Weekend chores.

by Mark Zaugg 21. April 2012 13:16

Lots and lots to do this weekend.  There's no way I'll be able to fit it all in, but I'm going to do my best.  I have computers to repair, a house to de-disaster, a car and bike way past due for fall maintenance.

Oh, and I have to figure out who I'm voting for.

I made the conscientious decision to not form an Alberta Party CA until I had a stronger group of local citizens involved.  There are many times I've regretted that decision and many times I've celebrated it.

My biggest regret is that I don't have anyone outstanding to vote for.  As so many of my friends have said, I need to be voting FOR someone, I'm long tired of voting against someone.

In Calgary East I have Moe Amery (PC), Bonnie Devine (Com), Jasbir "Jesse" Minhas (WR), Ali Abdulbaki (ALP), and Robyn Luff (NDP).  Unfortunately the only two I know are Moe Amery and Bonnie Devine.  Even worse, either the campaigns are the only people respecting my 'No Fliers' sign or no one's come by at all.  I need to figure out a way to find a better balance.  (A mailbox for campaign literature only during the election?)

My head's been spinning all month - both intentionally and unintentionally.  I haven't been home most nights so even if someone came a door-knocking, I would have missed them and I didn't spot a single all candidates forum out here.  Thankfully, I've got calgarypolitics.com!  (Joey, you're a saint.)

I very much like Mr. Amery on a personal level.  We've worked side by side on more than one occasion (and by "worked" I mean "work involving heavy-lifting") and his ability to keep up with me is impressive.  I'm not sure that I'm willing to let that trump my estrangement from his party.

I remember Ms. Devine well from the mayoral race.  I like that she's running, I certainly respect her and her husband for taking a stand against racism, but her views definitely do not represent my own.

Mr. Minhas has been interesting.  I wish I ran into him and got a chance to chat a while.  Not necessarily so much for his views, but to see his reaction to mine.  I want to know that someone is going to listen to what I have to say and at least consider my words before shutting me down.

Mr. Abdulbaki has been entirely invisible to me, so quite literally Joey's paragraph is all that I know.  That's more than enough for me right there.

There has been a smattering of NDP signs I've noticed.  Normally I'd leave it at that, but I feel a responsibility to be more thorough now so I spent some time going through Robyn Luff's site.  No real surprises there to me.

So, all in all, nothing I find particularly compelling and I really don't like what my best fit appears to be.  Refuse my ballot, perhaps?  Ugh, what a waste.

And the senator race.  Well, objectively I would prefer to see party lines kept out of the senate.  For that reason anyone running as an independent immediately goes up one notch on my radar.  It's got to be ridiculously difficult to campaign province-wide for a job that may or may not ever open up, but hey, you gotta respect anyone willing to try.

Pretty much everything I get has to come from their webpages and social media, so that ought to be a pretty good hint where I'm leaning for the House of Grumpy Guses.  Err..  Sober Second Thought.

Funny.  The hardest decision to make is my own.

Get Involved with the Alberta Party

by Mark Zaugg 19. April 2012 09:39

I noticed several people yesterday lamenting that there isn't an Alberta Party candidate running in their riding.

If you are one of those people that really likes the message of the Alberta Party and would like a positive and forward thinking option in your riding, I have two suggestions that you can do right now.

The very first is to go to the Alberta Party webpage and get involved.  There are a number of choices you have there.  The most important choice is to get in touch with the local organizers in your constituency and get involved right where you live.  The Alberta Party has a very solid core of fantastic people working towards a vision of an Alberta better for us all.  We are looking for more terrific people, just like you, who believe our government can do a better job representing us as Albertans.  Let's get in touch, right now.

The second option is to work with the candidates who may not be in your riding but are in your area.  I've been volunteering my time to work with a couple of candidates in Calgary.  I'm doing so for many reasons, but mostly because I believe in the Alberta Party message and I very much believe in the integrity, the openness and the ability of the candidates themselves.

I'm investing much of my time for Brandon Beasley for Calgary-Shaw.  I met Brandon early with my involvement in the Alberta Party and was incredibly impressed with his honesty, his earnestness and his good ideas.  Every time I spend time with Brandon I feel good about why I'm involved with the Alberta Party and how positive offering a better alternative can be.

Greg Clark in Calgary-Elbow is another Alberta Party candidate that I met at one of the very first Alberta Party events I personally attended.  Greg is a fantastic guy who represents the kind of character I want most in the Legislature.  He's competent, capable and always willing to listen to citizens and act to solve problems.

We have Pam Crosby in Calgary-West, Norm Kelly in Calgary-Currie, Cory Mack in Calgary-Buffalo, Alex McBrien in Calgary-Varsity and Kevin Woron in Calgary-Hawkwood who I know and feel excited to share their party colours.  There are several candidates who have put their name forward to run that I have met recently who thrill and excite me with the talents they offer for the Alberta Party.  Meeting Inshan Mohammed was a watershed moment when I realized how young and forward looking our people are.  Not at all to leave off Troy Millington in Calgary-North West, Ellen Phillips in Calgary-Bow and Jason Webster in Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill.

