The price for mailing it in. Highwood is ready for change.

Highwood is one of the safest conservative seats in all of Alberta. The constituency resides just South of Calgary. It was formed in 1971 and the combined Social Credit/ Progressive Conservative vote was 93% in its first election.

Conservative support has softened in Highwood over the decades to the point where the combined Progressive Conservative/Wildrose Party vote in the 2015 election was a mere 74% (it was over 95% in 2012).

The real democratic race in Highwood will be for the UCP nomination rather than in the general election and this coming nomination race is ramping up to be a hot one.

Most parties will snap the nominations open and shut quickly in constituencies where they already have strong incumbent MLAs. The UCP is no exception.

Prasad Panda, Ric McIver and of course Jason Kenney have already had their nominations opened and closed.

Highwood is a different story. Not one but three strong candidates are contesting the UCP nomination right now.

Wayne Anderson is the incumbent MLA in Highwood. He was in the right place at the right time and was acclaimed for his initial nomination. The 2015 election was hard fought but the Wildrose still won Highwood constituency with narrow 8% margin. It should be noted that the combined conservative vote dropped in Highwood by 20% in that campaign. The winner got a grudging endorsement from the voters.

The relatively narrow win coupled with a drop in general conservative vote would have served as a warning to a canny incumbent. It is clear that the electorate in Highwood want to see an active MLA and want to feel that they are strongly represented. Alas, Mr. Anderson instead chose to mail it in with a lackluster backbench presence which is now catching up to him as electors organize to have him replaced. There will be no comfortable acclamation here.

One of the most pressing issues for residents of Highwood has been the ongoing and growing epidemic of rural crime. The issue came to a head when Highwood resident Eddie Maurice was charged and faces jail time for wounding a criminal as he defended his home and baby.

Highwood citizens along with Albertans in general were outraged at the charges being laid against Mr. Maurice. Hundreds rallied in support of Eddie Maurice at his first court appearance in Okotoks on a cold Friday morning. 

Notably absent from the rally was the local MLA Wayne Anderson. The legislature was not sitting and while Wayne never misses a mid-week fundraiser he somehow couldn’t find time to join hundreds of his constituents to express concern on an issue that impacts us all. Perhaps it was a little too chilly outside for him. That can have an effect on urban types such as Mr. Anderson.

On the following Monday Wayne Anderson had a chance to speak to this issue at the legislature.

As reported by Rick Bell:       “Then, lo and behold, Wayne Anderson, who represents Eddie Maurice in the legislature, stands up. This should be good, I’m thinking. Sadly, nothing on the criminals creating havoc in the countryside.”

Apparently Wayne didn’t think the issue was important enough to use his question on. Perhaps Wayne just didn’t want to wade into an issue as complex and potentially sticky as rural crime. Backbench warmers do have a tendency to vanish from any possibility of a controversial issue.

Eddie Maurice made five more court appearances since that first one. His issue is still ongoing. Sadly, his provincial representative has hidden from each and every one of those hearings.

While Wayne Anderson may be oblivious to the issues that are most important to his constituents, it is clear that residents of Highwood aren’t.

Daniel Smith learned the hard way what happens when you incur the wrath of the membership in Highwood. As an incumbent she lost her nomination to Carrie Fisher. That same Carrie Fisher is now running against Wayne Anderson for the nomination.

Along with Fisher, R.J. Sigurdson is running for the nod in Highwood. Sigurdson is a former constituency president of Highwood and is familiar with the members out there.

Local businessman Dean Leask was the first out of the gate in challenging Anderson for the nomination. Dean has some very strong credibility with his past involvement in both the PC party and the Wildrose Party at the provincial executive level. He knows how grassroots organizing works and isn’t hiding from the issues. 

Rather than perhaps looking inward to understand why he is being so strongly challenged for his nomination, Wayne Anderson has come out indignant and spitting. His first response was to attack Fisher and Sigurdson in an interview with the High River times. 

Wayne would be better served to consult with his constituents rather than attack the people who have put their names forward to better serve them.

Its in Anderson’s reaction to the challenge where we see the entrenchment of entitlement. One of the worst possible ailments of elected officials.

Will Anderson learn how to hit the ground to meet with constituents and sell memberships fast enough to head off these challengers in the coming weeks? Time will tell. He really should have started on this years ago.

Nominations are often overlooked by the public but they are a critical aspect of our system. When run properly, they keep our elected officials on our toes and they teach up and coming candidates how to consult and connect with their constituents.

The nomination process appears to be doing its job in Highwood.

