On Sunday, I spent the day volunteering with the Homeless Connect IV at the Shaw Conference Centre. Homeless Connect is a community event that brings together agencies, businesses, and volunteers one day at one location, to provide a range of services which can help homeless people out of homelessness.
I found it to be an extremely rewarding day and am still reflecting on the experiences. I am told that over 1,200 guests accessed the services available today. As a volunteer at the registration desk, I interviewed many of the guests and had a chance to share a conversation with them.
As someone who lives in the urban core of Edmonton and regularly sees homeless people on the street, it has become shockingly easy to pass each day without really thinking much about it. Volunteering for Homeless Connect IV gave me an opportunity to meet Edmontonians who’s lives are very different than mine and those in my social circles. It really opened my eyes to how many homeless people actually live in our city and the complex challenges they are facing. I am looking forward to volunteering for Homeless Connect V in October 2010.
I like to believe that most of the things worth writing about in this world have already been covered in an episode of the West Wing. While the topic of this video clip of Big Block of Cheese Day may be slightly more outlandish than the idea of a downtown arena district, it is the last 2:26-3:10 point that reminds me of this debate.
The minute I walked into the lobby of the Art Gallery it became very clear that the Downtown Arena District is a political campaign. The professional branding, warm colour patterns, the drawings of futuristic downtown starchitecture, and the focus-group-tested-sounding talking points of the hosts signaled to me that the Katz Group was clearly delivering a political sales pitch. Rather than actually providing new information on costs, funding models, and zoning, guests were welcomed by Katz Group executives or associates dressed in $3,000 suits who testified to the virtues of a new Downtown Arena District. “Why downtown? It has to be downtown.”
As obvious as it was to me that this was an unbridled exercise in persuasion, I worry that it may be working. As a good friend of mine pointed out, with the municipal election less than six months away, the Katz Group may be on their way to convincing Edmontonians that the Downtown Arena District is such a good idea that no cost – even the $400 million handout that they are seeking from the City – is too much for such a well-marketed idea.
I was very pleased to read that most of City Council, including both of my City Councillors (Jane Batty and Ben Henderson) remain skeptical of the Katz Group proposal. I hope that our elected Councillors do not give into the flashy marketing of this well-financed campaign and continue to demand answers from a group that is acting as if it already has its hands on the City of Edmonton’s cheque book.
Is Assembly Speaker Ken Kowalski using his Constituency Office to fundraise for the Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock Progressive Conservative association?
A registration form for the 24th Annual Ken Kowalski “The Classic” Golf Tournament (see PDF registration form) directs readers to mail cheques payable to the local PC association at Box 4576, Barrhead, Alberta T7N 1A4.
A quick Google search shows that the post office box is also listed as Speaker Kowalski’s Constituency Office mailing address on many websites, including the Town of Barrhead website.
If the internet is correct, it appears that the local PC association and the Constituency Office are sharing a mailing address. If this is the case, are political funds or public funds paying for this post office box? If they are indeed sharing a mailing address, it would suggest that correspondence from constituents of all political stripes to Speaker Kowalski’s Constituency Office would also be accessible to the local PC association.
It would be highly inappropriate for any elected official, especially one in Speaker Kowalski’s position of responsibility, to be using a publicly funded Constituency Office as a location to collect political donations.
“I looked around and saw the cast of characters and I couldn’t support any of them,” says Kent, a man not known for playing pretty with the lingo, who thinks it is time someone who has not been on city council takes a crack at calming the craziness downtown. “Council is broken. For better or for worse, council has become a dysfunctional place in the eyes of Calgarians. What they’re doing right now, when a decision is made, is most of them are running outside to quickly call members of the press and throw someone under the bus.”
“It’s now a culture of who are we going to blame for this decision so we can save our own hide and score a few political points.”
Kent says he’s been fielding offers of support in the last month from individuals fed up with the near-toxic atmosphere in the big blue playpen.
The MLA says he’ll continue to represent his riding but will soon have more details on what he will do in the last couple months of the campaign.
In a March 2010 post, I reportered that Mr. Hehr had been meeting with organizers from retiring Mayor Dave Bronconnier’s past campaigns.
Edmonton-Riverview MLA Kevin Taft wrote a interesting article this weekend in the Edmonton Journal. It is a detailed read, but Dr. Taft asks some very important questions about how and where our government has been spending pubic money over the past 20 years.
