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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Redford is continuing with the PC prohibitionist mandate.

One constant since the begining of the bumbling Stelmach administration has been a steady attack on liquor consumption from the provincial government. Almost anually the Progressive Conservatives would announce a new policy or tax modelled to socially engineer Albertans to reduce their enjoyment of a drink now and then. Perhaps it was an effort to distance themselves from the prior Klein administration that was led by a man known to imbibe now and then. The bottom line though is that it is an intrusive form of governance that does not fit with the Albertan laissez faire approach to most things.

One of the first things Stelmach did was mandate a pile of ridiculous regulations on business establishments forcing them to adopt minimum drink prices and even determined the volume of liquor a person was allowed to purchase in a bar at certain hours. The Progressive Conservatives had taken to micromanaging private business going as far as telling them what they must charge and how much of their product they are allowed to sell at a time. Mao would have been proud.

This brought about an end to drink specials and the time honored tradition of happy hour.

The next thing Stelmach did was the usual shallow tactic in trying to prohibit something; he announced a massive tax increase on liquor.

In Ed’s usual bumbling manner though, he totally failed in reading public opinion in Alberta. In the typical PC flip/flop he recinded the tax increases shortly after bringing them in due to a public backlash as people tired of his anti-booze crusade interfering in their good times. I remember well talking to a tired store owner trying to keep up with his pricing as the government tried to figure out what to tell private business what to charge customers. Along with the prohibitionism, Redford has mastered the PC flip/flop as well in her broken promises to set fixed election dates and to hold a judicial inquiry into our healthcare system but I digress.

As we all know, Stelmach’s inept management of the province led to his resignation last January. The election of Alison Redford led some people to hope for some change but it is becoming rather clear that we still have the same old free spending, nanny state that we had before. The only thing that has changed is the face at the front with perhaps a little more leftward spin. The social conservatism is still obviously alive and well.

Despite clear evidence that people with only .05-.079% blood alcohol are not causing any undue or extra accidents on Alberta roads, the Redford government still insisted on ramrodding Bill 26 through the legislature and onto Albertans. Using what essentially can be called a legal loophole, the provincial government has found a way to punish people heavily for a non-crime while leaving them with none of the process of defense that criminal law provides. It is almost reminicent of the Human Rights Commissions.

Why would the Progressive Conservatives go so far out of their way to antagonize Alberta businesses and citizens with a law that serves no visible purpose? Clearly we are no safer due to Bill 26. What we will see however is a reduction of drinking even one or two wines with meals as many people will fear the new punishments brought about by government against responsible drinkers. Others who do enjoy a drink with their meal will often simply stay home which of course will come at great cost to our restaurant industry. The goal of the government is simply to attack drinking whether it is done responsibly or not. This people is simply prohibition by stealth and harrassment.

Redford now wants to continue where Stelmach failed and is planning to bring in heavy taxes on liquor again. Not sure if we are at the point of flip or flop. What we do have is blatant social engineering however. Government plans to punish you further through taxation for daring to decide to enjoy a drink.

In Redford’s own words the other day on how her government will make choices on your behalf and will manage your life and decisions:

“Albertans are really sensible. They want to be healthy, they want to be safe and they want government to take some leadership and say: ‘You know what, we’re going to make some choices and these choices are going to be conducive to building a safer and a healthier community where we’re able to make sure we have good programs in place and everyone in society can thrive.’”

I have to call bullshit Alison. If you really thought Albertans were responsible, then you would not be trying to micromanage our personal decisions would you? We don’t need you to make choices on our behalf!

While dedicated, the ladies of the temperance movements soon discovered that lips that didn’t touch liquor were exceedingly unlikely to touch theirs.

I would have thought that people such as Alison Redford would have gained a great appreciation of the concept of beer goggles in her post-secondary educational years. I guess it just led to further bitterness.

It is ironic that Redford is considered a crusader for liberals when her government is clearly so dedicated to socially conservative efforts in social engineering.

Leave us our booze at least Alison so that we may drink away the pains of your inept government as you tax, borrow and spend away the inheritances of our grandchildren.

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Taxpayers are squeezed enough! We have a spending problem.

