Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Hearing David Suzuki

I had the opportunity through work to attend the 2009 Canadian Public Relations Society Conference in Vancouver this past June. The second afternoon luncheon was delivered by David Suzuki. I was so inspired and impressed by his talk. Now, that I have finally gotten around to writing my report on that conference and the Suzuki talk, I would like to offer it here for your reading pleasure.

The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Bottom line – David Suzuki

I have never had an opportunity to hear David Suzuki speak and it was by far the highlight of this conference. He was very well received, in particular given the corporate community that was gathered for the event and how his message often conflicted with corporate interests. My notes became sparser as the talk went on and I became more enthralled in the presentation, I apologise in advance for gaps.

Suzuki opened by stating that the environment and health care are the same issue, so if health care is ranked as the number one issue with Canadians, then the environment must be part of that discussion. He expanded to point out that if we are going to talk about climate change then we will have to talk about energy. All of these issues are interconnected and all of them have economic implications. There is little doubt that the future economy will be in green jobs.

Suzuki shared warning signs about how our environment is being affected by human activity. He shared about how his father and he would row out along the edges of English Bay and fish, and how that is impossible today due to overfishing. In fact, we’re fishing our way down the food chain: sardines and anchovies are the next big culinary delicacy because 90% of the big fish are gone. He talked about floating islands of debris, 150 feet thick, as large as Texas, existing in the middle of the oceans and how carbon dioxide is settling over the ocean, getting absorbed and converted into carbonic acid. He said every human has over 5 pounds of plastic absorbed within us.

Humans were once a local tribal people and we now have to ask ourselves what the collective impact of 6.7 billion of us is. Humans are now the most numerous mammal on the planet and carrying out the simple act of living comes with a massive ecological footprint. But, we don’t just carry on with simple living – technology amplifies the problem. Over 90% of teenage girls rate shopping as their number one leisure activity. We have an economy now that is so far beyond our necessities in life; that has shifted from providing our basic needs to servicing our extravagant wants. We buy all of our goods without any notion of where it comes from.

He then described how all human DNA can be traced back to Africa and he asked the audience to think about the first generation of naked hairless apes - who would have thought that they would become the dominant animal the whole world over. He argued that the only reason humans have become so dominant over the next 150,000 years is because of our superior intellect. Humans are curious and inventive. It is with that inventiveness that we have created this environmental problem, but it is also how we will solve it. We can affect the future by our behaviours of today; we can avoid the dangers and exploit the opportunities.

He criticized climate change deniers, saying that in this age of information explosion, you can find information to verify any misguided belief. Of note for educators, he argued that we need to have a greater degree of literacy to help them manage the information they receive.

In 1900, there were only 14 cities in the world with over a million people. In 1936, the world population was $1.4 billion and most people were farmers, who have an intimate understanding of the direct impacts of nature and climate. Now, there are 6.7 billion people and 400 cities that have a population of over a million. We don’t have a strong understanding of where our food comes from and where our garbage goes; as long as we have a strong economy, we don’t have to worry about it because it happens.

He noted that economy and ecology have the same root word (ecos, which means home) and we need to put the eco back into economics. He said the economic system is so fundamentally flawed that it can’t be fixed and that the last thing we should be doing is trying to get it up and running again the way it was.

Suzuki concluded by talking about how the economy can be structured to benefit the envioronment. He pointed out that Sweden has had a carbon tax since the early 1990s and while BCs tax is $10 per Tonne, Sweden’s is $100 per Tonne and its economy has actually grown by 44% in that time. He said we have to look at our natural resources differently. As long as forests are standing they are providing all sorts of functions from providing shelter for animals that we eat, to aiding the water cycle and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Yet, a logger once pointed out to him, “what you environmentalists have to understand is that unless you’re willing to pay to keep those trees, then you can’t save them – they’re not worth anything until they are cut down.” After hearing that, Suzuki realized that the logger was right and he reiterated his thesis that environment and economy are the same issue and we will need an economic solution to solve the environmental problem.

What it means to be a progressive.

Happy New Year everyone. Welcome to 2010. Is it everything you thought it would look like?

I remember the new year of 1990 very well. I was 10 and it was the first time in my memory that we were celebrating the start of a decade. I remember vividly thinking about the future - the nineties - and what they would hold. I think that was the first time I really thought about the year 2000.

As a ten year old dreaming about ten years into the future, your imagination runs wild with possibilities. Sure there are no flying cars, but I do remember imagining boxes that sat on your hip that could do anything you needed it to. It was a phone, a calculator, a watch and a walkman; whatever you wanted it to do, it could do it. I think it was even a candy dispenser and a grappling hook. I'm so glad those geniuses at Apple keep thinking about the future and all its possibilities. (I can't wait for the grappling hook app to come out!)

Nonetheless, there is a point to me telling you about how I was a nerdy kid with a vivid imagination, because I want to talk about what it means to be a progressive and the most important thing about being a progressive is dreaming about the future and imagining all of the possibilities it brings. I also think that being a progressive means understanding that we are all in this world together and thinking about others.

Planning for the future.

A progressive takes the long range view on issues, assessing what the needs of society will be in 5, 10, 20 or 100 years. We look at the world that exists today and compare that to the world that we want our kids to grow up in. We understand cause-and-effect relationships and consider the consequences of our decisions.

In the context of Alberta today, progressives think seriously about the long range implications of energy management. We have a clear understanding that burning fossil fuels negatively affects our environment and we, as living creatures, depend on our environment to sustain life. We also understand that we are lucky to be sitting atop the amount of oil that we do and that that oil will be in greater and greater demand as global supply decreases. In other words, the oil under us will be worth more in the future than it is now and therefore we shouldn't be in such a rush to get it out of the ground and sell it off at the lowest price.

Planning for the future also means making smart investments that you know you will need down the road. First off, that means investing in education. The best thing we can do for ourselves and our children is to ensure that those children are as smart as they possibly can be. The world is changing rapidly and the rate of change is increasing. The issues of tomorrow will be solved by the children of today. But smart investments also includes public transportation and sound urban planning. Through migration and reproduction, Alberta's population is exploding and most of those people will live in our cities. We need to plan today for Calgary and Edmontons of 2 - 5 million people. But we can't keep expanding out because we need to maintain and invest in agriculture - that many people need lots of food. We need to look at major centres around the world to see how they have managed large populations and large population densities.

We are all in this together.

The politics of us and them is over. The world is a finite space and we are approaching 7 Billion people. The population density of Canada is 3 people per square kilometer, but the global population density is 45 people per square kilometer. We have one world that we increasingly realize is a place that we have to share. We can no longer afford to think about our friends and enemies, because we need to think about all of us.

