Sunday, April 20, 2008

The finale

I have often spoken about the remarkable change in attitude and tone coming from this government since Premier Stelmach took over. One of the areas where this change is the most pronounced is Alberta's arts community.

The Edmonton Journal has a good piece today on Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett and the gusto with which he has embraced his new role.

This is something that you just would not have seen under Ralph Klein. To describe his relationship with the arts community as "standoff-ish" would be an understatement.

But things have changed. I have spent a lot of time over the last few weeks in Edmonton talking with our new MLAs and just generally observing the mood. There is a profoundly different (and positive) spirit in the corridors of the Legislature these days. It's encouraging. It's exciting!

As an aside, the story in the Journal reminded me of an episode before the election where Alberta's political leaders were asked to name their favourite Alberta artists. The Premier was a bit taken aback by the question and didn't really have a response, but I suspect Minister Blackett will be taking care of that.

For my part, I'd like to offer a shameless plug for 3 of my favourites: Tim Hus, Cam Penner & the Gravel Road, and Scratch Improv.

Finally friends and faithful readers, I must bid you adieu.

As some of you may know and as I have eluded to in my last few posts, I will be moving to Edmonton this evening to start a new and challenging job working for the men and women of the PC caucus in the Alberta Legislature.

I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you all over the past few years. Having an outlet for my take on politics in our province has been a great joy and, during my time in British Columbia, even kept me somewhat sane. Although I look forward to my new position in Edmonton, it means that I will no longer be blogging.

I want to thank each and every one of you who have visited this site over the last few years. I have very much enjoyed being a part of your regular reading and have been continually astounded by the calibre of people who read this blog.

Although I am removing myself from the blogosphere, I will remain a keen consumer of blog news and views and encourage you to do the same. I have often stated that I fell ass backwards into blogging and in no way profess to be an expert. That said, I have learned a lot about technology, the powers of social media, and about Alberta and Albertans in general. The blogosphere is indeed a wonderful thing and we should all embrace it.

Thanks again for reading! Stay in touch!

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Alberta Views and the views of this Albertan

The folks over at Alberta Views magazine have been doing some innovative things to try and engage Albertans in a discussion of the issues (both serious and playful) that we deal with on a regular basis.

Part of these efforts include engaging Alberta's political bloggers to provide some feedback on a couple of stories that are appearing in their upcoming May issue. When they spoke to your humble author, they were hoping to get some reaction from a few different viewpoints in response to one or more of the aforementioned articles.

As an aside, this whole idea highlights one of the positive aspects of the blogosphere. Alberta Views is, admittedly, not known as a conservative-friendly publication. But in the interests of a broad public discussion, they are trying to tap a variety of opinions and share them with their own readership. Kudos are well deserved.

By the time these articles are available for public consumption, I will no longer be in a position that would allow me to offer comment. Graciously, Alberta Views offered to send me an advance copy of a pair of articles they were hoping I'd offer my two cents on. As such, I will actually be offering a reaction BEFORE the articles are published. I know, I know... cart before the horse. After reading them, though, I thought they were definetly worth some reaction and hope that I can encourage you to go out and pick up a copy of the May edition (or just subscribe).

As I said, there are two articles in question. The first is a piece by longtime Alberta political reporter Darcy Henton entitled "The Year Alberta Stayed Home".

The title would suggest that this might to be a piece dedicated to outlining the left's many arguments against Alberta's electoral system. Turns out they only get a brief glance, the article is actually a supurb summary of the provincial election campaign. Liberal optimism... Tory stumbles... Union attack ads... it covers the whole damn thing and does it well.

I'm guessing that the magazine hopes the article will generate some discussion on re-engaging Albertans, though. I offered some thoughts at the tail end of a multi-issue post about a month ago which you can read here.

The second piece, "Urban v. Rural" by novelist Fred Stenson, is an extensive look at the urban-rural divide in Alberta from its earliest days right up to its influence on Premier Stelmach and the current government in Edmonton.

As someone who has spent a lot of time in many different parts of the province (not just Edmonton and Calgary), I was particularily interested in what take the author would have on the issue. I find myself agreeing with him almost entirely, particularly in his optimism for the future of rural Alberta.

One of the issues that the article touches on that I follow with great interest is electoral redistribution. I concur with the assertion that, after the next round of electoral boundaries redistribution, the majority of Alberta's seats in the Legislature will come from our urban centres. While I don't agree that we should greatly enlarge our rural constituencies (they're hard enough to represent as it is), I welcome the addition of seats in the urban centres to bring representation closer to the actual ratio. Calgary and Edmonton are due for more seats, especially since Edmonton actually LOST a seat in the 2004 redistribution.

My hometown of Fort McMurray is also long overdue for a second seat in the Legislature. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo will soon become the 3rd largest municipality in the province. All of Alberta's other mid-sized municipalities (Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, St. Albert and Sherwood Park/Strathcona County) have two seats. Alberta's economic engine is long overdue for theirs.

I'm grateful that Alberta Views allowed me a sneak peek at these two articles so I could get my thoughts out while still able. Regardless of your thoughts on the issues presented, these two pieces are well-written and worth the read.

Stay tuned Sunday afternoon for the final post on Albertatory (and the explanation why).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Dinner / Plans

I had the pleasure of attending last night's Calgary Premier's Dinner at the Telus Convention Centre.

Not long ago, there were many who speculated that the party's ability to fundraise in Calgary had all but dried up. Judging from the record-setting attendance of almost 1800, I'd say that speculation was pretty moot.

To his credit, Rick Bell did an excellent job in summing up the mood in the room last night. Corporate Calgary is getting used to the new group running the show in Edmonton, but they're rolling up their sleeves and are ready to play ball.

One of the items that the Premier touched on in his speech last night was the work that has been done to strengthen the western Canadian economy as a whole. There have been a number of articles recently raising alarm bells that the B.C. and Saskatchewan economies have been stealing some of our economic thunder. I think the alarm bells have more to do with the fact that we're not used to seeing this, rather than it actually being a bad thing.

Roger Gibbins has an excellent piece in today's Calgary Herald (which, sadly, I cannot find online) that outlines the positive effects of strong and vibrant economies across the west. The stronger these economies are, the more we benefit from each others successes as westerners and, more importantly, the better prepared we are to shield ourselves from economic turbulence abroad.


Shifting northward, the newly-elected Capital Region PC MLAs are already starting to earn their keep. Since session started earlier this week, a steady stream of Capital Region MLAs have been rising to seek information about the new Capital Region Integrated Growth Management Plan.

As someone who is about to become an Edmontonian (more on that on Sunday), I am a big proponent of this new plan. As much as I loathe to admit that some things in British Columbia are functional, some of the benefits of regional governance are quite easy to identify if we look at the Greater Vancouver Regional District.

One of the particular benefits is an integrated transit system. A friend of mine who lives in Burnaby joined me in Edmonton a few weeks ago and was shocked to see buses for the respective transit systems of the City of Edmonton, City of St. Albert, and Strathcona County all operating routes in and out of Edmonton. I hadn't really thought about it since I was so used to seeing all 3 transit systems in the Capital Region but, as someone who has often used Translink in the GVRD, I could certainly understand his confusion.

Questions about the possibility of the same for Alberta's Capital Region were raised by new Edmonton-Calder MLA Doug Elniski yesterday. That led me to do some digging and allowed me to find the transit-specific section of the Capital Region plan. I was encouraged to see that integrated transit is an important part of the overall vision for the Capital Region, and look forward to seeing it fleshed out as the plan moves towards implementation.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A word about hope...

It is a rare privilege indeed to be able to watch a longtime political colleague make their maiden speech in the Alberta Legislature. I will actually get the opportunity several times this session after a number of people I am pleased to call friends were elected on March 3rd.

First up, though, was Manmeet Bhullar, the new MLA for Calgary Montrose. Based on word count alone, Manmeet has probably done more for his constituents in his opening speech than had been done in the previous 13 years. The content, context, and exceptional passion in his speech, though, is what made it truly memorable.

You can watch his maiden speech thanks to the Legislative Assembly's online video archive here (he speaks from the 2:47:20 mark to the 3:05:08 mark). And while the words alone don't give Manmeet's delivery justice, I am pleased to share them with you below:

Mr. Bhullar: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Let me congratulate you on once again assuming the position and being elected to the position of Speaker. You, sir, are an ambassador for Alberta values, and I salute you and I thank you.

It is a profound pleasure for me to stand today and second the Speech from the Throne. It is an honour to have been asked by the Premier. It is especially an honour because we are the government that has a vision that will take Alberta to new frontiers. This, sir, is a moment that I will forever cherish.

As the Member for Calgary-Montrose it will be an honour to servethe community in which I was born. I was born in Penbrooke in 1980, and I was born in a family of immigrants, a family of individu-als that came to this country with not more than their dreams. I, like many of my constituents, am the product of the hard work and the determination of so many immigrants. I am the product of people that came to this country, leaving back a very comfortable life for a life of struggle, for a life of hard work, all so their future could have a better life.

