2015 Alberta Political Obituary

In not so loving memory of 11 former MLAs who ignored the will of the party members and electors that gave them their short-lived political careers.

Let their political demise serve as a reminder to aspiring opportunists.

Danielle Smith 2009-2015

Danielle Smith 2009-2015

Rob Anderson 2008-2015

Rob Anderson 2008-2015

Bruce McAllister 2012-2015

Bruce McAllister 2012-2015

Jeff Wilson 2012-2015

Jeff Wilson 2012-2015

Bruce Rowe 2012-2015

Bruce Rowe 2012-2015

Rod Fox 2012-2015

Rod Fox 2012-2015

Gary Bikman 2012-2015

Gary Bikman 2012-2015

Jason Hale 2012-2015

Jason Hale 2012-2015

Kerry Towle 2012-2015

Kerry Towle 2012-2015

Ian Donovan 2012-2015

Ian Donovan 2012-2015

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On free assembly and bringing Taber into the current century.

There are no rights more critical than our individual ones. Infringements on individual rights have to be countered and exposed as soon as they crop up. The erosion of individual rights is almost always an incremental thing and when it happens on even a micro level as it is happening in Taber Alberta, it is a big and important issue.

Depiction of Taber Mayor, Council and Police Chief.

Depiction of Taber Mayor, Council and Police Chief.

The Mayor and police chief of the city of Taber appeared on numerous news sites whining about the ridicule and bad press that they have been getting over their ridiculous bylaws. Sorry but those imbeciles implemented a backwoods, hillbilly style local bylaw that is simply a gross violation of a number of individual rights. Did they really think that people would quietly let them get away with trying to set back individual rights in their town by centuries? I know that I and others who value civil liberties will not let this crackpot law go. The Mayor and his supporters would be well served to repeal this idiocy before it goes to the courts and is tossed out which will doubtless lead to even more ridicule of their community. Sadly, the Mayor and police chief of Taber appear to be suffering under a deficit of common sense so it will likely take the time of a court and judge to explain to these fools that their bylaw is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In this article we see Taber Mayor Henk De Vlieger and police chief Alf Rudd pissing and moaning (oops is that a swear?) about the backlash that their primitive bylaw has generated.

While the Mayor and Chief flaccidly try to point to other jurisdictions that have bylaws against spitting and noise, they skirt over the part where their bylaw outlaws the gathering of more than 3 people if a peace officer should make the arbitrary decision that that they may disturb the peace. This is a gross violation of free assembly and simply cannot be allowed to stand.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms pretty explicitly protects free assembly and association.

We are a spoiled society in that we have had these critical rights protected for a long time and many of us have forgotten how hard some people had to fight to win these rights for us. We can’t let those rights erode now.

One of the first things that any dictatorship will do is limit the right of free association and assembly. This keeps any opposition from organizing and stops visible public protest. In the days before modern communications laws banning assembly were very effective in halting things such as union organization or the organization of political movements. How could you begin to halt a dictatorship if you couldn’t gather more than three people together at any given time?

This law in Taber will be shot down. The only questions now are when and how. It is up to the sad little leadership in that backward city to determine how much more mockery they are willing to endure in protecting this legal atrocity before it is inevitably tossed out. I fully intend to be putting elements of this bylaw to the test soon if the fools in Taber won’t get rid of it soon. Do they really want me down there?

Perhaps they should ask Nenshi how much joy I can bring to a city council and Mayor when I feel they are improperly applying laws.

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Leaked email demonstrates hypocritical MLA flip-flop

bikmanWildrose floorcrosser Gary Bikman never really stood out over his years in the legislature aside from the time when he wrote “shill” on a piece of paper regarding a stance taken by Speaker Zwozdesky at the time and held it up in the house. It is an ironic picture considering the shilling that Bikman is doing today.

A supporter of Bikman’s had sent an email encouraging him to cross the floor on December 10th of this year. Bikman wrote a lengthy reply and then copied the document to the entire caucus on the 11th as can be seen below.

