Alberta and Polls: Never Again

The Calgary Flames are preparing to host their first playoff game since 2009 in a matter of days. While the Flames are working hard to even up their series, the politicians are working the doors. The province of Alberta may be preparing to elect a new party to power for the first time since 1971.

Does this sound familiar? Just three years ago I was responsible for the following assumption:

Danielle Smith is likely to be the next premier of Alberta

It doesn’t sound like a terrible statement, but this type of statement reveals a foolish reliance on poor polling data taken immediately before election day. Alison Redford, not Danielle Smith, became Premier of Alberta. Furthermore, the results were not close; Redford retained her majority. I will defend myself by demonstrating that I was a member of a mob making misguided assumptions. For example, following the 2012 Alberta election, Andrew Coyne promptly wrote an article after titled “Why I’m no longer making election predictions after Alberta.”

On May 5th, Albertans are headed back to the polls to decide whether the Progressive Conservatives should be given another opportunity to lead. There are three angles of the story that I am interested in following as election day draws nearer

Can Jim Prentice Gain a Mandate?

Prentice took over as Progressive Conservative leader and Premier seven months ago. His election as leader came on the heels of Alison Redford’s disgraceful resignation. Alberta’s Auditor General released a serious report condemning Alison Redford, finding that her office used public resources inappropriately. Additionally, Redford’s style of leadership made her an unattractive leader for the ruling caucus. The Auditor General concluded that “the aura of power around premier Redford and her office and the perception that the influence of the office should not be questioned.”

Image Stolen From the Edmonton Journal

The caucus and membership demanded Redford’s resignation, and they received it. and Prentice’s subsequent appointment was an opportunity for the party to move in a new direction with a new leader. Leaders need to demonstrate that they carry the confidence of the electorate. Thus far Prentice has won nothing other than his leadership. Redford, on the other hand, managed to surprise the province (really, the entire country) and win an election she was supposed to lose. Prentice’s ability to convince Albertans that the PCs are capable of leading the province once again is worth watching.

Alberta’s Economic Position

Ideally, as the incumbent Prentice should be heading into an election with a profound lead over his opponents, but this election may be different. As global oil prices fell earlier in the year, Alberta’s economic position was profoundly weakened. The province has been hounded by skeptics for being over-reliant on revenues from the oil and gas sector. The drop in prices caused a budget gap of $4.99 billion this fiscal year.

In short, the Premier’s timing was not ideal. He had to act quickly to salvage a responsible budget in the wake of this spending gap. To Prentice’s credit, he actually has taken steps to solve the issue rather than exploding further into debt. His budget raised provincial income taxes, and raising fees for insurance, permits, tobacco, alcohol and gasoline. The economy will likely play the critical role in the debates. Will the progressive parties (the Alberta Party, Alberta NDP, Alberta Liberals) capitalize as showing themselves to be better stewards of the economy?

The Wildrose Party

Danielle Smith was supposed to be the one to stop the Progressive Conservative leadership dynasty. Now she’s a part of it. This was an extraordinary development because just weeks before Smith crossed the floor, she was chastising other members of her caucus for doing the very same thing.

If you thought the timing was bad for Prentice, it might have been worst for Smith. The Wildrose is seen to be a viable alternative to the Progressive Conservatives (again). Now they have a new leader, Brian Jean, who has taken an extremely active role in candidate selection, purging one individual who espoused homophobic views on a blog 8 years ago. I am curious to see whether Jean can shed the Wildrose’s reputation for far-right wing ideology and position himself as the “government in waiting.”


Endorsement for Joyce Murray

Murray Can Lead Canada Forward | Chris Wattie, Reuters (via National Post)

For almost seven years, Stephen Harper has been the Prime Minister. Canadian progressives unite in their call that “we can do better” and yet, little is done to meet actions with words. In the New Democratic leadership race, I backed Nathan Cullen for his progressive partnership proposal. It was bold, it was controversial, but it represented real leadership. Mr. Cullen challenged New Democratic progressives, presenting them with an opportunity for real, meaningful change. Mr. Cullen inspired many people with his surprising success, but New Democrats decided to meet Einstein’s theory of insanity: doing the same thing expecting different results.