 A few weeks ago I attended one of the Alberta Party’s big listens in Medicine Hat. It was a cold winter night and I figured that I may as well pop out and see what the Twitter crowd was up to. The tea-house that hosted the event was beautiful and the environment was welcoming for the 17 or so of us who showed up. The people in attendance whether with the Alberta Party or there to learn about the party all appeared to be earnest and seeking ways to improve the province.

 The “big listen” was an interesting excercise to say the least. We began with introductions and continued to circle the room with guests speaking about how they feel about things in what felt like some support group manner. We were asked to expand on what we felt grateful for and what we were optimistic about. It certainly was warm and fuzzy but there really were no conclusive policy discussions within the first hour. That is reflected in what the Alberta Party has hammered together for vague policies so far.  

 The views of the room became more evident in the later part of the meeting when people could speak more specifically to their concerns. One fellow was there because he felt that government was not spending enough for his pet project of a local library. Another person there was a representative of the teachers union who expressed that the government was not spending enough on education. There was a man in attendance who felt that government was not spending enough to preserve and set aside prairie land for protection of species and there was a couple from the “friends of medicare” who went on at length about how government has been starving healthcare.

  The gal from “friends of medicare” then launched into a tirade about how government has a revenue problem and we must further tax the rich and that energy companies are robbing Alberta blind. It was disconcerting seeing the heads nodding around the room during this rant worthy of Vladimir Lenin as people envisioned increased funding for their personal projects taken from some apparent faceless “rich people” and corporations. The simplistic Robin Hood call of taxing the evil rich unfortunately is an effective one for many people. It is unfortunate that is destroys economies when followed as we are seeing in Europe.

 All of the concerns expressed by the people in that room that night are valid ones and important ones. These were the concerns expressed with less than 20 Albertans when an open meeting is called. Imagine how many individual pet projects come up when a large townhall meeting is held. The Alberta Party meeting was a microcosm of a large townhall meeting. People with predetermined special interests show up and lobby MLAs furiously with funding demands for their projects. Due to this, we can see why the tired Progressive Conservative MLAs succumb to the temptation to simply promise money to all rather than take on the difficult task of governing with a sense of fiscal responsibility. This is reflected in our series of deficit budgets.

 Lets get some facts out there now.

Health spending in Alberta was $1,950 per-capita in 2001. This year it will be an estimated $6,266 per-capita. We have tripled per-capita healthcare spending in Alberta in less than ten years and we are spending the most in the entire nation. I must call B.S. on those claiming that we are underfunding healthcare in Alberta.

How about education? Well Alberta tops the nation in spending per-capita on education too.

http://policyschool.ucalgary.ca/files/publicpolicy/albsp2.pdf 

 The trend is consistent in virtually all departments of spending. Alberta is consistently near the top or at the top of spending when compared to every other province in Canada. How the hell can people keep claiming that we do not spend enough?
 
 Alberta spends the least (for now) in debt servicing per-capita. For those who truly care about program spending, how can you lobby for further deficit budgets that will lead us to wasting money on interest charges and debt servicing instead of spending on core programs? I can think of few worse ways to spend tax dollars.
 For those who feel we need to tax those nasty corporations by the way, I suggest that you do some research into who actually owns those corporations and where the profits go (here is a hint, it is your pension plan). RRSPs and pension plans by far make up the majority of corporate ownership in Canada so when you folks want to knock those big nasty businesses keep in mind that you are shooting directly at your own feet. Those corporations employ millions as well and when they get knocked with taxes they tend to lay folks off.
 Support for deficit/debt budgets comes only from people with a deep abiding special interest or people simply participating in intellectual/political sloth. Alberta brings in more than enough revenue from taxpayers. We need to work on the proper management of the funding that we already have.
There really is no excuse to expand spending beyond inflation and population growth. It is too bad that our government is too weak to acknowledge that and we will see that this afternoon when we are presented with the Ted Morton / Ed Stelmach deficit budget.

Authors of our 2011/2012 deficit budget.

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Compromise (it’s not a dirty word)

com·pro·mise  (kmpr-mz)

n. 1. a. A settlement of differences in which each side makes concessions.

b. The result of such a settlement.2. Something that combines qualities or elements of different things: The incongruous design is a compromise between high tech and early American.3. A concession to something detrimental or pejorative

 One thing that nobody can deny is that we are within one of the most interesting periods of Alberta politics in over a decade. Many people are surprised at the explosive growth of the Wildrose Alliance Party which is suddenly showing itself to be a very serious contender to be considered by the Alberta electorate.