—–Original Message—–
From: Gary Bikman [mailto:*******]
Sent: Thursday, December 11, 2014 6:37 AM
To: Bruce Rowe; Jason Hale; Shayne Saskiw; Jeff Wilson; Rod Fox; Heather Forsyth; Pat Stier; Drew Barnes; Rick Strankman; Rob Anderson; Danielle Smith; Bruce McAllister; Blake Pedersen
Cc: Dave Yager;
Subject: A recent letter encouraging crossing, & my reply

Good morning, y’all:

I hope you had a good evening of R,R&R – release, relief & relaxation – last night. It’s been a challenging two month and we’ve come through a lot together. With emphasis on “together.”

I know we’ll have an interesting discussion in caucus as we prepare for a well earned and much deserved break.

I hope you’ll take the time to read this letter (email) I received from a personal friend and fan, giving me advice he thinks I need to consider – and my reply.

During our break we need to be thinking about how we’ll prepare for the next general election. Drew, Steve & I have been discussing this and have some ideas we think can play a significant role in helping assure the desired outcome.

It’s going to take a strategic, integrated plan.

We’ll mention it briefly today in Caucus and then want to hold a full day session in Calgary on Feb 5th.

Regards,

Gary

The entire letter Gary received and his lengthy response can be downloaded from the link below.

Gary Bikman’s Letter December 11

As we all know, less than a week after penning this letter Gary Bikman joined Danielle Smith and seven other MLAs in what is now becoming Alberta’s most infamous act of political betrayal in history in crossing the floor.

Bikman has listed his excuses on his facebook page here on December 17th.

I want to clip out some quotes to highlight Bikman’s profound hypocrisy below.

Bikman Dec 11: “One party rule breeds waste, bureaucratic lard, and deeply entrenched sense of entitlement; herd mentality well, lemming-like whipped votes, where MLAs can only speak up in caucus about their constituents issues and then, in some cases they’re told by the premier or whip, and I quote, “Sit down & shut up now, (name withheld) – we’ve heard from the bible belt, now let’s do what’s best for Calgary & Edmonton.”

It appears that within a few days Bikman decided to become a lemming.

Bikman Dec 17: “But Jim Prentice has changed that. He is the right leader in the right place for the right time and I am going to spend the remainder of my career in politics (however short or long that is) to help him implement the very principles and ideas I feel Alberta so desperately needs.”

Yes, apparently Prentice changed all that in a mere six day

Bikman Dec 11 on why he must not cross: Free votes in the Legislature; the right of recall; a return to regional heath boards, with real power to save.  When abolished and merged into the central organization, Chinook Health Region was the most cost effective deliverer of health care and had the best measurable outcomes.”

None of those things were promised in the merger aside from lip service to free votes on matters of conscience which has to be seen to be believed.

Bikman Dec 11: As good as Prentice is, it’s time for that kind of fiscal accountability in Alberta and it won’t be possible to fully achieve with the system of bureaucratic bulk, deep sense of entitlement and the same team that endorsed Ed & then Alison as they misstepped us through 17 billion dollars of sustainability – rainy day – funds.

I hope I can count on your support to help a new broom get elected to sweep clean.”

I don’t recall that team that Bikman so despised having disappeared over the last week.

I think I have quoted enough. The letter is here for download if one has the stomach to read the rest of the gut wrenching hypocrisy coming from Gary Bikman mere days before he chose to abandon his constituents.

The only difference between Bikman and the other floor crossers is the lack of any recent letters laying out their hypocrisy so recently.

The bottom line as this letter clearly demonstrates is that the current lame justifications coming from the opportunistic MLAs who crossed the floor to try and save their seats are little more than hypocritical bullshit.

I look forward to seeing the “Wildrose Nine” joining the unemployment line as they go down in history as little more than hypocritical opportunists who got outplayed by an unprincipled Premier.

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Stay out of my phone!

WarrantCANADIAN CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS

8. Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.

Yesterday in a split decision the Supreme Court of Canada made a ruling that sets a terrible precedent. Police officers may now search a person’s phone with no need for a warrant. This is a gross violation of our rights to privacy and leaves all citizens potentially exposed to abuses from law enforcement officers.

Phones today are essentially personal computers that are often packed with sensitive and personal information about their owners. This ruling indicates that some of our Supreme Court justices do not understand modern phones and view them as simply communication devices for talking and texting. Giving police the authority to search our phones without a warrant is akin to letting police search through our mail and file cabinets at home based simply on any suspicion that the officer wants to cook up to justify the search.

