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Alberta

Alberta is “under new management”

Man I really hope that makes it’s way onto the official Alberta letterhead

“As of this moment, Alberta is under new management,” Prentice told party members and reporters who gathered at Government House for the ceremony.

I’d even put “under new management” on signs entering into Alberta.

Here are some other new cabinet ministers

“Building a new government means bringing in new blood,” Prentice said. “Both are strong and experienced leaders with a record of accomplishment. Across our province, they are both held in high regard. They will begin work immediately in their new portfolios.”

Prentice said Mandel has a strong record of public service as the former mayor of Edmonton and is ready to tackle the issues facing Alberta’s health-care system. Dirks is a former school board trustee and has served as chair of the troubled Calgary Board of Education.

“Both of these ministers are people of achievement,” Prentice said. He brushed off concerns that appointing unelected cabinet ministers would cause tension in his caucus. “They are exactly the kind of sharp and disciplined minds we want working on behalf of Albertans.”

Prentice said he will prorogue the legislature ahead of the byelections, but insists it will be brought back in time to preserve the same number of sitting days as originally planned.

I think if you are in the Progressive Conservative caucus and you aren’t in caucus, you are probably muttering under your breath to see outsiders named to the cabinet table but at the same time, you also have to realize that you really need to change the reputation of your brand or you will find yourself either in very crowded opposition offices or trying to adjust to like back in the private sector.

Jim Prentice may be an upgrade to the debacle that Alison Redford made of the Progressive Conservative Party but there needs to more than a new leader elected.  He needs to put a new look and feel on that government.

After Cold Lake soldier caught busking to make ends meet, viability of military pay in booming ‘little Fort McMurray’ called into question

Lower ranked soldiers struggle to pay rent in Cold Lake

“A lot of oil patch people will call Cold Lake ‘little Fort McMurray,’” said the town’s mayor, Craig Copeland.

“Rent in Cold Lake has gone up from five years ago. You used to be able to get a two-bedroom apartment around $1,000 to $1,200 a month and now, because of the latest boom in the oil patch, in the last year and a half or so … rent has really shot up. Now two-bedroom apartments, good ones, are going for between $1,800 to $2,200.”

About a decade ago, the military stopped subsidizing its on-base housing. Instead, they began to charge the local market rate for rents. In order to maintain a “nationally consistent process,” the military calculates the rents in Ottawa using Canadian Mortgage Housing Corporation data.

That process isn’t forgiving to soldiers who live in remote towns struck by oil wealth.

“A normal person would look at this story, see a house built in the ‘50s and ask ‘Why in the world are you charging market rate rents for these people? They work for you? Why do we need to gouge them on the rent?’” said the mayor.

Fearing backlash, few soldiers were willing to speak candidly about the situation. Christine, a soldier’s wife with three young children, said even spouses are too concerned to complain publicly.

“We get crap living conditions,” she said. “Every year my husband gets a raise and our rent goes up. It doesn’t matter.”

After almost two years on the base, she said her husband’s paycheque of about $58,000 is not covering basic expenses.

“Our paycheques do not pay our day-to-day living. We were very lucky in the sense that when we came here, we had money saved up, but that’s all dwindled and we’ve been pulling out of our house-savings fund,” she said.

“There are no extra-curricular activities for the kids, we didn’t have birthday parties for the kids this year, we can’t afford it. Our quality of life is shot,” she said.

The mayor estimates 30% of the employees at CFB Cold Lake — many of them young soldiers with young families — have taken second jobs, like delivering pizzas.

A July report on economic conditions at the base from the Canadian Forces Ombudsman found 35% of one unit had taken on second jobs.

“It was to make ends meet,” said Alain Gauthier, the director-general of operations at the Ombudsman’s office.

In 2012, the ombudsman held four town hall meetings. He heard from military families who couldn’t pay Internet or phone bills, were dipping into their RRSPs and selling their belongings to cover the skyrocketing costs of rent and goods and services.

The report found that the average rent for a three-bedroom home on the base, $1,032, was about double the cost of identical accommodations in Quebec and Nova Scotia.

To add insult to injury, of the 854 homes on the base, almost 97% of them were listed in either poor or fair condition. The report noted that most of the homes have asbestos in the insulation, and many have problems with the electrical outlets and water lines.