 One of the key elements that has allowed the WAP to break out of what has been considered “fringe” status has been the ability of the people involved within the party to accept a degree of compromise.

 There are countless parties languishing within the political wilderness and the thing that will keep them on the outside looking in is their inability to accept compromise. Some parties are easy to identify as they name themselves based on a single issue that they will never compromise on (Green Party, Marijuana Party, Separation Party etc). While other fringe parties may not carry their burden right in their names, a glancing evaluation of their policies will invariably display why they will remain on the outskirts of mainstream politics whether federally or provincially.

 A giant step in the evolution of right of center alternative parties in Alberta occurred when the Alberta Alliance Party and the Wildrose Party merged. It became clear to people seeking an alternative to the PC party of Alberta that such an alternative will never come about if right of center movements keep splintering and fighting among themselves. Many people demanded that this practice end and the boards of both the Wildrose Party and the Alberta Alliance Party began the realize the futility of their walking along separate paths. The merger of the two parties took months of negotiation that was often heated and progress waxed and waned.

 Some people within the boards on both sides refused to accept compromise and it hindered negotiations greatly. Minor issues were nitpicked and hairs were split in hopes of derailing the process. Both boards realized that the merger would never come if a couple of key individuals continued in the negotiation process. The compromise that was reached was that each party would remove one of those individuals from the negotiation process. In one meeting without the participation with those two, the agreement was drafted which would lead to the memberships of both parties accepting a merger of the two parties.

 Now what is more important than the merger itself is the the people who remained and carried on with the newly formed party. People who stubbornly refused to accept any form of compromise were shed and a party executive that understood the benefits of examining more than one point of view was born. A broader vision was adopted by the party executive and critical discussions could happen without people petulantly storming from the room. Progress in party growth and evolution happened at a rate never seen before as the board worked with a cooperative attitude. Prominent and skilled people were drawn to the management of the party as it became evident that clear focus was finally coming from the helm.

 The next large turning point for the party was the annual general meeting that was held in Calgary last June. A massive cleaning of party policies was proposed and was accepted by the membership at the meeting. In a party with a fringe mentality, such a wholesale change would never have been adopted as the uncompromising would have dominated the room. The single issue folks with chips on their shoulders tried to fight back by utilizing the means of member driven policy by trying to insert the types of policies that hinder fringe parties into the new and improved policy set adopted by the membership.

 A motion calling for the party to accept a separatist stance was proposed. That motion was never even considered by the membership as nobody within the room would even second it. I was almost disappointed when that happened as I had prepared a long diatribe to speak against this idiocy and pursuit of political suicide and I never had a chance to speak it to the room. I comforted myself by ranting against an almost equally inane proposal that called for the provincial government to assume management of private trade associations. That motion was quashed by nearly 100% of the room by the way.

 Not only did we shed such fringe policy proposals in that meeting, we shed many of the proponents of these proposals which is equally if not a more important outcome of that meeting. The proponent of the separatist motion abandoned the room when it was clear her proposal was going nowhere. I say good riddance. While I would like to see as many passionate and involved people as possible working towards policy development within the party, we are better off without those who will only participate based on a single issue.

 I have been on the losing end of motions in executive meetings with the current party and with prior partisan incarnations that I have been involved with. I have felt frustration and have felt that the board took the wrong stance. Despite those feelings, never for a second did I consider storming off in a pout and no longer participating in the party. I had to accept that either; a) I did not make a strong enough case or; b) I was simply wrong (it has been known to happen). Our party has become dominated with people who can accept such things and this has shown in the unity we now enjoy as well as the wise decisions that have come from collective and open discussion.

 Other more recent events have been great factors in the exposure and growth that the party is seeing. The election of Paul Hinman in Calgary Glenmore was one event and the leadership race currently underway with two excellently qualified candidates is the other. Neither of these events would ever have come to play had we been dominated by a group of uncompromising individuals as fringe parties are prone to being.

 Part of what brings about my extended rambling here though is reading and hearing from uncompromising individuals regarding the leadership. So many that say they will storm into this direction or that direction if such and such wins. I don’t see our leadership race as having been that divisive and no matter what the outcome I am confident that we will end with a stronger and more unified party than ever before. While I would prefer that those who refuse to accept compromise grow up and learn to look at a bigger picture, I am almost as happy to simply watch them storm away after having not gotten their way. Such people simply foster division and hinder progress.