The Liberal party is now in the process of selecting a leader, and I only hope that we can learn from our history. I have spent my adult life listening to empty words, I want to fight for real initiatives. I want to be a part of a Liberal Party committed to real change. There is one candidate with such a commitment to moving the country forward: Joyce Murray.

Murray is the Member of Parliament for Vancouver Quadra. She was the top MBA graduate in her year from Simon Frasier University. She has proven success in the economic realm. Her business, Brinkman & Associates Reforestation has over 500 employees. Murray has been in politics since 2001, representing constituents for 12 years. She drafted Bill C-437 to formalize a ban on supertanker traffic in British Columbia’s north pacific coast. She has a track record of leadership, and that is what a Murray Leadership would be expected to do: lead Canada forward.

Most importantly, she has taken up the call for cooperation across progressive parties. A local Liberal riding official would need to advocate for cooperation in their constituency in order for it to happen. She has also proposed four other policy initiatives:

  1. Gender Equity: All Government appointments retain at least 40% male and 40% female representation
  2. Carbon Pricing: A cost applied to pollution created by carbon emissions (not necessarily a tax, she is open to cap-and-trade)
  3. Democratic Reform: A royal commission on electoral reform to move away from first-past-the-post, and replace it with a more democratically accountable electoral system
  4. Cannabis Legalization: Legalize, regulate, control and tax cannabis

Progressives argue that “we can do better”, now is the time to stop our petty partisan concerns and turn to the health of our country. Meaningful change requires hard work, and a motivated base, but it is aided by inspiring leaders. Joyce Murray has the ideas and the experience. If we can do better, I believe it will be done through the Prime Minister Canada deserves. I am pleased to endorse Joyce Murray for Liberal Leadership.

Post Scriptum: One of my good friends, Joseph Uranowski has written a wonderful article on Joyce Murray I would encourage you to read.


Idealism for Ideals

In the middle of the summer, I was asked by my friend Joseph Uranowski to write an article on whether or not Justin Trudeau should run for the Liberal leadership. In sum, I argued that he should run, contingent on whether he could manifest big ideas that would be otherwise necessary to revitalize the party.

Mr. Trudeau has decided to run, but I see little discussion of principled, progressive, innovative ideas. I see a “Justin.ca” based leadership. And that may produce strong polls, and media fascination, but no meaningful change to Canada. So, I will broaden my desire for Mr. Trudeau. I don’t want the ideas necessary to revitalize the Liberal Party, I want the ideas necessary to revitalize the country.

High on Justin | Graham Hughes, Canadian Press

Perhaps it is because I am a hopeless idealist, but strong polling numbers mean little to me if there is no substance to back it up. Justin Trudeau might be the best man to lead the Liberal Party back to power, but I don’t simply want a Liberal Government to have a Liberal Government. I want a Liberal Government so that grassroots Canadian principles and ideals are reflected by our Government. I want the Liberal Leader to lead Canada back to the soft power hegemons we once were with Jean Chretien. I want them to have the domestic nation building focus and initiative of Pierre Trudeau. Where is the vision of a better country? Where is the notion that innovation will make this country stronger? If we say Mr. Harper does not reflect Canadian values or beliefs, then the Liberal focus should be finding a leader with a strong, progressive voice who does. But what kind of values are those? What do they look like when enacted through policy? In other words, what is Canada supposed to look like and what is it supposed to be?

The point is that I will not vote for the Liberal that will simply get the party back to high office. I am looking for a true leader. I want someone who will combat poverty in our country. Someone who will fight addiction and mental health issues. Someone who wants to fix the enormous gap in the quality of education between the suburbs and the inner-city. Someone who can stabilize the economy and lower the unemployment rate. Someone that can keep our country together, and restore our standing in the international community. Someone who will not cower from cooperation, tolerance and understanding even if it means working with other parties.

Is there a Liberal candidate out there that can make me believe in what Canada once stood for?