So let me get this straight.  Soldiers in the Canadian Army and Royal Canadian Air Force can be ordered to give up their lives defending our way of life and for the privilege of doing that, they have to live in substandard housing AND take on part time jobs for the right to do so?

The end result?

Unsurprisingly, Cold Lake is registering high release rates as highly skilled soldiers find better-paying work in the labour-starved oil patch right next door.

According to the ombudsman, the release rate in Cold Lake is double the national average. Highly skilled military personnel are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate.

Christine said she had had that very conversation with her husband this week. If it means another three to four years of living in Cold Lake, she said, her family will leave the military.

“We can’t physically survive another three to four years here. We’re getting closer to debt every month and we don’t have snowmobiles or second vehicles. We don’t have anything,” she said.

I am pretty sure this isn’t just a Canadian problem.  Former General Norman Swatzkoff walked about U.S. soldiers in Europe having to use food banks to feed their families (especially when their wives could not work off the base) and substandard military housing has been a problem for years for most armed forces.  Yet it is disappointing that when you see the money that goes into weapons programs that we can’t figure out how to feed our troops and fairly compensate them based on their posting.  On top of that, Canadian soldiers can be punished for having too much debt or declaring bankruptcy.  Putting them into that situation where debt and having to live off of saving is unacceptable.

For the record, I also agree with those voices in the story that say that the soldier should be disciplined for using his helmet and mention himself being in the service while busking.  Mentioning his military service and using military equipment showed very poor judgement.

Silencing Scientists

An editorial in the New York Times this weekend

Over the last few years, the government of Canada — led by Stephen Harper — has made it harder and harder for publicly financed scientists to communicate with the public and with other scientists.

It began badly enough in 2008 when scientists working for Environment Canada, the federal agency, were told to refer all queries to departmental communications officers. Now the government is doing all it can to monitor and restrict the flow of scientific information, especially concerning research into climate change, fisheries and anything to do with the Alberta tar sands — source of the diluted bitumen that would flow through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Journalists find themselves unable to reach government scientists; the scientists themselves have organized public protests.

There was trouble of this kind here in the George W. Bush years, when scientists were asked to toe the party line on climate policy and endangered species. But nothing came close to what is being done in Canada.

Science is the gathering of hypotheses and the endless testing of them. It involves checking and double-checking, self-criticism and a willingness to overturn even fundamental assumptions if they prove to be wrong. But none of this can happen without open communication among scientists. This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance.

It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences. The Harper policy seems designed to make sure that the tar sands project proceeds quietly, with no surprises, no bad news, no alarms from government scientists. To all the other kinds of pollution the tar sands will yield, we must now add another: the degradation of vital streams of research and information.

Nenshi: Calgary is being treated like a “farm team”

Proving that he can pick fights with all sorts of people, Mayor Nenshi wrote this in the Calgary Herald

Calgary has been accused of being a “bully” for trying to actually enforce our policies (based on the province’s own Water for Life strategy) for responsible water development.

The best example of this occurred in 2011 when the City was asked to provide water and water servicing for a large industrial development outside the city, in Rocky View County. This is precisely the kind of development the Plan envisions, but since the County has not signed onto the Plan, the City’s policy doesn’t allow for it.

But the province, without telling anyone, decided to pay for the water connection itself. The details are unclear, as the province has never publicly released them, but it’s almost certainly true that their solution cost taxpayers millions of dollars more than if they had legislated the Plan, and it’s not at all certain they will ever be able to recoup the cost.

Last week, the Premier met with the council of the Municipal District of Foot-hills (another of the holdouts), and was quoted in the local paper saying that she would not “force” the MD into the Plan (meaning she would not legislate the plan). She also implied that she is not sure the Plan is needed at all. The same day, her Minister backpedalled furiously, saying the Premier’s words did not represent government policy, that the decision was his to make, and that he would continue working to a resolution.

You might forgive me for being a little confused.

What I am not confused about is that the future prosperity of this city is the future prosperity of this province.

Treating the City government as the farm team in this relationship and managing important files as cavalierly as this is not good for Calgary, and it’s certainly not good for Alberta.

