Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Brooks, Habermas and conservatism

Lately I had been second guessing my verdict of earlier this year that New York Times writer and PBS Newshour talking head David Brooks is "my favourite pundit." He's just been too wimpy. Although he may be a conservative, his whole style screams liberal. His being molested by a US Senator wouldn't be such a headshaker if it didn't fit his personality so well. Man up, Brooksie! Some guy is violating your personal space? Tell him to lay off and if he won't then start shoving! As David Warren of the Ottawa Citizen has noted, Brooks once retracted the views he presented in a column after the White House called him and told him to get back in line. Do you think they could muscle Krauthammer like that? I think not!

But Brooks has earned his keep with his Sept 28 opinion piece about the need for "economic morality":
Over the past few years... there clearly has been an erosion in the country's financial values. This erosion has happened at a time when the country's cultural monitors were busy with other things. They were off fighting a culture war about prayer in schools, "Piss Christ" and the theory of evolution...
In 1960, Americans' personal debt amounted to about 55 percent of national income. By 2007, Americans' personal debt had surged to 133 percent of national income....
If there is to be a correction, it will require a moral and cultural movement.
Our current cultural politics are organized by the obsolete culture war, which has put secular liberals on one side and religious conservatives on the other....
It will have to take on what you might call the lobbyist ethos... It will have to take on the self-indulgent popular demand for low taxes and high spending.
A crusade for economic self-restraint would have to rearrange the current alliances and embrace policies like energy taxes and spending cuts that are now deemed politically impossible. But this sort of moral revival is what the country actually needs.

What I find compelling about Brooks' analysis is that he criticizes what the "cultural monitors" have been obsessing over but does so from a conservative as opposed to a liberal or libertarian perspective. I am not a libertarian. Never have been. When I was a young adult and at the stage where I might have become libertarian I was exposed to Postmodern thinkers and subsequently decided to reject libertarianism as a Modern and therefore philosophically untenable ideology. But that doesn't mean that the rationalism that drives libertarianism at its purest isn't of tremendous practical value within a circumscribed sphere. I've championed communally conscious or responsible libertarianism which rejects the usual "culture war" as obsolete because with luck my fellow conservatives will be convinced that if we follow the Glenn Becks of the world down the road they are on we will just be barking louder up the wrong tree. I say "communally conscious" libertarianism because the retail politics that have been labelled libertarian in the United States have routinely been infected with the "lobbyist ethos" Brooks rightly indicts. Regular readers of this blog would note that Brooks' call for "energy taxes and spending cuts" is a prescription I've been writing out for anyone interested in which medicine I think we need to swallow.

My one reservation with Brooks' opinion piece is that he seems to suggest that "religious conservatives" should give up one battle in favour of taking up another one without really explaining what is different about the second battle aside from the implied suggestion that the second battle is currently being lost via neglect. There are, in fact, sound reasons for why the first battle is misguided beyond just questions of tactics. For this, one may turn to Jürgen Habermas' essay "Modernity versus Postmodernity" where Habermas describes conservatives who
welcome the development of modern science, as long as this only goes beyond its sphere to carry forward technical progress, capitalist growth and rational administration. Moreover, they recommend a politics of defusing the explosive content of cultural modernity.
According to one thesis, science, when properly understood, has become irrevocably meaningless for the orientation of the life-world. A further thesis is that politics must be kept as far aloof as possible from the demands of moral-practical justification.

Note that politics "must be kept as far aloof as possible" from what I would call the hot button social issues. Why? Because it's the exact opposite of "defusing": it's inflaming. It creates a take-no-prisoners show down with Modernity when Modernity ought to be encouraged to flower within its circumscribed sphere. I, for one, champion the Economist on a regular basis but that's because it addresses "technical progress, capitalist growth and rational administration." When it infects the "life world," that is when to pick a fight. I am not saying religious conservatives should not be fighting the battles that have been fought per se. I am saying that these should be battles for souls and need to be de-politicized. De-politicized means reserved for the "life world" and separate from the world of "administration." Rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's means preventing abortions through private counselling not public lobbying.

But doesn't Brooks venture into the public arena when he calls for an "economic morality"? Yes, he does. But the difference here is that "the enemy" does not have to change his or her fundamental metaphysical presumptions to come around. Athiests can appreciate the need for an "economic morality" by considering the social science evidence and reasoned appeals to shared self-interests. They can't appreciate the need to ban abortion if their metaphysics doesn't recognize a notion of sanctity. They have to be won over on that issue by personal regeneration, not political lobbying. In the economic, or more precisely the instrumental, sphere, however, conservatives can go on the offensive and win with libertarian allies. Outside this sphere, one should battle privately not publicly because publicly it will be a continual defensive action (the currency of the public or political battle is language and reason and conservatives believe the efficacy of these tools is limited because our worldview was ultimately arrived at via irrational, nonverbal experience). Not only is the prospect of winning the political battle over, say, abortion more unlikely with every decade that Modernism advances, making a political fight out of it raises the stakes, putting everything at risk, because it suggests that co-existence is impossible. If we indicate that we cannot live in a world in which they do not adopt our metaphysics, they are going to resolve to eliminate the threat by eliminating us. In fact, co-existence is entirely possible if Modernism/Rationalism/Instrumentalism is contained within its appropriate field: separate "life worlds", common political worlds. Libertarians will be our allies in a circumscribed political world and will even help protect our separated "life worlds" but first we have to recognize that arguments with theistic assumptions are not going to work in the political sphere. That concession in no way implies that they do not carry the day in the private sphere of concrete personal experience.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Paul Wells' German election punditry misfires

Macleans scribe Paul Wells takes a stab at offering up a "slightly higher-value talking point" with respect to Sunday's Bundestagwahl by suggesting that "[t]he Tom Flanagan argument, that coalitions should only be valid if they advertise their makeup before everyone gets to vote, wasn’t followed in Germany."

Since Tom Flanagan is a fellow card carrying Wildroser and even a fellow Danielle Smith booster, I feel compelled to dispute the contention that the German electoral experience undermines his "argument" despite my disinclination to take up the cause of curmudgeons.

Although it may be technically true that Angela Merkel reserved for herself the prerogative of who her party's coalition partner might be, the real issue is whether the various parties clarified for voters prior to the election which coalition possibilities were on the table and which were out of the question.

On August 18 Der Spiegel published an interview with FDP leader Westerwelle headlined with Westerwelle's declaration that "'I Consider a ["traffic light"] Coalition With the SPD and Greens Out of the Question." If "the Tom Flanagan argument" is that a party's credibility may at risk if it entertains any and all coalition possibilities, the financial daily Handelsblatt effectively affirmed it by stating that in Germany "the FDP's credibility would be at risk in the traffic light coalition." Instead of calling Canadian Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff's attention to the fact that the biggest winner on Sunday was the politician who declared unequivocally that "socialists and communists must not be allowed to rule [my country]," Wells seems think that a noncommittal Liberal party should be "comforted" by the German results.

A September 21 post on a blog run by the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies makes it clear that the major German parties made a point of sending a "signal to voters" about "possible coalitions" before voting day:
This weekend the Free Democrats and the Green Party held party conventions in Potsdam and Berlin to send a last-minute signal to voters before next Sunday’s election.... the main message of this weekend was about possible coalitions...
The FDP voted unanimously in favor of a coalition with the CDU/CSU, ruling out a coalition with the SPD and the Greens (a so-called traffic light coalition) and leaving the door open for a Jamaica coalition with the CDU/CSU and the Greens. The Greens ruled out the Jamaica option and the SPD has promised not to form a coalition with the Left Party on the federal level.

If the experience of the German state of Hesse is any guide, the consequences of violating the Tom Flanagan rule may be the exact opposite of "nobody freaking out." When Hessian SPD leader Andrea Ypsilanti took a run at forming a coalition with the Left Party after the 2008 Hesse election, some of her own caucus rebelled to the extent that not only was Ypsilanti forced out of her party's leadership but the Hessian Landtag was dissolved and a new election held. The backlash against the SPD's political promiscuity was great enough that the party was hammered in the 2009 election, with enough SPD voters bleeding off to the FDP to create a CDU-FDP government for the state.