So far there is one candidate with the organization and publicity necessary to win a general election. While I remain unconvinced that Mr. Trudeau has the ideas necessary to win an election, he is the only candidate who can win, and I am not blinded by my idealism. Canadians, like myself will wait for ideas; but they will not wait long. If Justin Trudeau is going to convince us that he has what it takes to lead more than just the Liberal Party to the mountaintop, he shouldn’t wait until the Spring to do it.


A Defence of Regularized Public Policy Referendum

I think Governments should consult with the people. The amount of public involvement with our federal democracy is essentially voting in a general election once every four years. We call our political system “free and democratic”, a rule by and for the people. For me, electing over three hundred people who are being sent to Ottawa to agree with one of three policy sets is not nearly enough consultation. If we are sincerely interested in a democratic government, then we must believe on some level, that as a whole Canadians can adequately govern themselves. I believe that rather than simply voting for a representative who will be our proxy in policy votes (but will amount to little more than a face in a caucus) Canadians ought to take a more active role in major policy decisions our Government intends to pass. In short, I believe in comparatively frequent (perhaps yearly) referendum, lending increased accuracy (and therefore legitimacy) to our national system of Government.

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We only have referendum when Canada enters crisis mode. Why? | Stolen from the CBC

There are valid objections standing in the way of such an ambitious plan. Fiscal concerns, “how much would this cost the tax payers” are perhaps the weakest. We ought to have the best representation possible, if our government is to be an adequate democracy. With every Member of Parliament comes costs in the form of their salaries, pensions, expenses, their staffs and offices (both in Ottawa and in their own constituencies). I will take freedom and liberty over increased costs if the choice needs to be made.

A stronger argument is one that calls the majority unfit to claim more power over itself.  An objector can claim that masses get carried away with popular passions, disposing of prudence and sober reason due to demagoguery or  the influence of money in politics or some other reason. I do not find such an argument convincing. To such objectors, I argue that If as Canadians we trust ourselves enough to give up natural rights and select our government while still believing in the legitimacy of our government, why not trust ourselves to go one step further and decide the fate of our own major policies?

A third argument I can see raised against increased referendum is that rather than believing the public can adequately rule over itself without “enlightened” representatives,  Canadians would not care enough to actually vote in such resolutions—referendum results would be wildly unrepresentative. First, even if this is true, then the same arguments van apply to our elected governing bodies. Why even hold general elections? Second, most Canadians simply believe our political system is unrepresentative, and could be spurred to democratic action if they felt voting could amount to something substantial. Rather than shouting at the apathetic that every election is important and every vote counts (which are tired lines at this point and do little to help the problem) we can get them directly involved with our nation’s policy making and major decision-making.

Aside from the obvious benefit of making our policies more representative, there are spinoff benefits. MPs might be more inclined to advocate policies on conscience rather than with party if their vote will be in the general election with thirty million others rather than in a body of three hundred. Important policy will be highlighted in the media as voters prepare to decide whether or not to kill the legislation. Citizens will become better informed of the happenings of their government. Citizens will start scrutinizing, deliberating, philosophizing, talking and debating amongst each other. The country will become more democratic which is always a step in the right direction.

I believe in the wisdom of the people. Call me a hopeless optimist, but more often than not, the inherent goodness of people outweighs utilitarian or greedy potential gains. The will of the people is not perfect and can be confused; however, more often than not, the public demonstrates its good judgement. We can and should trust ourselves. It is our Government after all, we ought to start acting like it.


Conservative Transparancy Now Scientifically Proven to be a Joke

51st place isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. The 51st wealthiest person in the world, or the 51st smartest are blessed to be so lucky. It’s a placement they can be proud of.

When your country is ranked 51st on any list, it is unlikely to be a source of such national pride, especially when the ranking deals with freedom of information. Yet, that is where Canada stands, behind traditional openness powerhouses like Colombia and Niger.

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Bev Oda Waves to Responsible Government | iPOLITICS/Kyle Hamilton

 

The Canadian government, its departments and agencies are given requests for information, which cost $5, and are supposed to respond within 30 days. Unfortunately if the information is ever released by said departments, it is typically done after several months.

