The Government of Alberta re-announced plans last week to open new trade offices in Chicago and Singapore, and yet to be announced locations in India, Brazil, and California. The Alberta Government is currently operating trade offices in Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, London, Munich, Mexico City, and Washington D.C.
The re-announcement opening the new offices coincided with the release of the provincial government’s International Strategy document. Reading the document, Albertans can learn how the government is “Taking a Team Alberta approach,” “Strengthening Alberta’s position on the ground” and “Promoting Alberta within the Canada Brand.” Overflowing with buzzwords and jargon, the document reads as if it came fresh off the desk of some high-paid consultant.
Since Alison Redford became Premier in November 2011, cabinet ministers and backbench Tory MLAs have made trips to twenty-one different countries. During that time, cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs have made fourteen trips to Washington D.C., highlighting the importance that the current government is placing on its relationship with the United States and the construction of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
Trips to more than a dozen countries in Asia, including twelve trips to Hong Kong (now home to Alberta’s appointed representative and former Tory leadership candidate Gary Mar), also show the importance the government is placing on trade expansion to Asia. Currently, Finance Minister Doug Horner is traveling through China and Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson is visiting Kazakhstan.
The Edmonton Journal’s Graham Thomson suggested in a recent column that public funds might be well used by opening up a trade office in Victoria, B.C. to convince newly re-elected Premier Christy Clark to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
Here is the updated map showing international travel by Alberta Government cabinet ministers and Tory MLAs since November 2011 (click map to see locations and dates):
View Alberta Cabinet Minister and MLA Travel November 2011-June 2013 in a larger map
‘Building Markets’ and ‘Building Alberta’
“Building Markets” and “Building Alberta.” are two slogans that anyone who has read a recent government press releases or listened to recent ministerial speeches will be familiar with. The key words were spoken by government ministers more than 70 times in the recent sitting of the Legislative Assembly. Are regular Albertans noticing? On Twitter, almost the only tweets that include the #buildingmarkets and #buildingalberta hashtags are coming from accounts belonging to Tory MLAs or their paid employees.
To no one’s surprise, Edmonton City Council’s resident contrarian Kerry Diotte launched his campaign at a downtown hotel this afternoon, making him the first candidate to enter Edmonton’s 2013 Mayoral Election race.
After yesterday’s “final” vote on the proposed downtown arena project, the former Edmonton Sun columnist quickly announced he would soon make an announcement about his political future. Photos leaked to this blog last month suggest Councillor Diotte has been preparing to run for mayor for some time.
The current mayor, Stephen Mandel, is not a fan of Councillor Diotte, shared some harsh words about him on CityTV’s Breakfast Television this morning: “He hasn’t done anything…. He comes to Council and tweets all the time…. He doesn’t pay attention…”
When asked by reporters at today’s press conference about his vision for Edmonton, Councillor Diotte stumbled, citing “listening” and a grocery list of issues including opposing the arena, fixing potholes, and stopping the construction of bike lanes.
If trying to figure out Councillor Diotte’s vision for Edmonton is difficult, so is pinpointing his politics. He has acted as the right-wing contrarian during his three-years on city council and has attached himself to more controversial attention-grabbing issues. This has not made him popular with his council colleagues and has typically placed him in the minority vote on council (he would typically be the “1″ in a 12-1 vote).
Though his supporters preach about his populist streak, it feels more gimmicky than real grassroots (his public engagement seems focused on holding contests on his website, like ‘Kerry in your Kitchen,‘ or a contest where he took a constituent to an Edmonton Oilers game).
Council Diotte’s explanation why he wants to be Mayor was not awe inspiring, articulate or well-prepared, but it was frankly reflective of the frustration felt by some Edmontonians about the leadership-style of current city administration. He is a backlash candidate who could appeal to many voters who either disagree with the current mayor or feel left out of Edmonton’s decision-making process.
Despite the many criticisms of Councillor Diotte, he should not be discounted and should, at this point in time, be considered a serious candidate.
The gaggle of Wildrose Opposition Caucus staffers standing at the back of the press conference may give an indication as to how the one-term Councillor plans to build a city-wide political campaign. With the Wildrose Party looking to gain an organizational toe-hold in major Alberta’s cities before the next election, it is easy to understand why their organizers would gravitate toward Councillor Diotte.
Other candidates suspected to be interested in the mayor’s chair include Councillors Don Iveson, Karen Leibovici, and Amarjeet Sohi.
