Mayor in 2017

by Mark Zaugg 9. October 2017 23:07

One thing I was really looking forward to was the showdown this year. Even before the election was on I was asked, "What do you think about Chabot running against Nenshi?"

Not to spoil the punchline, but Nenshi has absolutely met my expectations and I have absolutely not a single hesitation endorsing him again. I have a good view of Councillor Chabot. I absolutely dislike everyone else in the race.

I'm a guy out here that chose Mayor Nenshi in 2010 after some hard soul searching. I'm just another slob that should have no meaning with him whatsoever, but Mayor Nenshi actually knows who I am and cares that I accomplish something positive in my neighbourhood. He is one of six current members of city council that has spoken with me directly on Twitter.  Frankly, I could do with never hearing at all from a couple of them. I very much appreciate that communication and willingness to be open and transparent.

For those who aren't aware, I was part of my Community Association for about five years, culminating with a year as CA president. This came, in part, at Mayor Nenshi's challenge to do three things for Calgary.  That meant working directly with Councillor Chabot and that brought quite a few nice surprises with it for me. My relationship with Councillor Chabot started with him ignoring my offer to get him on Twitter, and help him feel comfortable enough to answer the Tweet Debate held in 2010. He continued to unimpress me at the Ward 10 debate that year. But after knowing him, I can say Councillor Chabot works hard, he is very earnest in his efforts, he is a true fiscal conservative and he is unquestionably very knowledgeable about Calgary and my neighbourhood in particular. He has definitely earned my respect and I view him favourably. But there are two points where Mayor Nenshi stands out more.

I strongly believe in Mayor Nenshi's views about secondary suites in Calgary. Councillor Chabot has opposed them from the start and has at best proposed vastly inferior options.  In fact, years back I originally lived in an illegal secondary suite in this very ward - long since repaired and made legal, but I'm still grateful I don't have to live there any longer.  I argue long and hard that our current system is not working, is not safe, and it magnifies the problems by dumping all the secondary suites into fewer neighbourhoods. The push for affordable housing is very much what causes the over-the-top problems that we see over here in my area.

I believe secondary suites need to be allowed city wide, and not be restricted to specific areas. I'm believe a secondary suite registry is a good idea, but inspections should be required. Registering is not enough - I don't think a registry alone will be enough to ensure homes meet building code and safety code standards. That's going to cost more.  Maybe not as much as it costs us now to waste time in City Council meetings as a homeowner pleads for the right to rent out their basement.  I really do believe our current system is unbelievably stupid and needs to be replaced as soon as possible.

As I discussed last week, my primary concern is the working relationship in City Council. Mayor Nenshi has had his hands full with what appears to me to be a divisive council with childish infighting. (Right now I'm specifically thinking of the "knife-in-the-back" gesture, but there are plenty of terrible examples.) It hasn't looked good to me and I expect much better from my representatives overall. I've seen Mr. Chabot directly in high conflict situations, and I do not have confidence in his ability to bridge differences and actually resolve conflict.  Hey, our entire Community Association was a high conflict situation, worse than City Council -- I hope! Mayor Nenshi was the one to offer advice and encourage me to try my best. I thank him for his effort. I felt somewhat abandoned by my Councillor.

I cannot imagine a better communicator than Mayor Nenshi during a crisis. He needs that skill daily. Could you imagine the zoo City Council would be without strong, respectful leadership? Respectful matters in that phrase. Voting down the other side time and time again is just tyranny of the majority and is a sign of poor judgement lacking any thought from council. We need those viewpoints represented and heard, we need to have all the options on the table! Nenshi's my guy to do that.

My shock has been seeing the swell for Bill Smith. I have serious doubts on that swell and very serious questions about his skill, ability and leadership.

Mr. Smith doesn't have a City Council record to stand on. His stance on secondary suites is shocking vague for something discussed in Calgary for literally decades.  In fact, his stance on everything is vague. The Green Line needs a rethink? We've been working on this project for a while now, and yes I would like more, but I want to see it happen. Mayor Nenshi and Councillor Chabot have both put significant time and effort into making the Green Line a success and I trust either one of them over someone taking pot shots at a very high budget line item. His take on affordable housing entirely skips secondary suites and focuses on the private sector. The private sector sometimes performs terribly, please see the above note of living in an illegal, dangerous secondary suite. Let me copy his section on "Biking" directly from his website:

Biking

Biking is one of those issues that is important to some, and not important to others.

We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic. A lot has already been invested to make Calgary bike-friendly. We can’t just rip it up.

But, I only support bike paths where it makes sense. Safety and community must always come first.  Any new paths must also be built at a reasonable cost to taxpayers.

First, this is critically important to some of us who are afraid to cycle and be killed on the streets. This is also critically important to drivers who don't want to kill cyclists they can't see and can't predict. The separation between cars and bikes makes it better for all of us.
Secondly, "We need to balance bike traffic with road traffic" is terribly disingenuous. There has been little to no accommodation of bicycle traffic in the past. Bicycles have been shunted to out-of-the-way side roads or the MUP along the river we are told is for enjoyment and not commuting. We need to twin all major routes of the MUPs and make safe routes for bicycles that go where cyclists need to commute. Those are Cycle Tracks in the downtown area.

This is where bike paths make sense! And the cycle tracks are cheaper to build than equivalent roadways and much cheaper to maintain. Don't give me crap about reasonable cost to taxpayers. I'm a taxpayer too!