I understand that the majority of law enforcement officers are good people who would not abuse this authority. It has to be understood though that the majority is not good enough. That is why we have charter rights and protections from unlawful search and seizure.

Just today an article was written about a violent scumbag on the Edmonton Police Service named Mike Wasylyshen who despite a criminal assault conviction and numerous other offences just got a promotion to sergeant. Wasylyshen beat a man on crutches outside of an Edmonton bar and threatened to burn the victim’s house down with family in it. Wasylyshen tasered an unconscious 16 year old boy 8 times and then beat the boy with the taser itself knocking out one of the boy’s teeth. This lowlife cop also wilfully deceived a justice of the peace to wrongfully obtain a search warrant.

Why would an officer so clearly violent and corrupt still even be a part of the service? Oh, did I mention that Mike Wasylyshen’s father used to be the Chief of the Edmonton Police Service?

Now in light of that, would you want somebody like Wasylyshen rooting through your personal information on your phone? Do you feel comfortable that the sole discretion to choose such searches lands on the shoulders of men like  Wasylyshen? I am sure he is not the only bad cop out there and the Edmonton Police Service is not the only one that protects people like him.

Of course supplicants to big government love to say “What have you got to hide?” I will say this right now, none of your G-D damned business! I shouldn’t have to explain why I don’t want somebody to arbitrarily search through my personal files, communications and pictures.

I will indulge and lay out some scenarios anyway. Do I want a cop reading my personal communications with my wife? What if it is a small town and I have communications with my mistress? Will the cop remain discreet? What if my mistress is the cop’s wife? How bad will the beating be? What if he posts the picture of me restrained while wearing lederhosen and being pummeled with handfuls of lime jello tossed by a hired gang of circus midgets wearing assorted lingerie to my facebook profile?

OK, I am making light but my point is that the number of things that a person may keep on their phone that they may want to keep private is endless. There may be sensitive business dealings or there may be things that may be considered less than moral but perfectly legal. All of these could get a person blackmailed, bankrupted or simply humiliated if in the wrong hands.

There indeed are situations where the search of a person’s phone may be required in a criminal investigation. I contend that the need is not so pressing that it has to be done on the spot based on the arbitrary choice of a police officer though. A phone can be held and the need for a search can be demonstrated to a judge as a warrant is pursued. This oversight is important!

I have seen some people saying “Well, you should password protect your phone!”. For one thing, I expect police can find and be provided means to bypass passwords. For another thing, I simply should not have to. Sure, it is wise to password protect. If I choose not to though, it does not mean I deserve to have my privacy violated. A woman shouldn’t walk in dark alleys when wearing suggestive clothing but she still does not deserve to be raped if she makes such a poor choice.

Rights get eroded most effectively in increments. This story is sliding under the radar and people need to pay attention because our rights just got eroded by a large increment here!

The only party that has spoken up on this ruling that I can find so far is the Libertarian Party of Canada. Alas, they have no MPs at this time. Contact your MP folks and demand that this erosion of our rights be corrected as soon as possible.

You may be the next person Mike Wasylyshen pulls over when he is in a bad mood.

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Legitimacy of next Progressive Conservative leader already in question

ballot

The lackluster race to lead the governing Progressive Conservative Party is finally coming to an end tomorrow. Thanks to the Westminster System, the person selected by the membership of the party will essentially automatically become the Premier of the province of Alberta. Unfortunately due to a series of terrible decisions in setting up the system for the leadership election, we will never be confident of the legitimacy of whomever ends up elected in this mess.

I served on the three person committee that managed the election of Danielle Smith as leader of the Wildrose Party in 2009. I learned many lessons through the course of that race. The hardest lesson for an idealist like me was accepting that even in an internal race there are many people who are eager to stretch and break rules in order to win. While most people have personal principles that would prevent this, sadly many will do whatever they can to try and gain an edge for their team. For example, one of the teams in the Wildrose leadership race literally signed up multiple dead people as members. This was caught and internal discipline was enforced. One day I will go into more full detail about some of the stunts attempted in that race.