It’s weird seeing a mayor take this approach to government relations.  You see it with the provinces and the feds all of the time but rarely with cities and their province (Toronto would be the only other city that plays hardball with the province).  In Saskatoon former mayoral candidate was mocked for this desire to be more aggressive in asking the province for more.  We seem to have resigned ourselves to be reduced to thanking them for government handouts when they are so inclined.  Nenshi took a different approach and not only got his meeting with Premier Redford but also was offered mediation from the province.  

According to this column by Don Braid, there will be a political cost to pay.

Even as Mayor Naheed Nenshi was being invited to meet with the premier, provincial needling continued Thursday over the city charter.

The PCs don’t forgive readily, and they never forget.

Premier Alison Redford implied that Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel co-operates, and Nenshi doesn’t.

She said both Edmonton and Calgary city councils are satisfied with talks on the charter. So is Mandel.

By leaving out Nenshi, she suggests he’s the unreasonable renegade.

In an interview Thursday, the mayor said none of that’s true. He and Mandel agree on most points of the charter, he insists. Nor is he offside with his own council.

The mayor also points out, correctly, that he never called anybody names in this dispute.

He did say in a Herald op-ed piece that the province is fumbling civic issues and treating Calgary like a “farm team.”

Technically, he was only calling Calgary a name. But even that mild comment deeply irked the provincial types who, in recent years, have become almost fanatical about suppressing criticism from local municipalities and authorities.

In the midst of this dispute, Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Nenshi has “an election coming up; he’s going to puff up like a peacock and be tough.”

Answering a question Thursday, Griffiths said: “If there’s tension, it’s on his side. I don’t feel any tension.”

But the PCs do. They have ever since ex-mayor Dave Bronconnier scared the heck out of them 2007, when he accused then-premier Ed Stelmach of a “broken promise” over infrastructure funding.

Facing an election, the government had to back up. Bronco won that contest by a knockout. Everybody knew it — especially the provincials. They fumed, but didn’t forget.

During the 2008 election campaign, Jack Davis, then CEO of the old Calgary Health Region, declared a medical emergency and demanded extra funding from the government. Again the PCs were livid.

Within four months, the health regions were abolished.

There were many reasons for that decision; but one was the growing tendency of the health regions to speak up about local problems.

It will be interesting to see what this is going to cost Nenshi.

You are the cure

Great public awareness campaign and website from the Government of Alberta on the dangers of texting and driving.  I am amazed that despite the Saskatoon Police Service cracking down on it and the large fines that come along with it, many people I know text and use their phone while driving.  It’s not that hard to put your phone on vibrate, put it face down and ignore it when in the car.

FemaleBillboardjpg

Grant Devine 2.0?

It’s really odd to hear Alison Redford use the same rhetoric in Alberta that Grant Devine did in Saskatchewan during the late 80s.

In a series of interviews following her televised address to the province Thursday night, Redford said that she wanted Albertans to understand that the province should no longer rely on its resource wealth to balance its books, pointing to a $6-billion “bitumen bubble” that will cut the province’s anticipated resource revenue almost by half in 2013-14 fiscal year.

“We can no longer continue to rely on oil and gas for 30 per cent of our revenue,” Redford said Friday. “It’s a fundamental change. It’s the sort of thing a province has to deal with, I think, once in a generation, and this is our opportunity to do it this year.”

The provincial government has received plenty of advice in recent years urging it to wean itself off a practice of using resource royalties to balance its books.

The Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy, a panel of experts established by Premier Ed Stelmach, tabled a report in May 2011 that asked Alberta to divert non-renewable resource revenue instead into a new “shaping the future” fund dedicated to helping diversify the province’s economy.

The council’s chairman, former federal cabinet minister David Emerson, said Friday it sounds like Redford is looking to make that kind of shift.

“She’s looking at establishing a new fiscal regime and that’s essentially what the premier’s economic strategy council was calling for: To stop treating non-renewable resource revenues as a form of operating revenue to be spent on, in effect, buying the groceries and to become more strategic separating natural resource assets,” Emerson said.

“If that’s the case, my congratulations,” he said.

But while Redford said Friday that a “different” budget will be forthcoming, she also said will not be a disruptive document. The government has already sent some signals about what some of those changes might look like, she said, pointing to the government’s plans to borrow to fully twin a 240-kilometre stretch of Highway 63.

“The Highway 63 announcement signalled to people that we’re going to think differently about long-term infrastructure plans,” Redford told The Canadian Press. “We’re going to finance that differently. We’re prepared to go out to capital markets and to really put out stellar fiscal reputation out there and ask people to invest in our province in some of our public infrastructure.”