Given the very real possibility that the SPD's fiasco in Hesse contributed to the disastrous performance of the federal party on Sunday, if there is a lesson for Canadian politicians Ignatieff may be well advised to put Layton and/or Duceppe explicitly on his dance card before the next election if he intends to contemplate any tangoing post-election.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"libertarians" biggest winner in today's German election?

The Free Democratic Party (FDP) made a strong showing in Germany's federal election today (and in an election in the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein as well), increasing its national vote share from just under 10% in 2005 to more than 14%. According to Deutsche Welle, "[t]he FDP champions sharply lower taxes, less regulation and friendliness to private enterprise." The gain allows Chancellor Angela Merkel to continue to govern despite small losses for her own Christian Democratic Union (CDU) by dropping her awkward "grand coalition" with the social democrats in favour of a coalition with the pro-reform FDP. The new coalition is known as the "black yellow" or "wasp" coalition as the FDP's party colour is yellow and Merkel's Christian Democrats are associated with the colour black (the CDU's pre-war predecessor, the Centre Party, "was represented in parliament by many black-robed Catholic priests"). Franz-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democratic Party (SPD) suffered heavy losses, "Steini girl" apparently not being able to replicate "Obama girl"'s success at delivering the Youtube vote, and the SPD's "financial sharks would vote for the FDP" advertising campaign not having much bite either.

The shift right continues a Europe-wide trend, with Norway as the notable exception, the Norwegians having kept left in elections earlier this month as a mountain of petrodollars petrokronors has kept the world's richest country-sized country blissfully floating above the economic pain being visited upon most of the rest of the western world.

Although Canada's Globe and Mail describes the FDP as "libertarian", it is rare to see the party described as such in either European or American media. For continentals, "liberal" suffices (the FDP calls themselves "Die Liberalen") and European liberals are understood to be opposed to the political left. In the USA, when the "libertarian" label has been associated with a politician it has all too frequently been with some sort of populist fringe character. The Libertarian Party's candidate for President last year was Bob Barr, who was one of the loudest defenders of the war on drugs and a southerner who has been described by his local media as 'the idol of the gun-toting, abortion-fighting, IRS-hating hard right wing of American politics." These types share with the political left a belief in conspiracies, the difference being that the menace takes the form of public institutions like the Federal Reserve or the government Department of Black Helicopters as opposed to private institutions like Big Business.

For global audiences, the most common adjective for the Economist endorsed FDP is thus "pro-business." An explicitly "pro-business" party would likely be a hard sell in America, because whereas Europeans may take a communal perspective and accept the FDP's platform of sound economic management at face value, Americans generally take an individual perspective that insists on reducing a party's platform into the question of whether it will increase government services for oneself or impact one's personal liberty (which would include one's personal tax liability).

According to the left leaning German daily Die Tageszeitung,
[FDP leader Guido] Westerwelle has restricted his political movement of his own free will. With this one sided outlook on free market policies he is steering the party toward the outer right edge of the political spectrum, in terms of social and economic policies. Today his party is the mirror opposite of the Left Party [die Linke] while the Greens have taken up a position in the traditional middle.

This view of Westerwelle (pictured here with Chancellor Merkel) may perhaps be supported by Westerwelle's "socialists and communists must not be allowed to rule Germany" campaign refusal to entertain a governing coalition with the SPD (a coalition the FDP was a part of several times in the former West Germany), and his comments about unions in 2003:
Trade unions are a plague on our country and [union bosses] are the pall-bearers of the welfare state and of the prosperity in our country.

That said, Westerwelle happens to have called for cuts in defence spending and the removal of US nuclear weapons from German soil, in addition to having complained of the "dramatic dismantling of civil rights" in Germany since the 9-11 terror attacks. The FDP leader - and likely soon to be newly minted vice chancellor and foreign minister - is also openly gay. None of this seems to have precluded the Christian Democratic Union, which "is still very much a Catholic Party" according to some, from deeming the Free Democrats their "preferred partner" in government prior to the election.
Serious beer drinkers are also serious voters--and they want tax cuts as much as anyone else.
- FDP party spokesman re Westerwelle's campaigning at Munich's Oktoberfest

Friday, September 25, 2009

where we are going

This a long post, but I've decided to keep the latter part, which is about where the Wildrose Alliance Party is, and ought to be, going, within a discussion of where Alberta's governing party is at.

There is some concern amongst the more reflective, or at least jumpy, of Stelmach supporters that their man's hold on the PC Party helm may be in jeopardy.

They shouldn't be concerned; Ed isn't going anywhere he doesn't want to.

Ed has a problem, all right. But it is a Calgary problem.

The Wildrose virus may have infected a critical number of Calgarians, turning upstanding citizens into right wing zombies, but, according to experts at the University of Ottawa, when “extremely aggressive” countermeasures are taken after a zombie outbreak the bulk of the population can still be saved.

If setting up a quarantine would be too harsh a term, one could always borrow a term of art from Messrs Morton and Harper and call it a firewall.

"Rob", an Edmonton Journal story commentator, lays out the containment strategy succintly:
Leave Calgary to twist in the wind. The only reason they don't like Stelmach is because he is not from Calgary. They can still keep power through their support in the rest of Alberta.
"Rob" is more correct about the coarse political calculus than polite company is likely to let on.

Of the Edmonton caucus, Allred, Elniski, Sarich, Bhardwaj, Klimchuk, Lukaszuk, Xiao, Benito, Horne, and Vandermeer all owe their seats to Steady Eddie, and quite probably Sherman as well. The reason Sandhu had an easy ride in Manning was the fact Dan Backs split the Liberal vote. Vandermeer stated quite frankly on election night that Stelmach was worth at least 1000 votes for him (his margin of victory was 318).

And it was not just Edmonton in terms of picking up votes. Far from it. 1000 votes, or even more, was probably the average gain for PC candidates throughout the province excluding Calgary. The Wildrose Alliance ran Link Byfield in Whitecourt - St Anne and despite a name candidate and plowing a good fraction of the party's provincial resources into campaigning there, the WRA vote share went down relative to the Alberta Alliance performance of 2004.

Amongst rural ridings, only in Ted Morton's Foothills-Rockyview, which hugs Calgary's outermost western ridings, and Highwood, which borders the city's wealthy southern suburbs, gave evidence of a backlash against the northern premier. Combine those 2 with the 23 Calgary ridings and you're talking just 30% of the seats. Even then, in Calgary's east and northeast the 2008 Stelmach election results were generally stable relative to the preceding Klein election, meaning that although opposition to the premier has undoubtedly grown, it may yet be far from the danger zone with respect to the re-election prospects of PC incumbents.

So let them go and sleep soundly knowing that the more identified the Wildrose Alliance becomes with corporate Calgary, the less the WRA will sell in the rural ridings. Calgarians can rage away over their catered boardroom lunches or over white wine at the Petroleum Club while Edmontonians luxuriate over beers at the Blackdog, comforted by the knowledge that while Captain Ed may have run us aground, at least he saved the ship from those oilpatch pirates.

A comment at the CBC may sum up the rural view:
Farmer can lead this province as well as any back stabbing lawyer, or any old drunk, Depression is difficult foe.
Some smartypants might observe that this comment got 1 thumbs up and 12 down when I last checked, but this is under the "Calgary" news section, not Canada or even Alberta. These thumbs downers are surfing the interwebs from the comforts of their Evergreen mansion overlooking Fish Creek park.

In truth, even rural Albertans are alive to the possibility that the premier may be in over his head. Nobody is suggesting that he is an administrative genius who ought to be named to an endowed chair in Management Science over at Big City U. But who would you replace him with?

Should Calgary area PC Alberta members attempt to shove Steady Eddie aside in favour of a Calgary business executive, the whispering around the rest of the province about Calgary's sense of entitlement would become open indignation. The pride of Lamont County is not just a northerner, he's as Ukrainian as a Kiev pierogi, a factor that many who are not familiar with the power of identity politics underweight.

