterward Premier Klein publicly apologized and declared that he would quit drinking.

2) 2004: Premier Ralph Klein declaring Alberta fiscally debt free, making our province the first debt-free province in a decade would have been my choice for the most important political moment of the decade in Alberta politics. When Premier Klein stood up at his Calgary Stampede breakfast and declared Alberta to be debt free, a major political narrative came to an end this province.

Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by the Liberals in the 1993 election after Laurence Decore used his infamous debt clock to highlight the growing debt and fiscal meanderings of Premier Don Getty's administration. This defining narrative changed the landscape of Alberta politics, contributing to the decimation of the NDP in 1993 and the marginalization of the post-Decore Liberal Party. It was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since Alberta was declared debt free, the PCs now led by Premier Ed Stelmach have struggled to create a compelling narrative for being in government.

If I were to wager, in 30 to 40 years, this moment will be front and centre in Alberta's history textbooks. As the Chief of Staff to the President of Daveberta wrote in an earlier post, "the language of our elections and our politics is shaped around deficits and spending in a way that isn't present in other politics."

1) 2008: While too early to estimate in my opinion, democracy and the readers of this blog have chosen Linda Duncan's election victory in Edmonton-Strathcona as Alberta's top political moment of the decade.

After placing a commanding second in the 2006 election, Duncan challenged the Conservative Party hegemony in Alberta by unseating backbench Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer and becoming the second-ever NDP MP from Alberta in 2008. Duncan's campaign had momentum from the moment the writ was dropped and drew significant volunteer support from across Edmonton and across party-lines. Duncan also became the first non-PC/Reform/Alliance/Conservative MP to represent Edmonton-Strathcona since Liberal MP Hu Harries was elected in 1968 and the first non-Conservative MP elected in Alberta since 2004.

Since becoming the Federal NDP environment critic in the House of Commons, Duncan has brought a very unique voice to federal politics in Alberta as a vocal critic of current environmental practices in Alberta's oil sands, a proponent of National Hockey Day, a member of the Canadian delegation at the COP15 Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, and as the only Alberta MP to vote against abolishing Canada's federal gun registry. The lawyer and former Chief of Enforcement for Environment Canada recently released a new book (which is sure to be a Christmas hit) "A Legal Guide to Aboriginal Drinking Water: A Prairie Perspective." The video below was filmed during Duncan's 2008 election campaign:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

doing elections right in alberta.

Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft and Public Interest Alberta are taking legal action to force the Government of Alberta to improve how elections are organized in our province. The notice of motion lists thirteen issues ranging including the appointment of returning officers with partisan connections to not notifying opposition candidates of the relocation of voting stations to the lack of voting stations on post-secondary campuses and First Nations reservations. Elections in our province are far from the corrupt processes in other jurisdictions, but the process is hardly vibrant and extraordinary in any sense of the imagination.

During the 2008 provincial election, the impartiality of Alberta's electoral process came into question when it was discovered that half of the local Returning Officers had strong links to the governing Progressive Conservatives. Then-Liberal Leader Taft called for a complete review of how elections in Alberta are organized.

During the last election, Elections Alberta spokesperson Jacqueline Roblin told CBC that the list of returning officer nominees had "come right from the premier's office with these names that they are recommending that they be appointed." In the midst of an election campaign, Premier Ed Stelmach told the media in February 2008 that he would not review the appointment process.

After the 2008 election, Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson submitted a long list of recommendations to the Legislative Assembly to change how elections are organized by giving more authority to the an independent elections office. Shortly afterward, Gibson's contract was not renewed by a PC MLA dominated committee. Not surprisingly, Taft once again tackled the issue during Question Period in that Legislative sitting.

In 2009, another partisan appointment was made during the Calgary-Glenmore by-election. Premier Stelmach later said that he had no problem with the Elections Office appointing officers, though no legislative changes have been made to reflect the statement. Earlier this month, former Chief Electoral Officer Brian Fjeldheim was re-appointed to the position (he served in the position previous to Gibson from 1998 to 2005).

I do not believe that improvements to Elections Alberta organization would have changed the outcome of the last election or even increased the voter turnout higher than 40%, but that is not the point. The integrity of our representative government is based on the strength of our democracy, a large part of which is expressed in our elections process.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

premier stelmach's problems are bigger than a cabinet shuffle.

There has been a lot of chatter about what Premier Ed Stelmach can do to reverse the Progressive Conservatives downward spiral in recent polls. According to these recent polls, the PCs now sit at 25% province-wide and in third place behind Danielle Smith's Wildrose Alliance and David Swann's Liberals in Edmonton and Calgary. Another recent poll framed Premier Stelmach as the least popular Premier in Canada with a 14% approval rating.

Sheila Pratt has written an interesting article in today's Edmonton Journal about the PCs current misfortune and the new groups of Albertans like Reboot Alberta and Renew Alberta that have emerged. Even Preston Manning is interested in starting something new. Luckily for Premier Stelmach, he still has two years before he has to face the electorate for a second time, but what does the Premier need to do to turn his fortunes around?