“Follow the money.” It’s a tried and true way to explain a lot of politics and government and, in recent months, I’ve been reminded why.
It started with a mystery and ended with an answer I hadn’t expected.
The mystery? If Alberta government spending on public health care is “out of control” and “skyrocketing” and “unsustainable,” as we are told, why do we have such crowded hospitals and such a shortage of doctors and nurses? If spending on public health care has climbed so much, where’s the real-life evidence?
Just over a year ago, the governments of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan met for our inaugural joint cabinet meeting. We knew then that it is critical that we break down unnecessary barriers between our provinces. Yesterday, we transformed words into action by announcing The New West Partnership. The New West Partnership recognizes the strong economic foundation of the West and the benefits of co-operation – co-operation that will foster lasting prosperity for the region, our people and our businesses.
Once you wade through the political language and buzz words of the op-ed, there appears to be little that is really “new” about this western partnership agreement. New West appears to be little more than an eastward expansion of the already existing Alberta-BC TILMA agreement, which the Premier of the bloc’s newest member denied being interested in joining only two years ago. I imagine Saskatchewan’s economy will benefit greatly by opening up to its western neighbours, but Premier Wall remains coy on what the agreement will mean for his province (as he will likely face strong opposition to the agreement).
Removing these kinds of inter-provincial barriers to investment, trade, and labour mobility are positive steps, but there are strong arguments against the secrecy in which these agreements have been created. There are also some negative elements of TILMA that many citizens may not aware of. For example, in March 2009, PC MLAs voted against removing Section 5 of Bill 18: Trade, Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement Implementation Statutes Amendment Act, which allows Cabinet Ministers to suspend or modify sections of the TILMA Act without having to deal with public debate in the elected Legislature. (Edmonton-Centre MLA Laurie Blakemanspoke against Section 5 of TILMA in March 2009).
While I am not holding my breath, it would be very encouraging to discover that the “new” elements of the New West Partnership are more democratically inclined than its predecessor agreements.
I had the really cool opportunity this weekend to present a social media session and co-present a media training session with VUE Weekly News Editor Samantha Power to participants of the Next Up Alberta leadership program.
Next Up Alberta is a leadership program for 18-32 year old interested in social change and social action, and is modelled after the British Columbia Next Up program (which I am told has been a successful program). This is the first time the program has been offered in Alberta and it aims to educate and train the participants in advocacy, lobbying, and community organizing – skills to be effective politically engaged citizens.
It is fair to say that one of the largest challenges facing our democracy in Canada is generational renewal. The demographic gap in all of our major political institutions can been seen with plain eyes and it puzzles many people in the 50 and older crowd. Being an under 30 year-old politically engaged citizen, I can completely understand why people my age would be turned off by the concept of being involved in a political organization dominated by their parents and grandparents generations. While some people believe this is the signal of doom and democratic demise, I optimistically believe it part of the evolution of our civil society and one that many of our traditional political institutions have been very slow to react to.
After spending an afternoon with the participants, I was really impressed with the drive and commitment that they have and the information and skills that the Next Up Alberta program is arming them with. I sincerely hope that the program is successful and able to empower and engage more young citizens in the years to come.
December 3, 2004: “It is a worthwhile cause,” says Ed Stelmach, Alberta’s intergovernmental affairs minister. “We are going to continue to push for Senate reform and one way is to hold these elections.”
While legislation exists governing Senate elections in Alberta, there is a regulation that allows the provincial cabinet to extend the terms of Senators-in-Waiting until cabinet ministers decide to hold another election (which could be indefinite), defeating the purpose of holding Senate elections in the first place.
Today’s much hyped Wildrose Alliance news conference in Calgary did not live up to expectations. When announced yesterday that leader Danielle Smith would “be making an important political announcement” about the her party, the speculation was rampant. Was Preston Manning signing his endorsement pledge? Was Tom Flanagan going be their campaign manager? Was Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth going to step down to let Ms. Smith to run in a by-election? Were more PC MLAs going to cross the floor?