 I expect that no matter what the outcome of our leadership race that there will be some folks who will try to send a rallying cry with yet another new party. Personally I think that may not be such a bad thing. Let a new (or existing) party collect the single issue cranks. Let that bunch gather others such as Alberta’s perennial “leaders” who’s only wish is to be a big fish in a small pond. The absence of these people will only foster further growth and a better collective wisdom within the Wildrose Alliance Party. I expect the attempted rise of another right of center party will simply act as a crank-filter for us.

 I am a person driven by ideals. I began in politics by taking many unrealistic stands and pursuing many unrealistic goals. While doing so over the past 15 years or so I have been learning through my actions. What is more important to me? Dying on a hill of uncompromising idealism or actually making changes that will better the province no matter how small they may appear? My goal is to improve Alberta for all Albertans. Sure there are some dreamland events that I think would act as catalysts for quick and large change. I also understand that Albertans do not want to follow that path. I accept the collective wisdom of the province and now seek to find changes and improvements for the province that can actually be achieved. I find taking this rational path to be much more personally satisfying as I can see progress towards actual improvement in our province.

 While the Wildrose Alliance Party is learning how to compromise and to listen to a broader spectrum, the Alberta Progressive Conservatives under Ed Stelmach have been moving in the opposite direction. Catastrophic errors have been made by the government in the past few years. Despite that, the government stubbornly refuses to accept that it could have possibly erred. Ideas and compromise are not considerations. Health workers began to publicly speak out on problems. They were gagged. MLAs have spoken up for their constituents. They were gagged. The Chief Electoral Officer of Alberta recommended changes; he was fired. If the government put half of the effort into some introspection as they do towards shutting down dissenting voices, they may actually slow their plummeting in support within Alberta.

 Alas the StelmachPCs are incapable of compromise and it will indeed be their downfall.

 Excess compromise is a risk as well. A party can’t simply be governed by polls. A party at times has to lead as well as reflect the wishes of the electorate. That combination is impossible without a degree of compromise. Critical thought is impossible without compromise, progress is impossible without compromise and party growth is impossible without compromise. The degree of compromise is always and should always be up for debate. As long as it can be debated though the party is healthy.

 When people spit out compromise in a derogatory way, keep this posting in mind.

 Now appeasement is a different story altogether and compromise is often wrongly substituted for that word. The problems with appeasement are fodder for another rambling posting on another day. 🙂

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Calgary Glenmore Forum.

 Well at least Diane came out and said it outright. Diane Colley-Urquhart will not take a stand on behalf of her constituents, she will take her orders from Ed Stelmach even if it adversely effects Calgary Glenmore.

 It is refreshing seeing a candidate being so open about her self/party interest.

 I think it can be safely concluded that it is rather pointless for the voters in Calgary Glenmore to send yet another hogtied seal from the Progressive Conservative Party to the legislature.

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Gee, go figure. Iris is surprised.

 I am doing rather well in my predictions. I have to admit, one does not need to be a modern-day Nostradamus to have predicted that our gang of clowns governing the province would be in shock and running around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to understand how they have spent us into a record and growing deficit. Ignoring advice from many quarters, the Progressive Conservative government has continued with unrestrained, untargeted and unsustainable spending after having castrated the main industry in the province with an ill-conceived and greed driven royalty gouge. The “rainy day” savings will quickly run dry and we can look forward to putting our grandchildren in debt soon.

 The cartoon in the Calgary Herald lays it out very well.

 The PC government has realized that they were rather dependent on the revenues from the industry that they so recently demonized and drove from the province. Revenues are now down on all fronts. From field and office workers who used to pay income taxes, to land-sale revenues, to corporate tax revenue, to municipal road use revenues and of course royalty revenues the government has seen a massive drop in them all since attacking the energy industry. Sure things were going to slow down in this recession anyway. It never needed to be this bad however.The energy industry came to a screeching halt in Alberta almost a year before the world economy dropped.  This is directly due to the actions of Stelmach.

 Special Ed made a short appearance the other day and muttered some incomprehensible excuses to try and soften the blow for the coming budget update. Ed has now sunken down and will likely remain well hidden until the Calgary by-election is finished. The PCs have at least realized that whenever their leader speaks, they drop another couple points in the polls.