When Ted Morton is considered in isolation, he may look like a solution. He could revive the party's popularity in the Calgary area and shouldn't hurt rurally. But when contrasted with Danielle Smith, Ted "Hunting Day" Morton might simply change the type of people the governing party is bleeding to the Wildrose Alliance without staunching the net flow. And cashiering Stelmach to crown Morton would go over like a lead balloon in the capital. While there is a certain Edmonton crowd who would greet him with garlands (right wingers may be found in good numbers throughout province outside of Edmonton's Strathcona and 118 ave neighbourhoods), it would be more enthusiasm in a smaller tent. Morton would polarize Albertans, and if the party decided to move with Morton to pin Smith to the right, she might well slip behind him into the yawning libertarian space the Morton PCs would leave behind. Ken Chapman is of the view that recent personnel changes suggest that Stelmach is bent on moving the government to the right, and to the socially conservative right, a move that in my opinion would be as much or more an effort to nip a Morton insurgency in the bud than to squeeze the Wildrose Alliance, given that most of the more prominent Wildrosers have been less enthusiastic about Bill 44's s.9 than the people whose careers Stelmach seems to be promoting.

The PC Alberta Association may thus be facing the same situation Social Credit did in 1966: in need of yet another reinvention that may be one too many for the same party to manage after so many decades in power. According to Allan Tupper, Lougheed believed that Albertans were beginning to find the SoCreds too rural and out of touch with the province's potential. It would have been difficult to sit through the tangents that Finance Minister Iris Evans went off on during her speech in Toronto and then argue that the leadership of the PC party is in touch with contemporary Alberta. It's one thing to deliver an interesting argument for the conservative values that many Albertans still hold, and another thing to be unable to broach the topic on the national or international stage in an professional manner. Sadly, this wasn't a one-off incident.

Alberta has gone through a succession of dynasties, and this could be because movement liberalism or leftism has never been mainstream enough here for the government to be headed by people hailing from that background. Within the circumscribed spectrum that results, the ideological differences are not sharp enough to warrant multiple parties. A single party system follows, such that its leaders tap dance a little to the left, a little to the right, as circumstances require, until the background tune of the evolving society changes to the point that the rigidities or inexorable logic of internal party politics can no longer keep up with the music and the principal actors cannot help but repeatedly wrongfoot themselves. Exeunt the whole troupe.

This analysis isn't especially original. As CalgaryGrit wrote on September 15:
In short, Ed Stelmach is Harry Strom, and it's not a stretch to think that Smith could be Peter Lougheed for the 21st Century. (note to WRA: I know you guys aren't big on royalties, but I demand royalties on that line should you use it!)
Perhaps a more original suggestion on my part would be to emphasize the idea that the last dynasty did not come to an end because of a shift in ideology per se. It came about because the momentum of the governing party and/or its failure to listen kept it from keeping up with where Albertans were at. Successful governments in Alberta have to be A) modern and B) conservative (what exactly "conservative" means can be disputed, but I'd suggest that Albertans are never going to be keen on political movements that perceive capitalism, or perhaps more accurately its sociological manifestation in the "Protestant Work Ethic", critically not just on a case by case basis but in a fundamental way). The opposition has historically been short on either one or the other. The Stelmach government's been increasingly doubtful on both, with their lefty lean flowing not so much from where they've placed themselves on contentious social issues but from Stelmach's natural suspicion of the investor class and from a nonchalance with respect to the concept of taxpayer value. The pay raises for the cabinet and the many golden parachutes that have been awarded to assorted bureaucrats do not sit will with Albertans.

Quarantining the virus in Calgary may end up incubating it. Link Byfield, whose vision of where he thought the party should go is the primary reason why Danielle Smith was actively recruited, explained his perspective to me by arguing that it has always started in Calgary. Lougheed made his move in Calgary. Reform? Calgary. Is there a plausible alternate history whereby the more conspiratorially minded (or reflective, depending on one's POV) would have been talking about the influence of the "Edmonton School" on the Prime Minister's Office as opposed to the "Calgary School"? It terms of the capacity of Edmonton's policy thinkers for influence, absolutely. My time in the U of A's business and law schools and exposure to the thinking of the Dept of Economics profs leaves me without doubt on that point. Several City of Edmonton departments have been early adopters of new technologies and business processes. But it's hard to see a political movement originating in Edmonton because much of the city shares with the rest of the country a general suspicion that stuff that can be traced to think tanks is out there to serve an agenda. This is, of course, precisely why Stelmach is so popular: the suits can't roll him (sadly, neither can reason). Edmonton will come around, and come around faster than a lot of cities, but Edmontonians are not going to be on the leading edge of a political movement when there is a risk that the movement may be a vehicle for moneyed interests. Calgarians are generally less concerned (some would say less paranoid) about the prospect that a menacing "corporate agenda" may be on the move. I say this as someone who is neither Calgary nor corporate, at least not at the moment.

Lest anyone take this post and look at my cite of Link Byfield to say, "look Edmonton, the WRA braintrust is not cozying up to Calgarian sentiments by accident, it's deliberate" I'd respond that we look for a beachhead where Stelmach gives us one. He's got us pinned to the ground in the Edmonton area so totally we can't even organize constituency associations. But after the flood of membership applications coming in the wake of the Glenmore victory and associated with the leadership campaign are processed, we can look at the addresses and see if we've got the numbers to make a move in the River City.

The same Dyrholm supporter whose remarks I quoted and attacked in recent days once told me that he felt the party executive "too corporate." Now this I cannot dismiss, since the sentiment is a perfectly legitimate difference in terms of vision. But I cannot emphasize enough the fact that Link Byfield is both socially conservative and rural and supports the personnel changes, the most critical of which involves Danielle. The reality of life is that the people who are best qualified to run a multi-billion dollar economy are more likely to drive Escalades than tractors. I can see how this notion can strike a lot of people as exactly what's wrong with society: the last thing we need is hand the people with money political power. But one needs to understand that putting "someone like me" in power is not necessarily going to advance one's interests. I want someone, not "better" than me because more skills and abilities do not necessarily make one a better person, but more skilled than I am at crunching the numbers and communicating persuasively. And for what it's worth, the idea that longtime Wildrosers are just in it to serve the high rollers doesn't square with the fact that it has been a labour of love with very little prospect of any sort of material or immaterial reward, at least until very recently. I don't have money. I don't think Danielle Smith has serious money either. I may be in finance and I may have 4 degrees, but I'm currently a one man operation and in the wake of Lehman's implosion a year ago have been just getting by. The people with money, ironically, are the ones trying to roll us back (in the name of "traditional values"): Chandler and, formerly, the Thorsteinsons.

Next month this is all going to come down to one person, one vote, regardless of where one's from, what one has, or even what one's gifts are. The membership will decide where we are going. And whichever campaign wins, it will have to explain to supporters of the losing campaign how it plans to get the Wildrose Alliance party out ahead of where Albertans want to go.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

notes re my Boundaries Commission submission

For us Wildrosers, this could end up being a big deal. It's entirely possible that after the next election the Liberals will end up over-represented because of urban vote splits between the PCs and the WAP, while the PCs end up over-represented because rural admirers of Stelmach's inelaborate ways get so many seats, and the WAP ends up holding the bag because rapidly growing areas like Airdrie, communities surrounding Edmonton's Anthony Henday and Terwillegar Drives, and (especially) Calgary's western and southern suburbs don't get the representation they deserve.

The very first call of support I got last year, within an hour or two of the candidate list appearing on our party website, was from a lawyer with Alberta's most prestigious boutique tax law firm who happened to live in a condo in my riding. If you look at the changes that have occurred in the party executive over the last year, the culmination of which would be Danielle Smith becoming leader, we will almost certainly skew even more towards upper middle class professionals and the self-employed in terms of appeal. Rightly or wrongly, the natural habitat of these creatures is the 'burbs.

If one looks at the legislative history of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act, it is apparent that the Progressive Conservative dominated Assembly does what it believes it has to do to secure a comfortable majority for the PC Party, and then concedes the rest in order preserve the optics of fairness. Exhibit A is the old rule that a riding with a population more than 25% lower than the average could not normally be created if it contained a town with a population in excess of 4000. There's a plausible reason for this limitation, namely that if much of the population is concentrated, the argument that the riding's population is scattered and therefore "inaccessible" is undermined, and the remoter residents would presumably have need to visit the significant population centre in their area on regular occasion anyway. But just this year the Tories doubled this to 8000. What happened to to the policy arguments for capping this at 4000? Out the window after the Tories decided they can no longer afford to acknowledge those arguments. This when the "global village" is shrinking; the difference between now and when the 4000 number was introduced appears to be 20 years and the invention of the communication expanding internet. The Tories would evidently have us believe that e-mail has made "accessibility" worse, such that the need for distortion of the representation by population principle is greater than ever!

my submission to the Alberta Electoral Boundaries Commission

Thank you for giving Albertans an opportunity to address the question of effective representation in the Legislative Assembly.

