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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trans Mountain Pipeline: Politics With a Purpose

Can We Build and Operate a Sustainable Pipeline?
I am very much in favour of the Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline project.  As an Albertan, and therefore the owner of the natural resources it will transport, I acknowledge the special benefits as well as the concurrent burden associated with it.

To me this project should be a prototype for an integrated, comprehensive Triple-Bottom-Line approach a promote as part of an Alberta Party governance and evidence based decision-making model.  Triple Bottom Line comprehensive approaches include considerations for people, the planet and people concerns in any public policy decision.  The integrated aspect is best summarized as "All things considered, consider all things." 

Hard Choices to be Made
Governance is said to be about making "hard choice."  That includes priority setting and values trade-offs.  In this policy setting approach a policy a project may be driven by economics, like TransMountain.  However in the project analysis as to what should be the policy priority, the economics may dominate but they should not trump to the point where the environmental and social concerns are dismissed as irrelevant.

Hard policy choices by government is where our elected representative set policy priorities,determine the values trade-offs and advise the public, a.k.a. citizens, of their decisions and how they came to them.  We need to be aware of and accepting the consequences of such trade-offs with prior and fully-informed consent of society as well as indigenous peoples through our Treaty obligations.  Such acceptance must be with an on-going goal of anticipating and detecting, preventing and correcting ignorance and error on a continuous basis.

Albertans, as resource owners, must be assured this project is not just economically viable, that conclusion is unassailable, yet it could be even better.  Getting bitumen to domestic tidewater will get a much better market price, reduce market vulnerability by diversifying our market which is now 99% American, and provide good high paying jobs.

Pipeline economics however are like water is to soup, necessary but insufficient.  We need to be sure this project provides social benefits, especially to those indigenous communities in it's path.  We need to be sure that taxes that are levied are collected and not avoided by off-shore shenanigans we have discovered through the Panama Papers.

We also need to be vigilant and capable of dealing with ecological consequences of the pipeline operations.  Yes pipelines are the safest way to transport hydrocarbons, but are they a safe as they could be?  We need a new standard of continuous innovative technology adoption where industrial operations  are concerned as related to the environment.  This will make operations responsible, sustainable and productive in a full life cycle approach.

Politics With a Purpose
There are partisan politics around this project but it is more of a larger public policy concern that who is wining the court of public opinion battle.  So lets get beyond the "He said; She Said" of left vs right politics as usual.  Progressive Albertans can get more informed, take some positive action and help to make this project the best it can be, now and in the future.

Here is a link to an excellent Government of Alberta website that is key to helping Albertans to achieve those ends.  I encourage all progressive Albertans and especially Alberta Party members, friends and family to take this pipeline project to heart and help out.




Friday, February 16, 2018

Looking at the Alberta Party Leadership

A New Day and a New Way?  With the retirement of Greg Clark as leader, there are four phases to the leadership change process within Alberta Party.  First was to find quality and committed candidates.  Done!  Membership sales was next phase that closed on February 12.  Done! Now the candidates have to get out there votes and persuade others members to support them for the end of February voting. In progress!

The final phase will be for the new leader to get to work.  That is true for the other candidates, the sitting MLAs and the Board to grow the Party, recruit candidates and  raise some cash for the next election and get focused to contest a by-election in the meantime.  Next Steps!

The Alberta Party members will be deliberating on who they will support for Leadership and why. Ideally they will be sharing their thoughts with friends and family and through their social and professional networks.  Raising the profile of the Party is only worthwhile if it raises support and participation in the next election.

When looking at deciding  who should be the new Alberta Party leader. I am looking at what should be the go-forward leadership qualities, focus and capabilities. for the benefit of the Party My lens is about what the Alberta Party needs now to be successful in these times of change, uncertainty, pressing stewardship obligations, social cohesion needs and economic challenges.