Because of the reality that some will try to abuse the system, some checks and balances were built into the system to try and reduce or eliminate abuses.

1. In the Wildrose Party, aside from immediate family members, all members must purchase their own membership.

This one can be tough to manage but with the checks below, one can see how bulk buying of memberships is difficult in a properly run leadership system.

The Prentice team initially denied and then admitted to buying memberships for others. While the practice of buying memberships for others is frowned upon by most, it is not technically wrong in the PC leadership election system. I will explain below why this is a huge problem.

2. In the Wildrose race, after a period of time, the membership lists of all teams were shared for the remainder of the campaign. In the PC race this is not happening.

Leadership races put a huge strain upon the resources of the party. Teams typically hold their membership sales tight until the last minute and then literally dump tens of thousands of them on the party at once to be processed. Just entering these memberships into the system alone is a Herculean task, scrutinizing the veracity of the members effectively is nearly impossible for the party itself. This is where sharing the lists with the teams is critical.

Who better to check the lists of members and how they were signed up than competing leadership teams? You can rest assured that volunteers in the different leadership teams in the Wildrose were dedicated to scrutinizing the new lists of members for discrepancies the moment that they got these lists. This is indeed how some of the small but still egregious abuses of the system came to light in the Wildrose leadership race. It was the knowledge that these lists would be shared that kept some of the unprincipled from abusing the system in any large way. They knew that if there were 50 memberships coming from the same household or if one person was signed up 6 times with slight differences in the spelling of their names that alarm bells would go off so they didn’t even try.

In refusing to share the membership lists among the teams, the PC party has invited abuse and we know it is happening. The only questions are the degree of the abuse and how it may or may not have affected the outcome of the race. We likely will never be able to find out.

3. The Wildrose invited scrutineers to be present for every aspect of the vote counting. Now to be fair, one unprincipled team actually took advantage of that for their own benefit and I will indeed write in detail about that down the road. Either way, for the most part having representatives from leadership teams present helps prevent counting abuses and such. As with the membership lists, nobody is better to police the rules in these regards than the teams themselves. The PCs are not allowing such scrutiny which is very distressing.

4. The PCs are using a telephone/internet voting system.

There are countless essays and articles about why these systems are terrible and ripe for abuse. I will let the reader google that should they want more information as my posting is getting lengthy enough.

Aside from cracking the system itself, the phone/internet system of voting also allows anonymity in voting which makes abuse terribly easy.

Let’s say for example I was an unprincipled supporter of one of the campaigns and I had deep pockets for some reason. Let’s say I have access to voters lists from elections Alberta. I could theoretically sign up hundreds or possibly thousands of people for memberships without their knowledge. All I would have to change would be the email address to send the PIN for voting to which is an option in the system. The party’s only check is that the name and address matches the electors list. With the members list reaching the party at the last minute, no physical mail would reach the unknowing new member until the race was over. Communications would come through the email address. With online voting and over the course of a couple days, one person alone could vote countless times and how would they be caught? Scrutineers wont catch it as the party is not allowing them.

The provincial Liberals, Alberta Party and federal NDP all did remote voting in their last races. The turnout for all of those races were dismal so what is the reason to go with this terrible system?

As I type this we are hearing all sorts of reports about how the system is getting overloaded and people cant get their votes in. Odd in mid-day on a weekday. One would think most prospective voters would be working.

The voting system is turning out to be a gong-show of a disaster and the voting has only been going on for a few hours now.

In light of the huge exploits I have demonstrated above, how could anybody really be sure that whoever wins the race has done so fairly? The PC party is already reeling from years of scandals and have lost the trust of many Albertans. What they needed was a leader elected to refresh the party and get off to a principled start. This is impossible now as we will never be able to be sure if that leader was legitimately elected.

Opportunity lost again.

 

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Ideas so good they have to be mandatory!

The Purple Peacock

Naheed Nenshi has a dream. In Nenshi’s utopia, Calgarians will eschew suburban living and automobiles en masse while embracing high density downtown condo living and riding bicycles or taking transit to work. Calgary will turn into some sort of North American Amsterdam and lead the world in urbanist dreams. Industrial districts will vanish along with those nasty railroads that move consumer goods. Calgary will offer food trucks, art galleries and coffee shops as main industries. Hipsters from around the world will travel to Calgary to ride bicycles and gaze upon public art created by sole sourced foreign artists.