In 2009 the Assembly added subsection (3) to s.12 of the Electoral Boundaries Commission Act:
The Commission may use more recent population information, if available, in conjunction with the information referred to in [earlier] subsection[s].
I would encourage the Commission to give force to the Assembly's evident desire to address the problem of obsolete population data by reading this added subsection broadly. "Population information" may be defined to include PROJECTED population information. The use of projected numbers would help preclude an undermining of the spirit of the population variance limits. The 25% variance limit has been on the books for many years, yet in practice provincial elections have been held under conditions whereby these limits are routinely exceeded. Several suburban and exurban ridings had populations in excess of 40% of the provincial riding average in the 2008 election. On election day, the number of names on the list of electors for Airdrie-Chestermere was in excess of 165% of the number of electors for another riding. Unless the well established fact that suburban and exurban areas are the fastest growing is taken into account, the votes of these Albertans will again be at risk of counting for less than half of what the votes of some other Albertans count for in a provincial election held prior to the next redistricting. I understand that some currently expect the Wildrose Alliance Party to be especially competitive in suburban and exurban areas in future elections and that this party had no input into the selection of Commissioners (and, even if it did, the section 2 subsections mandating the appointment of a "resident outside a city" to match a "resident in a city" would operate despite Statistics Canada's indication that the province was more than 80% urban 8 years ago). I nonetheless trust that the Commission can appreciate that fair electoral boundaries in Alberta would be boundaries that are fair in the future, when elections are actually held, as opposed to just today.

I would also note that although the Act permits population variations of as much as 25% higher or lower than the provincial average, or even 50% lower (meaning Albertans resident in these ridings could have as much as 2.5 times the representation of Albertans in other ridings, and this prior to the growth considerations I point out above), there is no prohibition against the Commission drawing boundaries that yield substantially more equitable variances. If my suggestion to employ projected population data is rejected, the application of a more stringent variance than the maximum allowed by the legislation would reduce the likelihood that the maximums will be exceeded come election time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"we appreciate your work"

Is President Obama's honeymoon with the media over? Earlier this summer Charles Krauthammer didn't think so:
The hot sex is over, they're in the cigarette stage right now. You get a question or two that's slightly obstreperous, but the adulatory coverage is still all wall-to-wall.

This past weekend, Obama blitzed the alphabet media, appearing on the Sunday talk shows of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Univision to sell what was once called healthcare reform but has since been rebranded by the White House as "health insurance reform". It would have been a "full Ginsburg", except that FOX was pointedly excluded. Why? "Fox is an ideological outlet", insisted deputy press secretary Josh Earnest. Obama has taken issue with FOX before, but this time the White House has further hinted that only "outlets" inclined to treat the administration uncritically will be granted access, meaning FOX would be a news gatherer who should not expect "participation any time soon."

If the mainstream media has been taking a pass on critiquing the Obama administration, others have not. A New Zealand blogger uncovered the fact that Obama's "Green Jobs" czar, Van Jones, was a former member of a communist organization and a 9/11 Truther. And a 20 year old freelancer teamed up with a 25 year old to set in motion events that this month led to a Congressional vote to terminate funding of ACORN. Evidently taxpayer dollars cannot be spared to facilitate child prostitution and dispense advice on how to engage in tax evasion in these tough times!

I've noted the relationship between Obama and ACORN before, but given that investigative reporting of matters like this seems to have fallen on the blogging community, it is worth looking at again. In late 2007, after all, Obama promised that community organizing groups such as ACORN would "have input into the agenda for the next presidency of the United States of America."

On Obama's "myth busting" website, it was once claimed that
Fact: Barack was never an ACORN trainer and never worked for ACORN in any other capacity.
This was later scrubbed, when the truth proved otherwise.

Last year, I noted a number of facts that suggested that another purported "Fact", namely, that "ACORN was not part of Project Vote, the successful voter registration drive Barack ran in 1992" was an incomplete truth if true at all. I had attempted to edit Project Vote's Wikipedia article, but was ultimately blocked by Wikipedia's vigilant Obamaphiles (Joe Klein is right, Wikipedia IS "leftist"). A Project Vote person evidently came across the history of my Wiki edits in the months subsequent, since the links I found that Project Vote could have eliminated on its own initiative have been deleted (hence not all points below have weblinks). Lest I sound conspiratorial, consider the fact that the same deletion happened after a Washington Examiner story.

If Project Vote and ACORN are not a common entity, then why
- does this source say Project Vote "was created by the radical group ACORN"?
- did TIME magazine describe Project Vote as an "arm" of ACORN?
- did the New York Times also describe Project Vote as an "arm", not once but twice, and ACORN publish the full text of one of these articles on
- did Michael Slater, when deputy director of Project Vote, say "Project Vote provides support to ACORN's voter registration program" and then as executive director sign a 2005 report on the DEMOS website as
Mike Slater
Election Administration
Program Director
Project Vote/ACORN

- did this same Mike Slater say "GOP criticism of his group's ties to ACORN was fair"?
- was the only e-mail address provided as part of Project Vote's legal or official registration (under the name Voting for America, Inc.) an address?
- did the Beldon Fund describe a grant as going to "Project Vote/Voting for America for its ACORN Alumni Mobilization Project to reach out and re-connect former staff..."?
- did the Seattle Times describe an ACORN voter registration drive as "funded by Project Vote"?
- was Project Vote described by the Future5000 index of organizations as "Legal Name: ACORN"
- was an ACORN person listed as a Project Vote Director on Project Vote's tax filings for many years without this person knowing that Project Vote existed at all, never mind as a separate organization. This New York Times story also describes how an ACORN lawyer "found that the tight relationship between Project Vote and Acorn made it impossible to document that Project Vote’s money had been used in a strictly nonpartisan manner. Until the embezzlement scandal broke last summer, Project Vote’s board was made up entirely of Acorn staff members and Acorn members."
- did the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette state on June 2, 1987 that "[a person] of the nonprofit Project Vote organizations at Washington... came to Little Rock recently to help ACORN"
- did a former ACORN/Project Vote employee say "ACORN and Project Vote were one in the same."
- did Obama say last year that "Even before I was an elected official, when I ran Project Vote voter registration drive in Illinois, ACORN was smack dab in the middle of it, and we appreciate your work.”?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Canadian Teabaggers

America's Tea Party protests migrated north of the border today as former SoCred premier Bill Vander Zalm was found leading the masses in protesting British Columbia's introduction of the HST (a harmonization of provincial and federal sales taxes).

I won't go over all the economic arguments in favour of the HST, since a lot of people are already aware of where the expert consensus is. The question is how one reacts to that. As "Andre Jean" on the Globe and Mail's website puts it in responding to the comments of another (italicized):
I'm not sure I would trust the public at large to really understand these issues.... According to just about every economist [Liberal Premier Gordon] Campbell is doing the right thing

I don't think that this is the point. What are we? A democracy or an expertocracy? Why bother having elections? Why not leave it to the professional organizations of economists, engineers, doctors, lawyers, et al. to set public policy?... Might as well leave it to the expletive deleted think tanks to run the show.

Well, Andre, if you are looking for refuge from an "expertocracy", Ed Stelmach's Alberta is your shelter from the storm!

It's arguably unfair to American Teabaggers to compare them to Vander Zalm's mob because the US demonstrators are calling for lower government spending, a very sound policy (although not so sound is the number of Birthers, Deathers, Tenthers, etc in their ranks). This Vancouver protest has nothing to do with spending and everything to do with whether the tax burden is transparent and efficient (paid by consumers) or obscured and inefficient (paid by producers).

According to Les Leyne of the Victoria Times Colonist
The blame -- or credit -- for the Return of the Zalm falls squarely on one man -- my friend Vaughn Palmer of The Vancouver Sun.
It was Palmer who invited Vander Zalm on to his Voice of B.C. TV show in June. The topic was his absurd 645-page, self-published [and self-edited] book ... The appearance gave Vander Zalm his first taste of publicity in years. TV is like crack to him.
That appearance likely brought in enough gushy e-mails from long-dormant Socreds living on the outskirts of Crazytown that it reawakened his taste for being in the news. So it's no coincidence that, several weeks later, he pops up at the front of the angry mob, ready to lead a populist charge in all directions.