Welcome to Uncertainty and Volatility. The Alberta Party has had a number of false starts at gaining traction and momentum since I became involved in 2009 and manged the Glenn Taylor Leadership Campaign.  What is past is definitely not a prelude for what is needed today.  The past  is not much of a factor in helping members to decide the criteria they must apply for selecting the next leader of the Alberta Party and promoting it's future.

This is a new day in Alberta's political culture, especially given the electoral rejection of the PC dynasty and the coagulation of Reform-based social conservatives into the Kenney lead UCP.  The the dramatic rise of the NDP from a 2 seat No Party Status in 2009 (when the Alberta Party started) to a 54 seat majority government by 2015.  Volatility is the new normal in Alberta's political culture and anything could happen.

So what can and should  the Alberta Party expect to achieve based on the three leadership candidate options?  Quite a bit I would suggest.  If I have my druthers I would like a leader that had the combined strengths of each candidate all rolled into one.  That, unfortunately, is not reality.  My list of Alberta Party leadership needs is based on what it will take to become a viable political alternative, capable of forming government and worthy of earning the public's trust.

Here is what I see as the strengths of each candidate, as applied to the needs of the Alberta Party today, and in no order of priority:

Organization.  We need a leader who can recruit quality, capable and committed candidates.  Those candidates must be loyal to a set of inclusive and comprehensive progressive principles, and not beholden to a party leader.  That means the leader must be capable of creating a strong local presence throughout the province that results in viable, active and effective constituency organizations. That requires a leaders with a province-wide network and the ability to be forthright with potential candidates about the realities of political life.  Stephen Mandel has the best capacity to offer that in my opinion.

Articulate an Albertan Progressive Vision.  The failure of left versus right hyper-partisan policy options is bemoaned but what is the alternative?  The Alberta Party leader must be able to position the party clearly as the progressive centrists option with pragmatic policy offerings.  That policy approach must be based on an aspirational pragmatism with an inclusive, integrated Triple-Bottom-Line governance approach that sees government as force for achieving a greater good.

The "vision thing" is best articulated with a common touch and a forthright candor about Alberta's challenges, limitations, weaknesses and threats.  What must we do to realizing our potential as people, communities, businesses and as a province.  On this criteria I see Rick Fraser  sense of the province today and aspirations for the future as the best carrier of that flame for the Alberta Party.

Future Focus and Forthrightness. The province is changing in so many ways and at an unprecedented accelerated basis.  We need to get serious about Alberta coming to grips with the realities of a post-fossil fuel future. We need fresh 21st century thinking and ideas to be able to adapt to the new technologies and adopt the many available productivity innovations to secure our continuing economic prosperity.

We need to be forthright about our ecological stewardship obligations and quick enough to find the clean-tech and other business opportunities within those challenges.  We need inclusive secular public policy approaches that fosters social cohesion and enables more well-being, especially for vulnerable citizens.  Leaving debts and environmental clean up and reclamation obligations to future generations because we refuse to be responsible in raising government revenues to pay our way today is not acceptable.  I believe Kara Levis has the courage and intelligence and has best sense of differentiating the Alberta Party to have the hard conversations of pressing and pending realities.

Citizenship and Democratic Engagement.  Many Albertans have become very disengaged from the political culture of the province.  As a result we run the risk of forfeiting political power to  active extremists.  We can see the consequences of this in American politics under President Trump. Encouraging and enabling  informed citizenship to engage on issues of importance to them and thereby increasing voter participation is key to a vibrant, effective and representative democracy must be a goal for every Alberta Party member, regardless of who is the leader.

Encouraging more effective progressive citizen political involvement, including social media literacy, must be part of an Alberta Party approach to out political culture.  We must do more to ensure Albertans have the skills needed to thrive the new reality of disruptive technologies including their impact on our democratic institutions.  Engaging the disengaged, especially women and youth, in Alberta's political culture  is key to any on-going Alberta Party success.