The news turned out to be ever so underwhelming. Party president Jeff Calloway has stepped down to allow disenchanted former Ralph Klein advisor Hal Walker to enter the role. Last September, Mr. Walker let it be known to the world that he strongly disliked Premier Ed Stelmach when he widely circulated an email that oozed the with entitlement of a longtime-insder who no longer had the ear of the powerful. The underwhelming announcement sparked a some very entertaining social media satire from the political crowd on Twitter this afternoon (follow #waptopstory to see what I mean).
While the underwhelming story of Mr. Walker and the hilarious online reaction grabbed headlines, do not be convinced that nothing important happened today in Alberta politics. Here are three things that you should be paying attention to:
1)Edmonton-Rutherford PC MLA Fred Horne has announced the start of consultations for a new Alberta Health Act. The Act would seek to merge currently existing health care laws under one piece of mega-legislation. As was the case when the PCs created the Post-secondary Learning Act in 2003, the devil will be in the details of what is left in legislation and what will be moved into regulation (or just left out). In a media release, Friends of Medicare‘s David Eggen said: “The Alberta Hospitals Act, and the Alberta Health Care Insurance Act both provide core legal underpinnings for our public system. If they are repealed and not strengthened under the new legislation, it could open the doors wide for a full two-tiered, parallel private health market in the province immediately.”
2) Premier Stelmach announced on the Rutherford Show this morning that Alberta will not be holding a Senate election anytime soon. The terms of Alberta’s current three Senators-in-Waiting will expire in November 2010, but instead of holding an election to replace them, Premier Stelmach and his cabinet will decide in a closed door cabinet meeting to extend their terms. Aside from being anti-democratic, the move also undercuts the opposition parties who were preparing for a Senate election to coincide with the October municipal elections. The Wildrose Alliance began seeking Senate candidates last week and I am told that the new Alberta Party was also organizing a campaign to support a candidate this fall. At this point, Premier Stelmach might as well appoint the Senators-in-Waiting.
3) Alberta’s new Mental Health Patient Advocate is longtime PC-insider Fay Orr. Ms. Orr worked as a media relation advisor to now Senator Elaine McCoy in the early 1990s and in the 1993 election she was the PC candidate in Edmonton-Norwood (she placed third behind Liberal Andrew Beniuk and New Democrat Ray Martin). Following the election, she served as Premier Klein’s spokesperson and was appointed as managing director of the Public Affairs Bureau in 2000 (a position where current PAB Director of New Media and Internet Communications Tom Olsen described her as ‘the chief of all Alberta government talking heads‘). Soon after that, Ms. Orr served as Deputy Minister for a number of Departments, including Community Development; and Government Services, and until today, the Department of Children and Youth Services.
“Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.” – EKOS Pollster Frank Graves‘ advice to the Liberal Party of Canada.
What a surprise, an Ottawa-based politico who called for a “culture war” in Canada shows his misunderstanding of western Canada. I generally try to avoid writing too much about the distant politics of Ottawa and I could really care less about what Mr. Graves thinks of Albertans, but it is the coverage by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation on the above comments that concerns me. I am normally a defender of the CBC, but in this case, they got it all wrong.
As a friend pointed out, none of the panelists on the program even discussed whether it was okay for the Liberal Party of Canada to use these kind of wedge issues in a “culture war,” as if to suggest that they simply accepted the idea that all Albertans were just as susceptible to these extreme wedge issues as Mr. Levant (to be fair, I did know Ian Capstick when he lived in Edmonton years ago and I hope that the politics of Ottawa have not diluted his memory).
Do Mr. Graves’ comments actually reflect an undercurrent within the Party he was advising? Whether or not it does, they do have an effect on that Party’s reputation in Western Canada. I am told that last week, the Liberal Party of Canada in Alberta cancelled a bus booked to travel from Edmonton to their upcoming annual convention in Lethbridge because they could not find 35 people in the 1 million person metro Edmonton region who wanted to make the trip.
Canada is a big country and it is easy, and dangerous, to allow regional divides define our already apathetic national politics. Just as most Ontarians are not latte drinking tax-loving socialists, most Albertans are not gun-toting crazy redneck oil barons. Mr. Graves’ “culture war” comments are not helpful for those he provides political advice for and they are not helpful for Canada.
The DRP believe that a “united alternative” to the governing PCs should take place not in the formation of a new united party but through a “non-competition agreement” between the already existing Liberal Party and NDP. The letter suggests that Mr. Eggen should seek election in the new Edmonton-Northwest constituency to avoid splitting the vote in the formerly Liberal-held Glenora constituency (under the new boundaries, Calder will be dissolved, leaving Mr. Eggen’s home in the new Glenora).