Vaughn Palmer responds by noting that he could hardly be conspiring for the return of someone who had such a "dismal and disturbing record as premier":
Denounced by the New Democrats of the day for trying to impose his religious beliefs on the province by cutting off funding for doctor-approved abortions. Accused of presiding over one of the most ethically-challenged administrations in history.
Found guilty of multiple violations of conflict-of-interest standards over the sale of his property to a Taiwanese billionaire.
Persisted in his actions (to quote from the Ted Hughes-authored review of his conduct) 'because of the apparently sincere belief that no conflict existed so long as the public was not aware of what's going on.'

There is a lesson here for Alberta social conservatives, and that's that one has to be discriminating in terms of whom one is backing. Vander Zalm had already alienated Indo-Canadian supporters of his anti-HST crusade by declaring that multiculturalism is destroying the country. Now I happen to believe that Vander Zalm's lament about multiculturalism and the decline of religion, and in particular his remark that "[w]e’re trying to accommodate all people, and in the process losing everything" is a message that should be taken seriously. The problem is that this messenger cannot be taken seriously.

The biggest warning flag that the Zalm is not, in fact, advancing "true conservatism" is the fact that he is in league with the NDP. Today Vander Zalm introduced Carole James saying the NDP leader was “doing a great job.”

Lately I've been asking supporters of Mark Dyrholm to consider Dyrholm's campaigning on behalf of Ed Stelmach's PCs. How does that square with Dyrholm being a "true conservative"? Is Vander Zalm, who wears his "conservative Christian beliefs" on his sleeve, a "true conservative"? Then what's he doing on a stage with the NDP? Even if one thinks the Stelmach PC party is "conservative", surely we can agree that the "label" does not belong on the NDP.

"[C]onservative Christians" ultimately retard the cause instead of advancing it by following a demagogue who "pops up at the front of the angry mob, ready to lead a populist charge in all directions." Everytime this happens, the judgment of the followers is called into question. As Vaughn Palmer notes with respect to the NDP leader: "you have to wonder what she is saying about her own standards."

The fact is that "conservative Christian" values do not have to be packaged into a single football and handed off to a self-promoting politician who showboats for the crowd and then fumbles it. One can advocate on an issue by issue basis, like the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada does, and be far more effective.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'm surprised at your learnin'

The Alberta Altruist has uncovered a video of Jack Mintz going over the numbers related to his fiscal management report with "in the red Ed" and Finance Minister Iris Evans.

My advice to Professor Mintz in any future encounter: don't let on that you're an urban Calgarian. Show your common touch with a tale about how you accessorized your Lamont County pick-up with a gun rack and a moosehead on the grill. Don't used the phrase "pimped out my ride" or Iris' moral fibers might unravel completely.
The huge failure of Canadians is not to educate the children properly, and then why should we be surprised when they have mental illnesses...
- Iris Evans, casting pearls of wisdom before Toronto swine

"Reforming" Alberta?

News from Calgary is that at the end of the Wednesday night debate Jeff Willerton announced that he was withdrawing from the leadership race and throwing his support to Mark Dyrholm.

A few days ago, a Dyrholm supporter told me
When identity politics means identifying your political background it is fair game.
"Fair game" in my books would be full disclosure. Dyrholm has selectively chosen to play up his federal election campaigning because for provincial elections he was campaigning on behalf of the very group he now says he opposes: P"C" Alberta. The one time he didn't, it was to support Craig Chandler in Calgary Egmont instead of Wildrose Alliance candidate Barry Chase, the father of one of the most heavily involved Calgarians in today's WRA, Travis Chase.

The Dyrholm supporter continued,
We've never tried the Reform Party policies in our own province and that's what Mark's campaign is all about...
Sorry, but that just isn't true. I would direct you to were it not for the fact that this Red Deer candidate for the Alberta Alliance in 2004 has let his campaign website expire sometime in the past year and a half. It was a typical 2004 Alberta Alliance campaign in that Rand made it very clear that he was a Reformer who wanted to apply the Reform model to Alberta. The only reason there wasn't a Reform Party of Alberta is because federal Reformers reserved the name to keep Reform focused on federal politics. The Canadian Alliance, however, did not register the Alliance name with provincial electoral officers and that, my friend, is why the word "Alliance" appears in the name of our party today.

Where was Mark Dyrholm when supporters of the federal Canadian Alliance were setting up the Alberta Alliance?

For the record, I was once a card carrying PC Alberta member too, but that was back in the misty depths of time when Klein was still a fiscal conservative. By 2003, when total spending had increased by more than 50% relative to 1996, my membership had long since lapsed. I was never a member of the Alberta Alliance, it being controlled, and I mean controlled, by Randy Thorsteinson and it not being a vehicle that was amenable to being "professionalized" and therefore taken seriously. I was nonetheless one of the earliest members of the Wildrose Party.

After last year's election I argued that "the Reform analogy does not apply." I may have been wrong about some things in the wake of what happened this week in Calgary Glenmore, such as my claim that "the sense of regional alienation within the province is not great enough to propel the Wildrose Alliance anywhere in particular," but I continue to believe that "western alienation" is something that the P"C" government has cynically exploited for many years and is accordingly not something we should be demagoguing. On truly substantive issues like equalization - a regional subsidy program that is demonstrably contrary to the net economic interests of Canadians - the Stelmach government and many others who trot out the Ottawa bogeyman have been notably silent. As Marc Lisac has written in "Alberta Politics Uncovered",
Western alienation grows out of real, or at least out of historical, roots. But, it has been transformed into an artificial and mysterious edifice. It is used now to further the power of the provincial government, and to further the political agendas of ideologically driven political activists who can no way be described as the 'grassroots.'

Jeff Willerton, for all his faults, is not someone who showed up at the doorstep of the Wildrose Alliance in the last six months because a competing party he supported made a policy move that affected his specific financial interests. To return to Lisac's book,
[W]hy would anyone with a solid position in the community want to run for the opposition? The prize for election is putting up with casual insults in question period, being largely ignored by the media, watching government backbenchers earn much more money by virtue of being appointed to this agency or that board, and knowing that one's future employability outside politics is likely being impaired. The most attractive choice is to fight for a nomination in the governing party.

You have to be a saint to run for the ragged, perpetually debt-ridden shells that pass for opposition parties in Alberta. A saint, or someone with the character of a stubborn, defiant buffalo facing directly into a stiff wind coming off the mountains. Most people in public life here are neither. Contrary to the stereotype of the defiant individual, the province is full of people who take the easier path and join the party (literally and figuratively).
Jeff Willerton never sought a nomination in the governing party. Mark Dryholm cannot say the same thing. Say what you will about Jeff, but he's a true Alberta "buffalo".

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

another snarky jab at the Dyrholm campaign

Seeing as it is possible that I might already be a candidate for pride of place on C. Chandler's Enemies List, I might as well run with it and take another poke at the Dyrholm campaign. When Craig informs me that I'm off his Christmas card list, then I'll know that I've gone over the line!

re my statement "Objectively, the 'argument' for voting for the WRA was stronger then than now," in the post below, I assume Mark Dyrholm would strenuously disagree since he was actively campaigning on behalf of Team Stelmach against us last year, specifically supporting Ron Liepert against Bob Babcock. All is forgiven, however, because I'm sure Bob would agree with me that we constituted a slate of hyper-conservatives, and gentlemen like Mr Dryholm had to take a stand against us in the name of judicious moderation! Many of the most active Wildrose Alliance supporters were evangelicals, and who was going to smite these people if not Mr Mark Dyrholm on behalf of the P"C" party? Dyrholm contributed to a convincing win for the P"C" Health minister, but cannot be given a perfect 10 for results against the field of P"C" enemies since Bob managed to collect more than 2000 votes under the WRA banner, up more than 1000 from the Alberta Alliance 2004 performance and this despite a decline in the Wildrose Alliance vote provincewide relative to to 2004!