In conclusion....... This is not an exhaustive list of reasons to support one candidate or another.   It is an effort to get Alberta Party members, and Albertans, to think past the horse-race approach of who is winning or losing, so common in political leadership contests.  We also don't need to get caught up in the superficial personality assessments all too often applied to leadership selection.  This Alberta Party leadership campaign is more akin to the Bruce Mau challenge in his book Massive Change when he said: "Now that we can do anything, what will we do?"

I am not endorsing any candidate directly and this post should not be interpreted as an indirect endorsement of any candidate either.  I am still undecided at this time.  All I ask is that Alberta Party members vote on the basis of what is best for the Alberta Party so it can be the best for Alberta.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Is There New Political Compass Emerging in Alberta?


What is the New Political Compass?
The concept of a New Political Compass, one that moves beyond the linear spectrum of Left vs Right was introduced in 2008 by Dr. Paul Ray, the co-author of "The Cultural Creatives."

The research this post references is based on American data but I think it translates well into the Alberta political culture.  We seem to be the part of Canada that is the most akin to and influenced by our relationships to the USA, especially in our oil and gas industry.

Dr. Ray's premise is that political culture in the States is no longer a horizontal  binary model of left-right options.  Rather we are experiencing a more complex east vs west and north vs south set of "compass" points to delineate our political culture evolution.  This richer redefinition of what values people stand for frees us from the overly simplistic labeling of someone as either left or right,,,or even centrist, seen as some form of mushy middle compromise.

The old left vs right political culture model is too rigid as it over-simplifies our complex political culture and hampers the effective performance of our institutions from political parties to election reforms.  Left vs Right sets up adversarial politics and offers citizens few practical options.  It also seems to encourage and attract more extreme views, on either end of the spectrum.  The extremes on the left and right use propaganda to crowd out the systems and design thinking necessary to deal with complex public policy issues and options.

Is There a New Political Compass in Alberta?
The majority of Albertans are in the "centre" of the Left vs Right spectrum and also believe the current political model fails to speak for them.  The left and right party activists work hard to frame and label the other side as some extremist political from Communist/Socialist or Libertarian/Anarchist.  We saw this in 2016 Primaries where the Republicans stirred up their base by challenging Hillary Clinton as an establishment elitists, and calling Bernie Sanders a "socialist" regardless that he identified himself as such.

In the Alberta political context this effort to label the other as extreme is alive and well.  The UCP messages the NDP as collectivists and socialist, union-friendly and therefore a threat to growth and economic prosperity.  The NDP pushes the impression that the UCP is economically Republican-lite as business conservatives, and Tea-Party type socially conservatives.  The BCNDP government is the most obvious example of using propaganda to push extreme positions.  Social conservatism in Alberta is mostly elderly and dying off due to simple demographics.  The aggressive Eco-activist leftists are also losing influence seeing fewer people identifying with them and that trend is anticipated to continue.

The majority of Albertans identify as progressives but in the "mushy middle" sense of that concept.  The "centre" has not been effectively defined in Alberta's political culture so it really doesn't communicate anything meaningful to those who want to see an integrated holistic political approach. They see their current options as between a plutocracy where big business makes the rules and exercises economic controls are used mostly for the benefit of the rich, or a collectivism that is seen as stifling innovation and hindering changes for more productivity and growth.

Is Alberta Ready for a Different Political Movement?
The old political model is a failure by any metric.  Voter turn out is chronically low, confidence and participation in political parties is almost non-existent and trust in our democratic institutions, media, politicians and parties is low and declining.   The content and compliant so-called Alberta centrist is politically alienated, disengaged and consequently ignorant about who to vote for...so they don't.  As a result the election results are far from optimal in their opinions and that reinforces the alienation and disengagement.

The New Political Compass research by Paul Ray uncovered a new sense of citizenship, the so-called "New Progressive."  They are not so much a bunch of mushy middling but more at "right-angles" to the socialist left or social conservative right and they are also very opposed to political control by big business.  The American expression of this is the rise of the Independents who are not opting for the Democrats or Republicans, with some efforts to form a third political party  Is the Alberta Party the potential provincial equivalent of the rise of Independents in America and the emergence of the "third party" evolution?