The advent of the internet and cell phone have allowed us to understand how close we are to one another as human beings. Last year, millions of North Americans had the ability to join an uprising on the streets of Tehran via Twitter. A conflict half way around the world was humanized through the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, recorded on a cell phone and delivered to our desktops. Real people connected in real time.

Progressives understand this deep inter-connectivity of humans, whether its within our communities, cities, province, country, region or world. Facebook allows us to share our lives with hundreds of our friends and acquaintances all the time and it allows us to rally around causes and issues with the click of a mouse. There are multiple layers of community that exist and regardless of our differences, we have to live together and look out for one another.

Understanding that we are all in this together means replacing politics (which is about power) with processes for collaboration (which is about problem solving). Progressives are looking to step past the Cold War rhetoric of us versus them, east versus west or capitalists versus socialists and are looking to talk about how to establish meaningful systems to solve the problems that impact our lives.

Thinking about others.

If you have a sense that everyone is in this game of life together, you start to think about how you are the same as others and how you are different. Progressives think about the plights of others and think about those that have a different path or perspective on life. We understand that there are two types of issues: issues for individuals and issues for the collective.

Issues for individuals are those matters of personal choice for which your choices have little to no impact on others. While it is difficult to explore this area in its entirety, I am referring to issues related to religion, sexuality, morality, censorship and personal freedoms. To speak very generally, progressives feel that individuals should be free to do what they wish, so long as they are not bringing harm or risk to others. In short, issues for the individual should be settled privately and should not be part of public discourse.

I think its important at this point to talk about the progressive value of diversity and how it relates to citizenship. At some point, given the size of the global population and the variations in population density, we must understand that Canada will be a destination for many for a very long time. Progressives understand this and value the diversity and varied perspectives that immigrants (and other minorities) bring. We go past the ideas of tolerance, acceptance and melting pots to the values of respect, understanding and multiculturalism.

Issues for the collective refer to those issues where public value or public impacts exist. On these public issues, debate needs to occur in order to come to settlement on the issue. As I said, today's progressives understand and appreciate differences and individuality and therefore recognize the value of open, honest and respectful debate. Settling issues is not about power, it is about searching for the common good and determining solutions to help get us there. It also means that those people who are "in-power" have an obligation to use it wisely, to consult and to respect the perspectives of the minority opinion.

Finally, progressives understand that matters for the public interest which have costs associated with them, need to have those costs adequately funded. We do not begrudge paying reasonable taxes because we recognize that they fund important programs that benefit all of us like, roads, schools, hospitals and policing. I believe as well (although I am loath to attach this belief to other progressives) that these obligations should be borne to a greater extent by those of greater wealth. I believe this simply because they are in a better position to afford the expense and they will benefit through the economic well-being of others.

It is not easy to try and describe what it means to be the person you are. In many ways this felt like writing the executive summary to my manifesto. Ultimately, many of the ideas I expressed in this post have not been fleshed out, but hopefully I can do that over time on this space.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, November 30, 2009

New party or no party?

I want to take another opportunity to thank everyone for Reboot Alberta. I originally had the names of those four wonderful pioneers and the two hard working associates written here, but I don't want to assume that they have come out completely.

At two points this weekend, I had to make a difficult choice about two conversations of which I could take part. In a nutshell, one conversation had to do with creating a new party for progressives in Alberta and the other one had to do with creating a broad movement for progressive change. Both times, I chose to join the movement conversation and now I want to use this post to sum up my thoughts on that issue.

First off, I want to be clear. I have great respect for everyone who decided to sit in on the new party group and in particular, for all of the people that are working so hard to develop the Renew Alberta concept. I hope that those people will take this critique in the spirit of which it is intended, which is an examination of the pitfalls that can lie ahead for that group. Secondly, I want them to know that I am very interested in the concept and will likely find myself at home in that party.

The main reason we need a new party in Alberta is because we have a strong and complex system in place that needs changing - and the traditional legitimate way to achieve that change is by supporting a party that can achieve it. Furthermore, between here and fundamental change there will be elections and I will need a place to park my vote and direct my efforts.

Thus, my conundrum. As I tweeted incessantly, the party system is part of the problem, but the party is the vehicle with which that change is most likely to occur. Partisan politics has gone awry. The single biggest issue in our parliamentary system is the position of caucus whip. Members cannot engage in meaningful debate about how they truly feel on the floor of the legislature because the caucus will have already voted on each issue. There is no point listening to the points brought forward by the opposition because you are not allowed to change your mind. Legislature debate is an absolute farce and everyone in the system knows it.

I remember the day in social ten when we had a class debate. I remember how everyone studied the issue came in to class with points prepared and chose which side of the room to sit on based on their preconceived stance. I remember how we politely (for the most part) listened as each person presented their points of view. I remember students getting up and moving to the other side of the room because of some passionate points being presented from the opposition.

Maybe I'm still too idealistic, but what is wrong with that? What is wrong with having an open and honest debate about the direction government should head, being humble when we triumph and being proud when we lose.

The problem is the parties are too worried about losing the pockets of power that they have already established and they have party whips to maintain their appearance of strength and solidarity. The floor of the legislature is seen as a vicious battle ground and you better ensure your troops are in line.

The idea of forming a new party is very seductive. Hearing from across the room the birth of what could be the next big party in Alberta was like being one of the Argonauts hearing the sirens on the rocks.

But all too often ambition is inversely proportional to the distance one is from power.

Which makes it very hard for the party to change the system that they just used to obtain power, right Mr Harper?

In the meantime I will be proud to be part of the group that works to keep the party pioneers honest.

PS - Alberta Liberals doomed in an un-party state, in today's Edmonton Journal is a great piece with impeccable timing. Happy Reading!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

I'm coming out!

For many of you, what I am about to say won't come as much of a surprise. For those others, you may want to sit down.

For some time, I feel like I've been leading a double life. I have this secret that I've been hiding from too many people for too long. I kept a very significant part of my life private from many people, because I was worried about the repercussions. I've been worried that some people might not agree with my choices or approve of people like me. In fact, there have been people who have been ridiculed, bullied, fired or even physically hurt for promoting the lifestyle that I want to live.

While I was a teacher I would go into school and be the person that I felt my colleagues, students and the community wanted me to be. Yet, at night I would go home and spend hours on websites interacting with other people like me, and reading about their lifestyle. At social gatherings I would avoid bringing up how I really felt because I didn't know how people would react or whether they would even want to talk to me anymore.

This weekend without telling most of my friends, family and coworkers I left town and went to a hotel with a bunch of other men (and some women, too) just like me and went to a space where we all felt more comfortable being ourselves and talking openly about what we want our lives to be like.