Not even to mention the amazing people around the province who I certainly support such as the Alberta Party leader Glenn Taylor, the amazing Michael Walters - a personal inspiration to organize and present a positive and alternative view, the fabulous Sue Huff who deserves every compliment I can offer, Danielle Klooster who I strongly admire for her character and openness.  The entire list of our candidates shines with talented people who truly represent the best of the Alberta Party philosophy.

We are a growing party and although we didn't get a full slate of candidates this time around we will have a full slate of candidates for the next election.  Our candidates in 2012 are incredible, I have every confidence we will leap over the high bar we have set this time out and exceed it in 2016.  Now is the time to get involved.  Let's keep building a positive future for Albertans.

Stabilize AISH

by Mark Zaugg 12. April 2012 21:25

My perspective has changed since I moved to my neighbourhood.  There are good things that happen you you break out of your isolation and see a world outside your own.

I'm extremely proud of my neighbourhood.  I'm extremely proud of my neighbours.  I have the best neighbours in the world.  I swear.

One of the people in my building is forced to rely upon AISH.  We're not extremely close friends, I don't know all the details of their life.  There's actually quite a lot of privacy between us.  But I'm extremely pleased to shovel their (and everyone's) walk when it snows.  I'll redeliver mail whenever it comes to me.  I happily share my jam and jelly when I make it in the fall.  I do the same for all my neighbours, it's no big deal.

But I'm sickened when I think about scraping through month to month on *my* salary.  I couldn't imagine doing the same on AISH.  I was absolutely sickened when the rates of AISH were hiked to great fanfare.  There were stuck at the same levels for years during some of the highest hikes in rents I can remember in Alberta.  The squeeze was immense.

It's not okay to leave AISH recipients languish for years on end, then come with tears of gratitude when we hike the rates.  That's the worst thing I can imagine.

These aren't lazy people, some of the people on AISH work harder than anyone I know to make it through month to month.  These are the most vulnerable people amongst us.  These are my neighbours.  These are my friends.  These are people who need better, who deserve better.

I can say with great confidence there is not a single member of the Legislature that does not have their salaries tied to - or exceeding - inflation in the province.  It is insensitive, it is ridiculous to not tie AISH to a basic rate of inflation. 

I don't live high on the hog, I have no idea how my neighbour makes it month to month.  We need to treat them better.  This isn't a gold plated plan, it's tying AISH to inflation and creating dignity and safety for our citizens.

I didn't tell anyone I was going to ask the question, it came up somewhere along the way during the leader's debate.  Glenn Taylor had no advance warning.  Glenn's response:

      "Yes, it should be indexed to inflation. Why should it be different from any other form of compensation, especially since we are talking about the most vulnerable amongst us."

Glenn, you are fabulous and deserve to be heard by all Albertans at the debate.  Thank you for your answer, you represent me and my values.

Represent Me, Really Me

by Mark Zaugg 11. April 2012 10:00

Have I pretty much bored everyone to death yet?

So far in my blogs I've discussed about government's inability to conceive, coalesce and carry through on a grand plan.  The insistent principle that civil servants absolutely have to be civil towards all Albertans they are expected to serve.  The unacceptable bribing of the most voters with our own money.  The transition from reliance upon resourced-based budgeting to moving to a more stable tax-based budgeting and building up a fund from resource income that grows and supports us into the future.

Do I expect people to read this?  Amazingly, people are reading these.  These are heavy, far reaching topics and a completely different vision of how government needs to be serving us.  These are some critical discussions about how to better serve Albertans now and into the future.  They are complex and integrated discussions, not capable of being ground down into a single soundbyte.

I don't expect my MLA to be able to read ever word and follow along with every thought in order to represent me.  I don't expect my MLA to go looking up historical natural gas pricing and royalty revenues for fun on a Monday evening.  I absolutely expect my MLA to be prepared to discuss them with me when I raise a concern or an idea.  I'll do the research so they don't have to, but they have to talk to me in order to benefit from my work.

We expect our leadership to be visionary, to be able to create a plan and follow through with it.  Instead we've suffered through lacklustre governments living off revenues from a single booming sector of our economy hoping the good times keep rolling in.  We really can do better than we have done in the past.  We need a better, more comprehensive, more transparent approach to our government.  We need to end the cynicism over our government and make individuals feel connected to the process.  We need to treat ALL Albertans fairly and equitably and stop making overt and offensive assumptions about our neighbours.

We elect representatives to the Legislature.  We do not elect political parties to the Legislature.  We need our representatives to actually represent us.  I know that's going to be utterly shocking to some current members of government.  Parties are a way of consolidating policy so that we can have these discussions, they are not meant to be dynasties and the the very root means of accomplishing policy.  Discussions are the key - we absolutely need to be having these kinds of discussions in the open, in public, in regular forums in each and every riding of the province.