As for my primary concern of City Council getting along well enough to function, Mr. Smith may add a cheery section of political dialogue and fair treatment, but his and his team's behaviour has belied that. Sketchy polls being released is not respectful political dialogue, you are throwing up your elbows trying to make yourself the conversation. Mr. Smith's presidency of the Progressive Conservative party during one of it's least transparent and least productive periods does not give me confidence. My dealings with that government are some of the most frustrating, agonizing processes I've been through ever, without any hint of exaggeration.

Mr. Smith is throwing out FUD -- that stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. It's relatively easier to whip up FUD over what we have instead of putting forward real ideas of your own. There is nothing in his record or on his policy statement that says he has the smallest interest in what's important to me, in the services I require, or in a true ability to actively listen to the full diversity of Calgarians instead of his own circle of influence.

I'm open to a conversation, I'm willing to have Mr. Smith turn my opinion around as Councillor Chabot has. But there's a lot deeper hole that you're starting in.


I won't end on a negative note, but I feel this past council performed poorly. The counterbalance to that has been a city administration, city staff, and some truly incredible city employees that have shone. As a citizen, I have received better, more relevant, generally helpful services over the past seven years than I ever had before.
3-1-1 remains fantastic.
The people who worked with our CA with me were genuinely top notch.
I especially have praise for Councillor's Chabot's office staff who are second to none and bent over backwards to make this part of the city a better place.

We are on the right track. We need to stay there.

Vapour lock at City Hall? The 2017 edition.

by Mark Zaugg 1. October 2017 17:12

Back in 2010, I figured I had my city council vote figured out when Dave Bronconnier decided not to run again.  I was quite frustrated with what seemed to be constant fighting between the aldermen (as they were known at the time) and my sense that city council was lost in the wilderness and not accomplishing what it should. There was one guy on city council that stood out to me: his nickname was "Dr. No" and I thought he would be the guy with the fortitude to end the bickering and get things back on track.  Until the time when I thought of the "street festival" guy opposed a street festival that didn't match his parameters. It turned me off when he qualified what made a good street festival strictly to his own standards and divisively diminished a festival I thought was pretty neat. The harder I looked, the more our views diverged, so I decided to look at my other choices.

To make a very long story short, I made an alternative choice, got behind him early enough to campaign, and got to participate in seeing this guy who was barely on the radar become the mayor I'm still proud to support. A lot has changed in seven years; I've become involved in different ways, I've met a lot of great people along the way and got a very different perspective on how the city actually operates (and needs to operate!) in order to function. I'll write on the mayoral side of things in a week. This week I'm focusing on the councillors.

Snap forward to 2017. A continual theme I'm hearing again is that city hall is dysfunctional - AGAIN. It's not a small concern, it costs every one of us when we don't have representatives working collegially and effectively together. I have no particular insight into how big or how small the issue is now, but this was my concern in 2010 and remains my concern today.

One thing I've heard often is a Calgarian from any given part of the city claiming their councillor is not the problem; it's always some particular other councillor from the other side of the city. Some of this rang true to me: I didn't love my councillor, nor did I outright dislike him. However I hold very strong opinions of some councillors in other wards.

The difference is I don't have to work with them every day. Our councillors must work together better.

I'm aiming to make two points today: How I think we can help as voters, and second what I hope from my councillor.

First, Calgary is a big city. We are well beyond our small city status and we absolutely need to acknowledge that the city continues to change as it's grown. Some of us are four-generation Calgarians whose great-grandparents rode across the prairie to settle here. Some of us just arrived looking for a home safe from war and literal chemical weapons. Who we are and the way we all live differs here, in the very same city.

That diversity is very much our strength. This is a city wide enough for us all to live here, with enough opportunity for all of us. There are Calgarians much more exceptional than me that come from every single corner of this city. Our city hall needs to be big enough to allow a voice be heard from everywhere. But it could be more receptive to each of our needs along the way.

The challenges of inner-city life are very different from a new community in the suburbs. My back alley is unpaved, and was likely built 100 years without a proper base ever being laid. It cannot be graded frequently enough to prevent massive potholes forming.  Fixing that will be expensive, time consuming, and a hard sell in this neighbourhood. On the other hand, my commute to downtown takes somewhere between 20 and 35 minutes and I have four good, convenient choices of how I'd like to get there.

Or how about a more topical issue: Green carts were just delivered to our neighbourhood. I live in a four-plex. We now have 12 different carts to line up along the alley. Seriously! This is just six of them, we can't fit all of them in.
Garbage carts in the alley
And here's a picture of how much garbage I generate over two weeks.

Two weeks of garbage right here!

This is crazy! Now in all fairness, most of my waste consists of glass jars, tin cans, cardboard or plastic that goes into the blue recycle bin. But any organic matter will be coming out of that half-bag of trash - it would take me a full six months before the garbage man would even consider stopping for me! Even if I didn't compost (which I do). And I have to pay full freight for a service from which I will barely benefit. I'm not getting a discount because I throw out so little.

It's fact: City Council has to make these decisions. They must balance the cost of pickup, the cost of expanding or replacing landfill sites, the cost of waste management (including mass composting), the cost of trucks, maintenance, and staffing to remove garbage. That was not going to be an easy choice.

I personally am getting screwed over by the green carts. I simply don't create enough waste and will never get fair return for what it will cost me, and no, I'm not happy about it. But if your thoughts simply end there, you've entirely missed the bigger picture. It would be utterly irresponsible and insane to continue to buy new farmland on the perimeter of Calgary in order to build new landfills. Also, there are people in the city who need the green cart service desperately who generate more organic waste than they could ever compost.  Our capability to compost more items when we pool our organic waste increases with the volume, as we can use better equipment to compost bones and dog waste I cannot compost safely at home. Less goes into our dumps, extending their lifespan. I may be overpaying for what I get, but overall this is a good thing for Calgary.

