Categories
Alberta Politics Canadian Politics Public Interest Alberta

where to from here?

It’s a balmy +4C here in Edmonton and in case there were any doubts I believe (*hope*) that Spring is here to stay!

A couple of things…

– Over the past couple months, Public Interest Alberta has released a number of discussion documents on some hot topics in Alberta.

This week, PIA released it’s Post-Secondary Education plan – Where to from Here: A Vision and Plan for Post-secondary Education in Alberta and it lays out some solid recommendations for how to improve the affordability, accessibility, and quality of Alberta’s post-secondary system. Democratic Renewal in Alberta: A Public Interest Alberta Discussion Paper is another hard hitting democratic reform document that PIA released a couple of months ago.

You can also check out policychannel.com to watch an interview with PIA Chairman Larry Booi.

The Federal Budget. It seems federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is fairly pleased with himself for fixing the fiscal imbalance. Unfortunately for Minister Flaherty, a number of folks on the otherside of the “imbalance” tend to disagree.

– The Quebec Provincial Election is on Monday. I’ll be spending a month or more in Quebec over the Summer, so I’ll be watching this one with interest (I was actually in Montreal during the 2003 Quebec Provincial Election).

It should be close as poll after poll have shown the three main parties within striking distance of each other!

– And for you fans of election debates, this is for you!

Categories
Alberta Politics

pomping the speech from the throne.

This afternoon Lt. Governor Norman Kwong delivered Alberta’s Speech from the Throne. Being the first Speech from the Throne of the Tory Government under Ed Stelmach, I made sure I was there to see it happen.

Anyone who knows anything about the Speech from the Throne will know that it has more to do with pomp, ceremony, and feel goodery than actual substance or policy. Though brief mentions of policy poped up from time to time in Kwong’s long speech (the delivery was a little slow) it stuck to formula.

Much of the Speech centered around Stelmach’s “Five Priorities” (All of which seem fairly common sensicle).

  • governing with integrity and transparency;
  • managing growth pressures;
  • improving Albertans’ quality of life;
  • providing safe and secure communities; and
  • building a strong Alberta.

More substantial points include the creation of a long-needed lobbyist registry, finally dealing with the affordable housing and economic growth crisis, and review of the resource royalty system (all of which had been previously announced).

The Stelmach Tories are now appearing to be jumping on the now all-popular “green” bandwagon with the announcement of the creation of a long-term energy strategy and greenhouse gas emission regulation. Feel goodery aside, I’m not convinced that the Alberta Tories have any real sincere intention to take substantial action on the environment or climate change file. I’ll believe it when I see real action.

This Speech remains atypical of most other speech’s of this type. Hopefully the Spring Session will be a little more exciting.

And of course, the scrums and schmoozing in the Rotunda is where the real action is.

Of note:
– Thanks to the Alberta NDP caucus for my invitation to the Visitor’s Gallery and for letting me in to their pre-Speech Reception at the Legislature Annex.
Tom Olsen was sporting a slick new suit. I’m sure he’s making a better salary at taxpayer expense than the Calgary Herald would ever afford him.
– Fred Horne is Dave Hancock‘s new Executive Assistant. Horne ran for the Tories in Edmonton Riverview against Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft. Horne recieved 22% of the vote to Taft’s 65%.
– Lots of new Ministers with new hangers on.
– Lots of old Ministers with no hangers on.
– I’m still shocked and disappointed at the job that Todd Babiuk is doing as the Edmonton Journal‘s Legislative Columnist while Graham Thomson is on assignment in Afghanistan. COME BACK, GRAHAM!
– And I think Norman Kwong likes the attention he gets when he enters a room.

Categories
Alberta Politics

clint had a point?