As of right now, however, Redford said tax reform is not part of that financial restructuring.

Right now it looks like a lot of talk without the deep cuts and probably tax increases needed to bring the budget back in line.  

Mount Royal University political scientist Keith Brownsey said Redford needed to make a case for a fiscal crisis in her televised speech. She did that in a reasoned, effective manner, he said.

Such a statement was needed, he said, because Albertans thought financial problems were something that were a thing of the past because of its resource wealth.

“I think she prepped us for both cuts and tax increases,” Brownsey said. “Now, she may not have said that today, she may have said, ‘No taxes,’ but the current revenue structure in the province is unsustainable. We cannot exist as a modern industrial state living off of revenues from non-renewable natural resources. It’s simply too volatile.”

The truth is that Alberta spends money like no other province in the confederation.  Even during the Klein crisis, they spent more money than everyone else.  People talk of the deep cuts he made but ignore the fact that in Saskatchewan, the NDP made even deeper cuts (and had to raise taxes).  Whatever the solution is that it should be a combination of taxes and spending cuts and it is going to take a bit of time.  

I have no doubt that Redford is serious about making cuts (and who knows, she may even raise taxes) but when the oil prices go up, will they stay the course and remake the economy, especially when the opposition will be calling for restored spending and tax cuts (it’s always going to be like that).  I really hope she sticks with it because the oil and natural gas won’t be there forever.  I know the oil sands are a massive reserve but not all of that is recoverable and there is a point where it gets more too expensive to go after it.

If her hero Peter Lougheed brought in Alberta 2.0, then Alison Redford will need to be the one to bring in Alberta 3.0.  I hope it’s more than Devine era rhetoric.

David Suzuki on the Alberta Oil Sands

Alison Redford for Prime Minister?

Last night some of us were calling for a return of Joe Clark to lead something but Premier Redford would be a pretty good ideas as well.  According to the Edmonton Journal

But the speculation keeps on turning, partly because it’s based on evidence, partly because it’s so wonderfully juicy and partly because it’s July heading into August.

We are approaching the dog days of summer. Politicians are heading off to the cabin and the Stampede, leaving behind a vacuum that journalists and observers are happy to fill with hunches and guesswork.

Such as, for example, talk of a Prime Minister Alison Redford.

How’s that for speculation? This, I should point out, is no idle speculation; this is speculation that is working hard. It has been working as diligently as Redford who, ever since winning the Progressive Conservative leadership last October, has been travelling the country to meet with other premiers to win support for Alberta’s oilsands. Same with her trips to Washington, D.C., and to Beijing.

She is opening a provincial office in Ottawa and she convinced Lee Richardson to quit his job as a Calgary MP to become her principal secretary.

These are all things a sophisticated premier would do to help build better relations with the federal government, with other provinces and with the governments of the U.S. and China.

These are also things a sophisticated premier would do if she had her long-term sights set on becoming prime minister.

Sources close to the premier say they have never heard her discuss an interest in federal politics.

But there are plenty of sources inside the PC party who think there are simply too many clues to ignore. They even think federal MPs such as Kenney see the same clues.

That, they say, helps explains Kenney’s email rant where he argues against a meeting between Alberta’s deputy premier and the federal caucus. He obviously doesn’t like Lukaszuk, but his animosity is also directed against the Alberta government led by Redford.

Many federal MPs from Alberta don’t like Redford because they see her as a Red Tory, a closet Liberal and not a true conservative.

They also share political roots with the Wildrose party that stretch back to the Reform party founded by Preston Manning, a political enemy of former prime minister Joe Clark, one of Redford’s friends and former employers.

The only thing that irritates federal Conservatives more than having Redford as premier of Alberta is the thought of her taking over the federal Conservatives.

Just as Harper as prime minister was a victory of sorts for Manning and the Reformers, having Redford one day become prime minister would be a victory for Clark and a reverse takeover of the Conservatives by the Progressives.

Homelessness and addictions in Fort McMurray

Goat Creek Trail

Goat Creek Trail by Dave King

I absolutely love this photo of Goat Creek Trail by Dave King and have been captivated by it since he posted it to Flickr.  It’s a composite image of two shots from his Android.  What a spectacular image.  Check it out full screen on black for an even more dramatic effect.  Here is another amazing wide screen shot of the Bow River.

