A number of things are on my mind these days...
Monday's byelections can hardly be considered a victory for the Liberals. By my admittedly simple math, turning 4 Liberal seats into 3 is not exactly a crushing show of momentum. The near loss of Vancouver Quadra should also be setting off some pretty serious alarm bells within the Liberal Party of Canada.
No matter how they spin it, Liberal popularity is going down and Conservative popularity is going up. Indeed, the only convincing Liberal victories were for two people who ran AGAINST Stephane Dion in the leadership race.
Martha Hall Findlay says that the Liberal Party is united. I suspect any semblance of unity in that party is coalescing around the notion that Dion is the weakest leader their party has ever seen.
Staying federal for a moment, I'm glad to see Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has been taking Dalton McGuinty to task for taking little action to help Ontario's flailing economy.
While the feds have offered broad-based tax relief, McGuinty seems content to offer platitudes and excuses as to why his government is unable to kick-start their economy before its too late.
This is something we here in Alberta should be watching very closely. Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans has already indicated that the potential for Ontario to become a have-not province is very much on her radar screen.
Some of the more forward-looking politicians in Ontario, including Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, have already started to openly muse about out-of-province employment alternatives for their constituents. Francis is floating the idea of making Windsor a hub for long-distance commuting to Alberta, something that already happens from a number of cities in Canada. While some may view this as a drastic suggestion, I think he sums it up best when he states "Is it difficult to work in another city, leaving your family during the week? It is. But it is equally difficult being out of work."
Dalton McGuinty has now coasted to victory TWICE thanks to a disorganized Ontario PC Party rather than his own luminary ideas.
As a Canadian whose taxes pay much more IN to equalization than he gets OUT of it, I sure hope someone in Ontario comes up with a way to revitalize their economy and soon. It may be heading down the drain, but some of us out west are getting awfully tired of being the plumbers of Confederation.
On the topic of people in the ivory towers on Front Street, I made the mistake of watching the CBC's latest "documentary" on Northern Alberta's oilsands entitled "Tar Sands: The Selling of Alberta".
I use the quotation marks because this piece of left-wing propaganda was about as lopsided as an elephant on a see-saw (a reference they actually use in reference to Alberta). Michael Moore might as well have put it together.
That they overtly use the term "Tar Sands" should have been my first clue.
Reportage about my hometown and the industry in which I grew up always interests me, even though it is usually heavily torqued and largely devoid of facts. This one, though, really took the cake.
While highlighting the biggest sticking points with the opponents of oilsands development, complete with omnious music and a graphic that looks almost identical to something I've seen in a Greenpeace propaganda campaign, this "documentary" does NOTHING to highlight the benefits of the Alberta oilsands.
They choose to speak of the difficulties of families who are separated when a spouse is working in the Wood Buffalo region during the week, yet ignore the fact that the generous income made allows them to afford the $60,000 vehicles and large home they enjoy.
They protray Fort McMurray as a bastion of filth, drugs, crime, and general unruliness. Nevermind that there are tens of thousands of people who are proud to call Fort McMurray their home and who aren't looking at leaving any time soon. No need to tell people about the vibrant community, home to some of Canada's most generous people when it comes to per-capita contributions to charity.
They look longingly at Norway's Statoil, a state-owned company in a heavily-taxed socialist nation that relies on income from offshore oil drilling. They speak glowingly about their small environmental footprint, forgetting entirely that offshore drilling and oilsands operations are two completely different industries.
They also note that Statoil is looking to invest in the oilsands without using an open pit mine, but conveniently omit the fact that this technology (SAGD) has been undergoing development IN ALBERTA for many years.
Their one-sided interviewees highlight that Alberta gets less in royalties than some other major oil producers. The host herself says that, rather than a drastic overhaul of royalties, the Alberta government has been content to simply "tweak" the royalty scheme. Given that Alberta's two major opposition parties (who were proponents of the aforementioned drastic overhaul) were obliterated in the provincial election, it would seem that Albertans do not share the views of the CBC or their "experts".