Despite using every tool at His disposal, Nenshi’s dream so far has pretty much been an utter failure. There is one factor that is foiling Nenshi’s every move to create this beautiful fantasy city. That factor is consumer choice!

consumer

Yes, those damned unwashed Calgarians just refuse to embrace Nenshi’s dream. Citizens are voting with their wallets and moving to bedroom communities in record numbers to flee the congestion and costs that are growing under Nenshi’s high-density stewardship of Calgary. Calgarians are still refusing to jam themselves like sardines into aromatic city transit or ride bicycles to work in winter as well. The personal auto is still by far the most popular means of transportation in Calgary.

Nenshi has tried every punitive means at his disposal to try to get people out of cars. Streets are being given away for a non-existent cyclist demand and parking spaces removed as quickly as possible. City Hall is now even considering charging people to park in front of their own homes. Those damned drivers are still ignoring Nenshi’s efforts to save them from themselves.

Rather than respect the wishes of Calgarians, Nenshi wants the province to empower him to force people to give up their autos and force neighboring municipalities to plan based on His own ridiculous density targets.

Nenshi has long been begging the province to grant him additional taxation powers. Property taxes alone are inadequate to feed Nenshi’s spending lust despite constant massive annual increases. Property taxes and fees do not allow Nenshi to punish behavior he doesn’t like and direct the unwashed masses into the mold He dreams of. Nenshi wants the power to charge for auto registrations and to tax the hell out of fuel. He wants to make automotive use as expensive and unviable as possible.

Nenshi’s taxation dreams have thankfully been stymied by our provincial government and it appears that they will continue to be.

Nenshi’s city hall has been strangling development in the suburbs through bureaucratic means and he has dedicated profound energy to demonizing people who choose to live in the suburbs and those businesses that dare to service such demand. Instead of squeezing into Nenshi’s square hole however, people are simply moving away from Nenshi’s playground altogether.

Nenshi’s plan to curb the exodus of citizens and businesses from the city is even more odious than his taxation dreams. Nenshi has been pushing and making ridiculous demands for a provincially mandated Municipal Development Plan which would give Him a veto power over development plans in neighboring municipalities and impose Calgary’s density requirements upon them.

Nenshi’s unbending demands for authority over other municipalities has stunted any chance of a regional development agreement being developed. Regional planning is a good thing but it simply has to be cooperative. Rather than subject themselves to Nenshi’s dictatorial dreams, the MDs of Foothills, Wheatland and Rocky View have told Nenshi to kiss their collected asses. Okotoks and Airdrie have refused to participate and so far the provincial government has refused to intervene.

Nenshi’s pouting has gotten more vocal as he has been stamping his foot and demanding that the province step in and force those uppity neighbors to take part in his dream.

So far no provincial ministers have indulged Nenshi in His fervent demands as they pretty much know that doing so would be committing political suicide in rural constituencies.

We must remain on guard though. Nenshi is a canny political strategist and he can smell vulnerability in the Progressive Conservative Party right now. You can bet that Nenshi is pressuring the individual leadership candidates to promise a provincially forced Municipal Development Plan and it is possible that one of those candidates may foolishly commit to such a promise in hopes of securing the Purple Endorsement in both the leadership and the next provincial election.

If people wanted to live in Nenshi’s dream, they would choose to. The ever vaunted and subsidized “East Village” languishes undeveloped and suburbs remain popular. Auto sales continue in record numbers and weekend road trips remain more popular than art festivals. Nenshi will never understand and respect the reality that he is supposed to serve the will of the electorate rather than direct it. That is why Nenshi consistently resorts to the hammer rather than accommodating the needs and wants of citizens. That of course is why it is critical that we ensure that our provincial government never empowers Nenshi as he is demanding. It would be damned tough to get that toothpaste back into the tube.