How can my MLA represent me when my MLA will not talk with me?

That is a massive disconnect in our province.  When I'm bringing up complaints on how I've been treated by a public servant, I need to be listened to fairly and openly.  I'm raising up a major problem I'm experiencing and I absolutely require someone to give me a fair hearing and help me resolve it through a change in my approach or a change ranging to a change in a horrible law.

You know what I see as the biggest problem in Alberta politics right now?  To be heard you have to be an insider, otherwise you get written off as a wing nut not worth pursuing.

We are all Albertans.  We all deserve to be heard.  We all deserve to be listened to with fairness and an open mind without bias.  When we, as citizens, bring up a point of contention, that is the exact moment where we are trying to bring our concerns forward.  My experience has been that my concerns are brushed aside unless it's a concern that targets the votes of a targeted demographic.

Again, that's why I'm part of the Alberta Party.  Our target demographic is Albertans.  All of them.  We want to reach the people who feel so disconnected from government they no longer feel they have a reason to vote.  We want to reach the people who raise issues time after time and are told they don't matter.  We want to reach the people who feel they have a solution to a problem that exists for Albertans.

The Big Listen was more than a stunt, it was a commitment to have a genuine conversation with all Albertans and to carry forward and act upon the concerns of Albertans to make this province a better place.  The Big Listen was a commitment to have a different approach to citizens across the board.  The Big Listen was a commitment to have those conversations publicly, openly and to be accountable for how we represent ourselves - all of us as Albertans.

We are neither left nor right, we are not eggheads or hicks, we are Albertans.  We are regular people who want something better from our government.  We are people who go on BT Edmonton to make bacon and eggs.  We are a fresh wind in this province, responsive to you as a citizen.

I have complete faith the Glenn Taylor can represent me because he has spoken with me and listened to my concerns.  Making a delicious breakfast?  That's just the gravy you're going to get when you attract incredible neighbours who care.

You Can Only Burn Me Once

by Mark Zaugg 10. April 2012 11:48

Fool me once, shame on me.  Fool me twice, shame on you.  Fool me twelve times, who's getting the blame this time?

When Alberta last went through a sea change in government, Alberta was a much different place.  We were primarily an agricultural economy, with energy revenues becoming more and more important to our well being.  I honestly don't know what life was under Social Credit.  I do know that in the mid 80's one of the most influential people of my childhood ran for Social Credit and got trounced soundly.

Make no mistake, we're experiencing great change right now.  Our attempts to diversify from a single resourced-based economy has shifted to a different single resourced-based economy.  For good or for worse, over the past forty years we have collectively failed to diversify our economy beyond one or two main pillars.

As our government demonstrated so clearly over the past few years, we have not been shown great foresight into the management of our resources. Government has failed to demonstrate even an understanding of the fundamental driver of our economy.

Natural gas was the engine behind Alberta's growth after the turn of the century.  Ask yourself the question honestly:  Do you understand pricing in the natural gas market?  How well do you remember historical natural gas pricing?  We lived on that boom for some ten years.  Today the price of natural gas is in the crapper (pun fully intended) and it's the oil sands that are the leading generator of economic growth.

Well, that's my understanding of the story.  To make sure I wasn't spouting complete and utter nonsense I decided that I'd first do a little of that "fact checking" that bloggers like me are so loathe to do.

I started off with Government of Alberta's Historical Royalty Data page.  Granted, I was looking specifically for a summary chart of historical natural gas royalty revenues.  I have no polite way to say this, I've just spent two hours going through the spreadsheet presenting revenues collected, and the very fascinating (also detailed, technical and extremely complicated) Natural Gas Royalty Report 2010, and I have more questions than answers.

Make no mistake whatsoever.  I am not a natural gas analyst and in absolutely no way do I consider myself expert enough to be able to give you a clear, cogent review after less than an evening of poking through the data.  I am, however, a scientist at heart and I feel very comfortable being able to sift through the data to gain an understanding of what the numbers mean.  It will take a lot of time, there's an awful lot there to digest.  This is not the sort of job you tackle on whimsey.  There is much there to understand, there is much there that is significant.  The longer I sifted through data the more trends I felt I was beginning to spot.

I am going to reiterate two extremely important points:
1) I am not an expert, I was simply trying to illustrate a point I was hoping to make
2) The more I looked into the detail the further I narrowed down my field of view.  There is so very much here to understand that I kept cutting back further and further.

In doing so I'm demonstrating a very different point than I originally was trying to make.  The royalty framework is complex.  Oil and gas revenues are dependent upon many factors, not simply how much of a given quantity of substance pulled from the ground.