My constituency is composed of Penbrooke, as I said, Abbeydale, Applewood, Marlborough Park, and Monterey Park. It is a very diverse area. It is diverse with respect to ethnic and religious backgrounds. It is diverse in socioeconomic conditions. Almost 32 per cent of my constituents are first-generation immigrants. Theseare folks that have come to this country with their dreams, just like my parents came.

Sir, we have come to this country, all of us. Some were born here, some families have been here for many generations, and others have just arrived, but the one common denominator is dreams. Every-body has come here with dreams. It is my hope and my pursuit toensure that new Canadians fulfill their dreams for their families and for future generations to come, but it is also my hope and my pursuit that they engage in Alberta, they engage in Canada, and they take an active leadership position in this country to help shape the future of this province and this country.

Beyond the external diversity of my constituents there are great similarities. There are grandparents, there are parents, there are siblings, there are many children, all of whom want the same things in life. Mr. Speaker, I’m proud to say that the young families in my constituency will be delighted to know that this government is working to create 14,000 new child care spaces in this province. Calgary-Montrose is composed of hard-working people, peoplethat do their part and expect the government to do the same. We have proved that we are sound fiscal managers of this province, and that is why we are able to get rid of health care premiums in a fiscally responsible manner. That is giving back to our constituents. The many mothers and fathers who I spoke with during thecampaign that spoke about and expressed their concerns about safety in Calgary-Montrose, that expressed their concerns about crime andgrowing violence: these folks will be pleased to know that we are working to ensure that we get a hundred new front-line policeofficers this year and 300 over the next three years.

Sir, the single mother from Calgary-Montrose that I met whoworks in a factory and has high hopes for her children to get a university education will take comfort in knowing that this government is committed to ensuring that we have a great post-secondary education system.

Mr. Speaker, as I mentioned before, this is very personal for me. That constituent is very similar to my mother. You see, my mother worked in a factory for many, many years. My mother worked in a factory for many years so that I could have opportunities that she never had. She had to leave school at a very young age in India because her mother passed away and she was left to raise her siblings. Upon coming to Canada, she’s worked many jobs, two jobs at a time, whatever it took to ensure that I and my siblings had opportunities they were never given. So this, sir, is so personal for me, and I will do everything I can to encourage young people in my constituency to complete high school and to get a postsecondary education.

Mr. Speaker, as you may know, I’ve devoted much of my time to working with young people. I have found that what young people often need is a mentor, a positive role model, someone that believes in them, because as Marianne Williamson once said, “ Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Sir, I had one such mentor, a humanitarian like none other: Bhai Jasbir Singh, a humanitarian in India who started health care initiatives, who started four hospitals where the rich went because it was the best treatment and the poor went because they could pay whatever they could afford. He was a testament to true service. It is easy for us to stand and say that we are public servants, but he received no salary for his public service. He received no benefits for his public service. In my pursuit I hope and I pray that I can just do an ounce of what he was able to do in his life.

Mr. Speaker, I see hope all around us. That hope we need toinstill in our young people is all around us. The volunteers who give so tirelessly give us hope. The police officers and firefighters and EMS personnel that lay their lives on the line every single day give us hope. The teachers who see potential in children that children don’t see in themselves and in some cases potential that parents don’t even see in children: that gives me hope. The nurses who take an extra minute to comfort a patient give me hope. The single mother who doesn’t let the fatigue of a long day of work at home and outside of the home prevent her from reading to her children every night gives me hope.

Sir, the woman I met door-knocking who is raising her grandchildren because, as she put it, her daughter was not ready to grow up – this woman fought for legal custody of her grandchildren so that she could give them some opportunity, give them some hope – she gives me hope. Now, the beautiful part of that is that we chatted for some 15 to 20 minutes at her doorstep, and I said: “ You know, I applaud you. I applaud you for being so strong.” She said to me: “ You know, most days I don’t feel strong. Most days I actually feel quite weak, and some mornings I wake up thinking I don’t know if I can carry on with this.” I wasn’t quite sure what to say, but as I looked in her eyes, I could see the tears.

The answer was that she is stronger than most of us because in spite of fear, she acts. In spite of being terribly afraid, she acted. In spite of being terribly afraid for the future of her children, she acted. I applaud her for her strength and courage to take such a bold step. She is the sort of individual that gives me hope.Yesterday’s Speech from the Throne offers hope for the present, hope for the future, and hope for taking advantage of all that Alberta has to offer. The government is putting forward an ambitious plan that appeals to Albertans’ wants and needs. This is a track that delivers on promises and offers an ever-increasing quality of life.

My constituents are going to be pleased with the new ring road around Calgary because that’s more time they get to spend at home instead of in traffic. By making it a priority to improve the effi-ciency and the effectiveness of health care delivery and providinghospitals to meet the needs of a growing province, we are demon-strating, sir, that the government has the right plan for health care. What gives me great pride to be an Albertan is the fact that one-quarter of new jobs created in this country are because of us. Thatis a profound thing. I am absolutely proud to be an Albertan, to contribute so much to this country. But that, sir, means that we must continue on a path of solid economic management and growth in innovation.

To ensure that we remain prosperous, the government is working on adding value to our exports and broadening our economy. As Canada’s largest producer of wind power and petrochemicals our energy resources afford us much prosperity, but we must strive to be as entrepreneurial as possible and to make the most of our skills and innovation. Just today I learnt of some of the great innovations coming about because of our nanotechnology strategies. We will be a leader in this field by 2020. This is solid vision, this is true leadership shown by the Premier, and, sir, this will make sure we have a place in the international community forever.

There’s one more story that I must share, and it’s of a constituent I met during the campaign. My volunteer knocked on her door and said, you know: I’m here with your candidate. We heard somerustling, and after about a minute the door opened. I was shocked to see a young woman standing before me in tears. I said: “ My apologies. I don’t mean to interrupt you. You seem to be going through something.” She said: “ No, I wanted to open the door for you. I’ve just lost somebody, but I still wanted to meet you.” That moment touched me because it shows us the great position we are in. The people of this province and the people of Calgary- Montrose have entrusted us with such a position. We shall never take this for granted. This shows me the importance of public life, something that we should remember when we take every action, something that we should consider every time we make a decision and have to consider whether it’s a decision for greatness or if it’s just a political move.

I want to inspire young people in my constituency. I want to inspire a generation of young people, and if I can inspire just one of them to get a postsecondary education, I will have done my job. In order to inspire young people, though, we need to ensure that instead of our young people feeling inadequate, we must instill in them the understanding that they have the seeds of greatness implanted in them. Instead of our young people feeling limited because of the financial means of their parents, we must express to them that they have unlimited potential and unlimited opportunity in our great province.

Instead of people seeing divisions and borders between people of different faiths and cultures, we must provide a venue for young people to experience human unity. Instead of our young people being marginalized by the way they dress, the music they listen to, or the one mistake they’ve made, we must accept them, we must love them, and we must give them a chance to change. Instead of teaching our young people to judge others, they must learn to bring out the best in others. Instead of young people feeling that beauty is based on shapes and sizes and that love is conditional, they must see and they must feel that they are beautiful and they are loved. Instead of our young people hearing that one person just can’t do anything or witnessing prejudice and judgment, they must know that the ability to do great things, to uplift humanity, to serve, to prosper, to contribute, to live in harmony with fellow human beings is their potential.

The greatness of humanity, the greatness instilled in every human being, the greatness of serving is to be realized and developed. That is my hope, that is my dream, and that is why I am the MLA for Calgary-Montrose. Thank you, sir.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Throne Speech

I had the good fortune of being in Edmonton yesterday for the Speech from the Throne, delivered by Lt. Gov. Hon. Norman Kwong.

This will surprise absolutely none of you, but I was very impressed with some of the items being addressed by the Government as it moves forward with a fresh mandate.

A few items stood out in my mind.

First, I was pleased to see that the Government of Alberta have taken a solid idea from the Federal Government in identifying the following 5 key priorities:

  • Ensure Alberta's energy resources are developed in an environmentally sustainable way.
  • Increase access to quality health care and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of health care service delivery.
  • Promote strong and vibrant communities and reduce crime so Albertans feel safe.
  • Enhance value-added activity, increase innovation, and build a skilled workforce to improve the long-run sustainability of Alberta's economy.
  • Provide the roads, schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure to meet the needs of a growing economy and population.

We're seeing some serious cohesion between the mandate letters issued to the new members of Executive Council and the 5 priorities outlined above. The continued work on these priority areas means Albertans are going to see some pretty significant improvements in their daily quality of life.

