The Springbank Dam obsession.

I use the term “obsession” when speaking of the proposed Springbank dam flood mitigation project because the support for this proposal by the left is borderline obsessive and is contrary to all common sense.

The Springbank dam proposal is inferior to the McLean Creek proposal by every measure yet Nenshi and the NDP are contorting themselves desperately in favor of this terrible plan.

I am listing the problems below and will finish with why I think the left has such obsessive support for this plan.

Protection:

While the Springbank dam project may mitigate flooding in Calgary, it completely neglects Bragg Creek, Redwood Meadows and the Tsuu T’ina reserve. All of those communities were devastated in the 2013 floods as homes and businesses were utterly destroyed.

The McLean Creek flood mitigation route would protect both Calgary and all of these homes. Why would we neglect these vulnerable communities like this in favor of Springbank?

Environmental footprint:

The McLean Creek option takes up a much smaller space than the proposed Springbank dam project.

When it comes to measuring land disrupted, the comparison between the two proposals is stark.

Disruption of people and infrastructure:

The Mclean Creek option is on public land with no residences. The Springbank dam option is all on private land. This is a key distinction in understanding the left-wing’s fervent, ideologial pursuit of the Sprinbank dam.

The Springbank dam would destroy Kamp Kiwanis which hosts 11,000 underprivileged children per year on their site. A camp that has existed for over 60 years.

The Springbank dam would impact eight major natural gas pipelines. These pipelines will have to be re-routed at a huge cost to taxpayers along with the new environmental impacts as new routes are cut.

The Springbank dam would impact 22 residences some of which are historical ranches that have operated for well over a century.

Naheed Neshi in being one of the obsessive supporters tried to spread bullshit in claiming that no homes were in the Springbank dam area. He was called on his BS quickly.

Nenshi doesn’t like facts getting in the way of His ideology.

Cost to taxpayers:

The Springbank dam project was initially projected to cost $200 million dollars. The government has just released a report where the projected cost has now exploded to $432 million dollars. The McLean creek option remains $26 million cheaper than the Springbank dam.

When we consider how fiscally inept the Notley government is, we can be confident that the Springbank dam costs will continue to skyrocket. The lawsuits from private landowners alone will cost a fortune.

By all measures, the Springbank dam option is inferior to the McLean Creek option.

Area MLA Cam Westhead with the NDP will be of no help for his constituents. As a resident of Bragg Creek, Westhead knew that campaigning in support of the Springbank dam would be political suicide. Westhead campaigned in opposition to the Springbank dam and quickly flip-flopped as soon as he got his precious seat in the legislature.

What’s a little bullshit if it gets you a seat eh Cam?

I wonder if Westhead can even show his face in places such as the Powderhorn Saloon (devastated in the floods) in his home town these days. I don’t suspect that Bragg Creek residents are thrilled that he threw their community under the bus.

I contend that the whole matter comes down to ideology. Dedicated leftists such as Nenshi and the NDP traditionally despise private property rights. They are gleeful at the prospect of setting a precedent through the expropriation (government theft) of thousands of acres of private property.

Icing on the cake for these ideologues is that many of these landowners are somewhat wealthy. How dare they prosper in Alberta on land that has been in their families for generations!!

I went for a drive through the area and did a short video rant on it last night.

Landowners oppose the Springbank dam. First Nations oppose the Springbank dam. Bragg Creek opposes the Springbank dam.

All that opposition means nothing when it gives the left a chance to poke a finger in the eye of the productive however.

Let’s hope things haven’t become irreversible by the time we finally kick the Notley Regime to the electoral curb.

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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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Government debt is nothing like a personal mortgage!

As the inept and increasingly corrupt Redford government marches Alberta back into debt, apologists are trying to say that government debt it a good thing and is like a mortgage. That statement is utter hogwash and it is tiring.

To begin with a mortgage is taken out by individuals (or families), to purchase what will likely be an appreciating asset. Equity (most likely) will build in the purchase that can be used to borrow against in the future in possible hard times or the home may simply be sold outright later. Barring either of the above, the home and it’s value will eventually be handed down to heirs.

Government capital projects while providing value are not typically transferable and only lead to future maintenance costs as opposed to appreciating in future value. Can we use a hospital as collateral in a future loan? Can we sell an overpass if we need extra cash? Increasing long-term value makes incurring debt for a home purchase a good idea. That growing value simply does not exist in government capital projects.

A mortgage is usually a once in a lifetime debt. People may move from home to home while building equity and transferring the mortgage but a person will generally only have one mortgage at any one time and the goal will be to pay it off. When government begins borrowing in good times as Redford plans to do now, it is akin to taking out a new mortgage every year. No appreciating asset is being purchased and debt simply keeps growing and growing. There is no equity offsetting the loan.

While a personal mortgage will eventually end, capital expenditures never will. There will always be more roads needed and hospitals demanded. Will future generations not need such expenditures too? They will have to pay for that infrastructure while paying debt off along with interest. Is this principled or fair?

We hear the dwindling Progressive Conservative supporters trying to paint things as if it is some sort of zero-sum game with idiotic questions such as: “Don’t you want schools, hospitals and roads?”. Of course we do and we will still have all of those damned things without borrowing to get them.

People keep speaking of an infrastructure deficit. By who’s measure is there a deficit? Is there ever enough hospitals? Will roads ever be wide enough? Will kids have enough schools close to home? Will there be enough libraries? The demand for spending is truly infinite. The capacity to spend is finite though and we have to draw a line somewhere.

If we need to borrow while the government is receiving record revenues as it is now, it is clear that there is no way that this administration will stop borrowing down the road no matter what energy prices do. We will borrow and borrow and borrow until an inevitable fiscal collapse that our children and grandchildren will have to endure.

All around the developed world we are seeing governments collapsing under their own debt. Most of Europe is in fiscal shambles and the USA is soon to either hit the wall or have some terribly heavy austerity measures come into place as their government debt overwhelms them. Why on earth do we want to continue to keep digging ourselves into that unsustainable hole when such clear examples of the futility of that path are in front of us?

We are lucky in Alberta to have the means for some of the best infrastructure and development in the entire world. For us to threaten this with such a gross addiction to spending and lazy government is almost obscene.

The excuses and rationalizations will be coming hard and heavy as the 2013 budget looms and Redford presents Albertans with a massive budgetary deficit. To be sure, the mortgage comparison with government borrowing is simply bunk. Be sure to remind Redford’s small social media army of that as they ramp up their unprincipled rhetoric in the next few months.

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