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Choosing the next leader of Alberta’s official opposition

crown

This upcoming leadership race for the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta will be the third one I have observed from the perspective of a Wildrose (formerly Alberta Alliance) supporter. In the last two races it was assumed (correctly) that the P.C. Party was electing the next Premier of Alberta. This time around, it is broadly assumed that the P.C. Party will be electing a person who will be serving as a seat warmer on the provincial throne until Danielle Smith can take it in the next general election. Barring a miracle, there is little that can stop the aforementioned outcome.

The mood and comments from within the Wildrose Party are indicative of how outlooks have changed. Discontent with the Progressive Conservative party’s governance of Alberta was beginning to gain some steam in the last couple years of Ralph Klein’s time as Premier. Spending was increasing dramatically and that party seemed to be losing some of it’s vision and direction. The Alberta Alliance Party had won an upset seat in the prior election along with some strong second place finishes and it was beginning to gain strength though it was still quite small on the Alberta political landscape. The Progressive Conservative Party knives came out and Ralph Klein was given a humiliating 55% support number at the 2006 PC convention which quickly ushered him out the door as Premier.

To be frank, the leadership race devastated the fledgling Alberta Alliance Party. The bulk of our supporters were discontented small c conservatives who had left the Progressive Conservatives and they now had renewed hope for change from within their former party. Our donors dried up and the office phone stopped ringing. Most had more appetite to change the leader of the PCs than take the long road of building a whole new alternative. This problem was hugely exacerbated when our leader & sole MLA Paul Hinman suggested that Alberta Alliance members should take out PC memberships and support the election of Ted Morton as leader. Paul is a truly pragmatic man and thought this approach was what was best for Alberta. It was a terribly weak position coming from an opposition party however.

By the time Ed Stelmach was elected as leader of the PC party, the Alberta Alliance was on virtual life support. Our membership numbered in the hundreds and our bank account held a few thousand dollars at best. A small surge of members returned having given up on Ted Morton’s chances and we carried on. The hope for conservative leaning change from within the PC party was dashed.

Within a few years the self-serving Progressive Conservative knives came out for Ed Stelmach and yet again we were into a leadership race in 2011. Due to Stelmach’s attacks on the energy industry, business support was getting strongly behind the newly branded Wildrose Alliance Party. Stelmach had won a decisive majority in the 2008 election but then continually lost ground to this surging new opposition. A by-election loss in Glenmore, the election of Danielle Smith and the following floor crossings by Rob Anderson, Heather Forsyth and later Guy Boutilier sent a series of shockwaves through the PC party. A coup was coming from within caucus and Stelmach stepped aside before he could be formally thrown out.

Again we saw a degree of support leave the Wildrose Party in hopes that Ted Morton or perhaps even Mar could get the PC Party back on course. The degree of loss of support within the Wildrose in 2011 was much smaller than in the 2006 election. While hindered and distracted by the PC leadership race, the Wildrose Party still continued to work and establish a strong ground presence and developed constituencies. Growth in funds and membership only slowed for the Wildrose during this PC leadership race as opposed to totally drying up as it did in 2006.

When the Progressive Conservative Party not only resoundingly rejected Ted Morton but took a hard left turn in selecting Alison Redford as their leader, support for the Wildrose Party finally solidified. A tipping point of conservative/libertarian Albertans had been reached who had given up all hope on reforming the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. Growth within the ever evolving Wildrose Party exploded by every measure whether public opinion polling, fundraising or membership numbers. The tone changed within the party and sights were truly set on forming government.

The 2012 election proved two things resoundingly as the Redford campaign barely hung on to power. For one thing the Progressive Conservative machine was vulnerable and could indeed be replaced. The other thing learned at that time was that the Wildrose Party still needed some maturing and evolution in order to be the party to replace the PCs.

Now that the Progressive Conservative Party has tossed out Redford and are into yet another leadership race, the impact of this circumstance on the Wildrose Party couldn’t be more different than it had been in 2006 and 2011. While some folks are trying to imply that the Wildrose Party desperately hoped that Redford would remain as the Premier in order to truly sink the PC reign, that simply isn’t true.