Only the most foolhardy of governments would consider rushing headlong into massive changes in the structure without significant consultations with the people most affected by the changes.  Yet they did precisely that.  Do we have massive problems with minimally constrained growth?  Yes.  Do we need to significantly change how the province deals with municipalities?  Absolutely, yes.  (Everything I've heard about Fort McMurray is that they've severely suffered from unconstrained growth and lack of services, and yet it's consistently mentioned as a great place to live and work.  I find myself tempted, if my kids weren't here in Calgary.)  Are we getting fair value for our resources?  I honestly don't know.

This is a complex framework.  It developed over many, many years in response to fixing specific problems.  It's okay to tackle problems that arise from growth in our oil and gas sector.  But solutions need to be found that don't upset the entire balance of what we've been trying to accomplish.  Nobody is smarter than forty years of collective problem solving, nor is the royalty framework the be-all-and-end-all of Alberta's economy.  Some things need to be addressed slowly, carefully and with clarity and visibility of as many consequences as we can forecast.  Businesses need reliable, predictable data to work with planning five and ten year projects.  Government needs a stable, reliable source of revenue to provide services we demand.  The public - us, the people - need to have an honest understanding of the issues at play.

How confident do you feel about predicting natural gas prices?  If only for demonstrative purposes, this graphic shows vast variation in the historic price of natural gas.

Actual and forecast prices of natural gas in Alberta.  Source: www.gasalberta.com/pricing-market.htm  I strongly recommend taking a broader look at the data provided, it is very interesting and well presented.


Would you bet your home on getting your prediction correct?  That's precisely the volatility we face each and every year when we estimate our royalty revenues.  Low ball our prediction and have a good year for commodity prices and we get record surpluses.  Over-estimate prices and we can be in for a painful period where the government cries poor.

There's a fundamental idea I try to live by - or at least it's a goal of mine, if only I could catch up.  Live off the interest, don't live off the principal.  It's a fundamental shift in our thinking, but we need to stop relying on the volatile commodity market as the main source of our revenue.  Yes, we need to give up this silly notion that our taxes are the lowest in Canada.  Do we want bragging rights or do we want sound budgeting?  Ultimately, we're going to spend the same amount of money.  We need to ensure that the money comes from stable, predictable sources so that we can start making better predictions in our budgets.  We need to be clear and open about what our costs are and what our spending shall be.

This brings about a whole bunch of side benefits.

I.  Oil and natural gas are non-renewable resources.  We've been blessed with abundant supplies, but when they're gone, they're gone.  We may not even be able to extract and use or sell all we have available as environmental concerns drive the search for new sources of energy.  We have to take serious consideration of whether or not we are getting fair value in exchange for our resources.  We really need to take into consideration the costs of monitoring our environment, the inevitable future rise in commodity prices (the longer it sits, the more we're going to make from it - unless we can no longer sell it at all down the road for whatever reason), the heightened costs of extraction of non-conventional energy sources may make acquiring our resources more costly, failure to research better means of extraction now will make things much more costly down the road.  Not being dependent upon oil and gas as a primary driver frees us from the ups and downs of the market.

II.  Diversification of our economy has been something we've been warned to do for - well, for as long as I've ever been alive.  We need healthier choices in our economy.  At one point, Alberta was entirely reliant upon how our agriculture did, now it's become oil and gas revenues.  Breaking free from a single source of income and spreading it across several sectors of the economy means that when one aspect of our economy is tanking, we have another industry that can pick up the slack.  Albertans are bright and industrious people with fabulous ideas going forward.  Simply by becoming less reliant on petroleum revenues we do less squelching of other industries that get created, bloom and eventually move from Alberta.  Keep all the benefits of oil and gas revenue, reinvest them in ourselves for our own future.

III.  Inter-generational equity and fairness is going to increase significantly.  Do you know what my mother paid for tuition in the early 1980's at the same university I attended?  She paid just a little over $300 a semester, let's call it $700 annually as a full time undergraduate student.  In 2010-2011, we're looking at $5,238 according to the University of Calgary.  I can only imagine what my children are going to face.  A highly educated population is one of the strengths of Alberta.  Why would we endanger that when our education benefits us all?

Pollution left behind after resource extraction needs to be dealt with.  It is better to deal with cleanup immediately subsequent to extraction and not years or generations afterwards.  Lynnwood Ridge is a cost that my generation has to bear, I want to be as sure as possible I'm not leaving similar messes for my children.  Putting aside a pool of money that was generated from oil and gas revenues is a more ethical, more proactive, more reasonable means to pay for those future costs when they arise.  If we caught them all when they happened, there's more in the pool for Albertans in the future.  If we miss one or two, we're not dumping the burden of the cost onto our children.


I honestly believe this was the goal of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund.  Norway started their Government Pension Fund in 1990 - fourteen years after we created the HSTF and, ironically, three years after we stopped adding revenues to it.  They have done spectacularly well and I would so much rather have problems of deciding ethical investments and spending the interest than the problems of catching up with overheated growth and community need that we have in Alberta.  We could have been significantly ahead of Norway instead of where we are today.  Our government has not leveraged our resources well.

