A ribbon for participation.

I am a surveyor who likes ranting about whatever is on my mind on a blog. I am prone to terrible run-on sentences, occasionally rambling postings, some spelling errors that slip through the spell-check function of the blog, and some grammatical errors that doubtless have made some of the grammar fixated wish that they could jump through their computer screen and slap me in the head. Some of my writings may be dull or lack in creativity at times. I recognize these literary shortcomings on my part.

Despite knowing that I do not write among the best on earth, I find it simply agonizing as the collective best among academia gather at Columbia University (an institution that I have been unfairly prevented from attending), and work to truly wreak havoc on my self-esteem through highlighting the planet’s literary best through an internationally celebrated awards ceremony. As the spotlight shines on the world’s literary best, a sidelight shines upon my inadequate writings thus humiliating me on a profound scale. How dare they openly remind me that I will never be able to reach the apex of literary achievement!! How cruel and unfair this world is indeed. Every time I see one of these award winners I nearly fall prostrate and go fetal in agony as they rub my nose in my shame of not being able to produce the world’s best.

This cruel ceremony must end! This recognition and presentation is damaging to the self-esteem of every literate person on earth who does not win it!

THE PULITZER PRIZES MUST BE BANNED!!

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While the above demand appears to be ridiculous and the rationale behind it whining, entitled and petulant, it is pretty much the same sort of demand and same rationale being used by the idiots in a Calgary school who have managed to get the honour roll among all other academic recognitions and their associated ceremonies removed from the school.

Kurt Vonnegut (another robbed of a Pulitzer) wrote a fantastic short-story called Harrison Bergeron that I strongly recommend anybody read if they have not already. He depicts a futuristic world where equality is achieved through the removal of all recognition that anybody may have more ability than another and literal handicaps are applied to anybody who excels beyond the average in society.

Download Harrison Bergeron here

Vonnegut’s story truly does appear less and less like abstract science fiction as we see stories of the ongoing assault on all forms of recognition of excellence being successful. Scores are no longer kept in many children’s sports and games as simple as duck duck goose are actually being banned so that nobody may lose.

This pursuit and enforcement of mediocrity will not be creating children with higher self-esteem. If anything, these children are being set up for a catastrophic blow to their self-esteem when they leave the coddling walls of educational institutions only to discover that in the real world, not everybody gets a ribbon for participation. Will these kids with such a deep sense of entitlement be able to adapt to the harsh realities of life? I guess some will and some won’t, but hiding them from these lessons for their formative years will not be doing them any favors.

We need awards and heights in order to keep us striving. Ambition is not a bad thing, in fact it is essential. If the world had been controlled by these self-esteem obsessed fools 10,000 years ago, we still would never have seen the invention of fire for crying out loud. Do you think the inventor of the wheel did so for altruistic reasons? Do you think he didn’t seek the celebration of his peers as another part of his ambition along with seeking a better way to move things around?

We need to be taught to strive for the top yet accept that we won’t all make it there.

Some people are smarter than others. Some people are stronger than others. Some people are better looking than others. Some people work harder than others.

GET OVER IT!!

I think personally one of the biggest lessons I had in life has been to quit worrying about what others do or what they have. Envy and entitlement are the most poison of feelings and our attempts to enforce a form of equality where it really does not exist will only foster more entitled bitterness.

I know I won’t win a Pulitzer Prize. I am OK with that. I don’t let the knowledge of that keep me from writing and feeling satisfied with what I write. I can celebrate the top of the writing world while still being happy with my mediocre standing in it.

There are ways and there are ways to deal with inequality. I know and understand that I am not hung like Rasputin. I still make what I like to think is good use with what I have and go for a drive in my large diesel truck when it really bothers me. To follow the self-esteem movement’s lead, what I should be doing is lobbying that all men be surgically shortened to an equitable length or at least ban them from shared changing rooms in the name of fairness. It is no less ludicrous than many other proposals in the name of equality out there.

Sadly it is much easier to drag folks down in the quest for equality than it is to try to pull everybody else up. I hope this trend ends soon.

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Wildrose Party AGM 2013. The evolution continues.

wildroseI have been very involved in the Wildrose Party having joined the party while it was in it’s past incarnation as the Alberta Alliance Party which held a lone seat in the Alberta Legislature. Every year the party has learned new lessons (often in a hard way) and made changes to better reflect the needs and will of Albertans. This ability and willingness as a party to learn and evolve is what has led the party from being the tiny rump in the legislature in 2004, to serving as official opposition today, to very possibly becoming Alberta’s next government in 2016. Every year at every Annual General Meeting the party has made the changes required to better manage itself and to appeal to a broader range of Albertans. This year’s AGM was no exception to that trend.