Will finally ending the disastrous reigns of Children & Youth Services Minister Janis Tarchuk and Health & Wellness Minister Ron Liepert change Premier Stelmach's position in the polls? Will moving Education Minister Dave Hancock in the midst of the School Act Review boost their numbers? Will moving Energy Minister Mel Knight to another portfolio halt the Calgary energy sector support that is flowing towards the Wildrose Alliance? Will promoting Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner to Finance Minister improve their image? Will relocating Culture & Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett bring back the PC supporters who were offended over the embarrassment of Bill 44?

Will rearranging the deck chairs change the course of the ship? It is going to take something much more meaningful than a cabinet shuffle to change PC Party fortunes. As I said during an interview with Calgary Today's Mike Blanchard this week, one of Premier Stelmach's greatest challenges is that his government doesn't have a defining purpose beyond governing for governing sake, and it shows.

In his recent book, Rich Vivone accurately pointed out that when Premier Ralph Klein declared Alberta to be debt free in 2004, the PCs began to drift. Aiming to defeat the deficit and debt saved the PCs from being unseated by Laurence Decore's Liberals in the 1993 election and it was the defining theme in Alberta politics in the 1990s and early 2000s. In many ways, Premier Klein's 55.4% approval in 2006 reflected the drift.

Premier Stelmach is far from an amazing orator or political strategist, but one of his greatest strengths is that he is constantly underestimated by his opponents and the media. No one expected him to defeat Jim Dinning and Ted Morton in the PC leadership race or lead his party to win a 72-seat majority in the March 2008 election. The recent polls may spell demise for the near 40-year governing PCs, but with at least another two years to create a defining purpose for governing, their political and electoral opponents would be foolish to write them off just yet.

Friday, December 18, 2009

hej enhver! lade os gennembanke alberta!

As an Alberta, there are very few things more patronizing than being lectured by an Ontario politician. At the COP15 Conference in Copenhagen this week, our province's less than perfect environmental record was the target of Ontario's Environment Minister John Gerretsen:

"Our biggest fear is that the feds may try to use the good work that's been done by [Ontario and Quebec] as part of their overall goal, and thereby allow the tar sands development to proceed without hesitation."
I have seen the steel mills in Hamilton and am familiar with the work of Edward Burtynsky. As Debra Yedlin pointed out, Ontario and Quebec have the highest number of registered drivers. This means that they significantly contribute to the transportation-related activities which account for 25% of Canada's emissions (the oil sands make up 5% of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions). Alberta's environmental record in developing the oil sands is nothing to brag about, but it is also a convenient distraction to the current problems facing elected officials in Ontario.

I am a proud Albertan and I know we can do better. The tailing ponds and the contamination that they have caused are embarrassing. According to the Pembina Institute, current tailings ponds waste water is equal to 220,000 Olympic swimming pools. By 2020, it is expected that Alberta's oil sands will create enough tailings ponds to fill 400,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Even in the midst of an economic recession, Alberta is the financial envy of Confederation. If we are serious about keeping our position as leaders in energy development, we need to turn our province's biggest public relations weakness, the oil sands, into our greatest strength. Instead of playing the same games as those who would demonize our province as the bad child of Confederation, we should be putting Ontario and Quebec to shame. If we are serious about creating a new economy, our actions will be more powerful than any government-bought expensive half-page newspaper advertisements (see the advertisement to your left that was in yesterday's Vancouver Sun).

We can do better and we know it.

"The market system and its incentives are an accepted part of the good society; this is not in doubt. But there is no divine right of free-enterprise, or free choice, for the producing firm. Or for its consumers. The largest community interest must be protected, as also the future climate and well-being, and there must be concern as to depleatable resources. Since automobiles must be built, have fuel and be driven, and other consumer goods and services must similarly be supplied and utilized, a compromise between the current financial and long-term public interests in essential and inevitable. As a broad rule, however, this compromise must favor the larger community interest and the interest of those to come. That is because the business and political voice and money are allied with the current economic power - with the firms that produce the goods and services, their lobbies and captive or susceptible politicians. The community and the longer public future draw on less specific support."
Government is not going to solve this problem. Innovation will. Our natural wealth affords us the opportunity and ability to define the cutting edge. Alberta has longed been dubbed as 'Texas of the North', if this is the case where is our T. Boone Pickens? Instead of just relying on our current resources (and the boom-bust cycle) to define who we are and what we do in the eyes of the world, we need to create an innovative economy that will develop real new and efficient renewable energy and technology for the world here in Alberta. Government is not going to solve this problem, but it can play a positive role by helping create an environment where innovative ideas can flourish, not be crushed under the massive funding of short-term public relations campaigns like Carbon Capture and Storage.