The Wildrose Party has been growing and evolving and examining itself for years with the goal of replacing the entire government in mind, not just the leader of it. This goal has not changed a bit. As the Progressive Conservatives have ripped apart yet another of their leaders, there is no indication of any loss of Wildrose support to any budding PC leadership candidates. The removal of Redford has not led to hope that the PC party has any chance of internal changes. What the PC coup has demonstrated is that the PCs are in utter turmoil and have no clue how to save their individual, personal political fortunes. No matter who the PCs choose to lead them this time, their party is weakened fiscally, organizationally and morally. These weaknesses are now fatal for this fading party and we can feel it in the Wildrose Party.

Within days of Redford’s resignation, the Wildrose held their leader’s dinner in Calgary. 1000 people packed the house at $400 per plate and the mood was one of nothing but excitement and optimism as people knew they were watching the next elected Premier of Alberta speaking. History is being made as a 43 year old dynasty is finally coming to an end.

Politics are fickle and much can change within a couple years. As I said before though, it will take nothing less than a miracle to turn the Progressive Conservative Party around this time.

Leadership campaigns for the PC party had been traditionally funded by people wanting to curry favor with a future Premier. It will be difficult for candidates to raise the non-refundable $50,000 entry fee (such a grassroots figure), much less the hundreds of thousands required for the rest of the campaign when pretty much all political watchers know that these candidates are running to lead the opposition after the next provincial election.

Nothing can be taken for granted by the Wildrose Party of course. In seeing and feeling three of these races from within the party though, one can tell that the time for a true change of government has finally come.

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Wildrose & Progressive Conservative. What’s the difference?

wildpc

As the Wildrose Party has grown and matured as a party, our policies have evolved and moderated every year. We have learned from experience what is realistic and what is acceptable to Albertans and have adjusted our actions accordingly. As the policy set moves towards what some may view as a more mushy middle, some critics have questioned what differences remain between the Wildrose Party and the reigning Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta. While the policies may appear to be getting similar (can’t really find a good copy of the PC ones), the difference between the parties is still immense.

The biggest difference between the Wildrose Party and the PCs is subtle yet profound. The difference between the parties is one of both culture and of attitudes held by both the general membership and senior party members. This huge difference was laid out and exposed excellently in a blog posting by Christina Rontynen who courageously has spoken up from within the PCs.

Christina and her husband Piotr Pilarski have both been very loyal and involved members of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta for years. Christina has now spoken up out of concern for the party that she has given so much to. In return for Christina having expressed frank concerns, she has received a letter of censure from the Party President Jim McCormick.

Letter of censure

The bottom line is that the powers that be in the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta have told a concerned member in no uncertain terms to shut the hell up. This exposes the great difference from the Wildrose  Party and sickness from within the PC Party of Alberta. Redford can’t be blamed for this attempt to gag a concerned loyal member. This missive came from the Party President who is supposed to represent the membership.

 

My wife Jane and I have both been very vocal and outspoken when we have felt that some elements within the Wildrose Party may be trying to move things in the wrong direction. We have been critical of the Wildrose Party on a number of occasions. Jane is a former Executive Director for the Wildrose and has served in a number of executive capacities while I served multiple terms on the party executive. Both Jane and I are past candidates for the party. Serving in those sorts of roles does not mean we can no longer be openly critical of the party at times as McCormick has implied in his letter to Rontynen.

Jane and I have surely made many senior members of the Wildrose Party grind their teeth when we have gotten openly cranky with the party. I have gotten more than one grumpy phone call from higher-ups in the party asking what I am up to. One thing that has never happened though is that nobody in the Wildrose Party considered for even a second to tell Jane or I to shut up!

The culture of the Wildrose Party is still one where the concerns of the membership (and Albertans) are paramount. The party is still relatively new and embraces internal critique as part of it’s growth rather than try to stifle it. Perhaps if the Wildrose Party held power for 43 years in Alberta these values and attitudes would change but for now the party is as grassroots as it gets despite taking an increasingly pragmatic approach to it’s actions.

The culture and attitude of a party can’t be captured in a policy statement. Those things can only been viewed in actions and felt within membership. Even if the Wildrose Party and the PC Party had the exact same policy set (they certainly don’t), the difference in cultures within these two parties would still set them greatly apart.

The Progressive Conservative Party acts only for the benefit of the party itself. The Wildrose Party is still dominated by the ideal of service for the benefit of the province and acts through the guidance of the party membership. That difference is and will remain tremendous no matter who may lead the Progressive Conservative Party next.