One of the other big standouts in the speech was the specific mention of Fort McMurray on two key files: affordable housing and the twinning of Highway 63. The fact that these two items in one specific region were singled out as part of a speech that traditionally deals in more general terms should be encouraging and goes to show that Fort McMurray's voice is still very much being heard in Edmonton.

The third specific that I find to be in particular favour is the commitment to finalize the Trade, Investment, and Labour Mobility Agreement with British Columbia. Breaking down inter-jurisdictional trade barriers has been a driving force behind those who have been involved with PNWER, yours truly included. The fact that the TILMA Implementation Act is the flagship bill of this session shows that the Government of Alberta is ready to take action on broadening and strengthening our already formidable economy.

From the gallery I was pleased to see former Livingstone-Macleod MLA David Coutts present for the introduction of this bill. Dave was one of the founding members of PNWER and should be very proud of the tangible results now stemming from the work he and the other PNWER founders started years ago.

While in the gallery, I also noted that the Alberta Liberal caucus seem to give off the aura of a small platoon of walking wounded. They seem totally demoralized and generally unenthused.

As the House moves from yesterday's speech to today's regular proceedings, it seems that they are indeed a directionless ship. Listening to Kevin Taft's retort to the Speech from the Throne confirms that he (and, presumably, his party) have learned nothing from the election.

His speech is in the same dry, lecturing, professor-know-it-all tone Albertans became accustomed to and subsequently rejected. He's complaining about the same things that managed to get his party slaughtered on March 3rd. And, rather than dealing with important issues, his party is choosing to filibuster and waste the Assembly's time by calling for division on two almost wholly procedural motions, losing by a vote of about 50 to 7 each time.

With respect to the opposition, their two-fold dilemma is becoming very clear: Kevin Taft is a lame duck leader living on borrowed time... and there seems to be no one interested in replacing him.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

It's been a while...

Sorry for the lack of posts over the course of the last week. To say that it has been busy would be a gross understatement. As is customary after these absences, here comes a long post on anything and everything:


I was fortunate enough to be in Edmonton on Wednesday to watch the members of the PC caucus get sworn is as Members of the Legislative Assembly. In his post-ceremonial remarks, Lt. Gov. Norman Kwong referred to the new caucus as a "bumper crop". I couldn't agree more.

I was particularily humbled to see so many first-time MLAs, including a few great friends, get sworn in. The looks on their faces as they took the oath was truly inspiring, I look forward to watching them in action as spring sitting of the Legislature gets under way.

As a brief aside on this item, there was one MLA missing from the swearing-in ceremony. Calgary Lougheed MLA Dave Rodney stayed in Calgary to be with his wife as she prepared to give birth to their first child. A healthy Baby Rodney (I don't yet know his/her name) was born late in the week. Many congratulations from this humble scribe to Dave and Jennifer on their new addition!


Speaking of the upcoming session of the Legislature, Daveberta gives us a heads up that Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman will be running against incumbent Speaker Ken Kowalski for the right to play referee under the dome.

I seriously had to check if this was a late April Fools post, or if it was for real. Turns out it's the latter.

Based on the rhetoric coming from the pro-opposition forces, it seems as though Ms. Blakeman is doing this to take a stand for women across Alberta. The dismissal of her chances by those of us over on Team Blue is also being spun as a sign that we don't take women seriously.

Au contraire, mes amis.

The reason that I and so many other conservatives pay little attention to Laurie Blakeman isn't because she's a woman. Its because she's highly melodramatic and generally unpleasant.

On the other hand, the notion of Bridget Pastoor running for Deputy Speaker isn't at all ridiculous. Ms. Pastoor is pretty well-liked by those of us on the other side of the aisle. She works hard, is forthright, and doesn't go around wailing into any available camera.

Honey versus vinegar... makes all the difference in the world when doing the people's business.


There are few people in the House of Commons who command respect like York Centre Liberal MP and former hockey great Ken Dryden.

Between his years of experience on the ice and in the boardroom, people know that when Ken Dryden says something, its worth listening to.

Or at least it used to be.

You see instead of getting Mr. Dryden to stand up and actually ask questions or make statements about things that actually matter to Canadians, he has become Stephane Dion's point man on the Chuck Cadman non-scandal.

This is perplexing for a couple of reasons. First, there are a plethora of nauseating attack dogs in the Liberal caucus. Mark Holland or Ruby Dhalla would love to have this file, I'm sure. And yet, for some reason, they gave to one of the few people who had any shreds of credibility left in the Liberal caucus.

The other reason that this is perplexing is that the only reason that the Liberals keep hounding on this non-story is to try and make some gains in British Columbia. And yet they get an MP from several thousand kilometers away to try and make their point. To me, this shows just how weak and inept their strategy AND the BC caucus is.


I have made little secret that I'm a big fan of Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths. His ability to see the big picture and apply it to circumstances in Alberta is exceptional. Recently, Doug wrote a note on Facebook about the current economic situation in the United States which he has graciously given me permission to share with you:

"I don't have an MBA, but I can't see how the new US policy is going to help turn the tide of their economic slowdown. In fact, I don't think it takes a PhD to see that what they are doing is going to amplify the problem and lead to a recession that will take years to recover from. Here is my reasoning, right or wrong.
Markets go through corrections all the time. Even in Edmonton the last two months have seen a drop in housing prices, but the correction is usually mild and short lived. The key to surviving it is to stay calm and hold. In the US there is a market correction going on that has been amplified by the sub-prime mortgage mistake. People who couldn't afford a house were give mortgage at below prime as an incentive to buy and so it was affordable to them. When they went to renew, between the depreciation in the property (the correction) and the new realistic mortgage rates, they couldn't afford the homes and had to walk away.
So now three things are happening at the same time. The US is lowering interest rates hoping to goose the economy. The US is dumping billions into the sub-prime mortgage crisis to stave of bank bankruptcies and help people refinance (again). The US is dumping billions into the economy to goose it through the downturn too. Three actions that might seem fine, but . . .
The US is not in the same position it was to fix other 'market corrections' because 1) they have a devalued/devaluing dollar that is creating subsector inflation (all goods imported will grow more expensive because you are buying them with American dollars that are worth less and less against other currencies - and the US imports a lot of goods) and 2) the US has a national debt that is growing rapidly and will shortly lead to new admonishments from the World Bank and significant trading nations (and that in turn leads to further depreciation against world currencies.)
So, all of this together means the US is feeding more and more dollars into a weaker and weaker economy that is already experiencing inflation. Those action will only generate more inflation as the currency continues to devalue and inflation grows. That is a potential runaway train. Now, all of this can easily be turned by raising interest rates marginally and slowly to slow spending, slow borrowing, and encourage savings and debt pay down. However, how do you do that when the policy is to keep rates low to turn the tide of the slowdown?
The result will mean out of control inflation and market collapse. The only way it will turn around at that point is for interst rates to rise to 15 - 20% for close to a decade (nothing else will slow inflation quickly or easily at that point) as we did here in Canada two decades ago.
The solution is to suffer small now for sake of the future. Maintain interest rates, or raise them slightly, and use all of that money they are putting towards this crisis and wars to pay down the national debt. This will restore confidence in the economy, raise the bond rating, restore a healthy debt ration from the individual right up to the government, and mean success in the future to deal with social issues. A few may suffer in the meantime by doing this, but all will suffer in the long run if they don't.
I am afraid they aren't ready for that, however. And we are tied so closely to the US, we must be prepared. It will be ugly unless they realize the errs of their way. But hey, I don't have an MBA."

Sunday, April 6, 2008

A call for Hillary

I know I haven't really been commenting on the U.S. Election, but a friend of mine passed along this article and couldn't resist pointing out something from the last paragraph...

"I wouldn’t be getting up at 5 a.m. and going to bed at 2 a.m. if I didn’t believe I would be the better candidate to beat John McCain," Clinton said to a cheering crowd.

My friend rightly asks an important question:

If she's going to bed at 2 a.m. and getting up at 5 a.m., who the hell is answering the phone at 3 a.m.?

Friday, April 4, 2008

TaylorWatch 2008

At the risk of seeming like I'm beating this story to death, I have to admit that I am truly amazed at how the future of Alberta Liberal Deputy Leader Dave Taylor is on everybody's minds.

The most rampant rumour is that Taylor is getting ready to hang up his spurs as the MLA for Calgary Currie... partly because he's growing tired of elected office, partly to avoid being pressured into taking over the leadership of the Alberta Liberals.

Last night, though, I heard a shocking departure from the aforementioned widespread rumour.

Normally I wouldn't give something like this much creedence, but the person from whom I heard what I am about to share was, aside from Taylor himself, about the most credible source a blogger could ask for.

Apparently, Dave's frustration doesn't stem from being in elected office in general. Rather, it stems from being in the Alberta Liberal Party.

I don't have any details of what specifically irks him about the state of affairs in Alberta's Official Opposition but I'm told that, if the right person were to make the ask, he would consider crossing the floor to join the PC caucus.