As Albertans, we have the opportunity to decide the future of our province - do we continue on the same path or do we take some bolder action with the financial wealth we have inherited?

(Apologies to her Majesty for the rough translation)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

#yegcc #lrt & #asked

Kudos to Edmonton City Council for voting for the Stony Plain Road and Mill Woods LRT By-Law today, setting the stage for public transit expansion that has been 20 years in the making. Four Councillors voted against the motion, Jane Batty, Karen Leibovici, Linda Sloan, and Tony Caterina. Defending his decision to oppose LRT expansion, Caterina accused his fellow Councillors of:

...imposing their ideology on the city. Caterina also raised concerns that online bloggers had too much influence on the decision. “A number of bloggers — who knows where they come from — are treated as gospel,” he said.
Putting aside that functionally, writing a blog is not much different than writing a letter to the editor or telephoning a City Councillor's office, I have heard suggestions that Councillor Caterina was taking a shot at Councillor Don Iveson (who writes a blog). Iveson has been a strong advocate for public transit since being elected to City Council in 2007. There are are a number of Edmontonians who publish blogs that focus on urban issues in our City and they should take Councillor Caterina's complaint as a compliment.

I am told that Councillor Caterina is still a little miffed that his fellow Councillors voted for the phased closure of the Edmonton City Centre Airport earlier this year. During that debate a strong online campaign was launched by a group of passionate Edmontonians (which included I have met Councillor Caterina a number of times and found him to be a fairly nice person, but a string of bizarre comments like this one has left me questioning his critical thinking abilities.


Three "AskEd" YouTube videos have been released with Premier Ed Stelmach responding to questions submitted to his office via email and Twitter. When it was announced I really like the idea, as it has the potential to allow for  Albertans to have some real interaction with Premier Stelmach, and it also allows the Premier to answer questions in an environment that he is comfortable in. Affording Premier Stelmach the ability to avoid the awkwardness of having to answer questions in front of the media or a public audience, the videos appear closer to 'father figure' Stelmach responding to questions of his choice than an authentic conversation.
Stelmach spokesperson Tom Olsen said the video responses are a lot like having a conversation with Stelmach in a coffee shop.
The videos are exactly like having a conversation in a coffee shop, especially if the coffee shop is an exact replica of the Premier's Office and includes a large wooden desk, gavel, and Premier Stelmach reading off a laptop while talking straight into a video camera. Sounds like a typical small-town main street coffee shop to me!

Mastermaq has some good observations on the AskEd videos and DJ Kelly has offered some suggestions on how to fix the Premier's communications problems.

Monday, December 14, 2009

the top 10.

With the second round of voting in the Top Alberta Political Moment of the Decade contest now underway, here are some brief descriptions of the top 10 moments to vote for:

Vote - 2000: Thousands of Albertans protest the passage of private health care Bill 11. Albertans raised a massive protest against government plans for private health care and private hospitals. Opposition to Bill 11 is remembered for the the spontaneous nightly vigils at the Legislature. The government passed an amended version of Bill 11 that actually inhibited private health care more than it facilitated it.

Vote - 2001: Ralph Klein berated the homeless in a late night visit to a mens shelter in Edmonton. Long-known for his enjoyment of alcoholic beverages, Premier Ralph Klein's late night visit to the Herb Jamieson Centre changed how many Albertans viewed the Premier's vice. Klein publicly apologized and pledged to stop drinking.

Vote - 2004: Ralph Klein declared fiscal debate erased, making Alberta the first debt free province in a decade. At his July 12 Stampede Breakfast, Premier Klein declared Alberta to be 'debt-free.' The pursuit of erasing the provincial debt became the defining goal of the government in the 1990s and early 2000s. As the Chief of Staff to the President of Daveberta said, "the language of our elections and our politics is shaped around deficits and spending in a way that isn't present in other politics."

Vote - 2005: Gay marriage becomes legal in Alberta. Alberta began granting marriage licences to same-sex couples on July 20, upon the granting of Royal Assent to the federal Civil Marriage Act. After promising to continue opposing same-sex marriage, Premier Klein announced Alberta would would reluctantly recognize same-sex marriage, but promised new legislative protection for anyone who opposed it on moral or religious grounds.

Vote - 2006: Calgary MP Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada. On January 23, Calgary-Southwest MP Stephen Harper led the Conservative Party to defeat the Liberal Party led by Prime Minister Paul Martin to form the first Conservative government since 1988. As the first Prime Minister from Alberta since Joe Clark, Harper's election shifted the power dynamic in Alberta politics, making it more difficult for the provincial government to criticize the boogeymen in Ottawa.

Vote - 2006: $400 Ralphbucks cheques mailed to every Albertan. An embodiment of short-term vision of a government with unprecedented financial wealth, the $400 Prosperity Bonuses were mailed to every Albertan. This represented $1.4 billion (or 20%) of the $6.8 billion surplus and was criticized by many Albertans as a pointless giveaway (but few actually refused the cheques).