So today, in the midst of an election, we are being wooed by big promises about how to spend our own wealth.  These are the very same people who have ignored what saving for the future can generate and sound principals of budgeting.  I am categorically not willing to trust anyone throwing around big election promises to be fiscally responsible into the future.

Want to be small-c conservative?  Act the part and do it right now during the election.  It's pretty shameful to have big spending thrown around without metrics and standards laid out ahead of time.  That is not accountability, that's just electioneering in the old vein.  Being fiscally accountable is a very large reason of why I'm a member of the Alberta Party and why the left / right tar brushing does not wash for me.

Alberta's non-renewable resources are burned once and then they're gone.  Remember how this post started?

My trust in the government's ability to budget has been burned up and expended.  My trust in the government's ability to present open and transparent data from which we can get an honest and sound financial picture is gone as well.

There's only so many times we can be fooled until the political capital has been used up.  It's time for something better, more forward thinking, more open, more transparent, and much more accountable to Albertans.

 

Next up:  Represent me, really me.

Ralph Bucks 2, sequels suck.

by Mark Zaugg 5. April 2012 09:30

Start thinking about it now.  List off all the movie sequels that don't suck.

Top of my list is The Godfather: Part II.  Except I have a problem.  I'm not a "mob movie" kinda guy.  I went on a date to see Goodfellas in the theatre and my date had to scrape me out from under the chair.  I told her somebody behind us spilled their pop, but I think she really knew the truth all along.

I was always partial to Wrath of Khan.  Terminator 2 was pretty good.  Naked Gun 2 1/2, of course, but we're talking Leslie Effin Neilsen here.

So we can agree that a sequel sometimes works, but more often than not it's just a sad rehash of what was once a good idea.  Really bad sequels are a sad rehash of what was always a horrible idea.  And still they keep making sequels and for some strange reason people keep going to them, good or bad.


Ralph Bucks hit the scene again this week.  Except they're Danielle Dollars or something this time around.  And the really wizened amongst us happen to remember that Ralph Bucks were a sequel to what the Social Credit pulled in the 1930's.  Personally, I really want to take some time to research that policy.  If it isn't hard enough to think of a sequel that doesn't suck, start naming off the *third* movie in a series that was better than (or at least as good as) the first two.  Wowzers.

The thought is nice enough, but it was a dumb idea then and it's a dumb idea now.  The criticism of my critique has been pretty funny, though.  Even before I mention why it's a dumb idea I've been told how I'm just complaining about it and would happily pocket the money later.  I'm going straight to Rick Bell.

Before I completely start freaking out all my friends, let me start by saying Rick "The Dinger" Bell is single-handedly responsible for creating me as a political beast.  When he ran for mayor, I walked (yes, walked!) down to his office and picked up the very first election lawn sign I've ever had.  Last time I saw that sign it was down in my ex-wife's basement.  One of the few things I wish I'd held on to.  I didn't just take the sign, either.  Rick did, in fact, get my vote and I spent endless hours of conversation talking about why, yes, I was seriously supporting the guy and, yes, he had some fantastic ideas about running the city better.  Happily, every time I meet Rick in person he asks the same question: "Who are you?"  (Full disclosure: I've shaken his hand twice.)

And, although I'm Alberta Party, I'm definitely no shrinking violet on the left side of the garden.  Part of the reason I'm in the Alberta Party is that I'm sick and tired of governments spending our money left, right AND center all the while declaring themselves as fiscal conservatives.  You want fiscal conservative?  You try living on the edge of going under month after month for years on end.  You get really good about watching where your money goes.

Unfortunately, Rick has me pegged.  Albertans are simply too stupid and clueless to know how to handle any of their money.  Frankly, I can't believe we trust ourselves with our own paycheques.  Not that I'll use those words.

On second thought, that's a strawman argument and Rick got it wrong this time.  But for the record, if he ever runs for anything again he's officially got my vote.  Especially if he runs against me.

-----

So enough about me.  And rather than me complaining about all the things that are wrong about a Prosperity Bonus II, I want to talk about the things that Ms. Smith got right with her proposal.

The first point is that the money is our money.  It belongs to Albertans, it does not belong to the government.  Government needs to assume proper stewardship over the treasury and ensure that as much remains with Albertans as is conceivably possible.  Government must take stewardship over our shared needs, societal needs and services we rely upon. We know best what our personal needs are.  We are best equipped to make our own decisions about how to spend that money and meet our own needs.

The second point I like is that this is money generated exclusively by surpluses from oil and gas royalties.  That does come with a speed bump and a worry that we will have a clear and forthright accounting provided with the budget.  Honestly, I trust that Ms. Smith will provide a level of accountability in which I can feel confident.  I cannot say the same of the sandbagging we've seen in budgets over the past 20 odd years.