I wouldn't have believed it myself if it didn't come from such a reliable and knowledgeable source.

One of the most interesting stories in Alberta politics this season just got a whole lot juicier.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A brief word about hockey

Now I know that there are many Oilers fans out there who are licking their wounds after being bounced from playoff contention by the mighty Calgary Flames. While I was certainly cheering the Oilers comeuppance for having the gall to beat us in our home rink just a few days earlier, I offer some words of comfort for the Oil.

While you may not be making the playoffs, you do have a team of exciting young players who will certainly be fun to watch next season. For all of your short-term worries, you can take solace in the fact that you are not nearly the worst team in the NHL.

No, that title, the awful and shameful distinction of being the absolute worst team in modern hockey history goes wholly and unequivocally to the Toronto Maple Leafs...

... and MacLean's goes a great job explaining why.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

And now for some actual gossip

For those of you who may not have figured it out, yesterday's post about Hugh MacDonald running for Leader of the Alberta Liberal Party was motivated mostly by my desire to catch some of you on April Fools Day.

I say it was only "mostly" motivated because, given an ACTUAL rumour swirling around, we may yet see Hugh MacDonald (or Laurie Blakeman, or any number of the other Liberal MLAs) throw their hat in the ring to lead Alberta's Official Opposition.

This is because the hot word on the street in all kinds of Alberta political circles is that the perceived front-runner for the eventual race, Calgary Currie MLA Dave Taylor, is getting ready to quit.

It seems that when Dave-o signed up as a candidate for the Alberta Liberals in 2004, he figured he was about to embark on a juggernaut that was set to replace the PCs as the governing party in Alberta.

We all know how that story has turned out.

And so, politicos all over the province are hearing that the Member for Calgary Currie is ready to jump off the sinking red ship and swim back to the private sector.

Now I will admit that I'm not totally sure what Dave Taylor will DO in the private sector, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that he'd be happier in just about any position other than Deputy Captain of the Titanic.

Everybody will be on high alert for this development. Potential candidates for the ALP Leadership... potential candidates in the by-election... the Liberal campaign team who will somehow have to try and mount a campaign with almost zero money and no more star MLA... a lot of people will be watching Calgary Currie very closely in the weeks and months ahead, including yours truly.

Stay tuned!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Alberta Liberal Leadership Race set to heat up

It seems that the Liberal Party of Canada aren't the only ones who are facing internal leadership struggles these days.

Kevin Taft has indicated that he plans to lead his party into the upcoming sitting of the Legislature. Some senior provincial Liberals are pleased with the slow-and-steady approach to picking a replacement and are asking for a lot of lead time as they prepare for their next Leadership Convention. It seems, however, that there are those within the Liberal caucus who are a little more restless.

Rumours are flying that Edmonton Gold Bar MLA Hugh MacDonald has already started laying the groundwork for a leadership bid and is antsy to get the race underway.

Hugh's problem isn't with Taft, though. Rather, he's wanting to cut off perceived front-runner and Calgary Currie MLA Dave Taylor. Dave's aggressive and abraisive style hasn't sat well with many in the Alberta Liberal Party, including the Member for Gold Bar.

MacDonald has apparently been arguing that Taylor's candidacy would be far too divisive amongst the already-decimated ranks of the Alberta Liberals, a message that is meeting with considerable agreement, and will be positioning himself as a unifying candidate.

There is also word that another previously rumoured candidate, Edmonton Centre MLA Laurie Blakeman, will in fact be throwing her support behind Hugh MacDonald. Both elected in 1997, they are the most experienced members of the Alberta Liberal caucus. I'm told that Blakeman's rationale for supporting MacDonald is two-fold. First, she believes that his uncanny ability to uncover government slip-ups is something that the Official Opposition needs more of. Second, she contends that even though there are more Liberal MLAs from Calgary than Edmonton, the heart of liberalism in Alberta is still in Edmonton and an Edmonton voice must remain as Leader, lest they lose their remaining seats in the Capital.

A man with a blue collar background, MacDonald will likely be looking for support from the Alberta Liberal Party's new friends in Alberta's organized labour movements who should be far more effective at identifying and motivating supporters than Dave Taylor's scattered support base.

I know I've been less than kind to Hugh MacDonald in the past, but I will admit that I'm pleased to hear that he's going to try and give Dave Taylor a run for his money. If nothing else, MacDonald has certainly proven over 4 terms that he has staying power and a much more institutional connection to his party than his opponent and that could serve him well in a showdown with a relative newcomer.

I'm looking forward to watching this saga unfold and to getting answers to the many questions it raises. How much caucus/executive support will MacDonald receive? Will Dave Taylor respond by stepping up his own campaign? What becomes of Kevin Taft during all of this?

We'll all want to stay tuned!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Now that we have our mandate...

... its time for the mandate letters.

Before I get into some of the specific directions that the Premier has given his cabinet, I wanted to share a thought that came to me after having lunch with a good friend of mine yesterday.

This friend is certainly politically aware, not terribly partisan but certainly not a PC supporter.

I didn't ask her how she voted this last election and I still don't think it was for us, but she's symbolic of a number of Albertans whose hostility towards a PC government simply isn't there anymore. She's a teacher and was thoroughly impressed with how the issues surrounding the pension liability were handled. She and I both agreed that there is still much work to be done, but there have been very promising steps taken. As someone who would have gladly led a protest against anything Ralph Klein did, she generally notices a remarkably different tone from this government.

Things like the mandate letters are a prime example of this. They are also a pretty good indicator of some of the major initiatives coming down the pipe over the next year or two.

Some of the items that stood out in my mind them include:

from Advanced Education and Technology
-reduce the interest rate on student loans from prime plus 2.5 percentage points to prime.
-increase the number of physician graduates from 227 to 295 by 2012;
-increase the number of registered nurse graduates from 1,375 to 2,000 by 2012; and
-increase the number of licensed practical nurse graduates from 559 to 1000 by 2012.

I suspect that the most ardent of Student Unionists will claim that the reduction in the interest on student loans is insufficient. These are the same people who don't truly understand the cost of their education and won't be satisfied until our post-secondary education system is completely free. For many students, however, this reduction in the interest rate will come as welcome news.

The reduction in the goal for physician graduates is a pretty clear admission that our targets during the campaign aren't achieveable in the near-term. Still, a sizeable increase shows that we're willing to make a serious effort. The numbers for RNs and LPNs is very encouraging given the important work they do on the front lines of our health system.

from Children and Youth Services
-support the creation of 14,000 new child care spaces by 2011, including in-school and out-of-school care, family day homes and day cares; and
-provide low and middle income families with a subsidy to cover the costs for out-of-school child care.

This is a big commitment and will build on the work Janis Tarchuk had already started with the provincial boost in the wages of Alberta's child care workers. Given the wording of this action item, I suspect that the end result will be somewhere between the left wing's universal day care proposals and the federal government's choice in child care plan.

from Environment
-inform Albertans on our environmental stewardship to ensure a clear provincial, national and international understanding of Alberta’s leadership, commitment and action on the environment.

This is going to be a VERY important job. With the increasingly alarmist rhetoric coming from opponents of the oilsands and Alberta in general, it will be critical for us as a province to get out there and tell our story in as aggressive a manner as the anti-development filmmakers have been.

from Finance and Enterprise
-introduce a 10-per-cent tax credit to stimulate private sector scientific research and experimental development in Alberta.

This item really ties in with some of the initiatives that the Departments of Environment, Energy and Advanced Education and Technology will be pushing over the next number of years. Incentives are always more stimulative than penalties and this tax credit should move to encourage companies to increase their R&D budgets with the end goals of reducing environmental footprints and increasing productivity and profitability.

from Health and Wellness
-improve the health care delivery model to ensure the roles, responsibilities and structures in the system support the most efficient delivery of services.

There are already groups who are claiming that the verbage of "improving efficiency" is code word for privatization. This is typical and, frankly, contributes nothing to a productive debate on the future of healthcare.

I don't believe that the American system is the way to go. I'm fairly certain that no one in the government caucus, particularily Health Minister Ron Liepert, believes it either.

The driving belief behind this call to dramatically improve efficiency is that the health budget has become a black hole for taxpayer dollars. Budgets have doubled in the last 10 years and we have seen no improvements in the level of care.

Those who manage our respective health regions, particularily those who get paid excessively for doing it, are simply not delivering results. Their free ride should be coming to a swift end as we move to get real value for the dollars that go in to our healthcare system.

from Housing and Urban Affairs
-make additional public land available for affordable housing purposes.

This little item may not create many waves in most of Alberta, but I can tell you it is issue #1 when it comes to affordable housing in Fort McMurray and the Wood Buffalo region.

While the shortage of skilled tradespeople to build housing is certainly a critical issue, the root cause of the problem can be traced to a lack of land on which to build said housing. Even though Fort McMurray is surrounded by unused land, it is almost exclusively crown land controlled by the province.

