First conservative unity, next conservative policy.

This weekend, I hope and expect that the majority of conservative minded people in Alberta will find themselves united under one banner.

One thing that has fallen by the wayside in these singular times of unity battles has been any real specific policy directions. This had to happen as we really need to unite under general principles of conservatism such as small government and low taxes. If we get ourselves mired into specific policy items we could reignite internal divisions at a time when we really can’t afford to. Conservatives can unite under general principles, but we can nitpick ourselves to death over the individual policies.

Assuming that the forces of unity are successful this weekend, we will then enter a formal leadership race (it has already been clearly informally running for some time now).

There is no better time to hammer out policy specifics and commitments than during a leadership race and we dearly need to start spelling out what the plan is.

Yes, the vast majority of Albertans think that the NDP is harming our province. We do not have a specific plan laid out for how we will mitigate the damage caused by the NDP once we finally toss them to the electoral curb however.

Most candidates and supporters agree that the NDP carbon tax has to go. Notley has proven that legislative flagellation through tax hikes will never buy us that mythical “social license” required to get our products out of the province. The impact of the carbon tax on our environment is negligible at best and the impact on the economy is terrible.

In cutting taxes though, how do we balance the budget?

There is no getting around it. We need to cut spending and we need to cut it deeply. The longer the NDP is in power, the more painful the recovery will be but we simply can’t avoid it. Alberta spends $2,700 more annually per-capita than our neighbors in BC. We have plenty of room to cut.

One of the most effective ways that the left has undercut those calling for spending cuts so far has been for them simply to ask “where will you cut?”.  That is a perfectly valid question and it absolutely has to be answered.

Health care and education make up the vast majority of our spending. No matter how people feel that these areas are sacred, we simply must reduce how much we spend in those areas. We can’t afford a hospital on every street corner or a nurse’s visit to every household. While it will never feel like we spend enough in these core services, we have very real limits on what we can afford. We need to examine these areas and cut spending to a reasonable level.

Just proposing such cuts will take political courage. Following through on these cuts will take leadership and strength.

Klein was at his most popular while he cut Alberta’s spending by 20% across the board. Despite the howls of the unions and the left still harping about it today, it really wasn’t that bad when the cuts were happening. There clearly was a great deal of bloat within the civil service and we were all better for the trimming of it. “Infrastructure deficit” is a bullshit term that some use to try and knock the austerity of those times. Again it is trash and most Albertans see through it. There will never be enough schools, interchanges, fire stations etc. We can always use more. Tax dollars are finite though and we have to draw a line somewhere. Klein’s support began dropping significantly as soon as he began falling into the tired old PC pattern of spending our way out of problems. Albertans appreciate fiscal restraint when it is presented with good leadership.

Image ht to Roy Doonanco

Brian Jean has chosen to avoid taking any strong stance on cuts and is pursuing the mushy middle. This is not my idea of strong leadership but I guess it is a strategy. I can’t help but remember Jean’s abysmal debate performance where he almost mindlessly answered every question by stating that he wont raise taxes. He literally sounded like some sort of broken record. I remember all too clearly sitting in a room full of volunteers on one of the campaigns. We had put up a projector screen and bought some beer and pizza to give our volunteers a night off. We hoped that they would be invigorated in watching the debates. We found ourselves dejected. That was the night that I truly began to realize that we were not going to win that election. Notley showed energy and vision, Prentice showed classic arrogance and Jean was inanimate. We are paying so dearly for the lack of principled leadership in that debate today.

Maybe Jean will show some more strength after the unity vote is finished with. Perhaps other candidates will spur some vigor out of him. Maybe Jean’s strategy of avoiding strong stands will actually pay off and he will win the leadership. I personally don’t think so.

Assuming a successful unity vote, the leadership race will very likely be determining who our next premier will be.

It will take vision, leadership and a true plan with policy specifics in order to win that leadership.

I do look forward to seeing who emerges from the pack with the above qualities as the race unfolds. We need some real policy discussion and we need it soon.

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Calgary tax dollars at work.

The other day, I ran across a picture on a Calgary discussion board that depicted the all too typical scene of a large number of city employees standing around while one or two fellows actually worked on the rather simple task at hand.

In this case the task was to paint a green square on the road on a bike track. The forum was at http://www.beyond.ca and the picture was posted by (and presumably taken by) a poster who goes by rage2.  

bike

The picture sort of says it all. We have had a Mayor and council constantly pleading poverty in Calgary while trying to justify a whopping 32% increase in property since Naheed Nenshi took the Mayor’s chair less than three years ago. Our Mayor and city council constantly pretend that it is utterly impossible for the City to streamline or even cut expenditures while scenes like that pictured above show that there is plenty of room to have the expenditure of our tax dollars done in a more effective manner. The excuses fly while countless dollars are wasted on foolish studies of whimsical plans and outright idiotic gameshow style “consultation” circuses that are ignored when the taxpayers wish something different than His Worship intended them to.

I tweeted the image and it took off as dozens of people retweeted this little piece of dark comedy.

This brought about the attention of Mayor Nenshi who to his credit is very responsive to social media. What Nenshi tweeted in justification of the depicted scene is below:

 

This whole scene was apparently a training session.