The third point I like is that in terms of priorities, this appears to be lowest on the list.  I do not buy into the complaints that Wildrose's numbers don't add up.  I got a very solid impression that dividend cheques would only be cut once other targets have been met.  I never thought it was going to happen, hell or high water but instead when we hit good times we're going to make sure the benefits get out to average Albertans.

My concerns, though, are two-fold.  It seems to be a very wasteful and inefficient way to get money out to Albertans.  We have to make a list of everyone who's eligible, make sure they're still in Alberta, make sure they're still alive, make sure they're contactable, make sure they deserve the money, etc. etc. etc.  Not to mention the danger of defining, "You must be this much Albertan to receive your dividend."  You moved to Alberta too recently?  Your summer home is in BC?  Resident of Alberta but on vacation for one week too long?  There's far too much leeway for dinking around at the discretion of the government and its bureaucrats for my liking.  Not to mention if I want the money to go to my kid's hockey career and my wife wants it to go to piano lessons we've got a fight on our hands.  Unless we're divorced and then she gets the money and all the say.

The point of getting the money direct to Albertans is so it comes with no strings attached, but by very definition we attach strings when we define who is eligible and who has say over how the money is spent.

My other concern is one of control.  Rick was mentioning the woe-begotten eggheads lamenting that government, and not ourselves, gets to choose how we spend our own money.  Honestly, though, if we want individuals to retain our money and not have government tell us how it's spent, why is the government taxing it in the first place in order to give it back to us?  Put forward a realistic budget, with realistic and accountable updates.  Budget properly at the start and we'll never have to worry about getting back our fair share because it wouldn't have been taken from us in the first place.  I think this is part of why small-c conservative governments end up bloating themselves.

It sounds like a nice idea in principle and it will ring populist on the face of it, but there are better solutions that won't cost nearly as much which will still create positive benefits for Albertans.  Pass on the sequel, please.  It makes as much sense as getting a diet coke with that Uber-Jumbo popcorn with extra butter.

Tomorrow:  You can only burn me once.

Unconscionable.

by Mark Zaugg 5. April 2012 00:36

Honestly, when it came up I had no idea what anyone was talking about.  I had to look it up.

Other than a rather unfortunate name-calling incident while I was growing up, I've never been mistaken as gay.  Yes, I have gay friends, but really doesn't everyone these days?  I can't really imagine the topic coming up very often with me.  Anyone's relationship status is pretty much right at the bottom of my criteria over whether you're my friend.  Are you interesting?  Do you treat me decently?  Can I rely upon your word?  Wanna be my friend?

Seriously, didn't we solve this when we were six?

"Conscience Rights" are much, much more upsetting to me than anyone's sexual orientation.  Should two people want a meaningful relationship on terms they define, that's fine by me.  You're welcome in my world based upon the previously listed criteria.

However, if you have taken a role as a public servant, you should be expected to serve the public.  You don't get to pick and choose whom you shall serve upon your narrow definitions.  The public is the public, public servants are expected to serve all of us.

If you've been here before, you'll know very well I feel unfairly treated by a branch of the public service.  Mistreatment, abusive behaviour, disrespectful and unfair treatment of any and all Albertans by the public service is unacceptable.  Always and forever.

Sure, I have to look up what they're talking about when we're talking about "Conscience Rights," but as soon as I see it, I know what's right and what's wrong.

Glenn Taylor speaks on my behalf and I support his position fully.  This is the normal state of being in my world.  It should be the normal state of being in Alberta.

Can I mention something personal?  When Glenn and I first met he promised me that he would listen to what I had to say, and whether he agreed or disagreed I would be treated respectfully.  He's proven so again today.

Thanks to Chris Labossiere for bringing this to my attention.  Highly recommended reading.

Government at Cross Purposes?

by Mark Zaugg 4. April 2012 08:43

While on vacation in Costa Rica, our tour guide was quite candid while talking about government in his country.  There were many things I found myself admiring as he spoke.  I was also shocked with some of the problems he described they were having.

If my understanding is correct (all errors my own), they have a court that's akin to our Supreme Court.  When legislation is passed, affected people lodge complaints which are heard by this court.  Unfortunately it sounded like much of the legislation was stalled and it was incredibly difficult to get laws enacted.  The example he gave was an extreme hike in traffic fines.  A traffic ticket was previously in the range of (using a very approximate number) $40.  The government decided to raise fines significantly - probably for the same reasons they do the same thing here: putatively safer behaviour and raising more revenue.  Fines were raised astronomically to $600 a ticket.

It went to the court where it was argued that $600 was more than a month's salary for someone being paid minimum wage.  The court rolled fines back to $20 - even lower than they were before.  Our guide suggested the sensible solution was a much smaller raise in fines - perhaps from $40 to $60 and a points system against driver's licenses similar to what we have here.  What he said sounded imminently reasonable to me, raise fines to fix behaviours and create solutions to problems, try solutions which have already proven themselves to have worked out.  It sounded to me that it was all rolled back regressively because of what appeared to be simple greed on behalf of the government.  Dirty baby bathwater.