An action item calling on the Minister to release more land for housing development is hugely important in the fight to bring housing costs under control in my hometown and, if acted upon swiftly and decisively, will be very well-received by the residents of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo.

from Transportation
-double the provincial investment in highway repaving and bridge repair over the next three years.

This is a big ticket item, and an important one to boot. While our highway system is certainly extensive, a number of routes need upgrading. I will in interested to see which specific highways are on the priority list for repaving.

I will admit I was surprised not to see any specific action items regarding the timetable for Highway 63 listed in the mandate letter. No doubt it is an area of this department that will be closely watched by many.

from Treasury Board
-implement the 20-year Capital Plan.
-create a strategic plan for developing the oil sands region.

These two simple sentences will pretty well ensure that Lloyd Snelgrove will be one of the busiest people in the Alberta Legislature.

The 20-year Capital Plan is already a public document that contains a number of visionary and long-term projects, but implementing it will be a huge undertaking that will require the involvement of every single department.

The idea of a strategic plan for developing the oil sands region is long overdue. Still, the Minister has a number of intelligent people he can lean on for direction as he moves forward on this item. What should be encouraging to all Albertans is that we are likely to see a much broader consultation than perhaps would have been undertaken by the previous regime. I look forward to hearing from those who will no doubt have the opportunity to provide much input on this action item, namely Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake and Heather Kennedy from the Oil Sands Sustainable Development Secretariat.

Some of the mandate letters are shorter on details than others, but I don't think that means that there won't be anything for those Ministers to do. Heather Klimchuk and Lindsay Blackett, for example, won't have a shortage of action items over the next little while. For Minister Klimchuk, she'll need to see through the final stages and release of the license plate consultation (something near and dear to this plate geek's heart). Minister Blackett, meanwhile, has to essentially re-create a deparment that hasn't existed since the 1980s and bring it into 21st century Alberta.

I'm anxious to see what specific legislation the spring sitting of the Alberta Legislature will bring and what dynamic we'll see unfolding on both the government and opposition benches. Each group seems to have their own unique strengths as we head back into session. After today, though, we certainly seem to have a pretty clear direction.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday Round-up

A number of things are on my mind these days...

Monday's byelections can hardly be considered a victory for the Liberals. By my admittedly simple math, turning 4 Liberal seats into 3 is not exactly a crushing show of momentum. The near loss of Vancouver Quadra should also be setting off some pretty serious alarm bells within the Liberal Party of Canada.

No matter how they spin it, Liberal popularity is going down and Conservative popularity is going up. Indeed, the only convincing Liberal victories were for two people who ran AGAINST Stephane Dion in the leadership race.

Martha Hall Findlay says that the Liberal Party is united. I suspect any semblance of unity in that party is coalescing around the notion that Dion is the weakest leader their party has ever seen.

Staying federal for a moment, I'm glad to see Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been taking Dalton McGuinty to task for taking little action to help Ontario's flailing economy.

While the feds have offered broad-based tax relief, McGuinty seems content to offer platitudes and excuses as to why his government is unable to kick-start their economy before its too late.

This is something we here in Alberta should be watching very closely. Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans has already indicated that the potential for Ontario to become a have-not province is very much on her radar screen.

Some of the more forward-looking politicians in Ontario, including Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, have already started to openly muse about out-of-province employment alternatives for their constituents. Francis is floating the idea of making Windsor a hub for long-distance commuting to Alberta, something that already happens from a number of cities in Canada. While some may view this as a drastic suggestion, I think he sums it up best when he states "Is it difficult to work in another city, leaving your family during the week? It is. But it is equally difficult being out of work."

Dalton McGuinty has now coasted to victory TWICE thanks to a disorganized Ontario PC Party rather than his own luminary ideas.

As a Canadian whose taxes pay much more IN to equalization than he gets OUT of it, I sure hope someone in Ontario comes up with a way to revitalize their economy and soon. It may be heading down the drain, but some of us out west are getting awfully tired of being the plumbers of Confederation.

On the topic of people in the ivory towers on Front Street, I made the mistake of watching the CBC's latest "documentary" on Northern Alberta's oilsands entitled "Tar Sands: The Selling of Alberta".

I use the quotation marks because this piece of left-wing propaganda was about as lopsided as an elephant on a see-saw (a reference they actually use in reference to Alberta). Michael Moore might as well have put it together.

That they overtly use the term "Tar Sands" should have been my first clue.

Reportage about my hometown and the industry in which I grew up always interests me, even though it is usually heavily torqued and largely devoid of facts. This one, though, really took the cake.

While highlighting the biggest sticking points with the opponents of oilsands development, complete with omnious music and a graphic that looks almost identical to something I've seen in a Greenpeace propaganda campaign, this "documentary" does NOTHING to highlight the benefits of the Alberta oilsands.

They choose to speak of the difficulties of families who are separated when a spouse is working in the Wood Buffalo region during the week, yet ignore the fact that the generous income made allows them to afford the $60,000 vehicles and large home they enjoy.

They protray Fort McMurray as a bastion of filth, drugs, crime, and general unruliness. Nevermind that there are tens of thousands of people who are proud to call Fort McMurray their home and who aren't looking at leaving any time soon. No need to tell people about the vibrant community, home to some of Canada's most generous people when it comes to per-capita contributions to charity.

They look longingly at Norway's Statoil, a state-owned company in a heavily-taxed socialist nation that relies on income from offshore oil drilling. They speak glowingly about their small environmental footprint, forgetting entirely that offshore drilling and oilsands operations are two completely different industries.

They also note that Statoil is looking to invest in the oilsands without using an open pit mine, but conveniently omit the fact that this technology (SAGD) has been undergoing development IN ALBERTA for many years.

Their one-sided interviewees highlight that Alberta gets less in royalties than some other major oil producers. The host herself says that, rather than a drastic overhaul of royalties, the Alberta government has been content to simply "tweak" the royalty scheme. Given that Alberta's two major opposition parties (who were proponents of the aforementioned drastic overhaul) were obliterated in the provincial election, it would seem that Albertans do not share the views of the CBC or their "experts".

They claim that Alberta's oil goes exclusively to the United States, leaving Eastern Canadians to clamour for unstable middle eastern oil. This is an outright falsehood. A 5th grader doing research into oil pipelines from Alberta would quite readily discover that one of the major southern terminals for Alberta crude oil is in SARNIA, ONTARIO.

This entire "documentary" serves as an excellent example of why everyone should take anything aired on our national broadcaster with a heavy grain of salt. The fact that the CBC deliberately commissioned this feature is also a pretty good indicator that the Liberal elite in Central Canada have an agenda to shutdown the oilsands through a campaign of fear and misinformation about its effects, both environmental and economic.

The people I feel sorry for are those who watch these seriously torqued "documentaries" and make no effort to fact check or get the other side of the story. That, in my opinion, is the greatest danger here.

Finally, Graham Thomson had another piece in the Edmonton Journal a few days ago about the abysmal turnout in the provincial election earlier this month.

He kicks around the usual ideas of electoral reform that are being bandied about, namely a Citizens Assembly like the one that recommended STV in British Columbia. This and similar ideas seem to be pretty standard post-election reactions in Alberta these days.

I think, though, that the poor participation in the last election can't really be attributed to people's dislike of our current electoral system. A very small minority of vocal citizens may feel this way, but they can hardly account for the 41% (or less) turnout.

The main reason that people chose not to participate, in my opinion, was the inability of ANY of the political parties to engage Albertans with ideas. Finding a remedy for this doesn't fall to any assembly on electoral reform, but rather to politicians and those of us who are active in Alberta's political parties.

For those in the Liberals, the NDP, and the Wildrose Alliance, that process has been kickstarted as they examine their dismal results in this last election.

For those of us in the PC Party, however, it may prove to be more difficult. The fact that we won such a huge number of seats risks overshadowing the fact that we have much work to do if we want to be the party that re-captures the attention of Albertans, lest another party gets there first. I look forward to highlighting some ideas being thrown out there between now and the next PC AGM this fall... an AGM at which PC members should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

For my own part, I think our party needs to adopt a policy in favour of fixed election dates. They're already in place in BC, Ontario, and at the Federal level and make good common sense. In Alberta, we've usually got a pretty good idea when elections are coming anyway so its not like the idea of a fixed election date gives away much of an advantage. What it does do, though, is allow for Elections Alberta to be better prepared.

This brings me to what I think is the second biggest reason that so many Albertans didn't participate.

From the standpoint of Elections Alberta, this election was a complete disaster.

The lists of electors was so out of date that a campaign would almost have better luck identifying voters through the phone book.

Polling locations were so badly organized that some people had to drive half way across their urban riding rather than vote at a school across the street.

The website tool that allowed you to search for your polling location was so unprepared for the number of hits it received that it crashed several times on Election Day.