We need people in city hall that can spot that when I'm getting a raw deal on green carts, I at the very least deserve consideration to getting the back alley where those carts are sitting fixed to modern standards so my car doesn't get rattled apart every time I drive down it.

So now is the time where we, the citizens, have our opportunity to try to fix the jam at City Hall. Maybe you can't fight City Hall, but there are precious moments in time when you can fix it - if only a little, for a short period of time.

This is the time to grill your candidates. If your candidates only complain about sky-high taxes, it's time to press that candidate on the services that matter to you.  Don't forget to mention the services that don't matter to you, too.
If your candidates have grandiose plans about residential snow clearing or new yellow carts for your oil collection or building a new manicured park and pathway along your front yard, it's time to press them about how they'll fund it and how their ideas will benefit us, as Calgarians, as a whole.

Every single candidate that gets elected to City Hall this year should be able to recognize inner city and suburban issues and be able to speak coherently on real issues for Calgarians regardless of the ward they come from. They need to be able to understand facts presented to them, and to be able to communicate both what those facts mean to them and to their constituents. It would be fantastic for every councillor to be able to separate themselves from their ward and be capable of empathizing the opposing position. It would be over-the-moon fantastic to have all councillors speak respectfully towards one another, but I fear I carry myself away.

Please, please think carefully when you vote for city councillor this year. And please consider adding another criterion to your decision process: How well will each candidate work with City Council at large? Will that candidate add productively to the debate or will the candidate behave with immaturity and intolerance? Can that candidate speak to you clearly, does the candidate baffle you with B.S. or does the candidate simply insult and degrade any opinion that varies from his or her own?


Most of you can stop reading here. The remainder is applicable for Ward 9 residents.

With the shuffling of boundaries, my neighbourhood was moved to Ward 9, and I am truly ecstatic about it. I was on-board from even before the change was official and I'm optimistic again to live in my neighbourhood.

There's not much mystery here, Gian-Carlo Carra has been my favourite councillor for years. I see him as a highly productive, highly knowledgeable member of council.  We both hosted Jane's Walks, on attending his I got a glimpse of his expertise of urban planning and I admire and respect his viewpoints. I also value his knowledge because I see my neighbourhood potentially getting hammered by redevelopment and gentrification on a level this community is not even remotely prepared for. I know of several occasions where Mr. Carra has had to deal with high conflict situations and while I don't think he's always been perfect I feel he's done a good job overall.

Councillor Carra was the second councillor I followed on Twitter (the first being Brian Pincott who found me first!) where I consider him to be interesting, helpful and a good communicator. Twitter happens to be my favourite social media venue - he can communicate where I am rather than making me come to him. Being a good communicator matters to me when we disagree on an issue. I don't want to be written off, I don't want to be spoken down to, I want to be informed about whatever information I'm missing that has convinced him. No, we don't always agree, I respect that.

We've never really had a conversation about what I want from Mr. Carra as my councillor. To me, it's an easy question: I love my neighbourhood, as dysfunctional as it can sometimes be. We have some things that need to be improved - alleys for one, an out-of-touch CA for another. I don't expect miracles, but making things better would be great. Otherwise, I very much want you to continue as councillor as before, and represent me proudly at City Council again.

Thank you for making my choice for Councillor an easy one this year.

politicalmatch.ca

by Mark Zaugg 31. March 2014 19:03
Some time in the early 90's I became dissatisfied with the provincial government.  I wasn't really thrilled with 5 percent cuts across the board.  I was definitely unhappy with the direction post-secondary education was taking at the time.  The thing that really upset me the most was when I heard over and over again that the government was talking with ordinary Albertans.

"Well," I thought to myself, "They haven't been talking to me.  I'm an ordinary Albertan too, but they sure aren't acting like they're listening to me at all."

The good part about voting against the political dynasty is that it's very freeing - I could vote for pretty much anyone else I wanted to and it didn't seem to make a damned bit of difference.  Vote for the Marijuana Party just to throw out a protest vote?  SURE!  I don't even smoke it, but I got to vote for their candidate once.

It was two or three elections back where someone used the phrase, "A lot of Albertans are looking for somewhere else to park their vote."  I equally liked and disliked it.  I was very much parking my vote, but it was also very ineffective and really hadn't spurred much change.

Today, it's a whole different world.  We have genuine options with different visions of Alberta.  And, unlike so many elections in Alberta's past, we have a genuine chance to change our government and reshape our future.  Not that it's all been bad, in fact Albertans have for the most part been very well off and well governed.  However the revelations of the past few weeks have clearly shown that we can definitely do better.

So here's your chance.  If you don't like how the government has behaved you can create the change you want.  This is participatory - if you want change you must be involved to bring about change.  That's a good thing, it's time the government respects the people it represents.

My choice has clearly been the Alberta Party.  I like the new outlook, I appreciate they don't feel the need to demonize any of the other parties, I love the fact that there are members of all political stripes and they don't rigidly subscribe to Left or Right wing doctrine.  Pragmatism and a willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints and try to find consensus is a big change that appeals to me.