Vote - 2006: Ralph Klein received 55.4% approval in the PC leadership review. After 14 years in the Premier's office and leading the PC party to four majority governments, low approval from convention delegates forced an early retirement for the man who dominated and defined Alberta politics since 1992.

Vote - 2006: Ed Stelmach defeated Jim Dinning in the PC leadership contest. On December 2, former Finance Minister and Calgary's favourite son Jim Dinning was unexpectedly defeated by 13-year MLA and former Lamont County Reeve Ed Stelmach. Stelmach became Alberta's first Premier from rural Alberta since Harry Strom in 1971.

Vote - 2008: Linda Duncan defeated Rahim Jaffer to become the second-ever NDP MP from Alberta. On October 17, Linda Duncan was elected as MP for Edmonton-Strathcona, defeating four-term Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer by 436 votes. The first NDP MP elected in Alberta was Edmonton-East MP Ross Harvey in 1988.

Vote - 2009: Danielle Smith was elected leader of the Wildrose Alliance. Recent polls have shown major short-term growth in Wildrose Alliance support since Danielle Smith was elected leader on October 17, but it may be too soon to tell what long-term effect she will have on Alberta's political scene. Smith is a former Calgary Board of Education Trustee and Director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

david swann's 1st anniversary.

Yesterday marked the first year anniversary of Calgary-Mountain View MLA David Swann becoming leader of the Alberta Liberal Party and Leader of the Official Opposition in Alberta's Legislative Assembly. In the race to replace former leader Kevin Taft, Swann was selected on the first ballot with 2,468 votes, compared to 1,616 for Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and 491 votes for former Edmonton-McClung MLA Mo Elsalhy.

Swann is one of the most sincere MLAs that I have had the pleasure to meet, but since entering his current role his party has continued to struggle to define itself and has had difficulty creating messages that resonate with Albertans. Although Swann entered his role under the banner of internal party reform, the attempts at reform appear to have stalled. Media releases from the Official Opposition offices sometimes include aggressive quotes that I have a difficult time imaging coming out of gentle Swann's mouth, leading me to believe that he has yet to fully discover his voice in his role.

The Liberals appeared to have stalled after their narrow defeat in this year's Calgary-Glenmore by-election, but according to a recent poll, the party is tied with Premier Ed Stelmach's PCs at 25% province-wide and has second place support in Edmonton and Calgary.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

crying wolf.

June 25, 2009: Cal Nichols said that losing the City Centre Airport would have a greater economic impact than if the city lost the Oilers.

December 13, 2009: The future of the Katz Group owned Oilers won't be secure in Edmonton unless a new arena is built, says former Oilers owner Cal Nichols, an adviser on the new downtown arena proposal.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Edmonton Oilers annual revenue has increased from $40 million in 2000 to $83 million in 2009. The magazine lists the Edmonton Oilers with a $9.4 million operational income in 2009, one of the highest in the NHL.

round two: top alberta political moment of the decade.

After a raucous first round of voting, the second round of the Top Alberta Political Moment of the Decade contest is now open. With 997 votes counted, the following top 10 moments have made it to the second round.

Some readers have raised concerns that certain NDP organizers helped push Linda Duncan over the top in the first round of voting, but like real elections, the results are decided by those who show up. The point of the contest is to find a good balance between what was exciting at the time and what would make it into a Alberta Social Studies textbooks 30 years from now (when the next change in government is due to happen). You can vote daily for your choices until Saturday, December 19, 2009, when a winner will be announced and crowned shortly afterward.

Top Alberta Political Moment of the '00s?

2000: Thousands of Albertans protest the passage of private health care Bill 11.

2001: Ralph Klein berated the homeless in a late night visit to a mens shelter in Edmonton.

2004: Ralph Klein declared fiscal debt erased, making Alberta the first debt-free province in decade

2005: Gay marriage becomes legal in Alberta.

2006: Calgary MP Stephen Harper became Prime Minister of Canada.

2006: $400 Ralphbucks cheques mailed to every Albertan.

2006: Ralph Klein received 55.4% approval in the PC leadership review.

2006: Ed Stelmach defeated Jim Dinning in the PC leadership contest.

2008: Linda Duncan defeated Rahim Jaffer to become the second-ever NDP MP from Alberta.

2009: Danielle Smith was elected as leader of the Wildrose Alliance. free polls
This blog has been voted into the second round of the 2009 Canadian Blog Awards. You can now vote for in the Best Political Blog, and Best Blog Series, and Best Overall Blog categories (the series Smith v. Board of Education was nominated).

I also recommend voting for Mastermaq for Best Technology & Science Blog, Calgary Grit for Best Political Blog, and Capital Notebook for Best Blog written by Journalist. Remember to please vote early, and vote often.

Friday, December 11, 2009

what will be the 21st century tidal wave?