With such explosive growth there will always come some growing pains. Last year it became evident that the party was suffering under some very serious managerial challenges on the executive level. This was rectified as members gathered in Edmonton and we had a nearly clean sweep of the Executive Committee. While policy was not on the table for alteration at last year’s AGM, discussion of our policies sure was. We took advantage of the gathering for some very frank self-evaluation which is what led to the great policy changes we made at the AGM in Red Deer this year.

Some policies we had were obsolete, some really simply made little sense (these will always build up in a policy set and need periodic flushing), and some policies were simply not acceptable to Albertans. We struck pretty much all of those this year.

The basis of the Wildrose Party is grassroots in nature. This means we are expected as a party to reflect the will of Albertans in policy and actions rather than dictate. To do that our policies must remain ever-fluid as the views of Albertans will constantly change as the social end economic environment around them does. The Wildrose Party is staying true to that principle. One needs only to look to the flaccid and almost non-existent Social Credit Party of Alberta to see what happens when a party stubbornly insists on clinging to outdated policies and principles.

I am going to start with the policies that we still had that reflected the “Alberta Agenda” otherwise known as the “Firewall Letter”. At the time when the Alberta Agenda was drafted by folks such as Stephen Harper and Ted Morton, Canada was in a period of unprecedented regional division. The Quebec Referendum of 1995 where secession was only avoided by a tiny margin was still very fresh in people’s minds and we had just come from the 2000 federal election where Jean Chretien won a strong majority through pandering to Quebec while demonizing Alberta. Albertans felt bruised, battered and defensive after that gross display of federal regionalism in electoral politics particularly in light of how successful it was.

In light of the political atmosphere 12 years ago, the Alberta Agenda made perfect sense to many (likely most) Albertans at that time. Times have changed dramatically since then though and it is quite clear that Albertans in general have little use for policies that are as potentially regionally divisive as those that stemmed from the Alberta Agenda.

While there was some debate on it, there was no contest when it came to the votes by members to strike the policies listed below from the Wildrose policy book.

Under Justice we had: “explore the feasibility of creating a provincial police force.”

The above policy is now gone for a number of reasons. To begin with, some people interpret that as a shot at the RCMP which while not perfect, is an iconic national police force that is well respected by most Albertans. It was pointed out that we as a province had just signed a 25 year contract with the RCMP for policing and we were reminded that we do have the Alberta Sheriffs. To put it simply, the policy was pointless as it stood and really, there is nothing to stop us from examining the feasibility of anything at any time. It is what we choose to act on that is important.

Under Economy: “withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan and create an Alberta Pension Plan. The Alberta Plan will offer at minimum the same benefits while giving Albertans control over the investment fund”

Personally I still don’t think that policy is all that bad. Quebec has opted out of the federal plan so it isn’t totally unprecedented. All the same, it has been difficult to explain the need for such a move to people at large and some pensioners have expressed fear that this may threaten their economic well-being. As with other policies as well, times have changed. Great improvements have been made to the management of the Canadian Pension Plan and the plan does not look like the economic dead end that it appeared to be 12 years ago. If there really is a need for a provincial plan, the proponents of it will have to make a better case to Albertans for it. For now, such a plan does not reflect the will of many Albertans thus does not belong in the policy book.

Under Democratic Reform: “propose a Constitution for Alberta, within the confines of Canadian Confederation.”

This is just a recipe for inter-jurisdictional conflict and endless time in the courts. Our federal constitution is in dire need of reform as it is when one looks at things such as the Senate scandal. Why would we want to mire things further with trying to draft a parallel constitution? When asked this, Wildrose members overwhelmingly agreed to get rid of this policy.

In writing I see that there is a gap in my notes on one policy resolution as to whether or not it had passed and I honestly can’t remember at this time. Either way, there was a resolution under economy that would have gotten rid of the policy for Alberta to provincially collect it’s own income tax and I am pretty confident that the resolution to get rid of that policy passed. I may be corrected on this though. Again like other Alberta Agenda type policies, it simply is not required, there is no demand for it and it is out of date.

Rest assured I still have a good deal of regionalistic jingoism within me as an Albertan. Until we can clean up our own act within the Alberta legislature both fiscally and democratically though, we are in no place to cast stones at federal policies right now. As a provincial party we need to remain focused on our local needs rather than getting distracted by perceived federal injustices. We will be much better placed to lecture the federal government and pursue changes from them if we form a provincial government and then lead by example through building a fiscally responsible and democratically fair Alberta first.