While other countries have updated their access to information procedures, Canadian Government acts, predictably, in a shroud of opaqueness. Mr. Harper’s Conservatives have made no effort to adopt transparency in their Government. From countless muzzled scientists and environmentalists, the stifled debate in the House of Commons, the secrecy behind the F-35 transfers, the 400-page omnibus bills, cutting Elections Canada’s budget during the robocall scandal, there is a litany of abuses to Canadian trust by the current Government.

Canadians not simply in virtue of the fact that they pay high salaries and expenses to their elected officials, but intrinsically because they are citizens of the best country in the world ought to expect, and receive, better from their Government then $16 glasses of orange juice and helicopter rides. For every one policy the Conservatives have put out that I found myself in agreement with (Employment Insurance Reform, elimination of “Second Chance” Deportation for convicted criminals) there are endless abuses on the trust of the country that turn any commendation I was willing to heap on our Prime Minister into condemnation.

I am proud to be a Canadian, but this ranking fills my being with shame. Mostly it is shame for the apathetic Canadians that couldn’t be bothered to care about such a monstrous atrocity in our politics. These are the Canadians we are friends with, the ones we work with, study with and perhaps even live with.

Michael Ignatieff (quoting Bruce Springsteen) told Canadians that after suffering through Mr. Harper’s constant attacks on democracy, and his brutal insincere brand of politics it was high time for the country to “Rise up”. I care exactly enough to do so.

I desire transparency in government, and 51st is not good enough for me. I think Canadians deserve more out of our government, one that is accountable and open at the very least. If we ask for change then we ought to put forward new ideas, rather than simple condemnation of the other side. For starters, a much needed update to the access-to-information process currently in place would be a welcome start to an era of Canadian Governmental transparency. Letting your citizens know where their tax dollars seems like a good place to start.

So, as it turns out placing in 51st  for national transparency isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s a call to action.


Free Riders and Dire Needers

Breaking news: bad jobs exist.

In a classic case of Conservatives boiling down an issue to a wide-sweeping preposterous claim, Jim Flaherty claimed that “there is no bad job”. Yikes

Flaherty is proposing reforms to the Employment Insurance program, making it harder for Canadians to remain on the program for long periods. The Canadian Government has committed to redefining what should be considered “appropriate work” when unemployed citizens claiming EI are mulling a new career, which, in all likelihood, means finding skilled workers lower paying work.

I believe the reform motivation stems from an attempt to curb the amount of Canadians who would rather collect government payouts than work an honest forty hour work week. The NDP finance critic Peggy Nash, has countered that workers will be squandering their skills in entry-level work, envisioning journalists and teachers working at Tim Hortons if they found themselves in need of employment insurance.

As sympathetic as Nash’s arguments make me feel, Michael Den Tandt does a great job of dispelling them and as a bonus, explains why EI reform is so direly needed, specifically for seasonal workers who make a tidy salary for half the year, then collect employment insurance when such jobs reach their annual conclusion, providing a supplementary income for effectively waiting for their work to begin again. I feel that this is taking advantage of a well-meaning system. It is, I argue, an abuse of the system

I believe that employment insurance ought to be treated like healthcare: there for Canadians, but only when they actually need it. It is unfair to ask hardworking honest Canadians to pay into a system that is being abused by those who could be working, but would rather wait for their seasonal work to return, or for a job they consider to be “suitable”.

Life, as it happens, is not perfect. People get laid off, recessions occur, debt can force someone who cannot find work to ask Canadians for temporary help.. Not everyone has been gifted with parental or personal connections, or happenstance that gets them a good job. This is where EI comes in. I have met hard workers, and even they acknowledge that everyone needs a hand when unavoidable realities of life occur. The difference, is when you get knocked down, will you ask someone to help pick you up, or will you stay down and demand a piggy back ride for the next few months. It’s the difference between the unfortunate and the free riders, and while they are not mutually exclusive, at some point, after riding EI coattails for months or years, an unfortunate person is simply abusing a system created for those that need it.