The politics of the latter half of the 20th century were shaped by the Cold War. Communism and free-market capitalism were the tidal waves that splashed everywhere and pooled into hundreds of mini-ideologies across the world (in Alberta, this included formation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, the United Farmers of Alberta, and Social Credit). We tend to forget our history, or accept modern day revisionism, and ignore how much our history has shaped modern day politics. Even as they gravitate their policies towards the 'centre' of the political spectrum, the traditional political parties in our Legislative Assembly continue to frame their debates, their ideas, and their opponents in a similar left-right context.

After attending the recent annual conventions of both the Liberal Party and New Democratic Party, I have not seen convincing evidence that the membership of either party are willing to step out of their traditionally defined comfort zones. A participant at the recent Reboot Alberta gathering in Red Deer framed it well by suggesting that when the party logos are removed from their campaign material, it becomes difficult to tell which motherhood and apple pie statement belongs to who. I see Reboot Alberta as an incubator of new progressive ideas, something that is easier to do when liberated from traditional party loyalties.

I have talked with a lot of people who have had a difficult time understanding why I have become involved in a non-party progressive group like Reboot Alberta. “Join the Liberals or NDP, Dave. Pick your side,” is a phrase I have heard a lot over the past two weeks. “Politics aren't going to change, so join what exists” is another common response. What exists is not good enough. Unlike the delegates at the recent Liberal and NDP conventions, many of the participants at Reboot Alberta have made a commitment to contribute to the reshaping of political ideas in Alberta beyond what already exists.

When asked to define "progressive," the three words I heard that resonated strongly with me were: adaptability, understanding, and interconnectivity. I am not sure that these ideas fit in a left-right spectrum and I know many people who have had a difficult time understanding that.

Does a political generation gap exist in a constructivist versus structuralist context?

Another new (and similarly named) group,
Renew Alberta, is collecting signatures to start a new political party. I am not at the point of jumping on any bandwagon, but I am supportive of the people involved in this group. Political warhorses, like David Climenhaga, are understandably skeptical, but are relying on traditional partisan labels to frame the yet to be registered political party. An honest dose skepticism is healthy, but when it is mixed with undertones of negativity and mistrust it quickly becomes toxic.

countless election results (and recent polls) showing that the traditional opposition parties are not resonating with Albertans, there are many people who are feeling vulnerability in this volatile political environment. I remain open-minded to any group of people who are willing to put in the personal commitment to contribute something new to the politics of our province. A successful new political party cannot be a mirror of the current unsuccessful political parties, it must be different or it will fail.

Twenty years ago, the
Berlin Wall fell and communism collapsed. A generation of 20 to 30 year-olds now exist whose only exposure to this time period is through reading about the Soviet Union and Bert the Turtle alongside Rome and the Renaissance in their social studies textbooks. If the political waves that shaped my parents and grandparents politics are now in the history books, what are the waves that will shape the politics of the 21st century?

Social media like blogs,
Facebook, and Twitter are connecting citizens with new communities and instant information in incredible ways. Groups of citizens have begun gathering organically in movements like ChangeCamp and CivicCamp, but what is next? Does the interconnectivity built through the online social networks need to translate to change on the street level?

It is an exciting time to be involved in politics in Alberta! As a next step for Reboot Alberta, I have joined a group of participants in generating idea papers that will be used to stimulate more positive debate and discussion when we gather again in February 2010. Questions I plan to raise include: What does the word ‘
progressive’ mean in the 21st century? What does progressive change mean in the 21st century? Will the change be technological? Will it be environmental? Will the next generational waves even be ‘political’ in the traditional sense of the term?


At least according to a recent Angus-Reid poll:

An Angus Reid Public Opinion survey of 1,000 decided Alberta voters finds 39 per cent of the electorate would cast a ballot for party leader Danielle Smith and the right-of-centre Wildrose Alliance if they went to the polls today.

The fledgling party is pulling away from Premier Ed Stelmach's Progressive Conservatives, who are tied with David Swann's Liberals for second place, with the backing of 25 per cent of decided voters provincewide.

Brian Mason and the NDP are in fourth spot with the support of nine per cent of Alberta voters, while two per cent said they would vote for another party.
The Wildrose Alliance still has a long way to go before it has the policy infrastructure, credible candidates, and functionally competitive constituency association in 87 ridings to realize the advantage of these polls, but at the moment these results should send shockwaves through the three institutional parties.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

tough economic times.

I wonder how many regular Albertans can say that they have received a 30% to 40% pay hike in one year?

Monday, December 07, 2009

vote now: top alberta political moment of the decade.

Voting is now open in the first round of "Alberta's top political moment of the decade." Thank you to everyone for the numerous nominations that were submitted over the past few weeks. You can vote daily the moments of your choice until Saturday, December 12, 2009. The top 10 moments will move on to the final round of voting next week.

Top Alberta Political Moment of the '00s?