So here it is... I'm a progressive Albertan

Phew, I feel so much better now.

Okay, so maybe it's not that much of a surprise, but I am going to change my life a bit because of what I took away from Reboot Alberta this weekend. I'm not going to worry about talking about politics anymore - in any social circle. I'm going to tell more people about my blog. I'm going to ask you to follow me on Twitter. I'm going to use my facebook profile to advocate for change.

It comes down to this. We deserve to have a better province and we are not going to get it unless we talk about what it should look like. I want to hear what you think about Alberta and what you think about politics. I want you to bring it up with me in conversation. We are going to disagree, but that's okay. I'm not going to think any less of you and I hope you won't think any less of me.

So, thanks for reading and before you go I have three things to ask of you.
1. Visit the Reboot Alberta website.
2. Share this post with others you know - on Twitter, on Facebook, by email.
3. Consider coming out to your friends.

Let's start affecting the change that we want to see.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Progressives gather to Reboot Alberta.

What do you get when you put 100 progressive thought leaders in a room?

Actually, what you get is a number of absolutely incredible discussions about what Alberta should look like and how we should get there.

I have relished in the opportunity that Twitter has given me to discuss issues of importance to Alberta with a diverse group of people. I am now so happy with the opportunity that Reboot Alberta has given me to meet those people (amongst many others) and have a deeper more interactive discussion.

At Friday night's reception, I kept asking the question, "what hopes or expectations do you have for this event?"

The general answer was "not much" or "a good conversation." Good answers.

The spirit of the event has been about getting together without pretenses or defined outcomes and find out where our commonalities lie. We came into the room as progressives, but we all came with diverse definitions of what that meant.

The morning featured a nice breakfast and an exercise in determining the 15 themes that would make up the discussions for the morning. I found myself in conversations about engaging youth, open and honest government and bridging the urban/rural divide.

The discussions were meaningful, respectful and diverse. In essence what democracy should be about. The focus was on creating the best Alberta that was possible. In my mind, the goal now is to create a governance system that achieves what Reboot has. A system that enables meaningful, respectful and diverse dialogue on making Alberta the best place it could be for all citizens. We have great potential and politics too often get in the way.

The challenge, as the afternoon discussions revealed, is to come up with a vision for the change we wish to pursue and a strategy to obtain it within the contexts of the system that currently exists.

There is much work still to be done.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The four Ps of governance

I am getting really excited about this weekend and Reboot Alberta. I'm looking forward to a meeting of progressive thought leaders that will focus on the future of this province. Most of all, I'm looking forward to meeting so many of the people that I have come to know online.

In advance on this meeting, I have decided to finally write this post on governance that I have been thinking about for some time.

In order to have effective governance, the stakeholders must have a strong model for collaboration. Effective collaboration relies upon a good understanding where the commonalities and differences lie amongst the stakeholders and an open acknowledgement of those differences.

Governance comes down to a hierarchy of four levels of opinion: Philosophies, Principles, Policies and Practices.

The model is an inverted pyramid because the practices of government need to be based upon the policies set forth by the policy makers, which in-turn are based upon their principles which are based on a set of fundamental philosophies. It is a pyramid because there are a fewer number of philosophies that guide an increasing number of principles and a larger number of policies and practices.

A collaborative decision-making group, whether it is a political party or a school board, must start from a basic set of agreed upon philosophies. These should be broad and general statements for which everyone can easily agree on. If a philosophy is to be stated, then little attention should be paid to the specific wording as it is the idea that is of fundamental importance. A philosophy should describe the general purpose of the group.

Once the group is clear on their collective philosophy, then they need to be open about their individual principles. Principles are those individual beliefs that change little over time that guide one's decision making. In a group, even those with high levels of homogeneity, individuals will have differing principles. An effective collaborative group should have a large number of common principles, yet will still have some differing principles. The ability to collaborate will depend directly on the group's understanding of where their principles differ and a respect for those differences.

The first two levels are preliminary to the decision making process, they relate to the biasses that the group or individuals within the group hold. The next level is the decision making level. Policies are the set of directions that the legislators give to their administrators as to how programs are to be delivered. It is a given that legislators will differ in opinion on individual policies, so it is essential that open, honest and respectful debate occur in the setting of policy. Unfortunately, too often, political trade-offs are used to set policy resulting in inappropriate policy. As a result of the debate there will be, for lack of better words, winners and losers. There must be no problem with this - it is a result of the process and there should be no shame in it.

Finally, there is a subtle but important difference between policy and best practices. The realm of policies should be constrained to those matters for which clear answers do not exist, whereas those matters for which best practices exist should be left to the hired experts. The policy should guide the bureaucracy, but the execution (practice) should be entrusted to those people hired to do it.

With that mind, good luck Rebooters!

Monday, November 16, 2009

In reply to: ETS to YEG?

Great post Steven.

The transit option is an excellent stop-gap measure. Virtually every airport in the western world has some form of public mass transit available. Your ideas on how to make it work are critical.

In the meantime, we need to talk about this ludicrous arrangement that is forcing every single taxi driving to or from the airport to make the return trip empty. Edmonton needs to get over its protectionism of turf and negotiate a solution with Leduc county. Leduc needs to recognize how much a cash cow the entire airport is for them and offer some compromises.

Furthermore, Alberta needs to get on top of the high speed rail link between Edmonton and Calgary. Our geography is in such a perfect alignment to allow for a trip to get people from Downtown Edmonton to YEG to Red Deer to YYC to Downtown Calgary in around two hours.

All of this would save a ton of trips in small vehicle traffic and air travel. Especially when you consider the high number of government and business trips between these cities every day. And people might argue that the train won't get used, but if it takes less time, costs less and has less hassle you can guarantee the business class will jump aboard!

When we demand stimulus from our government, these are the sorts of actions that should be talked about instead of another tax grab for the oil industry.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kicking them while they're down.

Yesterday, I wrote a short post on updated employment figures that show that it is the youth, impoverished and working class families that are most affected by growing unemployment in this recession.

Two stories that I came across recently confirm who is really being affected by the recession. First, a report from the Community Foundations of Canada is
pointing out that the youth unemployment rate has hit a 30-year high. Youth
unemployment rose to a staggering 16.3 per cent over this past summer. Even
those youth who are able to find work are getting far fewer hours.

In the meantime, Statistics Canada data is showing that "Young people,
low-paid workers and families with children have borne the biggest share of job
losses in this downturn, while those aged 55 and over had modest employment
gains." Talk to anyone in their early 20s and they can tell you stories about
themselves, or their peers who are under or unemployed.