 Despite all of these hard lessons for Albertans, the PC government still appears to have not learned a thing. Iris Evens looks dejected and clearly realizes that she has blown it. Still, there was no uttering of terms such as spending restraint or trying to encourage business to come back to Alberta. From all appearances the PC government looks like they intend to continue with massive spending and praying for a miracle.

 I will make another prediction. Iris Evans is praying that natural gas will suddenly jump in price. Sorry Iris, hoping for it to happen will not make it happen. In the next quarter we will see yet another jump in the deficit. The world is in a slowdown and there is a glut of natural gas (not to mention energy companies don’t want to come back to Alberta right now).

 In a dark-humour sort of way, I am tempted to start a pool for how long it will take and how many budget updates we will see before the sustainability fund is completely gone. It should not be too long.

 The belt-tightening Albertan’s did through the 90s was a good thing. We eliminated our debt and saw a sustained boom afterwards. Ed Stelmach has managed to eliminate all of those benefits in a few short years in power. I shudder to think what he may do with three more years in power.

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Hapless Ed is sure to express surprise again.

 stelmach03_103961artw

 Should Premier Eddie finally make an appearance to address the gross increase in our provincial deficit, I wonder which adjective he will use to describe this? I think in most Stelmach releases he has used all of these words so he must be familiar with them: unexpected, unanticipated, unpredicted, unforeseen, unheralded or perhaps he should simply go to unreal.

 The Herald is reporting on the frightening consequence of horrific fiscal management here.

 It is little wonder that Tom Olsen responds with blasts of obscenities when reporters dare ask direct questions of Stelmach. Being Stelmach’s handler must be one of the most challenging jobs on the planet. How much can you expose the man to the public when all he can do is express astonishment that yet another of his initiatives or predictions have blown up in his face? It must be disheartening in knowing that the best possible strategy to be taken in a by-election is to hide your leader as deeply as you can.

 Will Special Ed shed his cloak of invisibility and address the looming quarterly fiscal update? What marble-mouthed excuses will be used to try and justify the latest example of the Stelmach government’s gross fiscal mismanagement?

 Hmm let’s see, in one year Eddie has taken an $8 billion dollar surplus and turned it into what is looking like an $8 billion deficit. There are still three more quarters in this fiscal year for Ed to drive our grandchildren further into debt and a sadly don’t doubt he will. I wish I could express such surprise as Ed now and then.

 How much longer can we tolerate a premier that has not made a successful move since assuming power? What sort of confidence can we have in our provincial leadership when the leader can do nothing but express shock that his management has been a disaster?

 What is shocking about our situation? Ed massively increased spending and drove our primary industry from the province. A person with a Grade 3 education can figure out the math on that one and see that poverty is sure to follow. Perhaps the reason that Eddie has been in hiding lately is that he is taking some sort of remedial classes somewhere (I sure hope so).

 Well, I have said it before and I will say it again; SEND ED A MESSAGE!!

 Calgary Glenmore has the opportunity and expect that they will indeed send a message. The rest of the province should get to work to make that message final.

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Ed gets one right.

 Though I think it is more due to his having drained the provincial coffers dry with idiotic spending than any sort of visionary brilliance, Stelmach is right to pretty much drop the concept of the high-speed train between Calgary and Edmonton into the lap of the private sector.

 Let’s face it, a bullet-train between Edmonton and Calgary is simply an unviable pie-in-the-sky concept that is best left to people’s imagination. Rest assured, if there was really any need for such as project the private sector would already be racing to get a piece of this.

 Already too much money has been spent in studying the viability of this project. The studies continually find that a high-speed train would cost a fortune and the utilization would not justify the project. In one of the sudies conducted in 2004, it was found that only 3% of Albertans who travel highway 2 would consider parking their cars and taking a high-speed train. Those who take the bus or fly are at 35% and 46% in consideration. This will depend on ticket price of course which likely would be huge.

 So, the only way this train would happen would be with billions and billions of taxpayer’s dollars. In order to get people to ride, taxpayers would likely have to subsidize the tickets. Even with all of that, we would only see a 3% drop in traffic on highway 2 where the problem is. What we may see however is a strong blow to the successful bus and airlines who provide transportation between Edmonton and Calgary. Come to think of it, it is surprising that Stelmach would pass up such an opportunity to beat on successful private companies. He does seem to enjoy doing such.