The Wildrose Party never really has had a large set of socially conservative policies but we certainly have managed to wear the mantle of extreme social conservatism thanks to the likes of Alan Hunsperger and a few others. We did have a couple stinkers in our policy book with that regard all the same though and we rightly cleaned them out.

One policy that caused us a great deal of grief was the one calling for the protection of “conscience rights” of healthcare professionals. This policy had always been most frustrating as it caused us untold grief as a party and it was calling for the protection of rights that are already protected under the Charter and under medical legislation. This policy was a bone tossed to hardcore pro-life folks years ago and it was well past time to get rid of it.

The move to strike that pointless policy was put forward by multiple constituency associations. In the first round of vetting the proposal to strike was supported by 95% of the room. When the move to strike the policy was brought to the floor it was overwhelmingly supported by the membership. It is now gone and never to return. I am still pissed that it was ever in our book to begin with. Lesson learned.

Another big policy problem for us on the social end was our policy on the Human Rights Commissions.

The policy used to read like this:  “amend the Human Rights Act to unequivocally protect the freedom of speech and freedom of the press and should disband the Alberta Human Rights Commission.”

I still think we should disband the Human Rights Commission as it provides nothing that a court of law doesn’t and it has been abused terribly as a way to stifle free speech with little in the way of legal controls such as presumption of innocence and rules of evidence.

People purposely used that policy to try and wrongly claim that the Wildrose Party wanted to abolish the Human Rights Act itself or opposed human rights in themselves. While this was nonsense, it led us to constantly have to explain ourselves on the distinction between the Human Rights Act and  the Human Rights Commission. This was nearly impossible to do in the heat of an election and on doorsteps. The policy simply was dragging us down right or wrong.

The drafted and overwhelmingly accepted new policy does not call for the abolition of the Human Rights Commission. The new policy does the next best thing in that it calls for changes to the rules for the commissions and explains the exact part of the act that needs reformation. The new policy is below:

amend the Human Rights Act to unequivocally protect the fundamental rights and freedoms in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by removing section 3 of the current Act and reforming the complaint process to introduce rules of evidence, the presumption of innocence, and protection from frivolous and vexatious claims.

The new policy is a solid statement affirming the protection of human rights while setting solid targets for the reform of the current system.

Many other policies were amended, deleted and added over the weekend. Much of that was simply housekeeping and helped tidy up our policy set.

There were some contentious propositions last weekend to change the party constitution last weekend as well. For some reason, a group of folks felt that we needed to consolidate the party’s powers more solidly within the leader’s office rather than within the executive. I wrote in detail on these proposals a few months ago when they first came out.

The most offensive of these proposals was the one that would have given the leader a direct veto over the selection of the party’s executive director and in the formulation of the powers of that role. It was heartwarming to see that resolution overwhelmingly shot down by the gathered membership. The vote was not even close.

While the membership was very open to the evolution of policies to better reflect the wishes of Albertans, the membership very clearly got their backs up en masse whenever something appeared to threaten the grassroots, bottom-up nature of the party. Every one of the proposals to centralize power in the party was overwhelmingly shot down by the membership. For those who claim they can no longer see the difference between the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party, this is one of the most glaring differences.

The Wildrose Party is led by the membership and that was made crystal clear last weekend.

Last weekend’s Annual General meeting of the Wildrose Party was a success by every measure. The meeting was well organized, the staff and volunteers did an excellent job, and of course most importantly the party took great strides forward in it’s evolution as a political organization that is preparing to govern Alberta. Members left the meeting feeling upbeat and unified and the message going out to Albertans was clear in saying that we as a party are listening and will change to best represent the province’s needs and wishes. We are true to our principles and are growing up.

The policies of the party are still not perfect (they never will be), but as long as we retain our open process of policy formulation and discussions we will continue to have the best set in the province. While some who feel a strong connection to some socially conservative policies may feel excluded, they really need to swallow a dose of reality and pragmatism.

The party used to actually have a policy against gay marriage back when I joined it nearly ten years ago. My wife Jane and I both found that policy regressive, offensive and unnecessary. Jane fought against some pretty dedicated supporters of that policy but won in the end and it was removed from the party policy book. Had that dog not been removed, the party would surely still be sitting at one seat in the legislature with no hope of forming government at best or even influencing it. Instead of turning our back to the party due to policies that we didn’t like though, we got involved and used the grassroots means to change those policies. If unfettered, grassroots policy formulation will always work as the collective wisdom of the membership guides the evolution of the party.

Last year the party focused on introspection and the reform of it’s internal management. This year the party focused on the policies and perceptions of the party. Next year I expect we will be focusing on bringing the party before the electorate again. We are in for an exciting couple years as we head towards finally forming a new government in Alberta.