I concluded by criticising pending government cutbacks as a kick-em-while-they're-down strategy, because programs like education, post-secondary education, affordable housing and income supports are being threatened with cutbacks.

I'm sure glad that the Alberta government is gearing up for a kick-em-while-they're-down strategy towards our youth, impoverished and families by planning to cut the social institutions that we have set up to help those people in our society who need it most.

Silly me, I wrote about this before our premier came out and delivered the biggest boot to the head of the unemployed, saying "The A and B Crews are working and the C Crew is at home until they change their attitude."

Well, Ed, it is clear who needs the attitude adjustment. You've earned your monicker of Steady Eddie, because we have a youth unemployment pandemic and you have done NOTHING to improve their situation. Which is par for the course on how you manage to handle pandemics.

The premier's flak Tom Olsen tried to clarify by saying that the premier meant to say these people got used to $80,000 a year jobs with no training and now aren't prepared to go out and get an education.

He's got a bit of a point. This government blessed oil companies with low royalties, low taxes and corporate handouts for the past decade allowing the oil industry to boom unchecked. We were desperate for workers - oil companies chased after our youth with promises of big bucks and big trucks. So, you can't really blame them for somehow getting the idea that life was easy. Many kids were poached from high school without a second thought for their longterm wellbeing and sent off to the rigs and the pits. For some, the work-hard, party-hard lifestyle and easy-come, easy-go cash flow resulted into some pretty nasty drug addictions.

Now, you're blaming them for having no job and no education. You have got to be kidding me! You tell them to go back to school, yet you're cutting finding to education, tuition is rising and student loans are becoming smaller and harder to get. Meanwhile, you're cutting oil royalties and corporate taxes to 'stimulate' the economy?!?! It seems to me the only things being stimulated are the oil executives and shareholders.

Ed, you better hope they don't learn how to vote.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Youth and low paid workers suffer the most.

Two stories that I came across recently confirm who is really being affected by the recession.

First, a report from the Community Foundations of Canada is pointing out that the youth unemployment rate has hit a 30-year high*. Youth unemployment rose to a staggering 16.3 per cent over this past summer. Even those youth who are able to find work are getting far fewer hours.

In the meantime, Statistics Canada data is showing that "Young people, low-paid workers and families with children have borne the biggest share of job losses in this downturn, while those aged 55 and over had modest employment gains." Talk to anyone in their early 20s and they can tell you stories about themselves, or their peers who are under or unemployed.

I'm sure glad that the Alberta government is gearing up for a kick-em-while-their-down strategy towards our youth, impoverished and families by planning to cut the social institutions that we have set up to help those people in our society who need it most.
*fixed from original posting. Thanks hhenshaw.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

My Stop the Cuts letter.

Dear Brian Mason, Minister Hancock and Premier Stelmach:

Albertans have sacrificed and worked hard over the past fifteen years to help eradicate our provincial debt. They did so because they knew that future payments on that debt would pose a risk to the quality of services the Alberta government provided in the future.

Now that Alberta is debt free and has gone through a significant boom, we expect that Alberta will have the highest quality public services in the country. We deserve it.

Reacting to plummeting energy prices by slashing funding will only jeopardize our future prosperity.

Our long term prosperity is dependent on developing creative and critical thinkers who are committed to working together to solve the problems of society. The only way to build that citizenry, is through a world class public education system, where students have the supports and opportunities to develop to their full potential.

Education funding cuts puts that future at risk! Now is the time to make the wise investments, the ones that will pay off for years to come. The future is so uncertain - we need to do everything possible to ensure that Alberta is ready for it.

As a concerned Albertan, I urge you not to cut funding for our schools.


Jonathan Teghtmeyer

If you care about the future of education in Alberta, and the future of Alberta in general. Take 5 minutes and send your own message at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Just for Scott Hennig

Canadian Taxpayers Federation does a good job looking out for Alberta's elite. The Alberta Director Scott Hennig, told me on Twitter that Alberta has progressive taxation:

scotthennig @atypicalalbertn But we already have progressive taxation, thanks to the Basic Personal Exemption

Let's be honest Scott, it looks pretty flat to me:

Save the economy - get rid of the flat tax

In my post yesterday, I examined provincial personal income taxes for a variety of income earners. I realise now that I wasn't clear on my main thesis.

The primary point I wanted to make is that flat tax systems extraordinarily benefit high income earners - and do so at the expense of middle class workers.

My analysis showed that an Albertan earning $40,000 pays 40% more in income tax than her counterpart in British Columbia. At the same time, the Albertan making $200,000 pays 18% less than a similar west-coaster.

But let's also keep in mind two important considerations.

Dollar for dollar, that high income earner is saving $4,000 out of his $200,000 while the low income earner is paying an extra $700 out of $40,000. Who do you think notices that difference more?

Secondly, my calculations do not include deductions. How much tax do you think that $40,000 earner is deducting because of RRSPs, political contributions or investment dividends? Now, how much do you think that $200,000 earner is deducting?

But, more importantly let's think about the impact on the economy. Plain and simple, economic activity is generated by spending. The healthiest thing for us, economically speaking, is to have people spend money and to have them spend it locally. By injecting cash into the local economy, local people have jobs - local people with jobs means more people spending money locally.

Cash in the hands of working people gets cycled around the economy and spent over and over and over again - generating economic activity.

Cash in the hands of the wealthy doesn't get spent as much. A greater percentage of their money is saved or invested - removed from the local economy.

It makes much more sense to shift the tax burden from the working class and move it towards the wealthy. First off, they can afford it more and secondly they will benefit indirectly from the economic activity generated by the spending of the working class - whether its because of bonusses, businesses or returns on investments.

It's time that Alberta got rid of the flat tax, for the benefit of all of us.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Debunking the low taxes myth.

Albertan premiers have for a long time convinced Albertans that Alberta is the tax haven of North America. The last guy we had loved to talk about the Alberta advantage. The new guy wants us to think we have the freedom to achieve and tells us things like, "we have very low tax rates for people working in the province."

Either one of two things are happening for Premier Stelmach: he is trying to mislead us or he has no sense of what "working" people make.
He must not be talking about people who make between 30 and 80 thousand dollars a year. Because they could move to BC or Ontario and pay less in taxes.

This graph shows the amount of provincial personal income tax paid in 2008 by someone making $30,000, $50,000 and $70,000 of taxable income. If you're making $40,000 in Alberta you would pay $2,383.90 or 6% of your income to the province. Meanwhile, in BC you would be paying 4.2% and in Ontario you're paying 5%. (All data is calculated from Revenue Canada tax returns with only the personal deduction claimed)

In fact, as income levels rise, Albertans pay more tax than Ontarians until they start making $80,000. British Colombians save on taxes until they start making over $120,000.