The New Progressives, according to the American research, are aligned with the values of the Cultural Creatives, more likely to volunteer, donate to charity, engaged in social justice movements and want to change the culture more than the rest of society.  They are in the front of some big issues from climate change to women's concerns.

The  American research shows the New Progressives are 36% of the population and estimated to be 45% of those likely to vote.  Are those the new Alberta Party supporters?  The "Longing for the Old Ways Cultural Conservatives, the Alberta Social Conservative UCP Rebel Media viewer types, are 19% of Americans and 22% of likely voters.

The "Stand Pat of the Left Modernists and New Deal Liberals" are 12% of Americans and 15% of likely voters.  Is that equivalent of the traditional NDP supporter?  There are 14% of American who identify as "Profits Over Planet and People, Business Conservatives and the Establishment Right" with 19% of the likely voters.  That is the equivalent of the Calgary Belt-line big energy tower-dwellers, Canadian Federation of Independent Business members and Fraser Institute fans.  Then there are 20% in the nexus of all this who feel alienated and ignored and not likely to engage or change.

Will the Alberta Party Be the Gathering Place for New Progressives?
The core question for the New Progressives, and especially in Alberta, is will they mobilize under a single banner like the Alberta Party, as a big political tent, like the Lougheed Progressive Conservatives did, and become a dominant political force?  Alberta is into a time of transformation and we are seeing a change in many of our institutions, including political institutions.  They are in dire need of repair or replacement but potentially driven by a desire for a re-enlightenment and a new progressive social contract.

We Albertans have lots of potential but not if we don't change from the status quo.  The tired stale-dated unimaginative return to the Alberta Advantage of the United Conservative Party is the exact wrong way to go.  We need to define a new Alberta Aspiration that looks beyond the superficial competitive framing of "Being the Best in the World" and stretch our New Progressive vision ino "Being the Best for the World."

That means we need to learn how to create, innovate, adapt and design our way forward as a movement dedicated to practical progressive political policies.  Otherwise the writing is on the wall and Alberta is destined to decline and be a disappointment economically, ecologically, socially and politically.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

What Do We Do Now?

The Political Paradox that is Alberta

The political paradox for Alberta is that, while we have had majority governments since 1971 we have had unstable governance since about 2004.  In that election year Ralph Klein kept a majority government but was loosing popular support.  He gave up 12 seats that election, mostly in the Edmonton region.

The End of King Ralph
The Progressive Conservative 2004 election message to citizens on the doorsteps was this would be Ralph's last election and he would be retiring.  After the election Ralph mussed about staying on as party leader.  The PC rank and file membership sent him a strong message in the end of March 2006 leadership review vote at the AGM.   Klein went from a typical 90% public and party approval rating to essentially a vote of non-confidence where he eked  out a slim majority in the leadership review vote.  Ralph was pushed out by the party members and a leadership campaign began.

One Person One Vote & Open PC Party Memberships 
By October 2006 eight candidates were in the running, including  (irony alert)  Lyle Oberg.  This Minister had been fired from Cabinet and suspended from the PC Caucus on March 22, before the dump Ralph party vote but ran for the leadership anyway.  Long-shot Ed Stelmach lead on preferential vote system by less that 500 votes but was the overwhelming second choice and beat the establishment candidate Jim Dinning by more than 12,000 votes in the end.

Stelmach
The three front runners, in perceived order of power, were Jim Dinning. Ted Morton and Ed Stelmach.  Dinning had support of 38 caucus member and three federal Conservatives.  Stelmach had 13 caucus member's on the first ballot and 6 more on the second.  Ted Morton, really a federal Reform Party and Canadian Alliance party member had one caucus member support him but the strong Reform Party grassroots machine to sell memberships.

Since May 27, 2011 the day Ed Stelmach resigned, and March 18, 2017, when Rachel Notley was elected, Alberta has had 6 Premiers.  All had majority governments but they hardly evidenced anything approximating certainty and stability in governance.