The list just goes on and on. Now, to be fair, a fixed election date won't solve all these problems, but they will at least allow a proper organization enough lead time to get things in place.

I say a proper organization because, after March 3rd, I'm not sure the crew at Elections Alberta can be called such.

Graham Thomson interviewed Lorne Gibson, Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, for the aforementioned column. In it he harps on about his desire to have the Chief Electoral Officer directly recruit and appoint the Returning Officers for each constituency.

Now I defended those with PC affiliations who filled the positions as has been the standard, particularily those who took on these vital posts at the last-minute only to have their characters dragged through the mud. That being said, I think that we should adopt a policy that the Chief Electoral Officer recruit and appoint the Returning Officers. After all, we've got time.

But I don't think that Chief Electoral Officer should be Lorne Gibson.

The issues surrounding Returning Officers notwithstanding, Mr. Gibson must have had a pretty good idea that this election was coming down the pipe. Its not like it was the best kept secret in Alberta.

And yet when it came to ensuring the most basic functions of the electoral process were in place... lists of electors, sensible polling locations, access to voting information on Election Day... Elections Alberta failed miserably and the responsibility for that has to rest upon the shoulders of the Chief Electoral Officer.

Moving forward, I think that the Goverment should adopt a policy of fixed election dates. I also think that they should accept the recommendation that gives the Chief Electoral Officer the exclusive role of recruiting and appointing Returning Officers.

Then they should fire Lorne Gibson.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Meeting the new Ministers: Mary Anne Jablonski

As you may have noticed, some of my fellow bloggers and I have taken it upon ourselves to provide some background on the 5 new members of Executive Council sworn in yesterday. We got together to decide who would profile whom and the results are starting to roll out.

Phendrana Drifts has done a masterful job profiling Justice Minister and Attorney General Alison Redford and Infrastructure Minister Jack Hayden. Ken Chapman will soon be telling us about Service Alberta Minister Heather Klimchuk, and look to the Enlightened Savage for a profile of Lindsay Blackett, Alberta's new boss of Culture and Community Spirit.
For my part, I get to tell you a bit about someone I greatly admire, Mary Anne Jablonski.

Minister of Seniors and Community Supports

Mary Anne Jablonski can be described as a pretty typical Albertan. Originally from St. Catharines, Ontario, Mary Anne moved west with her husband Bob and their family in 1980. Bob was with the Canadian Armed Forces and was transferred to the base at Penhold, just outside of Red Deer.

Her work as an advocate began long before she was ever elected to office. Her most notable foray into advocacy in earlier days was her work to lobby the Federal Government for a dental plan for the families of Military and RCMP personnel. It was, not surprisingly, successful.

After their time with the military, the Jablonskis settled in Red Deer and began a fiberglass manufacturing company. As in life, Bob and Mary Anne were also very successful partners in their business. Between the business, their three children, and various other projects with Girl Guides, the Catholic Womens League, and the Chamber of Commerce, Mary Anne kept herself pretty busy... good preparations for an aspiring MLA.

I first met Mary Anne during her first run for office in September of 2000. Stockwell Day had just resigned his seat in the Legislature to take over the leadership of the Canadian Alliance. Mary Anne was the nominated PC candidate in Red Deer North and boy did she have her work cut out for her. Stock hadn't exactly left the legislature on the greatest of terms (think $800,000 lawsuit) and the residents of Red Deer North were certainly well aware of it.

Still, she kept her head up and focused on her positive vision of being a hard-working MLA for her constituents. The work paid off and she won a very close by-election by just under 400 votes. This was to be good training grounds because, less than 6 months later, Mary Anne was thrust back into the electoral fray in the 2001 General Election.

Since the by-election, Mary Anne's constituents have sent her back to the legislature with solid majorities. In 2001, she carried the day with over 5000 votes to her nearest opponent's 3100. During the Kleinfeld campaign of 2004, her lead shrunk but still delivered a comfortable 1100 vote margin against the same Liberal she fought in 2000 and 2001. Last week, Mary Anne was again sent to Edmonton on behalf of the people of Red Deer North with a margin of victory approaching 3000 votes. Clearly, her constituents like her.

And they like her with good reason.

Mary Anne has a number of accomplishments to her credit. She is one of the very few MLAs to ever have a Private Member's Bill passed unanimously, the Protection of Children Abusing Drugs Act. This act allows parents to go before a judge to ask for an order to place their child in a safe house or detoxification facility. It also allows the possibility of an aprehension order to remove the child from a drug house or other unstable environment.

She has also been a solid advocate for issues closer to home in Red Deer. Mary Anne has successfully lobbied for over 400 affordable housing spaces in Red Deer, was an early proponent of regional water and waste water systems, and has been a staunch defender of full consultation before major decisions regarding the Red Deer River have been made.

Over the past 7 years, Mary Anne has been entrusted with a number of leadership positions in the House. These include Chairing or Co-Chairing the Cabinet Committee on Community Services, the Alberta Mental Health Board Liason and Advisory Committee, the Corrections Review Committee, the Youth Secretariat, and the Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation.

Her background as a legislator was clearly a driving factor when Premier Stelmach decided to ask her to serve as Alberta's new Minister of Seniors and Community Supports.
As Minister, Mary Anne will be responsible for a Department that needs proactive thinking. With Alberta's seniors population expected to double in just 12 short years, getting the right programs in place will be key in meeting this crunch head-on.
In an interview with the Red Deer Advocate shortly after her promotion to Cabinet, Mary Anne outlined a number of issues that she wants to address early in her tenure as Minister. Of note, she commits to helping seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible through a number of potential initiatives, including increased support for home care, meals on wheels, and seniors-helping-seniors. Recruitment and retention of front-line workers for those who are institutionalized is also high on the agenda.
Seniors and Community Supports is a department that hasn't had much in the way of profile, but is very important as Alberta moves into its second century. I suspect that those who work in the Department are pleased to see someone who, by all accounts, will take her role very seriously and will be a very active Minister.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cabinet Reaction

Today's announcement by Premier Stelmach was impressive... impressive in the sense that only one Minister doesn't return to Cabinet (more on that below), yet the overall impression is that this is a very new and dynamic team. Some of that can be credited to the re-assignment of current Ministers, some can be credited to the rookies he chose to promote.

Without further delay, my reactions:


Hon. Ron Stevens (Calgary Glenmore)
Deputy Premier
Minister of International and Intergovernmental Relations

I don't think anyone expected Ron to lose his title as Deputy Premier. In the shuffle he holds it and takes on the Department of International and Intergovernmental Relations. Some might think this is a demotion but, as Ken Chapman pointed out, this Ministry is going to have a very high profile in the next few years. It has also been rumoured that Stevens specifically requested this Ministry. I think it'll be a good fit... Ron has the diplomatic skills required to do this job effectively and, as Deputy Premier, can speak with authority when dealing with other governments.

Hon. Lloyd Snelgrove (Vermilion-Lloydminster)
President of the Treasury Board

I think a lot of people, yours truly included, are happy that Lloyd stays where he is. Treasury Board is a very important portfolio and Lloyd's business background is a huge asset when considering how our tax dollars are spent. Now that Service Alberta has been carved off into its own Ministry, Lloyd will really have the freedom to be creative with how the Treasury is managed.

Hon. Doug Horner (Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert)
Minister of Advanced Education and Technology

Another solid Minister who deserved to stay put. Doug Horner is one of the brightest minds in caucus and has won a lot of fans as Advanced Education Minister. There was no reason to move him, and the Premier apparently agrees.

Hon. Dave Hancock (Edmonton Whitemud)
Minister of Education

I thought Dave would be staying in Health. He was doing a good job and is an excellent spokesperson for high profile Ministries. Those who have sour grapes over his move, though, shouldn't. The Health Department will be presenting its own challenges that i'll describe in my reaction to its new Minister. Hancock's move over to Education is NOT A DEMOTION, though. Education is an important and high profile Ministry along the lines of Health, Advanced Ed, Finance, and the like. Dave's talents will be well used as Education Minister and, moreover, I'm willing to bet there are some pretty happy bureaucrats in Education today.

Hon. Mel Knight (Grande Prairie-Smoky)
Minister of Energy

The touted splitting of the Energy Department didn't happen and Mel remains in charge. Contrary to opposition rantings (we all know how much stock Albertans put in those), Mel has been a competant Minister who understands the portfolio. Stability as the Royalty Review process comes to an end is also important, which I think was a big factor in keeping Mel in this portfolio.

Hon. Iris Evans (Sherwood Park)
Minister of Finance and Enterprise

There were some who thought we'd see the end of Iris. They, clearly, were crazy. She has great loyalty to the Premier as one of his original backers and, as a strong voice in the Capital Region, was sure to remain. It will be interesting to see what specific responsibilities she will hold as Finance Minister, particularily now that Lloyd Snelgrove is free to focus solely on Treasury Board issues.