The main reason for this, of course, is that Alberta has a flat income tax rate, while BC and Ontario have progressive tax rates. In fact, Alberta is the only province (and one of only a few jurisdictions) to have a flat tax.

We have it because we were duped.

In 2001 King Ralph moved Alberta to a flat tax and combined it with a tax cut. We bought the idea of a flat tax, because we liked the tax cut that happened to come with it. In actuality, the ones who really save with flat taxes are the wealthy.

To further support my claim that Alberta has revenue issues, this chart shows the 2008 personal income tax paid in 6 provinces, depending upon a person's taxable income.
In all of the other provinces as an individual's income level rises, the proportion taken for provincial taxes also rises. Except for Alberta, represented by the blue line, where the more you make the more you save.

There is an Alberta advantage alright - it's just felt most by those people who make the most money. Here are the tax levels for people earning $150,000 and $200,000 in the various provinces:
So while the Albertan making $40,000 is paying $693 a year more in taxes than his counterpart in BC, the Albertan who makes $200,000 is saving $3,874.
This provides for me two interesting alternatives. We could cut taxes for 6 Albertans by raising taxes on one siginificantly wealthier Albertan with no affect on the treasury. Or we could tax him at a level that all of the other provinces deem to be fair and save our public services.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Inspiring Education and religious fanatics: not what you might expect.

So, I come to my computer this evening to make a post, after a fair hiatus, about Inspiring Education. Rusty to the process, I mistype the address into the explorer bar and end up at It didn't take me long to determine that I would have to include my stumble onto this site as part of my post. But I'll get there later...

Now, anyone who was at The Inspiring Education Fall Forum knows that Bridget Ryan has the uncanny ability to use every conjugation of Inspire known to man. And, they also know where education should go over the next 20 years.

The big question is, how will we reconcile the fact that everyone leaving Northlands today had a slightly different image of that future?

First off, the team and everyone involved needs huge commendations for putting together an incredible environment where Albertans could get hopeful about our future and the potential we have as a society. It was about building the society of our dreams by ensuring that our children grow to their greatest potential. It was inspiring and there were some fabulous things said.

But we need to be clear, there was no synthesis of ideas from table to table and there were no ratifications of ideas or suggestions. There was no collective voice of Inspiring Education developed.

This is not a criticism of the process, it is merely an observation of the outputs. An important observation.

Over the next few months we are going to be in the process of rewriting the legislation that oversees education in Alberta. There is going to be a great deal of talk about what the system should look like and who should be doing what and how they should do it.

Beware the advocate who says that "Inspiring Education told us ___________."

Even (or perhaps especially) if that person is from the Government of Alberta or, for that matter, the Alberta Teachers' Association.

As valuable, authentic and informative as the process was, it was not a decision making body and it wasn't a referendum on policies - and that is exactly how it was intended. Government is not about to allow itself to be fenced in by what Inspiring Education said, and therefore nobody should be able to use it as a mantle to hang their own biases or agendas.

In the end, the process did exactly what it should. It gave people an opportunity to dust off their binoculars and peer into that perfect world down the road and to feel confident talking about what their vision for education in Alberta is, which is what these next few months are all about.

We need this dialogue and the government still needs to hear your thoughts, because some one needs to counter the more radical points of view out there.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Untold Angle on Education Cutbacks.

Full disclosure. I work in communications for the Alberta Teachers' Association. I have been very deliberate about maintaining a distinct line between what I write here and the work I do for my employer. Having said that, I really enjoy working for the ATA because the organization generally reflects my values and aspires to create the same Alberta I envision.

With that out of the way, the topic of today's post is the state of public education in Alberta.

I have expressed concerned in the past about how the Alberta government lacks planning for our future, those concerns are growing rapidly. My concern is that government is going to proceed next year with massive cuts to our education system.

While Hancock is hesitant to quote a number, credible estimates range between $215 million and $400 million. A common number referred to takes the $2 Billion reduction needed government-wide, multiplies it by the 17% of spending that the province devotes to education and arrives at $340 million in cuts to K-12 classrooms in 2010/11. This level of cuts could see the system losing 2000 to 3000 teachers, resulting in significant increases in class size.

While many stories have been written in regards to these cuts, one story flew under the radar because it wasn't labelled as an education funding issue, although it most undoubtedly is.
A love of children draws hundreds of new people to the teaching profession each year in Alberta, but there has been growing concern in both professional and government circles about the number of new teachers who, for one reason or another, stop feeling that love and leave the classroom after a few years.

More than 20 per cent of Alberta teachers leave the job within their first five years, workforce statistics compiled by the provincial government indicate. The problem is particularly evident in northern and rural areas.
Please, take a moment, read the story and come back for further analysis.

Here is my reason for dire concern. Of the up to 3000 teachers being laid off next year, most of those will be teachers with temporary and probationary contracts. These teachers tend to be younger and newer to the profession. These teachers are passionate about their work and their students, but they also worry about their own wellbeing and are considerate of the demands of the job and limitations on being able to meet the needs of all of their students.

If you take a group that is already leaving the profession in considerable numbers and lay a large portion of them off, it is quite likely that many of them will leave the profession or province completely.

Now, let's consider the long term implications. Sophisticated demographic models developed by government are already predicting a dire shortage of teaching staff in the next five to ten years. This will be mainly caused by very high fertility and immigration rates, combined with an outflux of retiring teachers.

So not only will the cutbacks affect classsizes, but they will also ensure astronomical levels of attrition in the teaching profession. And, as Alberta education director of workforce planning Randy Clarke is quoted, "There is evidence that with high levels of teacher attrition, students struggle academically."

So, what value do Albertans get out of slashing public education and laying off scores of teachers who will be desperately needed in five years? Teachers needed to meet the demands of the system that will educate the next generation of leaders in our province? How is this planning for the future?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Alberta's Revenue Problem

Alberta's first quarter fiscal update was released this week and the news wasn't good. Alberta's deep reliance on resource revenues has forced the government into a harsh $6.9B deficit. With Ed Stelmach's backtracking on royalty rates and refusal to look at different tax structures, Alberta is left staring down the barrel at service cuts.

Given the economic boom that Alberta has experienced recently, there is no need for cuts to health care and education. First off, if we had a sustainable progressive taxation system, then we wouldn't have to worry about dropping energy prices effecting our public services. Secondly, if we had more lucrative royalty rates, we would have a much larger sustainability fund to draw from. Sure the boom wouldn't have been as dramatic, but then the bust wouldn't have hurt so much, either.

All in all, I consider this to be a revenue problem. The problem being, we rely on volatile revenue to deliver essential services - and that's no way to run a government.

