Nevertheless, I've got some catching up to do. I'm going to do a quick (or quick-ish) hit on a few items from the last few weeks and promise to flesh certain topics out over the coming days. Shouldn't be too hard considering what's coming down the pipe this week. Here goes...
Finance Minister/Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove delivered Budget 2011. I'll admit that I'm not thrilled with another deficit. I certainly understand the rationale of building while costs are low and we have money in the bank, and particularly appreciate that the budget continues commitments to my hometown of Fort McMurray and the Oilsands (mentioned repeatedly in the Throne Speech, by the way).
But I worry that we're draining the savings in the Sustainability Fund a bit too fast. I do respect, though, that this is quite clearly Ed Stelmach's last Budget and one that he feels reflects the direction he has tried to offer this province. That said, one of the things I'm going to be looking for from whoever gets my support in the PC Leadership race is a more stringent set of fiscal plans that sets a clearer direction for the provincial treasury. One that allows for more flexibility than "no deficits, ever" but also doesn't consider something like raising royalties (we've seen that movie before).
Speaking of royalties, oil and gas, and the like, the Edmonton Journal recently posted an editorial criticizing the Government of Alberta's new well drilling incentive. The folks over at Alberta Venture (who, incidentally, seem more and more like a magazine catering less to business and more to centrist and left-leaning points of view) chimed in in agreement.
Their beef is essentially that the Government is spending $1.6 billion on a drilling stimulus program for what some are calling a "sunset industry" while we're running a multi-billion dollar deficit. If you look only at those two sets of numbers and, if like most who are crying fowl, you are not a fan of the oil and gas sector to begin with, you may think you've got a great argument on your hands.
Unsurprisingly, the Journal got some blow back to their editorial. Letters from Gary Leach, Executive Director of the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada, and Don Herring, President of the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors are pretty indicative of the feelings within the industry.
While there are those who would love to see Alberta shun oil in favour of alternate forms of energy and economic activity (pixie dust, perhaps?), I think most Albertans - especially those in the oil and gas industry - appreciate and understand what this stimulus program does for the province.
Let's look at some of the results that can be attributed to the stimulus program. In 2010, the number of people employed by Alberta's energy sector increased by 17,000. Between March and December of 2010, there were almost double the number of active rigs in Alberta compared to the same time in 2009. Land sales in 2010 jumped to $2.4 BILLION, compared to $732 million in 2009.
The simple fact is that the drilling stimulus program makes Alberta an attractive place to do business. That's especially important since our neighbours to the west and east are no longer run by NDP governments and are actively drumming up business for their respective energy sectors. We need to keep pace - the drilling stimulus program keeps Alberta competitive and, more importantly, provides good, stable jobs for Albertans.
POLITICAL POSITIONING IN FORT MCMURRAY
In an earlier post, I spoke at length about a certain character whose words were pointing towards him seeking a Wildrose nomination in my hometown. More signs of that nomination campaign notwithstanding, I'm told by a Wildrose friend in Fort McMurray to expect the possibility of a Boutilier-Boutilier ticket running for the WAP in the two Fort McMurray seats. One Boutilier will obviously be current MLA Guy Boutilier, but the remains a mystery (at least they wouldn't tell me, anyway). A possibility who I'm told WON'T be the other Boutilier on the ticket is Fort McMurray Oil Barons President Andrew Boutilier, who is preoccupied with a young family.
While a same-name ticket is clever in a basic and juvenile way, I don't think that campaigning on name recognition alone will be sufficient in Fort McMurray this time around. Many voters in the community haven't been in town long and will likely be more concerned with a candidate's platform, community involvement, and ability to be an effective voice for the region in Edmonton rather than what a candidate may have done in a position 20 years ago. Regardless, it will be an interesting pair of races to watch.
If you follow me on twitter, you'll know that I've started to lose patience with the shenanigans of Dr. Raj Sherman. While I certainly felt for the good doctor when he was expelled from the PC caucus, I also know that there is always more than one side to the story (namely, the juicy "woe is me" version that sells newspapers).
I've watched with increasing confusion as Dr. Sherman as paraded around with any and all comers ranging from the Friends of Medicare to a handful of Wildrose MLAs/candidates selling his story. I thought the bizarre goings on had reached a climax when he announced to a crowd in Southern Alberta that he was going to seek the Leadership of a provincial political party, but hadn't decided which party - and hadn't yet told his family. But the real facepalm to the forehead came when he declared, in the House, that 250 people had died on a waiting list in the mid-2000s because of a shortage of operating spots... and that Capital Health had paid Doctors millions of dollars to keep it quiet... and that Capital Health went so far as to run a second of books to keep the payouts hidden.
Now Dr. Sherman was happy to make these allegations within the protection of the floor of the Legislative Assembly, but was pretty tight-lipped as soon as he stepped outside of the Chamber. This hesitation, combined with the fact that one of the implicated persons, Dr. Trevor Theman of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, has stated that he had NEVER heard of what Dr. Sherman was alleging - not even as a rumour - has me thinking that Dr. Sherman has either been perilously misinformed or that the whole thing is something cooked up to try and make the Goverment look bad.
He promises to table his "evidence" this week, so we'll see if he's got a leg to stand on. But my money is on this whole episode proving to be the turning point in the demise of Dr. Sherman's career in the Alberta Legislature.
I've been involved in provincial politics in this province since I bought my first PC membership at the age of 15. For the first time since then, I am facing an election where I don't know who I'm supporting at the start of the race. The onset of the PC Leadership race came as a bit of a surprise to most of us, of course, so its a little more understandable that we all weren't quite as invested as we have been in other races (and certainly compared to general elections).
So here I am, for the first time in nearly 15 years, a free agent. While a number of friends in various camps have been doing their best to sway me towards their candidate, and others are assuming that I'm already with one camp or another, I remain as close to the average undecided voter as I've ever been.
I plan to take advantage of this free agency to weigh some of the issues I consider important against the platforms of the various candidates as they roll out. As an aside, I don't expect full platforms at this stage of the game - especially not while the Leg is still in session. Besides, anyone who thinks a campaign should release its whole platform on day one probably doesn't have a good idea on how to run an election anyway.
Some of the things I want to hear about from the PC Leadership candidates over the next little while will be their commitment to the Fort McMurray region, their ideas on the Highway 2 corridor from both an infrastructure perspective (including High Speed Rail) and as an economic generator, thoughts on creating a better working relationship on the macro level with our counterparts in Ottawa, and renewing the PC Party machinery into a more effective and efficient (and aggressive) political operation.
I'll be sure to touch on these and other points as the race unfolds. And don't worry, you'll know when I've made my decision ;-)
In the meantime, thanks for reading if you've made through all of this! I'll try to be a little more frequent with the blogging in the weeks ahead.