Dyrholm stuck with the Stelmach crew through various trials and tribulations like their decision to award themselves fat pay hikes courtesy of the Alberta taxpayer, but when chiropractic care was delisted in the spring of this year, hitting Dyrholm in the pocketbook, the moment had arisen whereby fidelity to the crusade of True Conservatism necessitated jumping ship to the Wildrose Alliance and contesting the leadership candidacy of Danielle Smith, who, her duty at the Fraser Institute and her being attacked by PC Party member Ken Chapman as a secret "social conservative" ("she’d pull off a rebranding of Danielle Smith... Their hearts and their heads are still there and no one is fooled") notwithstanding, would be too liberal to helm the WRA and doesn't have enough political experience campaigning on behalf of Steady Eddie & the Self Pay Raising Band. Such is the storied journey of an "true and sincere" conservative, a man whom only nasty pieces of work like John Kelly would not endorse. Or not!

"argument" won?

When I first ran for office early last year, I was sure that I would "make a difference" because I had such good arguments for why people should vote for me and the Wildrose Alliance. In the end, however, I and my fellow candidates in the Edmonton area made no detectable difference at all. As you can imagine, it was a humbling experience.

But with the Wildrose Alliance vote in Calgary Glenmore soaring from 8% to 37% in the space of 18 months, my confidence in the power of the Wildrose Alliance message is restored... right?

Objectively, the "argument" for voting for the WRA was stronger then than now. If more Wildrosers had been elected in March 2008, more resistance could have been put up to the spending spree when resistance was so badly needed. Now, the tide of red ink should make it difficult for the Stelmach government to raise spending even if the WRA weren't around to make the argument for prudence. Applying the brakes when the P"C" government was hiking expenditures 30% in just 2 years would have surely been a lot easier and more pleasant for everyone than trying to actively cut back spending now. Global TV tonight featured a string of stories involving Alberta Health Services and post-secondary funding, where deficits are looming that are not even included in the official $6.9 billion shortfall that has yet to be tackled. Government spending, to use the economists' term, is "downward sticky".

With all of the additional voices calling out the Premier's mismanagement, I feel it less necessary to add my own.

The difference between early last year and this summer is that the "argument" is not just abstract. When it comes to business friendly policy, it has always been thus. Labour gets to vote, capital does not. Although the owners of capital will vote for policies that incentivize capital accumulation, the investor class is far outnumbered by those whose primary income derives from the sale of their labour. Capitalism has made its advances in spite of popular opinion, not because of it. It's only when the system has proven itself to work that it has been popularly accepted.

This is not to suggest that "right wing" policy in general is primarily advanced by an elite group of pundits and academics who "make the argument" while the common man votes according to concrete results. On issues like immigration, it is ordinary people who adopt the "right wing" position in defiance of elite opinion. But when it comes to economics, the masses have never been leading the charge for what they typically deride as "the corporate agenda."

In an interview with Macleans, Paul Hinman speaks, perhaps not with the eloquence of a poet, but with the experience of a politician:
it’s just that Calgary-Glenmore is hurting now and they were [therefore] willing to look [at the Wildrose Alliance]. The sad thing about politics is that we always stay put until we’re hurting. And it doesn’t matter where you look. What this is is a shift in pain. As more and more Albertans are facing the pain of premier Stelmach’s economic policies, they have to start to look. It’s human nature. We sit there if we’re happy, but if there’s pain being inflicted we’re going to move.
There you have it. It's not argument won, it's argument seen. The argument hasn't really changed. It's been reinforced, but experts had been making it for a long time. The consequences of the Stelmach government not listening have been brought home. Are the current economic conditions in the province just a consequence of provincial government decisions? Of course not, it is not fair to hold Ed entirely responsible. But he is responsible for exacerbating the situation and what's different the day after the Glenmore vote is not the strength of the argument per se but that it is being heard and considered.

Hinman makes another observation that has to be taken seriously: "a competent leader — and we’ve got one in the race — can become the next premier at the next provincial election.... the leadership’s everything."

Glenmore swing analysis

Percentage swing from 2008:
Wildrose Alliance Party +28.67%
Liberal +1.07%
Progressive Conservative -24.71%
NDP -2.42%
Other -2.62%

Note the decline in the combined NDP/Liberal vote share. The Liberals and NDP combined pulled in 766 fewer voters in 2009 than in 2008 when, had they held their share, they would have lost 555 (turnout fraction was actually 98% of what it was last year, but the 2009 pool of eligible electors was just 88% of 2008 for a total vote count this year that was 87% of last year). A question for those who consider this combined vote representative of the "left" in Alberta is how can they be considered the opposition in waiting if the governing party can act arrogantly and incompetently and this vote goes DOWN. The combined PC/WRA vote share rose a full 4%, which doesn't really square with the notion that Calgarians feel the province needs some sort of shift to the left of the PCs.

Avalon Roberts' vote share has remained remarkably consistent. She got 35% for the Liberals in 2004, 33% in 2008, and 34% in 2009. She apparently gave up 2 points to the Wildrose Alliance in 2008 (the PC and Green vote shares remaining unchanged from 2004, and the NDP down a point for net 3 to the WRA) and arguably another point or more in 2009 if one assumes that 2 and half points from the NDP went Liberal but 1 and half moved on such that Roberts ended net up just 1.

The bottom line is that 110% of the benefit of the Tory tumble is going to the Wildrose Alliance.

Monday, September 14, 2009

P"C" loss in Glenmore tonight

As results come in, the P"C"s have been running third for too long now to have a realistic hope of keeping this riding in the fold.

At 20:55 with 4407 votes in it is
Hinman (Wildrose Alliance) 1650 (37%)
Roberts (Liberal) 1440 (33%)
Colley-Urquhart 1188 (27%)

Let me say it now: we should have run Danielle! But you've earned this one Paul, I've always respected you. It's not over yet but congratulations for an outstanding performance even if the Liberals take it at the wire (which I doubt)!

UPDATE: 9:30 pm
I'm calling this for Hinman. Yes, Roberts is still close (3158 to 3432). But Hinman has won 29 polls and Roberts 18 (and DCU 13) with 6 polls left to report. The advance and the special poll would go with the riding, or even favour Hinman given the number of Hinman campaign workers (who typically vote in advance). Hinman is doing better in Southwood and Cedarbrae J and K should go Hinman too. That leaves Cedarbrae C, D, and E for Roberts. Even if she wins them by an average of 20 votes over Hinman, that's all of 60 and she is running more than 250 short.

UPDATE: 10:05 pm
The Liberal camp has conceded. WAY TO GO PAUL and the Calgary Wildrose Alliance volunteers!!!!

Final unofficial results: 10:20 pm
with 66 out of 66 polls reporting:
Paul Hinman (WAP) 4052 (36.7%)
Avalon Roberts (Liberal) 3776 (34.2%)
Diane Colley-Urquhart (PC) 2863 (26.0%)
Eric Carpendale (NDP) 148 (1.3%)
turnout 40.5%

"Guess what, Bronco? I'm back"
- Diane Colley-Urquhart

Alberta deficit closer to $9 billion than $7

According to the government, the provincial deficit is $6.9 billion, but this does not include the deficits at either AHS, the health superboard, OR at post-secondary institutions.

Lost in the recent debate over healthcare has been the fact that the fiscal problems of Alberta Health Services are over and above the official $6.9 billion shortfall. The superboard is facing a $1.3 billion deficit.

The only politician who seems to have been making an issue out of the fact that the $6.9 billion figure misleadingly understates provincial liabilities is MLA Guy Boutilier. We can thank his expulsion from the government caucus for improving the level of disclosure practiced by our representatives. Those of you who have no need for this sort of consciousness raising are advised to "pull the lever" for P"C" candidate Diane Colley-Urquhart in Calgary Glenmore today!

On another note, Craig Chandler has responded to my criticism of the Dyrholm campaign by claiming that I have, amongst other things, taken Dyrholm's remarks "out of context." When the context is measured public discourse in Alberta, I don't think some of Dyrholm's declarations, like his being "radically pro-life" or his characterization of a government body as "pro-Nazi", can be spun as anything other than what they are: comments that would alienate many mainstream Albertans and therefore the electorate even if they happen to be genuinely heartfelt. "One plays to a certain base in a nomination," says Chandler. In many respects, this is an admission of the cynicism I see in the Dyrholm campaign. While talking with Danielle I raised this issue, although I was thinking (hoping?) that it was more a matter of what one emphasized than manipulative "playing". Danielle would nonetheless have none of it; she was not going to present two faces and that was the end of it. If Danielle Smith has a political failing, it is that she is not Machiavellian enough. I'm reminded of a joke about coming across a gravestone that read "Here lies a politician and an honest man," to which someone retorted, "Amazing that they could get two people into this one plot!".