I appreciate not everyone will believe the Alberta Party is the best choice.  That's okay too, we don't all have to wedge into a single belief system.  What is clear is that Albertans are really looking for choice right now, and there are a lot of people working hard to be heard and to be better represented at the Legislature.  So, if you're looking around for choices, try out politicalmatch.ca.  It's a quick quiz and gives a pretty good idea of the kind of person affiliating with the Alberta Party.  If you're not a match, that's okay too.  Find the home that suits you best.

At the end of the day, we're all Albertan and we have more things in common than we have differences.

Holding Higher Expectations

by Mark Zaugg 16. March 2014 22:03
How can you not be sucked into the circus that is the Government of Alberta this week?  I keep waiting for the Keystone Kops to scamper across the stage flailing billy clubs and rubber hoses.  The title for this post was originally going to be "The Good Old Give and Take" which was meant to allude to the lame predictability of an austerity budget, followed by a fudgy number budget, followed with a good news budget and finally - just in time for the election - a break open the piggy bank budget.

Predictability has gone out the window this week.

I have long lost faith with the PC party in Alberta.  I don't know precisely when, but I believe I split permanently after Premier Klein cut five percent across the board regardless of consequence.  It seems to me it wasn't actually a five percent cut across the board - something twinges at the back of my mind that not all departments ended up with the actual five percent mark, but I'm more than willing to be corrected.  I know that five percent was not felt equally everywhere and I feel we are dealing with the consequences of that decision to this very day.

I didn't fit in with any of the provincial parties since then.  It has only been when the Alberta Party came onto the scene that I've felt I have truly been able to find a political home.  I like very much that my views hold weight, but I also appreciate the people around me share most of my views and we're more than capable to respectfully disagree when we don't share perspectives.

With your pardon, I'll first address my disappointments over the budget.  I am absolutely not a financial genius.  I have no great insight into the Alberta Budget as presented by the government.  My lack of understanding is the very point.  On every board I've been a member we get a budget presented periodically.  Usually, but not always, it is an annual budget with all the numbers presented in tabular format on a spreadsheet.  There is no split between the books - are a second set of books always looked upon most unfavourably?

In particular, inside the Alberta Party our budget was presented both annually and we get monthly updates on the status of the budget.  I am not expected to be a financial whiz, the books are presented to me in a clear and sensible format so I can make sensible and well-informed decisions.  Why is our provincial budget not the same?  I do not ask that every single Albertan will understand the budget as written, but I would expect that someone such as myself who has a basic familiarity with balance sheets ought to be able to  understand the state of the province's finances.

The problem goes beyond the bottom line of the budget.  It hardly matters if the government calls the budget balanced while so many Albertans question how they can possibly call it such when we are spending more than we are bringing in.  The problem goes beyond the spin.

The problem lies in the very culture.  The problem lies in the DNA of the government that drafted such a document and then pats themselves on the back to call themselves transparent.


In the Alberta Party, I'm spoiled with clear numbers and a willingness to work to find common ground.  Our party leader - Greg Clark if you weren't aware - presents an update to us every two weeks to let us know what's happening.  Greg is unflinchingly reliable to update us, he is consistently available and endlessly willing to assist us in anything we tackle that will help improve policy, engage Albertans, attract members, form Constituency Associations and, of course, achieve fundraising goals.  The culture, the attitude and the desire within the Alberta Party is entirely about creating something better, something more representative, more responsive to Albertans.

Now should you find a home within the Alberta Party as I have, I would be happy to welcome you.  This isn't simply a recruitment drive for Alberta Party members, this is a call to all Albertans to question just what needs to be changed to start getting better results from our government.

I expect the openness and willingness to communicate that Greg has demonstrated.  I expect clear budgets.  I expect collaboration and a willingness for each member to perform to the best of their ability.  I expect an open ear to every suggestion that gets voiced.  I expect everyone to be able to show their work instead of just blurting out an answer.

Our present government has been tone deaf to criticism.  The budgets are obfuscated and while claimed to be balanced, in whole they clearly are not.  Rather than collaboration and seeking the best answers we have endless sniping back and forth with political theatre in full force.  Over the past week there has been an absolute intolerable lack of respect within the Provincial workplace called the Legislative Assembly so extreme that I would expect to be fired should I act so shamefully at my place of employment.

Kids are afraid to attend Question Period!  Now I understand Question Period has been a staged farce for forever and a day, but imagine a government that would actually answer questions seriously and an opposition that scored points not for pouncing on failings but for presenting valid, well reasoned alternative viewpoints.  It sometimes happens, but not very much lately.  I got to watch Question Period this week, I made it about two thirds through it and felt disgusted.  Albertans deserve better.

Albertans deserve better than an insulated Premier who does not have the respect of her party, much less the respect of most Albertans.  You cannot demand respect, you are only paid respect through your efforts of earning respect.  I have not been a great fan of Ms. Redford, but her actions have convinced me she is incapable to represent me, to respect me and feels no need whatsoever to answer to me.

I had to search my own blog to find the Open Letter I wrote to her.  I'm shocked it's almost two years old.  I can't help but feel Premier Redford still believes she's striking the right balance so long as people on both sides of her are unhappy.  She appears to have reached the stage where the majority of people are unhappy with her now.

Just so you know, Ms. Redford, I don't think I'm willing to meet with you to talk any longer.  It's you, it's not me.

Bigger than a plane ride

by Mark Zaugg 4. March 2014 23:03
Well, this has certainly been shaping up to be an interesting week in Alberta politics.

On Monday, Premier Redford's bad polling numbers were released and they were a shock even to me.  Now, I personally have not been a fan of Ms. Redford and I have lost faith in the PC party years ago, but I was still surprised to see such bad numbers in Alberta of all places.  We're long famous for political dynasties and turning on a dime, but this feels different to me.