Edmonton-Manning MLA Peter Sandhu has resigned from the Progressive Conservative Caucus after a CBC investigation revealed that a company owned by the politician had accumulated a trail of unpaid debt. The report, by investigative reporter Charles Rusnell, also found that Mr. Sandhu made a false statement in a sworn affidavit.
It is not uncommon for Tory MLAs to face investigations by the ethics commissioner, but it is uncommon for Tory MLAs to actually resign from the Government caucus because of these investigations.
Mr. Sandhu’s resignation shows how different Alberta’s political environment has become in recent years. The Wildrose Official Opposition is waging a permanent aggressive campaign against the Tories, something the long-governing party is not accustomed to. And with Premier Alison Redford facing an internal party leadership review in November, the Tories are desperately trying to avoid the kind of embarrassing controversies that dominated the political narrative in 2012.
As far as I can recollect, the last Tory MLA to resign because of an ethics scandal was in 2001, when former cabinet minister Robert “Butch” Fischer quit as the MLA for Wainwright after being investigated for a breach of ethics regarding a private business deal.
Mr. Sandhu was first elected in Edmonton-Manning in 2008, defeating Independent MLA Dan Backs, who had been kicked out of the Liberal caucus in 2006 (Mr. Backs challenged Mr. Sandhu, and was defeated, in the PC nomination contest).
Westward, support for Premier Christy Clark‘s Liberal Party surged in yesterday’s British Columbia provincial election, leaving Adrian Dix‘s New Democrats in the dust. Long expected to form government in this year’s vote, the NDP were only able to elect 33 MLAs, compared to 50 for the Liberals. The only win the NDP are likely to celebrate is the defeat of Premier Clark in her own Vancouver-Point Grey constituency against newly elected NDP MLA David Eby.
Provincial politicians like school boards.
When popular decisions are made, like opening new schools or announcing new funding, the provincial government takes the credit.
When unpopular decisions need to be made, like closing schools or cancelling programs, then the provincial politicians are more than happy to let the school board trustees take the blame.
As was demonstrated yesterday, provincial politicians also like school boards because they can tell them what to do. When the Calgary Board of Education voted to reject the new province-wide collective agreement negotiated by the Government of Alberta and the Alberta Teachers’ Association, Education Minister Jeff Johnson tabled a bill in the Assembly to force the agreement on all school boards in the province (Premier Alison Redford was unsurprisingly absent during the resulting commotion).
It is important to note that the vast majority of school boards and Locals representing the Alberta Teachers’ Association voted to approve the agreement. Minister Johnson’s bill simply forces the agreement on the few that refused, which happen to include Calgary, the largest school board in Alberta.
Normally, the Calgary Board of Education would have had the opportunity to sit down with the ATA and negotiate a separate local agreement. This is how, until very recently, teachers’ contracts were negotiated.
As the provincial government tightens its grip on the reins of locally elected school boards, locally negotiated teachers’ contracts may become a thing of the past, as could school boards if they ever become inconvenient for their masters in the provincial government.
By my count, five of the 87 members of Alberta’s Legislative Assembly previously served as school board trustees: Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Maureen Kubinec, Calgary-Klein MLA Kyle Fawcett, and Edmonton-Decore MLA Janice Sarich, as well as Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and PC MLA Teresa Woo-Paw, who served on the ill-fated Calgary Board of Education from 1998 until the dysfunctional board was fired by the provincial government in 1999.
Scrambling to fill $55 million in missing funding for the proposed Katz Group downtown arena, City Councillors voted last week to postpone any final vote on financing the project. Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel won the support of enough Capital Region politicians last week to potentially secure an extra $25 million for the project (though, the vote may have been improperly recorded).
As it becomes clear that poor planning and bad strategy is leaving a few current Edmonton politicians scratching their heads at how to fund this mega-project, it is becoming more likely that the downtown arena will become a top issue in the October 21, 2013 municipal elections.
There are still no candidates declared running for Mayor, but a swath of hopefuls eyeing spots on Edmonton’s City Council recently announced their intentions to run in the October elections.
In Ward 7, three-term Public School Board trustee Dave Colburn launched his campaign for City Council yesterday at the Bellevue Community Hall. Mr. Colburn recently wrote a guest post sharing some ideas about how to save inner-city schools from suburban sprawl. He will be challenging Ward 7′s incumbent Councillor Tony Caterina.