The DRPs argument in Glenora is that a strong NDP candidate will split the vote with the Liberals and allow PC MLA Heather Klimchuk to be re-elected. There is little evidence to support this argument in Glenora, as in 2004 Liberal Bruce Miller was elected with 4,604 votes over second place New Democrat Larry Booi who earned 4,052 votes. With a low profile NDP candidate placing a distant third in 2008, Mr. Miller should have been re-elected with a 2,600 vote margin according to DRP logic. Instead, Mr. Booi’s votes from 2004 did not go to Mr. Miller and he was defeated by 130 votes.
Despite the hard work of their dedicated supporters, neither the Liberals or the NDP have proven that their parties have the ability to connect with Albertans outside of their already supportive urban enclaves. Perhaps the problem is not the competition for votes between the already existing parties, but that neither of the two parties are seen as viable alternatives to the governing PCs?
With declining voter turnout and a growing disconnect between citizens and the democratic process the solution should be to provide more opportunities for meaningful engagement. Decreasing choice of candidates is not a smart solution and neither is limiting the opportunity for already engaged citizens to participate in the democratic system by running as candidates in their communities.
David Eggen should run in Edmonton-Glenora because he is an engaged citizen and a good candidate. Voters in that constituency are smart enough to decide who their representative will be.
(I have already written two posts on battleground Glenora here and here.)
The 2010 Spring session of the Alberta Legislature wrapped up yesterday with little fanfare. Ending a month and a half earlier than the increasingly pointless Legislative calendar had scheduled, Premier Ed Stelmach‘s PCs seemed happy to cut short one of their roughest sessions in decades. Here are some thoughts on how each of the parties fared during the 2010 Spring session:
Entering their 39th year in office, the Progressive Conservatives caucus appeared to list from left to right and back again during this session. The massive cuts expected in the 2010 budget never emerged (and the cuts that did take place were largely overshadowed by funding to health care and education). Their flagship bill, the Competitiveness Act, is already becoming largely forgotten in the minds of most political watchers and did not have the public splash impact that was likely intended.
Their political machinery is still well-financed, but the PC Party leadership appears disconnected from mainstream Albertans. Premier Stelmach’s weak public speaking skills were crutched by some of the cabinet ministers who were shuffled into new positions in February and have made an impact this Spring. Most notably, Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Finance Minister Ted Morton, Housing Minister Jonathan Denis, and Solicitor General Municipal Affairs Minister Hector Goudreau have performed fairly well in their new roles. In the Health Care file, Minister Zwozdesky appears to have spent much of the past three months travelling the province attempting to extinguish the fires set by his predecessor (now -Energy Minister Ron Liepert). While his style has brought a much friendlier tone to his position, there are still remains unanswered questions around issues ranging from seniors’ pharmacare to the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton.
As criticisms have increased from outside the Legislature, it appears that a few PC backbenchers are increasingly unwilling to read the puff-ball questions that they regularly line up for. Whitecourt-Ste. Anne MLA George VanderBurg, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Pearl Calahasen, and Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA Wayne Drysdale have asked some pretty tough questions and have noticeably got under the skin of some cabinet ministers during Question Period.
Premier Stelmach and his cabinet ministers will undertake a province-wide tour over the summer to talk with Albertans (and try to win back the hearts and minds of PC supporters who have flocked to the Wildrose Alliance). The optimist in me hopes that the tour will actually be effective in reconnecting our elected government officials with Albertans.
The very public departure of Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor and his verbal lashing of Dr. Swann in the media seemed to be the most memorable moment for the Liberals during this session, though internally, they are probably better off without Mr. Taylor. The Liberals won a reprieve from negative attention when a motion by backbench PC MLA Verlyn Olson temporarily removed the independence of Public Accounts Committee chairman Hugh MacDonald. While I believe Dr. Swann’s performance actually improved after Mr. Taylor’s departure, similar to their federal counterparts, the provincial Liberals biggest weakness is their focus on daily tactics, rather than long-term strategy to form government.