 

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On lobby groups, forums and astroturfing in the Calgary election.

Electoral forums play an important role in elections at all levels of government. These forums provide an opportunity for voters to watch candidates first-hand and hear them respond to the pressing issues of that particular campaign. Candidates can demonstrate their ability to respond on the spot to questions and can engage with other candidates of differing views if the forum format allows for such interaction. People who can’t go to a forum in person can still benefit through watching media summaries of the event as often these forums are covered by all types of media.

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Calgary only held one mayoral forum with all of the candidates and it unfortunately was almost a complete waste of time as the forum was held and managed by a highly biased informal lobby group acting under the name of CivicCamp.

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The most glaring evidence of the forum bias was in the twelve questions selected by this group calling themselves CivicCamp to ask of the candidates during the forum. Unlike most electoral forums where audience questions are allowed and candidates may debate each other on points, in this forum things were carefully orchestrated so that only twelve questions were to be presented and candidates had no means to respond to anything else aside from these twelve questions.

Let’s look at what the group calling themselves CivicCamp determined to be the twelve most important issues to Calgarians in this election.

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  1. Will you release campaign donors.

  1. Do you support a living wage.

  2. Do you support secondary suites.

  3. Can we expect movement to urban agriculture

  4. How will you support Calgary poverty reduction initiative

  5. Sun Valley Blvd and Macleod trail.

  6. What role should city play in investing in artists.

  7. Do you believe the city requires a charter.

  8. Stance on cosmetic use of pesticides.

  9. What is your stance on curbside recycling.

  10. How will you repair flood damaged infrastructure

  11. What would a diverse economy look like in the city

While candidates and media are reporting spending, tax increases, vehicular congestion and public safety as being among the top issues of concern among Calgarians, apparently these did not make the top twelve questions at this CivicCamp forum.

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If you are wondering why the twelve questions look like they were lifted right out of Mayor Nenshi’s campaign platform don’t be surprised considering Naheed Nenshi co-founded the group that wrote the questions. Of course Nenshi’s pet lobby group won’t ask those awkward questions about tax hikes or the demonization of industry that Nenshi has participated in. Banning audience questions ensured things never went of the choreographed rails.

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Can we imagine a circumstance of more blatant bias than having an electoral forum hosted and managed by a group formed by one of the candidates? I sure can’t.

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This group of people who called themselves CivicCamp lobbied City Council directly demanding massive tax hikes as can be seen in the letter accepted by council. Considering how Nenshi hiked property taxes 32% since being elected, I would say their lobbying was effective. No wonder they didn’t want voters asking about taxation at their forums.   Budget presentation letter

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Let’s be clear here. This loose lobby group that acted under the name CivicCamp was not some simple group of volunteers seeking to hold election forums. This was a highly biased and ideologically driven lobby group that was hiding under the radar by refusing to even simply register as a non-profit society.

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Below is a video of Naheed Nenshi giggling and wearing a CivicCamp shirt while celebrating their successfully lobbying the city council to embrace the controversial Planit document as well as the myopic street-closure promoted by Druh Farrell (the street festival was an unmitigated disaster and was discontinued after a couple of years).

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Does Naheed Nenshi and this group of people have the right to lobby for preferred policies in city hall?

 

Of course they do. A person can’t pretend for a second however that this group of people is unbiased and should be presenting themselves as such during a civic election.

 

The CivicCamp group showed gross bias in Ward 11 when for their forum they gave Brian Pincott (Nenshi’s preferred candidate) an outright veto in choosing the moderator of the forum. Was this sort of power given to any other candidates? Apparently just loading and controlling the questions wasn’t enough, catering to the whims of their preferred candidates in selection of moderators was part of the deal too. In Ward 11 the CivicCamp gang aggressively pressured one of the candidates running against Pincott in their hypocritical finance disclosure campaign to the point of being on borderline harassment. While this candidate had disclosed his donors above and beyond what was legally required, it was not enough for the CivicCamp group. They called, emailed and literally even camped outside his campaign office doors at one point trying to get some sort of extra disclosure or something.

 

There are lobby groups and there are groups that try to facilitate unbiased political discourse. These are two very different things but CivicCamp with Nenshi’s help has managed to try and tie both of these roles into one group which hides from scutiny and never actually pursued or gained any legal form of existence. Despite not actually existing as a legal entity, this group has somehow managed to raise and spend money however which is a whole different area of contention to be examined later.

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The properly registered CivicCamp that I and some others have formed is volunteer based, transparent, legal and is not trying to pretend that it does not carry a policy slant. Let’s hope that if Nenshi chooses to spawn further lobby groups in the future that these groups display the open honesty that we have as opposed to essentially astroturfing in the extreme for the Mayor’s electoral benefit.