Umm….. OK… I guess I will just have to come right out and say it: HOW MUCH TRAINING DOES IT TAKE TO PAINT A GREEN DAMNED BOX ON A ROAD????

Seriously folks, we are in a city with over a million people that has thousands of civic employees and city contractors. None of them had been trained already in painting things on the road?

I wonder, is a special training course required to paint the image below:

leftturn

Does another differently trained crew need to come in and flip the stencil at other intersections or will they only need a different supervisor or two?

rightturn

Now we are going to get tricky. The painting job below requires two colors and possibly two stencils. How many workers were required? 20? 30? How many months was the training course?

handicapped

I have to admit, I could use a gig like training folks to paint boxes on roads. I had a great deal of informal training in my youth with more complicated design as pictured below:

chalk

I can provide my own training manual so that there shall be no confusion for trainees should they find themselves in a circumstance where they may need to paint something with less than 6 supervisors present.

paintbynumber

As a surveyor I am familiar with complex tools such as graph paper and measuring tape so will be able to “confirm final design” on painted boxes with possibly as few as two assistants. I have ArcGIS and could confirm such things alone from the comfort of an office in about 30 seconds but I do understand that our city has a limited amount of resources and needs to be led in baby steps here.

Is it really surprising that Calgary City council managed to blow the West LRT budget literally by 100% in light of how complex painting a simple box on a road appears to be?

In light of all this, I wonder what portion of our city budget is dedicated to road painting alone in Calgary. We have a great deal of pavement out there.

I really have not seen such a scandalous waste of tax dollars on paint since Mulroney purchased the masterpiece below for $1.8 million Canadian tax bucks.

voice

Calgary really needs to flush out City Council this fall in favor of some candidates with at least a little grounding in fiscal reality.

I am making light of this, but the issue of out of control spending by municipal governments is deadly serious. As Detroit how they are loving that great art collection these days.

 

Response-to-City-Budget

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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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Just call it what it is; a tax hike!

So there I lay ignominiously on the doctor’s table. My legs were splayed and  I was shaved in a spot I never anticipated ever having a razor near. The doctor noted that I was rather tense and uncomfortable from the nature and feeling of the steps of the procedure that had already been performed. In an effort to comfort me he said: “OK, you are going to feel a little pressure.”.

“A little pressure” I thought. “That can’t be so bad.”. I busied myself in the intense study of the ceiling tiles as the doctor took out a new instrument of torture, inserted it into my new incision, hooked onto part of my reproductive circuitry and proceeded to draw out what felt to be my very soul from a small cut in my scrotum!!!

That was “a little pressure”???? I never want to find out what he means when he says something will be painful.

Now that day I learned two lessons. One was never to get a vasectomy at a walk-in clinic (little risk of that now). The other lesson was that no matter how one tries to sugarcoat or understate something uncomfortable, it does not change the reality.

Politicians love trying to change terms in hopes of selling things to the electorate that they don’t actually want. The overpriced “Peace Bridge” is a wonderful example. As the public ire grew over the expenditure of scarce infrastructure dollars on a grossly overpriced bridge that we didn’t need, city council scrambled for a way to brand this grotesque waste of tax dollars. They decided to name the bridge after something that nobody could oppose: “Peace”. The new name did not change the reality in the end however.

The most gross and disingenuous example of this is the promotion of what tax-increase proponents are calling a “penny tax”. Mayor Nenshi and other tax-and-spend types in Calgary City Hall have been outright salivating at the prospect of gaining a pile of new taxation powers through a new municipal charter. Despite provincial officials telling him “no” in no uncertain terms, Mayor Nenshi continues to chirp and try to sell the benefits of his being able to tax us in new ways so he can fund more vanity projects and bike lanes.

Let’s call the “penny tax” what it is: A 20% INCREASE IN THE GST!

Sounds a little different in that light doesn’t it? Instead of thinking in terms of pennies, think of it this way, do you want to spend hundreds more per year on your total expenditures in an increased consumption tax?

The tax-and-spend gang does not want to stop simply by raising your GST by the way, that is just the tax that they are cloaking in terms such as “penny tax. Below are a few other ways Nenshi and company are hoping to tax us all more in a municipal charter.

Tourism levies:. Tax increase leading to decreased tourism

Green fees on fuel: Tax increase leading to increase in fuel costs for all and all products that need transport.

Increased motor vehicle registration fees: Tax increase on drivers.

Nenshi does have a keen nose for the political winds. The city is proposing a nearly 6% property tax hike this year and eventually Calgarian homeowners will hit their tipping point with constant tax increases that go well beyond the rate of inflation. Spending control is not a consideration for Calgary’s City Hall under Nenshi so in order to cloak their mass spending they want to spread the mass tax increases through a myriad of means where they can mask the name and nature of the tax increase.

Being forced to raise money through property taxes forces municipalities to be much more up-front in their taxation of citizens. Lets keep it that way. If Nenshi is convinced that we need a mass increase in spending and that Calgarians want it, then he should raise property taxes by 15% and run on that. It is much more honest than trying to hide the gouge in some BS “penny tax”.