With the addition of former PC MLAs Rob Anderson and Heather Forsyth, the WRA caucus was boosted to third-party status for the first time. Ms. Forsyth’s Mandatory Reporting of Child Pornography bill was passed on third reading (I cannot remember any time that an opposition MLAs private members bill was passed into legislation). The Wildrose Alliance was faced with the challenge of not becoming the NDP of the right and have been strategic in what issues they chose to focus on (ie: opposing the centralization of regional health authorities into Alberta Health Services).
With three MLAs in the Assembly, seatless leader Danielle Smith has spent the majority of her time during this session criss-crossing the province, speaking to town hall meetings, trade shows, chambers of commerce, and anyone interested in meeting with the newly anointed Dauphine of Alberta politics (a very smart decision in my mind).
Outside the Legislature, the NDP appear to be stalled in the polls and have not been able to capitalize on the destabilization inside the Liberal Party. At their 2009 convention, Nova Scotia NDP organizer Matt Hebbadvised his Alberta cousins to build a bigger tent of supporters and to act like a party of government by taking a pragmatic and constructive approach to politics. “Act like a party of government, don’t talk about it,” was Mr. Hebb’s message. Judging by the daily outrage and ankle bitting during Question Period, it does not appear that the two MLAs have heeded Mr. Hebb’s advice.
Independent MLAs Guy Boutilier and Dave Taylor now share the lonely northwest corner of the Assembly floor. It was suspected that Mr. Boutilier might join the Wildrose Alliance caucus (his 2008 campaign manager has joined the WRA), but he may be too much of a wildcard for a party that is riding high in the polls and posturing to form the next government. More recently, there have been rumors floating that Mr. Taylor would like to acquire the leadership of the newly reorganized Alberta Party and reshape it into his own image (knowing the people involved in the Alberta Party, this might not be a welcoming prospect).
Since the 2008 election, five of 83 MLAs have forced the changing of seating arrangements on the Assembly floor. There has not been this much movement across the Assembly floor between elections since the early 1990s, which saw some significant Liberal by-election victories, a New Democrat cross to the PCs, a PC leave to sit as an Independent, and a handful of right-leaning Liberals cross to the PCs. It is also the first time since 1989 that an opposition party other than the Liberals or NDP have had more than one MLA in the Assembly (the Representative Party elected two former Social Credit MLAs in 1986).
This was the final session for long-time Canadian Press reporter Jim MacDonald, who will be retiring from his role in May. After 27 years working for Canadian Press, Mr. MacDonald has become an institution in the Press Gallery. During my time as a spokesperson for the Council of Alberta University Students from 2006 to 2007, Mr. MacDonald was always the most nerve-racking reporter in a media scrum – always asking the toughest questions and not taking spin for an answer. He will be missed.
On a final note, I feel the need to recognize Calgary Herald columnist Don Braid, who is normally a very good columnist, but during this spring session has written some excellent columns about politics in Alberta.
As I wrotelast week, the powers of the committee were curtailed when PC MLAs voted to create a new rule forcing Committee Chairman MLA Hugh MacDonald to have all future committee correspondence approved by Deputy Chair PC MLA Dave Rodney. When the issue was raised by opposition MLAs in Question Period, Premier Ed Stelmach, Education Minister Dave Hancock, and Deputy Premier Doug Horner have scoffed at the complaints, citing how powerless they are when it comes to influencing their backbench MLAs.
One of the recommendations collected was a monstrous 100 page submission that is expected to be presented by Deputy Premier Doug Horner today. The submission is filled with individual recommendations around proposed boundaries, but it is the sources of this information that is the most interesting (and confusing).
The submission document opens with an introductory letter from the Office of the Minister of Advanced Education & Technology and describes the document as “a collection of the recommendations made by Government caucus…” Following Minister Horner’s letter, the document then clarifies that “the Government of Alberta is presenting its recommendations” in this submission. In an even more confusing twist, the document bases many of its recommendations directly from Progressive Conservative Party constituency associations submissions to the Commission.
The lines are very blurry when trying to figure out who the recommendations in this document represent. Was this submission prepared by taxpayer funded staff inside the Office of the Minister of Advanced Education & Technology, the Government Caucus, or the Government of Alberta, or the political staff inside the Progressive Conservative Party? Why would a Government of Alberta report include direct recommendations from Progressive Conservative Party constituency associations?
UPDATE: The Wildrose Alliance will be holding a media conference on this issue tomorrow at the Legislature (see comments for more information).