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Time to clear up some things on the Calgary Southwest ring road

The hard-left collective four on Calgary’s city council (Druh Farrell, Brian Pincott, Gian-Carlo Carra and Evan Woolley) have managed to stir up quite some discussion through their hyperbolic posturing during a committee meeting the other day. Discussion on issues is always a good thing. The Flakey Four (ht. Rick Bell) however are on more of a water muddying mission than any real pursuit of facts. It has been something of a dark comedy as we listen to these four initially claim to be concerned about costs (they never have shown such concern before), yet invariably go on anti-auto tirades as soon as extended discussion ensues.

The four aforementioned city councillors are all inner-city representatives with long-established reputations of being anti-suburb. These four are extremely ideologically driven and consistently oppose anything they view as being supportive of suburban development or automotive infrastructure. Their opposition to the ring road has utterly nothing to do with the cost of the project and everything to do with the fact that the road will serve the needs of suburbanites.

It’s time to cut through some of the BS.

For starters, this is a provincial issue and not even within the jurisdiction of Calgary’s city council. The province has already made it clear that this project is going forward no matter how much noise inner-city councillors make.

Next is a demonstration of need. Opponents of the ring-road are simply claiming that we don’t need it. In the poorly edited image below I will demonstrate the need.

ringroada

I couldn’t find an image that combines current traffic flow with the projected ring road location so I cobbled one together. If you can squint really well or expand the image you can see the need for this traffic artery demonstrated.

The poorly drawn yellow line is an approximate rendering of where the ring road is going to go. The dark purple lines on the map indicate roads that carry over 100,000 vehicles per day. People familiar with Calgary’s Southwest will recognize the traffic bottlenecks immediately. Glenmore Trail, Crowchild Trail and 14th Street SW are all heavily congested with both commuter and trucking traffic. As can be clearly seen, all of those roads will see a great reduction in traffic with the coming of the ring-road as traffic can and will by-pass those narrow and traffic-light laden routes.

The red line is pointing to where development will be happening in the city of Calgary. The city boundary includes those areas and development down there is not a matter of if, it is a matter of when. Calgary is a fast growing city and despite the efforts of our density obsessed members of city council, 92% of people are choosing to live in the suburbs. Most People just do not and will not squash themselves into inner-city condos no matter what the inner-city ideological four think.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be building on and living in the Southwest region of Calgary in coming years. Is not one of our common complaints that infrastructure is always built after the fact rather than in anticipation of growth? The need for the ring road is already there and will only become more acute with time.

The need for the ring road is clearly established. The Flakey Four loves wistfully talking about the amount of LRT tracks that could be laid with the money but that will not aid in the movement of goods and services. Your plumber is not going to ride the train to your house, a parent of a family of five is not going to ride the train to get groceries and the grocery store will get it’s stock by truck, not LRT.

With the need established, the more realistic area of contention is the cost. It must be remembered, the need is not going away and the cost will not be going down over time. That said, the ballpark cost of $5 billion is a very large number. We need to break down and work out why it is in that range as much as we can before the province lays out more detailed information on this.

For a history of the ring road click here. The gentleman who created this blog has done a fantastic job of digging up and documenting the history of the road as well as reporting new developments on it. Considering it appears that the province’s first approach to the Tsuu T’ina band on this road was in 1947, there is a lot of history to cover.

The largest cost factor that differentiates the Southwest leg of the ring road from the rest of the segments is that the road goes through the Tsuu T’ina native reserve. This brought about a great deal of added costs as compensation for land and other factors came into the deal that other legs did not have to deal with. Dealing with potential burial grounds and other culturally sensitive issues arise on the reserve.

There are clauses in the agreement that guarantee some of the contracting on the construction of the road to the reserve. When working in the North, mandatory hiring of native contractors is usually part of our obligations in permits to work on crown land. The reasons why it costs so much more to use native contractors would be fodder for an entire series of blog postings. Be assured though that while native contractors can often do a fantastic job, they cost a great deal more than any other contractors tend to.

The ring road goes through the old artillery range of CFB Calgary. The clearing of the land of potential unexploded ordnance before construction is a huge and unique cost.

The Southwest ring road is in some environmentally sensitive areas that other legs of the road did not have to deal with. Crossing upstream of the  Weaselhead area is one example as well as crossing smaller water bodies like Fish Creek.