One thing is absolutely, abundantly clear: There is a great deal of anger with the cost of Premier Redford's flights, especially her $45,000 trip to South Africa.  I don't begrudge her for going, in fact I actually applaud her paying her respects to Nelson Mandela - a man I also look up to very much.  There are times you drop everything and make sacrifices in order to pay respect to someone important.  But Albertans as a whole should not be sacrificing for our Premier to pay her respects.  Even she has said there were mistakes made.  The consequence has been that all her expenses are getting an extremely thorough examination now, and that is absolutely appropriate as well right now.

In my personal view, Ms. Redford needs to be accountable and repay every penny.  I absolutely cannot say, "I'm sorry" and refuse to pay my debts.  Sometimes it hurts to do the right thing, that doesn't mean you should dodge doing the right thing.

But right now, I'm already looking beyond the money.  I am in no way minimizing $45,000 - that's most of my salary for a year!  Instead I'm doubting our Premier's judgement when it comes to making choices about how she travels.  I'm doubting our Premier's judgement about what she considers a valid expense and an invalid expense.  More important than the money is the wheedling at the back of my mind that says I cannot trust financial decisions that are being made.  That's a hard knock the week before the budget comes out.

But there's another factor to this, too.  There's a three ring circus where everyone is trying to get their shots in and to drag down the Premier by pointing out every single failing and misgiving.  It can be a lot of fun to volley back and forth on the #ableg hashtag on twitter, but lately I've just found it tiresome and distracting.

This past Saturday I met with other Alberta Party people and Greg Clark was an inspiration to me.  I felt angry, frustrated and upset with Premier Redford's spending.  Greg not only set the example, but he really focused in on the bigger picture.  The Alberta Party has it's own set of challenges as a small, challenging party, but we have great ideas and tons of energy and a willingness to do right for all Albertans.  Greg didn't obsess over the expenses, and said something to the effect that we're trying to build a better Alberta, not tear down everyone else around us.

So on that note: Premier Redford will make her own decision on whether to pay the money back or not.  I don't control her and I won't pillory her over her choices.  I will personally make better choices and focus on making things better for all Albertans.  I won't ever put myself into the situation where I have to pay back so much money, and if I ever do need to pay money back I'll do it promptly without the need for someone else to cajole me into doing the right thing.  And I will definitely do absolutely everything within my power to keep my promises.

Yes, there needs to be transparency and accountability, but the need for accountability cannot get in the way of good governance.  The value of good stewardship is much, much greater than an expensive plane ticket.  There are many good people willing to step forward and provide the great leadership that this province needs.

Positive change is far overdue in Alberta's child welfare system

by Mark Zaugg 10. January 2014 08:42

When Karen Kleiss and Darcy Henton wrote their Fatal Care series, I felt devastated, sad and very angry.  I knew I had to write about my feelings over it, I had no idea what to say or even how to go about saying it.

Now there are further details of deaths outside of the parameters of the Fatal Care series.  The deaths of 741 Albertans troubles me deeply.  I'm appalled they were children or young adults.  I'm sickened because children taken into the child welfare system are supposed to be there for their own safety and protection.  Children enter the child welfare system for serious reasons.  It happens by the authority of the Government of Alberta, which is supposed to be on behalf of all of us.

I want to believe that a child would only enter the system when they were in a situation of little hope, given a chance to excel and become one of the very friends and neighbours I value.  I know the struggles and sacrifice a couple endures just to be willing to open their home to a foster child.  I want to believe every foster parent meets the standard of adoptive and foster parents I have known through the years.  I want to believe every child that enters the system has a chance to graduate and find a career that suits them and affords them a life of happiness.

I know that no matter how altruistic I could feel on my very best and most selfless day, I would never be capable or willing to take on the role of Foster Parent.  In no way am I diminishing those who excel at making childhood better.  It must be a very, very hard job that must be equally rewarding or no one would ever bother.

I'm far from surprised there have been problems with the child welfare system.  It's not a far stretch for the imagination to make.  We knew of 56 official deaths of children while in care, those are the children that we were told "fell through the cracks."  Learning the number was higher thanks to the Fatal Care series was shocking, but believable.  I can't think of any parent who would be pleased to have a child enter the system.  No parent would want a case worker to show up on your doorstep unannounced for any reason.  It is not a place you want your loved ones to be.  Knowing the problem is much more wide-ranging than we thought even two months ago is heartbreaking.


There is a very simple rule in Information Technology: Be cautious about what you choose to measure.  The metrics you use will be far less meaningful if they are measuring the wrong thing, or focus too much on one facet and neglect a more important piece of the puzzle, or if the measurement itself can be gamed.  Now we learn the government was not adequately tracking the numbers and could not even answer Ms. Kleiss's question of how many children had died in foster care or after they were involved with the child welfare system.  This has been an epic failure to collect and process data, and we are all the more ignorant because of it.

That's just not acceptable in this province.

These are not simple situations.  You don't wind up in the child welfare system because you forgot to brush your teeth after dinner.  I will not simplify what surely must be complex and broad-reaching decisions, nor will I demand a simplistic resignation of a current or past minister.  That has to be a tough, tough position to hold and I sincerely thank those who have been willing to take up the role.  On the other hand, I will not accept another study on the matter that gets stuffed up on a shelf and gets left on a pile of other ignored studies; Alberta's children deserve better.  Neither shall I minimize the role the child welfare system plays in saving children's lives every day in this province.  There have been 741 tragically unacceptable outcomes since 1999, but I still do not have a clue of the total scale of the problem.