Running to replace Mr. Colburn in the public school board’s Ward D is his predecessor, former NDP MLA Ray Martin, who served as trustee for the area from 2001 until 2004.
On May 21, David Dodge will launch his campaign for City Council in Ward 3. Mr. Dodge is the producer of Green Energy Futures and the past-president of the Edmonton Federation of Community Leagues. Ward 3 is currently represented by first-term Councillor Dave Loken.
On May 14, Richard Feehan will be launching his campaign in Ward 10. Mr. Feehan is an instructor at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Social Work in Edmonton and is a former vice-president of Catholic Social Services. Also running in Ward 10 is community organizer Michael Walters. Incumbent Councillor Don Iveson, has announced he will not seek re-election for City Council in Ward 10.
Google, working with the United States Geological Survey, NASA and TIME, have released time lapsed satellite maps of the Earth from each year from 1984 to 2012. You can search the site for time lapsed images of locations from around the globe.
The population of the province of Alberta has grown by more than a million people in the past twenty-five years, which is demonstrate by the growth (and urban sprawl) in our cities over that period. Below are screenshots of four Alberta cities – Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, and Grande Prairie – from 1984 and 2012. Also included below are satellite images of oil sands operations north of Fort McMurray in 1984 and 2012. Visit the timelapse website to search for other images.
Oilsands operations north of Fort McMurray
Premier Alison Redford was criticized this week after she harshly denounced her opposition in a campaign-style speech to a group of school children in Calgary. In response to the Premier’s fiery words, book publishers jumped on the opportunity to reach impressionable young minds by releasing a series of children’s books about Alberta politics.
Both Premier Redford and Wildrose leader Danielle Smith have contributed to two of the first batch of these children’s books expected to hit book shelves this summer.
Where the Wildrose Things Are by Alison Redford
A young boy named Max, after dressing in his wolf costume, wreaks havoc through his province’s legislature and is disciplined by the Speaker. As he feels agitation with the Speaker, Max’s discovers a mysterious jungle environment caused by climate change, and he winds up sailing to an island inhabited by malicious beasts known as the “Wildrose Things.” After successfully intimidating the creatures, Max is hailed as the king of the Wildrose Things and enjoys a playful romp with his subjects; however, he decides to return home, to the Wildrose Things’ dismay. After arriving back at the legislature, Max discovers a $430,000 bank draft waiting for him.
Good Families Don’t (Go Into Debt) is Danielle Smith’s funniest book yet, about a risqué subject that is guaranteed to have children–and politicos–rolling in the aisles.
When Carmen tries to tell her parents that there is a big pile of debt lying on her bed, they don’t believe her. “Good families like ours,” they tell her, “do not have debt.” But when they go upstairs to see, the debt attacks them–as it does the similarly disbelieving police when they arrive. Carmen is left to deal with the situation on her own, which she does with the help of a Wild Rose.
In The Liberals and NDP Get in a Fight, the ideologically compatible Liberals and NDP are fighting–all day long until voters help them realize that electoral cooperation is possible, even if you argue once in a while.
There was little surprise among the cynical pundit class yesterday as Elections Alberta announced that it had found billionaire Daryl Katz and his Katz Group broke no laws when the company delivered a donation in the form of a $430,000 bank draft to Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservative Party during last year’s provincial election.
Even though the maximum donation limit during an election period is $30,000, according to Elections Alberta the $430,000 donation was legitimate because it was accompanied by a paper trail of 17 individuals and professional corporations who wished to receive tax-receipts in amounts of $30,000, $25,000, $20,000, and $15,000. Tax-receipts were issued for Mr. Katz, members of his family, and senior employees of his company.
Only the portion of the donation assigned to Mr. Katz’s Chief Financial Officer, Paul Marcaccio, was ruled inappropriate because he is not an ordinary resident of Alberta. The PC Party announced that it returned the $25,000 that was assigned from Mr. Marcaccio.
Even if the Katz Group donation was found to be legal, it certainly goes against the spirit of the law and demonstrates how easy Alberta’s flimsy political finance laws are to circumvent.
The $430,000 donation represented 26% of the money raised by the PC Party during last year’s election period. It could be speculated that this is the reason the PC Party reneged on a promise to reveal their list of donors in the final week of the campaign.