2000: Thousands of Albertans protest the passage of private health care Bill 11.

2001: Ralph Klein defeated his long time rival Liberal leader Nancy MacBeth.

2001: Ralph Klein berated the homeless in a late night visit to a men's shelter in Edmonton.

2001: Dave Bronconnier elected as Mayor of Calgary in a tight three-way contest.

2002: Alberta teachers strike for weeks, leading to a longtime souring of gov-teacher relations.

2003: Mad cow disease found in Alberta, triggering years of farm crisis and trade bans.

2003: Shell opened up first new oilsands plant in Fort Mac since the 1970s.

2004: In honour of Monty Python, Klein created Ministry of Restructuring and Govt Efficiency (RAGE).

2004: Ralph Klein declared fiscal debt erased, making Alberta the first debt-free province in decade

2004: Stephen Harper became leader of the Conservative Party of Canada

2004: Stephen Mandel defeated incumbent Bill Smith and becomes Mayor of Edmonton

2004: Election: Opposition breakthroughs, Liberals breakthrough in Calgary.

2005: Gay marriage finally becomes legal in Alberta.

2006: In final attempt to expand privatized health care, Ralph Klein launched "Third Way" reforms.

2006: Ralph Klein threw the Liberal Health Care policy book at a 17-year old Legislature page.

2006: Ralph Klein received 55.4% approval in the PC leadership review.

2006: $400 Ralphbucks cheques mailed to every Albertan.

2006: Calgary MP Stephen Harper became the Prime Minister of Canada.

2006: Edmonton Liberal MP Anne McLellan was defeated after 13 years in office.

2006: Ed Stelmach defeated Jim Dinning in the PC leadership contest.

2007: Alberta's energy regulator caught hiring a PI to eavesdrop on powerline opponents' phone calls

2007: Don Iveson defeats incumbent Mike Nickel in the Edmonton City Council election.

2007: Alberta increases resource royalties charged to energy companies.


2008: Election: Ed Stelmach's PC were re-elected with a 72-seat majority in the Legislature.

2008: Thousands of ducks die in the Syncrude tailing ponds in Alberta's oil sands.

2008: Linda Duncan defeated Rahim Jaffer to become the second-ever NDP MP from Alberta.

2009: Bill 44 was passed in the Alberta Legislature.

2009: Amid global recession and falling natural gas prices, Alberta returns to deficit.

2009: Danielle Smith was elected as leader of the Wildrose Alliance. free polls

When you are done voting in this contest, make sure to check out Calgary Grit's Canadian Political Moment of the Decade contest.

new generation co-operative railway in alberta.

In the spirit of sharing good conversations, I had the pleasure of sitting down for lunch yesterday afternoon with Justin Archer, Jerry Iwanus and his wife, Michelle.

As the Mayor of the Village of Bawlf, Jerry is a wealth of information about people, politics, and current events in east central Alberta. One of the interesting stories that Jerry shared with us was about a New Generation Co-operative railway that has been formed in that region. I am told that the Battle River Railway is the first of its kind in Alberta (there are similar Railway Co-operatives in Saskatchewan) and it is located on the former CN line from the Village of Alliance to the City of Camrose.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development provides a description of New Generation Co-operatives:
A cooperative is a legally incorporated business arrangement that provides for the control of the business by its membership. A new generation co-op (NGC) is a type of cooperative that uses a system of delivery rights and obligations to encourage business loyalty and provide a form of vertical integration. NGC’s are particularly suitable to ventures involved in value-added agricultural processing and marketing.

Based on a model first used in California, NGC’s emerged and flourished in the mid-western US in the 1990’s. Since that time, all three Canadian Prairie Provinces have introduced new laws or modified existing legislation to allow for NGC’s. Alberta's Cooperatives Act, (effective on April 2, 2002) defines NGC’s in sections 422 to 429.

There are some key attributes of NGC’s that are consistent with all co-ops:
  • NGC’s are controlled by their membership using the principle of one member, one vote
  • Earnings are distributed to the members based on patronage.
  • The board of directors is elected by the membership.
However, there are several characteristics of NGC’s that differentiate them from traditional co-ops:
  • NGC’s may issue designated shares which carry delivery rights and obligations.
  • Individuals (members and non-members) may hold higher levels of equity through the purchase of investment shares.
  • Membership may be restricted to designated share holders.
  • In Alberta, NGC’s are applicable only to agricultural ventures, and the word "co-op" or "co-operative" does not necessarily have to appear in the name of the venture.
In general, New Generation Co-ops are typified by restricted, project-oriented enterprises which require significant investments from their members, and a membership which strives for increased profits and return on capital through this investment.
I have found that living in a large urban centre makes it is easy to be blinded by the big city lights and overlook the creative local business and community initiatives that are happening outside of the city limits (we are lucky that people like Jerry are around to remind us of that).