Hon. Ron Liepert (Calgary West)
Minister of Health and Wellness

People who thought Liepert was simply brought in to pacify Dinning supporters can think again. Ron has clearly earned the Premier's trust. His move to Health should be seen as a big, bold neon sign pointed directly at Jack Davis and David Tuer that reads "UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT". The Calgary Health Region clearly needs to step up its budgeting and long-term planning methods, and having a Minister from Calgary is a clear sign that the province is willing to listen to concerns... but not to put up with any more sensationalism. That message will be quite clearly delivered, methinks, by Minister Liepert.

Hon. Rob Renner (Medicine Hat)
Minister of Environment

As the senior voice for Southeastern Alberta, I was pretty sure that Rob wasn't leaving Cabinet. I did, however, think he might have been shuffled out of Environment in favour of someone from one of the big cities. Upon reflection, though, the Green Party did best in two RURAL ridings so perhaps a Minister from an urban centre surrounded by prairie makes sense after. Clearly the Premier thinks so and chose to leave him where he is.

Hon. Luke Ouellette (Innisfail-Sylvan Lake)
Minister of Transportation

No question here. Luke is a solid guy who's whole personality screams "I'm gonna build you some roads." The fact that his old Ministry has again been split into separate Ministries of Transportation and Infrastructure respectively gives him the ability to focus solely on upgrading and improving the provincial transportation network. Given some of the goodies in the 20 year Capital Plan, I expect Luke will be a busy man.

Hon. Gene Zwozdesky (Edmonton Mill Creek)
Minister of Aboriginal Relations

Gene Zwozdesky is a very unique individual. For a white male, I am always amazed at his ability to draw such admiration from so many unique cultural groups. I suspect the secret to his success is that he always treats everyone with the same respect and takes genuine interest in their cultural background. These traits will make him an excellent Minister of Aboriginal Relations. The other advantage to Gene's appointment is that he's an urban MLA. We have seen some of the difficulties facing large urban aboriginal populations in cities like Regina and Winnipeg... hopefully Gene will be able to use his talents as an urban MLA and as Minister of Aboriginal Relations to identify root causes of their struggles in order to avoid the experience in other western cities.

Hon. Alison Redford (Calgary Elbow)
Minister of Justice and Attorney General

Good call. Alison has proven herself to be a worthy addition to the team. She's smart, eloquent, and VERY well liked by the powers that be in corporate Calgary (guess who we'll be sending for fundraising calls ;) Alison's team is very proud of her today and with good reason. I suspect the more that Albertans get to know their new Justice Minister, the more they'll like her.

Hon. George Groeneveld (Highwood)
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

I had initially thought that Minister Groeneveld may have been one of the incumbent Ministers to be demoted to make room for someone from the cities, but then realized that Southern Alberta wouldn't take very kindly to losing one of their voices. Add to that the fact that he's actually done a good job in his portfolio and it makes sense that he remains. The Premier himself is a farmer, so you've got to think he's got a pretty good pulse on who will fill the Ag position well.

Hon. Janis Tarchuk (Banff-Cochrane)
Minister of Children and Youth Services

For as much as some of her constituents may have claimed she was invisible, Janis actually accomplished some good things as Children's Services Minister... namely the provincial boost for child care workers' wages. Presumably she's got more up her sleeve and the Premier is ready to let her keep at it.

Hon. Mary Anne Jablonski (Red Deer North)
Minister of Seniors and Community Supports

YES! This was my number 1 must-have in the new Cabinet and i'm pleased she was included. Mary Anne will be an important voice for Red Deer at the Cabinet table as well as an EXCELLENT advocate for those who worked so hard to build this province. I've already gushed about this woman's talents on the blog so I won't rehash it. I will, however, tell you how much I look forward to congratulating MINISTER Jablonski in person.

Hon. Hector Goudreau (Dunvegan-Central Peace)
Minister of Employment and Immigration

Hector Goudreau is a quiet-but-competent member of the team. I say this because, during pre-announcement speculation, Hector admitted publically that he would be disapointed if he was not returned to Cabinet, but understood that the Premier had a lot of talented people to choose from. This is clearly someone who puts the greater good before his own ambitions. He is a very able Minister who was perhaps a bit mismatched with his former portfolio of Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture. I think the big-picture issues he'll get to deal with as Employment and Immigration Minister will be much better suited for him, and Albertans will likely be impressed with the results.

Hon. Ted Morton (Foothills-Rocky View)
Minister of Sustainable Resource Development

I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of Morton supporters out there who are mighty ticked that their boy isn't top of the precedence list and Minister in charge of a whole lotta stuff. On the flip side, there are those who think that Ted should have been bounced completely. In between that... well, we've got the status quo. To his credit, I think Minister Morton has done an excellent job of managing his portfolio and has surprised some by being quite the team player. I suspect he was kept in place (but moved up the order of precedece) to finish his work with the Land Use Framework. Rumours are that there'll be a shuffle in about 18 months... if Morton keeps up his good work, I suspect he'll get his promotion then.

Hon. Fred Lindsay (Stony Plain)
Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security

I honestly don't know much about Fred Lindsay other than the fact that he's very popular with his constituents and obviously has the Premier's trust. Solicitor General is a pretty straightforward Ministry and he has obviously performed his duties to the satisfaction of the Premier and his Department. Kudos are clearly deserved on a job well done.

Hon. Ray Danyluk (Lac La Biche-St. Paul)
Minister of Municipal Affairs

Ray finally gets to concentrate on what the Municipal Affairs Minister is actually supposed to work on, municipal governance issues. The urban and housing add-ons were clearly a poor match for someone from Elk Point, although he coped with them as best he could until the Premier brought in the help. Ray's a good, colourful person who really does have people's best interests at heart. I think he'll enjoy his job much more now that his Ministry has been streamlined.

Hon. Jack Hayden (Drumheller-Stettler)
Minister of Infrastructure

A lot of people said Jack Hayden was going into Cabinet. It wasn't that I didn't believe them, its just that I wasn't sure that there would be room for another rural Minister. The Premier managed to make it work, and work well. Mr. Hayden is rumoured to be one of the Premier's closest advisors in caucus... with someone going as far as to say that he should have been the Chief of Staff. As a stand-alone from Transportation, Infrastructure will get to deal with a whole lot of capital planning issues... issues that the Premier loves to sink his teeth into. Expect the boss and his new Infrastructure Minister to be working together very closely.

Hon. Yvonne Fritz (Calgary Cross)
Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs

Former Alderman: Check. Registered Nurse: Check. To me, Yvonne is well-qualified to be Minister of Housing and Urban Affairs. She brings the experience of a municipal politician together with the background of an urban MLA and the compassion of an R.N., all huge assets when dealing with these issues. This was a very easy call to make on the Premier's part.

Hon. Lindsay Blackett (Calgary North West)
Minister of Culture and Community Spirit

Welcome to the biggest surprise of the day! I can totally understand the rationale of establishing this Ministry as a shoot off from the former Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture. I must admit that I thought there would be other MLAs from Calgary that would go to Cabinet over a rookie other than Alison Redford. I also would have lost a lot of money betting on someone other than George Rogers becoming Alberta's first black Cabinet Minister. Still, the Premier obviously sees great potential in Lindsay Blackett. I've never met him, but thought frequently during the election that he seemed to be a very impressive fellow. This, obviously, is an impression that is shared in Edmonton.

Hon. Cindy Ady (Calgary Shaw)
Minister of Tourism, Parks and Recreation

This was another no-brainer. Cindy was doing very well as the Associate Minister responsible for this portfolio and as the Olympics approach, the importance of her work will grow. She's also a strong voice for Calgary and will be an excellent booster of Alberta across the country and around the world.

Hon. Heather Klimchuk (Edmonton Glenora)
Minister responsible for Service Alberta

When I was pondering whether or not the Premier would add one of the two new women from the Capital Region to Cabinet, I had a hard time deciding which he might choose. On one hand, he had Janice Sarich from Edmonton Decore, a former School Board trustee. On the other, he had Heather Klimchuk, a community activist and PC Party executive member. Both of these women bring unique talents to the table, but in the end it looks like the Premier chose the one with a history of activity in our party and I must say I'm thrilled for Heather. Her bright personality and friendly demeanour will be a great asset to her in livening up what can otherwise be a bit of a boring department. And in case you're reading this, Heather, you can expect a call from me about how to proceed with the license plate review ;)


Art Johnston (Calgary Hays)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Community Services

I'll admit surprise on this one. I would have figured that a position like this would have gone to an MLA like Dave Rodney, especially after being kept out of Cabinet.

Greg Weadick (Lethbridge West)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on the Economy

Lethbridge is an important city, but with a rookie PC MLA it may have been a bit of a stretch to expect a jump straight into Cabinet. This role will be good training for Mr. Weadick, the people of Lethbridge should be pleased with this appointment.