Karen Kleiss and Darcy Henton had to scratch and fight for every scrap of information every step of the way.  That was flat out unacceptable.  Ministers and spokespeople hid behind privacy laws and barred parents from talking about their own children's deaths.  That is unconscionable.  My deepest gratitude for their persistence and starting what I hope is the start of reform.

I do have some credit to offer.  I was pleased with Heather Forsyth's call for a public enquiry.  She will understand much better than I the issues involved and it takes considerable courage to step forward and look for ways to make improvements - particularly with the possibility of exposing past mistakes.  I'm grateful for her insight and would do whatever I can to assist.

I was extremely pleased to read Manmeet Bhullar's stance on making data public today.  He said, “I strongly believe that better and more data leads to better decision-making."  I agree, this is a great start.  I also insist that this problem has been created over fourteen years of not being forthright and honest and Mr. Bhullar has a deep deficit to overcome.  We can overcome it, though.  We must work together, using our best and brightest, and we must resolve the problem of children dying while in Provincial care, but also the obfuscation and lack of transparency that has masked the true extent and has prevented an honest and open look at making lives better.

This problem was created over fourteen years.  We do not have fourteen more years to solve it.  Lives are literally on the line.

Calgary Civic Election 2013

by Mark Zaugg 22. October 2013 08:03

So I lost my last blog post.  Maybe it's for the best, this one won't be quite so vitriolic.  I hope.

I know I haven't been as involved in this election as I was in 2013 for very personal issues that have arose.  This year hasn't gone as planned and I have a lot of work ahead of me still.  Although I haven't been as active as 2010, I have still been involved and informed, and I don't feel that will ever change now.

In short, I got involved in 2010 because I did not like what I saw in City Council.  I truly hated the 8-7 splits on votes.  I hated seeing the same characters line up the same predictable ways.  Our representatives are meant to represent us, but they have to represent all of us in some fashion.

When I decided my first choice for mayor was the wrong choice for mayor, I looked to others and tried to find the person who most aligned with my views.  I chose Naheed Nenshi and I have never once regretted that decision.  Naheed demonstrated three things in that campaign: 1) Tireless energy getting to every forum imaginable, 2) A solid ability to communicate a platform of better ideas to Calgarians using clear language, and 3) A gift for drawing together a bunch of rather green political volunteers into a Purple Army dedicated to making their city better.

He showed it time and time again as the mayor, most specifically when Calgary was hit by the flood.  His indefatigable drive is legendary, but to me even more impressive was his ability to communicate to Calgarians with so little sleep during that period.

But what impresses me the very most, above all else, was that the City Council of 2010-2013 was so much more effective than the previous council.  There wasn't a lot of change in the personnel, but there was a major change in the attitude and that was very appreciated.

After this election, there is still much work to accomplish, there are more changes to council (I've lost some of my favourite people there), and we know with certainty that there has been a disruptive attitude running up to the election.  That has not been okay in my eyes.  I love the debate, I love the differing viewpoints, I love others bringing up facts I did not know or ideas I did not understand.  But intransigence for the sake of being intransigent just doesn't cut it.  I want better, I want more from our council and I do not want to return to the dysfunctional council of not that many years back.

It's a tough job, but I'm pretty sure the attitude of making Calgary better will prevail.  We're going to have loud arguments, we're going to make mistakes, but that really isn't much different from, well, ever.

The single greatest lesson I learned from the 2010 municipal election is really not much of a surprise to anyone.  It's the basic lesson that all the work in the run up to the election is miniscule.  It amounts to the smallest of tasks.  The real work is about staying engaged and working hard between elections to make Calgary better.

Yeah, we've elected another version of City Hall, but it's what you and I do in the meanwhile that makes the difference.  Act, do something, make something, create something.  Become part of the process to make Calgary a better place.  Through that involvement you become in touch with the city around you, you can spot real issues and work on the things that really matter.  It might be a hockey rink, it could be a busted sewer pipe, it could be cleaning out a stranger's flooded basement.

We are Calgarians today, every bit as much as we were yesterday.  It is the work between elections that define us.  Don't stop.

Reflecting on a Dream

by Mark Zaugg 29. August 2013 04:35

I have always known who Martin Luther King Jr. was.  Always.

In and of itself, that statement may not be remarkable.  Dr. King was a powerful orator and a deeply driving force for civil rights in the USA.  He had a great affect on millions of people, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics and millions of others not enumerated.  Billions upon billions of people should know who Martin Luther King was.

I'm certainly not a scholar of MLK, I know the man was as flawed as he was inspiring - but really aren't we all?  I honestly wonder the degree of character assassination suffered at the hands of the FBI.  I am happy to accept Dr. King as the persona I know - as a man of peace and vision.

The reason I feel that to be a special statement is that I'm a white, Canadian man that probably doesn't have right or reason to feel such a connection to Dr. King.  By default I represent the privileged class that has the most to lose by ceding rights and powers to others.  Not for a moment do I believe that to be true.  Treating all people with respect and in equity makes us all greater beings.

I do know that in as long as I can remember I have always known the phrase, "I Have a Dream," and I have always understood that phrase to mean that all of us are meant to be equal.  My mother spoke it often, and today, on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, I've been thinking about her.