I also think its important to note that one will ever be forced to work. The idea that engineers will somehow be forced to work at a fast-food drive-thru is an exaggeration. Legally, no one can be forced to work anywhere. The idea is that if someone is going to claim employment insurance, they ought to be actively trying to contribute to society. Those that feel as though they are “above” a certain job, perhaps should think about being “above” a government stipend as well.

There is a deeper philosophical question underlying EI reform that ought to be considered: what do we as a collective body politic owe members of our society who have not had the personal connections or luck to find work that meets their specifications? Some kind of help, certainly, it helps the economy to have skilled workers work in skilled occupations,so long as their absence from work is not prolonged; however governments should not baby their citizens, providing an allowance for an indefinite period until they find a job they like. It is a difficult question to give a succinct answer to, but it is a question well worth pondering as the debates over employment insurance begin to pick up steam.


Wildrose Modernization of Democracy

The majority of Albertans are finding themselves dissatisfied with a Redford government they see as wasteful and bulky, and are savouring the opportunity for change. The last time citizens were upset to this degree with the Progressive Conservatives, they seriously considered a Liberal government in 1993, boosting the Grit seat count from eight to thirty-two, and the vote share from 28% to 40%.

Smith is Looking at a Big Win | Source: Chris Bolin, Globe and Mail

Instead of looking left, this year Albertan conservatives have found an alternative to the right of Redford’s PCs: The Wildrose Party. In most ways the two parties have the markings of the Steven Harper center-right populist package. In other ways, however, the Wildrose pose a serious threat to the social welfare net in the province. Danielle Smith recently asserted that climate change may not actually be occurring, she has candidates alleging that homosexuals will be burning in hell for eternity, and has flirted with pulling out of the Canadian public pension plan.

I would rather see an Alberta Party or Alberta Liberal government, but the reality is that Alberta is likely to welcome Danielle Smith as their next premier. Aside from the negative baggage she will bring with her to Edmonton, there are certain benefits that accompany a fresh breath in politics, and I think four are especially worth noting:

  • First, Smith is campaigning on allowing her caucus to vote however they please on apparently everything, including confidence motions that could topple her government. If there is anything I hate more than blind partisanship, it is forced partisanship. At every political level in Canada, an elected official either votes with their party or no longer belongs to the party. Smith is seemingly open to allowing her caucus vote as an Albertan, rather than as a Wildrose caucus member.
  • Second, Smith has called for fixed election dates. As it stands now, the Government of the day can decide when to call an election. This gives an unfair edge to the Government, allowing them to decide when the most advantageous time to call an election is. This evens the playing field, granting equal preparation time for every party in advance of an election, while making sure the Government doesn’t stall until more fortuitous poll numbers come their way.
  • Third, and most controversial, citizen referendum. In order to force a referendum on any issue, the sponsors would need half a million Albertans to sign a petition, then find half the province willing to vote in favour. Most worries about the referendum center around divisive issues like invalidating gay marriage and delisting abortion. Both are protected by the charter, but even if they somehow were not, I have faith at least half of Alberta supports gay marriages and a woman’s right to choose. The Wildrose leader, I might add, is on record as favouring both. What this does is allow citizens to recall measures (or MLAs) they do not agree with, and I am behind the intention of increasing democratic participation.
  • Finally, Smith has pledged to cut salaries of all elected members, and eliminate the bulk of the severance plan. The new plan would give retiring members exactly one-year of full pay, no more or less, ending the tradition of bloated severance packages, including $1-million that went to Ken Kowalski and Ed Stelmach. The Alberta Liberals, Alberta Party and NDP have also vowed to roll back pay, the Liberals going so far to argue for the elimination of some of the 87 MLA posts, something I would call “a no brainer”.

Smith is likely to be the next premier, and if she is, Albertans must keep her honest in regards to improving their democracy. I hope the Wildrose serves as a model to other provinces as to how proper politics works. The emphasis, of course, is on hope.

A blooming wildrose | Source: http://www.pictureworldbd.com


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