Tony Vandermeer (Edmonton Beverly-Clareview)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Health

This is a big committee that needs someone with experience as a legislator. As a former (now returning) MLA and NDP giant-killer (adios Ray Martin), Tony Vandermeer is a solid choice for this role.

Neil Brown (Calgary Nose Hill)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Public Safety and Services

Until Ken Kowalski retires, the Speaker's Chair is pretty solidly his. I picture Neil filling that role quite nicely, but he deserves something to put his talents towards until such an opening comes up. As a former lawyer, I think Neil will be an excellent chair of this committee.

Wayne Drysdale (Grande Prairie-Wapiti)
Chair, Cabinet Policy Committee on Resources and the Environment

This is a clear show of confidence in this rookie MLA from the Premier. Grande Prairie and NW Alberta already have two very strong Ministers, yet the boss saw fit to give Mr. Drysdale the chairmanship of what will prove to be a very important committee. He, along with Mel Knight, should probably make a point of regular visits to Fort McMurray in light of today's developments.


Manmeet Bhullar (Calgary Montrose)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Advanced Education and Technology

Excellent! I have known Manmeet for a long time and think he will do a supurb job working with Minister Horner. He has been given an opportunity to learn from one of the best in the business and I know he'll take it to heart. It is also nice to see Calgary Montrose will again have some added clout in caucus after almost 15 years in proverbial darkness.

Doug Griffiths (Battle River-Wainwright)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

I made no secret that I was hoping Doug would get a promotion to Cabinet. While i'm disapointed that this wasn't the case, I think there is very much a silver lining in his new role. Although his Minister is very experienced in Agriculture, I think the Rural Development piece is far better suited to someone younger with a more progressive vision for rural Alberta... someone like Doug. He's one of the smartest guys in the house and has been given an opportunity to really spread his wings on this file... I know he won't disappoint.

Janice Sarich (Edmonton Decore)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education

As I mentioned earlier, I figured the Cabinet post for an Edmonton woman was an even toss-up between Heather Klimchuk and Janice Sarich. This, for a former school board trustee, is a pretty good consolation prize. Mrs. Sarich will likely be an asset to Minister Hancock as they move forward in the Department of Education. She would also be hard pressed to ask for a better mentor than Dave.

David Xiao (Edmonton McClung)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Employment and Immigration

This one, I admit, is a surprise. I didn't really think David Xiao was going to be included on any lists released today. It makes sense upon reflection, though. As an immigrant from mainland China, Mr. Xiao has a unique perspective on the challenges facing immigrants during the entire immigration process. His experiences will be very valuable for his Minister and he too has a high quality man to learn the ropes from.

Len Webber (Calgary Foothills)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Energy

I figured Len would be going to Cabinet and, like I was with Griffiths, am a bit disappointed. Still, this is by no means a slap in the face. As a Calgary MLA and Mel Knight's right-hand man, Len will be the go-to guy for the energy bosses in downtown Calgary. He will be kept very busy and will likely be one of the first Parliamentary Assistants promoted to full Cabinet when the time comes.

Diana McQueen (Drayton Valley-Calmar)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Environment

Outside of Lacombe-Ponoka, no Green candidate in Alberta got a higher vote total than Diana McQueen's opponent in Drayton Valley-Calmar. Environmental issues are obviously of concern to her constituents and this appointment allows her to put her talents to work addressing the issue head-on. I'm told that she is very well-liked in her constituency and is expected to impress a lot of people when she arrives on scene in Edmonton. I'm looking forward to it.

Raj Sherman (Edmonton Meadowlark)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health and Wellness

I figured Raj might be going into Cabinet but, as happens from time to time, I figured wrong. Still, Dr. Sherman will provide an important perspective into the health system as the new Parliamentary Assistant to Minister Ron Liepert. This also allows for a good Calgary/Edmonton balance in dealing with what Albertans consistently rate as their number 1 concern.

Thomas Lukaszuk (Edmonton Castle Downs)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Municipal Affairs

A lot of people (perhaps Thomas included) thought this was going to be his big break into Cabinet. He has certainly grown from the brash individual who was elected in 2001 into a solid MLA. His youth, my guess, remains an issue. Even though he's now in his 3rd term, Thomas is still a young guy with lots of potential left. He'll be the urban counterpart to a rural Minister in a department that touches all Albertans, a pretty good gig as he's climbing the ladder, i'd say.

Rob Anderson (Airdrie-Chestermere)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Solicitor General and Minister of Public Security

This is going to be one busy man. He's a new MLA, represents a sprawling constituency, has 3 children under the age of 3 at home, and NOW is a Parliamentary Assistant. From what i've heard, Rob Anderson has the energy and the discipline to handle all of this and more. He's another one that I have yet to meet, but am told will turn a lot of heads in Edmonton.

Evan Berger (Livingstone-Macleod)
Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Sustainable Resource Development

Evan Berger's predecessor, David Coutts, leaves some big shoes to fill. It seems that Mr. Berger will get the chance to prove he's up to the task early on with his new role as Ted Morton's Parliamentary Assistant. He's got experience in dealing with the kinds of issues that will keep him and his Minister busy and both men seem to be cut from the same cloth. I suspect they'll very much enjoy working with each other, particularily as they roll out the new Land Use Framework.


I'm sure more than one of you are wondering about my thoughts on the complete demotion of Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Guy Boutilier.

Quite simply, I was stunned.

I have known Guy for longer than I can remember. He was the one who brought me into PC Alberta in the first place some 10 years ago. I clearly remember the day he was first elevated to Cabinet in 2001 as Minister of Municipal Affairs... I helped him clean out his office in the Legislature Annex.

There are some who say this was coming. I can understand that... you'll recall that I speculated that Guy was going to be left out of Ed Stelmach's first Cabinet 14 months ago.

I made that call based on all of the speculation I was hearing from others. I didn't believe it, but it was too widely shared for me not to give it creedence. Thankfully, I was wrong.

Fast forward to today. I was hearing almost NOTHING about the prospect of Guy being left out. Some thought he should be replaced, but simply could not rationalize the most economically important region of the country being left out.

And yet, they were.

The rationale for the Premier's decision is something that only he can provide. His reasoning may have been sound, particularily given the otherwise outstanding job he did putting this Cabinet together.

I worry, though, about the consequences for our party in Fort McMurray. Everyone i've spoken to back home today shares the same statement of disbelief.

A lot of questions remain... will Guy be re-promoted to Cabinet in the next shuffle?... will he stay on as MLA for a full term from the backbench?... if there's a by-election, who will run?... who will win?

In the meantime, I will be watching the reaction and potential for backlash in the Oilsands City VERY closely.


With a few exceptions, I think the Premier did a masterful job in crafting this Cabinet. There are more women, better representation for our big cities, and a more genuinely diverse team. I think the Premier should be very happy with his new team. I look forward to seeing them in action.

Getting stories straight

As speculation mounts over today's expected cabinet announcement, it seems that Alberta's major news outlets are talking to a bunch of different people.

The Calgary Herald has talk of 6 Ministers for Calgary (very good if true), the highlight being Ron Liepert's expected move over to the Department of Health. The Herald plays up Liepert's accomplishments in his first term as an MLA and Minister.

The Edmonton Journal, meanwhile, speaks of doom and gloom surrounding the prospect of Edmonton proper getting only 2 Ministers. I expect that, as usual, the Journal gets it very very wrong. They too muse about a switch between Dave Hancock and Ron Liepert, but play down Liepert's record and view Hancock's move as a demotion.

Over at the Calgary Sun, Rick Bell is mighty complimentary at the thought of better Calgary and urban representation at the table. He too is hearing the number 6 for Calgary.

The Edmonton Sun's Neil Waugh is the only media source to throw out a firm number of Ministers in Cabinet... 23. He also talks about the 8 "Ministers in training", which I assume will be the Parliamentary Secretaries that have been mused about earlier in the speculation game.

Edmonton's 630 CHED talks about Iris Evans getting Finance and new Edmonton Glenora MLA Heather Klimchuk taking over at Service Alberta. They too speak of 8 Parliamentary Assistants to assist the Ministers in key portfolios. CHED also speculates that 7 of the 14 women in the Tory caucus will be elevated to Cabinet, the highest number ever in Alberta.

QR77 in Calgary, strangely, has no Cabinet speculation posted on their website.

Word is that we'll be hearing pretty soon what the final makeup will be. Once that's out and i've had time to chew it over, i'll be back with reaction.

I should also let you know that a few of us bloggers will be colluding to bring you bios and some inside information on the new faces that will be appointed to Cabinet. We don't yet know who will be profiling whom, but we will be linking to each other's work so stay tuned to the Albertatory, Ken Chapman, the Enlightened Savage, and Phendrana Drifts for the inside scoop on Alberta's newest Ministers.