“Money is like manure. If you spread it around, it does a lot of good; but if you pile it up in one place, it stinks like hell.” – Clint Murchison

How fitting…

Tax revenue and investment income lift Alberta’s surplus to $7 billion

Spending unchanged from second quarter forecast
Third Quarter Fiscal Highlights
* Revenue is $36.6 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion from second quarter forecast
* Expense is $29.7 billion, a decrease of $40 million from second quarter forecast
* The surplus is forecast at $7 billion, an increase of $1.5 billion from second quarter forecast

Edmonton… Strong business profits and returns in world equity markets are bolstering the province’s bottom line in 2006-07, as reported in the Government of Alberta’s 2006-07 Third Quarter Fiscal Update. Revenue is now forecast to be $4.2 billion higher than budgeted, increasing the forecast surplus to $7 billion.

Categories
Affordable Housing Alberta Politics

thursday update.

A couple of things…

– I presented to Alberta’s Affordable Housing Task Force yesterday afternoon in Edmonton. The committee will be traveling Alberta to listen to Albertans thoughts and recommendations on how to solve the affordable housing crisis until February 28. Task force members include MLA’s Len Webber (Calgary Foothills), Bruce Miller (Edmonton Glenora), and Ray Martin (Edmonton Beverly-Clareview) and Edmonton City Councillor Karen Leibovici. See here for the hearing locations and dates.

Alberta Liberal Leader Kevin Taft delivered an alternative Speech from the Throne Tuesday night at the Royal Museum in Edmonton. Fresh from the release of Taft’s new book Democracy Derailed, last nights event was a packed affair with hundereds of Albertans crowding the theatre to hear what Taft had to say. It was a positive speech and gave Taft the oppurtunity to present his team of MLA’s and candidates along with a positive vision for Alberta’s future. Taft also focused on the need for action to be taken on environmental issues in Alberta.

Though it will be an uphill battle for the 15 MLA caucus, Taft outlined the Alberta Liberal Caucus’ legislative agenda for the upcoming Spring Session which will include a number of Bills including a Sustainable Communities Act, a Consumer Advocate Act, a Child Care Accountability and Accessibility Act, a Restriction on School Fees and Fundraising Act, and legislation that would strengthen water resource management, review gaming in Alberta, require health impact assessments for major government initiatives, and reverse laws designed to hide the results of internal audits for 15 years.

It’s a very interesting twist in Alberta politics how the Alberta Liberals are attempting to turn the tables on the seemingly disorganized Stelmach Government in terms of presenting a strong and united vision for what road Alberta should take.

– Looks like Quebec is off to the polls on March 26.

– I’m off to the wild border city of Lloydminster for the day today (hopefully those rowdy Saskatchewanites won’t be too much of a worry).

Categories
Alberta Politics

budget delays…

More substantive posts coming in the near future, but here is an interesting twist…

Jan, 23 2007 – 4:20 PM

EDMONTON – Finance Minister Lyle Oberg has confirmed the new Alberta budget won’t be ready until April, several weeks later than usual.

Oberg says he’s putting in place a whole new budgeting process that brings the government caucus into the decision-making process.

But, the new finance minister says this is taking some extra time even though completing the budget is now his top priority.

Oberg says Albertans shouldn’t expect to see any spending cuts in the new budget given that the province is facing an inflation rate of 4.5 percent, but he says they may curtail spending increases.

However, a budget arriving after the current fiscal year ends on March 31 means the legislature would have to approve interim financing until a new budget is passed.

Categories
Alberta Politics Canadian Politics

rough waters ahead?

1. Ed Stelmach’s PC Government doesn’t seem to be getting the same smooth ride from the media the 13 year Ralph Klein’s PC’s received.

Following the cancellation of the $5,000 a ticket exclusive Tory fundraiser, there appears to be no shortage of tension coming from Stelmach’s first cabinet as Health Minister Dave Hancock (Edmonton Whitemud) is being openly scolded by fellow Tories Ty Lund (Rocky Mountain House) and Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster) for talking to the media about a Province-wide smoking ban.

2. Alberta Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald (Edmonton Gold Bar) has discovered that the Alberta Tories have failed to file mandatory reports to Elections Alberta since 1987. From the Edmonton Sun

The situation involves a secret “foundation fund” the party was allowed to keep after the financial disclosure law was passed in 1978, provided it filed annual reports on transfers from it.
Deputy Electoral Officer Bill Sage told the Sun he failed to notice that the statements stopped coming.