She would have been 16 years old when Dr. King gave that speech.  I struggle to imagine the impact such a speech would have had upon a young woman in Winnipeg, so far removed from the American South, so far removed from segregation, but aware of racism and discrimination enough that the speech was able to touch her entire being and through her shape my own life.

"I Have a Dream!" she would echo.  When she was exasperated that I had not cleaned my room, it would come out as a light hearted barb.  Looking backwards, when I had shamefully treated someone with disrespect and contempt the words, "I Have a Dream" would be said seriously and with all due meaning.

My mother was born in Germany after the Second World War.  The daughter of a Russian artillery soldier and the Polish "Angel of Mercy" who attended him in the prisoner of war camp.  I don't know all the details, many of them are shrouded in the struggle to survive and find a safe place to raise a family in post-war Europe.  Eventually, after much hardship, my grandparents found their way to Canada and settled in the north end of Winnipeg in a tiny, beautiful home where I knew love, kindness, great music and even better food.

I have shadowy fragments of my mother's childhood.  Once, just before they tore it down, we were taken to the home they first lived in when the arrived in Canada.  A mere shack, hardly habitable for a bachelor, let alone a family with four young children.

I once had a powder blue parka.  To this day I love powder blue as a colour and I'd proudly wear that coat now, but as an elementary kid I was teased mercilessly over that coat.  It was trying on my mother because she did not understand my love/hate relationship with a parka.  She only understood the sacrifice she had made to provide me with suitable clothing.  She let slip, "When I was your age I was lucky to have a coat at all."  Possibly one of those parental exaggerations, but from the perspective of today I'm not so certain that it wasn't exactly as she described.

The deepest knowledge I have of my mother's childhood, or perhaps adolescence, happened when we had time alone together.  I would have been around high school age and made the trip into Calgary while she attended University to get her degree in Social Work.  I don't remember the exact circumstance, I don't remember the whole conversation, but her words have been seared into my very soul.  We were talking about "fitting in" versus being your own self.  At some point in this conversation she confided the very taunt that formed her person.  When she was in school she had been called a "damned dirty DP."  She spat it out when she told me that day.  She had to explain to me that a "DP" meant "Displaced Person" and I had a staggeringly hard time imagining that to be any cause for discrimination or abuse.  We are all immigrants in some shape or fashion, varying only in the timing of when we or our ancestors arrived where we are today.  Unless you happen to be the fortunate few living in the cradle of humanity somewhere in Africa, and even then your ancestors probably migrated around some.

It saddens me immensely to consider the people displaced in the world today.  Particularly with the current news from Syria, of course, but the thought of anyone struggling to live a life of safety.  It is also sad to know people amongst us suffer from horrible mistreatment and not the dignity they deserve from what we consider a modern and civil society.

Throughout her life, my mother had friends of all ages, all heritages, both genders.  She wasn't perfect, but she extended a welcoming hand to anyone and everyone around her.

And she taught me "I Have a Dream."

A speech with such impact to a 16 year old girl it still echoes in her grandchildren.

We have not yet achieved Dr. King's dream.  We need to keep striving.  But we have not turned back, together we have made significant strides and we have not forsaken his dream.    I pledge for the next 50 years that I will not judge a person by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character, and I will do my very best to give everyone I meet the courtesy to consider them good and kind until they prove otherwise.

If I fail, and I sometimes will, I need to be challenged to live better.  I am, after all, just the son of a damned dirty DP.  My love for her must live through living up to the standard she set.

If you don't know the speech, you are now challenged to read or listen to it yourself.  Thank you, Dr. King.  May your dream come true soon and forever.

Provide Proper Flood Maps Now

by Mark Zaugg 19. July 2013 07:42

The difference between 'right' and 'wrong' is an uncrossable chasm.  But the difference between 'right' and 'kinda right' can be a very, very large gap too.

I've spent the past couple of days trying to reconcile the details from over the past month.  It's been tough, it's been inspiring, it's been hot and sweaty work followed up with sweet refreshment.

The flood has unquestionably been unprecedented.  No one has seen a flood this bad before, this was truly major.  Full credit to those involved from the start.  We have jumped in and slogged through the mud and the water.  We've done what we could to make things safe.  We've done what we can to make things right.  We aren't done, but we're still trying.

We knew it was going to be bad ahead of time.  We weren't sure how bad and we didn't expect it to be as bad as it was.  When the river flows jumped to five and ten times above regular levels in less than a day it became nearly impossible to predict accurately what was going to happen.

But poor advance warning is a far cry from no warning whatsoever.  If you were in an area affected in 2005 you had fair reason to be worried.  We didn't expect it to extend nearly as far or be nearly as dangerous.  Do not take the warnings lightly.  Be prepared ahead of time and act on it before you have to react to an emergency.

That uncertainty that has the ability to really wear people down, especially right now.  I will never forget these are good people's lives.  I am honestly trying my best to do what I can for them while keeping myself safe, healthy and functional.  These people need as many answers and reassurance as we can give them right now.  Some have the resources and ability to buy a new home, replace their possessions and begin picking up the pieces.  Others are struggling with having lost all but the clothes on their backs.  They need as much help as we can give them.

The flood maps are a good idea.  We know that we can't just keep sinking resources into a home that will be flooded in the next rain event.  We need to make sound decisions based on the best information available to us right now.  Those people deserve the best answers we can give them so they can begin making wise decisions about their futures.

The problem is that we already know the best information available is not presented in the maps as drawn now.  We know they are already outdated, based upon old data.  We know that they don't necessarily take into account floods that creep up along McLeod Trail.  We know they cannot take into account changes the river has carved into it's own channel.