 Part of the reason that Eddie would not like to initiate such a vanity project is the timeline. In Alberta we can’t even get a powerline approved accross the province. Can you imagine how long it would take to expropriate the land required for a bullet-train? How many impact studies? How many court challenges? Even if we began today, we would be lucky to see the train moving for decades. Eddie will want a more immediate legacy project.

 The drive between Edmonton and Calgary is only three hours. Depending on the vehicle, one can expect to spend about $50 in fuel going both ways. Taking a bullet-train would cost at least that much going one way. While the train trip would only take one hour, the rider will then have to either get a taxi, rent a car or take a bus to wherever they are going. Lets not forget that Calgary will doubtless gouge the riders for parking at the station. Is it really a wonder why so few people would actually use this train?

 It is past time to put this concept on the shelf forever. If some strange and wealth philanthropist wants to spend their dollars to build this thing then by all means. Alberta would be better served by expanding the capacity of highway 2. That is realistic in scope and that is where the need is.

train

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Why, why, why?

 I just finished listening to a frustrating and circular interview of Lindsay Blackett on an Albertan radio show. While Blackett should be commended for being willing to respond to callers (most PC guests refuse to), he really did not have much of worth to say.

 The subject was the contentious Bill 44 that is going before the legislature. Some months ago Blackett mused about the need to reform Alberta’s human rights act as section 3 was leading to infringements on free speech. Blackett was applauded by supporters of free speech and no opposition to this reform was heard.

 Finally the day arrived when Lindsay Blackett presented the bill to reform the act and it looks like pretty much nobody was prepared for the idiocy contained within the bill. While the free speech amendments appeared roundly popular, Blackett was compelled to drop that aspect of reform. Protection of free speech is not a priority for the Stelmach Progressives. Alberta can look forward to more attacks on the press and individuals in the future by people claiming hurt feelings. Press can continue to feel the chill and activists can continue to abuse our tax funded human rights commissions in order to stifle contrary opinions.

 I can understand why Special Ed Stelmach would like to curb free speech. Stelmach has been known to bully student bloggers who have dared mock him with legal threats. I am sure that Chairman Ed would like to expand his powers to suppress speech made by Albertans that he does not approve of. This move was sad but not surprising from a government that has little respect for democracy and discourse.

 What is really odd with Blackett’s bill was the inclusion of parental rights regarding education. The hornet’s nest has been poked and opposition to this addition is coming from all directions whether teachers groups or civil libertarians. Fears of people taking teachers to the human rights commission over the teaching of evolution and other such examples are abounding. Alberta’s unfair reputation as being backwards or redneck is only getting more deeply entrenched now.

 Getting back to the “why” of this. On the radio, Blackett kept downplaying the potential impact of this bill by pointing out that the Alberta School act already allows parents to remove their children from school if they feel the subject matter clashes with their religion. Uhh, OK. In that case, why do we need this added to the bill? The host kept asking and Blackett kept dodging. Blackett than pointed out that while there are over 2000 schools in Alberta, only 50 some people actually opted their kids out of any classes. Uhhhh OK. In that case why do we need this? Clearly it is a tiny minority that really even care on this issue. The host persisted on the why aspect and Blackett got increasingly flustered. The reason Blackett was flustered was that he really has no answer to the question of why we need this addition to our legislation.

 Stubbornly our PCs push on, enduring heaps of abuse and having our province labelled as being populated by bumpkins (considering the bumpkin nature of our premier, we really did not need more of this).

 From record deficits to needless controversy over unnecessary legislation, the Progressive Conservative government of Alberta is proving itself to be completely incompetent. To those who have been claiming for the last 8 years or so that the PCs can be reformed from within, give your heads a shake. The PC party is hopelessly inept.

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Bound and gagged.

 It must be incredibly frustrating to be a PC MLA with any form of principles these days. I am certain that a few of those MLAs must still hold some conservative values. During provincial campaigns we get to hear PC candidates speaking for themselves for a little while and they certainly can talk the talk. Upon reaching their comfortable seats in the legislature however, these apparent conservatives suddenly go dead silent. Nary a word is uttered without the approval of Ed Stelmach and his crew of spinners and handlers on the Executive Council.