From the ring road blog:

The Southwest Ring Road includes:

  • 26 km of six and eight-lane divided roadway
  • 37 bridges
  • Crossings of Elbow River and Fish Creek
  • Rail flyover
  • 13 interchanges:
      • Westhills Way SW interchange
      • Sarcee Trail SW interchange
      • Old Strathcona Road SW interchange
      • 90 Avenue SW interchange
      • Anderson Road SW interchange
      • 130 Avenue SW interchange
      • 146 Avenue SW interchange
      • 162 Avenue SW interchange
      • Stoney Trail/Highway 22X systems interchange
      • Spruce Meadows Way SW/James McKevitt Road SW interchange
      • Sheriff King Street SW/6 Street SW partial interchange
      • Macleod Trail SW interchange

 

As demonstrated above, this is a very large project with many unique costs and challenges.

It took two referendums and decades of negotiations to get an agreement with the Tsuu T’ina band to get this ring road going. Part of the agreement also says that if the province does not have this road going within 7 years of the land transfer, the deal will be void. There is no time to dither on this. We can’t navel-gaze and think about it for a few years now. It would take decades longer and unimaginable compensation to do this deal again if we break it with the Tsuu T’ina now.

I don’t know how much it would cost to simply break the agreement right now but be assured there is a clause that states we would be paying the Tsuu T’ina  a great deal of money just to get out of the contract. Something that can’t be measured in dollars would be the lost faith and trust between the Tsuu T’ina band and the province/city. Trust is a limited commodity with First Nations as it is. Breaking new deals won’t exactly help.

One more thing that many folks are neglecting to mention is that the projected costs include 30 years of the maintenance of the ring road. The $5 billion is not simply for construction, it covers decades of maintenance that will be expensive under any circumstance.

It was irresponsible for Alberta Transportation to toss out what they now call a “ballpark” figure on the cost of the ring road. We need more detail before we can properly understand and absorb the costs associated with this critical piece of infrastructure. Having no detailed breakdown for the costs leaves room for opponents such as the Flakey Four to speculate and it is difficult to counter such unfounded speculations.

We need detailed costs and we need our provincial representatives to debate and work on these costs. There probably is room to reduce the cost of this project if we look closely enough. Let’s be clear though, the ring road is going ahead. To cancel the deal now simply is not a realistic option no matter what some inner-city councillors are dreaming.

Sideline the Flakey Four when it comes to further discussion on the ring road. They would oppose the project if it was 1/4 of the projected cost. Their issue is not with cost, it is with ideology and it always will be.

The ring road needs open and rational discussion and the place for it is in our legislature rather than city hall.

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What the Wildrose Party needs to do is build trust.

People can point to all sorts of individual things in the last provincial election and blame them for the Wildrose Party’s failure to convince Albertans to elect them to government. The conscience rights policy made many people uncomfortable and Edmonton candidate Alan Hunsperger’s candid thoughts from an old blog post were outright offensive to most people upon hearing them. Any party that has 87 candidates, tens of thousands of members and hundreds of policies will have some questionable people speaking up now and then and will have some policies that simply stink. If a party has gained the trust of the electorate in general that party can withstand hiccups caused by some individuals within it and from poor policies.

With enough digging, we can rest assured that every major party has some crackpots within it’s ranks and some policies on their books that simply do not do them any favors. The PCs had a Calgary candidate who’s comments on ethnic issues paled in comparison to Leech’s awkward musings. The NDP had a candidate who was one of the main organizers of the Olympic Plaza illegal squatting last fall. The Liberals had to rush to fill candidate vacancies and it is a safe bet that a few of those names they used on ballots were less than rational. The reason that these things did not damage the other parties as they did the Wildrose Party is that Albertans know the other parties and can feel comfortable in writing off the actions of a few individuals and ignoring some outlying policies.

People in Alberta were clearly ready for change in the last election and it showed in the first three weeks of the campaign. Albertan’s can and will embrace grassroots populism as we saw with Reform throughout the 90s. Still though, the Wildrose Party was a relative unknown to the majority of Albertans and this made the popular support from the electorate very fragile. When the oddball people and policies popped up, voters got uncomfortable and retreated back to the devil they knew in the final days of the election. Polls can’t measure floating trust and comfort levels thus they completely dropped the ball in the last election.

Unfortunately the temptation is strong to further centralize actions and decision making within a party when things like this happen. Some people feel that the nominations should be more tightly controlled by the central party and candidates gagged even further. The Wildrose Party shamelessly messed with many nominations prior to the election. That offensive meddling with constituency choice caused great strain between constituency associations and the central party. When there is mistrust between the members themselves and the central party, you can rest assured that this discomfort spreads to the electorate at campaign time.