Here is a video interview with the Chairman of the Board of Directors Ken Eshpeter that was posted on YouTube:

Saturday, December 05, 2009

not so tough economic times for some.

Tough economic times are all the talk, but Alberta's Progressive Conservative MLAs are still collecting up to $35,000 in extra pay annually for work done in closed-door caucus committee meetings.  

In May 2008, government MLAs started receiving $12,000 a year for serving on cabinet policy committees which are supposed to advise government in five areas: community services, economy, health, public safety and services and resources and the environment.

Previously, only the committee chairpersons were paid for the work, but now all government MLAs except the speaker and the premier, get paid.

Cabinet ministers get more than $35,000 a year for their committee duties. The difference in cost is a tenfold increase from $140,000 to $1.4 million.

"We have no record of their work, no record of their attendance and they're making mega-bucks on these committees," Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald said.

He added that in addition to being paid to meet, the Conservative-only committees also overspent their $653,000 budget by $503,000 or 77 per cent.
Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths deserves credit for being the first and singular PC MLA noble enough to publicly reject the private perk. Humility is a virtue that we do not often see from our elected leaders in our Legislative Assembly.

The same day that the private PC perks were made public, our provincial Health Care Authority, Alberta Health Services, announced that they had borrowed $220 million through a private line of credit from the Royal Bank of Canada.

Earlier last week, when members of AHS executive declared that they would run out of money by February 2010, Premier Ed Stelmach said that taxpayers would fund any shortfall in the Health Care budget. On Thursday, Paula Simons pointed out that this was a key justification used by the PC government when they unilaterally dissolved the regional health authorities in favour of a province-wide superboard two years ago.
Is Alberta Health Services so colossally badly managed, so inefficient and bureaucratic, that it has plunged our health-care system into crushing, massive debt in just two years?
I am not aware of any laws prohibiting a government agency like AHS from taking on debt from a private bank, but I cannot think of any other organization like AHS that has done so. Alberta taxpayers have the right to ask some fair questions about the prime + 0.5% line of credit that AHS has taken out.

How does a government agency like AHS expect to repay a line of credit this large? As Don Braid has pointed out, is this not why the $13 billion Sustainability Fund exists? Why did AHS choose a Toronto-based bank over the Edmonton-based and Albertan-owned Alberta Treasury Branches? And the question that piques my curiosity: what has AHS listed as collateral for the private line of credit? The Royal Alexandra Hospital? The Alberta Children's Hospital in Calgary? If you are looking for answers to these questions, you have already missed the deadline to ask Ed.

While our elected government officials would like Albertans to believe that these contextually historic normal economic times are actually a hurricane of tough economic times for essential public services like Health Care and Education, Albertans should ask what PC MLAs have done to deserve financial shelter from the storm they want us to believe they are guiding us through?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

buzz about reboot & renew.

There is still a lot of buzz being generated about the Reboot Alberta weekend. I continuing to get questions from people all across the political spectrum about the event and a new group called Renew Alberta. If you have yet to hear about Renew Alberta, one of their organizers commented on one of my previous posts with some information:

Josh Kjenner said...
I think this would probably be a good time to make a pitch for the movement I'm currently involved in: Renew Alberta. We're attempting to build a party that will appeal to moderate Albertans, and address some of the issues people speak to above: viability, pragmatism, and the embrace of change.
Provincial legislation requires the signatures of 0.3% of the electorate (currently 7050 people) for registration of a political party. We initiated our petition campaign last weekend, and we'll be working toward 7050 signatures over the coming months. We're very much interested in finding people to help us reach this target, and to help us shape the party into something that can address some of the shortcomings of current parties while maintaining electoral viability.
If you're interested in getting more involved, or learning more about us, I'd suggest joining our group at, or checking out our website, (where you can't do TOO much for the time being, but you can sign up for updates, or get in touch with us using the "contact" link at the top right of the page).
You can also follow them on Twitter at @RenewAB.

tis the season.

A lighter moment with Premier Ed Stelmach at the Christmas light-up event at the Alberta Legislature.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

vote for daveberta.

The first round of voting for the 2009 Canadian Blog Awards has begun and this blog has been nominated in two three categories - Best Political Blog, Best Post Series for the Smith v. Board of Education series (Read: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4), and Best Overall Blog.

Thank you for the nominations. Please feel free to vote for this blog in these categories and support some of my favorite blogs in their respective categories:

Political Blog: DJ Kelly,, Pundits' Guide, Ken Chapman, MediaStyleCalgaryGrit, and CalgaryRants.
Science & Technology Blog: Mastermaq
Blog written by a Journalist: Capital Notebook, Colby Cosh
New Blog: The Rurban Fringe

First round voting will be open until December 12, 2009.

During 2007 Canadian Blog Awards, this blog was voted Best Political Blog, Best Progressive Blog, and Best Blogosphere Citizen.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

my political reboot.