That's futility in my mind.  How can anything positive get accomplished when you have two segments of government working at such cross purposes with each other?

So I ask the question, why does our government in Alberta seem so bent on working at cross purposes with itself so often?

Why do we consolidate Health Regions to nine, then to one, then expand middle management because a single Health Region proved to be unwieldy and non-responsive?  Why do we starve the medical system in the lean times then throw money at it hand over fist to solve problems once they hit critical mass?

Why do we scrimp our education system, nickel and diming parents with fees every step of the way but promise new schools and services every time an election rolls around?

How can we cut, cut, CUT the wages and gold-clad pension plans of our MLAs but sneak in committee pay and other perks and benefits when the public doesn't appear to be looking?

To me, the root cause is an absence of planning and forethought.  Not a complete absence, mind you.  Different arms of government appear to have plans in place.  Consolidating health regions makes sense when you're looking at dozens if not hundreds of small, independent organizations that don't work together well and can't take advantage of bulk ordering.  That consolidation does not make sense when it takes so much effort for the beast to lift itself off the ground that any savings get wasted in the process.  Not building schools willy-nilly is a good thing, but refusing to replace a school that is so dilapidated that it costs more in repairs than to build anew is utter foolishness.  Declaring a pay cut while backhandedly giving yourself a raise is simply deplorable.  I cannot think of a single ethical occupation that allows its members to give themselves raises without oversight.

The solution to counter productive measures is open and transparent planning.  The plans need to be discussed in wide forums, reaching as many people as possible.  Each person affected deserves to be heard - how else can we judge what impacts we are exerting upon other Albertans?  These are our neighbours, friends and family!  We feel the impacts upon ourselves!  Stop dumbing down every issue for the soundbyte and start planning complete solutions.

So the election is a week old and I'm catching up now.  I feel a little gobsmacked so far.

Let me pose the question: Which part of the election have you been paying attention to so far?  Which person was most offended by what someone else said?  Which person is making the biggest promise that will benefit you the most personally?

Or are you listening to the conversations about solving the problems of Albertans?  How to best ease the boom and bust cycles?  How can we best live healthy, happy lives and how to best regain our health when we fall sick?  How we can best raise our children to have the skills in the future to be the workers and leaders our society will need?  How do we ensure that we use our resources wisely, at fair value, and without irreparably harming our environment?  How do we ensure that our representatives will remain responsive to our needs and actually represent our wishes?

I will discuss views on specific points raised and topics of interest.  I don't plan to shy away from conversation, I welcome it.

But this is my line in the sand.  My discussion is about solving problems Albertans experience, and our problems deserve to be treated with respect and dignity.  It is true, we can dream bigger.  We'll be further ahead when we talk about what really matters to you and to me.

Tomorrow: Ralph Bucks 2, sequels suck.

One year of creating a Better Calgary

by Mark Zaugg 19. October 2011 02:08

Ironically, the hardest time to blog is when I feel I have the most to say.

One year ago tonight, Naheed Nenshi was elected as the mayor of Calgary.  It was an election that literally made international headlines.  If you've visited my blog before, you know I've spoken about it for a year.

Tonight I met with friends and discussed our past and our future.

Sure, it may have been an anniversary of a historic win - an event that we may never see replicated in Canadian politics.  What makes is so special is that it was a night we met with friends and we have actual conversations about the year that is behind us and the future that lies ahead.

I found myself flitting from table to table, having brief little discussions hither and thither.  I almost felt like I had a longing to have a long, drawn out rehash of all the times and events from another perspective because I felt lost in my own thoughts.  I spoke with my dear friend Lori - yes, every word of that phrase feels exactly right - about her perspective of what I wrote a year ago and I felt relief and joy and validated and confused all in the same breath.  I spoke with my dear friend Marc and I feel he understands both the subtext of the jokes and the drive I feel to accomplish better.  I spoke with my dear friend Trina and felt assuredness that I have both made the right decisions and have acted on them appropriately.

What is the one thing that all the media coverage in the world missed all the way up to now?  The simple fact that electing Naheed Nenshi was simply an act of making Calgary a better city.

Forget the letter grades.  Forget the pass / fail.  Forget the rankings.

The act of electing my friend Naheed Nenshi was about our collective drive to make Calgary a better place.  (For the record, calling Naheed a friend 18 months ago would have been unfathomable, not calling him a friend today would be just as unbelievable.)  We believe he can deliver the change we desire.  We believe he's done a great job up to now.

My official ranking of Naheed's first year in office shall be, "In Progress." My official ranking of my first year of Naheed being in office shall be, "In Progress -- and Trying To Keep Up."

Thank you to all my friends, mentioned or not.  Thank you to all my new friends who continue to try to make Calgary a better city.  I'll see you at work tomorrow, next week, next year.  Our job isn't finished yet.  Calgary is a great city, we shall keep making it better.