 This frustration clearly is felt by some on the civil service as well. Chief Electoral Officer Lorne Gibson had principles. Gibson worked tirelessly to draft well over 100 recommendations that would improve the electoral process in Alberta. For daring to question the government in power, Lorne Gibson was fired. Doubtless the next appointed Chief Electoral Officer will know his/her place and will never dare show signs of initiative unless ordered to do so by the Stelmach government.

 Auditor General Fred Dunn is tasked with watching government activity on the behalf of Albertans. For daring to question the Stelmach government however, Dunn was told in no uncertain terms to butt out.Dunn’s contract will be up in a year or so and we can doubtless look forward to a Stelmach lackey assuming the position.

 Lindsay Blackett approached his role in cabinet seriously and ambitiously. Being a first term MLA, clearly Blackett did not fully understand that he is not to take on initiatives in his portfolio unless ordered to do so from above.

 Blackett recognized the terrible flaw in Alberta’s Human Rights legislation that has allowed our commissions to be abused and used as tools to stifle contrary debate and free speech. With gusto Blackett announced last February that he will be tabling legislation to reform Alberta’s legislation and the clause that stifles free-speech will be removed. Blackett’s words were quite strong at the time as seen below:

“People have the right to say what they believe and Albertans strongly believe in that right,” says Lindsay.

“We’ve got to try and find what was the purpose of the human rights commission to start with back in 1972.”

“For me, it’s back to the future and the simplicity of what the human rights commissions is supposed to be. It was originally just intended to provide protection against discrimination on grounds of race, colour, creed, religion and so on with respect to employment, accommodation and access to services. That’s it.”

“It wasn’t about hurt feelings. The reason a lot of human rights commissions are disrespected across the country is because they’ve forgotten that.

“We want the commission to be a quasi-judicial body that has some teeth, that has some credibility but doesn’t operate like a kangaroo court.”

Alas, what was considered to be a “kangaroo court” only a few months ago is now perfectly acceptable to Mr. Blackett. Blackett has clearly been taken to a backroom and scolded for showing such initiative. Blackett has now tabled a document with no mention of free speech whatsoever and is hiding behind fluffy statements to justify the complete flip-flop.

 At times one really has to wonder why we bother having a cabinet at all. Clearly the ministers have no independence within their demesnes. Lets drop the dog and pony show and simply have Stelmach’s Executive Council openly run the entire show.

 The debate on the role of Human Rights Commissions in speech issues has been raging from coast to coast in Canada in the last few years as these bodies release increasingly absurd rulings. Respected journalists such as Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn were forced to endure hearings and defend themselves for having published words that some found offensive. If an iconic magazine such as Macleans can be taken on the carpet by tribunals; clearly no form of media is immune. The chilling effect on public debate of issues is frightening.

 The attacks on business supported by loopy human rights tribunals have been insane as well. A Wiccan took an Boston Pizza to task over the playing of rock music, some hecklers at a comedy show who happened to be lesbians have charged a comedian for returning the heckling, a restaurant that legally cannot allow smoking has been charged for not allowing a man to smoke pot on the premises, a worker at McDonalds has won the right not to wash her hands and we have seen a recent case where a man owning an all female spa is being charged for not allowing a man to join.

 The sad history of strange and frightening rulings by Human Rights Commissions is long and growing. Reform is clearly required on every level. If we were to work incrementally however, the protection of freedom of speech must come first. Having a free press and freedom of speech is critical in any democratic society.

 In light of Ed Stelmach’s disdain for the democratic process, I guess it should not be surprising that the protection of free speech for the press and citizens is not a priority for Ed.

 When Blackett initially spoke of protecting speech for Albertans, where was the outcry against such a notion? I saw many applauding Blackett and nobody condemning him. Why the flip/flop? This change could have been passed easily in the legislature.

 With no public opposition to the speech protection yet the Stelmach PCs refuse to give us such protections, we can only assume that Ed Stelmach and his government do not want to protect freedom of speech for Albertans. This is not a case of the government being indifferent to the right, they have purposely deleted the initiative that would have protected that right. Ed Stelmach outright opposes free speech for Albertans.

 Yet another sad day under the leadership of Ed Stelmach. Alberta could have been a beacon leading the way for the country to reform the broken HRCs. Instead our government has limp wristedly dropped the issue altogether.

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