“I was responsible for it. I was the director of financial operations at the time. It was something that escaped me and I didn’t realize it until just recently.”
He said Elections Alberta has requested the Tory party to provide the missing
statements, but is still waiting for them.

2.For someone who pledged to get the Government of Alberta “out of the business of business,” former Tory Premier Ralph Klein sure hopped on the business bandwagon quickly as a Senior Business Advisor for Borden Ladner Gervais LLP in Calgary.

3. The salary of the chairman of Horse Racing Alberta has risen 217% in just four years. According to Alberta Liberal MLA Maurice Tougas (Edmonton Meadowlark):

…in just four years, Horse Racing Alberta has received more than $136 million from slot machine revenue. The government estimates another $60 million could pour into HRA this year, bringing the total subsidy to almost $200 million.

4. On the federal side of things, Stephane Dion has announced the Federal Liberals massive 47 MP shadow cabinet. The Harper Conservatives are framing it as a “Blast from the Past.” It should be interesting to see how the well the Federal Liberals regroup before the next election.

5. Anne McLellan has announced that she will not be seeking the Federal Liberal nomination to challenge Tory MP Laurie Hawn in Edmonton Centre. Names that I’ve heard being bantered around for Liberal candidates include Jim Jacuta, Randy Boissonnault, and 2006 Edmonton East candidate Nicole Martel

Categories
Alberta Politics

session on the horizon…

The rumour mill has rolled out February 26 as the beginning of the 2007 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature.

It’s also likely that the first Bill presented by Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PC Government will be a pseudo-Accountability Act, which among other things would propose the creation of the long-overdue Lobbyist Registry.

The creation of a Lobbyist Registry is something that the Liberal Opposition has been strongly calling for over the past few years.

I’ve been fairly busy lately, but will roll out with more regular blogging in the coming weeks…

Categories
Alberta Politics Campaign Finance Elections Alberta

the money of politics in alberta.

Elections Alberta has quietly launched the new online electoral finance website.

Though the website only contains political financial contribution records dating back to 2004, it is quite an interesting read and it will save you from having to go down to the Elections Alberta office and sort through the paper copies…

Categories
Alberta Politics Alberta Tories

isn’t it nice to have a government credit card?

I have a pretty good idea what would happen to me if I spent $29,000 in on a personal trip to Las Vegas on my work credit card

Alberta’s Finance Department has confirmed an aide to a former MLA has paid back $29,000 in personal expenses he charged to a government credit card, including a Las Vegas hotel bill and luggage.

Sasha Angus worked at the legislature for 3½ years as an executive assistant to former MLA and economic development minister Mark Norris.

According to a 2004 memo leaked to CBC News, when Angus left government he owed $29,000 in personal expenses he had charged to his government credit card. The memo was addressed to then Finance Minister Shirley McClellan.

And it gets even more scandalously mysterious…

CBC News has asked to see the credit card records and correspondence related to the case, but the province refused.

Alberta’s Privacy Commission investigated the government’s refusal and has sided with CBC News.

“All of the records should be released in the … public interest of promoting government being open and transparent in its dealing with tax dollars,” said Privacy Commission spokesman Wayne Wood.

However, the Alberta government continues to block the release and has appealed the commission’s stand.

The office of Alberta’s auditor general also wants to see the records and wants to know why it wasn’t informed about the problem.

And from the Chair of Alberta’s Public Accounts Committee…

“This is an ideal opportunity for Mr Stelmach to keep his promise of transparency and release all government expenses,” said [Edmonton Gold Bar Liberal MLA] Hugh MacDonald, who is chair of the Public Accounts Committee. “The fact that the government refused to release the aide’s expense records to CBC throws their claim of openness and transparency right out the window.”

“It’s obvious this government is not learning from their mistakes – this is yet another example of lavish Tory spending,” added MacDonald. “What kind of control have we got on our spending? None!”