Redford
When Redford won the contest she, like Stelmach, came from behind and up the middle to win.  The contest was seen to be between an urban establishment candidate, Gary Mar, a rural establishment candidate, Doug Horner and, yet again, Ted Morton.  Mar held an impressive 41% of the first ballot vote.  Redford was a surprisingly in second place at 18.74% and Horner was a disappointing third with 14.55%.  Ted Morton was never really in this contest but garnered  11.73% for 4th place and was eliminated.

Redford was over 13,000 votes behind on the first ballot but won by a mere 1600 votes with overwhelming second ballot support.  She had only 1 caucus member supporting here on the first ballot and 5 more joined her for the second go round. whereas Gary Mar had 27 caucus member supporting him and 7 more came over on the second ballot.  Mar had been out of politics from 2007 representing the province in Washington D.C.  The rural establishment candidate Doug Horner had 14 caucus members behind him.

With such low caucus support and the influence of outsider "instant Tories" who bought PC memberships only to vote in the leadership, Redford had no clout as leader.  Her disappointing style and narcissistic style and overt sense of entitlement destroyed her leadership and she resigned on March 19, 2014 and gave up her seat in August 2014.

Prentice  & the Final Acts of the PC Passion Play
Dave Hancock was the unanimous caucus choice for interim leader until Jim Prentice won on September 6 2014 with the first ballot total of almost 18,000 votes while his combined opposition only garnered 5400 between them.  Prentice called an earl;y election for May 5, 2015, ignoring the PC's much vaunted fixed election law.  He lost badly to Rachel Notley and the NDP and resigned his seat even before this own riding results were counted.

Kenney Comes to  Alberta and the UCP is Born
For some inexplicable reason, Harper's political acolyte, Jason Kenney passed on he federal Conservative party leadership and moved in on the provincial Progressive Conservative Party leadership.  He was out to Unite the Right by purging the progressives from the PC party, taking it over as a conservative rump then consolidating with the Wildrose Party into a new "true" conservative party that he would lead to defeat the socialist NDP.  And he did with the political death of the PCAA, the Wildrose and the birth of the United Conservative Party.

On March 18, 2017 Kenney won the PCAA leadership on the first ballot with 1,113 supporters and 75.5% of the 1,476 total votes cast.  The other two candidates ran to keep the PCAA and rebuild it but to no avail.

In late July 2017 the PCAA and Wildrose membership held votes on forming the United Conservative Party.  IN both cases the decision was profound.

There was a turnout of 25,000 Wildrose members, representing 57% of total members  They overwhelming accepted the UCP option at 95.4%.  No one knows where the other 43% of Wildrose members stood on this because there was no comments from them at all.

The Progressive Conservative party had over 27,000 members participate and voted 95% in favour of the new united party.  That was a 55% turnout, again little if anything was heard from the 45% of PCAA members who stayed away from the unity vote.

A mere seven months later, on October 28, 2017, Kenney again won the UCP leadership on the first ballot with 61% leaving Brian Jean, the Wildrose candidate at 31.5, with the token progressive Doug Schweitzer at a mere 7.3% support.  Since then Messrs. Jean and Schweitzer have hardly been seen or heard of as Kenney purges the Brian Jean supporters from party operations, as he did with progressives in the PCAA.  He consolidates his power and turns the UCP into the KenneyCons.

Leadership Volatility Not Over Yet.
Every political Party in Alberta has a turnover in leadership.  Notley became NDP leader in October 2014 and lead them to majority government in May on 2015.

The Alberta Liberals elected David Khan as leader on June 5, 2017.  The Alberta Greens chose Romy Tittel as leader on November 4, 2017.

Greg Clark became Alberta Party leader in 2013 and was the longest serving party leader until he recently resigned.  He now leaves Notley as the longest serving provincial party leader at 3 years and 3 months at the time of writing.  The next rookie leader will be the Alberta Party who will take office on Feb 28th.