They claim that Alberta's oil goes exclusively to the United States, leaving Eastern Canadians to clamour for unstable middle eastern oil. This is an outright falsehood. A 5th grader doing research into oil pipelines from Alberta would quite readily discover that one of the major southern terminals for Alberta crude oil is in SARNIA, ONTARIO.
This entire "documentary" serves as an excellent example of why everyone should take anything aired on our national broadcaster with a heavy grain of salt. The fact that the CBC deliberately commissioned this feature is also a pretty good indicator that the Liberal elite in Central Canada have an agenda to shutdown the oilsands through a campaign of fear and misinformation about its effects, both environmental and economic.
The people I feel sorry for are those who watch these seriously torqued "documentaries" and make no effort to fact check or get the other side of the story. That, in my opinion, is the greatest danger here.
Finally, Graham Thomson had another piece in the Edmonton Journal a few days ago about the abysmal turnout in the provincial election earlier this month.
He kicks around the usual ideas of electoral reform that are being bandied about, namely a Citizens Assembly like the one that recommended STV in British Columbia. This and similar ideas seem to be pretty standard post-election reactions in Alberta these days.
I think, though, that the poor participation in the last election can't really be attributed to people's dislike of our current electoral system. A very small minority of vocal citizens may feel this way, but they can hardly account for the 41% (or less) turnout.
The main reason that people chose not to participate, in my opinion, was the inability of ANY of the political parties to engage Albertans with ideas. Finding a remedy for this doesn't fall to any assembly on electoral reform, but rather to politicians and those of us who are active in Alberta's political parties.
For those in the Liberals, the NDP, and the Wildrose Alliance, that process has been kickstarted as they examine their dismal results in this last election.
For those of us in the PC Party, however, it may prove to be more difficult. The fact that we won such a huge number of seats risks overshadowing the fact that we have much work to do if we want to be the party that re-captures the attention of Albertans, lest another party gets there first. I look forward to highlighting some ideas being thrown out there between now and the next PC AGM this fall... an AGM at which PC members should be prepared to roll up their sleeves and get to work.
For my own part, I think our party needs to adopt a policy in favour of fixed election dates. They're already in place in BC, Ontario, and at the Federal level and make good common sense. In Alberta, we've usually got a pretty good idea when elections are coming anyway so its not like the idea of a fixed election date gives away much of an advantage. What it does do, though, is allow for Elections Alberta to be better prepared.
This brings me to what I think is the second biggest reason that so many Albertans didn't participate.
From the standpoint of Elections Alberta, this election was a complete disaster.
The lists of electors was so out of date that a campaign would almost have better luck identifying voters through the phone book.
Polling locations were so badly organized that some people had to drive half way across their urban riding rather than vote at a school across the street.
The website tool that allowed you to search for your polling location was so unprepared for the number of hits it received that it crashed several times on Election Day.
The list just goes on and on. Now, to be fair, a fixed election date won't solve all these problems, but they will at least allow a proper organization enough lead time to get things in place.
I say a proper organization because, after March 3rd, I'm not sure the crew at Elections Alberta can be called such.
Graham Thomson interviewed Lorne Gibson, Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, for the aforementioned column. In it he harps on about his desire to have the Chief Electoral Officer directly recruit and appoint the Returning Officers for each constituency.
Now I defended those with PC affiliations who filled the positions as has been the standard, particularily those who took on these vital posts at the last-minute only to have their characters dragged through the mud. That being said, I think that we should adopt a policy that the Chief Electoral Officer recruit and appoint the Returning Officers. After all, we've got time.
But I don't think that Chief Electoral Officer should be Lorne Gibson.
The issues surrounding Returning Officers notwithstanding, Mr. Gibson must have had a pretty good idea that this election was coming down the pipe. Its not like it was the best kept secret in Alberta.
And yet when it came to ensuring the most basic functions of the electoral process were in place... lists of electors, sensible polling locations, access to voting information on Election Day... Elections Alberta failed miserably and the responsibility for that has to rest upon the shoulders of the Chief Electoral Officer.
Moving forward, I think that the Goverment should adopt a policy of fixed election dates. I also think that they should accept the recommendation that gives the Chief Electoral Officer the exclusive role of recruiting and appointing Returning Officers.
Then they should fire Lorne Gibson.