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Alison Redford

In order to save healthcare in Saskatchewan, we have had to pay $1m in hotel bills

This is getting ridiculous

Since signing the contract with an American consultant in 2011, the provincial government has doled out close to $1 million for his hotel bills.

The contractor is John Black and Associates (JBA), who was signed up to reform Saskatchewan health care through lean – a system to streamline health services and cut costs.

Since the 2011-12 budget year, Black and his colleagues’ flights, hotels, per diems and other miscellaneous travel expenses have collectively cost Saskatchewan taxpayers $2.5 million.

NDP Leader Cam Broten called the amount “obscene.”

And while Health Minister Dustin Duncan admitted “it’s a lot of money,” he said it was important to put it into the context of building up lean expertise in the province so Saskatchewan doesn’t “have to rely on those outside consultants.”

The government knew from the outset it would be spending $40 million on the JBA contract and that “travel was going to be a part of that,” Duncan said.

“This whole journey into lean is a part of trying to make the (health) system more sustainable.”

What’s next, adding Alison Redford to the cabinet?

I am actually not opposed to lean in the same way that others are.  I have read a fair amount about it and have seen what it can do for healthcare.  There were some excellent videos from the Saskatoon Health Region that show how hospital units have saved time, money, and improved patient care.  Those small things add up.

At the same time could the Saskatchewan Party have picked a more polarizing consultant?  $1m for hotel bills.  $2.5m for flight and travel.  What kind of hotels are they staying in.  Even at $250 a night, that is over a decade of hotel rooms and all since 2011.  As @toddintune (who just did the math and tweeted), maybe we need to get the lean consultant a lean consultant to lower hotel costs.

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.

Pro Tip: Cameras for Politicians

Ever since working at Don’s Photo, I have been contacted by politicians on both sides of the political spectrum and asked what kind of camera they should be using.  Basically they want something small but takes better photos than the $129 camera they have now.  While Brad Wall might have an entourage to make him look good, even cabinet ministers do things by themselves and don’t have a camera crew surrounding them.

Here are my two picks

Sony RX-100 / Sony RX-100 II

Sony RX-100 II

The Sony RX-100 and RX-100 II are the two best compact cameras on the market.  They are amazing in low light which is where you spend most of your time.  I am not talking about back rooms or seedy hotel rooms but rather indoors like your office or in community centres for photo ops.  That is where this camera excels.  In fact the New York Times called it the best camera they had ever seen.

The problem with these camera is that the RX-100 is around $650 and the RX-100 II is $850.  I think they are worth it but unless you are in Alison Redford’s cabinet, you can’t expense something like that or you would have the Canadian Taxpayers Federation all over you.  The last thing you want is to be the person that took the media focus off of Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin.

So if you are going to get one, make sure you pay for it out of your salary or get your constituency organization to pick it up.  To be honest, you will like this camera so much that you will want to pick it up yourself.

Canon S120 (or S200)

Canon S120

Canon also has an amazing compact camera optimized for low light and that is the Canon S120.  It’s smaller than the RX-100 but has a good build quality and fast f1.8 lens.   It has a powerful image processor and can be found on sale for around $350.  The S200 has a slightly slower lens (f2) but can be had for $250.  The best value may be the older S110 which can be had for $250 but still has the faster lens that the updated S120 does.  The Canon has slightly more zoom but the Sony is faster zoomed out (giving you better photos when zoomed out)

Both cameras are small enough to go anywhere but more importantly are powerful enough to take good photos of you and the event you are at in poor light without a flash.  They also take 1080p video at nearly broadcast quality (which would have helped Stephane Dion the night he gave his ill-fated coalition speech).  With metal build quality, they will also stand up the wear and tear of the rubber chicken circuit (even if you won’t).

If you are a politician and rely on good photos as part of your public image, ditch the camera that you have, put down your iPhone and get one of these, preferably from your local camera shop.

Throughout history, dire poverty has been a basic condition of the mass of mankind

We can eradicate it by 2030 according to the Economist

IN SEPTEMBER 2000 the heads of 147 governments pledged that they would halve the proportion of people on the Earth living in the direst poverty by 2015, using the poverty rate in 1990 as a baseline. It was the first of a litany of worthy aims enshrined in the United Nations “millennium development goals” (MDGs). Many of these aims—such as cutting maternal mortality by three quarters and child mortality by two thirds—have not been met. But the goal of halving poverty has been. Indeed, it was achieved five years early.

In 1990, 43% of the population of developing countries lived in extreme poverty (then defined as subsisting on $1 a day); the absolute number was 1.9 billion people. By 2000 the proportion was down to a third. By 2010 it was 21% (or 1.2 billion; the poverty line was then $1.25, the average of the 15 poorest countries’ own poverty lines in 2005 prices, adjusted for differences in purchasing power). The global poverty rate had been cut in half in 20 years.

That raised an obvious question. If extreme poverty could be halved in the past two decades, why should the other half not be got rid of in the next two? If 21% was possible in 2010, why not 1% in 2030?

Why not indeed? In April at a press conference during the spring meeting of the international financial institutions in Washington, DC, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, scrawled the figure “2030” on a sheet of paper, held it up and announced, “This is it. This is the global target to end poverty.” He was echoing Barack Obama who, in February, promised that “the United States will join with our allies to eradicate such extreme poverty in the next two decades.”

This week, that target takes its first step towards formal endorsement as an aim of policy round the world. The leaders of Britain, Indonesia and Liberia are due to recommend to the UN a list of post-2015 MDGs. It will be headed by a promise to end extreme poverty by 2030.

There is a lot of debate about what exactly counts as poverty and how best to measure it. But by any measure, the eradication of $1.25-a-day poverty would be an astonishing achievement. Throughout history, dire poverty has been a basic condition of the mass of mankind. Thomas Malthus, a British clergyman who founded the science of demography, wrote in 1798 that it was impossible for people to “feel no anxiety about providing the means of subsistence for themselves and [their] families” and that “no possible form of society could prevent the almost constant action of misery upon a great part of mankind.” For most countries, poverty was not even a problem; it was a plain, unchangeable fact.

You know what I would like to see?  Stephen Harper and the premiers making the same pledge to radically improve conditions on Canadian reserves.  It’s not any of their faults that it has gotten this bad but it would be interesting to work with First Nations leaders and come up with a baseline that by 2030 (or 2020) that all First Nations would be at.  

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to navigate the different groups but can it be any harder than cutting extreme poverty around the world in half?

This is what progress looks like

A video by the Calgary Homeless Foundation about the progress being made at year 4 of their 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness.  Great stuff.

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.

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.

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.

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