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A picture of our future?

Here is a piece that summarizes Don Drummond’s release of The Commission on the Reform of Ontario’s Public Services.

We see all over the inevitable outcome of continuing down the road of trying to tax, spend and borrow our way into prosperity. Huge governments all around the world are collapsing under their own weight. While Ontario is not as troubled as Greece and Alberta is not as bad as Ontario, we are all heading in the same direction.

Don Drummond’s report could easily substitute the name Alberta for Ontario and while the figures would differ the conclusions would be just as valid.

Nanny Redford and her big-government Tories released a feelgood budget loaded with unrealistic revenue projections and spending increases for all. There is utterly no sign of long term foresight in the budget. What we see is a collection of spending promises modelled solely with the goal of getting the Progressive Conservatives re-elected at any cost.

 The Wildrose Party alternative budget was better and balanced though in my view still did not go far enough in an honest pursuit of spending restraint. Still by far the Wildrose is the best of the bunch coming into this election. I can’t even begin to think how much Redford would be blowing in tax dollars without the Wildrose pressure from the right.

 Our political leadership is terrified of  making tough decisions and honestly identifying where to cut.

We can look realistically at our future and get spending under control now or we can travel down the road Greece is on where austerity is forced upon you and you lose choice of where to cut.

The choice is ours for now but it won’t be forever.

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Ever present reminder.

A few years ago I had finished a stint of a couple months on an Arctic oil exploration program and I had decided to go to Vegas to feel some heat and blow off some steam. My accounts were full and my liver was empty so while still a little out of sorts from my time on the Beaufort I hustled Jane and myself onto a plane and headed south. After long stretches in isolated areas, I can be a little out of sorts for awhile.

At the end of a long day travelling the strip, I was tired and more than a little tipsy. Still, I decided to wind down the evening at my hotel through feeding the slots some more cash for awhile. Now, I can be a terrible procrastinator in many ways. In this case, my problem was an overstuffed wallet that was literally falling apart at the seams. Those who remember the old Seinfeld episode with George Costanza’s wallet know what I am talking about. Well in reaching into my wallet to get another bill to fire into that infernal gambling machine, I slipped and my wallet along with all of it’s contents spilled all over the floor. On my hands and knees I had to scramble to round up my ID, credit cards and such as people walked upon my scattered documents. It was a tough job as for some reason my eyes were seeing double.

Then and there I vowed that my procrastination has come to an end! I swore that I would not rest that night until I had a new wallet and I would buy one at the first store that carried them! Well dear reader, in the Bellagio there simply are not many cost conscious stores carrying wallets. True to my word I found a shop however. It was the Gucci store.

To complicate things, none of the wallets on display had prices attached to them. “No matter.” I thought to myself. I am getting a new wallet no matter what anyway. I found an appropriate bifold and had the clerk take it to the register for me. I was asked if I wanted it gift wrapped. I said no I could use it right now.

I was then asked to pay $360! To make it worse, the American dollar was still worth somewhat more than ours at the time.

My inebriated pride would not allow me to back down so I shelled out the cash, pocketed the wallet and went off to seek another drink in hopes of numbing the effect of my idiotic purchase.

Below is a shot of the now worn but still distinctly Gucci wallet. I still carry it with me every day.

Now there is more to this story than simply pointing out an incident of impulsive purchasing idiocy on my part. The wallet has actually paid for itself in the funds it has saved me.

You see, I am prone to some impulsive moves at times and often it involves spending money. Now, every time I want to spend money on anything, I have to pull out my wallet. The shining telltale letter G stares out at me every time and forces me to ask myself if what I am buying is really a good idea. It is astounding how many things can be deferred with just a moment of second thought. Had I bought shoes or a belt I would not have that constant reminder. With a wallet there is no choice. I must be reminded of my stupid purchase every time I spend more money.

Now this concept can be utilized by our elected officials. I propose that we get a 15×20 foot blowup made of the picture below and have it hanging in city hall facing our council.

Yes. Before every spending notion and decision I think every council member including our Mayor must stare at that picture for a minute. Every council member should have a constant reminder of what happens when they vote for ill conceived vanity projects. Nothing displays that more than the hideous, budget-blown, year behind schedule, sole sourced “Peace Bridge” that is now polluting our landscape with it’s Chinese finger-trap appearance. The only thing uglier in our downtown right now is that camp of squatters in Olympic Plaza (you knew I had to at least mention them once).

The picture should make them ask themselves what they did not when they approved that ugly thing in the first place. Do we need this? Can we afford this? Is this the best deal for this? Should we put this to tender?

This idea can be effective for all levels of government.

The MagCan plant that cost Alberta taxpayers hundreds of millions which is now falling apart near High River should be pictured and displayed prominently in the legislature chambers as a reminder of idiotic spending.

The above picture of the duel-colored and profound “Voice of Fire” that our federal government purchased for $1.8 million dollars should hang in the house of commons for all to enjoy and to remind them of what foolishness they are capable of.

Like government, I can be prone to foolish spending decisions. Unlike government, I only am spending my own money. If I can learn to improve my spending through simple reminders of my past mistakes, I don’t see why legislators can’t too.

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