Other than this being a ridiculously outragous and irresponsible use of a public credit card, it got nearly no media attention. Had an Executive Assistant to a Minister in Ottawa benn caught spending $29,000 in Las Vegas, you can bet it would be all over the Alberta media…

Categories
Alberta Politics Alberta Tories Ed Stelmach Jim Dinning Ted Morton

shakin’ up the alberta scene.

This great editorial from today’s Calgary Herald touches on some of the same points surrounding the myths of Alberta’s “new political forces” that I’ve talked about for some time now…

Shake up party from inside out
Brent Johner, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Alberta’s new premier may be know affectionately as Steady Eddie in small town coffee shops, but his cabinet selections — chosen more for their loyalty than for their brilliance — are seen by many here in Calgary as the Special Eds.

And despite this city’s willingness to give the new guy a chance, many find it hard to believe that a white, middle-aged, male and mostly rural group of conservative cabinet ministers will ever feel comfortable with urban Alberta’s growth-and-change agenda.

So what’s to be done?

What are the alternatives should Steady Eddie and the Special Eds turn out to be Harry Strom and the Socreds reincarnated?

At least one Calgary columnist is predicting the imminent collapse of the Alberta PCs and is calling on Ted Morton and Jim Dinning to flee with their supporters to the Alberta Alliance Party — Alberta’s newest protest party.

He’s not alone. Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail is also wondering aloud if it isn’t time for a new political alignment in Alberta.

Like many pundits, Simpson disdains the current opposition and looks to the formation of a new party in the event that Steady Eddie proves “too steady,” boring and old-fashioned for Albertans focused on a growth-and-change agenda.

“The name ‘Liberal’ is just too toxic in Alberta,” writes Simpson. “The desire for political change in Alberta runs not through an established political alternative but some new political force.”

He’s wrong, of course. But he can be forgiven for being so. Many people, professional historians included, have looked at Alberta’s history and have come to exactly the same utterly incorrect conclusion.

The brilliant success of two protest parties — the United Farmers of Alberta (1921-1935) and the Social Credit Party (1935-1971) — blinds people to the fact that more than 20 other “new” parties have failed to gain any traction whatsoever in Alberta.

In fact, only a tiny fraction of Alberta’s “new” parties have been able to elect any members to the provincial assembly and with the exception of the two just mentioned, none were able to garner enough support to form a government.

It is nearly three generations now since a new political party in Alberta has gained sufficient momentum to seize the reins of government.

Witness the spectacular lack of success now enjoyed by new parties such as the Alberta Alliance and the Alberta Greens.

A single MLA between them doesn’t give much credence to the arguments put forth by new party proponents.

Even the federal Reform Party (what a monumental waste of time and energy that proved to be) has now slipped below Alberta’s political horizon after failing to achieve anything more than forming the Official Opposition for a few brief years.

So much for the Manning model. So much for Simpson’s “new political forces.”

A much better idea, if history is to be accepted as our best instructor on this subject, is to take an existing party and remake it. That’s what Peter Lougheed did. Or at least, that is what Lougheed is often credited with accomplishing.

In 1965, Lougheed inherited a failed party and a “toxic” brand. Two years later, his Progressive Conservatives formed the Official Opposition. Four years after that, they formed the government.

How did Lougheed do it? He didn’t. At least, not really.

Albertans did it. Specifically, voters in Edmonton and Calgary who had been voting for Social Credit candidates for decades, brought about the government’s sudden collapse.

In 1971, they decided that the Socreds were too steady, boring and old-fashioned. They looked at the dim lights and rural faces perched on the cabinet benches and decided that enough was enough.

After 36 years of one-party rule, the time had come to make a change.

So they switched to a different party — not a new party, but an established party.

It was an enormously practical decision. Not a minute was wasted trying the reinvent the wheel.

Change came in an instant. Without warning, Albertans put a new government formed from an old party on track toward a growth-and-change agenda valued by a new generation of urban voters.

And in doing so, they permanently changed the political landscape.