One day after ending a 5-day wildcat strike spurred by serious concerns about safety in the workplace, Corrections Officers represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) claim they are being threatened with punishment by senior managers in the Solicitor General’s department. This goes against an agreement to end the strike reached by AUPE President Guy Smith and the government’s front-man on the issue - Premier Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk - that union members would not be punished for going on strike.
Front-line Corrections Officers at the new Edmonton Remand Centre began a wildcat strike last week after they felt serious safety concerns were not being addressed by their management. The wildcat strike quickly spread across the province as Corrections Officers at other jails walked off the job in a show of solidarity with their colleagues in Edmonton.
Having avoided making any public comments on the issue until the strike was over, Premier Redford emerged at a press conference in Calgary to announce the government would take legal action against AUPE to recoup any costs to the government caused by the strike.
Meanwhile, in a move that could unravel the one-day labour peace, Solicitor General Jonathan Denis announced the province wants to suspend AUPE’s rights to collect dues from all government employees for a six-month period.
The government’s request to the Labour Relations Board would withhold dues of tens of thousands of AUPE members who had no connection to the striking Corrections Officers and is a move that is certainly meant to cripple, and poison the government’s relationship, with the union of 80,000 Government of Alberta employees. The Public Service Employee Relations Act allows for suspension of dues only for individual union locals, not for an entire union membership.
By Dave Colburn
When the Edmonton Public School Board ended its two year moratorium on school closures in Nov. 2012 it generated a good deal of public discussion. Parents and communities wanted to know what this new world would mean for schools with falling enrolment. People speculated on whether this moratorium had achieved anything and offered views on what the Board should do next.
The media analyzed closures, infrastructure and the board’s responsibilities. Our own planning department weighed in and talked of infrastructure challenges and different strategies to deal with closures. Even the City of Calgary saw media reporting their City Council wanted to play a greater role in closure decisions.
As a three-term trustee on the board, and former Board Chair, I have seen my share of school closures. The district closed 14 schools in my first 6 years on the board. Closures that reached into the inner city in the spring of 2010 (McCauley, Parkdale and Eastwood) were particularly divisive for the board and the city. People and organizations that had never taken a position on closures addressed the board in an historic six and half hour marathon Board meeting on April 13, 2010.
At the end of the evening a majority of the board had approved all five closure recommendations. I opposed those recommendations. In the weeks that followed I was increasingly convinced that the city had reached a saturation point with closures.
Early in my 2010 campaign for re-election I called for a moratorium on closures. Fairly quickly, school closures became a municipal election issue. Mayor Stephen Mandel, standing between both the public and Catholic board chairs, in the summer of 2010, called for new solutions. Trustee candidates began to openly discuss closures and commit to a moratorium, if elected. On November 30th, 2010, following a record turnover on the board that saw six new trustees elected, the board approved a two year moratorium on school closures.
In addition to a respite for communities facing possible closures, the board was also determined to undertake an exhaustive analysis of closures in order to build support for communities and lessen the likelihood of closure. A moratorium committee presented a report on school viability and closures, and a series of public meetings was held over the next year to discuss the findings of this report. This board response was unprecedented. Never before had the issue of school closures been so thoroughly and publicly analyzed. On Jan. 31, 2012, a series of recommendations, submitted by the committee, were approved by the board. As a member of that committee, I believe we gathered all possible information on closures, brought our best intelligence to the table, transparently engaged our public, and made recommendations that will create better supports for schools. I believe the public would support this work.
Lack of joint planning between the city and the district, sprawl created by the City of Edmonton’s growth strategies and inadequate, often arbitrary funding from the province all create enormous pressure on the district to close schools. In the winter of 2010, I successfully introduced a motion to begin tri-level discussions with the city and province on school closures and related issues. At first meeting of these three levels of government a senior minister described the initiative as “overdue and a new model of urban planning.”
The board moratorium committee, in Jan. 2012, recommended both the Catholic and public boards meet annually with the city and province to discuss joint planning. Following the mayor’s Community Sustainability Task Force, the Elevate report, released in Feb. 2012, made its top recommendation to “bring together the four jurisdictions (federal, provincial, municipal, school boards) to create innovative partnerships….to assemble a new urban agenda.”
So is anything really different? I would say yes, there are encouraging changes. It is reasonable to expect that three levels of government will be involved in future urban planning.