Scott Hennig, leader of the most misrepresentatively named lobby group in Alberta (The Canadian Taxpayers Federation), argued with me recently on Twitter about my assertion that we have a revenue problem. He says we have a spending problem and pointed to dramatic increases in government spending since 2005 (near 11% per year, on average).

I decided to crunch some numbers to get a handle on the information. This graph shows the Alberta government's expenses and revenues on a per capita basis, adjusted for inflation (2002 dollars).

Government spending was slashed significantly in the mid 1990s under Premier Ralph Klein. It has only risen recently and it is still not at the level of service Albertans were experiencing before 1993. It is also noticable that the spending is reactive to fluctuations in revenue (driven by resource prices). The cuts in 2002 are only because revenues dipped in 2001.
Sure, spending increased since 2005, but much of that spending was on infrastructure that was neglected throughout the 90s and the early part of this century. The levels of delivered service is still well below what it was in the 80s - wait lists in health care are long and class sizes are large!

Here's another interesting look at government spending. This graph shows Alberta government and expenditures as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

In the early 90s government spending was in the 22% range, then under Ralph's reign it plummeted to near 13-14%. It stayed around there until 2002, where it took another hit and dropped to the 11.5% range. It has remained between 11 and 11.5% since 2004. What I find particularly interesting, is that government will reduce expenses whenever the economic climate justifies it, but does little to improve service when we are in a position to do so.
By comparing spending to GDP, we have a real sense of how much we are living up to our potential. As Alberta becomes more prosperous, should we not be allocating more resources to social services?
Ultimately, it comes down to this: We have great potential in Alberta to be one of the best places in the world to live - to ensure that everyone is looked after and prosperous. Instead, we don't plan and we squander our resources.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Why don't we get to see the debate?

I've said it here before. I really enjoy a good debate. And frankly, I've been wrong (many times) and a good healthy debate has convinced me to change the way I see many issues. I also think that open, honest debate is healthy for democracy and healthy for our society.

I wish the Alberta PC caucus saw it that way.

In recent memory there were two occasions where the PC caucus has pointed to the rigorous debate that has gone on behind their closed doors to justify their stance. First, it was Bill 44, where apparently the PC caucus debated the issue for months. Now, it is used to justify the ousting of Guy Boutilier. Ed Stelmach is being very clear with his MLAs and Albertans - the public arena is no place for debate on issues that matter to Albertans.

If politicians could just swallow their pride a little bit and accept the risk of being wrong once in a while - and if voters and media could accept that being on the losing end of a public debate does not make a bad politician - then we would have some really healthy public debate about what's in the best interest of Albertans. It seems to me that that is what democracy should be about.

At this point, I suspect you may be calling me naive or idealistic. And you may be right. Sure, I understand that the party leader needs to ensure that the members of his party are behind him, especially in our parliamentary system. It is incredibly important in minority parliaments and thus we have this long established traditions of party whips and caucus solidarity. My thesis however, is that this practice does not allow for the best policy to emerge and it shouldn't governance be about developing the best policy possible.

Think of it this way. If the honest debate over which building projects had to be delayed was held in a public place (a house or an assembly, if you will) intended for debates over the issues of the day, then Boutilier would be able to go back to his constituents and say "I tried, but some tough decisions had to be made." They would be witness to his attempts and he wouldn't have to call out the premier in the media. Perhaps the Fort McMurray seniors complex wouldn't be built, but at least we could point to the discussion as evidence that the issue was appropriately considered.

Of course, people would also feel less cynical or alienated about politics and maybe they would feel more empowered to vote and become involved in the process.

But then, if people saw the real reasons why our legislature makes the decisions it does they might actually turn out to vote. And if people actually turned out to vote, the Conservatives might not win the next election.

I guess Stelmach has it figured out after all.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why we have Bill 44 - the WHOLE story.

While my post a few days ago was my emotional reaction to Bill 44 and the no-longer progressive Conservatives, I have had some time to reflect more on this issue from a logistical and political point of view. I have also benefited from some crucial background information from Paula Simons and Ken Chapman. As I started collecting great bits of information, the pieces all started to fit together and the big picture became much more clearer. Today, I hope to portray the whole ugly story as it looks from my point-of-view.

This story starts in the spring of 2006. Then premier Ralph Klein, subject of a regular leadership review from the PC party, receives a 55% approval rating and subsequently announces his retirement. In the race to replace him, Ed Stelmach won by being the second choice of most party members in the deeply divisive race between frontrunners Jim Dinning and Ted Morton. Since then, Ted Morton has not declared the amount of money raised or spent on his leadership campaign nor has he disbanded his campaign team.

Ted Morton believes that there exists an agenda "represented primarily by the gender feminists and gay rights movement--that target the natural family as public enemy number one." Furthermore, he believes that "according to the feminist-gay gospel, the great evils of this world are sexism and homophobia, and their breeding ground is the traditional family." In order to combat this conspiracy, he feels that "we must make enlightened family policy a cornerstone of the democratic state." And, we do this by "persuad(ing) our governments to require a 'family impact' statement for every new policy or law that is being considered." He says:

Before legislation is voted on, there should be an investigation and
written report that assesses its impact--positive, negative or neutral--on the
following aspects of family life:
  • Family income
  • Family stability
  • Family safety
  • Parental rights and responsibilities--especially the right to educate their
    children in the moral and spiritual traditions of their choice.

I don't want to paint the picture that this is all Ted Morton's doing, because he is not alone. There are many social conservatives in the party, who worry about the gay-feminist agenda. Their biggest fear stems from the case of Chamberlain v. Surrey School District which was decided on by the Supreme Court of Canada in June of 2002. In this decision the Supreme Court ruled that Surrey SD was wrong in not allowing a teacher to use children’s books portraying same sex parents in his classroom. The court ruled that the board relied too heavily on religious reasoning to make its decision:

The overarching concern motivating the Board to decide as it did was accommodation of the moral and religious belief of some parents that homosexuality is wrong, which led them to object to their children being exposed to story books in which same-sex parented families appear. The Board allowed itself to be decisively influenced by certain parents’ unwillingness to countenance an opposed point of view and a different way of life. Pedagogical policy shaped by such beliefs cannot be secular or non-sectarian within the meaning of the School Act. The Board reached its decision in a way that was so clearly contrary to an obligation set out in its constitutive statute as to be not just unreasonable but illegal. As a result, the decision amounts to a breach of statute, is patently unreasonable, and should be quashed.
There is an important distinction to be made between the Alberta education system and the BC system - a distinction that relied heavily in the Supreme Court's decision. The BC School Act has a clause on secularism in public schools (a very good policy in my mind), whereas the closest thing in Alberta is a clause on diversity in shared values (see section 3).