Redford’s leadership in jeopardy

From the Calgary Herald

Redford initially rejected widespread guidance to call an election within weeks of being sworn in as Alberta’s 14th premier on Oct. 7.

She was advised to say that unlike former premier Ed Stelmach — who changed Alberta’s royalty regime (and helped give birth to the Wildrose party as a result) before heading to the polls — she would proceed more humbly by seeking a mandate to govern.

“If she had listened then, we would have won 70 seats — another huge majority, since we were ahead of Wildrose by almost 30 points then,” says one Tory MLA, who adds that the seat he won by thousands of votes in the last election, will be a photo finish horse race on April 23. And he’s being optimistic.

But Redford said she wanted to show Albertans her brand of leadership before seeking a mandate. She said she wanted to deliver a budget before hitting the hustings. So, the next bit of advice she was offered was for her to present the budget and then drop the election writ the very next day.

“Again, she didn’t listen,” said a longtime Tory insider about the Feb. 9 provincial budget.

“There’s an old saying that goes like this: ‘She was born on third base but she thought she hit a triple,’” says another Tory mandarin.

“When she was told, ‘Go now, Alison. Run. Run.’ She didn’t listen. She thinks she’s smarter than all of these smart people, but she’s clearly not very astute politically. She won the Tory leadership by a fluke because of a flawed process. On the first ballot she had 19 per cent of the votes, but believes it was her brilliance that won her the leadership.

“The party wanted Jim Dinning and got Ed Stelmach because of a flawed process, and then wanted Gary Mar but got Redford because of the same flawed process, and both of those leaders surrounded themselves with political neophytes and actually believe they were chosen, when they were not.”

Election near in Alberta

Keep calm and carry on voting Tory

Success stories from the Calgary Homeless Foundation

You can read more about the Calgary Homeless Foundation does on their website. The same success can be repeated in Saskatoon if we get serious about homelessness here.

Housing First in Alberta

A video about Alberta’s efforts at using Housing First as a philosophy for dealing with homelessness.

Have the Liberals Passed the Point of No Return

Chantal Hebert asks some hard questions about the future of the Liberal Party

Moving from east to west the NDP has pushed back the frontiers of its territory in every region of the country over the past decade. More often than not it has done so at Liberal expense.

In the early 90s, the NDP had little presence in Atlantic Canada. But today the New Democrats are well on the way to become a force to contend with in every province of the region except P.E.I.

They make up the government in Nova Scotia. On Tuesday they came within one seat of beating the Liberals to the title of official opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Quebec, the federal NDP has gone from one seat to 59 over the span of a single decade.

The Liberals under Jean Chrétien used to sweep Ontario throughout the ’90s. Last May, the NDP elected twice as many MPs as the Liberals in Canada’s largest province.

In the Prairies, the Liberal party is virtually extinct.

Out of 254 federal and provincial seats in the three provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Liberals currently hold 12.

Only two of those are federal seats and personal popularity has more to do with the survival of a lone federal Liberal flag-bearer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba last May than party brand.

The same is true in Quebec where most of the seven Liberal survivors of the federal election — MPs like Marc Garneau, Stéphane Dion, Denis Coderre, Irwin Cotler and Justin Trudeau — owe their survival to who they are (or who they have been).

Watching the receding Liberal tide, one can reasonably wonder whether the party as a major national presence has reached the point of no return.

The current Liberal establishment — rooted as it is in Ontario and somewhat blinded by its proximity to Queen’s Park — will swear that it is not so.

To shore up their faith in a brighter future for their party, diehard federal Liberals point to the leadership travails of the NDP and the resilience of their provincial cousins in Ontario.

There was a time not so long ago when the federal Tories drank the same bathwater.

They too clung to their party’s hold on provincial capitals such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto as proof positive of their own inevitable triumph over the Reform/Alliance.

Not to shine on Hebert’s rainy parade but the federal Tories changes, adapted, and merged and became… the federal Tories and the last time I checked, were in power nationally.  The Liberals may or may not do the same thing but they are not in the same boat as the Progressive Conservatives, even if they are in a rut right now.  Will they survive?  Not sure but did anyone see Peter McKay and Stephen Harper in power after the disastrous 1993 campaign?