Chandler argues that what is "radical" is the amount of change required. But his next statement that "fixed election dates [are] radical" is undermined by Mark Dyrholm's unending testimony about all the work he did to elect Stephen Harper's crew. This is the same outfit that talked up fixed election dates to get Alberta votes and then proceeded to ignore their own legislation on the point. Danielle Smith's commitment to fixed election dates is, in contrast, unqualified.

One could make a similar observation about Dyholm's attack on the federal Court Challenges program: as Joseph Ben-Ami has observed, the Harper Tories have resurrected it by launching a program under the same conditions (funding for minority language litigation) as the original.

Ben-Ami points an accusing finger at Conservative "Party apologists", yet we've got them right here in the Dyrholm and Willerton campaigns as they continuely suggest that we should be devoting our energies to defeating the federal Liberals (defeating the provincial government isn't enough of a task?). If the Dyrholm campaign wishes to remind us that we should heed the "base" (sound advice as far as it goes), the federal Conservative party is doing the exact opposite.

What matters is policies, not the party. If we are going to attack Diane Colley-Urquhart for putting her party over policy (or people) then let's show some consistency and not make an issue out of federal party loyalty.

On another unrelated note, Elections Alberta is going after Joe Anglin about a mass mail-out his group sent out to Glenmore residents.
According to Anglin, although the group purposely targeted Calgary-Glenmore voters, the households were picked by estimating their location through postal codes, then purchasing a mass mail-out through Canada Post. He said he doesn't have access to electoral lists.
I just wanted to state that Anglin is very credible here because this is exactly what I did for mail-outs when I was a candidate in the last election. I didn't end up having any use at all for the list of electors, which the returning officer provided to me in the form of a big stack of paper.

Let me clarify something. My grievance with the Dryholm campaign is primarily concerned with what they are telling people privately. I wouldn't be making an issue out of what has been said publicly if I hadn't heard reliable reports that the public messenging is just the tip of the iceberg.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wildrose Alliance leadership debate in Edmonton, part II

With respect to the debate itself, I must confess to a predilection to consider Mark Dyrholm's comments critically. During the evening, I had gotten wind of what Mr Dyrholm's primary backer had said to a particular Alberta Alliance and Wildrose Party stalwart, who happened to be a delightfully disarming grandmotherly type, and found it difficult to stop brooding about what struck me as an incident of unprovoked thuggery. Is everyone seeing each campaign for what it is or just what's in the shop window, I wondered. And so I observed with rather wry disdain that if we were to drink a shot every time Dyrholm mentioned "Reform", "Preston Manning", or "federal Liberals", the whole lot of us would be stone drunk before he'd spoken for 10 minutes. But when it came to the point of attacking the federal court challenges program, and finally funding for the Bloc Québécois, it became decidedly unfunny for me. Perhaps Mr Dyrholm is a little honestly confused about provincial and federal jurisdictions but to promise to defund the Bloc? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he knows full well this is a promise he could not possibly fulfill as a provincial politician but nonetheless is cynical enough about his audience's level of knowledge that he believes the misinformation about the range of a provincial politician's powers is being swallowed uncritically.

"You're being too harsh," someone might say. "He's not promising to do anything about these populist outrages, he's just noting them." If this stuff is irrelevant from a policy perspective, then why is it being noted? It's marketing by association with what's perceived to be popular, with all the substance of putting prancing girls in a beer ad. There is no association? Then why bother? Who are we kidding here?

As a person who takes policy seriously, I'm not inclined to indulge a person who approaches politics like it's a beer marketing campaign with good humour. I knocked on doors for Reform, back in the 90s. I had doors slammed in my face when I was trying to sell Reform in Alberta's most hostile territory, Edmonton Strathcona. And I strongly object to the implied contention that if you are not a former Reformer or, more exactly, not a hater of the federal Liberals then you do not subscribe to what fundamentally defines a Wildrose Alliance supporter. What fundamentally defines a Wildrose Alliance supporter is a desire for better government in... wait for it... ALBERTA!

If Preston Manning or Stephen Harper has, in fact, endorsed your specific candidacy, fine, point it out. Danielle mentioned Link Byfield in the context of making a specific point, which was good politics. If you are on a federal Liberal's enemies list, who I am to shy you away from shouting this from the rooftops? Whatever floats your boat. But if not, then stop implying that you have some endorsement that your competitors don't. Many of us who were born and raised in an evangelical community will grant that we get something of a thrill when our identities are publicly acknowledged, perhaps not unlike the reaction of Canadians to the mention of Canada in a Hollywood produced movie. But digging for this reaction, by, to take an example from the debate, talking about your "pastor" without providing a connection to a provincial policy issue, is pandering.

As far as I was concerned, Danielle should have taken the metaphorical hatchet to Dyrholm for engaging in these tactics. Perhaps at the next debate, she will give him a Harper button, a Reform hat, a Bible and an Alberta flag so he can just garb himself in such a way that his primary "argument" will be made visually and the actual talking time can be saved for a consideration of PROVINCIAL politics. While Dyrholm was the primary offender here, Willerton was also inclined to argue that he was somehow going to keep the Liberal "octopus" out of Ottawa.

At the end of the debate, Danielle advanced the general interest of our shared party by addressing the people in the audience who were not party members; a dignified and appropriate conclusion.

When I challenged Dyrholm about his repeated trotting out of the Ottawa bogeyman, he mentioned an Alberta Pension Plan. Fair enough. But he wasn't advocating for an Alberta Pension Plan when he was up there blasting the Bloc and "federal Liberal smear campaigns".

Don't get me wrong here, Dyrholm is not a nasty schemer (although I'm not sure I can say the same about the entirety of his campaign team). One question that came up was obviously planted by Dyrholm, but he took the perniciousness out of this by later stating frankly that he had his team prepare the question. It's this sort of gesture that suggests to me that he has a good sense of propriety. When I told him that it would be good to see him continue to remain a member of the team regardless of what happened next month, he quite fairly argued that he has committed to that and his opponents have not. But I am at a loss as to how he can push identity politics so shamelessly. I'm not saying it doesn't work; on the contrary people don't generally vote because they like conservative policies per se, they vote because they consider themselves conservative. A candidate who convinces most people that he is one of them, be it Christian or conservative, is going to get their votes even if the policies he pursues are, in substantive fact, less Christian or conservative than those of an opponent he has successfully tagged as unChristian or unconservative. The federal Conservatives are very much NOT conservative on issue after issue, yet in their cyncism are well aware that they can sell conservative policy down the river so long as they retain the identity based allegiance of their Alberta "base". One person I met at the debate said she was leaning towards not supporting the Wildrose Alliance at all because she's an Edmontonian and all of the leadership candidates are not. Such is the trumping power of identification. But it does not serve the public interest to play to this.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Wildrose Alliance leadership debate in Edmonton, part I

Prior to Thursday evening's leadership candidates debate in Edmonton I had an opportunity to talk with Danielle Smith. I congratulated her on signing up King Ralph's father, who, according to the Edmonton Sun, turns a "spry 92" this month, but noted that unfortunately Klein père denied that he bought the membership when CTV contacted him. After showing me Phil Klein's membership receipt, duly filled out in large block letters, Danielle speculated that although the elderly gentleman had assured her that he had no problem with her spreading the word of his recruitment, he may have assumed it would be just to acquaintances such that getting subsequently contacted by CTV News may have been too much of a unexpected surprise for him to comfortably handle. In any case, the old timer had no reservations about dumping on Stelmach for Don Braid of the Herald: "So I kind of like this Wildrose lady (Danielle Smith). She's smart and well-educated and maybe it's time for a female premier.... New brooms sweep clean." More significant may be the Chamber of Commerce types whom Braid notes as having also gone public in denouncing the "Stelmachians".