In many ways, this blog serves as a public archive of my journey through and the evolution of my beliefs about politics and democracy since January 2005. Rather than a disclaimer, an informer is posted in the sidebar to your right: thoughts and opinions change from time to time. I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This blog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot and manifestation of the various ideas running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.
Re-reading my posts over the past year will give a reader an understanding of how my reflections on politics and democracy have evolved. The intent of this post is not be prophetically deep, but sensibly reflective of my experiences and how they have shaped my current feelings towards politics and democracy.

I attended the annual Alberta Liberal Party convention last December October. The Liberal Party was in the midst of a leadership contest, but was only able to attract around 200 supporters to its convention. It was my experience that many of the party members and delegates held a deep bitterness towards the governing Progressive Conservatives and towards the Albertans that voted for them. I may not have liked the outcome of the last election, but I trust Albertans and believe that they are intelligent enough to understand and make decisions. I worked hard for that party in the past, but it was during that convention that I came to the realization that in many ways I had outgrown the Liberal Party.

I am tired of negativity in politics. I love my province and have no patience to be involved in any political organization that thrives off undertones of negativity. At the convention last December and since, I do not see a political party in Alberta that fits this qualification. That is why I left the Liberal Party and have not renewed my membership since.

I have wandered since leaving party politics, I have talked about politics and democracy with many people over the past year, and I have observed that while our politicians continue to focus on the spectrum of left-right politics to define themselves, their parties, and their opponents, it is a fairly insular idea. I am guilty of writing about politics in the left- or right- context, but with all the current political parties floating in what they perceive as "the middle" of the political spectrum, I wonder if the concept is as outdated as the Berlin Wall.

Nothing big has happened without the risk of failure. The risks of not doing something are greater.

This weekend's Reboot Alberta meeting in Red Deer was exciting. Around 100 participants travelled from all the corners of the province - and represented a diverse range of Albertans from vast agricultural- and forestry-based rural areas, villages, towns, and small and large cities.

I am a proud Albertan. In the 1890s, my family followed an Oblate priest from Quebec and settled near Morinville (Alberta was still part of the North West Territories at the time). They worked hard, against many odds, to help build their community. Skip forward one hundred and thirteen years later and I am a third generation Albertan. It is my home. But as proud as I am of being an Albertan, I am less proud of how our leaders have handled important issues like the development of the oil sands, the social issues in Bill 44, and basic issues of integrity in governance.

Participant Sue Huff quoted another Reboot Alberta participant on her blog:
One very wise man stood up and talked about wanting to feel proud of being an Albertan again and how he did not that currently. This pride was not a boastful or arrogant pride but simply the pride of feeling good about doing the right things and doing them well. He noted that the conversations that had taken place at Reboot were about possibility, not just about problems. He urged us to accept responsibility for what is and resist the urge to blame the government. We are the government. We must not feel victimized, fatalistic, hopeless or unable to act. Instead by accepting our responsibility, our culpability for the current state of affairs, we take the first step towards making the change. He marvelled at the increased sense of ownership in the room and the powerful authentic connections.
I am a progressive. A number of discussions last weekend focused on what it meant to be a "progressive" in Alberta. While it is easy to fall into the trap of pigeon holing "progressive" as "lefty," this would not be an accurate description of the real conversations that happened. When asked to define "progressive," the three words I heard that resonated strongly with me were: adaptability, understanding, and interconnectivity.

One of the main characteristics of Reboot Alberta that really struck me was the positive and respectful tone of the debate over the weekend. In a room filled with 100 type-A personalities, no egos dominated the discussion, no ideology dominated the room, and there was a willingness to listen and consider other points of view. Participants were honest about the challenges facing our province, but little of any discussion dwelled on the negative. The conversations focused on the solutions, and how to turn thoughts into action. This is a tone that I would like to see set for the politics of my home province.

I have written a lot about the need for a new political movement, and at times I have wavered in whether or not this is the best idea. There are still questions, but a new movement is emerging. It exists through the participation of citizen in open discussions like ChangeCamp, CivicCamp, and Reboot Alberta. It is open source democracy, a new way of participation in civic society.

Opinions at Reboot Alberta were diverse, but there was a clear belief by the majority of participants that our current political parties are not fulfilling the potential of this province. There were differences in terms of the solutions offered, some wanting to work within the current structure, some interested in working outside of it, and some who believed that a new political movement needs to be formed (like the folks involved with Renew Alberta).

On December 15, 2008, I wrote that I was:
...a politically engaged and frustrated Albertan who is looking to become involved in 1) an organization that is serious about engaging and challenging Albertans to be better citizens, and 2) a viable and competitive alternative to the current governing party.
There were many participants at Reboot Alberta who sincerely expressed and seriously discussed their desire to help create a movement that embodies these two characteristics. If something new and meaningful can be created from of the positive and creative energy of the participants who attended this weekend, I want to be there and help make it happen.