The Wildrose needs to strengthen it’s constituency associations and empower them further rather than meddle further with their choices of candidates. Will the constituencies make some poor choices in candidates at times? Yes they sure will. We can rest assured though that the central party can pick some dogs too. If they constituencies truly choose their candidates though in an open process, it makes it clear that each candidate is simply one of 87. It is much more difficult to label the entire party based on the actions of individuals when it is clear that the individual only represents one portion. When the central party takes direct part in candidate selection, than the party indeed will wear the actions of those candidates as a whole. In building trust we need people working in communities on the ground, not further centralization.

Party policy is of course another huge issue. Rick Bell with the Calgary Sun  just reported on an interview that Danielle Smith recently did on a lesbian website called “I dig your girlfriend”.

Some quotes and attitudes that came from Danielle in that interview are somewhat disturbing. It is clear as day that the Wildrose needs to revisit and reform some of it’s policies and of course there is nothing wrong with a leader saying that. It is the tone of Smith speaking as if these policy changes are a done deal and she will essentially tell us as members what we will be choosing as a stance or policy in the future with statements like: “Now that the decision has been made I’ll leave it at that,” and then following with “I’ll indicate that to my party as well.” (in regards to the funding of elective procedures such as gender reassignment in the public health system).

Ms. Smith, I do hope that you understand that the party indicates their policy wishes to you and not the other way around. I understand that a leader has to make some tough stances on issues and can’t consult with the membership every time an issue surfaces. The tone and attitude here though suggests that some areas are simply closed to member discussion and her word is final. I do hope that I am mistaken in this.

Year after year we have seen our party AGMs focus more on video and light displays with less attention being paid to policy. At our last AGM the video screens were fantastic but only a scant few hours were dedicated to member policy discussion over the entire weekend. That AGM lost nearly $90,000 as the $250 per ticket cost discouraged grassroots members from attending something that was more akin to a rock concert than a political party deliberating on important issues such as policy. Turnout was embarrassingly dismal for a party that was seen as a growing force. Perhaps has a couple more hours been dedicated to policy discussion, the membership may have taken more time to consider whether conscience rights were a viable policy option. As it was, policy discussions were rushed through with little meditation on the part of the collected membership.

Effort has been made to centralize control within the Wildrose Party in the last few years and this has led to a growing sense of discomfort and distrust within the party membership. I saw that mistrust starkly in the campaign that I worked with as the candidate did not even want to share his polling results with the party for fear that the list would be abused for central fundraising. It is tough to build a sense of unity and optimism among a campaign team in that atmosphere and even tougher for that team to spread that to the electorate in 28 days.

Leading and managing a grassroots party is damn tough. The headaches are endless as CAs go rogue, infighting happens and mixed messages get out. Despite those challenges, the way to earn that precious trust that the party so dearly needs will be by opening up rather than introverting. We need well attended public policy meetings that are open and take time in their deliberations. We need early nominations so candidates can get to know their constituents personally in years leading to an election. We essentially need to stick to our party bylaws which clearly lay all that out anyway and speak out every time somebody wants to try and bypass the will of the members.

Leading also means standing up for the party policies when they come under fire. When a leader begins to sound like they will say or do anything for a vote and is willing to throw their founding principles to the wind, trust is lost. The Wildrose lost a great deal of trust that way in the election when the party promoted the vapid and ill-conceived royalty rebate plan. It wasn’t that voters did not like the idea of a few bucks in their pockets, it was that the policy was a clear vote-buy that was in total contradiction of a party that claims fiscal responsibility. It felt disingenous

With 17 great MLAs in opposition and a little less than four years to work on it, the Wildrose Party is very well placed to earn that much needed trust among the electorate before the next election. If the party continues to ignore and sideline the membership however, the Wildrose could turn into a flash in the pan. Alison Redford is already presenting Alberta with a top-down centralized party. Why should that be replicated?

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King of popularity! Just ask him.

It is nice when Nenshi loses that thin veneer of humility and exposes himself for the arrogant man that he is. He views himself as the most popular politician in all of Canada and openly says so. He basically called anybody who would run against him fools as he is just so darned popular that it would be futile.

 The video with Rick Bell and Joan Crockatt covers it all quite well here. 

 

Bell’s column expands on those fine Nenshi quotes too. 

Nenshi’s self-love explains why he goes off the handle so quickly in the face of any criticism. He really does think he is above all question. Many people had to meet Nenshi before to feel that deep aura of arrogance radiating from him. Now Nenshi is reaching out and ensuring that everybody gets to see and enjoy that arrogant and pompous man who is our mayor. Keep up the good work Nenshi. You are laying the groundwork for your replacement.

You may have to make that jump to the federal Liberals sooner than anticipated.

 

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