So, when Minister Blackett moved to introduce amendments enshrining equality for homosexuals in human rights legislation, the so-cons seized the opportunity to bring in so called "enlightened family policy." The result is that instead of having a secular education system where teachers and students can have objective discussions on religion, sexuality and sexual orientation - we will have teachers interrupting and muzzling conversations for fear of appearing before a human rights tribunal.

The question lingered for me: how is it that these so-cons were able to convince Stelmach and the rest of caucus to introduce and fight for this so-called parent right provision? Well the answer to that lies in the first paragraph of this post. Stelmach is up for a regular leadership review in November. With Morton's campaign team still in operation and, I suspect, money left in the bank, Stelmach is fearful that his content supporters will stay him and Morton will bring out his supporters in droves. A coup could be in the works. If you are Stelmach, you either appease him or open yourself up to being overthrown - and if Morton can't do it within the party, he can always leave and take his supporters over to the Wildrose Alliance. Unfortunately, this means that sensible progressives in the PC party are left carrying the burden of Morton's back room politicking.

As I alluded to in my previous post, Albertans don't need a sleazy back room tradeoff to bring in equal rights for gays and we should be apalled by this move. This issue specifically, but more generally the issue of the PCs promoting social conservative policies needs to be the next campaign issue - I know a lot of PC supporters who do not appreciate this fundamentalist social policy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I can't believe I waited so long to do a Bill 44 post or why I'm bloody tired of the PC Party

It occured to me this evening what gets me upset the most about this so-called Progressive Conservative Party. It occured to me while thinking about Bill 44. I cannot believe that we still allow this party to govern. Albertans are changing and this party is the same party it has been since 1971 when it first came into power. This is not my party, it does not represent my views. I do not need the Supreme Court to tell me that homosexuals deserve to be treated equally (It took them 11 years to write it into law and they fought it for four years before that). And, I will not accept that achieving that equality requires some sleezy closed door political trade-off. We deserve better.

I am insulted when cheap politics gets in the way of good governance and sound policy. I am ticked off that progressives like Dave Hancock and Lindsay Blackett have to trade away their values to good ol' boys like Ted Morton and Rob Anderson. It's ridiculous that they have to join this party in order to achieve good government in Alberta in the first place.

I resent the fact that funding for my education was cut by these people in 1994, 1995, and 1996. And I really don't get why, but they did it again in 1999 and 2001? I didn't like it when I left school to rally on the legislature in 1994 and I don't like it now.

This is not my party. This is the party of my father's generation and the party my grandfather first voted for. This party got elected because Peter Lougheed was ticked off with Pierre Trudeau.

Well, times have changed. I care about treating people like people no matter how they were born. I care about the environment because I understand we live in a finite space and we can't keep doing what we are doing to it. I care about universal health care, I care about people in poverty. I am actually progressive, not just called it.

I can't stand that we continue to allow my parent's party to be elected. Where's my party?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The real reason gender reassignment surgery was delisted.

I love debate! For a few reasons. First, it helps me to think comprehensively about an issue. I truly enjoy considering what others have to say about an issue, while I analyze my own biasses on the issue. Furthermore, debate allows for effective policy making. So long as the participants debate the merits of the issue and avoid partisan and personal attacks, we end up with well thought out decisions.

I enjoy twitter because it is a forum to share information and interesting stories, and it is a forum that encourages healthy public debate (reminiscent of London's speaker's corner). Today's blog post is inspired by the discussion I had last night with Doug Griffith (@GriffMLA) and one of our friends from Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying (@AB_get_rich). The topic was delisting of gender reassignment surgery (GRS).

What I am about to say requires a couple of important caveats. I acknowledge that I have no idea what it's like to be born into a body of the wrong gender. So whenever I'm in the situation of speaking about people for whom I don't know what its like, my motto is to be compassionate. I also acknowledge that no segmented group will speak with one voice - there will always be individual opinions within a group of people with similar lived experiences.

I decided shortly after budget day that I would discuss the delisting of GRS regularly. I decided this because I suspect that most transgendered people just want to live their lives happily and comfortably - they don't want to have to get into public debate over this very personal matter. Therefore, on this issue, I know that they are going to need as much help and support as they can possibly get. Ultimately, that is what makes the decision to delist GRS so repugnant - we are forcing a small disadvantaged marginalised group of people to stand up for something that in many ways only matters to them, but matters so much to them.

My argument today, though, has less to do with morality and more to do with finance.

Generally speaking, there are two types of budgeting: status quo and zero based. In status quo budgeting you begin with the budget from last year and add and delete items to create the new budget. In zero based budgeting, you start with nothing and simply add the items that you want to have to create the new budget. To the best of my knowledge, the Alberta government uses a status quo based approach.

The benefit of status quo budgeting is that it is faster and easier. One of the problems, however, is that you end up with a lot of "beige" programs staying on the books - programs that have no inherent problems, but have no great benefit either. When it comes time to trim spending what typically happens is someone goes through the items and tries to identify the ones that need to go. The items that cost the most tend to be examined more thoroughly and the ones that cost the least tend to stay put.

Thus, I come to my biggest concern with the decision to delist GRS. People involved in the budgeting process were given the task of cutting spending (I suspect that Liepert also suggested to do so by delisting procedures). While big fish like chiropractic care were targetted, someone chose specifically to chase after the tiny fish of GRS. The financial savings amount to around 1/200th of a percent of the health care budget, or the equivalent of 20 cents per Albertan. The reason why GRS was chosen was not financial, it was political. The people who approved this strategy knew they could get away with it - because typical Albertans and the Conservative base would applaud the move and the people who are affected by it are a small group of people that we don't understand. The owner of the gym I go to, essentially called them freaks.

This type of politics is appalling. We need to make decisions based on what is the right thing to do and what is in the best interests of the people of Alberta. Our politicians need to ask the question, why was this decision made and not accept finance as the answer - because it simply isn't so.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So how much does Suncor get?

If you read my post yesterday about the vase distributor you will see here that he has done quite well for himself. I don't want the phrase Alberta Advantage to die, it fits so well for the oil companies.

On a related note, have you ever wondered how much money Albertans lost because of Conservative mishandling of the Heritage Savings Fund. I have. (h/t Alberta: Get Rich or Die Trying)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Martha and Henry pass on - what to do with our inheritance?

Imagine, if you will, that your grandparents were collectors of extremely rare and valuable... oh let's say vases. When they passed on, they left to you a basement full of these vases - more vases than you could possibly imagine.

One day, a vase distributor comes to your door and offers you $10 each for some of your vases. You sell him two and he goes down to the market and sells them for $20 each.