What Do We Do Now?
This brief  history Alberta's political leadership shows how we got to where we are today.  It illustrates just how volatile our political culture is and how the partisan fortunes and forces are shifting.  Notwithstanding perpetual majority governments political volatility is likely to continue into and through the next election.

Will it result in a minority government or will Albertans sustain the support for the NDP majority?  Are the unscientific political polls right and is the province about to shift to the ultra-right to a UCP majority?   Next post I will lay out some scenarios and speculate on what I think will happen...or at least could happen...and why.

Subscribe?
.  You might want to subscribe to this blog to get notice of new posts.  I will be doing a series of posts on Alberta politics beyond the horse race analysis. However I will do some analysis on the skills and policy positions of the three Alberta Party Candidates and share my views on what they bring to Alberta politics and the fortunes of the Alberta Party itself.

I will delve more into what the Alberta Aspiration should be and what we need to change so we can adapt and reach our potential.  I will explore the dangers of tired old-thinking mindset of those who say we should return to the antediluvian Alberta Advantage.  I will look at the risks associated with  the adversarial ideological left versus right bipolar politics we have today.  I will try to offer ideas and options and reasons for moderate progressive citizens to rethink their reasons and responsibilities  for political participation.  Stay tuned and come along for the ride.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Why Are Alberta's Energy Sector Wages So High?

Alberta has the highest average weekly wages in Canada.  The Oil and Gas employees make twice what average industrial wages are in other sectors.  Here is a link to an ATB top line analysis on these facts.

The last 3 years in the energy sector has relied on a "new normal" mantra about commodity prices being "lower for longer." The more enlightened and revised sector mantra now is "lower forever."  Sure there are those who still believe that oil prices will rebound because "they always have."

Those who believe that the rebound is just around the corner are not adapting to the new reality and trying to hold on waiting for the rebound.  Even if they did rebound, the consequences would be for us to revert back to old wasteful, extravagant expectations, poor and unsafe work conditions and disastrously poor productivity results.

Oil trading at $100+ hide a lot of sins and left the energy sector and its supply chains in construction, manufacturing and logistics with well founded reputation as expensive, poor quality, questionable reliability, rigid attitudes, dangerous safety records and noncompetitive from an international investment perspective.

The dramatic drop ion oil prices from $100+ to around $50 forced cost cutting and recalibrating the commercial relationships between energy customers and suppliers all the way through the system.  Lots of companies with band balance sheets and mediocre management have gone under...as they should in a free market economy.

There were also serious layoffs in the oil sands energy sector developers and operators as new projects were deferred, delayed and abandoned.  This was particularly in the higher paying professional ranks and repeated in very well paid contractors conventional energy service providers.

While supply and services cost have come down throughout the full range of energy sector operators, the much higher than average wages of sector workers has not come down.  New initiatives are underway in progressive companies for improved productivity, adopting innovations and automation, expanding workforce skills and competencies and many more process improvements.

According to the ATB analysis, this seems to mean energy sector wages are staying high, perhaps because of the productivity improvements and innovations, not as many workers are needed any more.  This is a difficult and harsh reality for many previously highly paid but laid-off wage earners.  These less agile, less adaptive, less skilled, and now, a less required part of the emerging workforce, that the KenneyCons propaganda is courting for support.  They are doing this by political messaging and manipulation by blaming their plight on the current government instead of working to help them adapt to the new normal of lower forever.

If these unemployed energy sector workers are waiting for prices to bounce back and presuming they will go back to the same old wasteful unproductive workplace culture of the past, they are likely to to be very disappointed.  Concurrently they may find very little sympathy from other wage earners  in comparable industrial sector jobs who have had flat and stagnant wages for years.  They have not benefited from the booms of the past, and in fact has suffered from them in many ways.

And this doesn't even come close to dealing with the even more severe income gap between the energy sector haves in Alberta and the working poor or struggling middle-class in the rest of the economy who are the have-nots.