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 It is too late for this election, but let’s hope we don’t let a biased group take off with the management of these very importat electoral forums in the next civic election.

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Transparency and Accountability

civiccamp

Transparency and accountability are words that we hear constantly from politicians and advocacy groups. Despite the prolific nature of the words in politics, the principles they represent are often not practiced by those who claim to want to see more of this. The term for that is hypocrisy and brazen hypocrisy detracts terribly from the credibility of any group.

When it comes to advocacy groups, full and clear transparency will naturally lead to accountability. With this in mind, when we launched the site for the new non-profit society (CivicCamp) we ensured that all of our expenditures, income and the principle people within the group were all openly listed on the “about” page. We also registered the society with the Alberta registrar after having had a NUANS search to ensure that the name of the society was not in use. Being registered as a society provides a degree of oversight that protects the members of the society and the public in that a degree of transparency and governance is required under the Societies Act. We wanted to be clear that we are hiding nothing about ourselves.

Our launch as a society has sent a loose collection of advocates into hysterics as they feel that they were somehow entitled to the name of our society though there is no legal record indicating that they ever went through the simple process required to secure a name as a society within Alberta. The reason this collection of folks did not register as a society of course is that they did not want to undergo the mandatory transparency and accountability that would come with such registration. These individuals were quite content to keep raising money, expending money and directly lobbying our municipal government with utterly no accountability of their own (despite demanding such from electoral candidates).

Some folks are annoyed that the founding of our society has perhaps undercut this collection of folks and are saying that we have attacked a volunteer group of some sort. Well again, no such group has ever been registered. Being “volunteer” based does not absolve a group of any accountability or ensure that all of the volunteer efforts are based on altruism. How do we know this group was all volunteer? They apparently have somehow gotten a grant and some union funding. With no mechanism of controls, visible people in charge or real transparency we have only their word to rely on that that these solicited funds did not go into the pockets of any members of this group.

This group has been claiming to be unbiased and acting only in the interest of civic engagement too. That is simply and utterly untrue and is very easy to disprove. This group of people has a very distinct political agenda and it is reflected quite clearly in the document below that was presented to and which was accepted by Calgary’s city council during budget deliberations. Budget presentation letter

As can be seen in this letter, this group of folks brazenly asked for no less than a 75% property tax increase as well as wanting to dip deeply into the ideological world of socialism in having city council somehow implement a “progressive” form of utility billing. They referenced the ever kooky ImagineCalgary document in their letter as well.

Let’s be clear, there is nothing wrong with a group of people presenting their views to people on all levels of government. It is called advocacy and it is an integral part of our democracy. The problem comes when a group of people has such a strong ideological and partisan slant and then tries to present itself innocently as a as an unbiased volunteer organization facilitating election forums at election time. When this sort of disingenuous activity comes from a group of people, folks like me are forced to call bullshit.

Refusing to register as any formal sort of group allows a group to mask the accountability that comes with having the principle members listed and open to public scrutiny. When one looks at the names that pop up in association with this apparent volunteer group that I aggrieved I can understand why they would not advertise it. People like Grant Neufeld who compares people who travel by air to murderers and slave owners or Chelsea Pratchett who was deeply involved with the Occupy Calgary squatting in a city park  come up in association with this group and yes hardly add credibility to them or any sense of a lack of bias to them. I can understand why some would want to mask the involvement of these kind of people in their informal group but alas, it costs accountability and credibility when a group refuses such transparency. The names associated with this collection of people read like a who’s who of Calgary’s extreme left activists. There is nothing wrong with that but this should not be hidden.

As the saying goes: you can’t both suck and blow. Is this loose collection of people an unbiased volunteer group that just wants to facilitate electoral participation or is it a highly ideological advocacy group that wants to press for specific policies in city hall? This bunch of people has tried to be both and have tried to hide their intent through a total lack of transparency.

CivicCamp is now registered as a non-profit society with full transparency and is not pretending to be unbiased.

I have not taken away the right of a motley collection of activists to either advocate for their policies or to volunteer for election activities. They may do either. I only have taken away the mask that they had been using to try to play both sides. If these folks want to keep advocating or volunteering I say good on them! If they try to mask themselves again though I will expose them yet again.

What’s so hard about transparency? It took five of us a couple hours, a meeting, a form to fill out and $100 to register a non-profit society. I suggest that other groups aspiring to have advocacy organizations do the same. It lends credibility, adds transparency and perhaps most important of all, protects the name of your organization.

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