 

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Let’s put the proposed Macleod Tr. bike track to the test.

Nobody should fear a test unless they have reason to believe that they will fail it.

To say that taking a lane from Macleod Tr. Southbound (1 St. SE) in Calgary’s downtown in order to give the space to a tiny minority of bicycle commuters is a radical plan would be a gross understatement.

Calgary transportation planning appears to be actually trying to go ahead and take away 25% of the lane space from a piece of roadway that services 25,000 vehicles per day. This initiative appears to be based on some very weak speculation and projections of how much further Calgary’s traffic will be congested or how many new cyclists such a plan could draw. It doesn’t take a deep study to know that the claim by the transportation department that such a move would only increase people’s commute time by one minute to know that such a statement is nothing less than utter hogwash.

Calgary taxpayers paid tens of millions of dollars to build the roadways that will be covered by this rather aggressive cycle track network plan. It is not too much to ask to see some simple testing conducted to assure us that the impact upon downtown traffic will be reasonable and that these invisible thousands of potential cyclists will indeed pop out of the woodwork?

We should put the Macleod Tr. bike track to the test by temporarily setting the track up and getting true, hard figures on how well this may or may not work. Again, when we are talking about 10s of millions of dollars in infrastructure at risk here, the cost of such a test is negligible. No more cute artist’s depictions of how the new street would look. No more projected numbers on how many people would give up their cars in favor of a bicycle. Let’s lay down the barriers and see how it goes.

The required barriers are cheap and doubtless the city keeps them in stock for construction projects.

barrierThere are plastic barriers that are very cheap and easy to install as well.

plasticbarr

For intersections, temporary lights have been used on construction projects for decades. We are in the days where a $50 cell phone can store and play an entire feature film. Programing temporary traffic signals is pretty easy.

stoplightWe will need a little painting done. We know that we have spare city staff as they used 10 of them to paint the simple little green box below and now are all fully qualified in road painting.

bikeWith one weekend of construction we could take the lane from Macleod Tr. South and give it to those masses of awaiting cyclists. Let’s say we do this in May so the proponents can’t use the weather excuse and let’s say we leave the barriers up for a full 30 days.

With such a simple and reasonable test we can find out definitively just how traffic will be impacted by this proposed bike track. We will also find out how many new cycle commuters will be drawn to the new track. Most importantly, we will give commuters and businesses downtown a good taste of what the cycle plan has in mind for them as they target all of Calgary’s busiest central roadways for more cycle tracks.

The cycle proponents should be thrilled with such a concept. They are confident that most Calgarians want to give up main roadways for cycle tracks. They are confident that thousands of auto commuters are just waiting to cycle to work every day but have not done so due to the lack of a track. This experiment should prove the cycle advocates correct right?

Imagine how easy it will be to sell future bike tracks once Calgarians see that traffic is not impacted and that the bike lane looks like a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting with commuters on bicycles mingling with happy families all riding together with beatific smiles on their faces as they enjoy these vibrant, sustainable lanes!

rockwell-bicycle-sm-237x300

Doing tests and pilot projects for major changes to roads is actually standard practice in many Calgary transportation initiatives despite their not doing this with the bike track plans.  When I was living in the Northwest a couple years ago, temporary barriers were installed along 4 st NW as a pilot project for traffic calming. The barriers were changed and moved a couple times after real impacts were measured and citizen input was taken into account (people in the neighborhood were not pleased).

On Macleod Tr. South, a pilot project was undertaken to change morning congestion around Avenida as things had been bottlenecking. As can be seen with this detailed report, the pilot project led to a significant saving in commuter time and was made permanent. Had the project not aided traffic flow, it simply would have been scrapped. This is simple good planning. There is no reason why such pilots and tests can’t be applied to cycle tracks.

Edmonton Trail and Memorial have both seen major pilot projects on traffic flow and doubtless every major road in the city has seen some testing at one time or another.

Let’s put this whole debate to rest and put the case for cycle tracks at the expense of major road arteries to rest once and for all!

I suspect that the cycle track proponents will adamantly oppose the concept of such a test for the reason stated in the very first sentence of this posting.

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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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