The next day he comes back and says he will buy 10 vases for $10 each. Realising that the extra income means you only have to work part time that day, you sell him the 10 vases. He goes down to the market, where they really like the vases and sells them for $40 each.

Day three - the distributor wants 100 vases (he'll pay $10 each). This means you can take the whole week off. He heads down to the market, where the biggest vase collector has come to buy, and sells them for $100 each.

Before the next day rolls around, your kids suggest that maybe you should charge more for the vases. But since you don't have to work anymore, have a ton of vases left and are reliant on the distributor, you decide not to mess with a good thing and keep the price at $10. The distributor comes by, you sell him another hundred vases and he sells them at market for $150.

Unfortunately on the fifth day, the big collector lost his job and isn't buying anymore vases. The distributor shows up and only wants to buy two vases. It's not enough for you to live off, so either you starve or go deep into debt. Forget about getting a job, there's none left!

Call it simple but the analogy fits for Alberta. In the past 17 years the Conservatives have slashed taxes on corporations and the wealthy, removing all of our sustainable and self-reliant income sources. They've sold off enormous amounts of our non-renewable resource for a pittance while oil companies have walked off with record profits. Worse of all, government has hardly saved a dime.

We need to think about our oil as an accumulated reserve, and every time we cash in one of those barrels we are trading future prosperity for immediate gain. We have a responsibility to future generations of Alberta to not squander this opportunity and to make the most of the money we generate from selling off our oil!

Funny... the conservatives used to talk about sustainability.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Government Plan: Do nothing and everything will be okay.

Smiling Iris, Alberta finance minister, appeared in front of media on Thursday to announce that Alberta will lose 15,000 jobs and carry a $1 billion deficit from 2008/09.

Let's look at the government estimates over the course of the year:

DateRevenueOil (Est)Oil (Act)ExpensesSurplus

April 2008 Budget

$38.6 B



$37 B

$1.6 B

August 2008 - Q1 Update

$46.6 B




$8.5 B

November 2008 - Q2 Update

$39.9 B



$37.9 B

$2 B

February 2009 Update





-$1 B

It will be interesting to see how the revenue and expense numbers fill out when Evans releases her third quarter update next week. If she knows the $1 Billion deficit number, then she likely knows the other numbers and is trying to release information slowly.

What I found particularly interesting though are some of the rose-colored glasses type statements made in the press release.

The province’s economy is expected to recover beginning in 2010 with modest economic growth. Evans said Alberta is well positioned for recovery, with low unemployment and inflation, a strong resource base, a competitive tax regime, an investment- and business-friendly environment, significant financial assets, and a fiscal framework designed to deal with the ups and downs of volatile resource revenues.

“As we emerge from these turbulent times, we will position Alberta to be the engine of the Canadian economy,” she said.

The government has convinced themselves that Alberta is above the rules of
global economics and that this global economic catastrophe is simply a one,
maybe two, year long wave that we can just ride over.

They go on to discuss their plans for weathering the storm:

The Alberta government’s plan for weathering the downturn includes keeping a close eye on government spending, drawing from its emergency savings to protect the programs and services Albertans rely on, continuing to build public infrastructure to support jobs and the economy, and promoting the province to a global market.

These actions include ... maintaining a low and competitive tax environment - which was enhanced this year with the elimination of health-care premiums, resulting in the injection of $1 billion back into the economy. Government will also continue to invest in public infrastructure through the 2008-11, $22-billion capital plan, a commitment that far outstrips that being spent elsewhere in Canada.

This isn't a plan! This is a combination of tired Conservative rhetoric (keeping an eye on spending, promoting the province to a global market, maintaining a competitive tax environment) and previously announced plans that public pressure forced the government to undertake (overcoming the vast infrastructure deficit, eliminating health care premiums).

This government has always lacked real innovative foresight and been slow to react to legitimate concerns of Albertans. This is a time for real leadership and a real plan instead of tired rhetoric and rose-colored glasses.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A few of my favourite things

I commend all the other bloggers out there who manage to post thoughtful pieces on a regular basis. I subscribe to many of their RSS feeds using Google Reader and subsequently "Share" the ones I like. So between work and home life, I find barely enough time to read the material being put out let alone contributing in a thoughtful way on a regular basis.

So for today's post, I want to encourage you to scan my shared items which are linked to over there (------>) and here.

But I also want to share a few of the things that really grabbed my attention lately.

Dinner with a Stranger

Franke James is an artist who presents her Visual Essays on her blog My Green Conscience. Her latest posting Dinner with a Stranger is incredibly inspiring. Read it and enjoy!

Lost Generation

Perhaps you've already seen this video, as I was referred to it by Ken Chapman who pulls out a lot of these gems. But if you haven't take the time to watch it - its incredibly creative and powerful. I taught high school for 7 years and the greatest thing I learned in that time: "The Kids are all right"!

World Food Program

This is another great video to put things into context. Its a PSA from the United Nations World Food Program featuring Sean Penn. Thanks to AdFreak for this.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Turns out the No Plan commercials were right.

Who knew the anti-Stelmach commercials from the last campaign would end up being right?

Ed Stelmach has no plan for dealing with this recession, so he turns to the only strategy the conservatives know when revenues drop - Massive cutbacks.

It seems to me, Ed was the guy we should have had as premier in the early part of this decade, back when Ralph was the guy without the plan.

Seen as it was Building Trades of Alberta behind "No Plan" it seems appropriate to use the renovation metaphor here.

See back in 1993, Ralph Klein looks at the public service in Alberta and decides that it is a building where expansions have been put on haphazardly (in his mind) and is this big ugly monstrousity. His bright idea... time for a renovation.

Klein is a master at demolition, he goes and tears things apart. Rips off all of the drywall, tears down whole wings of the building and even blows up the infirmary.

Klein looks at his work and is very happy, so he decides to sit back and take the next ten years off. In the meantime things turn good in the economy and the public service starts to rebuild. Spending announcements are made in a reactionary fashion with no coherent plan in place. The government claims they are spending more than they ever have, but little of the spending is planned sustained investment in the core programs that were cut.

Eventually, Klein admits that he hasn't had a plan for government and the Tories decide to turf him. They replace him with Ed, because Ed has a plan and a vision for government spending. But, oops - the money is gone, revenue has dropped and there is nothing left of the boom because the money was spent with no plan in place and no savings made.

We've been saying for years:
  1. Royalty rates are too low and we're not getting our fair share.
  2. The money we are getting from the boom needs to be saved.
  3. The boom will end - it always does.

Unfortunately, I-told-you-sos don't achieve much now and its time for a new plan on the economy. But resorting to the same old Conservative playbook will only make things worse!