I come from the world of technology, specifically from the faction that believes in "Release early, release often."  You have to pick a starting point, so rather than waiting for everything to be perfect you put out something that's good and spend time improving it.  Allow yourself the opportunity to throw away the first attempt - if it turns out great then all the better, but be prepared right from the start to throw away the first attempt if you can learn lessons and make the second version considerably better.

The flood maps are a good starting point, but they must be considered incomplete.  We do not have time for the arrogance of faux finality when there are people's lives in the balance.  Right now the maps as presented are no more than working documents, open to redesign and discussion.

A house in danger of getting washed into the river may not be worth saving and we need to be honest with the owners and residents.  We simply can't save everything in perpetuity.  But the red, pink and yellow zones are not carved into the bedrock, either.  It is far too early to say we have put due consideration into the maps at all.

We are Albertans.  We know how to work hard.  We know how to volunteer.  We know how to give.  We know how to cooperate and help.

Now is the time to state forthright that we are starting with the maps we have, but we are about to release our best and brightest minds on finding solutions for those affected.  We have people who are capable and willing to do the work.  We have experts willing and able to put in the time and effort to help our neighbours.  Let them do their work and produce the best maps possible for our Flood Friends.  They deserve answers now.

Stop pretending the maps are final and let loose the next batch of flood heros: Those who can help the affected plan the next stage of their cleanup.  No more lame meetings like we saw in High River tonight.  Get those who understand the area together with those who know how to design towns to protect against floods and get the proper maps out to those who are affected as soon as we are possibly able.  In days or weeks, not months or years.  We need the right answers now, not the 'kinda right' answers.

We have proven that we can pitch in and help each other.  Now is not the time to stop.

Calgary Citizen Mark Zaugg says he wants provincial tax break pondered

by Mark Zaugg 19. May 2013 04:05

Rick Bell has another good column out, but I have some questions.  And since I guess I'm lumped with the "Nenshi faithful", I can't just sit silently.  Go read Rick's column first.

"She wants her money.  We're on the same side on this one."

It's not simply her money.  I suspect Rick and I are also on the same side on this.

Not so many years ago, we had a mega problem with mega growth in this province.  Some places were getting absolutely killed by a boom that crushed their ability to absorb that growth.  They pleaded for relief from the province, and that relief came in the form of a break the province gave to those towns absorbing the worst of the growth.  The rest of us took up the slack and paid more.

Now the program is over and there is $52 million coming back to the city of Calgary.

Right here is where I split off.

First, I want to ask why that money is getting refunded to the city.  My expectations is if the program is shut down, the last of the money would be used for it's intended purpose.  Honestly, I don't know.  I feel that I should probably be aware of it, but sorry, there is no insight here today.  It does raise a few questions for me, though.

- Why did Calgary end up with a $52 million surplus anyways?  Did the program suddenly come to an end while collections were still happening?
- How much was actually collected and used in this program anyhow?

The massive growth seems to have come to an end a few years back, I don't understand why this program is coming to a close today.  Is there a year long lag between programs and collections?  Does it really take this long to process where we are at fiscally?

Second, I would like some context around the program as a whole.  How much did we pump through this program?  If we have a $52 million surplus, just what was the total amount here?  Are we fighting over $52MM in crumbs here, distracted from the loaf that was just taken from us?

The strange thing is I have no problem with the program.  I recognize the crisis some of those towns were enduring and the idea of transfer payments is well established in Canada.  I doubt they're universally loved by Albertans, but I think they're generally accepted here.  Much to my chagrin, Alberta is a still a boom and bust economy, and it won't change any time soon.  They best we can do is try to absorb the bumps and prepare while times are good.  Transfer payments even amongst towns can be a huge benefit.

A certain degree of vigilance has to be maintained, though.  We can't suddenly say, "Hey, things got better two years ago, let's stop cutting these towns a break now."  That's where some of our greatest governmental waste has historically be slid under the rug.

I want faith that programs like this are needed, that they're doing good, and that they are accountable to us all.  Refunding money already collected erodes that faith.

The problem lies in how the provincial government handled shutting down a program, then shuffled the surplus back to the city.  A surplus I think should have never happened in the first place. 

At least the city is presenting options to us.  If you haven't gone yet, it's far from referendum by website where you have a bunch of radio buttons giving you either / or choices.  I'm directly referencing the now-removed province's budget page here.  Go now, look, and express what you like and what you dislike.  And hey, tax breaks are one of the options listed!

For the record, I live in a part of Calgary that's 100 years old and desperately needs revitalized.  Hey, we never had proper alleys in the first place, we need "vitalized!"  In my heart I feel it's closest to the purpose of why the money was collected in the first place.  Although I think all the options have merit and are worth discussing.

We are not going to have perfect foresight into the future.  We're not going to escape the boom and bust cycle without a lot of work at diversification.  And sometimes we're going to have to do the best we can with the scraps that are left us.

The city is doing the right thing by at least presenting us options.  It's an attempt at transparency that was lost with the original origins of the money.  Go disagree with me and have your own say.

Welcome

Change is the only constant.

Welcome to the semi-exciting new look, same crappy blogger.

All comments are still moderated, I'll approve everything that isn't spam or offensive.  Agreement with His Dorkasaurus is not necessary.

What has changed is that I don't have 1000 junk accounts clogging up the system that I have to go through one by one.  Yes, you too can set up an account and no longer need to wait for me to notice you posted.  Completely optional.

As always:  Have fun, be respectful.

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