Schools will be closed in the future. How can this be done respecting the needs and views of communities? In an Andrea Sands article in the Edmonton Journal on January 13th, 2013, Edmonton Public’s Director of Planning, Dr. Lorne Parker spoke at length about the replacement school model. I very much like this model. The idea would see a number of schools (say 3 or 4) in close proximity to each other be closed, and, in return, a new school built to serve communities experiencing closure in the area. It would require gov’t commitment to fund a new school in return for closures. It would require authentic public consultation. Many groupings of schools in the district that would qualify for this approach.
Finally, I think this board’s extraordinary response to community concerns over school closures has reaffirmed, in a very public manner, the importance of community in any school closure decision. I am hopeful that we will never see again, as we did in 2010, a school closure discussion that does not mention the word community once.
Dave Colburn is a three-term school trustee and former chairman of the Edmonton Public School Board who lives in Edmonton’s Bellevue neighborhood, one block from Bellevue School, which was closed in 2003. He is stepping down from the board. This is his debut blog post. You can read more at davecolburn.ca
While too much media attention was focused this week on the fate of a statue of a hockey player who left Edmonton twenty-five years ago for sunny southern California (and piles of money), City Council desperately tried to draw up a Plan B (or Plan C) to fund the proposed downtown arena.
The unrealistic Plan A, a financial framework approved by City Council and billionaire Edmonton Oilers owner Daryl Katz‘s company months ago, included a large funding gap of $114 million that Mayor Stephen Mandel was adamant that the provincial government would fill.
Premier Alison Redford, Finance Minister Doug Horner, and Municipal Affair Minister Doug Griffiths have been clear that no direct funding for the arena is coming. Ever. And after Mayor Mandel’s harsh-criticisms of the province’s cuts to post-secondary education, it now seems even more unlikely that the provincial politicians would be willing to kowtow to the Mayor’s desperate demands.
Two weeks ago, a split council vote decided that the city would borrow $45 million against expected future Municipal Sustainability Initiative funding, meant for public infrastructure construction and maintenance, to put towards the arena. This still leaves a $55 million gap that the provincial government has said it is not interested in filling.
As Councillors scramble to find a solution to a problem they should have solved months ago, it is now being suggested that more funds from the proposed Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) be directed toward the arena, looting funds already promised for other downtown projects.
Meanwhile in Calgary, an awkwardly long press conference was held by the Sprawl Cabal’s Cal Wenzel to respond to accusations that wealthy developers are aiming to unseat aldermen who believe urban planning is better than the current near-unrestrained urban sprawl.
Despite being caught in a leaked video plotting to use Preston Manning‘s Calgary-based Municipal Governance Project to free city council from “the dark side,” Mr. Wenzel uncomfortably tried to downplay the evidence exposed by Global Calgary this week.
As blogger David Climenhaga wrote, Mr. Wenzel “would have been better to say: ‘You’ve seen the tape. Judge for yourself what I meant. Now get lost!’”
A video leaked to Global Calgary showing a large group of prominent wealthy developers plotting to stack Calgary City Council with sympathetic candidates is making waves in Alberta’s largest city. The video shows developer Cal Wenzel presenting a plan to defeat certain members of City Council who he perceives to be anti-urban sprawl – including Aldermen Druh Farrell and Richard Pootmans.
Unable to defeat popular Mayor Naheed Nenshi, this ‘Sprawl Cabal’ of wealthy developers are aiming to win over a majority of seats on City Council, which could give them the power to block any moves by Mayor Nenshi that they perceive to be against urban sprawl.
In the video, Mr. Wenzel claims that a large donation, of more than $1 million, made to Preston Manning‘s “Municipal Governance Project” training centre for civic election candidates (read the Manning Centre’s leaked talking points in response to the leaked video). The Manning Centre recently laid out their plans to train conservative-minded candidates in a bid to introduce a new brand of ideological conservative politics into Calgary’s next municipal election.
Because of municipal campaign finance laws limiting individual and corporate donations to a maximum $5,000, the presence of a special interest group like the Manning Centre in Calgary’s election appears to have given these wealthy developers a place to pour their money.
That this type of conversation happened is not a surprise. That is was recorded and leaked to the media is very surprising. The Sprawl Cabal was caught red-handed.
As former U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney learned last year when a leaked video showed him dismissing 47% of American voters, this group of developers have learned that even in the most secure locations, Little Brother is watching (I bet you never noticed that iPhone in his pocket).
(Thanks to Duncan Kinney for the ‘Sprawl Cabal’ inspiration)