Cabinet. PICK ME! PICK ME!

by Mark Zaugg 12. October 2011 19:00

Sometimes I wish I could be a little more funny.

That or appear to be completely devoid of humour at all.

I was half-heartedly watching the cabinet appointments as it was coming out on twitter earlier this morning in between other odds and sods (let's be honest, it was mostly hitting Retry on a Blackberry) I was doing at work.  I desperately wanted to make a couple high-larious jokes along the way, scoop up a little unwarranted attention in a drive by character assassination for no apparent reason whatsoever.  I fail at poli-funny.

Let's be realistic, there's only a limited amount of flexibility Premier Redford is going to have in naming her cabinet.  We've been warned long and hard about that over the past week.  We've also been inundated with messages that change is coming, change from within is happening, Alberta is to be freed from the Old Boys' Club.

Now that multitude of reactions, that has been funny.  Too old, too new, too same, too different, too red, too blue, it's all been too much!  The snips and pieces I read on twitter more substantially reflected your attitude from this morning going into the announcement than the news and personalities of who was coming out of it.  If you supported Redford in her miraculous come-from-behind win it's a perfectly fabulous cabinet that's reflective of the new face on government.  Should you be looking for a smaller cabinet, this remains a huge 21 person behemoth that will continue sucking money from our coffers.  If you were critical of the Old Boys' Club network, then you had two choices:  Supportive of Redford and/or the PC's meant you focused on the sweeping clean and the new faces, non-supportive of Redford and/or the PC's meant you criticized the faces that did return.  If you are a fan of $NEW_CABINET_MINISTER, well you're so glad they got $NEW_CABINET_PORTFOLIO.  If you disliked $OLD_CABINET_MINISTER you're so grateful they're out of cabinet, or you are outraged they were moved to $DIFFERENT_CABINET_PORTFOLIO.

This is change! / This is not change!

Well, the arguments over whether it's a good cabinet or a bad cabinet has clearly not changed.  We have huge expectations from our government, some of which are hopeful expectations and some of which are much more pessimistic.

I'm not very optimistic about the change in cabinet, personally.  I'd very much love to have cabinet become a meritocracy where the true best rise to the occasion regardless of who they supported in the leadership race, which part of the province they live in, or their colour, creed or gender.  Even where holding a cabinet post is unrelated to which party membership they hold!  I'm dreaming, I know.  However, if we had true accountability and accessibility in our government the superfluous details of cabinet making would become much less important since we'd all have the ability to raise our concerns, share our ideas, and find the improvements we as citizens require to advance.  It doesn't matter if the minister of the environment comes from downtown Edmonton or the outskirts of Fort McMurray if she or he is the best person for the job and actually does the best job possible.

Premier Redford hopefully chose from the best people she felt she had available to her cabinet.  In my view, merit and ability - not gender - ought to cement your position in cabinet.  I am a tubby, bald, white guy with occasional facial hair.  In no way does any of that make me more or less caring about our province or society.  In no way should that diminish my voice.  Nor does it give me any excuse to disparage any other person in this province who choose to live here and consider themselves Albertan.

The problem with gender balance in cabinet has nothing to do with absolute numbers.  The problem is that the cabinet needs to be representative of Albertans as a whole.  I'm completely confident that cabinet does not do that and we collectively need to improve how we represent all of us.  Until we fix the deeper problem of not attracting (and electing) our best citizens - be they male or female - we will continually struggle with an unbalanced gender ratio in cabinet.  We know our very best and brightest are both men and women; if we choose the very best we expect to have balance.  Are we encouraging the best men and discouraging the best women?  We need to address this, but we can only address it in the long term - it cannot be fixed over one cabinet appointment.

Alberta's cabinet is certainly not constituted as I would have chosen.  I have a nagging feeling this is a coat of paint going up while the floor joists below are rotting.  Fortunately, I have not been in caucus the past three years and don't know the personalities and their collective abilities.  I firmly believe that much of Stelmach's difficulties arose from being reactionary to the Klein government which came before him.  I sincerely hope that Redford is being proactive as opposed to reactive.  I'd like to believe that she has an inside view that I am not privy to because I am on the outside of government.

Structurally, that is the single biggest change we need to take place immediately.  We absolutely need all of Alberta's citizens to get that clear, unobstructed view of the government which we have elected.  We need the very best people we can get to do the very best job they can do.  I don't think we've got it, but I'm more than willing to try with what was chosen today.

The only antidote that can prevent this cabinet being a rehash of the same people and the same policies from the last cabinet must come from leadership.  Decision making must be open and accountable.  Move the discussion about legislation out from behind the closed doors of cabinet and into the public domain.  Allow MLA's to voice what's best for their constituencies.  It's what I stand for, it seems to be much what Premier Redford promised.  It's time to deliver or get out of the way.

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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