I then asked her about Jeff Willerton going after her Tuesday night in Grande Prairie. Having some presumptions with how a monopoly media outlet will cover a story (if there are two or more major papers or TV stations in a regional market, they will often have (opposing) political leans, but if there is only one, it will generally take its responsibility to be even-handed and/or understated very seriously), I read the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune's report that "while all candidates were cordial with one another... Willerton, 45, opted to attack..." as likely meaning Jeff decided to show all the restraint of a wild dog with a bone, or shall I say a wild man with a bone, least anyone accuse me of describing a fellow Wildroser as a wild dog! Danielle confirmed this by exhibiting that plaintive look that earnest women often have when they have just encountered someone belligerent (for what it's worth, although Ms Smith strikes me as appropriately assertive, I never detected in her the slightest trace of the sneering aggression that one would find in someone who relished playing political hatchet-person). "He apologized to me after," she observed. When, after the debate, I asked Jeff about the Herald-Tribune's report, he corrected it saying, "I didn't go after my opponents. I went after Danielle." In any case, given Mr Willerton's apology and indication that he will dial it down going forward, it would be less than magnanimous to take further issue with his behaviour in Grande Prairie!

Since it makes for a relatively snappy read, I gave Danielle a copy of Tim LeRiche's "Alberta's Oil Patch".

Danielle seemed rather deflated by reports that one or more of the Eddys (longtime Alberta Alliance organizers in Edmonton) and former Alberta Alliance leader Randy Thorsteinson are more interested in creating and/or joining some fringe party than playing ball with the Wildrose Alliance. If true, these developments are sadly not much of a surprise. At the end of August Randy was on ProjectAlberta declaring that the Wildrose Alliance leadership race was rigged. To this someone asked the very good questions,
1. How exactly is this leadership race, right now, not being fair to all the candidates?
2. How exactly do you propose that it be made fair for everyone?
which prompted the former SoCred and AA leader to throw up his hands, "Can the leadership election be made fair? It is already too late so the point is moot." This evasion prompted the questioner to repeat the questions, and receive no response. Let me clear: I do not seek to engage in unseemly disputation with Mr Thorsteinson, but I must advise him, with all due humility, that the party cannot accomodate your concerns if you refuse to specifiy what it is that we could possibly do to please you. If Danielle's popularity grows with a party member's level of involvement such that her support is, indeed, overwhelming amongst the party executive, is it not possible that this reflects the fact that the better one knows her, the more obvious her appeal as a candidate is, as opposed to some menacing insider conspiracy? As for the Eddys, based on the assumption that they've left the party and I am therefore not airing an internal matter, what can I say other than that I had a lot of problems with the management, or lack thereof, of last year's Edmonton area campaign and apparently I wasn't the only one given how the membership vote for Northern Directors turned out at the AGM. If you reading this Robert, let me just say that you were a valued member and if you return hopefully we can all work together in the Edmonton area (should I remain here) under Barry Croucher's skilled and inclusive direction.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

upcoming Wildrose Alliance events

With less than a week to go to the Glenmore by-election, AM 660 is claiming that "there is talk of a surprise result". I'm not so sure. In Canadian politics, one can rarely go wrong by betting on the least interesting result, and that's probably even more true in Alberta. That said, I agree with Metro that signs on private property play some predictive role. This would be especially true in bedroom communities, since homeowners there are more likely to have actively solicited a sign than private property owners on major drags, where campaigns typically lobby owners to accept their signs.
[Metro's] search uncovered the following sign totals:
Paul Hinman, Wildrose Alliance — 152
Dianne Colley-Urquhart, Progressive Conservative — 128
Dr. Avalon Roberts, Alberta Liberal — 106
While this might just mean that Wildrose supporters are the most enthusiastic (this is where a rule that allowed every voter willing to climb 10 flights of stairs a second vote would come in handy) it is worth something that "Matthew Benzen of the Wildrose Alliance said their campaign has re-ordered signs three times because of the demand." Presumably this demand is not coming from people who decided they want 2nd and 3rd signs on the same property.

I would welcome a Liberal win in the riding as a milestone on the road to a Wildrose Alliance government in this province. The fact of the matter is that in the process of supplanting the ancien régime with a new government both smart and of having solid fiscally conservative cred (the Liberals being doubtful on the latter of these two qualities and the ancien régime itself being short on both) there is going to be a period of time when the P"C"s and the WAP both attract significant shares of the vote such that third parties "run up the middle" for a win. It would be in the mutual interest of those on the non-Liberal side of the spectrum to minimize this time period by taking prompt and due note of which party "splitting the [non-Liberal] vote" is on its way up and which one is one its way down and accelerating that process. And although the Wildrose Alliance is most "deserving" of an additional seat in the Leg in terms of representation of the electorate, the Liberals are more deserving than the P"C" Party such that a Liberal takeaway from the oversized government caucus would be an incremental improvement in terms of democratic fairness.

I was last living in the heart of the Glenmore riding in June and July (just southeast of the Oakridge Co-op on Southland Dr and 24 st) so it is unfortunate that I headed up to Edmonton just in time to miss the action.

There are nonetheless some events of political interest in the north this coming week. Acccording to the Grande Prairie Herald-Tribune, "[t]he Wildrose Alliance leadership campaign kicks into high gear" tonight with a debate at the Grande Prairie Inn. The Peace Country is a very important region for the party. The next debate will be on Thursday here in Edmonton: 7:30pm at the Four Points Sheraton, 7230 Argyll Road. The candidates then move to Calgary for a September 16 debate, to Lethbridge on Sept 17 and in Red Deer Sept 23.

Friday, September 4, 2009

a missed opportunity for both Canada and South Africa

As an update to yesterday's post, I note that Ottawa has decided to appeal the IRB decision. This effectively says that the Canadian official who made the decision does not speak for Canada.

As I noted yesterday, this is likely the correct move when one limits the issue to the merits of this particular man's claim. But just as some South African commentators have described the incident as "a missed opportunity" for their government to acknowledge the concerns of white South Africans, the Canadian government could have set the stage for a more rational refugee policy going forward by snubbing the charges of Canadian malfeasance levelled by South Africa's ruling African National Congress. Under a sensible refugee policy, we simply would not entertain refugee claims from safe countries like members of the European Union. Because we DO entertain any and all claims with a formal hearing and legal rights to appeal, the Canadian government attempted to deal with a (resultant) surge in claims from Mexico and the Czech Republic that was overloading the bureaucracy by adding to (another area of) the bureaucracy in the form of requiring visas, and the associated processing costs, from all Mexicans and Czechs entering Canada for any reason. This latest episode was unsurprisingly just a repeat of the events back in the 90s that led to visa fees being imposed on Chilean visitors to Canada (and, in Chilean retaliation, on Canadian visitors to Chile). Why doesn't Canada have a "safe country" list? Because countries NOT on the list would complain, and at work here is the indulgent collegiality amongst national governments that is a product of a common enemy called domestic challenges to their moral or legal authority. So it is that they satisfy the demands coming from those of their peers who are unhappy that their subjects are exhibiting public interest in escaping from their regimes. To make a not unrelated observation here, the Obama government is now saying that with respect to Honduras it will further turn the financial screws against Zelaya's enemies (that is to say, Hondurans) and will "not support" "the outcome of scheduled elections in November" regardless of whether such elections were fairly and transparently administered sans Zelaya. If Zelaya could be overthrown and elections held because Zelaya contemptuously swung well left of the mandate that was granted to him by his electorate and that was sanctioned by his country's institutions, perhaps the same thing could happen to other powers that be!

Canada admits too many refugees period (50% of all applicants, the highest rate in the world according to a Forbes writer, while Italy admits 16% and France 13%), but a fair place to start in terms of cutting down on the cost to the taxpayer and the abuse of the system would be by summarily rejecting refugee pleas from citizens of safe countries and ignoring the howls of outrage coming from foreign leaders who insist that they ought to be on the safe country list as well because their benevolent government has precluded the possibility of anyone being persecuted in their jurisdiction. Ottawa, in other words, should generally do the exact opposite of what it did in this particular case which was to essentially apologize for a Canadian bureaucrat making the ANC look like the dodgy government it is. Parliament should then go one better and make the most substantive reform: pass a bill citing the notwithstanding clause to assert its discretionary authority over the unelected judiciary with respect to the Supreme Court's ill-advised 1980s decision to grant full Charter rights to every non-citizen who happened to get a foot inside the border.